Friday, October 31, 2008
When In Rome You Do as the Romans Do: Part Two
We awoke Tuesday morning to the sound of thunder (we went to sleep to the sound of thunder as well) and dressed appropriately. Joe found a flier for a bus tour that allowed you to “hop on, hop off” at various sites around Rome so we decided to spend the 36 Euros and utilize the transportation. We were getting weary of legging it everywhere and thought, what with only one day to spend in Rome and it being a wet one at that, we should give ourselves a break. The concierge at the Hotel Ciccerone front desk took our deposit, handed us a receipt, and pointed us in the direction of the nearest stop at the Pont D’Angelo. We slogged off through the wet in search of our bus.
Along the way, we were accosted by various street vendors selling umbrellas. I was determined to avoid what I deemed a frivolous purchase and, pointing to my trusty LL Bean all-weather coat and Joe’s plastic poncho, waved them off. We arrived at the bus stop a few minutes before our scheduled pickup and joined several other damp tourists, all waiting for their buses. Pont D’ Angelo, across the Tiber from the Castel Sant’Angelo, was a “hop on, hop off” point for several bus tours. Aside from the blue sign for our tour company “Ciao Roma” there were three others, all with pretty much the same route through Rome: Vatican, Sant’Angelo, Villa Borghese, Colosseum, Forum, etc etc. However, our bus company sign was the only one with a soggy notice attached: “Tour Itinerary Subject to Change Due to Social Demonstration”.
Hmmm. Could be problematic, but we were willing to give it a shot anyways. Beats sloshing through the rain, even if we miss a few sights along the way.
Our appointed pickup time came and went but we continued to stand patiently in the pouring rain waiting for our bus. Traffic was indeed heavy with the morning commute and the weather playing a factor so we figured we would give the tour company a break and wait it out.
We continued to wait. We noticed green buses and red buses for the other tour companies came and went. No blue bus. The next pickup time came and went. Still no blue bus. I was starting to get seriously soggy. I was also getting cranky with the aggressive umbrella salesman who kept coming over to me every few minutes, insisting I buy. I glared at him and he retreated before I could grab an umbrella and smack him over the head with it. Finally, after 45 minutes, the mythical blue bus was nowhere in sight so we decided to return to the hotel. Along the way I slipped and landed on my butt in a puddle so I was not in a happy mood when I confronted the concierge who set us up on the Bus to Nowhere. She was quick to give us a refund.
After a break in our hotel room, we regrouped and headed off for the 15-minute walk to Vatican City.
There was a slight break in the weather and the feeble sun bounced off the wet street leading to St Peter’s Square.
It also shone on the hundreds of people standing in line to enter the great basilica. What the hey?
After a few inquiries, we discovered that the line was for the security checkpoint. Good lord (really). Joe and I have been to the Vatican before (where there were no lines except to the confessional) and so we decided we didn’t need to see it again. Off to the next sight.
It started to rain again, so Joe and I decided to give the bus tour another try. The green bus for “Tour Roma” was stopped at Vatican City so we forked over our Euros and “hopped on”. The ticket seller gave us a set of headphones we could plug in to our seats and we listened to the sonorous voice of some British actor explain the history of whatever soggy landmark lay to the left or right of us. The bus crept its way out of Vatican City and across the Pont D’Angelo (still no blue bus to be seen!). It crept a few meters beyond the Pont D’Angelo and then pulled over. Break time! The bus driver, tiring of the traffic logjam, needed a cup of coffee. Luckily the sun broke through again, this time with more strength, drying the seats on the upper (open air) deck of the bus. Joe and I went above and waited to get moving again. But no standing on the top deck!
After 20 minutes or so, the bus made its way back into traffic and we made the slow, torturous circuit around to Villa Borghese and down Via Veneto.
It was now an hour and a half since we left Vatican City and we’d gone perhaps three or four miles. On the Via Veneto we came to a full stop once again, this time with a stand of orange trees tantalizingly out of reach.
We were hungry. The demonstrators were approaching our street and all traffic was being halted until they passed. The bus driver advised people to get off here and leg it to the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps because God knows when the bus was getting there. The bus emptied except for us and a few others. The bus driver announced that as soon as the parade passed, the bus was skipping the next few stops and going directly to the train station. Yay for us – I needed to make train reservations for Venice.
Once the demonstrators had marched by (still don’t know what it was all about) we made relatively good time to the train station, “hopped off” and took care of business. The Colosseum didn’t seem so far so we decided to leg it rather than take our chances with the bus again. We made the walk, spotted the ancient walls and promptly sat ourselves down at a Colosseum-side café where we polished off two sandwiches and a bottle of wine in record time.
And waited (once more) for the rain to stop.
The demonstrators passed by the Colosseum (they were following us!)
and, after snapping a few pictures of them, we decided we’d had it with the weather. Time to find our bus for the ride back to the hotel. We made it to the bus stop just as there was a (brief) break in the weather and were rewarded with a photo of the Colosseum with rainbow adjacent.
As soon as I snapped the picture, the skies blackened once again and a torrential downpour began. After a half hour, our green bus appeared amidst the cheering of many tired and wet tourists. We “hopped on” and made the slow, torturous circuit back in the direction of Vatican City.
It was now getting dark and the afternoon commuter rush had started. Apparently, the demonstration was STILL going on and, you guessed it, they were blocking our path once again. The bus inched up the road. Joe plugged his headset back in to see if he could find something to listen to. He found some classical music, interrupted occasionally by our tireless narrator who intoned that, just to the left and through the foggy window and pouring rain, we could see the site where someone may or may not have been killed a few hundred years ago. Near Piazza Navarro, the bus pulled over yet again and the engine was shut down. The bus driver got out and walked off down the street. Uh…..HEY! Where the hell are you going? He returned after a few minutes and announced the bus would be parking here indefinitely. He and the ticket seller helpfully pointed out where we were on our maps and we “hopped off” the bus and headed off into the rainy darkness hoping to find some familiar landmark.
We had made friends with some American tourists on the bus and we all decided to hike together – safety in numbers and all that. Maps in hand, we marched off in the direction of what we hoped was Vatican City. At one point, one of our group swore our bus had just passed us but we decided it was a hallucination and kept going. Stepping through puddles and avoiding homicidal motorists, we arrived at our destination, Pont D’Angelo. Congratulations all around.
Joe and I didn’t go far for dinner that night, just downstairs to the hotel restaurant.
And it didn’t rain once.