Rome is a vast, sprawling city on the scale of Paris, London or even New York, with all the attendant bustle, business, dirt, and noise. The traffic is not quite as crazy as reported (although I had a wild taxi ride this morning, barreling through traffic while the driver had a screaming match with someone on his cell phone). In fact, drivers really seem to obey the rule of stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks and there isn’t too much jay-walking. The drivers are used to passing cars and other things with minimum clearances, at a crawl or at speed, and the notion of lanes is non-existent. Yet, the cars are not all banged up along their sides as you might expect.
My hotel is across the street from the National Opera House and so the neighborhood is lively with restaurants and bars catering to the opera-going crowd. Very convenient for me, as I have a ticket for Wednesday night’s performance of Il Turco In Italy.
Best laid plans do go awry and I found myself attempting to visit two museums today that were closed on Mondays (guess I’ll have to fire someone in my Trip Planning Department). I’ve also been dealing for days with a vicious head cold and cough that is just hanging on and on (no, I haven’t been around any birds). So after my abortive museum trips, I decided to play it low key today in the hopes of shaking my cold.
One thing that is unusual here is that businesses close up early. The government has been on a kick to break the "siesta" plan (where businesses close in the afternoon and reopen in the evening) and adopt a more Western timetable. But it’s usual to see everything but restaurants close up after 7:00 PM, so forget it if you want a pack of gum or an aspirin after that time.
You have to marvel at the focus on energy conservation here. My hotel room, for example, uses a programmable key card. After you open your door, you have to insert the key card into a hold just inside the door in order to get the lights to come on. When you leave and take the card, the lights will stay on for 30-seconds and then go off. So you cannot leave the lights (or TV, A/C, etc.) on when out. Incidentally, the key card, which is the US is very anonymous to prevent theft in case it’s lost, features the hotel name, address, and room number on it.
One drawback of traveling with a guidebook as your guide (in my case, the Rick Steves books) is that you may wind up surrounded by Americans toting the same book wherever you go. While the Italians themselves are ardent tourists and there are certainly plenty of them scrutinizing maps at the tourist sights, my hotels and certain recommended restaurants seem like they’re located in D.C. based on the conversations overheard.
What’s for breakfast? All my hotels have served a complimentary breakfast consisting of a choice of cold cereals (Rice Crispies, Corn Flakes), yogurt, bread and croissants, ham, Swiss cheese, fruit, and beverages. The "orange juice" is the weakest stuff you’ll ever see and there is no cream or half and half for your tea or coffee. On the other hand, it is free, it is just downstairs from your room, you can get a great cappucino, and everyone there is American.
So, tomorrow will hopefully be a busy day. I hope to see the National Museum of Rome, the Vatican, and St. Peter’s Basillica. Rick Steves says I can do it all in one day. I’ll put him to the test.