November 9 (Friday), 10:48 PM, Rome:
Well, here I am in Rome. I feel like I've been up forever – probably because I have – and I haven't even seen anything old, beautiful, or classically Roman yet. Except for the restaurant, and the waiter… but I'm getting ahead of myself.
I woke up Thursday morning bright and early, which saddened me, since I'd been planning to sleep in and prepare for the trip. After breakfast I drove to the Short Hills Mall, to pick up a sleeping mask and a couple other travel-specific things so I could finish packing. By 1:30 I was packed and ready to go.
Bryan and John picked up me, and John's luggage, a little before 3:30, and we headed off to Newark Airport. I was somewhat disconcerted by a rattling noise under my feet, which Bryan is sure is nothing important. He dropped us off, and of course we checked in with no problems and minimal waiting, so we reached our gate with well over an hour to kill before boarding began.
We had reserved seats on the side of the plane, hoping to get two without other neighbors. Somehow, we ended up as the middle two of four seats across. We were Not Amused. I'm sure the nice lady who had to sit next to my big fat ass was also Not Amused. I know she was disappointed with my failure to chat. I responded politely to her overtures, but didn’t engage.
Lufthansa does two things very well: idiomatic multilingualism (gotta love the German educational system) and food. They fed us decent food, in reasonable quantity, as often as we could possibly want it. Wine was included free with dinner.
Sleeping was a failure for me, as usual. The mask helped, but there was nothing I could do about the sound. Earplugs on an airplane just seemed to be a poor idea to me. I listened to music, and even nodded off a little here and there, but I'm just not Enya-trained any more. Midway through the third repetition, I gave up and listened to an audiobook until the lights came back up.
Our layover was in Frankfurt. The Frankfurt airport is apparently called Fraport. It sounds like it ought to be some sort of frozen drink. We were bussed in from the tarmac, so we had to go through security again. They didn't ask us to remove our shoes before the scanner. I set off the alarms. After the scanner wand and frisking, it appears that it was my shoes, my belt, and the brand new passport wallet. Joy. Fraport does, however, have very comfy seats, apparently designed to allow people to stretch out and sleep. I left John on watch, and he says I probably got 40 minutes of actual sleep as well as 20-30 minutes of low power mode.
I love having a reprogrammable internal clock. By then, I was willing to believe that it really was 10 AM. My stomach, however, was fairly well convinced that it was more like 2 AM – and EST would have been 4 AM. It did catch up with the rest of me by our departure.
The second airplane had three seats on each side of a central aisle, and we had an empty seat in our row, so we could spread out. John slept, but I looked out the window when there was something to see and enjoyed more Lufthansa food. It was only an hour and a half flight, but they served turkey sandwiches and a chocolate-over-coconut candy which is what Mounds wants to be when it grows up.
After landing, we collected our things and searched out a taxi. As advertised, we were accosted by very helpful English-speaking men who tried to get us away from the official taxis and into their "deals." It's possible that some or all of them may have been legit; no one told us anything that was demonstrably untrue. They were charging the same fare as the official taxis to the hotel. They claimed to offer a discount rate for the return trip, and I suspect that's where the potential scam comes in. At any rate, we managed to resist and get ourselves into an official City of Rome taxi. The most persistent of the sharks asked me where we were from, and when I told him, he didn't believe me. He said Americans would trust anyone. I was tempted to retort that I'm from New York (while not true, it's close enough when viewed from a different continent) but decided that perhaps he wouldn't get the joke.
Our cab driver spoke only a tiny bit more English than we spoke Italian, but we managed to communicate. I think John may have been a little unnerved when he turned around to look at us while gesturing with both hands, though. We checked in at the hotel, and took a much-needed nap. When we re-emerged to see about starting our plans, we learned that the public transit was on strike, although expected to resume for the rush hour. This was, actually, our first classically Roman experience – something is always on strike. It's a potentially serious problem, since we are relying on the subways for our transportation. We walked off in search of the Metro station anyway. We managed to get thoroughly turned around, so by the time we found it, everything was running anyway. We never did find the station we were looking for, but the next one up wasn't too far away. Since we didn't know if it would keep running past rush hour, we didn't do any sightseeing, but simply bought our transit passes at the central station and rode back out to our area.
I ran out of energy about halfway back from the Metro station to the hotel, and parked myself at a bus stop while John located beverages. We went looking for a restaurant in the area. When we found one that seemed reasonable, it wasn't opening until 7:30, and it was only 6:45. We went to a nearby supermarket and amused ourselves there to kill the time. When we emerged, we discovered that the little bit of rain had turned into a fairly impressive thunderstorm. Have I mentioned that John is afraid of thunderstorms? We managed to hold it together until we could get into the restaurant.
One of the waiters, a young guy probably in his early twenties, spoke a fair amount of English, so he served us. We tried to use our tourist Italian also. The food was very good. John had crab, served in the shell. I had ravioli, since I have to be careful around seafood. John had tiramisu for dessert, and I tried a spoonful even though I generally don't like it. The restaurant was just starting to fill up when we were finishing, and as our waiter served the next table over, I was embarrassed to realize I was staring at his (very nice) backside. I hope that it was only John who caught me at it!
By the time we finished eating, the storm was over. We walked back to the hotel. I showered, and now John’s in the corner exercising while I write. Hopefully transit won't be on strike tomorrow!