Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rome Sucks

AOG, Sitges

Word of advice number one: when you next go on vacation, never wear new shoes on the flight. 

Why? well, it could be that the airline looses your luggage and you are doomed to wear the same pair of new shoes for days on end.
Word of advice number two: Never, ever, go to Rome in August. Our friends had warned us against this. 
"Don't go, it is too hot!", they said.
"Never in August. You'll die from the heat!", they warned. 

Did we listen? Well, of course not. 
Our logic? 
"Well, we always say we won't go in August and we'll go some other time, but then we never go", said my partner. 

I agreed. My partner was right. We always say we'll go some time, but then we never do. 

So this year, we decided to go to Rome and check out the Eternal City. Eternal mistake on our part!

After paying Vueling Airlines (a low cost airline) for 2 pieces of luggage, we arrived at Rome's Fiumicino Airport with a slight delay, but no suitcases. We only discovered this after waiting for our bags for over an hour at belt #9.

I went to the Baggage handling company in charge of our flight (turns out there's more than one. Blessed capitalism!) and they told us they had no record of our bags on their system. 
Yes, having been to the country in the past, in fact, as recently as last June, my first thought was "typical Italian efficiency", but I was wrong to think that. 

The problem was not typical Italian efficiency, it was typical Spanish negligence. As we would find out the next day, the bags had never left Barcelona. 
The Italian handler made us fill a form, put the details into the computer, and sent us off on our less than merry way with a reference number which, we  would later discover, was incorrect. Although no consolation at all, we were not the only people without luggage on our flight, there was, at least, one other.

So there we were, in Rome, with a driver waiting for us to take us into the city for 50 Euros, which we thought would be a good idea since we didn't know the city and we wanted not to worry about the bags. 

He was very nice, and if he was upset at having to wait for over an hour, he didn't let on. So we got into his Ford Focus and off we went to the Città Eterna. 

I have to say that the drive went pretty well, and that it is not exactly very pretty. It was, all in all, a bit odd. First we were on a highway, then, after a while, we were in what can only be describe as 'leafy suburbs'. 
He didn't take any major roads and, instead, we were driving on one-way roads with large, tall, walls, behind which I can only imagine private villas. This took a while before we approached something which resembled the outskirts of a large city.
Once there, it was the usual dim urban landscape, typical of any major European city post 1950. Large, square, brick and concrete buildings, with many stores along the way selling mostly urban goods: fast food, urban clothing, ugly furniture, and the odd newspaper stand. 
Still, we were a little excited to be in Rome. 

Then, suddenly, something which would happen again and again, though we didn't know it at the time, occurred: when we least expected it, and just before we entered a tunnel, out of the corner of our left eyes, we caught a glimpse of St. Peter's, in The Vatican

This was unexpected because we had thought that we would view that particular monument going up the Via Della Concilliazione and into St. Peter's Square, like almost everyone else. But it was not to be. 

We quickly crossed the Tiber and drove down the Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II and into our hotel near the Campo de Fiori.

We paid our driver, plus a tip, then checked in. The hotel was ok. We had asked for a room with a balcony, and they gave us that, which was nice. But I soon discovered that the a/c was, well, less than able. It made a lot of noise,  but gave out little cold air. But I would only realize this later in the day. 

We were starving by now and wanted to a) see Rome and b) get some clothes. We had nothing to wear.

We left our hotel, which was, it seemed, used to situations such as ours -"you'll get your bags tomorrow", said the receptionist/owner, and off we went to eat.

We found a small restaurant about 3 minutes away and sat down. We ordered one pizza for both of us and something to drink. It was the best pizza we would have during the whole trip. It was that good. 
The service, however, was pretty bad. I wouldn't say it went downhill from there, but rather that the service in Rome was consistently bad, day in day out. 
Our waiters over the next few days, it would seem, would find new and creative ways in which to outdo their colleague's 'performance' throughout our stay. And no, we hardly spent a penny on tips while in Rome.

So, after having lunch and stopping off at the local grocery shop where we got basic eating and drinking supplies, as well as some toiletries,  it was back to the hotel, quick shower, and out before the stores closed. 

We really only had the clothes on our backs to wear and, as the lunch experience had proven, Rome was baking under the sun, and us with it.

Out we went into the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and started walking East, with no particular place to go. 

We were really torn between wanting to see the sights, and our clothing needs, so we tried to concentrate very little on what we saw, hard to do since, if you've never been to Rome, everything is new to you, even when nine or ten centuries old. Or more.

Eventually, we got to Via del Corso, but not before we stumbled on the Piazza Venezia and the enormous monument to our right: the monument to King Vittorio Emanuele II, first King of Italy. 
This is one of the monuments on my list which I would not really arrive at the way I had expected. 

When I say we stumbled, I mean it. It is gigantic, but it is not exactly by a major road, it is on a major square, but off to the right, so if you happen to be on the street and not turn right, you might not exactly see it. But then, once you do, you can't see anything else. 
I wanted to go to it (yes, its array of classical columns was calling me) and bask in its classical 'interpretative' colossal beauty, but it was not to be on that first day. We turned into the Via del Corso, and forgot about it. 
Via del Corso is one of those major shopping streets in central Rome. Many of the major brands, and others not so major, are there. Although Rome's high class shopping strip is the Via Condotti.

On the corner, just as you go into Corso, there is the Doria-Pamphilj Palace. Serene and decorated in a wedding cake style, I was immediately drawn to it. But didn't go, and would, unfortunately, not get to go during the trip. And pretty much sums up the entire trip. I didn't get to see many things.

So back to the Via del Corso, and our shopping. We had nothing to wear the next day, and clothes were urgently needed. So we spent the best part of the afternoon traipsing from store to store, looking for garments, and missing out on Rome altogether. I must point out that by now, my partner and I were wondering how the people of Italy reproduced since, it was very obvious, all men in that country were gay.

Our main hope turned out to be H&M, but, once we got there, almost at the end of the Corso, we discovered, much to our dismay, that there was no Men's section there. Can you believe it? We had walked the entire length of the Corso in the hope of finding a place which might have something overpriced. Fat chance.

Since at that point we were only about two blocks from the Piazza del Popolo, we decided to go there. I have to say, at this point in the day, I was ready to be impressed, or something, and impressed I was. 

I had long wanted to see the twin churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto  (1662-75) and Santa Maria dei Miracoli (built 1675-79). 

And there they were, in all their Baroque beauty. I think this is the one time Rome got interesting that day. I would say it made the whole thing worthwhile, but it isn't true. 

The day had sucked all day long from the minute our luggage went missing. But that minute, when we walked into that space, covered in fatigue and sweat, the city seemed beautiful, the tourists a mere nuisance, the heat (and it was around 8:30 PM) almost tolerable. 

We stopped at the obelisk in the middle of the Piazza, an original comission of of Sety I (later erected by Rameses II) from Heliopolis which  stands in the centre of the Piazza, inside a fountain, and is the second oldest and one of the tallest obelisks in Rome (some 24 m high, or 36 m including its plinth). 

It was brought to Rome in 10 BC by order of Augustus and originally set up in the Circus Maximus

Once there, a tourist girl asked her friend if she could drink from the fountain. My partner overheard her and told her that he'd read that you could drink from any fountain in Rome, unless it specifically said not to. She was happy about this, and we spoke with her for a couple more minutes. She was from Spain, and was there on holiday with a couple more friends from school. She must have been in her very early 20s. And she was lovely. 

It was starting to get dark, and we decided to get back to the hotel. We couldn't decide between a bus, the subway, or walking. So we walked back along the dark and not too busy streets of, as it turns out, downtown Rome. 

Soon we were back at the hotel, where there was no news about our luggage. The hotel's concierge really couldn't care less, so we went to our room, had a shower and went out to have dinner, not too sure about where to do this.

We decided to follow the incoming crowd down one of the streets, and ended up at the Campo dei Fiori. It was teeming with life: children playing, musicians, flower vendors, Indian or Pakistani trinket salesmen. In short, Touristland right there in front of us. The only Italians being the waiters at the Campo's many restaurants. 

So in we walked, and decided that the one on the right, on the other side of La Carbonara Restaurant, where we should have dined, just as you walked in, would do. Mistake.

The food, although ok once we got it, did not surpass the bad service of a place which doubled as a drinks bar and dance club after 11PM. We kept getting food meant for other tables, everything arrived at odd intervals, drinks had to be ordered more than twice. In short, a mess. But given the day's big story, it really paled in comparison. We didn't mind much that the service was so bad. I think we were relieved it was over more than anything else!

Afterwards, we went for a walk on the Tiber, and saw that, at night, it really came alive. It seems like the good citizens of Rome have allowed for bars and stands to be set up alongside the banks of the river. I was immediately drawn by the music and the bright, intermitent, lights of the marquees. 

We crossed the bridge, and went down to the bank. We saw a couple of small stands which were a sort of Godsend since they had one of the items we needed most: a phone charger! Yes, ours were safely (we hoped) stored inside our suitcases. 

We then decided to go to one of the "bars". A rugby-themed bar by the side of the Tiber showing New Zealand's Rugby matches. Yes, slightly surreal, but then Rome is slightly surreal. 

We would have stayed longer, but we were beat. We had had a long day and were yearning for sleep. 

So after a couple of drinks, we headed back to the hotel. The room was not exactly cool, although the imitation a/c had been on all afternoon, so we agreed to sleep with the balcony window open.

So our first day in Rome ended.

1 comment:

xochimiqui1 said...

Well...it could have been worse...you could have been in Sofia!! Or worse yet...Jackson MS!!!!!!!!