Monday, August 29, 2011

And so we came to Rome....again.....

Thursday, May 26, 2011:

Devouring the final breakfast at our favorite table in the corner of the dining room where we sat spellbound by the glorious view of Sorrento below and Naples in the distance, we prepared to say goodbye to the blue waters of the bay.

I used the guest computer to check email, packed my last minute items and we thought we would wait outside in the fresh air for our faithful driver, Ciro. He was already there ten minutes ahead of schedule. We found him seated at one of the outdoor tables in front of the hotel, and he jumped right up to transport our large suitcases to his taxi. We had thought that perhaps he would bring a larger vehicle, but that didn't happen. For a moment, it looked as though he wasn't going to be able to secure the back of the taxi, but with some squeezing, squishing and rearranging, he accomplished the daunting task. With collective sighs of relief, we were off to Pompeii.

The agreement had been that he would take us to Pompeii and wait for us while we toured the ruins. He would then deliver us to the Naples train station, where we would catch our train to Rome. He inquired as to whether we had already purchased our tickets to Rome, which we hadn't. He proposed to us that with the shipbuilding strikes creating uncertainty with the trains, did we want him to drive us all the way to Rome, which would mean that we wouldn't have to wait for a possibly delayed or canceled train and also this would eliminate our having to deal with our luggage collection numerous times? We discussed it and decided that it was worth the price when you consider the fare for the train ticket and then trying to catch a taxi or two from Termini station in Rome to our hotel. Actually, it was a bargain.

Ciro deposited us at the entrance to Pompeii, where we purchased our tour tickets and then also agreed to a guided tour for a small additional fee. For one brief moment, a peculiar feeling suddenly gripped me as I came to the realization that Ciro's vehicle contained all of our belongings. I almost felt a sense of panic. Could we trust him with everything we possessed in Italy? What was to prevent him from simply driving away in his little taxi with all of our personal effects? After discussing this as a group, the girls reminded me that: #1-we had his business card with all of his official information on it, including his cell phone number; #2-he would surely want to be paid and would likely prefer cash rather than our underwear, shoes, jammies, etc.; 3-after all, he did meet us promptly as prearranged and even dressed up in a nice jacket and special gray, shiny, stretchy looking pants. I would have to relax and cease worrying unnecessarily.

Pompeii is situated on a plateau of Vesuvian lava and overlooks the Sarno river valley. The oldest reports of its origin date back to the 6th century BC. Once again, this tour was just a fraction of the time one could take to explore these archaeological areas. The walking tour seemed like a whirlwind, but it was H...O...T outdoors while we were covering a substantially sizable territory.

One unforgettable display was called the Garden of the Fugitives. It is a large space which houses plaster casts of some of the victims from the 79 AD volcanic eruption. Giuseppe Fiorelli, director of the Pompeii digs from 1860 to 1875, used liquid plaster to pour into the cavity left in the bed of ashes by the decomposition of the victim's bodies. The plaster would solidify, reproducing the body's shape--an eerie sight to behold, and it was easy to ascertain that their arms were positioned in a manner which demonstrated futile attempts at protecting their heads from the spewing, hot lava.

It was interesting to see that so long ago, this culture actually had sliding doors, as was evidenced by the grooves in the rock. They also had running water with lead pipes. We walked through the ruins of brothels, viewed original mosaic tile floors and many ruins and remains from a zillion years ago.

I know--it's really rather creepy, isn't it?

Upon our initial exit from the ruins site, there were several police vehicles blocking the road. We were told that their presence was related to the protests regarding the strike of the shipbuilders.

Ciro had told us to meet him across the street when our tour was complete. There were numerous cafes in the vicinity, and as soon as we exited, we made a beeline to the first cafe directly across the street. Ciro was not there, but we were hot, thirsty and ready to sit down. Taking a walk to locate Ciro so he would know where we were, I spotted him at a different cafe just down the street. I told him where we were seated, and he strolled over to meet us. We asked him if he'd like to join us for lunch, and he briefly sat at our table. We quickly sensed that he felt uncomfortable for some reason. As hot as it was outdoors, he insisted on wearing his jacket while sitting with us. We protested and said, "No! Don't put your jacket on--it's too hot!"

In his broken English, he explained that he wanted to wear his jacket to cover up the tattoos on his arms. Laura said, "It's okay--I have one, too!" We believe that he had wanted us to eat at a different location where he had familiar connections, but he really hadn't initially made that clear to us. We had just headed for the first available cafe that offered shade and refreshments.

Ciro sat with us for a very short time and then returned to the cafe where his friends were located. We waved at him as we walked past on our way to his taxi. The vehicle was parked exactly where we had left it, along the side of the narrow road, and our belongings were undisturbed. Ciro quickly joined us, waving goodbye to his friends. As he turned the ignition key, we heard an unsettling grinding noise. After several unsuccessful attempts to start the vehicle, he said that he must have left the flashers on too long and that had drained the battery. At least that was what we think he said. We were beginning to feel uneasy about the possibility of missing our 6:00 tour in Rome. Did Pompeii have AAA?

Our angel driver jumped out of the taxi and ran back across the street to the cafe where his friends were seated. Within single digit minutes, they juggled a vehicle next to our taxi and used jumper cables to start the car. It was actually an older grandma-type lady who had accomplished the jump. We all loudly clapped and cheered for our efficient rescuers!

As we began our ride to Rome, we were completely exhausted and each one of us slept at one point or another. It began to rain, but Ciro was doing an excellent job of navigating through the heavy traffic and along the wet roads. I seriously believe that I completely passed out as soon as we were on our way. I would wake up periodically and see the traffic and rainy conditions and then promptly nod right back into dreamland.

Parking across the street from our Roman hotel, Caesar House, there was momentary confusion because the sign on the building actually said La Belle Hotel. Caesar House is located on one floor of the building on Via Cavour, and is actually a boutique-type hotel--almost like a bed and breakfast--within walking distance of many important historic sites. Ciro had gone the extra mile and had run over to the hotel first to confirm that this was the correct location.

He then dodged relentless traffic several times to transport our luggage over to the hotel for us, and it was quite an ordeal. He made sure that we had removed all of our belongings, thanked us for our payment, and was on his way. As previously mentioned, Ciro was truly our angel, as his initial appearance at the train station in Naples paved the way for saving us a tremendous hassle throughout this entire leg of the trip. He was polite, honest and dependable, and if anyone is ever traveling to that region and wants a driver, I'll be overjoyed to share his contact information with you.

Our building's elevator was one of those small, antique-like lifts that you see in the movies. It would require several trips with only one or two people able to fit in the elevator to bring everything we owned up to the second floor. On a severely tight schedule since we had already prepaid for the 6:00 p.m. Heart of Rome tour, we rushed to freshen up and regroup. We were to meet our guide from Angel Tours, as signified by a tan umbrella with angels all over it, at the foot of the Spanish Steps.

After our peaceful days in Serene Sorrento, Rome seemed like sensory overload with the tons of vehicles and people everywhere. We located our guide, swift-footed Ben, and followed him for two hours along the trail of the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, etc. etc. Also on our tour were a mother and daughter from Ohio. The daughter had just graduated from college, and this trip was a gift from her mom. How fabulous that this mother and daughter could share these memories! The problem with us, however, was that we were extremely hungry and tired. Although Ben was knowledgeable and a very nice young man from Wales, we were not in the greatest of shape to fully appreciate the walking tour. Toward the end of the two hours, Sharon said, "I can't hear what Ben is saying, and I don't care!"

Ben suggested that we might want to walk across the bridge to locate one of the several good restaurants for dinner. We crossed the bridge over the Tiber River when it was nearly dusk and came upon Antica Osteria Rugantino. At first, we were seated outdoors next to tourists from South Dakota, but it was incredibly hot, noisy and crowded. We asked to be seated indoors where it was cool and quiet. The hostess/manager was from Missouri and told us that she loved living her life in Rome. Dinner was reasonably priced and delicious, though we were so hungry at that point, we could have eaten anything presented to us--including the table cloth.

Before the evening was over, Sharon and I both bought small, stylish, rolling semi-duffle style bags in order to rearrange our suitcases, lighten the loads and transport our Italian treasures. The cost was 20 Euro each, and we were proud to have negotiated that price. As in Florence, if one displayed an interest and then walked away, the price magically descended. Laura had already purchased an extra bag for her acquisitions in Florence, and although another piece of luggage is the last thing I need to be storing in our garage with all of the others we have collected, it would absolutely lighten the weight of my large suitcase and be easy to pull both pieces.

After dinner, it was getting late and dark so we took a cab back to our hotel instead of walking around late at night in unfamiliar Roman territory. We still had unpacking to do and needed to get settled in our rooms. We were all ready for a great night's sleep, as we had covered substantial ground today. Tomorrow will begin with breakfast to be delivered to our rooms and then we'll be off for a 9:00 a.m. tour.
Crossing the Tiber River at dusk

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