Modern and Ancient Roman history.....

Trip Start Aug 22, 2011
Trip End Sep 29, 2011

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Flag of Italy  , Lazio,
Tuesday, September 27, 2011

11 Sept. 27 – Tuesday

Breakfast this morning was adequate, but I found it less elaborate than other locations I've been on this trip. There were some small cold scrambled egg squares, Croissants, Buns, Tomatoes, Bananas, etc. so it was easy to "fill up".  Coffee and a watery "Tang" was provided at the table.  The Coffee tasted like “instant” which surprised me a bit.  The arrangement of the breakfast rooms was somewhat unusual, probably dictated by the design of the building.  There were three separate small breakfast rooms  located behind the Front Desk and in order to accomodate all of the guests, all three rooms were required..

The Rick Steves group was in the breakfast room this morning, and one of the couples visited with me again quite readily, but some of the others that I'd spoken with a few days ago in Monterosso barely acknowledged me.  That seemed uncharacteristic for a RS group, so don't know why they were behaving like that.  I said “Buon Giorno” to the Guide and mentioned that I had a couple of questions for her when she’s finished breakfast (I was in a separate room).  She eventually came to my table and I asked her about the best location to buy Bus or Metro tickets.

After breakfast I went back to the room and got my gear organized.  On the way out, I asked one of the Clerks about the best route to Fosse Ardeatine.  He suggested taking the Metro to San Giovanni stop and then transfer to the #218 Bus.  That sounded like the best option, so I decided I’d give that a try.

The walk to Termini only took a few minutes, and I spotted a small ticket booth near the exterior stairs leading down to the Metro so bought a B.I.G. day pass (€4), and then took Line “A” to San Giovanni.  When I exited the Metro station, I had to go around a construction zone for building Metro Line “C”.  After going through the old Roman wall, I spotted a Bus stop but there was no #218 indicated on the sign.  I then saw a larger Bus terminal across the street and that turned out to be the correct one.  When I boarded the #218 Bus, I asked the Driver "Fosse Ardeatine" and he nodded "yes"; the Bus departed a few minutes later.

While I was waiting at the Bus stop, I conducted an informal "eyeball survey" of the cars passing on the street.  At least 25% seemed to have minor collision damage on the passenger side (I couldn't see the driver's side).  That's one reason I prefer NOT to drive in Rome!

When the Bus reached the Fosse Ardeatine stop, the driver held out his hand to indicate this was where I should disembark.  I didn’t see anything that looked like a Memorial as the “stop” was just a wide section of the road with a snack stand set-up near the Bus stop.  However there was an entrance to the San Callisto Catacombs across the street so I figured I’d start there.  After wandering around that site for about 10-minutes, I found that wasn’t the correct site so I asked a couple of the staff and they provided more specific directions to the location of the Memorial.

I went back across the street to the Bus stop location, and continued downhill around the corner.  As soon as I rounded the corner, I saw the entrance to the Memorial on the right side.  Entrance to the Memorial was through an elaborate metal gate, designed to look like the tangle of limbs.  At the small office on the right, I obtained a brochure that described the history of the events that transpired there.

The Ardeatine Caves are a significant WW-II historical site, albeit not as well known as Oradour sur Glane (France) or Lidice (Czech Republic).  The caves were used as the site to execute 335 victims, in retaliation for an attack by Italian partisans on 23 March 1944 on Via Rasella in Rome. In that attack, a bomb hidden in a Street Cleaners cart was detonated near a column of German Policemen (the troops were ethnic Germans from the South Tyrol area of Italy, but chose to work as Policemen rather than go to the Russian front).  After the bomb detonated, the column was also fired at by the partisans.

During the attack, 33 Policemen perished immediately, but the toll eventually rose to 44.  As was typical at the time, reprisals were ordered and it was decided that 10 Italians would be executed for every Soldier that perished.  This was authorized by Hitler, who ordered that the executions be completed with 24-hours.  Local prisons were emptied, Jews awaiting deportation were added, and a few people were rounded up from the neighborhood.  Eventually 335 people were transported to the Caves.

Th executions reportedly took most of the day, and were carried out by local Gestapo, led by SS officers Erich Priebke and Karl Hass. I won't elaborate on the details of the executions.  When this was completed, explosives were used to seal the entrance to the Caves to hide the crime.  After a year or so, the Caves were unsealed, and the victims laid to rest properly.

At least some of those responsible for this atrocity were prosecuted for this crime after the war.  Hass was tried, sentenced to life and died in custody in Italy in 2004.  Priebke eventuallly escaped to Argentina via the notorious "Ratlines" operated by the Vatican, and lived there for about 50-years.  He was eventually exposed by Sam Donaldson of Primetime Live, and as a result was extradited to Italy to stand trial (after a few "delays")  Several trials ensued and he also was sentenced to life.  He is currently 98-years old and is still serving his sentence, although he's reportedy been granted "day passes" to work in his Lawyer's office as a Translator (given his fluency in several languages). One of the interesting points regarding the case against Priebke, is that the basis for his conviction largely rested on the fact that he was responsible for selecting five more people for execution than called for by "the orders".

I entered the Caves first and there wasn’t really much to see except for a large, lighted memorial plaque.  There were several smaller plaques on the walls also, but they were all written in Italian so I was only able to get an approximate idea of what they said.  Even though there’s a major road nearby, I was surprised at how absolutely quiet it was inside.  There were two entrances to the location of the massacre inside the cave and each of these was blocked off by a chest-high barrier that had the same design as the gate at the entrance.  I moved from there to the large Crypt which is next to the caves.  It has an enormous concrete roof but an opening a bit above ground level is provided around all four sides which provides some light.  The Crypts contain 335 identical stone Coffins arranged in neat rows, and each has the name and picture of the individual interred there on the top. They were numbered from 1 to 335.  A few had a word which I believe means “unknown” in Italian so it appears all of the victims couldn’t be identified (those of course didn't have a photo).

On the hill bove the Crypts and through a small and tranquil park, there was also a small one room Museum, which was lined with news items about the massacre.  There were some small display cases on the walls containing German Helmets, an MP-40 and two Pistols, a Luger and a Walther.  Around the corner from that Museum, there was also a very small building labeled as “Documentazioni” that explained history and construction of the site.  Most of the displays were in Italian, so I only spent a short time having a look.

I had a conversation with a young Italian in the Crypts, and he said the site made him very sad.  I told him it was the same for me, but I studied WW-II history so felt it was important to visit the Memorial.  His English was better than my Italian, so we were able to communicate to some extent.

I spent over an hour at the Memorial and then walked back up the hill to the Bus stop.  Crossing the street to reach the Bus stop, which was on the same side of the street as the entrance to the Catacombs of San Callisto, was a death defying feat.  Even at the official marked Crosswalk, traffic did NOT stop.  It was a matter of waiting for an opportunity and then making a dash for the other side.  The locals must have "the secret” to crossing streets in Italy, as when I reached the Bus stop, a young and attractive Italian girl sauntered across the street in the middle of the block, without even blinking.  It was like the “parting of the Red Sea”. There were a few people there who had visiting the Catacombs and I spent a few minutes chatting with a couple from New Zealand.

The Bus arrived in a few minutes and I disembarked at the Bus loop and retraced my route to Termini via the San Giovanni Metro stop.  The Metro was warm and muggy, but fortunately the cars had air conditioning.  When I got back to the Hotel, I found that my Card Key wouldn’t let me into the room.  Fortunately there was a Maid in the Hall and she opened the door for me.  I had my Key reprogrammed at the Desk on my way to lunch, but didn’t mention the Maid (didn’t want to get her into trouble).

I asked the Hotel staff for suggestions on a good local restaurant to have lunch, and was directed to Antica Boheme restaurant, which is just around the corner.  I was told to mention that "Hotel Sonya sent me".  I found that the restaurant consists of several dining areas on different levels, and I was seated at a table on the bottom level.  It must be a very famous restaurant, and they had a huge number of photos lining the walls, showing famous people who have dined there.  The list included many older Italian stars such as Sophia Loren and Roberto Beningi, but also newer celebrities such as Asia Argento (XXX) and one of my favourites, Monica Belluci.  I ordered Spaghetti Carbonara and a white wine this time.  The portion size was perfect and it filled me up nicely.

After lunch I walked back to the Hotel and got another Internet slip so that I could check my E-mail.  This system of getting a slip every few hours is very cumbersome, and I really hope they’ll be able to find an easier way of arranging this so net access is easier for tourists.  In that sense, I’ll be glad to get home to my reliable Internet connections.

By about 18:30 I was starting to get hungry, so I headed for what I hoped would be a very special dinner at Trattoria Lilli, which had been highly recommended by Hotel owner in Monterosso.  I wasn’t sure of the exact location, but knew it was close to Piazza Navona.  I took the dreaded #64 Bus to Piazza Navona and then figured my GPS would help me find the restaurant.  Unfortunately, the GPS decided to “die” at that point so I was only left with the Map provided by the Hotel.  In hindsight I should have charged the GPS earlier in the day, but it was one of those "minor details" that was overlooked.  I decided that since I was close, a Taxi might be the best option so I went to the nearest Taxi stand and provided the address to the Driver.

It quickly became apparent that the driver didn’t know where he was going, even though I had given him the name of the restaurant and the exact street address.  He phoned a friend of his to ask about the address but that didn’t work.  His next move was to pull over and stop while he checked a Map book (the Meter was continuing to run during this time).  He quickly gave up and simply took me back to Piazza Navona.  The fare on the meter was €5.60 but he said “ten mister”, and then quickly reset the meter so I couldn’t argue about the amount shown on it.    Given the language issues, and the fact that I didn’t want to ruin my evening with a big argument, I decided to let it go.  Others might find the Taxis reliable in Rome, but that hasn't been my experience.  Some have been good, but they still seem to have some "scammers" operating in the city.

I tried using the Map but I couldn’t get my bearings and seemed to always walking in the wrong direction so I finally gave up on that and decided on “Plan B” and decided to return to  where I had dinethe same restaurant where I had dined the previous night.  Unfortunately, my pleasant experience of last night would be somewhat different tonight.

This time I was seated just inside the door, near the older gentleman that I had spoken with the previous night (perhaps he's the owner of the restaurant?).  We greeted each other, but with the language issue it was a short greeting.  He eventually left, perhaps to go home.  Last night I had been served by the young lady, but tonight it was her male colleague.  The young lady brought me a glass of Prosecco to begin with.  The Waiter appeared to have somewhat of an "attitude" and in my perception was somewhat brusque and not too friendly or attentive at all.

Tonight I ordered Fettucine al Ragu, Calabrese salad, wine, water and eventually Coffee.  The food arrived reasonably quickly, but waiting for someone to return to the table after the meal was finished was a tortuous affair.  I waited perhaps 30-minutes, during which time the Waiter conveniently avoided eye contact or other methods to discreetly get his attention. By the time the other girl from the back finally came to see if I wanted anything else, I was starting to come to a “slow boil”.  I had considered just paying the bill and going elsewhere for Coffee, but they were busy so I was trying to be patient.  When I finally did get to order coffee, I was sure to tell the girl to bring another cup in about 10-minutes, so I didn’t have to go through an agonizing wait for the second cup.

While I was sitting there, I noticed a very odd looking blond woman across the alley from the restaurant.  She was wearing a ball cap placed “sideways” on her head, white sunglasses on the end of her nose (it was completely dark, so no need for those), gaudy coloured clothes, and had an old Backpack as well as a green garbage bag.  She sat on someone’s Scooter as if it was her own.  I was going to get a photo of her, but she moved before I could grab my Camera.  I asked the Waitress and she said “oh she’s a crazy woman that lives on the streets”.

The people seated at the edge of the outside tables were being repeatedly harassed by street vendors trying to sell cheap trinkets like toy Dogs with mechanical flapping ears, and lighted objects in various shapes.  I was glad I was seated inside!

No one came to the table with a bill, so I eventually went to the rear where the Cash Register was located.  They must have known I was upset, as they offered me a complimentary shot of Limoncello.  I had considered not leaving any tip, but part of the service was good, and the food was good, so I relented.  Again, I didn’t want to ruin the night with “bitterness”.  I noticed that they had a Trip Advisor “good service” plaque on the counter, so I may have to prepare a review based on my experiences when I get home.

I didn’t feel like lingering in Piazza Navona and watching the “people show” on this occasion, so I walked quickly to the Bus stop for the dreaded #40 Bus (it also has a reputation for pickpockets).  It arrived within about 10-minutes and passengers were packed in like Sardines.  It was hot and stuffy inside the Bus, so wasn’t a comfortable ride.  Fortunately, the #40 is an Express Bus so only made one or two stops and arrived back at Termini in about 10-15 minutes.  I was glad to get off and walked the now familiar route back to the Hotel.  I decided to stop at a Uni Credit Bank ATM to get a bit more cash, but the stupid machine said “Transaction cannot be completed due to technical difficulties”.  I’ll find a better ATM in the morning.

Back in the room, I updated my computer records and put all my “gadgets” on charge.  The battery on the GPS unit was depleted, which is hard to understand as I only used it once in the last few days for a short time.  I’ll have to get in the habit of charging it nightly.  I switched on the TV, and  Law & Order and CSI New York were on (dubbed in Italian of course).

One of my projects tomorrow will be to buy my ticket for the Leonardo Express and re-familiarize myself with the location of the track.  I’ll also have to make a Blog Entry and get my gear somewhat packed and ready to go.  The Hotel Manager said they’ll be moving me to a different room tomorrow, as he needs to do some work in the room next to mine and the only access is through the wall in my room.  For my last night in Rome, I’ll probably dine at Antica Boheme again, as the food is good and it’s close to the Hotel.

11 Sept. 28 – Wednesday

I slept in a bit this morning and didn’t start to get my day organized until about 08:45.  It's hard to believe that this is the last day of my wonderful holiday and my last day in the "Eternal City".

After breakfast I arranged with the Manager to do the room change right away, so that I could get it over with.  He sent one of the Bellman up to help me move my gear.  I was moved to a room on the fifth floor, which only has a small single bed and a small shower, and is not nearly as nice as the room I was in.  Oh well, it’s only for one short night.

I had a rest and then at about 11:00 I headed to Termini to buy my ticket for the Leonardo Express, and to re-familiarize myself with the layout of the Tracks.  Just after I bought my ticket, I noticed an older couple and a young girl looking kind of “lost” so I asked what the problem was.  They were from Boston and had just arrived from Spain, where the daughter is studying, and wondered how to find their Hotel.  I used my GPS (now recharged) and got general directions for them, but they eventually decided to take a Taxi.  They were going to rent a car in a day or two and visit the small village where the husband’s family came from.  They thanked me for stopping to help.

I then walked to Track 26 and had an Espresso, and then timed my walk back to the entrance (about 7 minutes), and also decided to have a short lunch.  After lunch I did a bit of exploring in Termini and found the pay washrooms down one floor near the Conad store (it’s always fun looking around in the underground Supermarket).  The Burger King at track level seems to be gone, but the Roadhouse Grill is still there in the same place.  There’s a WIND cell shop one floor down, but I didn’t see a TIM shop.  There are two ATM’s, one near the Conad store and another at the opposite end next to Foot Locker.

After my exploration trip to Termini, I timed my walk back to the Hotel (again about 7 minutes) and then had a shot rest.  The Hotel staff finally got the A/C working in my new room and it was wonderfully cool.  At about 16:00, I walked up the street to the Muzeo Nazionale and spent almost two hours touring the many displays there covering some "ancient" Roman history.  I tried to read as many of the small plaques as possible, but I probably should have rented an Audio Guide.

After the Museum, I headed back to the Hotel to get ready for dinner.  The Clerk reminded me that the restaurant doesn’t open until 19:00 so I watched TV for a few minutes.  At about the appointed time, I headed to Antica Boheme for my final dinner in Rome.  I was seated right away, near the place where I sat at lunch yesterday.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the photo of Monica Belluci from where I was sitting.

Tonight I had the Rigatoni Boheme (pasta in cream sauce with sausage), Salad, Red Wine, and of course Coffee.  It was an excellent meal and I complimented the staff.  The restaurant was quite busy, with lots of patrons coming and going.

I was going to go back to the Hotel after dinner, but I decided to enjoy a Passegiata so went up to the corner by the Museum and then over to Piazza della Reppublica, which was busy as usual.  There was an Accordion player at the La Matriciana restaurant up the street and I gave him a short applause as I walked past.  All of the sidewalk restaurants were busy.  As I got close to the Museum, I got talking to a young couple from San Jose who had just come out of a restaurant (I was just lining up to get a shot of a row of Vespa’s).  It turns out they were on their honeymoon, and their holiday had been arranged by a travel agent (I was sure to mention Rick Steves for planning future trips).

I took the opportunity to get some night photos without a Tripod, which will hopefully not be blurred.  I walked down the parallel street to Via Viminale, where I located an Irish Pub directly opposite the entrance to Hotel Sonya.  When I passed the Bank where I had obtained cash earlier in the day, I spotted a couple trying to get into the Foyer, but their card wouldn’t work.  I used my Card and gained access immediately.  They made a withdrawal and then left.  It turned out they were also from B.C.  I decided to try my TD Access Card (which has never worked in Europe on previous trips) and withdrew E$20.  This time it worked!

After that it was back to the Hotel where I spoke to a couple in the elevator from County Armagh in Northern Ireland.  It turns out they had been at the Irish Pub that I passed earlier.  Back in the room, I started to get my clothing and travel gear organized for the long trip tomorrow and charged my “gadgets”.  The movie “The Peacemaker” with George Clooney was on (subtitled) so I watched that for awhile.

During my walks around Rome, I always enjoy experiencing the "pulse" of daily life here, people coming and going on their daily business, vehicles moving, pretty Italian girls talking on their cell phones, and rows and rows of Motorinos parked along the streets.  At this point, I was wishing that I had planned for a few more days in Rome, as I was starting to feel quite "at home".

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