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La Basilica di San Pietro (St. Peter's) in Vatican City -- the view from our car windshield
On February 23rd, we awoke at 8:00 AM to another cold and overcast day. With our world-tripping experience, we were all packed and ready to "check-out" well before 10:00 AM. When we had first checked in a week ago, the landlords had requested a 200 € security deposit (a Euro is worth a little less than one US dollar). After a week, our only casualty was a drawer pull that had broken on the first day, and the landlords didn't charge us for it. On the other hand, although we knew we would be paying for utilities, we had no idea that the gas cost almost 4 € a unit out here in the country, and our gas bill came to a whopping 88 € for the week (of course, we had done six loads of laundry during that time). Before we departed, we did attempt to have a nice conversation with the non-English-speaking landlords; and as near as we can understand, they have a friend or relative who is a chef at an Italian restaurant somewhere in San Francisco's North Beach.
The drive from Toscana (Tuscany) to Roma (Rome) normally takes about 3-4 hours on the autostrada. However, we had to check out of Toscana by 10:00 AM and could not check in at Roma until at least 5:00 PM (we actually told the key holder to meet us at 5:30), giving us more than seven hours to get there. As usual, we took the cheaper route and drove the SS 1 all the way from Viareggio to Roma, thereby saving us about 36 € in toll charges. Russell did the bulk of the driving, while Gail did math drills with Cameron and Joss before they disappeared into their Game Boys. Russell and Gail spent much of the subsequent drive brainstorming a board game they are inventing in their heads (one comes up with innovative ways to amuse oneself when one spends hours in a car for days on end).
The SS 1 -- Italy's version of California's stunning "Highway 1" -- treated us to some beautiful coast side scenery, including views of Elba and Corsica. Our main glitch came when the SS1 suddenly ended in a detour. The signs told us how to get off, but didn't tell us how to get back on. We ended spending almost an hour meandering through tiny villages -- at one time driving trapping our car the wrong way on a one-way narrow road up a mountain -- before we finally regained the superstrada. (Backing out of our predicament was not easy; with our car stuffed full, we can't really see out of the back window.)
By 1:00 PM we had already reached Grosseto, the halfway point to Roma, and we decided to stop for lunch in town. We passed a McDonald's while searching for an advertised Chinese restaurant (Russell still has a craving), and then when we couldn't find it we wandered all over town trying to relocate the McDonald's again. But after lunch, we still had time to treat the boys to some outside time at the city playground -- an absolute necessity on such a long driving day.
The playground at Grosseto
By 4:00 PM we thought we were well ahead of schedule just outside of Roma, when the SS 1 suddenly stopped being a superstrada and instead turned into a two-lane road. We lost a lot of time at signal lights and in city traffic jams before we finally entered Roma well after 5:00 PM. This was the first time that Russell had driven and Gail had navigated in a big city (usually we do it the other way around), and we did well -- we only passed our destination once and had to circle back. Our small delay brought us to our final stop at 5:35 PM -- only five minutes behind schedule -- and we were rewarded with an incredibly rare free parking space right around the corner from the apartment. We were met by Christian, a Romanian ex-patriot working in Italy who helped us unload our unbelievable amount of luggage into the apartment.
We are staying in a huge, multi-room apartment right in the center of historical Roma, next to the Tevere (Tiber) River at the the Piazza Trilussa. Only a few short blocks away are the Città del Vaticano (Vatican City) to the north, the Colosseo (Roman Colosseum) to the east, and the trendy Trastevere (literally "cross-Tevere") to the south. In addition to the three bedrooms (our daughter Dawn, her husband David, and our grandson Keegan are joining us here in only three days!) there is a formal dining room and a living room with a piano (out of tune). The kitchen was described on the Web as "well equipped" and although Gail found numerous table settings, there were not many pots and pans... and everything was dirty. We also discovered some of the other quirks that come with a rental property -- the lights in the boys' bedroom stopped functioning; when you flush the toilet in one bathroom the other one flushes as well; and while the freezer works, the refrigerator doesn't.
Nevertheless, Gail put together another one of her amazing "something from nothing" meals of chicken noodle soup with sun-dried tomatoes, saving Russell from a night-trip to the grocery store (we have been assured that in Roma, the mercati are open on Sundays). As we sat eating our dinner, Joss beamed "Now I feel like a real French person... eating dinner in Rome!"
Cameron: "Uh... Rome is in Italy."
Joss: "Well, French people visit Italy sometimes!"
At home in the Trastevere
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