Monday, January 23, 2012

Amalfi, day eight; Rome, day one

[Sorry for the flurry of posts, and the lack of photos. We have had little or no internet access, and now in Rome, it is limited. Loading up photos is tough. I'll try again tonight.]
Our last day of changover and our last destination. We were off to Rome. Despite everything, and the loss of what we felt was perhaps curiosity, we had liked Amalfi. But we felt the deprivation of no internet and no washing machine. It is the simple things.
We packed and left the villa by 9.30am. A quick stop in Agerola to say goodbye to our hosts and to check our email for our next destination and we were on our way. From Amalfi to Rome, it is about three and a half hours. We weren’t to be met by our host until three so we felt like we had time. We figured that, including a stop for lunch, we should be in Rome by about quarter past two. Heaps of time to get organised and get ourselves to the apartment. Best laid plans and all that.
We were no longer compelled to gaze out of the window constantly. This countryside is pretty but nothing that was going to get our juices going at this time of the trip. As we left Naples and headed out to the motorway, we were suddenly held up by what looked like a traffic jam. But we also noticed that the lane on the far left seemed to be moving a bit, so we moved across and realised that what we had come face to face with was industrial action by truck drivers. We weren’t sure what the action was about, but it was a fair guess that it had to do with the austerity measures, and the hike in taxes. There were hundreds of trucks on both sides of the motorway – right at the pay station – halting those who were trying to transport goods, and waving through cars like us. It was pretty intense, with about thirty or forty men standing blockade and waving you through, or stopping you for a check.
Myles, Paris and I then had a fight about it. Myles said that they were breaking the law and they should make changes within what was possible. Paris and I argued that changed often happens when people work outside the law, challenge the status quo. Paris and I were feeling very righteous.
Lunch was nothing much – roadside nonsense. The best bit was we ate with Franciscan monks. Fat ones.
And here was something else interesting, something that I had noticed before, but was particularly apparent at this roadside stop. Even when I speak Italian to shop keepers and so on, they will often answer me in English (my accent must be that bad; sometimes they speak to us in English even before we have spoken – always a little creepy). And I will continue to speak in Italian, and they will continue to speak in English. And the joke of it is really that my Italian is bad and, for the most part, their English is equally bad. We would be far better off speaking our own language to one another. But we are locked in this polite dynamic. I think it is polite to try my best in the local language and they think it is polite to try their best in the language of their guest. It can get a bit messy.
We were all sweating when we came into Rome. Partly because it was humid and party because driving through a big city is not any of our favourite experiences. Samantha got us through sort of (she is a little flaky these days), and we found that we were at the station. Myles, with his incredible vision, found the tiny sign that said Hertz, and we drove up and up and up through a car park. At the top, we found Hertz. Abandoned. The men who were operating the car hire place next door told us that they had gone for coffee and would be back in five minutes. And so they were. Everything went like clockwork and we were out and in the street with time to spare. Now, to find a taxi …
I asked a man on the side of the road where we might find the taxi rank. He told me that there was a taxi strike and there were no taxis to get. Sigh.
I rang the host to warn her that we would be late, and to ask which bus we needed to take. She told us; and then we went to the bus stop and got more information – tickets and so on. It was strangely smooth (though exhausting). The bus was there. We got on with our crazy heavy bags. I asked a woman beside me where I needed to get off. She told me she would help me. She did. Off we got. Then to the newsagent to buy a map, to ask for directions. And after several stops and more advice, we arrived at Largo dei Librari. And there was our host.
But I do have to confess that this all took about an hour and there is something stressful that is beyond straight logistics about getting around a huge city with enormous lumps of luggage and kids. You wonder if you are going to lose a kid somewhere. And part of my confession here is this: all my liberal ideas of the individual having the right to strike when there are decisions taken that are not in their best interests went straight out the window. I cursed the taxi drivers and their industrial action. I wanted a big stationwagon to pick us up and deliver us to our destination. So much for self righteousness.
Up we went to the apartment. This was one of our early bookings, and Niccolo had been most excited about it because it looked like the kitchen ceiling was so low, you would have to cook on your knees. It turned out to be not that dramatic; though you do have to duck pretty low to get to the fridge. Their room however, was that low. It is a kind of attic thing (which they love, love, love – Paris even tried to bribe them so he could get it, but they were having none of it) where you cannot stand up straight unless you are eight (so Niccolo is fine) and everything is tiny and somehow secret. I had to put their clothes away while sitting on my backside. They disappeared into this slice of Enid Blyton Italian style and drew their curtains immediately. We got set up. Internet. Hooray. Washing machine. Hooray. Some semblance of TV that works (though no BBC). Hooray. Good heating. Hooray. Long walks that beckoned just outside our door. Hooray. And an elevator. Double hooray.
We went out for supplies and dinner. We are a few steps from Campo dei Fiori so it was here that we headed. We chose a strange place, a mozzarella bar (who knew?). It was great. Everything came with the mozzarella that is like rope; great long ropey lengths of delicious cheese. Those of you who know Myles would know that his horrified him (he ordered the tomato soup), but Paris and I had the melanzane with lashing of mozzarella and couldn’t have been happier. I’m for this concept. I think we need one at home.
After supermarket shopping, we all had a bath, one after the other. It was a joy to be properly clean and, as the bath has jets, nice to have a back massage into the bargain. We think we will like Rome. We really do.

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