I went to Italy, scene of ancient battles, gladiators and perverted pleasures – so delightfully reproduced in movies and TV series (if you think “Rome”, there sure is a lot of reproduction going on) – four days after the 4-0 defeat of the Italian football team by the Spaniards (remember, Russell Crowe in “The Gladiator” was nicknamed “The Spaniard”?). All roads lead to Rome, goes the saying. With Ryanair, the selling point of everything that you have never considered buying while being up in the air, you are left at the Ciampino airport. From there, it takes 40 minutes to travel by bus (and almost the same to wait for one) to the Termini Train Station, Rome. And this, at Termini, is where things actually begin…
When Martin Luther (the guy with the Bible) stepped into Rome, he issued: “If there be a hell, Rome is built over it”. Now, I am centuries apart from this guy, but that day, when I disembarked at Termini, our minds were one. The heat was slightly unbearable (but that’s normal, because I was coming straight from Belgium), the crowd of people was just horrifying, the Romanian gipsies too many and everyone seemed preoccupied with walking on my toes, robbing me, pushing me and all sort of group activities against me. A piece of Dante’s “Inferno”.
After having walked to the metro station in Brussels, taken the metro to reach the station, taken the bus to go to the airport, flown with Ryanair, taken the bus from Ciampino to the Termini station, all within 7 hours, I then needed to take the metro from Termini to wherever my camping for the night was. So I needed a metro ticket. Some ticket machines came into sight, but what a hard work to get to them: how to make your way through the gipsies who gravitate around you like hungry vultures, the visitors who already bought their tickets but won’t separate themselves from the ticket machines, and the Polizia who passively pretended to do their job and chase the gipsies away. I could have bet that they split 50-50 with them.
Anyway, ticket in hand, I look for metro line number 2. Easy as, I thought, knowing that in Rome there are only 2 metro lines. Think twice and bite your tongue, baby! For the way to El Dorado was long. The metro station was actually under construction for Pope knows how long and the only signs towards my longed-for destination were sheets of paper glued to the walls, with an arrow and a 2 printed on. So I followed, for quite some time.
While Rome was not built in one day (and the precious remains definitely testify for that), it was certainly built on seven hills. Hence the uncountable number of stairs that you climb to get anywhere. Honestly, do not pack too much if you really need to go through the metro station: all escalators do not work. You’ll just end up carrying your luggage on an insane amount of stairs, so it’d better be light (and you’d better not have a heart condition). You’d also better not be handicapped; for I’m not sure Romans are actually prepared to welcome disabled people with the necessary facilities.
So much for the first impressions of a highly coveted and excessively touristic European capital…”Sinistra”, says the voice in the metro to announce that the way out for the next stop in on the left side. “Sinister”, I thought, holding my bags extra close to my body, for by that time I had started to suspect everyone of wanting to rob me.
After the metro, I also had to take a bus to reach the camping site where I was to spend the night. In Rome, buses have still not been provided with on-board systems announcing or displaying the bus stop name. Consequently, you never truly know when to get down. Luckily, the bus I was in was filled with young people speaking English, so I told myself I should just follow them: they looked like the camping type. I eventually got to do the check in at the camping site, cursed myself briefly for having booked there, but then, hey, I actually started to notice that: it was hot the way I liked it, the sun was shining and there was a pool! With water I could swim in!
What I normally do once I dropped and locked my luggage somewhere in a foreign country/city is to immediately grab a map and explore it. But then I was so glad to have escaped the hustle and bustle that Rome was to me that afternoon that I decided to know better than that: I jumped in the bathing suit, took a beer and laid by the pool in the company of a friend who was travelling with me the next day. Only when we finished the third beer and got sunburnt (I do not consider putting sunscreen on necessary, since I only see the rays once a year) did we realise that we had to go to the Termini Station (oh, no, not there!!) to meet up with another travel mate and have dinner.
So there we were, 3 girls from 3 different corners of the world, wandering in the streets of Rome to get some food. Bree, our mate from Australia, was recommended good restaurants in the San Lorenzo area, which we still could not locate half an hour later. I then started to look for my skills in Italian and asked a guy for the direction. What he said to me in Italian confirmed the puzzled look in his eyes: he explained to us that San Lorenzo was a place where people openly sold drugs and put it in your hand without you even asking for it. We “grazie”-ed him and took the first chair of the first restaurant that was not in San Lorenzo and had the best gnocchi alla carbonara and the most delicious wine my lips could have expected to taste. Evening in Rome was good.
Between brackets, it’s true what they say about the Italian men: they truly jump out of the car at the red light, no, not to kidnap you, but just to tell you “You look beautiful”. If that does not make one smile!
During the next 3 days, I had a most wonderful trip to Sorrento, Capri, Positano, Amalfi and Ravello (The farther from Rome, the nearer to God?) with Busabout. I could call this a perfect break, since I fully enjoyed so many of the plentiful flavours that Italy has to offer. So much so that I have to go back.