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Friday, December 05, 2008

Italy Et Cetera

The days following the race were spent seeing a bit more Italy. Sunday we moved into a hotel in Tarquinia proper, in order to be able to explore the village on foot. After we left our baggage at the hotel, we set out.

A wall surrounding Tarquinia

View from atop the wall

We first went to the Tarquinia museum which displayed artifacts of thousands of years old, including many sarcophagi.

Museo exterior

Sarcophagus on the right

We next decided it was time to indulge in gelato!

Bueno Gelato!

Then we ambled about eventually returning to the hotel. The European style hotel was modern, including the inability to turn on the lights without a special key card....which we didn't know about when we got into our room and couldn't turn any power on. I recalled seeing a basket of key cards sitting at the reception desk, so I went back down, grabbed one, and upon sticking it into the wall receptical, we had light and tv.

At 6:00 we thought it would be good to try to get some dinner, so went to the hotel restaurant. It was very dead, but I found a menu to look over. While doing so, a young man sweeping the front asked if we were planning on eating - they weren't open until 7:00. That was fine, but we were so impressed with his English that we starting plugging him for information. We had been trying to determine how to spend the next 3 days, wanting to include a side trip to the village of Orvieto (which came highly recommended by Kami). We had been inquiring at the touristo office, but the lack of understandable verbal communication had made the plans difficult to nail down. He assured us the best plan was to take the train back to Rome, then take a separate train to Orvieto. He also said we could catch a city bus in the morning with our luggage that would take us to the train station.

Much relieved, we returned to the restaurant a little after 7:00. Our same sweeper was now our waiter. After much deliberation, we finally had our first plate of proper pasta. It was awesome, as was the house red. We liked that so much that we refilled our carafe, which was too much for me, but when in Italy.....

Pasta and vino

The next morning we hit the breakfast room, confronted with many delicious and different breakfast options. I generally wanted some of each, but croissants dressed in different shapes don't really need to all be tested. We were brought some great coffee by the front desk clerk, and we asked him about catching the city bus to the train station. He said - "Oh, please, my colleague, he will take you to the station! Please, finish your food, no hurry." Another fine example of the willingness of the natives to help.

We were driven at the usual breakneck speed to the train station. Upon getting into the station we were taken aback to see that the ticket office. The train conductors fine you if you are caught without at ticket, so we were unsure about what to do. After some aimless wandering and wondering, an Italiano came in and I asked "do you speak English?" He said a little, so I asked about buying train tickets and he pointed to the coffee shop. So, I went in and purchased to 2 tickets to Rome. Oh, that was so easy. We walked out to the platform, validated our tickets (another important requirement resulting in a fine if you forget), and having an hour to wait we came back inside and relaxed.

A few minutes later, the man who spoke some English came back to us. He said "You are going to Rome?" Well, yes, that was the plan. "No trains today" he said, pointing to the schedule. We were a bit dumbstruck. We couldn't interpret the schedule, but he said again that there were no trains, and again "you are going to Rome? I will take you." Wow, dumbfounded again, we fumbled a bit, and he said "come!" So, blindly, we followed him to the parking lot, me thinking - didn't Rick Steves say something about not trusting even business men? Was this a mistake? A big con? Are we going to be shot somewhere? He opened the back of the SUV and I was relieved to see that there was remnants of a bale of hay, so I figured he had farm animals and for some reason that made me trust him.

We climbed in, and took off for Rome, some 60 mile away. I fumbled through the Italian phrase book, and after a bit, determined that there was a train strike that would be over at 9:00 p.m. We introduced ourselves. Our driver was Guilio, and he was a policeman (yeah, right I thought momentarily). We managed to find out that he has lived in Tarquinia for about 3 years and he has a small farm. He was familiar with the agriturismo we had stayed in. He has many animals and crops. Daughters live in north Italy. The speed limit is 130k, but he hit 160 more than once. It was a great drive in, and when we got close to the city, we really experienced the brunt of the strike. Guilio normally takes the train in. It took probably 30 minutes to go 10 miles. The upside is that we saw many ruins and ornate buildings all along the way. We were approached in the car at an intersection by newspaper vendors. We finally reached the train station area, and he said he would stop and let us out. He pointed down the street to where he works as an inspector. Cool! We grabbed our wheelies, and trudged to the train station, pulled out our Rick Steve's book and map, and made our way to a hostel. After we passed it and asked at a tourist office, we found it, entered only by intercom communication. We were allowed in, checked in, left our baggage and set out for the colliseum (one of my 'must see'). Needing some lunch by now, we stopped inside a sandwich shop. The case was full of interesting sandwiches we were unfamiliar with. We pointed to something that looked good, the waiter took it out and panini'ed it, and asked if we would like caffe'. Of course they were asking in Italian and Brian said si' and I said I would like water. He looked at me a little confused. He then held up a bottle that I assumed was bubbly water (we are usually offered flat, with lots of bubbles, and with a few bubbles), and said 'prego'. He proceded to pour me a glass. I thought odd that he would put it in a wine glass until I drank it. Feeling a bit hungover from last night's red, I was not real excited to have wine with lunch, but, when in Italy...

The streets were noisy, fast, and crowded, with narrow sidewalks. One quickly learns that if you want to cross where there is no light, follow an Italian. Any hesitation results in not crossing. Along the way we saw some ruins that for me warranted a stop and photo.

Some Ruins

Nearby views

Ornate buildings

One more turn, and we were met with the awesome Coliseum and the throngs of tourists. I was amazed at the number of people there in mid-November and midweek. We were approached by guides trying to sell us a tour inside, but we resisted.


Entry way into arena stands

Inside the floor is gone, but the underground is where the animals and fighters would come up from.

More inside views

We spent a good deal of time there, and then hiked across the way to Palatine hill to see more sites. Unfortunately we couldn't get in as there was some maintenance issue. I took comfort in more gelato.

We were pretty tired, so made our way back to the hostel. There was a vegetarian bistro in the basement with very good food and a policy of letting the customer name their price. We had excellent food, and asked the chef/waiter/dishwasher what a fair price was, and it was only 25 euros for the two of us, including wine.

Next day, we decided we would do a trip to Orvieto. The trains were running again, so we headed to the station. Trying to buy a ticket for the time we wanted was fruitless. First the line at the ticket office was too slow, so we tried buying tickets at the self-serve machine. The pressure was on, we had about 10 minutes. I was able to get one ticket out, but the machine didn't have correct change, so gave me a printed voucher. That was fine, but I didn' have the right money to put in for the next ticket, and we ran out of time. So now we had one ticket, a voucher for change, and at least another hour to wait in the train station.

I went to the original ticket office and tried to use the voucher for another ticket. No, no, that must be done at the train ticket office, not the tourist office. Okay, so stand in another line for 20 minutes, and get the voucher applied to another ticket. Finally, we had 2 tickets and time to kill. We went to a coffee shop, and witnessed a typical Gypsy woman with baby strapped on begging us for money. Behind her, her young daughter followed in and tried as well. Then she stood in line and begged and then ordered her coffee.

Finally, we were on our way. It took a little more than on hour, and the scenery was nice - very pastoral with many small farms and villages. We arrived and took the funicular up to the the top. The city sits on a volcanic rock, and is filled with cobblestone streets and shops that sell ceramics and Orvieto Classico white wine. At the top is a beautiful, baroque style cathedral from the 14th century.

Brian in front of the rather large duomo in Orvieto

We had a nice lunch of pasta and white wine, then walked around the small town, trying not to get lost in the maze of streets.
On the edge of the city was a beautiful, but leg tingling view.

We made our way back to Rome, had one more night of pasta and pizza, and yet one more experience to try. I really wanted to see the Trevi Fountain. The city is a bit hard to navigate, so I thought why not take a cab. The train station is surrounded by eager drivers, and the first one approached, asked where we wanted to go. I said Trevi, how much? "20 euro". Both ways? "No no, only one way." Too much. We walked on. Another driver asked "where you want to go?" Trevi, both ways, how much? "You take pictures?" No, I just want to see it, how much? "20 euros, both ways". Great! We'll take it! He drove really fast and precariously by our standards, but boy was it fun! He let us out one block away, and said he would wait for us. He didn't ask for any money, trusting us to return. He stood by his car, made a phone call, and we briskly walked to the fountain. It was beautiful, and again I was amazed and disappointed at the number of tourists. We had our look and hurried back to our driver. He was surprised to see us so soon, telling us we didn't have to go that fast. He gave us a bit of history of some of the buildings on our return, a most delightful ending to our stay in Rome.

Next morning we caught the train to the airport, where, due to an Alitalia airlines strike the previous day, we were delayed for 2 hours before getting on the jet only to sit on the tarmac for another hour. But we finally were off, and our adventure came to a happy end.


  1. GM,

    Nice picture of a headless Brian (pasta and vino). With the exception of that one, these are awesome pictures.

    What an experience for you. Better than the Olympic Trials?


  2. Thanks Craig,
    The picture was all about the food! The experience was better than the OT, in that I was healthy and able to be competitive, and the travel experience was incredible. Otherwise it's hard to rank the two.