07 August 2009

When in Rome ...

Signage? What Signage?

We loaded the toaster and left the villa on Saturday morning, headed back to Rome for the final leg of our Italian adventure. We made an encore visit to Orvieto for lunch and then headed to Fiumicino (the town where Rome's airport is located) to turn in the toaster and begin our big city fun.

Like most major cities, the route to the airport was clearly marked. Unlike most major cities, however, there was ZERO signage to guide us to the rental car return. We circled once, twice, and finally surrendered to the Hilton hotel to inquire. "Go back into the airport entrance; follow the signs to 'covered parking' [Yes, this morsel of signage was in English. Go figure.]; pass entrance A and entrance B, and enter at entrance C; Hertz is on level 4 inside the covered parking." Do most tourists who rent cars in Rome just know this stuff?

Once the toaster was returned, it was a short haul to the Leonardo Express (the train from the airport to the city) platforms for the 35-minute ride to Rome. The hotel is just two blocks south of Termini, Rome's main train depot, so that leg of the journey was going to be easy. Or was it? ...

Street signage in Rome is almost nonexistent. We walked the two blocks south of Termini, hoped that we were on the right street, and finally happened upon Hotel Contilia, our home for the next four nights, a few blocks to the west. We were initially skeptical of the neighborhood -- at the conjunction of Chinatown, the Middle East quarter, and Termini -- but we soon learned to appreciate the vibrance of the area. The mixture of hotels, apartments, sidewalk cafes, and ethnic markets give the area a great energy.

When in Rome, Eat With the Americans

Something we have learned in our travel experiences is to do a walk around the area surrounding the hotel -- sort of a "self-orientation" to learn where the nearby markets, restaurants, and other services are located. On this trip, we found a nice-looking pizzeria where we would return for dinner.

We arrived for dinner around 9:00 PM, Italy's defacto dinner hour, and were seated on the patio with a commanding view of the patio and dining room. As other patrons arrived and were seated nearby, we quickly realized that everyone within earshot was North American. Apparently the look of this place has an uncanny attraction for us.

We would come to find out that it was not just that pizzeria that was chock full of North Americans; the whole city of Rome was full of us. Very full. The typical tourist attractions were packed.

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