A few weeks ago Dr. Gorgeous asked me where I would want to be for the holidays if I could choose anywhere in the world. “Rome,” I told him, followed by a snicker.
We’d been there at New Years in 2002. It was a big trip with all of us and Angela who was Blane2’s new girlfriend at the time. I’d gotten rail tickets for five countries and we’d do it with backpacks. I’d speak the French and Angela would take care of the Spanish and the Italian. Just travel Italian. I gave her my tapes which I hadn’t listened to in years.
We did Paris without a hitch. On the Rivera, I nearly got my ass beat by a gypsy grandmother. We were sitting on a bench, people watching, mainly the legless man on the sidewalk with a cane who would tap the ladies on the butt as they walked past him. Some of the women would look back, spot him, then laugh. Others would give him a tongue lashing. One woman beat him with her purse. But he was a funny guy, he had a toothless smile and his face was animated. Before long there was a crowd watching the reactions of his “victims.” Then, as all street acts go, he passed the hat.
The gypsy part was a side drama. A girl (about nine) had four little kids sitting around watching her dance. By force. Every time a kid tried to get up and leave, she would shove them back into their “seats.” They might have all been from the same family or together, but oddly, there were no adults with them.
Spanky, around the same age, grew tired of the bullying and upstaged the kid with a sound she used to make. It was an odd sound, like something a fish would vocalize, if fish could talk. The kid cussed and threatened Spanky in French, which at the time, she couldn’t understand.
I go and try to break things up and the gypsy kid curses me lower than a dog, tells me her grandmother is a monster and will beat me unmercifully, that I better watch my back for the rest of my life… I told her to go get her, I was ready for a fight and she said, “My grandmother will get you when she is ready, and you are not.”
Not the first time I’ve been cursed. On to Italy.
The train sitch is a disaster that time of year in Italy, something we didn’t anticipate. We’d been there in the summertime. Piece of cake. During the holidays, however, everyone is traveling to see family. Since we don’t make plans, we had no seat reservations. We had to Mad Max fight for our seats just like the others. When a train pulls into the station, mobs of people shove into the doors and stuff the trains. Since there were six of us, two of which were little girls, we had to be cautious. Lots of trains left the station without us.
Once on a train, we shove into a compartment, two to a seat, with other stinky and weary travelers. Each stop we pick up more people. Soon there are people sitting on the floors, in the aisles, practically hanging out the windows. Some people outside our compartment have a guitar, drum, and tambourine, and start playing some music. Next thing you know, everyone on the train is singing to whatever they are playing. The Italians don’t get worked up about being stuffed on a train, they make the best of it.
We finally get to Rome, find a room and rest our exhausted bones. We only came here for a couple of days. To see the Sistine Chapel, spend New Years Eve here, and welcome the new euro when it comes out at midnight. We get a tiny amount of lira from the ATM as we want to use Euros on the very first day of issue.
We get to the Chapel and it is closed for New Years Eve and New Years. We weren’t going to see it. So Blane2 and Angela go on their own to do some things and we take the girls to do the usual, Trevi Fountain, Colluseum, etc. When we get tired, I suggest we get on a bus, any bus and just ride to the end of the line, get another bus and ride back. Simple. Cheap.
I am known for bright ideas and although they frequently get us into trouble, I have this crazy optimistic outlook and the ability to convince everyone that this time things will not fall apart. I also have two angels watching over me. One is a practical joker and the other is a hero that comes in at the last minute to save the day. Everyone knows this and in the spirit of adventure, they are always willing to do what I say might be fun.
The bus takes us out to the suburbs and when we try to get back on, the bus driver says the bus is finished for the evening, we’d have to find another way home. We get off the bus and what’s the first thing we see? A cement fence with a six feet tall swastika painted on it.
Funny thing, too, this suburb is high up on a hill and we could clearly see Rome below us, beautifully lit. Miles away, however.
We walk and walk and just see houses. It gets dark and a little cold. There are no businesses open, no pay phones anywhere. Not a human in sight for what seems like hours. The homes look so warm, in fact we are certain they are lit by candles. And food. We could smell it everywhere.
Finally we find a restaurant but no one speaks English. No problem, I whip out my phrasebook. Find out this is a private family function. We tell them we are lost as all hell and just want to get a taxi out of there. They tell us it will cost a fortune.
A fortune we don’t have because we only had a few lira, remember, the euro doesn’t come out for a few hours.
The kind people in there had mercy and fed us one of the best meals we’ve ever had. When the taxi driver got there, they bargained with him to take us to Rome for about one fourth his normal price and to take American dollars.
I’ll finish Rome and get to Milan and Barcelona tomorrow.
Edited Note: The story continues here.