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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Departing Paris, Next Stop Rome

Wednesday 1 July.
We went to a laundromat in Paris. We washed our clothes with the complementary hotel soap, I'm not kidding here. But it worked. And we figured out how to do the laundry without looking too silly.
Getting back to the airport was relatively effortless since we have become experts at Parisian public transportation (yes, I did get "Metro" by Berlin stuck in my head, several times, thanks for asking).
The security line was a bit long and there was a bit of confusion when 4 of us had to be sent back to walk through without our passports because the new US passport set off the metal detectors.
We flew to Rome on Spanish low cost carrier, Vueling (does not rhyme with fueling as I had thought, it's like vwayling only much more Spanish). It was a lot like a Southwest flight with the option to purchase an assigned seat (which I did), which means that not only was it super cheap (about $170 US for 2 direct nonstop tickets, where as Air France and Al Italia were about $1, 200 each for the same offer), but the fleet is newer and cleaner. If you have inter-Europe travel needs I would say check them out.
The first thing I noticed about the Rome airport was the no smoking signs posted everywhere and the distinct smell of stale cigarette smoke. Clearly the airport only became non-smoking recently (actually there was a smoking lounge near our departure gate. I've only ever seen one of these at the Baton Rouge airport before).
The second thing I noticed was that the bathroom was nasty, but we will not dwell on this.
After clearing customs (which involved being waived through by an armed official who did not even look at the French entry visa that I was told was molto importante!) we picked up the bag that I checked apparently for no reason (better safe than sorry or something) and headed up to the ground transportation area with the intent to take the train to the termini and connect to the metro to get to our hotel.
That didn't happen.
We got into a line at a kiosk that said (tourist transportation info) which was actually a slick disguise for a shuttle service. All I wanted was info on train tickets and passes, but the guy at the counter slickly convinced us that there was no way we were getting from the termini to our hotel on the metro and that it was about to rain.
Sigh, note to self: after 3 months of internet research, trust your findings, not the shyster looking for a quick buck.
True, there wasn't an actual metro stop by our hotel, the closest was Spangna, and true, it did rain, but there was a pedestrian tunnel, complete with elevators and people movers that let out right in front of our hotel. In my moment of second guessing I forgot this.
Our driver spoke little to no English and had 4 stops to make. We got on the road around 5pm which meant serious traffic congestion like you would find around any major city. Once we got into Rome proper our driver proceeded to drive like a NY taxi driver is often accused of. I don't think that a single traffic law was obeyed and I am surprised we were not killed when he decided to take a right turn from a left lane in front of a bus. On top of that, he got lost.
On the upside, we saw probably every famous Roman landmark, on the down side, I got car sick for the first time ever in my life.
When we finally got to the Hotel Elesio we had a slight miscommunication with the desk clerk. You see, like Paris, I asked for a balcony room, and, like Paris, these were top floor only rooms. He gave us the key and told us that we could take the lift until six o'clock. after that we take the stairs. I noticed that the room number was 601(ok I probably thought it was 602 but that is another story) which meant 7 flights of stairs. At this point both Jason and myself had blistered stumps of meat where our feet had been and I did not want to walk up the stairs as it was now after six. I asked for a lower floor and was met with a look that said "you crazy!" It went kind of like this:
Desk Clerk: "You don't want the balcony? But the view! It is fantastic!"
Me: "I will sacrifice the view to save my feet. I do not want to walk up the stairs!"
Desk Clerk:"No, No! You take the lift to six o'clock and then you take the stairs!"
Me:"It's after six o'clock right now!"
Desk Clerk:Italian facepalm "Six floor! Six floor then stairs."
And so it was, six floors in a coffin sized, cable pulled lift that reawakened childhood claustrophobia that even the catacombes couldn't inspire. this took us to the floor of the breakfast room. From there we went up a small staircase to a floor with only two doors, one of which was ours!
The room itself was huge in comparison to the room in Paris, though not large by typical US 4 star hotel standards. The decor was a bit dated and the bed was two twin beds, one extra firm, one extra bouncy, pushed together. The air conditioner worked and the bathroom was clean. We had only a small shower stall, which is fine, and a bidet, which, though I know is pretty standard in Europe, still creeps me out a little. Can a woman even use one of these things? You know, safely?
The pictures I took of the room are skewed because I was experimenting with the panoramic feature. Our room type is not listed on the website but the room with the blue bedspread is close. Our chairs were not in front of the bed though, there was a small sitting room when you enter the room and then a few steps that go down to the bed area, like a split level living room from the 80's.
After pushing aside some curtains we found the door to the balcony and yes, the view was amazing, no...it was AMAZING!!!!
Yeah, you are looking at the Borghese Gardens and the Vatican right there. As I mentioned, it had just rained so the mist made the whole view very surreal.
We were in swankville. It didn't really set in until we went out to explore and realized that the whole "wonderful position in Via di Porta Pinciana at the very top of the famous Via Veneto" was not the typical hotel boasting, we were atop the 5th Ave of Rome and we were under dressed.
We found a cafe on a side street near the hotel and had pizza. Since returning I have learned that we did indeed have authentic Italian pizza and I am not alone, most New Yorkers do not like it.
We walked down Via Veneto to Barberini Plaza and had the best and most expensive ice cream that we had ever had. No really, it was 25 Euro which was about $37 for two sundaes.
After Paris, where restaurants must list all prices outside and all prices must include tax and service, Rome was a bit of a shock. Tax is high and the table charge (yes, a fee just for sitting) is even higher, and you are supposed to tip.
After that is is late so we slogged our way back up the hill, into the coffin lift, and back to our room where in the absence of German MTV we sat on the balcony and enjoyed the view.

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