Roma- Walking Fast In The Wrong Direction
From the moment we stepped out onto the cobbled streets I had every intention of paying attention to directions on a map, but I’m hopeless in Rome. Every street is filled with so much personality and I can’t help but let my imagination go wild with what may have happened in each particular spot. “Maybe Mussolini drank from this very fountain!” My forward progress becomes sporadic as I dart quickly around the slow moving pedestrians and then randomly down whatever streets look intriguing. Last time I was in Rome I was lost a lot. Luckily Sean caught onto my “enthusiastic” style fairly quickly. He began to demand reasonable evidence such as street names relating to the map, rather than my gut feelings or intuition before I could take us off course and we arrived at our hotel only two hours late.
Our grand tour began at night since I had to sleep off my jet lag. It was supposed to be a thirty minute power nap, but turned out to be a eight hour blissful sleep. So at ten we wandered out to explore Rome’s sites and get a sense of where we needed to go the next day.
Still adjusting to the time change we walked all the way to the colosseum and around Palatine Hill wondering what the hell the large empty park was next to it. We walked by this several times in the next few days, every time saying “what is up with this weird grassy park?” Eventually I realized it was not a product of poor city planning but the circus Maximus (which I’d been wondering about) and part of Ancient Rome.
You might think that after having plenty of recovery sleep from jet lag and then a full night of sleep might prepare me to properly read a map. That was not the case. In fact, I felt super energized and therefore like my random street choosing intuition should be heightened. Plus I had a mother list of places to see. I wanted to start by touring the colosseum, then Palatine hill, then if we were on schedule I wanted to take a relaxing afternoon stroll through the vatican museum. That didn’t quite work out. Don’t get me wrong we saw the colosseum and walked all over Palatine hill and the roman forum until the “hanger” hit. Even though having to eat is nothing new, I still forget that I will inevitably need to do it. I should be better about this, but maybe it’s because I would like to believe that I am more resilient in the face of hunger. Either way, Sean dragged me out of the roman forum to force a sandwich on me. Which happened to be perfect, fresh ciabatta with prosciutto and some amazing cheese.
I haven’t mentioned the umbrella zombies yet. Every time it started to rain a little guys trying to sell umbrellas would magically appear. “Umbrella?” They would swarm at the exits of monuments and museums and the train station. “For you, my friend, verrry good price”. Everywhere we walked there was an umbrella stretched in our direction and in every trash can, one that had been turned inside out in the wind. On our last day, it was “women’s day” when it’s traditional to give little yellow flowers called mimosas to ladies. So in addition to the umbrellas, little bouquets of flowers were being offered to me…for a price.
By the end of our second day we had walked over fourteen miles, so we bought some wine and sandwiches from the supermarket, ate like superstars in our hotel room and went straight to bed.
As for misdirection the third day may have been the worst, because I checked the map, briefly, then confidently strutted off in what I thought was the direction of the Vatican. As Sean and I walked along we talked about how people in Rome hog the sidewalk and wondered how the residents handle it. At some point in our lively conversation we realized we were going slightly in the wrong direction so we charged down the “via” I was now sure was correct. We found ourselves looking at a large arch called Porta Pia which was the furthest corner on the hotel map we’d been given and exactly what I thought we’d been walking away from. Defeated, hot and now hungry from already having walked three miles, we turned around and started back.
Back to the “hanger” issue, it’s difficult to feed myself at home, when I know what the options are, what supermarkets are nearby and most people speak english. Here I face the additional anxiety of trying to ask someone in a language I don’t speak “what are these mystery breads stuffed with?” or “how much for the whole cheese wedge?” both of which are confusing questions when gestured. In my hanger fear I also worry that when they answer my questions it will be in Italian and I won’t understand them anyway. Eventually we started to buy sandwiches at the supermarket by our hotel so that we had cheap emergency food during our treks.
On one sandwich and wine buying mission, at the local Despar, we met Nicolas from Bari. We were standing in very long line waiting for checkout and he began to complain to us, first about the crowds, then about the prices. He told us, like it was a secret that there was a bigger, cheaper Despar down the road without all the kids “buuuut, sometimes I come here still”. He asked what we do, after asking Sean “are you an engineer?” randomly I told him about my jewelry and he showed me his ring with a latin inscription that said something like, the farmer who plows straight is an all right guy. We were about to leave but he told us that he had life secrets to tell us and to wait outside for him. So we did. He came outside and walked very slowing, taking up a lot of street space and stopped to chat with other people along the way. His “secrets to life” included where to find freshly made, cheap pasta and where the good coffee was. The latter he took us out for. He paused briefly outside to recount how recently he’d seen a cardinal from “Caleefornyah”down the street with an entourage. With the corners of his mouth downturned, shaking his head, he reenacted like they’d locked eyes and said “I know what they’re doing, it’s disgusting”. After days of touring basilicas and standing next to larger than life pope statues it was nice to hear a little slander from an Italian.
Overall we walked something like forty miles. We never took the metro, by the end we were too stubborn. Even though on the last day we forgot our eurail passes at the hotel when we needed them to make a sleepercar reservation and had to walk (fast) back to get them. Maybe after all this city exploration the next time I visit Rome my intuitive road choices will be more conducive to me getting where I want to go.