Monday, June 22, 2009

L's Musing about Italy

I am beginning to realize that traveling in another country means a lot of trial and error and getting lost. Well, technically, D & I get lost a lot in North Carolina, but we know the language and the main basic roads, so we don't stay lost for too long. Plus, since we retired Shea (our old Magellan GPS that led us astray a lot) for Mags (our British-accented Garmin), we hardly get lost at all. Well, we brought Mags, but she's about as reliable as Shea in Rome. Daniel tells me the problem is urban canyons where he can't pick up the signal, so we wander a bit until Mags rejoins us. This is not a big deal if we are not on a schedule, which is usually the case. However, we had to make reservations for the Borghese Gallery. The have a very strict reservation policy and you can only stay for two hours and then they give you the boot. You are supposed to arrive a half hour early to get your tickets. Well, we had spent the morning being lost, er, exploring Travastere. We were actually looking for a couple of different guide book recommended restaurants for lunch. Mags was confused again, the first place we tried didn't exist anymore, and Rick Steves' "homey" restaurant wasn't quite ready to serve yet. Side note: restaurants and shops post hours of operations, but they are really suggestions. They might open twenty or thirty minutes later, take siesta (a three-four hour period in the afternoon when all the shops close), or just decide to call it a day at 1pm on Saturday. I remember Rob saying once that he didn't like Denmark because he couldn't buy milk on Sunday. I remember thinking, "What's the big deal? Just buy it on Saturday." Now I understand the aggression. You probably tried to get milk for the last two days but were too early, too late, or came during siesta. Plus they sell the milk in such tiny containers that are clearly not for cereal eating (also suggested by the all of four cereal choices at the store).

Sorry. Got a bit off topic. Travastere was indeed very beautiful and did look like the Italy they show in movies all the time. I even got a picture of someone's wash on the line on a narrow street. There were beautiful flowerboxes in windows everywhere and the buildings were all painted in cheerful hues made a little less brilliant by age and dust. The objective of going there was to walk around and see it, not go to any particular site, so getting lost served our purpose nicely. We saw a great deal more of Travestere that we probably would have otherwise. We eventually just picked a restaurant that looked good and it was. It was still more trial and error, though. Once again I tried to order gnocchi. The first time was our first day in Rome. I was told I couldn't have it because it was only served on Tuesday. As it was Tuesday, I was a bit confused, but ordered the lasagna anyway. This time I ordered the gnocchitta in tomato cream sauce, thinking this just meant small gnocchi (it was listed with two other gnocchi dishes). It turns out that gnocchitta is the little shell pasta like you get in the Velveeta shells and cheese box. It was still good, though. Likewise, Daniel ordered the calzone with mushrooms and got instead the calzone with proscuitto. Again, still good, put not quite what we were expecting. I will say they make fabulous pizza/calzone crust here and many wonderful cheeses.

Again, I digress. Food always distracts me. Anyway, after lunch we realized we really needed to book it to get to the gallery on time. Ha, Ha. We got lost for over two hours. All those winding streets I had praised for their beauty suddenly became my worst enemy. My bad foot that still has the pinched nerve actually went numb at one point because we walked for so long. We finally made it to the gallery not 30 minutes early as they recommended, but twenty minutes after our reservation. We told the ticket lady we had reservations at 3pm and she said, "It is impossible! You must now wait to 5!" So, I gratefully sat on a bench for over an hour until 5pm when they would let us in. D, who has been Mr. Boundless Energy over here, decided to walk through the large park that connects with the gallery instead. We finally got in and found that the gallery was pretty small. They did have a lot of nice pieces, including some stunning sculptures and paintings done by Raphael, but we were still done in an hour. I'm not sure why they wouldn't just let us in at 3:20. Thankfully, in D's exploring the park he found a bus that got us back to Termini, where we take the train home. It was late and we were in a rush to catch the train, so we got McDonalds and ate it on the train. The fries aren't really the same, but I took great comfort in the fact that the Big Mac tasted just like the Roxboro Durham's, and they even had the mix on the Coke right.

I'm reading Bill Bryson's I'm a Stranger Here Myself while I am here. It's a book that compiles about two years worth of a weekly column he wrote after returning to the US after living in the UK for 20+ years. It is especially funny to me right now. I've never considered myself an America hater by any means, but I always kind of imagined us as inferior to Europe for some reason. I have to say, though, I love air conditioning and showers larger than a postage stamp, and hot water, and TOLIET SEATS!, and customer service. We may lack old world charm, but gosh darn it, we have convenience. Don't get me wrong, I am enjoying my time here, but I am appreciating home more than I thought I would.

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