Our first full day in Italy started with meeting our HomeAway proprietor in the area of Rome called Trastevere. It’s an old place, full of narrow, twisty roads. The kind of place where you’ll find menace, adventure, or romance, depending on your point of view.
We had booked an apartment on an obscure lane called Vicolo della Torre, a few quick streets from the Tiber river. Since we arrived a bit early, our hostess took us to a cafe a block away for cappuccino and explained to us when locals get cappuccino, waiters serve it in a glass. When tourists order, they get it in a cup. Sure enough, her drink came in a glass and ours in cups. How did the waiter know we were tourists? Was it the suitcases we dragged behind us, bouncing like frenetic popcorn on the cobblestone streets? Was it our distinct odor after our long-ago showers before faux-sleeping on an airplane sweat lodge and then traveling from the Rome airport in two packed and humid pushcarts of public transportation? Or was it our close-up detective investigation and microscopic examination of different coins to make sure we were paying right amount?
Tourists we were and tourists we shall be. We went back to the apartment for the tour. It was a lovely, cute place, on a quiet street steps away from a line of cafés and interesting stores. That was all fine and wonderful, but what caught my eye was the Extremely Comfy Looking Bed upon which I could finally stretch out and reclaim some of the sanity I had lost to the punchiness of jet lag. (The worst jet lag I have suffered was during a trip to Eindhoven in Holland; I arrived there for work and immediately was shown to a dark and luxurious room full of leather sofas where I was supposed to listen to six types of music compression and tell the difference. It was my snoring that soon gave me away. That’s how professionals act!)
So Suzanne and I struck a deal: we would take a break for about an hour and then go on a bike tour around Rome. I could stretch out and then we’d both conquer any lingering jet lag with some vigorous pedaling.
Our bike tour started near the Colosseum, and from a cursory glance at a map I happily concluded it was within quick walking distance from our place - if by “walking distance” I meant a sweaty trudge through blazing hot and humid, tourist-infested Rome. At first we were happy: “Oh, look, the Tiber river! This building has pretty architecture! The history here is amazing! I wonder why there’s all this graffiti. Is it historic lineage to Ancient Rome?” But a few kilometers later, the conversation had become: “Aguuuhhh. Where is this place? The sweat - it stings my eyes! Oh, the humanity!”
When we finally found the bike tour company, with one minute to go before our tour started, we were drenched. It looked as if we had just been hit by a torrential downpour.
Our bike tour guide happily greeted us. His name was Jos and he was originally from Holland but had married an Italian women and now taught Roman history for the University of Dallas. At first it looked like Suzanne and I were about to have a private tour, but the rest of the group sauntered in late. None of them were covered in panicky sweat like we were.
Our bikes were beasts, massive and leaden. This was because they were electric bikes and their motors would kick in with extra power whenever we needed it. Electric bikes! Haha. I thumb my nose at electric bikes. I told Joss it felt like cheating. He just smiled.
After our first of many hill climbs around Rome, Joss asked me if it still felt like cheating. “I’m over it,” I said instantly and then cruised to the top of the steep climb without a worry. I know when I’m beaten.
The bike tour lasted about three hours. Initially we had a free ride period where we rode around a park, learning how to shift and run the electric engine. I rode past a man who threw cardboard pizza boxes like heavy frisbees at people who passed in front of him. He chucked one at me and missed, so of course I turned around and passed him again. After three times he ran out of boxes so he just spit at me instead. I waved and said, “Nice!” Then he said thank you. See? It’s not so hard to get along. Diplomacy still exists!
Here’s what I learned on our bike tour:
- Bike riding in Rome is an insane thing. You bounce between roads, sidewalks, and plazas. Sometimes you ride. Sometimes you walk your bike. At all times your life is at the mercy of an errant Fiat driver. You have to ride the Italian way, which is this: make your own gap in traffic and fill it. Rome is not a place for the timid.
- The Colosseum originally was called the Amphitheater Next To The Colossal Golden Statue of Nero. Over time, that name became quite a mouthful, so people shortened it to the Colosseum. And that giant statue of the Roman Emperor Nero, the man who played a harp in a tower he built so he could have a good view of Rome burning? It’s gone.
- The Middle Ages were particular unkind to ancient Roman architecture. The Catholic church stole most of the old marble and metal the Romans used and recycled it all for its own churches and cathedrals.
- The Pantheon is amazing, and the Romans were ingenious.
- Yes, you can fill your water bottle from all the different free fountains sprinkled throughout Rome. Just don’t fill your bottle from the Tiber river because that is disgusting. Sewage still pours into it, even today.
We left the tour wiser about Ancient Rome but slightly dumber about navigating Current Rome. I say this because, as we trudged back to our apartment, I navigated us to a series of dead ends all in a row. We backtracked, we stumbled, and we were asked for directions by people even more lost than we were. (This is a common thing when we travel because we even though lost, we look confidently lost.)
That evening we had a delicious dinner in Trastevere and watched a little of the World Cup in the restaurant where we ate and on the street as we walked and in the gelato shop where we had dessert.
And that was it. We had used all the energy we had stored up. Lifting a foot weighted down by a shoe seemed a Herculean task.
Next: The Vat-I-Can’t ‘cause I’m too tired