Saturday, February 20, 2010

Roman Sleepover

It’s crazy but true – I’m not a great lover of flying. I don’t know why? Perhaps it’s because the plane is so far above the ground, skimming across the cloud tops, and if something should go wrong, it’s a dammed long way down! So to get over my nerves His Lordship (HL) and I concluded it was best to break our trip from Australia to Venice with a Japan pitstop followed by a sleepover in Rome.

Although our flights (Qantas from Brisbane to Narita, Japan; Japan Airlines from Narita to Rome) were thankfully uneventful, on the morning of our departure from our home in Brisbane HL put his back out. He had gallantly grabbed our suitcases with great gusto and then…crack! Luckily while we were at Narita Airport we had access to massage chairs which worked wonders and seemed to put his back into a happier state. It was quite amazing – you lie in the chair and it gently grips your wrists and ankles then proceeds to pleasantly pummel your body from your calves to your buttocks and right up to your neck. I slid onto one too. We found these chairs were an absolute godsend and so relaxing in preparation for the 12 hour flight to Rome.

Thankfully the flight was uneventful. Once the plane had landed in Rome and we had gone through customs, we wandered outside into the golden light bathing the street. We tossed up whether to take the train or catch a cab but it was late in the evening, we were tired and elected to go for luxury rather than economy. While waiting to hail a cab, an amiable chap offered us a ride cheaper than a cab fare – naturally we took up the offer. We climbed into the car and sat back in quiet comfort as the driver steered his vehicle around silent streets, past ancient buildings and finally to our destination: Hotel Diana

We had pre-booked a room for the night in preparation for our rail trip to Venice the following day. Hotel Diana has a four-star rating on travel sites. The room was fine – not glamorous by any stretch of the imagination but clean and reasonably spacious by Rome’s standards. One of the hotel’s drawcards is its rooftop garden which I would think would be beautiful in summer, but being winter it was closed. By the time we finally we hit the sack it was quite late. By 12.45 am we were still wide awake. By 3.00am we were getting desperate because the street light was filtering into our room. “Surely there is a blind” I claimed in sheer desperation. “Nope, nothing, just these flimsy curtains” HL groaned. By 4.45am we decided “stuff it, let’s get up and go for a walk”. HL popped off to the bathroom first to have a shower while I pulled my notebook out and jotted down a few “must-dos”. Suddenly I heard HL roaring with laughter – he had found the blind. They were metal and they were of the wind-up, wind-down variety mechanically driven by manually cranking a handle which protruded from the wall. All you had to do was crank it around - just like starting the engine on a vintage car. Extraordinary! We had found the secret on how to operate the blind a little too late or more like a little too early! It was now 5.30am and here we were already scrubbed and neatly dressed from head to toe - so what better thing to do than to venture out onto the cobblestone streets. This was our first time in Rome in winter and surprising the air was satisfyingly chilled. It wasn’t bitterly cold, just refreshingly icy. My thick scarf and full-length overcoat provided ample warmth as we segued from the hotel to the Stazione di Roma Termini, Rome’s main train station, in search of hot coffee. We found a bakery inside the Termini which had just opened and there, sitting on top of the glass display cabinet were timber trays laden with piping hot cornetto (the Italian equivalent of French croissant) oozing with gooey raspberry jam. We scoffed them down with a cappuccino…stupendo!

(Did you know: the Italians (like the French) only drink tea or coffee with breakfast or when coffee is ordered, it’s usually after a meal. I’m a tea drinker and in Italy tea is considered a morning or between-meal beverage. And horror of horrors, if you are in need of a major caffeine hit, I was told never to ask for an espresso! Ask for a caffe and you’ll be guaranteed to get your strong coffee hit in a small cup.)

After our milky caffine heart-starters, we wandered back to the hotel and dined in the breakfast room which had surprisingly good views over the city’s rooftops. Breakfast at Hotel Diana was included in the tariff and it was undeniably substantial with plenty on offer. The self-serve hot chocolate was like a cup of hot chocolate mousse – so rich, so delectable. Scrambled eggs and bacon, a typical Westerner’s meal, were on offer along with platters of cheese, salami and flaky golden pastries. This substantial combination provided the perfect fuel for a morning wandering around the Piazza della Repubblica (pictured) and neighbouring streets in winter.

Mid-morning we make our way back to Hotel Diana and with bags packed head back to the Termini for our Italia Rail trip to Venice. I can’t wait to settle into the comfort train travel. And trust me – it won’t be long before I head for the rail bar for a couple of glasses of chianti! It’s the only way to travel.

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