Italy, With Grandchildren, Arrival Day

Italy with our grandson. It happened, and was everything we hoped it would be. The writing about it part, however, has been slow to come about. You know, this thing called life keeps distracting me. But here I am.

We live in different parts of the country, so Doug and I decided to book our flights so we had a long layover in the city closest to where our grandson lives. By closest, we’re talking several hours away. But what’s several hours on the scale of eternity?

Since Gabriel was three days short of his eleventh birthday, we didn’t want him navigating security on his own or need to have an attendant, so we exited out of our terminal area and met him and his dad outside where passengers are dropped off. He was so excited and nervous that he talked nonstop.

Through the security gate, talk, talk. On down the long corridors, more talking and a bit of nervous tripping over luggage, finally on to the Centurian’s lounge where we got to relax for the next few hours while we waited for our coming night flight.

The excited chitchat paused briefly while our grandson stared in open eyed amazement at the variety of food available for our enjoyment at no extra cost to guests with “the card.” Boys three days shy of eleven, have quite the appetite.

Having purchased bargain priced tickets, we squeezed into our tiny spaces called seats and buckled in. I’m pretty sure Doug can sleep standing up, a good thing, since these economy class seats have you so upright you are almost standing up. Gabriel, being three days shy of eleven could also sleep anywhere–once the excitement waned and the meal was served and the movie was completed. Me? You’d have to gas me for me to sleep on a plane. I slump and scoot, and bang my knee on the front seat, bend over and try to lie on the tray, but I just don’t bend that way. And so I close my eyes and try to rest as best I can. To me, the plane trip is the worst part of long-distance travel. Still, the money saved on the flight will pay for several tours at our destination and that benefit outweighs the discomfort of economy seating.

We arrived in Rome the next morning, made it through the Covid and customs check points, then on outside.

For those wondering, there are several ways to get to the city, which is about 45 minutes’ drive from the airport. Walking is not the best choice, but I’m sure it can be done by the determined and brave. The train is the cheapest route, costing several dollars a person. This means finding the right terminal, navigating with your luggage and child, probably switching lines at some point, and then walking to your hotel from wherever the last and (hopefully) closest stop happens to be. This is great for those who know their way around. Not so great for the brain-befuddled, jet lagged tourist who is only vaguely familiar with their surroundings. The next cheapest mode of transportation would be the bus. This costs about 15 Euro per person, or in our case, 45 Euro for the three of us, and it takes you to the central station in Rome. From there, you have to figure out how to get to your hotel, along with luggage and grandchild in tow, still in that brain-fog of a sleepless night. We opted for the taxi. Ends up Italy has regulated the price of taxi’s from the airport, so no fear of price-gouging from various drivers. One fee, to anywhere in the center of town. For a mere five Euro more than the bus would cost a family of three, we gave our driver the address, gaped out the windows at the ancient landscape, and arrived at the hotel with our greatest concern being which floor to check in at. Not a concern, really. We simply followed the signs and headed up the rich marble staircase to the tiny little lobby that housed the guest services.

Note: marble staircase, not because we’re at the finest hotel, but because marble is every-day common, as is anything old. Antique. Ancient is everywhere. Rome being Rome, it was one of the few cities during the great wars where all involved were reticent to bomb and be called the barbarians that destroyed the “eternal city.”

Because it is Rome, it’s crowded, few new buildings can be built, and few alterations can be done to the ones already there. So expect a smaller, less luxurious room for the same price as a nicer one, say in Florence or in the countryside. The stairs may be luxurious, but the rooms are tiny, clean, and comfortable. We don’t stay in our rooms for long, so small doesn’t bother us. Money is better used elsewhere.

If you want a bathroom in your room, be sure your reservations says it’s “ensuite.” Otherwise, your bath will be down the hall, often shared with another guest. We’ve done both without issues. Ensuite is more convenient, but costs extra.

On the first day in Europe, we always leave the schedule unplanned to allow for the jet lag fatigue to not mar any costly touring. We checked into our room, then decided we had energy sufficient to explore the neighborhood. We were delighted to find ourselves close to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. Late lunch-early dinner was decided by grandson #1: Pizza!

Bit of history, because it’s why I love going where we go. The Trevi Fountain had its beginnings way back in 19 BC when the aquaducts brought clean fresh water into the city, this one bringing water to the Baths of Agrippa, and having a fountain in this location that served the city for over 400 years. Trevi means three, as the fountain was built at the junction of three major roads. 

While never losing its function completely, the fountain and aqueduct fell into disrepair between 400 AD and 1600’s. After competitions put on by the pope at the time, Pannini was hired as the architect to renovate the fountain to the grandeur it now posseses. Amid the palazzo façade, Oceanus reigns, Tritons and horses dominate forward and center, as though struggling out of the depths of the sea, with water surging about them. The construction was completed in the early 1700’s.

Can you imagine dipping your hands in water still flowing through the same aqueducts and from the same source as it has since before the time of Christ?

Crowds, even mid-pandemic, gather around the fountain. Tradition has people lining up close to the edge, with their back to the fountain and throwing coins into the water. If you succeed in landing your tossed coin in the fountain’s water, it is said you will someday return to Rome. A rather ingenious ploy, if you ask me, to develop such a tradition. It brings in an estimated $1.5 million per year in money said to be used to subsidize a supermarket for the needy. There are hefty punishments for anyone trying to glean the coinage from the fountain for their own use, even if you are one of those needy heading to the supermarket.

Now for the Spanish Steps. Specchi and de Sanctis won an architectural competition for the project, and the construction of the 138 travertine steps connecting the location of the Spanish Embassy’s square below to the French claimed church Trinita dei Monti together. It was completed sometime in the 1700’s. The result is an elegant and literally breathtaking (to climb) passageway up the side of the hillside, frequented by many tourists such as myself who climb the stairs both for the challenge and for the view from above. Deep grooves worn into each step show the path most commonly used.

Watch for vendors at the top, trying to “give the lady a rose,” then demanding payment from the unsuspecting lady’s partner.

Back to our fearless trio, Gabriel will someday return to Rome, if the coin toss is to be believed, plus he beat us to the top of the stairs, and was wise enough to avoid buying any roses. His grandfather came next, and I took the tail. Of course, I was the one who can’t sleep on the plane, and my legs are short, and I was busy taking in all the sites, so I have a good excuse.

First day in Rome was a success. I don’t remember, but we likely topped the day off with a gelato, as that became a trend for the rest of the trip. An early bedtime was called with no complaint from young or old.

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