It’s baking hot and it’s smoking; there must be a fire somewhere. How long do you suppose it takes to contract emphysema? Because you could maybe develop it in the short time you’re walking around this town. I caught the Freccia Rossa again from Florence down to Rome (again making incredibly good time), and exited the train at the main Roman terminal. That place, like all of Rome, was bustling. I used to say that Rome was like a three-ring circus with no ringmaster. Now I’m sure there are way more than three rings. The place has a rhythm of its own that defies understanding to the initial visitor. I’ve been here a few times and I still don’t fully get its groove, though at least now I can feel the current of Rome without being pulled down under the flow. It can be exhausting. The noise, the smoke, the confusion, the attitudes, the contrariness, the apparent illogic and the way it changes in a backhanded, slap-in-your face way – it’s all what I have come to understand as Roman.
There are some things Rome does very well. The food is delicious if you do a little reconnoitering and avoid strictly tourist restaurants, and the shopping is also excellent. And naturally, if you like museums and ruins, Rome is fantastic. I have seen most of the museums and ruins and I was only scheduled to be here for 36 hours. I was also fighting a cold and some dehydration. My last hour in Florence was spent trying (unsuccessfully) to get a cab back to the train station and then racing on foot for a mile or two in the heat. I made the train, but the price to my well-being was a little more than I expected to pay: it’s been a few days and I am still coughing. Again though I wonder how much of that was aggravated by the incessant cigarettes burning and wafting smoke in my general direction. Given my energy level and the short schedule, I decided not to wander too far from the hotel.
This hotel was typically Roman, unfortunately. It was a beautiful building with marble floors, statues and traditional Italian furniture, straight out of “La Dolce Vita” circa 1930. Upgrades since then were, at best, haphazard (again, typically Roman). The shower was a strange experiment that I can only assume came from the idea of the Jacuzzi tub. The two by two by seven foot shower box thankfully had a hand shower but the unit was mostly taken up by a big plastic insert. The insert contained a wall of dribbly jets and a seat, crowned by another couple of jets at the top, none of which looked particularly new or inviting. The whole contraption made it almost impossible to turn around, let alone relax your muscles enough to feel rested. To add to the contortion act there was no soap dish so you had to bend over quite often. But hey, the floor was pretty. The manner of the hotel staff was not helpful. Truculent might be a better description but at the very least, uninterested would cover it. Well, except for the bellman – he was nice. This is not the first time I have encountered this sort of thing in Rome and the quality of the hotel doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the attitude of the staff, from the old one-star Hotel Iride (that place was a dive!!!) to the five star spot I was in this time.
The hotel was on the Via del Corso, at the foot of the Spanish Steps shopping streets. It’s a relatively affordable place to shop and if you want designer goods, all you have to do is walk up a picturesque side street. The higher up you go, the higher the price and the finer the goods – from La Perla lingerie to Versace shoes and gowns. Fortunately for me, your mid-range shopper, there are plenty of well-made, no-name goods available at the bottom of the hill! Back in the days of the Italian lira and the strong US dollar, I could sometimes afford the high streets, but now? No. Granted, the financial situation with the Euro was working in my favor, but there’s no way to compare it to the lira! I spent the next few hours finishing my shopping list and getting one unplanned item: a bathing suit. I thought I might need one at my next destination but I thought the odds of finding one that would fit me were 1000 to one. Especially given the thin, nicotine-enhanced figures of Italian women. However, in Italian shops, the sales people know their merchandise down to the last button. It is their job to size you up immediately and try to find something you’ll like and that will fit. People there are professional sales persons sometimes for life at the same shop. So I thought maybe, just maybe, I had a chance. At least it would be quick for me to find out they didn’t have anything for me. Miracle of miracles, however, they had a swimsuit for me and I even liked it. A two-piece, after all these years of being too heavy to wear one – what an affirmation. I was pleased as punch and no matter what else happened, my day was already made.
I stopped off for lunch at a café that looked interesting and had a really delicious pasta carbonara with some salad, and some cigarette smoke, then headed back to the hotel to pack up a bag for Mailboxes Etc. Whenever I have a shopping trip, if I can, I try to mail a box back home. The place to do that the fastest in Italy is Mailboxes Etc. At home, this would take ten minutes, tops. Not in Italy. This is at least a 20 minute transaction and more likely an hour, depending on how far south in Italy you are and how busy the shop is. For me, it was an hour, so I was glad I’d planned accordingly. My suitcase got lighter and my parcels were on their way!
On the way back, the cab driver was, as usual, rambunctious getting me through the narrow streets of Rome. I think the cab rides are half the fun of going to Rome. If you are ever bored there, just get in a cab and go somewhere even five minutes away. It’ll wake you right up and remind you that life is precious and you should enjoy it! To paraphrase Rick Steves, Roman cars stay in their lanes like rocks in an avalanche. The road signs, lane markers, traffic signals, and clear indications of danger are all strictly advisory; the driver does what he feels like. The only sin in Italian driving is indecision. No matter how ballsy or obnoxious you are behind the wheel, as long as you do it decisively, no one will be angry with you. If you hesitate though, you will be cursed, possibly followed and cursed at high volume, and you are certainly risking your vehicle if not your unbroken nose. I like Roman driving. Maybe you can see how I got so many tickets on my last road trip.
My final dinner in Rome was at the sublime restaurant La Rosetta. Perfectly prepared fresh seafood in a genteel setting with excellent service – who could ask for better? I don’t use the word sublime lightly; it was truly delicious food and I very much recommend La Rosetta to anyone looking for fine dining in Rome. Thankfully I got through the main course before a breeze heavy with cigar smoke wafted in from the patio. The bill was settled and I fled the scene, trying to find someplace missing the obligatory tobacco products. My plane to Malta left the next morning and I was more than ready to go. However, as an unexpected final reminder of majesty and spectacle of Rome, the taxi route took me right in front of San Pietro, the main church of the Vatican, and traffic was stopped. I had some time to marvel at its beauty before we turned away from Rome and toward the sea.