Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Trip to Wine Country

We woke early to head North to Siena, Italy. It’s a sister town of Florence. We were meeting a guide and driver to take us into the wine country of Tuscany where Siena and Montalcino is located. We had to take a train for a few hours to get to Siena. The train ride was spent resting everyone was still adjusting to the time change, and I was recovering from the night before out at the clubs. We were heading to Montalcino a small village where Fanti Winery was, to explore and get a better idea of how the Brunello wines are made. Everything was turning green, the hills were filled with the vine lines where the grapes grow and the small villages were so small and quaint. As we arrived we were taken on a tour of the wine vineyard as well as explained the process of the wine and how Fanti run’s the place. It was really interesting. Then we had the opportunity to taste all the wines, which was such a fun and informational experience. I have loved and learned about Brunello wines! It was the perfect day trip from Rome. Tuscany is a beautiful area.

A Night in Rome & Ancient Rome

While the three world travelers got their sleep, post traveling for 24 hours and seeing an afternoon in Rome, I left the family to rest. I had friends from my University in Holland as well as a new found friend in the city to go exploring the night life of Rome! I met with my new found friend, Stefano and we ventured out to the center of the city. I saw the center first by night, it was fantastic. The hustle of the traffic, walking on ancient cobble stone, and exploring the unfamiliar city was so exhilarating for me. I saw the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele at night and it took my breath away.

Following this, I wanted to get a better view of the city and I was taken to the Piazza del Popolo, where I hiked up a hill to an observation deck that looked out over all of Rome. The view at night was so amazing, I thought I was dreaming. Stefano and I stayed up there to talk for a few hours. I asked so many questions about the city and living in Italy as well as about him. It was great; I was where I had dreamed of all my life…ROME!!! The spectacular view was great but the temperature dropped and that was the kicker for me, it was time to go have some drinks and see the night scene in Rome. We headed to a favorite club of Stefano. Gilda is the club we went to. It looks very similar to the Club used in Scar Face the movie. It was a fun night. I really enjoyed seeing the night scene in Rome.

That day we decided to dedicate our exploring to seeing Ancient Rome. First we wanted to get something to eat. We trusted in the Europe on a Budget guide book I have been using to travel around Europe with. It suggested a restaurant near the Colosseum called Luzzi, “This neighborhood favorite near the Colosseum, with plenty of outdoor tables, is a fun, raucous place to sample an extensive range of pizza and pasta dishes, plus mainly meaty mains. (pg.674)” This place stands up to its name and description. We were there right at lunch time and had to wait a moment for a table outside but were able to get one out on the terrace. The menu was extensive and each of us found something to eat that was delicious. There were many people out with dogs and surprisingly the restaurant has a pet pig that does tricks! It was a fun meal and a great atmosphere. Then it was off to the Colosseum, when I visited the Colosseum I felt this heavy presence, it was one of the oldest things I had been to in person! It was unbelievable. We took a personal tour of the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. The city of Ancient Rome was a site, the weather was perfect and seeing the old buildings was so amazing.

The First Days In Rome!

First day, I arrived in Rome at 6:00 pm at rush hour. I was the first one to arrive to Italy; the family would meet me at the hotel the next morning. I decided to brave the trains of Rome. This was to be an easy quick and cheap way to get from the Airport to my hotel. Taxis in Italy are way too expensive. I had planned out my route before departing Amsterdam; this was proven wrong as I traveled the rail system of Rome. The train systems do not run very efficiently, fast, or are on time. I ended up not making it to my stop till a few hours after arrival due to the lack of knowledge with the language and having an efficient map of the train routes.

The trains at rush hour were packed full of people trying to get home from work. At my transfer point I saw that I needed to take a F5 train to the street I needed that I thought my hotel was on. A train arrived and I boarded the packed double-decker train. While I was trying to locate where my stop would be I realized a man was reaching in the pocket of my jacket. I looked at this man and asked him in a harsh voice, what he was doing and he just walked down the steps to the next car. By this point I was confused, angry, scared, and frustrated. The train didn’t stop where I needed to be, I assumed the train routes were all the same and would stop at the similar stops along those routes. The Rome train system is based on time and at different times the trains stop at either all stops or just a few along the route. So I exited this train and felt as if I was in a ghost town, not a visible person in site. I tried to figure out the schedule myself. Then a man came into the tram station and I wearyingly asked if he spoke English. He said he was a University teacher in Rome and could help but his English was poor. He then helped me try and navigate my travels to the location I needed to go. At this time it was around 8:00 and it was getting dark, the weather was also chilly and rainy. The train came and was empty, I got on and just prayed to have the stop I was looking for be something I could find. When I arrived at the station of Aurelia, I thought I had walked into the projects of New York City. The station was covered in graffiti, many homeless scattered sleeping and I didn’t see a common individual walking in site. There were two buses parked in front of the station and I was relived, I was just hoping either driver could speak English. I was again faced with a challenge, neither driver spoke English. I had to result to my hotel address on my confirmation papers, and one of the drivers took me to what I thought would be the street my hotel was located on. The journey and challenge continued, this was not the case just as the whole evening had been working out to be a navigation mess.

The hotel was located outside the center of Rome on Via Aurelia Antica, and I was on Via Aurelia, later I was to learn that these streets are not similar but are in close proximity to each other. Now I was located in what looked like a residential area mixed with a business hotel area. I loaded up my GPS hand held and then it began to rain hard, lightning and thunder. The night was beginning to look very troublesome for me. The GPS was unable to find a signal. I began to get frustrated and walked to find a Taxi and hope that I would find something. As I walked along the street a young Italian man began to talk to me in Italian and I responded that I spoke English and he wanted me to come eat in his restaurant. Like in New York, many restaurant staff stands outside to recruit or hustle you to look at their menu and eat in their restaurant. I was not in the mood for food. I asked if he could help me and that I was lost. He said that his English was very small and not so good. Then he called over another young man, he spoke English. I was so relieved to find someone who could help me. He looked at the address of the hotel and explained to me that I was not to far away but I could not walk. He also said it was very dangerous for me to be walking in this area alone. He said that he could call me a taxi to take me to my hotel. I then asked to explain to the waiter that I wanted a glass of red wine and to relax before he called a taxi. So at the restaurant I sat outside on the terrace and listened to the horrible storm and gathered myself. A few minuets later I was brought a bottle of wine and the young man asked if he could join me. The Italian restaurant worker introduced himself, Nicoli as well as the English speaking young man, Stefano. After the pleasantries they began to ask me about my travels and where I was from. They were being so generous and kind. As Stefano, Nicoli and I talked I learned that Stefano was from Sicily. He was able to learn his English due to he has family and has lived in New York for some time. The Restaurant was not anything to look at but the menu was reasonably priced and I noticed that they served a linguine pasta with seafood which I knew right away would satisfy my dad’s taste for Italian cuisine. The name was, Benedetto. I told the restaurant owners that I would be returning with my family later in the week for dinner. Nicoli and Stefano were so accommodating to my needs. Stefano and I spoke for at least an hour while I drank my wine. I learned much about Rome and about his life as well. We exchanged information before I left. I finally took a taxi to the hotel. That evening I was so exhausted I went to my room and drew a bath, which I was looking forward to for a long time and fell as sleep. That was the best part to the chaotic adventure I had been on. BUT…I would not change it for a second. I loved and despised it all.

The following morning I woke just before my parents arrived to the hotel. Our first day in Rome we decided not to take too much because the family had traveled for 24 hours and was very exhausted. Alyssa was experiencing some sickness from the flight and was having trouble keeping food down; airplane food can get to you. We decided to head to St. Pietro (St. Peters) the FAMILY was in ROME! We braved the buses of Rome to head into the city. The buses run all over the city and transportation is very inexpensive in Rome. For a ticket that is interchangeable between the underground and the buses that lasts for 90 minuets after validation costs 1 Euro. You are able to purchase tickets from the bus stations, and tabaccorias or Kiosks, and most small shops along the streets that advertise the selling of tickets. Validation is easy; you punch the tickets in a yellow machine either at the front or back of the bus. We used the buses most of the trip but the bus system is confusing to understand which number to take to get you where you need to go. When riding the bus there are rules, the seats near the front are reserved for the elderly or anyone that asks for the seat. The buses are generally very packed and uncomfortable so mind your belongings at all times. When you wish to get off the bus at the upcoming stop you must ring a bell which signals to the driver you would like to exit the bus.

We arrived to a stop and thought we should exit the bus. We walked along the street and saw a very old monument and thought we should go and see what this was and figure out where we had ended up. We had made it to the Vatican City and St. Peter’s!!! This has been my dream to visit the ancient city and experience its beauty and just observe the history that you can’t find anywhere in the world, except Rome. At St. Peter’s, wondering the grounds we were all amazed by the architecture and the amount of people there were doing the exact same thing we were. After that we all decided we were hungry and wanted to walk and explore till we found a place we wanted to eat at. We walked towards the River Tiber, and then we saw Castle St. Angelo and walked around the grounds. We were all hungry and stopped to have some Vino, pasta, and pizza! We managed to walk around for most of the afternoon but tried to keep it early cause of Alyssa feeling lousy and the family traveling and jet lag.

Through out the week we hit all the tourist spots around Rome. Spanish Steps, Roman Forum, Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica, Sistine Chapel, Trastevere Area, the Via Sacra, Palatine Hill, Colosseum, Campo de’ Fiori, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo, Piazzale Flaminio, Fontana di Trevi, Ancient Rome. The feelings that I have felt on this trip are so indescribable, being in such a wondrous city and having my family with me was the best part of my trip.