Sunday, July 29, 2012

Day 10: All roads lead to Rome!

On the tenth day of our vacation, our plan was to get up and leave early to drive back to Florence to return the car.  Since we had such a nerve-racking experience picking up the car, Sam was on pins and needles about driving back into the city. And I was on pins and needles thinking about the stress that we were about to endure... 

We awoke, showered, packed our bags, and headed down to breakfast.  We then checked out of Casa Nova La Ripintura at about 10:00 am.  We left in our tiny Fiat Panda with map in hand, expecting a shorter drive since we somewhat knew where we were headed.  But didn't we always know where we were heading in the first place?  Oh well.  We apprehensively meandered along the SR 222 heading north until we finally came to the A1 autostrada.  We cautiously entered heading north toward Bologna, which should take us directly next to the Florence airport. This time the experience went much more smoothly, as we knew what to expect. Once on the A1 for awhile, we started to see signs for the airport and followed those to exit.  Thanks goodness I had done some pre-reading on a blog that described the roads surrounding the Florence airport, as we found his description very helpful in knowing that we were indeed actually headed the right way after we had exited the autostrada. (I cannot seem to find this blog now, but when I find it, I will post a link here.)  The airport isn't just off the highway, you have to meander quite a bit and it is somewhat confusing, as it appears you are back-tracking. The most difficult part, once-again, was once you drive past the airport and to the new location for rental cars, which entails lots of last-minute turns and merging.  But we made it!  We both exhaled a sigh of relief when that car was put into park safely in the lot.  

From here, we hopped on the shuttle to the airport.  From the airport, we took the Volainbus again for €6 each to the Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence.  From here we stopped directly at one of the automated machines and bought two tickets for the fast train to Rome.  These trains depart from Florence to Rome almost every hour.  We had just missed one, but only had to wait forty minutes or so until the next one. We are glad we waited and did not buy in advance since we were not sure how long it was going to take us to get the rental car back and to take the public transportation to the train station. We luckily found seats in the main lobby of the station and ate Pringles while the pigeons picked at our crumbs. 

When it was time to board, we had almost forgot to validate!  I quickly ran down to the end of the platform and validated and we boarded.  The train was packed and since we had bought our tickets pretty last-minute, unfortunately Sam and I did not get to sit together. However, that was ok.  I popped my earbuds in, listed to some itunes (and the silly banter from the three Canadian college kids surrounding me), and read up on some Roman sites in my Rick Steves guide to Rome. The ride was very quick- covering almost 278 kilometers (173 miles) in an hour and a half. Normally this is about a three hour drive. 

Upon our arrival in Rome, we immediately bought Roma passes at a newsstand in the Termini train station. This was a last-minute decision, and we loved the convenience of our Firenze passes, so we figured we would go for it.  We did not plan to visit many museums in Rome, but it would give us entry to the Colosseum (with little to no wait), the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill.  We could also use it to ride the public buses, so we decided it was worth the €30 for each of us. Here is more information on the Roma Pass. 

We arrived a bit earlier than expected.  We were in Rome at about 3 pm (15:00) and the owners of our rental apartment were not going to meet us until 4:30 pm (16:30). Therefore, we thought we would wait to activate our Roma Passes (They are only good for 72 hours once you use them.), and walk to the apartment.  It was crazy hot, as it had been the entire two weeks, but it feel seven hotter within the city.  We made our way south of the Termini station along Via Cavour and headed toward the Colosseum.  Along the way, we stopped for a quick, cheap lunch at a pizza snack bar on Via Cavour.  We didn't have much luck with other snack bars, this was pretty decent considering the price and allowed us a small space to sit, rest, and take off our now-heavy backpacks while we ate a late lunch. 
After we ate, I asked if I could use the water closet (aka bathroom).  The guys did not hesitate and pointed to a door.  I went in the door and found myself in a very narrow corridor packed with restaurant supplies, then I went down a flight of circular steps, then through a hallway and eventually found myself in the scariest bathroom of all time.  It was basically a large room with a toilet and a shower, but it looked like someone lived there.  I was very close to running the other direction, but my insatiable need to pee won me over.  It felt eerily like a horror film, and I was about to be the victim.  I have never peed so fast in all my life.  I bolted back up those stairs very quickly! 

Next, we continued to walk until we turned a corner and suddenly came across THE Colosseum!  It was breathtaking!!!! I felt like I was in a dream... or was I just horribly dehydrated?  Maybe both.

 We walked to the other side of the Colosseum- Laterano- where our apartment awaited us, but we were still very early.  Once we found the address on the Capo d' Africa, we rang the bell, but no one answered yet.  We walked a few doors down to a Fruiterria (fruit stand) and grabbed two bottles of water and guzzled them down.  We were SO hot and dehydrated.  We sat on the curb outside the apartment for awhile, but then saw a snack bar/gelato place just two doors down, so we opted to stop in for some gelato while we waited.  And they had seating!  And they had air-conditioning!  We sat and enjoyed our water and gelato while we watched some American CSI-type show dubbed over in Italian. 
At about 4:30 pm, we walked over to the apartment where Irina, one of the owners, met us. She let us in and showed us how to work the "elevator" and up we went to the "5th floor" penthouse.  I learned that the 5th floor in Italy is actually the 6th floor,etc.  This is because here the ground level is actually level 0. 

She showed us around the efficiency apartment and gave us instructions and helpful suggestions.  The apartment was awesome. The small apartment is perfect for two people and includes a small kitchenette with all appliances, wifi and other modern conveniences, as well as a balcony overlooking the Colosseum!  I couldn't stop taking pictures...Then we laid in the cool, blissful air conditioning and actually passed out for about two hours! See my review of this apartment here and if you are interested in renting this apartment go here
Roman rental apartment
The tiny kitchenette
Roman rental apartment
Roman rental apartment
We then watched the sunset behind the Colosseum and St. Peter's dome from our balcony and then took off once it began to get dark and cool down a bit. 
We ventured out past the Colosseum and even got a quick sneak peek of the Roman forum along the way.  

We passed through the large Piazza Venezia. On the South side is a truly monumental structure, dominating the whole piazza, dedicated to King Vittorio Emmanuele II, the first king of unified Italy. Officially known as the Altar of the Fatherland, it was constructed between 1885 and 1905 and changed the whole appearance of the area due to its enormous size. The whole area and its surroundings had to be cleared, including many ancient structures. Many Romans dislike this structure, saying it looks like a gaudy wedding cake and actually refer to it as "the wedding cake". The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is also now housed in this structure.
"The Wedding Cake"
We continued down the Via del Corso, once used as an ancient horse race course and adorned with large stately mansions- one of them once housing Napoleon's mother. On we went to the Trevi Fountain.  What a crowd!  The Trevi Fountain is enormous. At 85 feet high and 65 feet wide, it’s the biggest fountain in the entire city of Rome. A fountain was originally built on this spot in the mid-15th century, when the tradition of building fountains to mark the end point of an acqueduct was rekindled, but this has always been the end point of one of Rome’s ancient acqueducts. The acqueduct was destroyed by invaders in the 6th century, but repaired in the 15th century by order of the Pope when the first fountain was built. The Trevi Fountain you see today, which was completed in 1762, is still served by that same Acqua Vergine acqueduct. Unfortunately, much of the left side of the facade behind the fountain was under construction when we were there, but it was still very cool! 
The Trevi Fountain!
From there, we walked a few more blocks to the Spanish Steps. There was a need to connect the front of the church, Trinità dei Monti, to the piazza well below it.   Plans were made as early as in the late 16th century. However, the history of these steps dates back to the late 17th century. During this time, the church was under French ownership. In order to connect the church with the popular piazza below, the French ordered the construction of a massive, elegant staircase – the very one that stands today. The steps were first given the name Trinità dei Monti, after the church and the upper piazza. Later, it was renamed to its current name after the lower piazza – Piazza di Spagna; The Spanish Square. The square itself was called the Spanish Square due to fact that the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See was located nearby. Of course, we walked up them and back down again just to say that we did! 
The very busy Spanish Steps
We returned to the Trevi one more time and then sought out the restaurant L' Antica Birreria Peroni- a place I found on Trip Advisor.  It seemed to be just what we were craving that night! To be honest, we were somewhat sick of wine at this point, and I really just wanted an ice cold beer!  This restaurant has quite a history and is supposed to be the birthplace of the Italian beer, Peroni.  It had beautiful architecture inside, but had a cozy pub atmosphere.  See my full review here. We arrived here around 9:00 pm (21:00) or so for dinner and the place was pretty busy.  We only waited about 10 minutes for a table for two, however. 
Entrance of L'Antica Birreria Peroni
We both ordered Peroni- one of us light and one of us the dark. We split some fried appetizers- supli- a friend rice ball with tomato- and a zucchini flower stuffed with mozzarella and sardine, and stuffed olives.  I was craving anything but pizza or pasta, so although in Rome, I decided I was getting a hamburger and fries!  For those of you that know me, I hardly ever eat hamburgers, so this was saying something! To my dismay, a hamburger in Italy is obviously a bit different from its American cousin. No bun. No toppings. Just meat. It was imply two hamburger patties with fried potatoes, but I must admit that they were made of quality, rich ground chuck!  Sam opted for the pasta carbonara, which was very rich, but very good! 
Yum... beer.
Sam enjoying his Peroni. 
Pasta Carbonara
My tasty Italian "hamburger"
We walked the long walk back to our apartment and slept well in the cool air-conditioning. Here are some night views of the Colosseum along the way. 
From our apartment balcony...

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