Rome 4: Coliseum – Awesome! Vodafone – Grrrrr,

STILL trying to get a working SIM card. The Vodafone one is still not working of course, even though it is now domani! Back to the store. I got the same guy as the night before who tried to tell me later. I was having none of that, so he phones customer service and I wait and wait and wait and wait…….… Well, you all know what it is like spending many minutes or hours on the line to customer service. I think it is even worse watching someone wait! And all this time a little voice in my head is saying “This is your last full day in Rome and you haven’t even been to the Colosseum!” Time to use my secret weapon — my Italian tutor! 

Ring, ring, ring, ring, oh no and then “pronto”. “Va bene!” I explain to Cristina what is happening and ask her to speak to my “customer service” guy. I tell her that what I really want is a refund because obviously Vodafone is going to continue to be a problem. I hand the phone to the store guy who tries very hard not to take it, but I can be pushy too, and eventually he has no choice. I have no idea what was said, the conversation was far too rapid for my baby Italian, but he called a different phone number and actually spoke to someone! After only another 15 minute wait a solution was found — they would give me a new card. Now you have to wait an hour for the card to work, so I figure this is Vodafone’s tourist scam because eventually we just get need to get on with seeing Italy and screw the phone. I mean I saw some lovely fountains and piazzas when lost. Perhaps they also get a kickback from the taxi companies. Now, I wasn’t sure I wanted another Sim card from Vodafone as it required showing my passport and signing all these contracts again, so I started to say, “Wait, I’m not sure” but he was already serving another customer. “Uno minuto, I want the card.” “Sorry” he says, “You will have to wait your turn now.” Well, I can do a really good death glare, so after a few seconds he asked the signora to wait and got me the damn card. Ah but I neglected to tell you that I had stopped at Wind on the way and also gotten a SIM card from them, plus a freebie extra 100 gb card. I guess it was in case I got really lost and used up the 35 gb on the regular card. So now I had 2 SIM cards. One that worked and one that I was pretty sure would not. Plus I had signed contracts for restricted goods and I’m not sure having 2 of them from different companies its strictly legal. I could be involved in a black market for SIM cards LOL. C’est domage as the saying goes. I’m going back to the hotel for a quick bite and to shed a layer of clothing before Pearl and I head off to the Colosseum!

Back at our home away from home I gave pearl some food and water because animals first! Then I made myself a plate of olives, cheese and bread that I had picked up at a deli the night before — the perfect lunch. Given that we were short on time and there was still so much to see I decided to ask the concierge to order us a taxi. I figured we could take a taxi to the Colosseum and then work our way back home via the Forum, the temple of Rome and Venus, the Pantheon and a walk along the River Tiber. Super! The taxi was to arrive in three minutes! Fifteen minutes later I called up to reception and told them to cancel the cab. We walked a little ways and then I flagged down a cab. I didn’t want to spend this last full day in Rome wandering aimlessly around the streets. Also, I was hopeful but not completely sure that the Wind card would work better than the Vodafone card. Our taxi driver spoke only a few words of English and I speak only a few words of Italian but we managed to have a conversation nonetheless. She told me all about her daughters, although, about the only thing I understood was that one was 15 and the other would be seven in March. No matter, it was a lovely ride through Rome and my poor tired feet appreciated the break. Pearl also loved riding in a car for a change instead of being dragged over cobblestones. 

What can one say about the Colosseum other than wow! Everywhere you look in that area you’re surrounded by the many ages of Rome. Wandering around the monuments was was a perfect antidote to just worrying was about what was happening with my mom. We arrived at the Parthenon around 12:30 PM which meant it was only 6:30 in the morning at home. My family had been staying up most nights at the hospital and would be rising late, so I had hours before I could contact them and get a reply.

It didn’t look like it on the map of Rome that I had,  but actually everything I wanted to see other than the Parthenon was all connected. I think the best thing it’s just to post pictures.

Outside the Parthenon they were just lines and lines of tour buses and hop on and off buses. No taxis to be had. We had only walked about seven or 8 km so far that day (we had been averaging 13 km) so I thought that it could be a lovely walk home along the Tiber river. Now, neither Google maps or Apple Maps are particularly good at navigating Rome so getting lost is not completely my fault. Yes, I did have a map but it only showed major streets and sometimes those would suddenly be blocked by construction. No matter, I knew that if I headed towards the river that I could find my way back. We ended up walking through a beautiful park with an excavation from Rome BC at one end. I had planned to stay on the east side of the river until I could see Saint Peter’s basilica. The road had other ideas though. All of the sudden I was at a bridge that was more or less a highway crossing and I had to either go back a ways and cross over to the other side of the street or use a pedestrian walk to cross the Tiber. I decided to cross the river and I’m very glad I did because we ended up in Trastevere, an area of Rome that I thought we’d have to miss after all the trouble with Vodafone (grrr). 

We found a lovely little café with a nice warm heaters on the patio and I had a beer with free potato chips and crackers while Pearl had a little water and some kibble. I do believe that the potato chips and crackers were the first free things that I had in Rome. We were on a quiet little side street end it was the perfect time so I FaceTime called my sister Teresa, the only other wired sibling, who was at my mom’s bedside. Teresa, Brian and Joan and I chatted for a bit. Deathbed conversations are a bit strange. Although, you would think they would be all tears and sorrow, often funny stories are related and there is as much laughter as tears. Apparently, strange requests are also a possibility. For example, one of my sisters asked me to buy a linen undergarment — I think it is called a cassock — for her son who is about to be ordained. I don’t know, but perhaps since I was near the Vatican I could get underwear blessed by the Pope, but I seriously had no room in my suitcases! During this rambling conversation with multiple siblings, my mother came to for a few minutes, long enough to ask “Is that Gina?”. I was so happy that she recognized my voice and I got to say I love probably for the last time. It seemed like a good time to end the conversation and start back to the hotel. It gets dark very early in Rome, and we needed to leave while it was still light enough to navigate. According to my feet, that did not matter. They refused to walk any further and instructed my brain to get a taxi! I complied.

I needed to pack anyway because I was having the big suitcase shipped to Siracusa. Theoretically, Pearl was supposed to travel in her soft crate, so that, my small suitcase, my camera bag and a small knapsack were all I could handle. A knapsack and a suitcase may seem like a lot for one week, but keep in mind, that Pear’s stuff took up most of the knapsack and my laptop was a prohibited shipping item, so really it was not that much! Okay so, pack, repack and try again. Enough I need dinner! The streets were a little busier on Thursday night and the restaurants a little fuller. We walked, in the wrong direction of course, to find this little pasta place with rave reviews. I had already decided on pasta with pesto, although by the time we got turned around the right way and arrived there it was closed. So sad. I guess it is mainly a daytime place. Back to the drawing board or at least back towards the hotel where there were a multitude of places. But first, we had to make another wrong turn. This time we walked through the gates of the Vatican. How was I to know? There are gates everywhere! I did get to meet a Vatican guard! He was kicking us out, and was wearing the regular, not the colourful uniform, but so what, I got to meet one and spend a little time at the Vatican LOL.

Swiss Guard at the Vatican

Enough about my navigational challenges! We found a little place just around the corner from the hotel, okay it was chosen partly so I could find my way back to the hotel. We sat at an inside table because I though there would be less distractions, especially dogs. At first Pearl was constantly getting up and down and checking people out, but she only barked loudly once, and then she actually lay down! I ate my meal in peace! It was so lovely to sit at a table, like a grownup and eat my, you guessed it, linguine con pesto with pollo arrosto for a secondi.

I asked for and received a better wine. A Valpolicella, not my favourite, but at least it was a 2016, not a 2019!

I took the pollo arrest and some pane with me to eat either for lunch the next day or on the ferry to Palermo the following evening. AND my Wind SIM card had worked all day and was still working. Time to go home, call home and then get some well deserved rest!

Rome: Day 2 Chilly start and a sad ending

Rome was fa freddo this morning. Pearl and I rose before the sun which isn’t saying much since the sun doesn’t rise until close to 8 AM. Although maybe that was partly due to the fog this morning. No matter, it is a crisp day and it wasn’t snowing, there was no ice rain and Saint Peters square was calling. We just made a brief visit there this morning as I soon decided to return with either my good camera or at least my selfie stick to get both Pearl and I could in a picture with the basilica. As we were making our way back through the aqueduct gate, I witnessed a young man fall to his knees in the square and start fervently praying with tears rolling down his face. We were truly at the Vatican.

At the hotel we waited for the receptionist to come back to his desk and to take care of the much younger and prettier woman who came after us. Italian men may like all women but like many North American men they obviously prefer young blondes. No matter, Pearl and I had nowhere to be today. Eventually it was our turn and I discovered to my surprise that breakfast vouchers were not included and as they were €10 for breakfast at the bar next-door I declined the voucher and pearl and I set off defined to find our own breakfast spot. What a great choice! I found a little café a few blocks away that had the most delicious citrus yoghurt cake. A slice of that with a glass of orange juice and a cappuccino and I was ready to venture across the Tiber into the main city of Rome.

Pearl is very capricious when it comes to other dogs. At times she’s very quiet, wags her tail, sniffs and gets sniffed. At other times she goes into a barking, crying, yelping frenzy when a dog gets anywhere near. It doesn’t seem to matter what size or breed they are although I have noticed that she is less likely to freak out at poodles and cocker spaniels. This made our long walk longer, what with the sudden turns into alleys, darting into stores and art galleries or if necessary picking her up and shushing her until danger had passed. Rome had an additional danger as far as Pearl is concerned – horses! We had encountered them a couple of times before in Dundas and she did not like them, not one little bit. So our planned journey to a dog store and then to the Trevi fountain took about two hours longer than expected. I only wish that I had been able to look up more often instead of constantly looking down and ahead to try and spy dogs far enough ahead for escape to still be possible. Still, some of the buildings and statues were just so breathtaking that I failed miserably in protecting Pearl from advancing dogs and horses. With the sudden changes in direction and the darting into alleys I got completely lost numerous times and added more than one kilometre to the journey!

I did eventually find “Tutto per Noi” a cute little pet shop hidden in a warrant of small streets and alleys. If you’ve ever been to Rome or if you ever go take a moment to marvel at the buses somehow making their way down these alleys that have barely enough room for a motorcycle. Yet they somehow manage without running anyone over.

Speaking of running people over I’m starting to get the hang of crossing streets in Rome. Very few corners have crossing lights but every corner has markings on the road somewhere kind of, a little bit, almost near or at least in view of the corner. These are often made more difficult to find by the cars and vans that just park randomly in the intersections but if you do find them it actually seems to be quite safe to cross. By the end of the day I was feeling quite Roman I would just start crossing a road and stare down any driver coming my way. The most difficult to stare down are taxi drivers and motorcyclists, but I manage! It’s a little scary because motorcyclists are so impatient you can feel the wind of their passing on the back of your legs.

Anyway back to “Tutto per Noi”. It was the most cramped pet store I have ever been in. Many people in North America have walk-in closet larger than the store, but they still had every kind of dog food cat food bird food and probably iguana food (although I didn’t actually see any) you could imagine, along with treats and toys. Hidden at the end of this long closet like store, buried under multiple packages was a cash register and a friendly clerk to operate it. A bit worried about avalanches of pet food, I quickly found 2 packages of treats that I thought would do and headed to the back. I gave the woman a 20 euro note for a €7.30 bill. Since it was so early in the morning – only 10 am, she did not have any change in the till yet. How I understood that purely from gestures, I’ll never know, but somehow I figured it out and managed to scrape together the exact change. The women was so pleased she gave me 3 more small packets of treats for free! By the way, I read multiple times in multiple places that Roman shopkeepers will rip you off. I have found the exact opposite. They always show me the register amount or the bill and are very careful to count out the correct change!

Luckily I still had a cinquanta piece because our next stop was to be the Trevi Fountain. After all I’ve always loved Audrey Hepburn and I am on a Roman Holiday!

We talked to half a dozen people or more at the Trevi Fountain including the very kind Irish man took the pictures of me and Pearl. There were some young girls from Japan, a Scottish, couple, and Irish couple, a family from Denmark and a mother and daughter from San Fransisco. Everyone made a fuss over Pearl especially the San Franciscans who sorely missed George Clooney the poodle they had left at home. I was told that this name had initially caused a bit of a rift in the marriage when the wife refused to consider any other name. She told me that if her husband ever left or died, she would not be lonely with George Clooney at her side. 

After our interlude at the Trevi Fountain Pearl and I started to make our way home to the Vodafone store to purchase an Italian SIM card. After walking only an extra kilometre or three in the wrong direction, I realized that Google maps did not work well in Rome. Every time we headed in what the arrow showed was the correct direction, the map would flip around and indicate that we were going the wrong way! Eventually my brain clicked in and I realized I could use the street numbers – duh. So after walking back to a spot essentially 2 minutes away from the Trevi we arrived triumphantly at the Vodafone store. Other than the expense, the process of a getting a SIM card was painless. Especially when I compared it to France where none of the store personnel spoke a word of English and such up their noses at helping an Anglais! At this point I was too tired and hungry to tackle the Pantheon, so off towards home we went with our shiny, brand new, expensive sim card that would not be active for 30 minutes. I thought I could find the way! Ah foolish brain. I get lost in Dundas! But wait there was a little cafe that actually sold something other than pizza, pasta and souvenirs. 

Pearl and I could rest, have a drink and a bite to eat. My lunch was very traditional and not something you would find at home – a chicory and ricotta pie with a pasta like crust and melted cheese on the top. I twas delicious! I had some food and and a water dish for Pearl, so she settled quietly beside me to rest, eat and drink, allowing me to do the same. Fortified we were ready for the walk home guided by Google maps courtesy of the shiny, brand new, expensive sim card: that did NOT work! Arggghhhh

Supposedly there was another Vodafone store very close to the hotel, so I set off in that direction, only getting lost 3 or 4 times. Just as we approached the hotel the shiny, brand new, expensive sim card began working. A penny short and a dollar late as the saying goes, but at least I would be able to use the GPS the next day, so all was good with the world.

At this point I had walked 11.25 kilometres, at least a quarter of that carrying Miss Pearl whose legs got too tired and who was often in danger of being trampled by the hundreds of feet going by. So next step was a well deserved cold beer for me, some water for Pearl and an episode of Law and Order in Italian. This left enough time before dinner to add a few pictures to yesterdays post and start on todays. 

The Sad End to the Day

And then, I checked my email and we come to the sad part of the day. My sister Joan had emailed to tell me she had been trying to call because my mother had taken a sudden turn for the worse. My 96 year-old mom now had pneumonia, and coli infection and her kidneys were starting to fail. I called my sister and it sounded very bad. We discussed whether I should try to get home and decided to wait until she talked to my mom. One group of doctors said there was a chance she might improve in the next day, the other group talked to her about end of life care! We decided to wait and I would Skype with my mom when Joan went back to the hospital around 4 pm for her and 10 pm for me. I had an hour, so I took Pearl out to do her business and then ordered lasagna and salad to take away at a restaurant around the corner. While I waited for my meal to be prepared I had a glass of red wine that I think finished fermenting last week while trying to distract Pearl from the dogs going by. I was relieved to arrive back at the hotel room!

My email takes awhile to arrive and so it was not until 12:30 that I got a message from Joan saying my mom was too tired to Skype and we would try in the morning Hamilton time.

So a quick walk with Pearl on the deserted and slightly scary street before climbing into bed for a sleepless night.

If all roads lead to Rome, do all rivers lead there too?

Day 1 in Rome