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After a few days in Italy, few things could appear more Italian to me than a train employee smoking in the Milano Centrale train station:

We were up and off on our day of several firsts: our first high-speed train experience, Paul and I’s first time in Rome, and the first move of the trip where we had to pack up and relocate to another city.  In a way, we were more than ready.  We were ready to leave Milano and we were ready to see more of Italy.  Milan had been good to us, but we felt like it was only easing us into our Italy experience, and Lake Como had given us a taste of what we hoped would come on the rest of our journey.  With that being said, we were also a little nervous.  We knew that Rome would be the busiest part of our trip, both in the number of people in the city and in the number of things we had booked to do.  We also knew that over the next seven nights we would have to move with our luggage between lodging in Rome, Florence, Venice, and then back to Milan to fly out.  We finally were feeling over the jetlag, but none of us had taken such an intense trip before and we were a little intimidated.

The morning initially was stressful.  We got up around 6am, showered, packed, and were ready to check out of the room.  In Italy, you must sort your own trash and take it out to collection centers.  In this case, the collection area was in the courtyard of our AirBnB, so we put everything out and went to the taxi waiting point.  We were feeling very happy and accomplished, though slightly hungry.  We left around 7:45, anticipating to be at the train station at 8 for our 9:30 train, leaving plenty of time to eat at the station.

We waited under the taxi sign, but saw no taxis around.  In fact, very few people on the street.   Dad sees a hotel further down the block that had taxis come by, so we walk over there, feeling a little nervous about being on time and slightly frustrated.  Unfortunately, there is no taxi at the hotel.  We then see two different taxis come to where we had been waiting under the taxi sign and pick up passengers, so we headed that way again.  (In Italy, taxis are only allowed to stop at designated taxi sign areas to pick up passengers, which is quite efficient, but in this case, we felt a little duped by the little sign over our heads that seemed to be pointing out that we had no taxi).  It’s now about 8:20, and not only are we hungrier, but we are concerned that the lack of taxi means we may find no way to get to the station for our train.  The tickets were a few hundred Euro for three of us, and couldn’t be rescheduled, so we really needed to get in a cab.  I checked my Uber app.  Apparently Uber is not legal in most cities in Europe, but in Milano, you could hire an Uber black.  There was only one out on the street, and for 30 Euro (vs. 15 to get to the airport with a taxi). 

Suddenly, a taxi pulls up!  Yes!  Unfortunately, the taxi is reserved by someone.  We wait to see if he comes out, and he does, so no taxi for us.  I decided to book the Uber, but someone else had take it.  We waited probably twenty minutes or more and finally got in some transportation at 8:45.  For our 9:30 train that is about 15/20 minutes away.   The Uber app says that we won’t arrive until 9:20, and at this point, I’m very much on edge.  We have never taken a high-speed train before.  Where do we check in?  Is our luggage stowed?  What time do the doors close?  

Traffic somehow improves and we arrived at the station around 9:05, 9:10.  At this point I’m hungry and feeling a little stressed, but relieved to be at the station.  All that was left to do was to find our train on the big board and go to the right track.

Oddly, our train is listed but not where the train will arrive, except to say that we’ll be at Platform B.  We arrive at Platform B, but still no track is listed.  At 9:15 I finally decide to ask an employee despite my poor Italian.  He was able to explain that the track number does not appear until about 10 minutes before the train departs.  I felt a little better, but when 9:26 rolled around and no platform was still listed, I started to feel a little panicked.  I asked again and he doesn’t know why it isn’t there, so he calls someone and has them put the track number up.  The moment he does, about 250 people start rushing with their luggage towards track 11, as do we!

We have assigned seats so we are okay, but we barely get to our seats on the train when it starts moving!  At this point we are super hungry, with no caffeine, are tired, and a little stressed.

Le Frecce train map, as shown in their magazine.

Still, we are finally on a high-speed train!  The train is clean and spacious, with plenty of room overhead for our oversized luggage.

Le Frecce train info. We are on the Frecciarossa 500, which goes up to 360 km/hr (223mph)!

Thankfully, I had paid an extra 13 Euro or something like that per person for snacks so I was hoping we would have something substantial, as we were now quite hungry.  There was a bar car, but we never went looking for it as we thought our snacks may suffice for a breakfast.  The attendants came by with newspapers in Italian and came by with a drink cart. They had fresh coffee available, but otherwise, they had the same drink options as airplanes. I got Coke Zero, which is everywhere here (Diet Coke is not available I guess because of the aspartame).  We had a choice for the snacks were between some small cookies little breadstick crouton things.  Everything was fine, but for us, it was not worth 13 Euro a person.  (Later in the trip, we did explore the bar cart, and not only was the food quite good and substantial, but it was also cheap!  Too bad we did not get up and look for it on this particular journey, but we were just too wiped.)

Our 39 Euro (13 Euro per person, times three) worth of drinks and snacks.

The train ride itself was quite nice!  At first, the train went slow and the view was nothing special, but then we spent the rest of the ride viewing the Italian countryside at high speed, watching small towns go by in a quick flash, seeing animals and farms flit by, and, the further south we got, mountains appeared in the distance.  We went quite quickly, as the train left 7 minutes after it should have, but we arrived 10 minutes early.  The top speed we saw was 299kmph, or 185mph.  

We went through many stations on the way, and of course, would slow down to go through each station.  We stopped at Bologna and then in Florience.  After Florence, the Tuscan countryside was beautiful.  There were rocky hills in places, and everything was covered in green with small terra cotta colored houses everywhere.  There was also a lot of hay which was somehow humorous because Paul couldn’t ever get his camera out to capture the hay and it became a running joke (see my hay photo below).  We went over and followed the Tiber River briefly and went through many tunnels.  There were some grapevines in the distance, and I’m not sure what everyone was growing, but it looked quite nice.   We napped off and on, and so I missed some of the scenery due to exhaustion, but the hillsides were so pleasant to wake up to.

Hay, as viewed from the train window

We got to Roma Termini a little refreshed, gathered our bags and followed the clearly marked signs to the taxi pick-up area.  The taxi line, however, had about 75 people ahead of us, but there were hundreds of taxis everywhere!  I found a taxi app advertized that should be useful to book ahead or call a taxi (in Milano, I tried calling to book one but after several annoying experiences with the English robot caller thingy, it said no taxis were available!  Side note: we think that in Milano, the bus and tram strike from the day before over-worked all the taxi drivers, and that they had taken the day off!  Who knows, but hopefully we will do better here in Rome with taxis!)   Thankfully, the line went fast, and after maybe 10-15 minutes we were in a cab!  

The taxi line at Roma Termini

I took a screenshot of all the addresses of our AirBnBs, as well as any relevant digital tickets, on the plane from Miami, so all I needed to do was show the taxi driver the address and off we went.  We had been told to contact Carlotta for our AirBnB info, but she directed me to Fabio.  Fabio was very kind and helpful and lives in the building.  

We were so happy to be able to get in the room, but it was around 1:30 and we were about to pass out from lack of food.  We took off and went around the corner to a very posh restaurant, but we were the only customers.  At first they seemed a bit annoyed with tourists crashing their quiet, but by the end of lunch (decent food), the manager was making jokes.  Paul was counting out money in advance of the bill and the manager was joking trying to take it all as a tip.  He said Gracie and he and Paul laughed and shook hands.  We were feeling worlds better after some food.

Also, by the way, we were in Rome!  We went to the room, took a quick nap to charge ourselves and the phones and then, finally, we were ready to explore this historic city of wonders and legends.

We left around 3:30 and decided to start by going to the Pantheon.  According to Google Maps, it was about 15 minutes away, but the heat was very intense and so the long seemed much further.  Still, we turned a corner around from a tourist shop and were in front of the magnificent Pantheon!

The Pantheon was packed, but there was no line and no cost, and so thankfully we walked right in.  Inside was beautiful.  The dome, which is the centerpiece of the architecture, is an unsupported concrete dome that is almost 2000 years old.  It was hard to believe that something so clean looking and with such impressive engineering was there in front of me.  I’ve studied the dome in my art history classes before.  The Pantheon influenced many major pieces of American architecture, including Jefferson’s smaller dome at Monticello, which was an attempted to imitate this building.

There were a lot of bodies in the room, and it was hot.  Signs everywhere said silence (it is a church now), but everyone was talking, and some quite loudly.  There wasn’t a lot of interpretive signs inside and I felt like that would have helped me understand the space more.  Little did I know, but almost all of Rome would be like this: hot, crowded, loud, and not a lot of explanation!

We were all feeling tired from the walk, the heat, and the traveling, so on our way towards the Spanish Steps we took a little break at McDonalds.  It was nice to get out of the heat and get a drink, and interesting to see how different the McDonalds were here.  They had different types of food (a zucchini chicken sandwich, for instance), a whole bakery, and beer!  We cooled off and then did a little shopping along our way.  I found a stationery shop and went in.  I love paper and calligraphy and seals.  We found that they had a seal with my initials, and the Paul bought it for me.  The lady who rang us up was was so kind and gave me a demonstration on blue wax, as well as painted the letters.  I’m very excited to use the seal.  I also tried a glass calligraphy pen, but I didn’t buy one as Paul bought me one yesterday in Milan.

We got to the Spanish Steps and it was quite crowded as well, but there were street artists outside and the weather was starting to cool a tick.  In the front was a Venetian Boat, but again, no information about the steps or the boat, so I had to look things up online.  Still, I did learn from the many tourists refilling their water in the fountain that all public fountains in Rome are actually potable drinking fountains, and that one of their points of pride is delicious, cold water freely available to the public!

We took off to see the Trevi Fountain.  Again, no information or signage whatsoever, but what an incredible site.  The crowds were almost overwhelming here!  I took some photographs and then quickly got out of the crowds.  There were many vendors selling tourist trinkets, so we bought some keychains and magnets for friends.  Before we left, I threw a 20 cent Euro coin into the fountain and wished for continuing success on our trip.

We stopped and got some dinner on our way back to the room.  At this point, we were desperate to slow down.  As we were wandering back, however, we looked around a corner and found Castel Sant’Angelo over the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II bridge.

We decided to walk onto the bridge over the Tiber River and see what was on the other side.  It was so beautiful!  Down below along the banks, there were lots of nice little restaurants and markets.  We didn’t explore down but I wish we’d had the chance to eat there.  On the bridge were many street performers.  I stopped and listen to a man play an instrument I’d never seen before.  It sounded almost like a mix between piano and steel drums, but it looked like piano and played like a xylophone!  It was very romantic, which is a strange word for me to use as I never “feel” like an atmosphere is romantic, but on the bridge I realized what a romantic atmosphere really felt like.  Across the bridge, we could see St. Peter’s Basilica and Vatican City.  I felt so very lucky at that moment to be there.   I know so many coworkers who, in a religious sense, would give anything to be here, and it made me feel like I really was experiencing something special.

We walked back to the room and encountered some interesting graffiti on the way.  Everyone was so tired that we played around on our phones while dad watched TV, and then very quickly crashed.  There are a few cute places right by our room, including one that makes fresh-squeezed orange juice, and I hope to see them tomorrow.  Tonight, though, it is bed time.

I did find an app to reserve a taxi.  Tomorrow is going to be our busiest day of the whole trip, and after today’s experience, I was worried that we wouldn’t find a ride on time to get to our tour.  The app kept saying that no taxis were available.  Oh well.   Tomorrow we will be busy and back at it!

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