Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Italy - Day 1 - Christmas Miracles, Unattainable Coffee, and Grappa

Last Christmas, Kerri and I surprised the kids by announcing that we were going on a family trip to Italy. We had been planing and saving every penny for a LONG time for this wonderful treat.

"Ha, ha," said Alex, poking desperately under the branches of the suspiciously bare Christmas tree. "Seriously. Didn't you get me a phone? I wanted a phone this Christmas. And last Christmas. And the Christmas before that."

"Then you should be used to the disappointment by now," I replied. "No phone. Italy."

And another joyous Christmas was spent at our house.

I've always wanted to go to Italy. I've had dreams, for as long as I can remember, of dragging my family from one historical landmark to the next, tasting pizza at the leaning tower of Pisa, tasting pizza on a gondola in Venice, tasting pizza while gazing up at Michelangelo's David.

 We spent months preparing for the trip. We studied the area; learned local customs; we even took an online Italian language course.  We were ready.

"Wait. You were serious about this? I'm really not getting a phone?" Alex asked as we buckled into the tiny seats for our 7+ hours of close family togetherness.

 The actual flight to Rome from Boston was long and cramped and it might be best if we agreed to never speak of it again. Alitalia is the official airline of Italy and of chiropractors the world over. The online reviews we had read of the airline ranged from awful to truly horrific, but we agreed that this would all be a part of our traveling experience.

In truth, the flight wasn't so bad. They did have old fashioned TVs that dropped from the ceiling during the flight and they were considerate enough to show the same movie (Far From the Madding Crowds) three times in succession, which really made the time slip away. The 7 hours and 20 minutes we were airborn only really felt like 7 days and 20 hours.

Once in Rome, our adventure began as soon as we debarked the airplane and boarded the shuttle bus that would whisk us to the airport terminal, located, it seemed,  a few hundred kilometers away from where the plane actually parked.

The airport shuttle did not have any in-flight movies or wine available.
It did offer a bright, cheerful sign warning you that if you lean on the doors, you will be decapitated. The Italian's bold directness was refreshing.

Even with the very real risk of decapitation, it was probably still safer than driving in this vehicle, which has a large sheet of paper glued to the windshield directly in front of the driver's face.

Soon, we were at the terminal where we were to meet a coach that would take us to our hotel. While we waited, we enjoyed the sights and sounds of a new country's airport.

The coffee machine in the airport was more elaborate than the international space station. I'm sure it produced delicious, astronaut-quality coffee, espresso, and cappuccino, but I couldn't even figure out where to put the money in.
The airport workers all had uniforms with their jobs clearly printed across the back. Here we see MOVERS. There were also CLEANERS. They sort of made me feel like I was in a children's TV show like Blue's Clues or something. I kept expecting them to break into song. They never did.

Soon our coach arrived and we had to pry ourselves away from the tingly thrill of watching MOVERS and CLEANERS wander back and forth with cigarettes dangling from their insouciant mouths.

This is our magical coach.
We climbed aboard and were amazed at the swank, opulent splendor of the bus.

Faux hardwood floors...

Buttons for lights, sound, and, what appears to be a button that will deliver steaming hot coffee directly to you at your seat!

I will caution all of you against pushing the "steaming hot coffee" button. My screams as the coffee poured into my lap were disruptive and alarming to the other passengers.

 We were whisked through the outer fringes of Rome, where the airport has been hidden amidst bucolic fields of olive trees and the occasional McDonalds, directly to its bustling center where traffic laws are scorned and scooters fly past you in death-defying displays of bravado and stupidity.

Massachusetts drivers have a well-earned reputation for being really aggressive (sorry Mass, it's true), but the drivers in Rome made the fine folks from Massachusetts look like little old ladies, peering through their steering wheels as they dotter along country lanes.

The Romans also have a very fluid notion of parking. If there is a space, they will park in it.

 We arrived at our hotel and had a few minutes to relax, unwind, wash the coffee stains from our crotches, and get ready for dinner with our tour group.

The hotel was lovely.

The lobby featured a statue of a menacing armed soldier to remind you that maybe you shouldn't bother the hotel staff when they are trying to watch TV.

A glass covered hole in the floor was pretty, if inexplicable.

Our bedroom featured the biggest, most elaborate headboard known to mankind.

The bathroom had a shower with a bewildering array of controls. I suspect it was made by the same engineers who devised the airport coffee machine.

Dinner was held at a restaurant with what guide books would call "a commanding view" of The Colosseum.

Not a bad view at all. Plus, our table mates were bold about asking for more of the included wine. Yay!

I learned a lot on this trip. Romans, for example, made extensive use of steel scaffolding while building The Colosseum. Who knew?

 After dinner, we signed up for an optional tour of Rome at night. Optional tours are a series of things that, according to our tour guide, Beatrice (Bee-ah-TREE-chay), you simply cannot miss.

We were exhausted from our travels and agreed that a short bus ride around Rome at night might be nice.

And it was.

From the bus, I saw this store. I have no idea who this person is or what's going on inside this sad, empty store. If you happen to be in Rome and pass by this place - go ahead in and buy a little something. I think he needs all the help he can get.

Our tour also brought us to Capitoline Hill, where we could get out of the bus and marvel at the architectural work of Michelangelo Buonarroti (yeah, that Michelangelo). Capitoline Hill is one of the 7 hills upon which Rome was founded. It has a long, rectangular piazza surrounded on three sides by large, imposing buildings. Today, one of theses buildings houses government offices and the other two hold museums.

This is really the only decent picture I got of the piazza that night. Sorry.

The piazza was also filled with Carabinieri, the national military police of Italy. They were milling around with cigarettes dangling from their insouciant lips, much like the MOVERS and CLEANERS at the airport. Except these guys were armed to their eyeballs with automatic assault rifles, something that none of the CLEANERS had. Which is probably a good thing. I was a bit disappointed that the Carabineiri didn't have big letters on their backs spelling out "SHOOTERS" or something.

It seems that the mayor of Rome ("that STUPID mayor" according to Beatrice) had resigned earlier in the day and the Carabinieri were prepared for any trouble that might arise.

Alex asked a group of Carabinieri if he could take a picture with them in front of their gigantic assault vehicle and a few of them grunted. He assumed it was an affirmative and hopped in with them and snapped a picture. You'll have to imagine it, as it is on his ipod, which never leaves his fingers.

We headed back to the bus and were taken to the hotel where I decided, inadvisedly, to try a local drink called Grappa as a small nightcap. It seemed like a fun, continental thing for a jet-set playboy like me to do.

This is what 10 Euros worth of Grappa looks like in the hotel bar. That translates to roughly a billion US dollars worth of drink.
It looks even better when my lovely wife, Kerri is in the background.
Obviously it will make me suave and sophisticated. I am in Europe, after all.
A small sip of this refined, Italian aperitif.

This is the last thing I remember after that small sip.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I look forward to reading about the rest of the trip!