Time was limited (closure of the car rental place was imminent) and we soon realised we'd made an error. Entering rush hour Rome with no GPS, map (LP Italy does not count), or much of a clue where we were heading. To make it worse we were running on fumes. To make it even worse, Italians are rather flippant and unhelpful with their sign posting. What ensued was tragic comedy. Going round and round in at good times narrowing concentric circles as we homed in on the historic centre. Fortunately we rolled into a petrol station in the nick of time, staving off one disaster.
Christina was positively surprised by the Mediterranean driving skills I had picked up complete with, beeping, swerving, swearing (largely in Greek) and generally acting like a want to be machismo sod who misses the modicuddling of his mother.
We went every which way round the utterly infuriating one way system of the old town - a rather comprehensive tour as it happens. At one point we had to reverse down the entire length of a narrow street with only cm's between multiple obstacles - true Italian Job style.
By the time we found a place to park we were knackered. Directed by signs to the bottom of a multi-story, there was no way we were going to find another EuropCar after it emerged they had moved without taking down any of the signs. My sympathy with the "it's your problem" attitude of the guy I handed back the keys to the next morning was non-existent - I was not paying the parking or picking up that damn car. After an hour of arguing I found his weak spot - name and number please! In a land of job's for life that did not go down well and my reaction to his angry and surly response was to drop the keys in his lap with a "my problem, no I think you'll find it is your problem now" and marched off. A bit of a culture clash. Rant over...
Stepping out onto the streets of Rome the next morning was a phenomenal feeling. I mean ROME. The name of no other city invokes such history. From the capital of modern day Italy, back through all the politics of the Papal States to the centre of western civilisation under the Romans, a place of fascination.
Numerous grand via intersected by little cobbled streets. Every other turn you come on another imposing monument, more often than not housed in a grand square. Innumerable Roman remains - and I mean that as the majority of them are still buried beneath or incorporate in the modern city - and the flamboyant magnificence of Baroque masterpieces such as the Spanish Steps and Bernini's Trevi Fountain, where the world of the gods seems to explode out the side of a building.
The sense of class maintained by these structures is entirely forgotten in Mussolini's very own fairy cake - the Alter of the Nation. A giant marble monstrosity of crude nationalism that towers over the Piazza Venezia and dominates much of the city.
As you would expect, churches expound, an interesting one housing artistic displays built from the collage of Capuchin monks bones and the tagline "what you are we were, what we are you will be" - see more at http://www3.sympatico.ca/tapholov/pages/bones.html.
The Tiber snakes across the city causing many a scenic vista, though unlike in many other cities, the main waterway does not seem to attract, but rather repel the core life of the city. Instead of river side eateries and a steady steam of water-traffic, the high banks are empty and we only saw one boat. The tributary's habit of periodic savage flooding may have a lot to do with this.
A place of simply unbound interest. For 5 days we transversed the city pit-stopping for various culinary treats, with the food being better and more affordable than in Venice. Our favourite restaurant could not have been more fantastically Italian. Seated by a robust but friendly madame, simply superb pizza was whacked on our table by rotund and moustached waiters. Such a feeling of warmth from this family run place, we had to eat their more than once. Of all the magnificent food though, the gelato stands out. Christina is a bit of an ice-cream connoisseur and is a harsh judge. We tried more than our fair share of Gelateria with results from "pretty damn good" to "that is the best thing I have ever tasted". This trip has turned me on to ice cream in the same way as Argentina turned me on to beef. Gelato we love you.
Typically southern European, Rome is imbued with passion. From the humdrum, beeping and swearing of crazy traffic, to the interesting and "look at me" fashion sense, wolf-whistles and mannerisms of just about every local you come across. Addictive. Unlike the fairytale of Florence, Sienna, Venice and the rest, Rome seemed a real city to me. One that draws for more than just a visit. I doubt the opportunity will arise, who knows, but a place I could really get into. Live in and soak it all up.
SERIE A AT THE STADIO OLYMPICO
Of Roman Rome and the Papacy I will write more later, but for now my description of our sojourn in this eternal city must deviate to another true Italian obsession - FOOTBALL. As luck or fate would have it, Lazio were playing Torino on our final night. We grabbed some tickets, were confronted by the still standing column of Mussolini and entered the Stadio Olympico.
A place of pilgrimage for any football fan. Entering any stadium gives me a buzz, but walking up those steps, the hair stood on the back of my neck as this Mecca of football opened up before my eyes. Venue for the 1990 World Cup Final and home of two of the biggest football clubs in the world. This was happy time for Christina and me. Although not full, the fans that were there were suitably crazy. Simply brilliant.
Then for another pizza and gelato. We left on a high and I can't wait to come back....