DM and MM's Italy Trip Diary

Day 6 - Roma

Friday, 4 May, 2001

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As I write this entry the strains of a guitarist and serenader float into our hotel window from the street below - the same songs as from the accordionist last night.

Our day started with the now familiar breakfast of pastries and stale-ish bread rolls, after which we headed once more to the supermarket at Roma Termini for lunch supplies and also this time soap. The bar I'd brought from Australia was not dealing at all well with the local water, failing to produce much in the way of lather, so we decided something new was called for.

Vespas on Via delle Carrozze
View in a Vespa mirror, Via delle Carrozze

After making lunch we walked over to the CIT International office to find out if the slackers at the Australian office had replied to the second e-mail from yesterday. No such luck. So with only today to organise our travel to Milano tomorrow we had to decide whether to buy completely new tickets and risk not having the incorrect ones refunded, or using the incorrect ones, buying an extra 4 days' travel, and then arguing with the Australian CIT office that they should refund the difference in price between what we actually paid altogether and what we asked for.

Roasting chestnuts in Piazza di Spagna

Since we were then at Piazza Barberini we continued walking towards the Spanish Steps, reaching the top of them still early enough to see them without the hordes of tourists of the other day. The plan from here was to let Michelle wander amongst the shops for the morning, with me following. She spotted large blocks of Baci chocolate in one shop, before taking delight in the abundance of shoes, leathergoods, and fashion to be found in the streets in the area. We walked down Via Condotti to Via del Corso, then back to Piazza de Spagna via Via della Carrozze, then along Via del Babuino to the Piazza del Popolo.

Leoni del Popolo
Lions in Piazza del Popolo

This square was large and open, with the large ancient Egyptian Flaminio Obelisk in the centre, dating from the reign of Ramesses II in the 13th century BC. This was flanked by four lion statue fountains. Around the edges of the large circular area were sphinxes, leading to two large sculpted monuments at the east and west ends. The west end looked roughly towards the Vatican, while the eastern side was overshadowed by a steep hill leading up to a lookout where we could see several people. The northern edge faced a large arch which led to another piazza beyond, while the southern side was a street flanked by two mirror-image churches: The Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli and the Chiesa Santa Maria in Montesanto. I rushed about, taking several photos of the scenic piazza, before Michelle led us back down Via del Corso for a look at some more shops, at one of which she ended up buying a rather fetching denim coat.

Piazza del Popolo
Flaminio Obelisk of Ramesses II in Piazza del Popolo

We walked back through the Piazza del Popolo to Piazzale Flaminio then turned east into the Villa Borghese, a large and beautiful park full of large trees and crushed stone walkways leading through flowerbeds, formal garden areas, and grassy slopes where locals gathered to spend their lunchtimes lying on the grass in couples. We stopped to have our lunches under the shade of some large trees, by the side of a road leading up a long hill. After eating we climbed the rest of the way to the top, then turned a corner to find the Giardino del Lago. The lake was very picturesque, surrounded by trees, with geese and ducks swimming on it, a couple of boats which people could hire to row around in a leisurely manner, and of course the Tempio di Esculapio - a small Greek-inspired temple with beautiful columns and statues - on the tiny island in the middle. There were also a lot of tortoises sitting on rocks near the shore sunning themselves.

Picnics in Villa Borghese
Walking through Villa Borghese

We walked around the lake then along a path towards what I thought might be more interesting things in the gardens, but they turned out to not look so interesting once we got closer, so we turned towards Piazza del Popolo again to pick up the nearest Metro station and head back to our hotel. This was a very fortunate decision, because this route took us to Piazzale Napoleone I on the Pincian Hill, which included the lookout high over Piazza del Popolo which we'd seen earlier from below. The view was magnificent.

Piazza del Popolo from the Pincian Hill
View from Piazzale Napoleone I overlooking Piazza del Popolo

We walked down a series of steps to the level of the piazza below, then through the arch once more to Flaminio Metro station. We dumped our gear and shopping at the hotel and then went to tackle the question of buying and booking train tickets.

We decided to not use the tickets we had and buy completely new ones, so we could at the very least take advantage of the refund with 15% fee for unused tickets, though we intend to argue like crazy when we get home that we shouldn't suffer any penalty for their mix-up.

So we went to the Eurail office at Roma Termini and bought two brand new 8-day Italy Flexi-Passes, for which we had to pay cash. This involved going out to the nearest ATM to withdraw the required amount of cash from our Visa account after we were informed that Eurail didn't accept credit cards. I maxed out my daily withdrawal limit, so Michelle had to use her card to get some more out too. On our return, a man working at the office was policing the take-a-number queueing system with ferocious intensity, scaring back people whose numbers hadn't been called yet, telling others they had the wrong sort of ticket and forcing them to take a fresh number, and urging the people working the desks to go on to call the next number if the one they had just called didn't respond within about 5 seconds. When our turn came he had already prompted the man at the desk to go on to the next number before we even had a chance to stand up!

Eventually we got our tickets and headed to the Ferrovie del Stato office next door to book seats to Milan. We took another number and joined the queue there, some 50 places behind the number currently being served. About 15 minutes later the man sitting next to us gave up and kindly offered us his number, which was 20 places or so better than ours, an offer we gratefully accepted. Another 20 minutes later and we were booking our seats on the 12:30 Eurostar train to Milan. We had wanted to go earlier in the day, to give us most of the afternoon in Milan, but the earlier Eurostar train was full, and we didn't want to use the slower and less classy intercity service if we could help it.

With most of the day gone we headed back to the hotel to bag our dirty clothes and take them to a nearby internet-laundromat, cleverly called SplashNet, where we washed them while we caught up on e-mail and mailed some quick news to our friends and family back home. Unfortunately by this time I was getting a bit of a headache, and sitting around waiting for laundry to spin dry didn't help it much. As we left it was raining outside, enough to get us a bit wet so we hurried back the few streets to our hotel.

We dumped our newly clean clothes at the hotel then left for dinner at Da Gemma alla Lupa, only a few doors down the street and recommended by the Lonely Planet. It was a small trattoria but the pasta was excellent. As soon as we'd told the waiter what pastas we wanted he ran off around the corner and yelled the order to the kitchen, loud enough for the whole restaurant to hear, then returned just as quickly to take our drinks order. I ordered un amaro, which is basically bitters, and he looked at me curiously. He disappeared around the corner again to get the drinks, poked his head back and asked "un amaro?" again (""), before he finally returned to pour a shot of the stuff from a bottle. It was what I thought it was, and quite strong straight like that. I mixed a little into Michelle's Sprite to make a rough approximation of the lemon, lime and bitters she'd wanted last night at the Hard Rock.

The bread came first and was good. Crusty, but soft and fresh in the centre. My spaghetti alla carbonara and Michelle's penna all'arrabbiata were both very good. As the end of the meal approached we realised we didn't have enough cash to pay and our worst fears were realised when the bill arrived and the waiter confirmed they didn't accept credit cards. Michelle raced to the ATM at Termini while I sat at the table trying not to look foolish. We left a bit of a tip since the food was so good and they had to put up with us not having enough cash!

Finally it was back to the hotel for the last time and our last night in Rome until we return just prior to flying home.

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