Pedro had a dream of going for a run in Venice, and that was our first order of business. We got up while the sun was low and it was a little cooler, and decided to run toward the waterfront. We guessed, and were happy to go almost directly to it. In one day we were figuring out the maze. It was mostly silent around our apartment and we expected the same at the waterfront, but it was surprisingly busy at 7am, with coffee shops open, people boarding the water transport, and workers hauling freight on little boats. We stopped at a canal at one point, just as two men passed in front of us with a boat laden stem to stern with kegs of beer. They hit the open water and left, heading for a nearby island. It was a nice little run, but tricky for me going up and down the bridges. Nearly all the bridges in Venice, and there are many many many bridges, are steps up to the top, then steps down again. We saw another couple jogging. We were out only a short time. I could have gone farther but Pedro headed us back. I suppose he wanted the experience more than a workout (or maybe he was worried about my stamina, ha!)
We showered in the tiny shower and cleaned and packed up for the next stage: train to Rome. Pedro mapped us a route to the train station and off we went. GPS frequently lost sight of us in canyons or tunnels. We sometimes backtracked and the place was so beautiful every second, that we never cared if we had to turn around and try another narrow street and then backtrack and try yet another narrow street until we got it right. This morning GPS led us past Giulio at his art stand and we called arrevaderchi and waved to him. He saw us loaded down with our backpacks and figured it out and waved back.
We arrived at the train station and figured out where to go easily. It’s a pretty small station for what I was expecting. Then we had an hour to kill, so we found a café and ordered cappuccinos and some sweet pastries with ricotta and orange, and a focaccia with cheese, arugula and tomato to share. We ate them standing up, the Italian way. It was perfect. The train didn’t show up till a couple of minutes before it was due to leave, and the board didn’t give a platform number till the train was there. We joined a large group of people waiting to board, and staring at the departures sign, waiting, waiting. It was sort of fun to share something with others, in another country. Then the train pulled in, the departure sign updated, we all boarded, and we were off in minutes. We didn’t have to sit next to anyone because it’s COVID and they were socially distancing us.
We hopped off the train into a busy train station in downtown Rome. During this entire two weeks in foreign countries with Pedro and getting to know each other better and spending 24-hours-a-day with each other for an extended period, I learned that he is an excellent travel partner. He is calm and practical when needed. Both of us scanned the entire craziness of the train terminal, then noted the signs pointing the exits to the left or right. We both remembered the main street we would be walking, and found that street name on a sign, and confidently walked right out into the city. There, we found even more noise and streets leaving in many directions, and we waited for the lights to change and crossed the busy street in the direction we suspected was right. No fretting, no anxiety, just a sense that we needed to get away from the craziness before we could map our route and find our hotel on foot. GPS came up with a suggestion, and off we went.
My travel partner Margaret is the same. She assesses the situation, realizes the best option, and does it. Bam. Finding an air-conditioned bar in Yangon’s Chinatown, navigating Santiago’s subway, she’s unperturbed. It is a good feeling to travel with someone like this. I’m glad Pedro turns out to be one.
Like Margaret, I love the details of planning. One of the things I had done prior to the trip was to do a Google street view, to see the front of the hotel. I wanted to recognize it, and make it that much easier for us when we were there in person. Well, my map kept routing me to the street behind the hotel. I scanned carefully to see if there was a back door entrance and there was not, so I checked the other side of the block and viola – big welcoming entrance. Then I promptly forgot all about that until Pedro and I were walking down this narrow street that even blocked vehicle traffic at one point, and the GPS was telling us we were almost there. Pedro stopped, confused. Then I recognized some graffiti on a wall and remembered! “We have to go around!” I told him the story and I took the lead. Since I had examined the street so many times on my computer, I knew where to find the steps to lead us to where we needed to be.
This was all serendipitous because 1) the narrow street was filled with outdoor seating for many cafes and gelaterias and even a chocolate shop, and 2) the steps we found were at the subway entrance, which is convenient to know and conveniently close to the hotel.
Check in at the Monti Palace Hotel was easy, and our room was great. We picked up a paper map in the lobby. We dumped our luggage and headed out to go back down the stairs to the alley and find some food. I finally tried an aperol spritz, and yes, it’s refreshing. It was early evening and we decided to see a few touristy things to get started. We headed for the Trevi Fountain first: one of the most familiar things to see in Rome.
As with every other city in this entire trip, on the way to our thing, we passed other wonderful things. Some official-looking yet still beautiful state building, members of the Italian Army, random statues tucked into walls and mounted on plinths and so common no one even noticed anymore. We passed remarkable sights that alone would have been enough to bring tourists from around the world, but since it was in Rome with a thousand other such sights, people paid little attention.
And there it was.
Part of the majesty of this fountain is its enormous size (it nearly fills the square) after arriving through narrow streets. It’s 85 feet high and 160 feet wide! It’s called Trevi Fountain because of its location at an intersection of three streets. This spot has been a source of water since 19 BCE, where water poured in from the Acqua Virgo aqueduct. Centered is the Titan god Oceanus, riding a shell-shaped chariot pulled by sea horses and tritons. Above his right shoulder is the Roman Army General Agrippa, who built the aqueduct, and named it after the legend of a virgin who led soldiers to fresh water. The fountain was designed in 1732 but not completed until 1762 and now the water is recycled and is not for drinking. There is a fresh water spigot on the side for drinking.
The place was crowded of course, but not terribly so, and we could push right up to the front. We admired its grandeur for a while then walked to our right, around the side where we had seen people sitting on a shelf of sorts. You can see them in the image above: four people on the right side, two sitting, including a man in white shorts and white shoes. They were gone when we arrived and we hopped up onto the seat and pulled out our map to decide where to go next. Soon there were whistles shrieking and carabinieri waving and hollering at us to get off the ledge. So we did, and walked to the next attraction.
In the 16th century, the Trinita dei Monti was constructed on a hill, and it became a stronghold for French nationals living in Rome. During this time there was a Spanish embassy at the bottom of the hill, and the Spanish Square there was an important space for the Spaniards. This raised tensions for these neighboring nations with an interest in Italy, and a politician suggested a way to ease tensions by building a stairway to unite the two. The Spanish Steps (actually their name is: Scalinata di Trinita dei Monti – the stairs to Trinita dei Monti) were completed in 1723.
Spanish Square is wonderfully large compared to Trevi Square. It was filled with people and on one end appeared to be set up with a bandstand and seats for a concert, but as we watched it turned out to be a fashion show. The square and the steps are surrounded by the most prestigious of design houses. At the base of the steps is the Fountain of the Old Boat (Fontana della Barcaccia), which was there before the stairs.
We climbed the steps and entered Trinita dei Monti. At the back of the church was a large yet empty stone basin, devoid of Holy Water. Pedro pointed to the table centered prominently for all who entered, with a generous bottle of hand sanitizer on it. He suggested that during COVID it was better to use the Holy Hand Sanitizer. We imagined the Holy Hand Sanitizer being exorcised and blessed by a priest, and giggled. I think we’re going to hell now.
We walked back to the bottom of the steps, and sat down to look at the map again. Sure enough, whistles shrieked and more carabinieri came toward us hollering and waving us away. We were simply not allowed to sit in Rome (recall we got hollered at for trying to sit in Venice too). We looked at our map and determined that the best way to get back to the hotel was to go up the steps again. So we did. We were to discover in the next couple of days that Rome had limitless steps to offer us.
On the way back to the hotel we passed lots of pharmacies – many with the white tents out front that we had learned means that they offer quick, drop-in, inexpensive COVID tests. This is technology completely unheard of and unavailable in the US, as I mentioned in my first trip post. Pedro realized we could get some kind of salve for the mosquito bites that covered his body and had been plaguing him all day. We looked up the Italian word for mosquito and it’s all we had to say when we got inside, we soon had medication in our hands.
Back at the hotel, Pedro used his salve and I ran across the street to a supermarket that I knew was there because I found it on street view before our trip. I grabbed cheese, meat, crackers and wine: all we ever need in a pinch. Pedro was watching The Simpsons dubbed in Italian while I was gone, but sadly it was over by the time I returned. I remember watching Seinfeld in Turkish once, in Kusadasi. Isn’t it hilarious to watch something familiar in another language? Before our trip while Pedro and I were trying to learn Italian, we found an episode of The Muppet Show (guest star Sylvester Stallone of course) in Italian and we watched the entire thing. After eating and watching Italian TV, it was time to rest.