Friday was the last day of Majella’s conference in Prato. She had checked over the program and decided that she could get away at lunch time without missing anything of significance to her. She headed into the conference as usual. Emily and I waited until around 10:30 and then headed in to do some work on the Internet before picking up Majella shortly after 12:00. We grabbed a bite to eat and were on our way to Roma.
By this time we were confident about driving in Prato and knew our way around, at least well enough to find the autostrada without incident. There was some traffico intenso advised for the interchange from the A11 (Pisa to Firenze) to the A1 (Firenze to Roma) but we had no real difficulty. We drove south from Toscana into Umbria and then into the Roman region easily and quickly. We stopped once for fuel but any sightseeing or photography was done on the fly. I had burned a copy of our Greek language CD in the morning so we played that more than once as we drove south, hoping to have at least a few polite words to use on arrival in Athens the next day.
There was some roadwork on the ring road around Roma but that caused only a minor delay and by 4:00 we were on our final approach to Fiumicino airport. Just as we arrived there Majella recalled that we needed to refuel the car before dropping it off. We took an exit towards Fiumicino (the town) and Ostia and did not need to go far before we found several fuel service points clustered around a roundabout. We filled the tank at the first one which was actually on the roundabout but Majella thought it was too cheeky to try to squeeze straight back into the traffic and go around so we took the first exit. We could have looped back almost immediately but she thought that didn’t look right. We spent the next 15 minutes looking for a way back from Fiumicino to the airport. Eventually we found it and managed to drop the car. There was a queue at Europcar but nothing like the one we experienced on arrival. Whether we had lost our copy of the contract or, likely given the confusion on our first visit, they hadn’t given it to us, we didn’t have it when we needed it. Fortunately they were able to print another. I signed off and we were done with the driving.
We dragged our baggage through the multi-level car park and across the bridge towards the Rome Airport Hilton where we were booked in for the night. The bridge was roofed, which would keep out the rain, but it was neither air conditioned nor insulated. As a consequence it was hot in there under the Italian afternoon sun. Access from the bridge to the Hilton was via a very small, just fitted three of us with baggage, lift with a glass wall on its western side offering a view of the stazione. It was the next best thing to a sauna. We made it to the hotel foyer where the air conditioning revived us.
Once we had checked in we dropped our bags in the room and made ready to explore Roma. Shortly after 5:00 we were on our way across to the airport stazione to catch a train into Roma Termini. Once I had recovered from sticker shock at the cost of 3 return fares we set off. Our only navigational aids were a map provided by Europcar to locate their operations in Roma and some intuition. It didn’t help that the platform for Fiumicino trains at Roma Termini stops about 1000 metres short of the real station and off the Europcar map of the central city. We walked a few blocks in some confusion until we found some landmarks that were on the map. From that point we were fine. We navigated towards the Colosseum as a first point of interest. We found that without difficulty and ate dinner at a restaurant with a view of the sun setting through the ruins of the Colosseum.
After dinner we strolled across the road and took a closer look at the Colosseum. Majella spent some time explaining some of the historical significance to Emily. We wandered up the hill beyond the Colosseum and were able to get a view of the Roman Forum. From there we headed up the road towards the city. We had thoughts of getting across to the Vatican but, looking at the map, it seemed further than any of us would want to walk and we had no idea about the bus system in Roma. Majella spotted a sign for the Piazza Spagna (Spanish Steps) and we headed off in that direction.
Romantic that she is, Majella probably could not manage to visit Roma without tossing a coin in the Trevi Fountain. Along the way to the Spanish Steps she spotted a sign to the fountain so we headed in that direction. She and Emily tossed their coins in the fountain and as we came away from it were collared by a peddler selling roses. Once they had accepted roses I had to pay. We headed off towards the Spanish Steps, Majella and Emily with roses in hand.
The Piazza Spagna area was crowded, on the steps and in the areas above and below. We checked out the McDonalds that we recalled from our 1995 visit as being impressively unlike any other McDonalds in its decor full of marble and other classical Roman touches. By this time it was showing its age, not yet as run down as the original Roman ruins but certainly past its glory days. We walked up and down the Spanish Steps and enjoyed the views from the top.
We didn’t make it to the Vatican on this trip but we did see the dome of St Peter’s in the distance from the top of the Spanish Steps. Perhaps next time we’ll manage to get closer.
Before we left the Piazza Spagna we bought Emily gelato from what was probably the fanciest gelateria we had seen. Our plan was to ride the Metro back to Roma Termini and catch our train back to Fiumicino. We bought our Metro tickets at a Tabacchi outside the entrance to the metro station but when we got to the barrier we discovered, along with a lot of other would be riders, that the Metro was closed for maintenance. Fortunately the tickets we had bought would also work for the bus. We walked up to Piazza Barberini and caught a bus. We made it to Roma Termini just before a train was due to leave for Fiumicino. Rather than wait 30 minutes for the next one we ran to catch it. That was when we discovered how far short of Roma Termini the Fiumicino platform was and how fit we each were (not).