Monday, October 10, 2005

Rome: Antique, Old and New 

Believe it or not - this was my first visit to Rome. I have been all over Italy already - from Bozen, Venezia, Milano, Torino, Genova, Firenze, Palermo, to Bari and even Cagliari, but never in Rome (some friends from Torino and Milano did not understand the problem at all). So I decided to add after the conference a long weekend with my wife, going back on Sunday.

To state the positive sides first: the espresso in the small bars is always excellent, the food is also quite good and the old (Christian) and antique (Roman) sites are very impressive. It is also nice to walk around in the old parts of the city. And of course nobody can be blamed for the weather, it was Thursday, Friday and Saturday raining cats and dogs - my son said that we finally got the weather we deserved in August in London.

On Friday we did the Vatican (Castel Sant' Angelo, San Piedro and the museums), on Saturday the Fora, Palatino and Colosseum, and on Sunday some churches, Spanish stairs, Fontana di Trevi, Pantheon, San Giovanni in Laterano and finally Via Appia.

On the negative side is the new Rome and some if it inhabitants. I had to move out of the splendid Cavalieri Hilton, first because it was booked up, second it is situated not very conveniently for sight-seeing (on top of a steep hill) and third it was way too expensive anyway. So I moved in a "normal" hotel (still expensive) near metro-station Lepanto on line A and a 1o minute walk from Castel Sant' Angelo and the Vatican.

My wife was arriving Thursday evening and the instructions I gave here sounded quite simple: take the Leonardo Express from the airport to Roma Termini and from there 5 stations with metro A. The hotel is 100m from the metro exit, but I will pick you up there. Give me a call if the express is leaving the airport. The calculation seemed easy: 30 min train, 15 minutes walk in Termini, because they decided to end the train 1 km BEFORE Termini, and 15 minutes with the metro. She called at 8:30 pm, so I walked up to the metro station at 9:15. expecting to meet her soon. No wife showed up, but to my astonishment and surprise they closed the metro station instead.

I expected my phone to ring and so it did (luckily it was working at this time, which is also not normal with "They closed down the metro, but there is a bus instead." I would have taken a taxi, but first she is very housewifely and second there was naturally a very long queue for taxis at Termini. There was also a nice episode she told me later, why she missed the last metro by seconds: she wanted first to see a plan of the metro to know in which direction to go, but could not find one. So she asked in a shop and got the advice: "Metro plans are only on display in newpapers, she should buy one" - nice try. True is that there are nowhere metro plans on display except on the platform.

So while my wife was searching for the bus, I was starting to wonder where the bus will stop. I assumed near the metro station, but in the meantime standing there and got asked not only by hordes of tourists, but also by native Romans, first what's going on with the metro in general and then where the bus stop for direttione Termini is, I got my doubts. One native finally told me that this fun is going on now for 2 years, but nobody puts any signs up and he also does not know where the bus stops.

My wife in the meantime (it was already 10:15) finally found the bus and entered it, but now she had another problem: where to leave the bus? The bus driver does not react to any question regarding Lepanto, the passengers also had problems, because my wife made a very serious mistake: she pronounced the station Lepa'nto, and not Le'panto, as Roman citiziens are used to. So it took some time to figure this out and finally she got off the bus at 10:30 - but definitely NOT at the metro station. We finally found out that the bus is NOT exactly passing the metro stations, only approximately. We still do not know where she got off exactly, but it was at least 4 blocks away - she finally took a taxi to the hotel.

The metro in Rome is basically only two lines and the cars are looking like the New York Metro in 1995 - full of ugly graffiti. A speciality in Rome is ticket gates: both in the Metro and e.g. in museums. They are constructed in such a way that you need in addition one person per gate to explain the passers how to operate it.

This started already on the airport with the Leonardo express: you buy a ticket, then you approach the platform where a guy is sitting in a boy, telling everybody that he has to insert the ticket into a ticket-canceller, but not in the first one, because this one is out-of-order, and after you have tried the second one 4 times, he tells you that you have to insert the ticket very slooowly. My wife had 2 days later the same experience, only that of the four cancellers only one was working.

Same is basically true with the metro gates, here you have 4 options to insert the ticket, only one and the least obvious works, not enhancing throughput. Similar experience in museums.

One last rant: sight-seeing in Rome means hordes of tourists and queueing up. At the Vatican this is organized quite well and if you finally get in, you really get something for the 12 Euro. Not so on the Palatino. You pay 10 Euro (+ Colosseum), but you do not get anything. You have to know everything yourself. No descriptions, no signs, nothing. You do not even have a sign where the exit is. They seem to assume that everybody is well-informed already (like the Germans) and also has a guidebook. Maybe, but if it is raining, it could be you do not want to spoil it and would like to have at least the directions.

Summary: Romans are quite nice, as long as they are not working on their official job.

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