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Friday, July 6, 2012

Tri, due, uno...

In the course of traveling for almost seven months into and out of 16 countries, we have encountered about a dozen different languages.  In most countries, we try to at least master the basic greetings and numbers up to ten or twenty in each language.  That process has given us some favorite numbers in foreign tongues.  My favorite is the word for two in Italian, which is due.  It's pronounced due-way and the great thing about Italian is with the way inflection is used in that language, you can drag "due" out to about six syllables if you work at it. 

The language certainly isn't the only thing we love about Italy. There's the fabulous food and wine and scenery and people--and trains.  The train system is fantastic--clean, efficient, on-time and very affordable.  We traveled from Ancona to Tortoreto to Rome for less than 100 Euro for all four of us.
In the picture above you can see us all safely standing a decent distance away from the yellow line as the train that took us from Tortoreto to Rome approached.  Part of the reason for that is about three minutes before this train arrived slightly behind schedule, another train came speeding toward the station.  Thinking it might be ours, we edged up toward the yellow line so we could get all our luggage on board and get some decent seats.  Much to our surprise, that train was not stopping at Tortoreto and went flying through the station about a foot and a half away from us.  Annie did what any normal person would do and screamed bloody murder. Just another moment in the lives of world travelers.

Another positive about train travel in Italy is that the Trenitalia website is easy to use and you get a confirmation email to print out your tickets almost immediately after booking your ticket.  The seats are roomier than what you get on a commercial airliner.  Plus there is the element of romance as you haul your stuff onto the train, settle into your seats and watch the landscape roll by.

The ride from Tortoreto to Rome went through some gorgeous scenery in Abruzzo.  The late spring sun splashed over the various shades of green on the hillsides, and the terracotta-tiles of the roofs of the villages added just the right amount of contrasting color.  If only Thomas Kinkade and that guy with the afro who painted on cable TV back in the day were still around to appreciate it and perhaps re-create it in their own unique styles. (Silent pause to remember their special talents.)       Thank you.  
We first visited Rome in November of 2010, on the trip that planted the seeds for our current journey.  During that visit, we saw the Colisseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and a few other "sights".  This time around we wanted to experience Rome from more of a locals perspective. 

We loved the feel of the Testaccio neighborhood we stayed in, and in particular a great little pizza place called Remo's.  The food was so good and the service so friendly and the atmosphere so enjoyable, we ate there twice the first time in Rome and did the same thing the second time around.
It was the first time we had ever had a true thin crust, wood-fired pizza and we were smitten.  I even attempted with varying degrees of success to make pizza in our fireplace at home in Cincinnati. I couldn't get the dough as paper thin as they guys in the picture above, but getting that burned wood flavoring was great.  It was with great anticipation that we returned there our very first night in Rome.

The train from Tortoreto got us to Rome right around six o'clock in the evening and the UEFA Euro 2012  game between Italy against Croatia was just getting underway.  Our taxi driver was glued to the radio as he sped from the train station to our apartment in Testaccio.

The radio announcers were of course speaking Italian, so it was a little hard to understand what was going on.  But we didn't need a translation app to know that Italy scored, triggering a flurry of joyous horn honking by our driver, which was echoed by many other drivers.

We had a little hitch in our giddy up on arrival in Rome.  That morning in Tortoreto, some construction work at the hotel we were staying in meant the power was turned off.  That meant no internet, so I couldn't update my email and make sure I had all the arrangements finalized for the apartment we had booked in Rome.  I remembered from the owner's email that she said she would most likely leave the keys at a Chinese Restaurant downstairs.  

When we got to the Testaccio apartment there was no Chinese restaurant anywhere in sight.  After asking several people and being pointed to a place about eight blocks away I finally found a Chinese restaurant that was closed.  By now, I'm about a half-hour into the search, and I don't have the phone number of the owner who had said she was going to a play or exhibition of some sort until 7pm.  

I managed to find a laundromat that also offered internet access so I got into my email and saw that the apartment owner had said the keys would be left at the Chinese store by the apartment.  I walked back to the apartment, finding Annie and the kids waiting somewhat patiently, although we were all a bit annoyed by the delay in our plans to eat pizza at Remo's after a wait of more than a year and a half.  Sure enough, a couple of doors down there was a store with a Chinese couple as proprietors.  

Neither one spoke any English, or at least didn't want to speak any to me.  They did apparently speak some Italian and a customer helped interpret my predicament.  Turns out the woman did have the apartment keys but refused to give them to me!  She finally got the apartment owner on the phone but wouldn't let me talk to her.  I called her on my phone and was informed that her cleaning lady was in the apartment waiting for us.  Why the cleaning lady didn't occasionally look out the window and notice a family with suitcases and backpacks standing on the sidewalk will remain one of life's great mysteries.  

We were relieved and happy to at last get into the apartment, get settled in and head over to Remo's.  Walking back into a place that we had talked about for going back to for so long.  The dining room is almost like a living organism, always moving and shifting as the servers work their way among the patrons who sit elbow to elbow at adjacent tables.  

The food did not disappoint us, and after more than a year and a half of waiting, it was great to taste the pizza that we spent so much time talking about back home in Ohio.

One of our main goals of returning to Rome, besides having Remo's pizza, was to experience it as a true city, not just a place with a bunch of tourist attractions.  That's why we stayed in Testaccio, which happens to be home to a great covered market that opens early every day and is closed by mid-afternoon.  We could see the market from the windows of our apartment and enjoyed checking it out and buying a few items from the vendors inside.  I always tried to buy two of whatever I was purchasing, just so I could say "due, per favore!"
Thinking back our first visit to Rome, we remembered liking the area around Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, so we spent our first full day exploring that area.  We got there by way of the Metro which for whatever reason we didn't use on our previous time there.  The stations are clean, but the train cars are almost aggressively grungy, at least on the outside.  Almost all of them are covered in graffiti, but it just ads to the experience.
While walking around the streets that surround the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, we soaked up the atmosphere of the area.  The architecture of some of the buildings around there is very impressive, with great details and ironwork.
The Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps were both alive with people, and the energy was infectious.  We walked near the Colisseum the next day as we just explored the city on foot, but didn't stop and go inside this time around.  Instead we visited a place that was mentioned in a Frommer's guide book that we found at our apartment.

The Carpuchin Crypt is a series of tiny chapels located underneath the church of Santa Maria della Concenzione dei Cappucini on the Via Veneto near Piazza Barberini. Like many things in Europe, it's closed for a few hours in the middle of the day, and re-opens at 3pm.  We got there about 15 minutes early and there was already a line to get in.  After about a ten minute wait, we made our way inside to one of the most unusual displays we've seen on the trip.
Each of the tiny chapels is decorated with the bones of monks who died over the years.   Every bone is used and attached to the walls and ceilings in very creative patterns.  In one spot, hip bones are used to create the appearance of wings. Once you get past the fact, if you can, that this is all made of bones, it's beautiful.  And unforgettable.  Just like Rome itself.

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