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Jul
25

Trip to Itlay for a little culture shock

When we woke up in Puglia, dark, thick clouds were overhead, black birds were all over the prato inglese (that’s lawn to you and me) and it was raining.

time to go

time to go

Ah, Nuncia our cleaning lady said rain never came to Puglia in the summer. But there it was a giant storm coming up from Africa to ruin all my laundry I’d hung out late the night before and the three weddings our friend had slated for the day.

But, alas, a perfect day to say good-bye. As per the southern Italian custom of constantly raising the bar on hospitality, Vittorio and his fantastic girlfriend, Katja, came by bearing gifts. This time salted ricotta to shave into pasta and spicy ricotta to use as a spread. My cleaning lady plugged her nose and told me that the smell of it made her vomit. Would I be smelling it half-way to Rome?

autogrill

autogrill

My children like Autogrills more than Rome. They watch them go by, take photographs of them and calculate the distance between the one we just left and the next one we can go to. Drives my husband nuts. It brings up all kinds of childhood trauma and neglect. First of all, as a kid, he wasn’t allowed to run around. Second he wasn’t allowed to buy candy and third he wasn’t allowed to have massive tantrums all over the place, so sad.

It’s amazing, these places are packed, packed to the hilt with tons of hairy, smoking Italian men draining their coffees and my little blond kids are pushing them out of their way to get to the Haribo aisle.

autogrill

autogrill

Each time, it’s 60 Euros.

We found a “family hotel” online for Rome. Now the very term “family hotel” is enough to send my old man packing but he had resigned himself to having to go to Rome. We set the navigation and drove across the heel and crossed to right above Naples, through Companga, and into Lazio. When you cross through the toll, you can see the dome of St. Peter’s and it’s really something. Amidst all the crap, there it is rising above.

st. peter's

st. peter's

Into our “family hotel” the Crowne Plaza St. Peters. At the check-in there’s a giant picture of eggs and bacon, people are speaking English everywhere, the kids were, sadly, ecstatic. They ran out to see an Olympic pool, a spa, a restaurant open all day long. Our rooms, two of them, had two large beds in each, with white fluffy pillows  and a TV in English. We dropped our bags and hopped on the first free shuttle into the city, a ten minute drive. Even my husband had to admit this was well-run and convenient as hell. There are no parking spots in Rome,even if you are Italian and an incredible driver as my husband.

But nothing quite prepares you for sightseeing with four kids in tow. We chose the Coliseum first because we pumped up the story of gladiators and lions to our bloodthirsty 6 year-old boy and his younger 3-year-old brother because well, we thought maybe it would keep them interested.

gladiator fight

gladiator fight

The line was long, 15 minutes, but we kept telling them about Spartacus and they were halfway into it, until we finally made it inside.

roman colosseum

roman colosseum

“Where are the lions?”

“Where’s the bad guys?”

Rome Colosseum opens gladiators' dungeons to public

Rome Colosseum opens gladiators' dungeons to public

“Is there any blood?”

“This place sucks, I hate it!”

“There’s the gift shop, can we go?”

And that was only halfway around the first circle. It was a perfect blue day, maybe 80 degrees, tops. The sky poked through all balconies where emperors and their soon-to-be dead wives and children. You could see the underground cells where animals and slaves were kept, the brick work leaves one stupefied.

But the tantrums my children had at the gift shop had more people staring at them than at the brickwork. We had to leave, we were distracting too many paying visitors- oh, and by the way, for non-Italian kids you have to pay something like 7 euros per kid. We pulled out, the children were all so hungry, tired, done, they truly did not care where we were. In the midst of all this swarm of humanity, I saw a dress.

This woman in a beautiful dress, two Philippino nannies, two assistants, two quiet children, an Hermes bag, and I was like WOW. Who is she? I almost wanted to follow her as she walking ahead of her troops like a general, even my husband noticed her.

“Serious money to have that kind of staff on a family vacation,” he said. “Hollywood style.”

hollywood style

hollywood style

We walked for miles in search of this pizzeria my husband’s friend who had a girlfriend in Rome suggested “Right around the corner from where we are.”

But I had forgotten, I was no longer a city girl, and right around the corner, always means five, six, seven blocks. I was dying. we get there, it was closed for another 30 minutes. We found one close by and we ate pizzas larger than our entire upper bodies.

This part of Rome, I must admit did not do do much for me. In fact, while I was trudging through the endless streets of commuters, I though, wow, Rome kinda sucks.

street life rome

street life rome

But then we fell into this little quarter of heaven. I mean a place so beautiful you wish you could sit and absorb it through your pores. Piazza Santa Maria, it was like a Fellini movie, exaggerated beauty, peace, and overall joie de vivre. Buildings weren’t just covered in leaves, entire trees hung from them, window boxes and waterfalls of green ferns, pink flowers, black and white cats playing in them, walking from window to window, peeking into rooms.

People look happy.

There’s a pizzeria called Santa Lucia, under a veritable greenhouse and then my husband realized where we were.

hotel raphael

hotel raphael

“Ah,” he said pointing to the hotel where entire vines cascaded,  this is the most famous hotel in Rome. This is where Craxi lived when  he was no longer in power. Here, he lived here.”

piazza navona

piazza navona

Piazza Novona was right there and it felt like the coliseum but in active times, it was brimming with people, painting portraits, selling bags, eating, drinking, kissing- a lot of kissing. We made our way back to the bus stop, exhausted.

our room

our room

Once back, in our beds, showered and ready to sleep, we switched on CNN and watched. Amy Winehouse and finally killed herself and 92 children at summer camp on an island in Norway had been gunned down.

Unbelievable.

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