Roman Holiday

by Natalie P.

June 6, 2007 | Filed Under Lifestyles of the Heartlessly Bitchy | 5 Comments

I’ve been remiss in updating HBI of late.  But I have a valid (in my mind) excuse. You see, just over 2 weeks ago now (has it really been over 2 weeks?), I was laid off. Nothing to do with my performance, but part of a layoff of about 10% of the staff, or so I am told.  It was a bit of a shock considering that they recruited me AWAY from another very comfortable (but not terribly challenging) job.  Ironically, I DID get some sense that “the jig was up” when my boss asked if I would be in the office on Monday. I was due to fly out to a conference, but I confirmed I would be there that morning – leaving that afternoon for my flight to LA. But his inquiry set my spidey-sense a tingling. So much so that I started joking about it with my co-workers.

“Hey Joe!  Did Daryl just ask you if YOU were going to be here on Monday?!  Hmmmmm. I don’t like the sounds of this.”  Unfortunately, I didn’t take it all that seriously, but I DID resist buying that second Mario Beaudoin painting at a gallery in Montreal that weekend, quipping, “Let’s see if I still have a job on Monday.”

All that being said, as my co-workers helped carry my boxes out to the car they were shocked to hear me saying, “Woo-hoo! Summer vacation!”.  This is not the first time I have been laid off, so my skin is a little thicker than a newbie.  I also have a very pragmatic approach to these things – it just means I am intended to do something better and more interesting. I’m not worried about finding work – I’m more worried that it will find me before I am ready to go back to the grindstone. I’ve already had 2 calls from recruiters.

Well, the trip to LA was cancelled, as was my presentation at a conference in Rome the following week.  However, the ticket to Rome, while reimbursed, was non-transferrable, non-refundable. Whether I got on that plane or not, did not matter to the airline.  I had this epiphany. Why not go to Rome?

I mean, why not?  The ticket was paid for.  I’d been reimbursed for it. 

I asked the bf if he could fly to Rome the following week, but he was too swamped at work.  He said, “Go!  Find a friend or go on your own, but go if you want to!” I asked around to my semi-retired friends but all were either working or pre-booked with other things. B., who normally would jump at such a chance, was already flying to Belgium to take his family on a driving tour of Burgundy for the next two weeks. (Egads, what a rough life, eh?!).

I agonized over it for the rest of the week. I mean, ROME! When would I get the chance again? Yeah it would be more fun with the bf or a friend, but ROME. In May.

By the Sunday of the flight, I had prepped my clothes with inside pockets (the pickpockets are horrible at the main train station and on the busses), packed minimally, and was resolved to go.  I drove to Montreal and boarded the flight. 

I’m sure some of you are thinking, yeah, the bf said, “go” but he didn’t really mean it, and he’s going to be all bent that you went without him. 

Not so. Not so at all.  He, like I, figured this was just part of the bonus of being laid off. I mean, they could have given me working notice, and I’d have taken the trip but been working the whole time. Now I had it all for vacation. Sure, he wished he could come, but he didn’t resent that I went on my own.

I mean, it’s ROME, after all.

So, not working, I couldn’t exactly stay at a 5 star hotel, but I DID find a very reasonable hostel/pensionne for just $30 Euros a night.  It was a dorm room, but just fine for the price, and close to the Termini station so I could catch busses and the Metro to any areas that were too far to walk.  For the most part, though, I walked.

The trip was FABULOUS.  I could write pages about it, but I won’t bore you with the ALL details. I’ll just relate a few experiences.

I took my Rick Steve’s guide to Italian – recommended for not only the practical Italian, but the hilarious phrases inserted.  On my trip back to the airport I learned why he had inserted the Italian translation for, “If you don’t slow down, I’m going to be sick.”  He also has other important phrases for women like, “Leave me alone” and “I have a contagious disease” – none of which were required, but it was fun to read and practice them anyway. 

In the end, I didn’t really need the guide. Pretty much everyone at restaurants and tourist areas speaks some English. In fact, I must have butchered the language any time I really tried to speak it because everyone always replied in English – like the time I asked in Italian, “Dov’e la Cherche Conceptione Immaculata?”, to a security guard outside an office building and he replied in perfect English, “It’s up there, on the right, past the umbrellas.”  *sigh*

In the end, the phrases that were most useful were “Permesso” – to get past someone on a crowded bus or in a store, “scusi” to get the attention of a waiter or shopkeeper, “per favore” – please, “grazie” – thank-you, and “Quanto costa” – how much is it?

My roommates varied throughout the 4 night stay, with one American girl, a Spaniard, a Mexican (who was fluent in English) and a Japanese girl. The Spaniard was there the whole time and though she spoke no English we managed to communicate through my broken French and sign language.  As for sleeping in a dorm room, with the right earplugs, I can sleep through anything. Don’t get the foam ones. Go for the soft silicone plugs that you can shape to your ear canal. Miraculous.

My flight arrived at 9am on the Monday morning. I had just 4 days to see and do as much as I could. I figured out the trains and made my way to Rome from the airport by about 10:30am. The pensionne let me check in early which was great, and they gave me a one-page tourist map of Rome which was all I needed to navigate my way around. I started out on foot and found myself famished by about 1pm.

I stopped for lunch and had the best lasagna I have ever tasted. I swear it is impossible to have bad pasta in Rome, but it IS possible to gain 10lbs if you eat the “first plate” of pasta with every meal!  On top of it all, I was courted by the waiter who was distressed to see that I was travelling alone and offered to show me Rome after he got off shift. I graciously declined.  Several times. I learned to get used to it.  Many waiters throughout my trip offered to show me the sites and keep me company. Even after I explained I had a boyfriend.  

I did, however, run into one of the hotel owners, Roberto, on my way out to dinner one night, and took him up on his offer of joining him for dinner. We had a lovely meal at a restaurant in the Travestere district (which is absolutely wild at night, and not to be missed), where I fell in love with Limoncello. Roberto explained how to make it (and I have a jar filled with lemon zest and alcohol on my counter as I type). We wandered throught the Travestere after dinner, soaking up the atmosphere – vendors selling all manner of knock-off belts and purses till 1 or 2am, people drinking and partying in the streets… It was crazy but I never felt unsafe.  Then Roberto drove me up to the “Zodiac”, which is the highest point above Rome, for a fabulous view of the city at night. He was a perfect gentleman and I learned a great deal about the city, the sites to see, and the culture.  It was the highlight of my trip.

On hearing this story, some people wondered about the bf’s reaction. “You went to dinner with a man you just met?” –  Of course he was fine with it. I was just having dinner with someone, and he completely trusts that it wouldn’t be anything else.  It’s one of the reasons I love him so much.

I saw strange things like a crypt all decorated with human bones, the catacombs of San Sebastien and San Callisto, art galleries, the Pantheon, the Colloseum, the cat-hostel in Largo Argentina… Actually, that one has a funny story. I was there, late at night, taking pictures of the cats in the ruins in this big piazza full of ruins that has apparently become a haven for the stray cats of Rome. These elderly, slightly loopy “cat ladies” look after them (I talked to one, I can attest to the loopiness), and they are all neutered or spayed. 

As I was looking into the ruins, a man who was standing next to me said, “There are cats in there you know.” I replied that I knew about the cats, and asked “Do you know how many?”.  He replied that there were over 500 cats living in the ruins. Then he said, “I run that Pizzeria over there. We’ve been in the same spot for over 100 years. Best Pizza in Rome!”. I looked to where he was pointing, and then he said, “And THAT is my girlfriend. And if she sees me talking to a beautiful woman like you, I am in trouble! Ciao!” And off he ran.

Ah Roma!

As for the food, you can get Pizza any time of the day, sold by weight. You can have potato and cheese pizza for breakfast and tomato, tuna, onion and cheese for lunch, and thin-crust with tomato and cheese for dinner. Really there are so many different toppings, and types, you’ll never get bored. I LOVED the cappuccino!  I would stop at cafes and just have cappuccino in the afternoon.  Everyone stirs their coffee. Even if you have a black espresso, I noticed that the custom is to stir it a bit.  I had to try “suppli” – which is a rice ball deep-fried with cheese inside, (I think of it as the Italian equivalent of Poutine), and I had the best tiramisu ever midnight on my last day, at a little restaurant that was almost closing.

A friend asked if I would bring back pictures of “hot Italian men” – unfortunately, I wasn’t so good at taking those kinds of pictures, so I brought her back a calendar of hunks instead. Unfortunately for her, the models are all priests. And all fully clothed in “the cloth”.  Yes, I AM evil.

My flight left at 9am the next morning. As I sat in the airport, someone was making a disturbance in the upstairs food court.  I watched from a distance as more and more Polizia showed up to deal with the distraught man who was either on drugs or severely deranged, or both. He kept threatening to throw things and was crying out “Polizia! Polizia!” even when they were already there.  I kept expecting the worst – like seeing this guy get absolutely thumped by the police.  But in the end, the police just “talked him down”, and casually escorted him out, with an officer gently guiding him by the elbow. All I could think of was, “Wow. He’s lucky it wasn’t the RCMP.”  People think of our mounties as these polite, non-violent types, but given what I have seen, if that same situation had happened in a Canadian airport, as soon as they determined the guy didn’t have weapons, he’d be tackled to the ground, cuffed, and dragged out by several officers.  I’ve had an RCMP officer YELL at me for simply standing on the doorstep of my business with a beer in my hand.  You don’t want to mess with our cops.

At any rate, I spent the week in Rome, then the weekend recovering, then last week up at our cottage (where there is no Internet access), and well, I haven’t really gotten ’round to doing site updates.  But I’m sure you can understand. Scusi Mi.

I’ll be working on site updates (and new member updates) this week.

And I’ll keep you posted on how the limoncello turns out.

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5 comments so far
  1. Mike June 7, 2007 10:13 am

    “These elderly, slightly loopy ‘cat ladies’ look after them (I talked to one, I can attest to the loopiness), and they are all neutered or spayed.” Well yeah, you’d *have* to be slightly insane to become a eunuch just to take care of some wild cats.

  2. Michelle June 7, 2007 1:33 pm

    Way to go on turning something negative into what sounds like a dream vacation!

    Glad you had fun!

    Michelle

  3. "gunner" June 7, 2007 5:37 pm

    Interesting, your comment on the RCMP vs. the Italian Police, I’ve visited Canada several times and found the cops up there fairly tame, but then I do tend to mind my own business and keep the peace.
    “gunner”

  4. wendy June 9, 2007 12:39 am

    Jo Seager, a noted NZ cook, once commented that the world is populated by two types of people; chocoholics and lemonophiles. I fall into the latter category and would most appreciate having the recipe for limoncello. Could you post it, please?

  5. Momo June 10, 2007 5:12 pm

    NatalieP,
    The next time you go on such a trip, you will buy a large suitcase, stuff me in it, and take me with you.

    I’m glad you had fun after being laid off. It’s good to find a silver lining in every black cloud. I hope that you get your feet back on the ground as soon as possible.

    My boyfriend and I are planning a Eurotrip after I get my RN, which should be about a year from now. A couple of two-week train passes sound good. Rome is a must, as he has relatives who have offered us lodging. Thanks for the pointers of getting around Rome.


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