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Davide Castel Davide Castel
Recommendations: 39

Arrivederci Roma

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She had a friend.

This is another repost of the first time I travelled to Rome over 20 years ago.  How things have now changed!

I sighed with relief as the train glided out of the station. I sat facing a stranger wearing a puzzled, yet intent expression on his face. These last five days were everything I expected plus more.

                     * * *

This was my first visit to Rome.  I was travelling with my husband and we looked forward to experiencing the many highlights of this ancient city. We had been warned about pickpockets and ‘being taken for a ride’ but we felt confident and dismissed these warnings for we spoke Italian. The train from the Leonardo da Vinci Airport took us to Stazione Termine. Our travel agent booked us into a hotel close to the station.

‘It is walking distance,’ he had said.  However, with two suitcases and hand luggage, we decided to take a taxi.

The traffic in Rome was chaotic and, because of one way streets, we took an extended detour of the city arriving at Hotel Roma some time later. No one had warned us that there would be an extra charge for the camera case sitting on my lap!

We stepped down one flight of stairs to reception and then climbed two flights of stairs to our room, which was quite small. We were not prepared for the tiniest compact bathroom where the water from the shower sprayed on to the toilet. The hotel had a feeling of unease about it.

We ventured outside to get our bearings of the city, amid warnings from the receptionist that motorcyclists would rip the handbag from my arm. She had been a victim and showed us the scars as proof! We left huddled together, the handbag containing our passports, well protected between us. At first, we looked around us suspiciously, but then felt it was ruining our pleasure, so put our fears on hold and ended up having a great time.

Our days were spent visiting St. Peters Basilica and climbing to the top for a spectacular view of Rome, seeing the Colosseum and the ruins of the old city, climbing the Spanish Steps and making a wish as I threw a coin over my shoulder into the romantic Trevi Fountain. People carried bottled water everywhere and so did we, for it was full summer and the humidity had us perspiring by 9 a.m. each morning on our ten-minute walk to the autobus at the front of the Stazione.

Ciao! Buon giorno! Buona sera! Grazie! Prego! Arrivederci…

We loved hearing the Italian language spoken all around us and joined in whenever we could. The trattorie served delicious wafer thin pizzas a pranzo, (at lunchtime) and we always ordered the good value four-course menu turistica, per cena, (the tourist menu for dinner).

The evenings were quite unusual and noisy and we were woken in the small hours to see people dressed like bunnies walking past our barred window. There were even men dressed in drag costumes. During the day we would see males with full make up in the area. We had not realized that we were staying in the Kings Cross section or the Red Light District of Rome!

The following day, I asked the manager to guide me to a Laundromat.

‘Non esiste la lavatrice a Roma’ (Laundromats do not exist in Rome), he had said.

But with the bars on my windows, and a tiny bathroom and nowhere to hang our washing, I was at his mercy. The manager kindly offered to give my small bundle to the hotel maid, together with their hotel laundry load. He even said that she would iron them.

‘Oh, no. I have my own travel iron. These are just tee-shirts and smalls,’ I told him.  He promised I would have them the next day.

It was two days later when the hotel receptionist finally handed us our small bundle of clean washing, neatly packaged, in brown paper and with an invoice of $85!  My husband and I were fuming, as the manager had not said what the cost would be. He had made us feel that he was doing us a favour, as his guests!  When we tried to track him down, he avoided us, until we finally cornered him and told him what we thought of him for misleading us, especially as we did find a Laundromat in the city centre.    

‘Well, this is a business after all’ he replied.

And so we live and learn. I knew there was something shifty about that place the moment I stepped inside.

                     * * *

We left the hotel on our last day and walked to the station with our luggage. We had booked first class seats on the train for our six-hour journey to Venice.

The train glided out of Stazione Termine.  I sat facing a stranger who looked at me intently.

Had I but known that this stranger would turn out to be the hotel manager’s brother... but then, that is another story...

Arrivederci Roma!

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