Monday, September 24, 2007

Siena and Roma

Another gorgeous Tuscan day, and laundry day if we find one. This might be a recurring theme as we talk about it daily, and wonder if the thought that “Oh, we can always find a laundry, they must do their clothes too” was another really great idea with no basis in fact. How silly it would be if four intelligent people couldn’t communicate their need for a laundromat and get a lucid reply. We specifically packed light because we had complete faith in our ability. (Although "Room with a View" was written about Florence, Siena will do.)

At 8:00 this morning I had to awaken Ed to start our journey to find a place to wash clothes. Figured the ladies could get a little rest and we would do a nice thing while they snoozed. Were we ever wrong, no way this clothes washing thing was going to happen.

In fact, we spent a fair amount of time trying to get it done, driving right back by the restaurant from last night. Just before the large arch there was a small public square with people arriving for work, and a polizia standing in front of the bank. Try as we might we could not get anyone (including the cop, people in the little tabacci, or the café where we had an espresso) to understand that we were looking for a laundry (they got that part) where we could do it ourselves (that’s the part we just couldn’t seem to communicate as it obviously doesn’t translate very well). After a very frustrating hour we gave up figuring that even if we found one by the time we accomplished this simple feat it would be late morning.

The other decision we made was to forego our trip back into Florence this morning and instead spend the day in Siena, then make our way to Rome. Sitting out here on the patio writing in my journal is so peaceful. Sitting out here on the patio with my grown son on a glorious day is memorable. Edward ate his first raw olive from the tree by the patio. Not really thrilled with that I sense.

Our stay at "Yee Arkee" really was enjoyable and Sylvia turned out to be OK once day broke. The setting is beautiful, the location is convenient, once you know how to get there. To illustrate how difficult this place is to find, as Ed & I were sitting on the patio contemplating life a woman approached the patio and looking mystified, made a call on her cell phone (everyone has one except us). A moment later Sylvia appeared from up the street to greet her, and it was clear this woman was a new employee and it was her first day of work. So she had as much trouble finding the place (even though she was standing outside it (tough to see the little sign, even in daylight)), as we did the night before. Sylvia told us that if we ever wanted to stay there again, to please email her and she would give us a good rate.

We drove through our arch, a tighter squeeze than you would think, and made our way into Siena looking for a place to park. Siena is a walled medieval city and no cars are allowed inside the walls, however there are a number of lots near the various gates. We finally ended up all the way around the soccer field (actually very close to Il Campo), but finding a spot was not easy given the large size of our (€100 extra) BMW M5 station wagon (the gift that keeps on giving). It was the last spot left after we squeezed (hold your breath squeezed) through the maze that is the stadium parking and came out right behind the park across the street from one of the main entrances.

Il Campo is a seashell shaped piazza surrounded by buidlings. I can understand why some people list Siena as their favorite spot in Italy. Today the colors of the buildings complement perfectly the deep blue sky. There is something so relaxing about the setting that we did little but walk around exploring some of the back roads and sitting in Il Campo marveling at it’s beauty. The reviewing stand for the palio stands proud of the museum and you can imagine the horses, each with it's colorfully costumed rider, flying by.

We did go into the public part of the museum, the courtyard and took some pictures. The sky is so blue and the air clear there. We enjoyed looking at the fountain at the top of the piazza and all the neighborhood flags, lights, and shrines, each with their own colors. We ate at a little restaurant sandwiched between a couple of buildings with an awning over it. Ed had some kind of problem with one of our American tourist neighbors behind him. He may remember, I don’t. What I do know is that we were all a little challenged by the streets after lunch.

The drive from Siena to La Storta was mostly highway until we got to the ring road around Roma, then a very slow ride from there along Pia Cassia to Hotel Cassia ( in a lot of traffic (almost ½ an hour to go about a mile and ½. I guess all roads do lead to Rome, as Cassia heads right into the city in one direction, and out into distant suburbs in the other. We got here later than we had hoped, checked in, with our behemoth carefully berthed in the underground garage with ½ inches to spare. This car is taking on a persona of its own.

We knew from our hotel (the staff was friendly and very helpful providing us with a map with written directions) and the comments on the web site that the train station was just down the street to the right. Right. That is what we knew, however finding it was another story. We walked and walked back and walked and asked, and finally took the right right to get to the station. Easy when you know. There was a small tabacci right at the station where tickets could be purchased. How convenient. Plus the ticket was good for the train and one metro ride as well. How about that. We hit the jackpot.

Off we went on a double-decker train car for a fairly pleasant ride through the Roman suburbs. It was very crowded when we got to the train terminus, mostly because one of the only links to the metro was at that stop, so we boarded the right metro line with a zillion other people and got off at the Coloseo stop. Sure enough right at the top of the stairs as we emerged into the late afternoon Roman sunset was the Coliseum in all it’s glory. With no crowds, by the way.

Alicia and Kat had their picture taken with one of the pretend Roman soldiers who naturally, got pissed when they wouldn’t fork over the €5 he wanted, instead Kat gave him €1 and Ed felt he had to assert his pretend Portuguese soldier manhood into the transaction, indicating that no contract was made, no deal struck, and we were dealing with a flim-flam artist (duh).

We walked up past the forum and it really was a beautiful night, just the right temperature for walking. The buildings and monuments were bathed in light, and we were bathed in sweat thinking about this crazy Roma traffic. Kat to the rescue. She told us from the guide, that crossing the streets in Roma should not be scary and death defying (the two thoughts that come to mind immediately when you watch them drive). “The Romans simply walk across the street without looking and the cars will miss you, because the law says they cannot get within a meter of you” she said. How long is a meter I wondered. So each time we came to a major street we would just walk across making sure we never made eye contact with the drivers (like driving in Massachusetts), Ed exhorting us to “Work it, work it”, and like magic no car came closer than a meter to us. It takes some getting used to but it does work.

The first thing we did upon arrival at the Trevi fountain was to drink our Trevi cocktails, ensuring our return. Unlike his brother Adam on a previous trip, Edward partook, so he'll be back. Adam has yet to return. Most people think it's throwing coins into the pool (which we did as well, not wishing to take any chances) that guarantees success. It was very crowded, nary a square foot of space on the amphitheater styled steps. We made our way over to Piazza Navona via the Pantheon (which was closed) walked and watched the artists and street performers, and lingered over a dinner at a small restaurant called “Rust” which was down a side street. We headed back to the piazza for a Tres Scalini ice cream, which we got, and ate as we walked. We passed on the famous Tartufo, as it was expensive and to be honest didn't look all that appetizing. Although it doesn't sound like it, we actually walk more than we eat.

Realizing it was 11:30 and that we no longer had a bus/metro/train option back to La Storta we decided a taxi ride was in order (our first of the trip) and this is the story of one wild ride: Our Roma Taxi.

We asked two taxi drivers what it would cost to take us to Hotel Cassia. Each said (we think) about €25 and we all thought that was reasonable. Actually more than reasonable, and almost too good to be true. Interestingly, Via Cassia is a long, long, road that begins just outside the city proper, and goes a long way, at least through La Storta. I’m assuming that he figured we would point out the hotel to him shortly after we picked up Cassia (the road) and he could quickly get back into Rome center for another fare, pocketing a quick €25.

I was in the front seat, Kat, Ed, and Alicia in the back of this small taxi. We drove a couple of very quick miles and when I didn’t point out the hotel to him, he pulled over and brought out the equivalent of the Arrow Map book, and asked me to point out where the hotel might be on Cassia. When I did, and he saw it was all the way out in La Storta, I could feel the tension building. We were no longer in the city proper, and although clearly a safe area, there were few cars, and no taxis.

When he realized it was La Storta that we were going to he raised the price to €30. (At the time I thought, “Great, only another €5 and we would get dropped at the door. It could have been a lot worse.) That was OK with everyone but Edward who was muttering (quite loudly actually) that this guy was ripping us off. He said he'd rather walk than be extored, and the driver thinking this might solve his problem understood enough English to wait for us to open the doors and depart.

The rest of us didn’t mind extortion and were probably willing at that point to part ways with one dear son and one new husband. I said, “We have a deal, drive on my man!”, and the driver was clearly pissed (almost as much as Edward in the back who maintained a steady stream of muttering). The ride was quick. (This is an understatement, of hyperbolic proportion). He raced between stoplights, immediate acceleration, rapid deceleration. I put on my seat belt.

I started to imagine landmarks and suggested he slow down so that I would have more time to determine where we were. I don’t think he was paying attention. As I saw the right turn to the train station approach (now on the left) I knew we were close, and kept saying “right up there”, pointing to an imaginary spot on the windshield. I finally saw the sign to our hotel a split second after he did, and he de-accelerated from 60 to zero in a flash, pulled up onto the curb, and we got out admiring the skid marks on the pavement.

Kat gave the driver an additional €5 as we exited, much to Edward’s chagrin. She is wonderful.

We called Kitty at 12:15 am (attesting to the speed at which we traveled from the middle of the city to the suburbs) to talk to her before her shoulder surgery scheduled for today. Of course we are concerned and wish we were there with her. We pray everything will be OK, sure that it will be, but we are so far away.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

I have to say, that I'm quite excited with your decision to write. I've only had a few opportunities, in my lifetime, to enjoy your unusual wit in the written word and find it truly gratifying to have the luxury of enjoying it again and again at my leisure...write on my dear Father!