Act I – The Cell Phone is Dead
Background and Day One/Two:
I will take any opportunity at any time to travel to Italy, so when some work friends of mine mentioned that they wanted to travel to Italy, I gladly volunteered myself as tour guide for the journey. We originally planned to go in summer, but with airline ticket prices skyrocketing, we decided instead to travel in April, over spring break. We booked our tickets in January for $650 apiece, traveling on KLM through Amsterdam. My travel companions: my co-teacher S and her husband, P. My husband, C, decided not to come along due to our adventure in Italy in 2004 (see previous trip report).
Along about March, my friends and I got together for a Rome planning session and C started to become envious of our impending travel, so we booked him a last minute ticket. Ironically, cheaper and more convenient than the one we had booked two months prior. I was ecstatic and slightly unbelieving – I actually couldn’t believe C was willing to return to the country that had brought him so much travel pain. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen.
Fast forward to Thursday, April 2. We arrived at Dulles International airport 3 hours before our flight time and breezed right through check-in and security. I think we had arrived early enough to beat the crowds. The wait at the gate seemed interminable – after all, I had waited two years to get back to Italy and another several hours was killing me!
Finally we boarded the plane. S and P were seated together and I was across in an aisle seat. C would be following us the next day (yes, traveling alone). The flight to Amsterdam was relatively uneventful and actually seemed quick, all things considered. Once we arrived in Amsterdam, I plugged in my two-year old Alcatel Italian cell phone only to find that it had died a terrible death. In addition to which, my SIM card had switched off after two years of disuse. So, my clever plan of having a cell phone with a number for everyone to reach me at – foiled. I went to the phone shop at the airport in Amsterdam and was helped by a lovely Dutch gentleman. Of course, I couldn’t stop hearing Mike Myer’s Goldmember impression in my head, which caused me to smirk my way through the transaction. (“I love gooooohhhhllllld. That’sh a keeper.”) We also stopped at an ATM to procure some Euros for our arrival.
After a torturous five hour layover, our plane for Rome finally took off. We landed in Rome and literally wandered directly out of the airport. Nobody checked our passports or looked at our bags. WAS there even a customs? I guess because we went through customs and passport control in Amsterdam we didn’t have to suffer through it again, but I did miss getting an Italy stamp in my passport – highly depressing. We walked out into the arrivals area and our driver was waiting with a sign bearing my name. I had booked a personal driver through the apartment rental agency, Sleepinitaly.com. He was there, he went and grabbed the car, and we were on our way---sort of. We had unwittingly arrived in the middle of Rome’s rush hour, and our trip to the apartment in the Centro Storico was worse than DC beltway traffic on a good day. Why couldn’t we just GET THERE already???
Finally the car stopped and the driver told us he couldn’t actually get the car back to the piazza. He told us to take a right and at the end of the street would be the piazza. He was right, and we arrived in Piazza del Fico without an issue. I rang bell 7, confidently expecting the owner to buzz us right in. No response. And with a non-working cell phone, I couldn’t call. So, it was off to search for a pay phone and buy a scheda. I left S and P in the piazza rather than hauling all our luggage on the search for a pay phone. There are very few pay phones in Italy now because everyone has a cell, so I searched and searched and found a signora in a tabacchi shop to sell me a scheda. When I called the owner, he said “yes, I’m there and have let your friends in.” Great – so I trekked back to the Piazza and climbed the 4 flights of stairs to our apartment. Yes, 4 flights of stairs.
We picked rooms (Sand P took the front room and I chose the back room for C and I), and with our things dropped off we went out to find a grocery store. There was a store on Via del Governo Vecchio, right around the corner from us, so we went to pick up the essentials (51 euro), and lugged them back to the apartment. Of course, we bought wine, cheese, sausage – the Italy essentials.
I also had to get the phone working, so we wandered until we found a cell phone shop. I got the new SIM card and was promised the phone would be working by the next morning. By this point we were starving, so we stopped at a nondescript pizzeria al taglio (Pizzeria VIP, Corso Vittorio Emmanuele) and had 3 slices of pizza, a chinotto and a bottle of water for 15 euro.
I had told S and P about the gelato in Italy, so later that night we were ready to find some. We headed over to the Pantheon area, to Gelateria Della Palma. This is my favorite gelateria because of the sheer number of flavors. The first night, I had torta sacher and espresso, S had stracciatella and Mars, and P had tartufo palma and dark chocolate. Total cost for gelato – 6 euro. How can something so decadent be so cheap??
Our first day complete, we headed back to the apartment to fall into a jet-lagged sleep.
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Act I – The Cell Phone is Dead