Saturday, October 22nd
Lucia, the landlady of the apartment we stayed at in Rome, wanted payment in cash, up front. This is against VRBO rules; she was basically cutting them out of the deal. As had been suggested by every travel guide we read (the spirit of Rick Steves was always with us), we showed up in Rome with zero cash. We planned to get what we needed from ATM’s. We got special accounts with our bank just for this purpose – to get large amounts of cash out of the machines per-day and not be charged international exchange fees. We needed cash for the taxi ride from the airport and lots of cash to pay Lucia. Immediately, this wasn’t working.
None of the ATM’s we stopped at gave us any cash at all. We got all kinds of strange error messages and “Can’t do this” responses. I ended up arguing on the phone with a lady from Chase (using up some of my precious international minutes). No one could tell us what was going on. We couldn’t pay the taxi driver and eventually found out how bad it was that we couldn’t pay Lucia.
Lucia was a monster. Keep in mind that we had been traveling since the previous day, 24 hours off the clock for us, and we’re standing with all our luggage and car seats and babies on a side street in Rome with no place to go. Tempers flared, and we kind of all turned on each other. At one point, Valerie (Remember Valerie? She left a day before us.) magically came around the corner. She went off to get diapers that we needed. While she was gone, we frantically called her (more minutes) to see if she could get any cash. Turns out we were using the ATM’s wrong.
Although our bank let us take out a lot of cash per day, each machine had its own limit that was much less than what we needed. So Val walked around from ATM to ATM, getting as much cash as she could from each one until she had enough to cover the cost of the apartment. By this time, Heidi and Claire had been sitting up in the apartment with Lucia for over an hour. I guess it was pretty unpleasant, hostile and a bit scary. I was down on the street with Gabbie and Tommy, wondering what could possibly be taking so long. We’ll wrap this up now – eventually Lucia got her money, and we got into our place in Rome. This was a very dark time though. We were all tired and confused and not sure how the situation would be resolved. So many hours were wasted on this, our first day in Italy. Although unpleasant, like all things, it passed and we moved on with our trip.
On a lighter note, the elevator in this historic building was a bit of a novelty. You had to manually open and close a set of gates and doors, and the pulley system was completely exposed. Tom was fascinated by it and almost always yelled “Yay!” when it went up and down. It was so small and rickety and slow, though, that it got old. The novelty wore off. Not for Tommy; he loved it the whole time.
To keep us from falling asleep right way, we had a walking tour of Rome booked for that evening. We barely made it to the meeting point on time, but off we went to walk around Rome for a few hours after flying overnight and arguing with a wicked landlady.
The walk from the area of St Peter’s Square to Piazza Navona is not insignificant. It was made even more not-insignificant with the directions I got from Google Maps. I’m actually surprised my GPS worked at all that night because I would find out the next day that no one told me about configuring the device for international use. We purchased a data and calling plan for Europe, but I still had to turn something on inside the phone. For that first day and night it wasn’t turned on. We were the last people to arrive for the Sunset Walking Tour of Rome, and they had been waiting for us. It was during this tour when Tommy was first called Tomassino, and it stuck.
We met at the Brazilian Embassy and then walked around Piazza Navona . We saw and discussed the Fontana dei Fiumi and the obelisk on top of it. We admired Sant’Agnese in Agone and a lot of other amazing buildings. I heard names like Bramante and Bernini and wondered what it must be like to live around this ancient architecture where the structures are many centuries older than the entire country in which I live. We saw and did a lot of things that evening, but the highlights include:
- The Chiesa di Santa Maria Maddalena (which was gorgeous in the sunset light)
- The Pantheon (it was crowded)
- The Spanish Steps (lots of people there)
- Trevi Fountain (TONS of people there)
I think Valerie and Gabbie did the throw-a-coin-over-your-shoulder thing at Trevi Fountain, but I can’t be sure. There were so many people there that they were just absorbed in the crowd. We ate gelato (which was actually part of the tour), and our guide told us how to drink out of Roman water fountains like locals. They have really good water in Rome. Coming from the Pacific NW, I’m used to good water right out of the tap (water snob?). Rome has that too.
By the time we were done, it was dark, and we were really tired. Because of this, we took a taxi back to our apartment. This was our first taste of a really Roman taxi (the trip from the airport was more of a hired shuttle). Getting a taxi would soon become an unpleasant stress point for us. One of the first Italian phrases I learned was “Quattro adulti, due bambini.” Upon telling the drivers that we had two babies with us, at least half of them would shout, “Impossibile!” gesture wildly, and then drive off. Of the ones who agreed to take us, we still had the challenge of fitting the big stroller in the vehicle somewhere.
By and large, the taxi drivers in Rome are not nice people. They were mostly trying to rip us off by not using the meter and charging us fixed prices that were about three times a real fare. Still, we were kind of stuck since we couldn’t exactly pick and choose our drivers with our group. Every taxi-getting event was stressful, but it was just something we had to put up with. You’re not required to have babies in car seats in taxis in Italy. Perhaps we’re bad parents, but we didn’t want to drag the seats around with us everywhere we went and install and uninstall them in every cab. Tommy loved facing forward from the backseat and often said “Wheeee” while we drove. At least he was enjoying the car rides in Rome.
Driving in Italy is INSANE. At least, from the perspective of my American experience, it’s insane. I’m talking about the big cities here, like Rome, but there is an element of the craziness everywhere we went. It’s every person for them self, and people drive as fast as they can all the time. Plus the streets are much smaller than in America. But no matter how small the street is, no matter how much it seems like it would be for pedestrian traffic only, there will be people driving on it. And just when you think it can’t get any tighter, you’ll discover that it’s actually two-way traffic . . . and cars will be parked on it.
Motorcycles are everywhere. They’re not the big, loud Harley-Davidson-style bikes we see in America, but there weren’t a lot of scooters either. They’re kind of an in-between size, and these drivers are the craziest of all. It’s like they have a death wish. They drive a million miles per hour and pass cars on either side, at any time. But car drivers aren’t much different. If you want to turn left, across an on-coming lane of traffic, you don’t wait for an opening. You just go. You turn right into the on-coming traffic that is going at-speed, and people will make an opening. And that’s the thing – this crazy, death-defying system of driving works because everyone plays by the same rules. I didn’t see any accidents or pedestrians getting hit during my time there. Of course, I also had my eyes covered some of the time while riding in taxis (not kidding).
Another thing we found out quickly is that most people do not speak English, even in a big city like Rome. The next time someone tells you that “They speak English everywhere,” ask them if they’ve actually been to the country in which they claim English is spoken. We occasionally came across servers in restaurants who spoke pretty good English, but for most people the best they could manage was only a few words. To that end, Google Translate was my friend. I leaned on this app heavily, and for the most part it came through for me. There were a few times, though, when Google’s translation was a bit too literal, and this made for some amusing (at my expense) exchanges.
Everybody was interested in Claire. Strangers everywhere we went asked how old she was, so I had to learn how to respond to that. “Dieci settimane,” I’d say (and gesture wildly with my hands), to indicate she was 10 weeks old. During the trip she transitioned to being 11 weeks old, but I wasn’t going to learn a new number.