Italy: Lost in Rome – the full story

Many of you, friends, were puzzled by the fact that we were in Italy, and asked me for explanations – how, why?
“You were supposed to be in Denmark, weren’t you?” Yes, that is true. So let me tell you the full story.

On a rainy Monday morning in the middle of March, when the task in drawing class was given and we were sitting at a table, a sudden sadness-driven thought arose. More from a habit I sighed and said out loud to Nanna: “I want to go to Italy”. It wasn’t spoken the first time, and I knew it wouldn’t be the last, but I should have understood that this wish wouldn’t pass by unnoticed, because when one crazy meets other just as crazy, strange things happen. And so it did, because next thing I know – we were checking plane tickets that night – just out of curiosity…to Milan, to Venice, to Rome…
“Let’s sleep on it” we agreed.
Next day after processing the thought of leaving hojskole for a week – just before the very end – and going to Italy without having a place to stay, or the money for the trip, we bought tickets.  It was a strange sensation – doing something spontaneous for a change. And for weeks this did not seem so real. We were reminding each other that “We are going to Rome” day after day. And then finally there was less than a month left and we needed to start thinking about places to stay  – let me just say that none of us had tried couchsurfing before. But we got lucky, even though I had to send more than 25 requests, we found a home for all nights except the first one, which was fine.

Our journey started early Sunday morning, when we left the school – sleepy and clueless about the adventures we’ll have. We had just two thoughts – let’s paint a lot and eat gelato every day! So we did.

The road from Airport to our hostel took about 3-4 hours…we got lost several times, giggled after every question to locals about our whereabouts’, because they looked quite amused and a bit bored – like they have been doing this for a long time. We discovered that our destination is not on the paper map after all (because WiFi was not discussable)…  And after rewarding ourselves with strawberries that can be bought in every store we went looking for gelato and dinner. For two more hours we wandered around and tried to locate ourselves till a kind Italian man, who was carrying a folder with french sheet music, approached us and asked: “Hello, what are you looking for? I have lived in Rome for my whole life, I can help.” And so we explained that first of all we would just like to understand where we are and then, if we’re lucky, get some food. So he directed us to the main street and gave some suggestions for what to do the day after. We didn’t ask for his name, but he looked like an Alberto – gray haired, kind eyes.
We found an amazing restaurant, saw 12 police man on motorcycles just stopping by and going for dinner at the same restaurant, found a street with more than 3 gelato places, and got lost on our way back to the hostel. That was day one.

When traveling, for me the most unsettling part is not being sure – about the places you’ll stay at, about the people you’ll meet, but most of all – about the things you can’t really affect… like public transport, its timing and destinations. So we walked…a lot.

Tuesday was dedicated to sightseeing, touristy objects and, well, getting to know limits of Nannas feet. As unfortunate it might be – she ruined her feet at the first night and had to live with that for the rest of the trip. So we stopped at places we probably wouldn’t  have – like the fountain with stares Nanna took a nap on, and I made my first Rome drawing.

On late afternoon we entered a tourist information center for the first time, just to make sure if all the info I have collected so far about the whereabouts’ of our buss that would take us to Gallicano nel Lazio – Allan’s place.
Allan – he was our first couchsurfing host in a small town 40 minutes from Rome, and I had only good things to say about him, even though he gave me one of the worst couchsurfing references I could imagine. It’s quite fascinating how different a person can seem if he’/ she is not revealing the true self at the moment and not speaking their mind. But for me Allan was kind and thoughtful- or maybe that’s how I see people.

We came to Gallicano nel Lazio an hour before the time I said we could be, and, surprise, surprise – there was no internet in town, or a single person who spoke English, so we tried to reach Allan on his phone, that did not work.
After considering  briefly weather he’s real or not (first time couchsurfing!), we decided to do the only sensible thing you can do, when being in Italy – drink a cup of coffee. An hour (maybe less) had passed and when trying to order due caffè con latte and not really connecting with the barista who might have owned the place for 40 years but have never seen a tourist in his life, he asked a middle aged man to help with the translation. The man must have been the only Italian in town who spoke English – and without a particular accent. We ended up telling him our story (he asked why we’re in town) and he shared his hotspot with me, so that I could contact our host, who was still in Rome.
And hour later Allan stopped with his motorcycle next to the cafe and said: “You girls need a ride?” Even though he did not have a beard anymore (my mother did ask if I chose hosts by their beards, but that was a coincidence, I promise), there could be no other tall British guy in this small town.
First time on a motorcycle: check.

 

On Wednesday we were supposed to go to Tivoli, so we woke up at 7 a.m. to catch the morning buss. There are exactly two buses going there per day and we missed the first one due to unpredictable walking distance and time. Also the bus stop was camouflaged so well that even now we wouldn’t be sure, where to go. But we spoke to two extremely nice Italian women, who tried so much to explain us where to buy tickets and that this bus goes to Rome and many other things that we didn’t understand, because of poor Italian language knowledge, so the morning was not a waste. And after seeing two of our buses passing by – one to Rome, the other to Tivoli – we sighed, accepted the strange twist of faith and slowly walked to the center of Gallicano – to see the small, cute town and decide what to do next.
10 minutes later, when we have been going uphill and almost reached the border of places we’d seen the day before, an Italian man in his sixties stopped the car and tried to speak to us – again I should add that knowing the language would help a lot, but he tried to communicate using the 10 words in English he knew. As weird as it sounds at the end I did understand a lot. He gave us a lift – first just uphill, but then we managed to figure out he’s on his way to Rome, so we got a free ride to Rome.
The man’s name is Dominico – he’s a librarian who works and lives in Rome but due to a recent leg injury (or was it old age?) has to go to Tivoli hot springs/ spa every morning at 7 a.m. to a rehabilitation session. He was on his way home…or to the beach, and passed by his friends place in Gallicano, saw us – two white girls in this town where no tourist ever comes. I guess we looked quite puzzled.. or just clueless about our plan of the day.
But so an hour later we reached Rome and were on our way to Tivoli (after a cup of coffee and gelato, of course).

Tivoli is an amazing town on top of a mountain you should definitely visit when you go to Rome. It’s an hour bus ride from Rome, but worth every second of your time. Since we came there quite late, we skipped the touristy destinations and instead went to the park, located at the feet of the city’s ancient acropolis. Villa Gregoriana – hills, nature, waterfalls and caves, ancient ruins and peace like nowhere else. At the bottom of the Valley, where the waterfall reaches ground and turns into a river – flowing into a huge cave – you feel so tiny and insignificant that cold shiver runs down your spine. This is a place for thinkers, dreamers, painters and people who recognize God’s mightiness that you can see behind magnificent hills, wild nature and indescribable beauty.

Thursday was the first and only day we could sleep in, make real breakfast and even though it was windy as Denmark, the table with pancakes and tea on the balcony was a must! We took our time, finished some drawings and made new ones… and I had the opportunity to wander around, picking flowers and making a flower crown – Italy edition. I was called a Romanian gypsy by our host, when coming back with a pile of flowers  in my hands, but I guess he just doesn’t know the culture.
Sadly we did not check the bus times early enough and ended up being in a hurry again – with the experience of missing a bus in Gallicano once, we couldn’t risk by exiting the house too late again, so at the very last minute we had to decide between two hosts – staying and saying goodbye to Allan or showing up 4 hours too late to meet Enrico.
So we said goodbye to Allan, while he was still in the shower, started our not so fast walk to the bus stop ( Nanna’s feet were not in the best condition).

Enrico…is an amazing person! He was our second host – third chapter of Rome, because here the true Italy emerged. He picked us up at the Metro station and we started walking through a typical Italian neighborhood. Not long after that he was lost…

– “It’s ok, we trust you.”
– “No, no, don’t trust me today…I am not a psychopath, but do not trust me today.”

…and the same night he wears a sweater that says “psycho” on the back, leads us in circles around the neighborhood and tries to feed us vine.
But we made friends instantly. Only friends can make fun of each other and not get offended. It’s insane how fast that happened.
Enrico and his marvelous flat mates – Giovanna and Giulia – introduced us to Sicilian pasta kitchen and the beauty of food-making. It’s like an event itself. The evening started around seven and ended at midnight with songs, dances, henna art and conversations. And here comes an advice to all Latvians – never say to an Italian that pasta in your language is called macaroni. “Macaroni and pasta is not the same!” I got a lecture and a guide with illustrations (made by Enrico) for different kinds of pasta and their titles. And apparently macaroni is not even one kind of pasta – it’s just one way of making it.

On Friday we went exploring with Enrico as our tour guide. Although our road went to different places, the main destination was Gianicolo Hill – a place from the opening scene of Paolo Sorrentino’s La grande belleza  and a place with “the best view to overlook Rome”. After that we went for real Italian pizza – approved by Enrico and Pierangelo, real Italian coffee – it seems that Italians do not have cups bigger than 120 to 170 ml, which is insanely small. But then again – Italy is the only place on earth where even I drink Espressos.
And then we saw the most beautiful place in whole Rome – the Pantheon. I fell in love with this majestic building instantly. And just like with other places that are packed with tourists – I would love to see it someday completely empty, hear the echo of my footsteps, the coldness of stone walls, the peace that fills every square meter. I wonder how much it would cost to rent it for 10 minutes.

On our last evening we met two more Italians – another Giulia and Pierangelo – course mates of Giovanna. So we had 3 soon to be psychology PhD’s in the room and 3 wannabe artists – what a mix!
A couple of hours before we found Enrico’s place that night, we got lost again – this time trying to locate a grocery store in the neighborhood. For some reason that was the moment we thought it would be a good idea to make some pictures in the photo booth.  Know this – it is never a good idea, if you’re lost and tired, and hungry, and in pain, to take pictures in a photo booth. Now we have 6 copies of the worst pics ever taken of me and Nanna..well, ever!
When we finally reached “home”, it was late, but the cooking had just started – by the new guest and now also by Nanna. She is truly a wizard in the kitchen.
I am amazed that these people do this dinner ceremony every night, but it would be a good thing to learn and apply later in our lives.
This last evening was kind of magical – filled with unexpected surprises like sword fighting, songs, improvisations and at last – a jam session between me and Enrico ( I got to change between the acoustic and electric guitar) – with others joining occasionally – playing mouth harmonica or rhythm on bottles. It was a chill evening and we said goodnight around midnight, just to have at least 2 hours of sleep before catching the night bus to the Airport. Never buy an early morning ticket when traveling from Rome!
Luckily Enrico was so kind that he woke up together with us and accompanied us to the bus, so that we wouldn’t miss it. We got extremely lucky with this guy!

 

After this the Italy part was more or less over, but we still had to travel for 20 hours – without really getting any sleep till we reached Odder. But it was definitely worth every sleepless hour. Rome is beautiful, but Italy – meraviglioso!
Next time I would definitely spend less time on exploring during daytime and more in the nightly hours, when all the tourists are sleeping and the locals are with their families and friends.
Arrivederci for now! It’s strange that I was able to finish this long, long entry only because of a sprained ankle, but I guess that’s the way of God telling me to slow down.
See you soon, Latvians!

d.

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