Second Day in Rome

Our plans shifted as soon as we met up with Harrie and Sonja this morning (which means noon). Most of the places we wanted to see were in the general area of the Coliseum, which we walked to yesterday, and the Vatican was just beyond that area. So, instead of taking the bus tour, we decided to walk.

The streets were filled with walkers today but not a lot of cars. Pay phones are a common site on the main streets.

On our way back to the Coliseum, we stopped at Bar-Pasticceria Ciardo for a pizza. The waiter was hyperactive in seven languages, including Spanish, which he said he learned from watching TV, though once Emily started talking with him she discovered that he combined Spanish with Italian for his own version of Spitalian. Emily and I tried a pizza with anchovies again, hoping for an improvement over yesterday’s. We got it, and split a gorgonzola pizza as well.

Eating outside gives you the benefit of street excitement but you also are hit by street vendors selling long-stemmed roses, blankets and fabrics, wooden serving bowls, toys and stuffed animals, and an assortment of  cheap items that can’t possibly support the young men selling them. We wondered who actually profited from the sales and whether the hawkers were more like slaves who got punished if they didn’t sell enough on any day, like young prostitutes who get beaten by their pimps if they don’t sell enough of themselves.

The guy in the next table smoked a cigarette, unfortunately upwind from us. A drunk old man who must be a regular feature of that street breathed over Harrie’s shoulder and said something in German that Harrie thought was “Let it all shine through” until the waitress shooed him away. A police car’s siren reminded Emily and me instinctively of any Holocaust film we’ve ever watched.

Every meal at every restaurant takes a long time. Service is slow but not because it’s bad. Rather, it’s because you are encouraged to take your time. They are in no rush to give you “il conte.”

Emily doesn’t speak fluent Italian but she gives it her best shot everywhere she goes. By the time we left the restaurant, the wait staff was ready to tip her.

I don’t say a lot. I let Emily do most of the talking. But one thing I learned: You can smile in any language. And say “Visa.”

Our first stop was the Forum of Augustus, the old marketplace, where ancient pillars still revealed the majesty that used to exist there. As the center of town, it had herb gardens, an old prison, a monastery, possibly an aqueduct, and much more. But mostly it had statues of great figures in Roman history, most of whom were relatives of Augustus, intentionally to build up his leadership credentials. Today the complete forum is intersected by a road that Mussolini built. According to Sonja, the stones that were used on the original structures that were replaced by the road were used to build churches.

Churches are everywhere. When in doubt, any building is likely either a church, a monument to an emperor, or a pizza parlor. In fact, I’m pretty sure the word “piazza” is old Latin for “city of pizzas.”

Other sites:

  •  The monument to Hadrian was a phallic symbol that reminded me of the Washington Monument.
  • Trevi Fountain is a magnificent structure that is, as Sonja described it, a big fountain in a small square. To filmgoers it is known as the fountain from Three Coins in a Fountain with Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg.
  • The Pantheon #1: An interesting-looking building with eleven pillars and a wall. I feigned wonder but was secretly disappointed until Harrie said, “Oh, that’s not the Pantheon. My mistake.”
  • The Pantheon #2: Much more impressive. Built 200 years after Jesus by Agrippa, then rebuilt by Hadrian and expanded after the original burned down. Because of the holiday today we couldn’t get inside but Sonja said a hole in the ceiling was built so the gods could enter. I wondered why they didn’t just use the door like everyone else.
  • Four Streams Fountain surrounded by a chariot racing track. Merchants spread out their wares on the bricks, so many we had to look down as we walked to avoid tripping over them. Portrait painters were busy. Gold- and black-painted real-life statues moved only when you gave them money. Harrie kicked a change can accidentally; the guy made a face that wasn’t part of his routine. I told Harrie he had to give him a Euro.
  • The Vatican: The long line moved quickly. At the front, we placed our bags and cameras on the conveyor belt that x-rayed the insides as we walked through the scanner. Sonja and Harrie both set off the bell but no one stopped us. Today being All Saints’ Day there was a service going on inside. I hoped to see the pope though I couldn’t imagine him actually showing up. I was disappointed but not surprised.

As we wound our way through the many side streets going from one site to the next, Emily was fascinated with the buildings; I was fascinated with the cobblestone streets. Emily kept saying, “Look up”; I kept saying, “Look down.” We made eye contact midway one time as she went from up to down and I went from down to up. We smiled at each other. I said, “Had enough? Ready to go back to Ann Arbor?” I wasn’t surprised at her answer.

We must have walked at least ten miles today, mostly through crowded side streets.

A street fortune teller said to me, “You will get claustrophobia.”

Our First Day in Italy: Rome

Major exciting first “day” in Rome, one of those 48-hour types.

We were well prepared for the trip. Leading up to it, we (note: In most cases where I say “we,” I mean Emily, the Wachsberger family travel agent) purchased Euros from the bank; got international drivers’ licenses; photocopied our drivers’ licenses and passports; and called the credit card companies to alert them to not be surprised if they saw entries coming in from Italy or the Netherlands. We bought an international travel adapter so I could use my laptop in Italy. As we were packing Wednesday I discovered that it was good throughout Europe—except Italy and Switzerland. Radio Shack, where we purchased it, didn’t have any for Italy. Fortunately, Staples did so we made a last-minute exchange.

At Detroit Metro, we were randomly selected to not have to be scanned. We didn’t have to take off our shoes or belts. I didn’t have to take my laptop out of my knapsack. No one asked if we had accepted any packages from total strangers. We must have looked nonthreatening. One of the guards told us if we signed up at we could be randomly selected more often.

The flight was packed—269 passengers, I believe, was the official count—but it was smooth all the way. I’m an observer type of traveler. I observe people. I observe my feelings while I’m observing people. Then I space everyone out and read or write. Emily, on the other hand, talks to everyone.  Thanks to Emily, I learned that the couple who got on the bus with us from the parking lot to the airport were on their way to visit their granddaughter in DC. The young man standing in front of us in line to the plane was returning to his home in Dusseldorf, Germany, after living in Detroit for two years and working at TRW. His wife, a marine biologist, was forced to take a boat home due to an inner-ear infection that made air travel a prohibitive activity. Topics Emily covered with the woman seated behind us in the plane while we waited for it to take off included our kids, the woman’s home in the Netherlands and places where she’s traveled, the upcoming holidays in Rome, and the BRCA1 cancer gene. Every discussion always touches on the weather, sometimes as the icebreaker, though Emily seldom requires that weak crutch to get started.

Meanwhile, the guy sitting next to me commented on my interesting handwriting as I was jotting down notes. I think it was his kind way of saying he couldn’t read what I was writing because it was so sloppy. I didn’t tell him that it was simply sloppy handwriting, a practice I employ so strangers sitting next to me on airplanes can’t read what I’m writing. He was on his way back to his home in a city in India that I didn’t understand when he pronounced it but I smiled and said, “Oh yeah, I have a friend from there. Great food.”

Emily lasted about a half hour once the flight began and then fell asleep. She slept most of the way except for meals. I admired the full selection of entertainment opportunities. There were about three dozen TV shows, including HBO and Showtime. Unfortunately, most were shows I had never watched and didn’t care to watch. I read the titles of the twelve movie options and selected The Interns, with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, because I had seen it before and thought it was funny. The twist this time: It had Hebrew subtitles. I don’t know why and I didn’t know how to get rid of them so I made a game of seeing how many of the Hebrew words I understood. I think I understood one.

Note on the food: If you want to get served early, order a special meal. We ordered the vegan. Big mistake, on one hand. Breakfast, for instance, was highlighted by a white bagel with jelly. But we were served first.

We arrived at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam Thursday morning a half hour before boarding time for the second leg of our trip to Rome. I guess they didn’t get the message that I was nonthreatening. I got taken aside and received the full terrorist treatment including full body scan. But I was pleased to discover that Schiphol offered free Wi-Fi for a half hour. That was more than I needed to catch up on my email.

We flew to Rome in another packed flight. Emily made that observation to me as I was writing the same words in my notes. After 36 years together, we don’t have to finish sentences anymore.

I was enchanted by what appeared to be mountainous clouds. Then I realized they were the snow-covered German Alps. Once we crossed the Alps, cumulus clouds covered the ground below. When I looked up through the window I saw cirrus clouds overhead and imagined I was part of a cloud sandwich.

Most special features in Rome involved food or sites. After checking in at our hotel, we went out to Ristorante Andrea where we had our first Italian pizza. Other than Geraci’s, it was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. (If you’re from Cleveland, you know what I’m talking about.) An added bonus to that lunch was the roasted peppers in olive oil. They don’t give you parmesan cheese to sprinkle on their pizzas—I think it’s almost an insult to ask for it so I didn’t. But the peppers in olive oil made a spicy topping to the pizzas (one topped with mushrooms, the other with anchovies). Another lesson I learned: You don’t tip in Italy; the tip is included in the price.

Other observations during our afternoon stroll: There are no stop signs in Italy; you cross the street at your own risk. Narrow streets prohibit many cars; motorcycles predominate.

We’re staying at a hotel that looks to be four small rooms and an office on one floor of an apartment building. It’s clean, the bed is firm, and it has free Wi-Fi and a bidet, one of which I used to full advantage. We took a quick nap; by the time we awoke, Harrie and Sonja had arrived. Harrie is my adopted brother from the Netherlands. He stayed with us as a foreign exchange student in 1968-9 and has remained close to the family since then. They’ll be sharing our Italy adventure for the next nine days.

What did we do tonight: food, sites, lots of walking, and catching up on family news. We walked to the Coliseum. What a magnificent structure, showing the best that slave labor can accomplish. No Christians were sacrificed today; it’s a national holiday in Italy, All Hallow’s Eve. According to Sonja, AHE is observed in the Netherlands mostly by visiting graves of loved ones. Here in Rome, Halloween is slowly gaining popularity, as shown by the many kids we saw in costumes.

Back at the hotel, Emily and I watched The Cosby Show and Law and Order: SVU in Italian. Emily used her Spanish fluency to follow the plots. SVU to me was a repeat so I used my memory of the first time I saw it. Who needs Italian when you’ve got repeats?

Emily is sound asleep now. I should be, too, but I’m wired. Also, it’s only 9:15 p.m. Oh no, it’s 2:15 a.m. Rome is five hours ahead of Ann Arbor—normally they would be six hours ahead but they went off Daylight Savings Time last week and we still are on it for another week. Better get used to the new time zone.