Our last stop on the girl trip Italy tour was Rome, Easter weekend in Rome no less. I hadn’t thought the timing of it through very well but there was nothing I could do about it now. I had pre-arranged a parking place for Blacky in what I thought were the outskirts of Rome, since the B&B was in the center of the city and had no parking available. Mena had a girlfriend that lived in Rome who kept her car in a parking garage there. The two of them convinced the owner of the garage to let me leave Blacky for the weekend, for 18 Euro a day, and helped me find the easiest route to the garage, since Leona’s route took me right through the heart of Rome, something I was desperate to avoid. I had become more and more nervous about finding the garage and driving around in Rome as the day approached for us to leave. At least this time I had two pairs of eyes to help me.
We took the autostrada south from Florence to Rome, and I stayed on this until I was on the eastern side of the city, whereupon I promptly took the wrong exit into the city and all directions from Mena were useless. I now had to rely on Leona to get me out of this mess, a scary proposition. We worked our way through an industrial section of town, then the outskirts, and finally into the neighborhood of the garage. Leona kept telling me “you have reached your destination” but we couldn’t see it. I drove up and down the street several times and finally saw the tiny eye level sign “Garage” over a little driveway leading down under a building. We turned in, driving past a ferocious looking, chained watch dog while a large, short man came out to greet us.
“I am Brooke, Mena’s friend, you said I could park here?”
“Si, si,” he said as he waved me to a spot.
Woot, woot, I did it! I felt so victorious, overcoming another real fear of driving in the heart of crazy Italian driver land. I’d driven in Naples and in Rome and survived both intact, Blacky unharmed. Michael would truly have been proud.
The three of us grabbed our luggage and headed for the Metro, which naturally was uphill from the garage, about four blocks away. We arrived at the B&B, near the Termini Train Station and met Roberto, the owner, who showed us our room overlooking Via Nazionale. We settled in and walked down about half a mile to the Forum, the Colosseum, the Monument of Vittorio Emanuele ll, which Romans call the Wedding Cake. We were near everything we wanted to see. I had booked one tour for the next day, Saturday, at the Vatican, because I really wanted Helen and Becca to see the Sistine Chapel. We had plenty to see for today, and wandered around in the crowds of people waiting to see the Pope drive by on his way to the Colosseum. Every year since 1991, the Pope goes to the Colosseum to pray at the Stations of the Cross. Catholics from all over the world come to Rome at Easter to celebrate with the Holy Father.
Shortly after we returned to our room that night, Roberto, looking tired and frazzled, came to us with a request.
“Can I ask of you to move rooms tomorrow? To one of my other B&B’s, much closer to the Colosseum and the tourist places? It would be the same price and size as this room. I made mistake, and promised this room to another family. They want this room, they don’t want to go to the other B&B.”
I looked at him with a “what’s the catch” kind of face, then looked at the girls.
“I would move all your luggage in the morning and I would throw in a taxi ride to the airport.”
This was a significant expense and load off our mind, as we had planned to take the Metro in when the time came. The three of us looked at each other as we tried to figure out the downside of a move. We weren’t in love with our room, it was just OK, and as we hesitated, Roberto kept on going. He knew we were touring the Vatican the next day.
“I’ll give you a ride to the Vatican in the morning.”
“Sold,” I said.
The next morning, Roberto was waiting in the lobby area outside our room.
“I’m going to take you by your new B&B on the way to the Vatican so you know where you will stay.”
“OK,” I said, “but we have to be at the Vatican no later than 10am, or they’ll leave and we’ll lose our money.”
“Si, si, no problem.”
I was getting anxious as it was now about 9:15 and he’d told me before that it was 20 minutes to the Vatican. For me, that was cutting it close. It took a while to get everything situated and by the time we got downstairs, to what I thought would be a waiting car, Roberto started hailing cabs. It was 9:25 now and we didn’t even have a cab?
“Roberto, remember we have to be there by 10:00.”
He finally got us a cab and we drove to the new B&B. I thought he was just going to drive by and show us the building, but he stopped the cab and we all got out to go inside and see our room. With my phone, I took a picture of the building with the number, that’s what I do so I don’t forget where I live. When he told us the entrance code to punch in to get in the building, I put that into my phone too.
“You are so American, writing everything down. Why you do this, can’t you remember? You worry so much.”
“Roberto, I don’t remember these things, I have to write it down.”
He just shook his head as he ambled into the building and took us upstairs to the B&B. He showed us around, we inspected our room, while I glanced at my watch constantly and wiped the nervous sweat off my face. I said nothing but thought plenty as the minutes ticked by and we still weren’t on our way.
We finally got back in the cab, the driver and Roberto, sitting up front, having a long discussion in Italian about the best way to get us there.
“Roberto, we need to be dropped at the steps next to the Museum entrance.”
He lifted his hands in the air and waved them around frenetically.
“Don’t be so United States, writing things and worrying about time. This is Italy.”
It was 9:45. I gave him the finger behind his back and didn’t say another word as I slumped back in my seat and surrendered.
We pulled up next to the steps at 9:55, jumped out and found our group, got signed in, then waited nearly 20 minutes for late people to show up. This is Italy.
The Vatican was packed, particularly the Sistine Chapel, where no one wanted to leave and the guards shouted and moved us along like cattle. I swear, if they had been allowed to use cattle prods they would have. Even with all that going on, it was still an amazing tour, with more to see than anyone could possibly take in.
After the tour, we were starving and went in search of lunch.
“Let’s get off the main streets, farther from the tourists and see what we can find,” I suggested.
We walked for ten minutes down smaller and quieter streets until we found a promising restaurant on a corner next to a small church. There was a ten to twenty minute wait but we liked the look of the place, all the customers were Italian.
Since we had to wait, and we were already near the bar, I ordered three Proseco’s, sort of an Italian champagne, to sip on while we waited. There was quite a discussion about this between the bartender, the host/owner and the waiters. The bartender put peanuts and pretzels out for us to snack on and while we nibbled and sipped, more people came in, then some of them started getting seated. We were getting a lot of looks from the customers and the wait staff seemed fascinated by us for some reason.
Finally, I went to the host.
“Excuse me, but we still want to have lunch, we just wanted a drink while we waited.”
“Oh, scuzzi signora, I thought you did not want lunch now since you have drink. I will have table in ten more minutes.”
Apparently, having a drink at the bar while you wait for a table is not done in Italy and seemed to cause a stir among the regulars. We were finally seated, and as we walked into the small dining area, nearly everyone stopped eating, stopped talking and watched us being seated. I felt like one of us must have tucked our skirt into our underwear, or have a long tail of toilet paper dragging under our shoe, I couldn’t understand the fascination.
The waiter was very nice to us and the owner came over several times, apologizing. He kept hugging Helen, and during one of the hugs, tipsy from drinking the Proseco on an empty stomach, she gave him a big friendly American kiss on the cheek.
After our delicious lunch, the owner brought over a special liquer, one that he had made himself.
He poured one for each of us and left the almost empty bottle on the table, which we of course polished off as soon as he left. We were pretty giggly at this point, friendly and happy. The owner came back over and said he wanted to show Helen something, motioning her to follow him. She looked at us helplessly, unsure what to do but finally followed him.
This is what she told us later. He took her out front, pointed up to a window above the restaurant and asked her to go with him up there, said he would give her some more liquer. Her account was very confused because his English wasn’t good and her Italian was the same, but she got the message loud and clear, especially when he grabbed her boob. She rushed back inside to us, we paid the bill and got out of there as quickly as we could. We laughed about it nearly all the way back to our B&B, three naïve Americans confronted for the first time by the audacity of Italian men.
On the walk back, we passed a Gelaterie, and of course I had to have a gelato. As we walked and I ate my double dip cone, I tripped and stumbled forward for what seemed like half a dozen steps, my arms outstretched, gripping my gelato like it was an infant in danger, but I didn’t fall and didn’t lose any of my gelato. We heard two men right behind us say, “Mamma Mia,” in what I hoped was admiration for my amazing agility and balance.
We spent Sunday on a spur of the moment tour of the Colosseum and the Forum in the morning, then to the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon and all over town in the afternoon. It was a glorious three days in an amazing city and I was sorry to see my friends leave the next day. This taste of home would have to last me until my sisters arrived in May.