I recently wrote an article over at Wander.media about how to properly prepare and execute a road-trip. Check out the article and let me know what you think.
When Alice woke up, it was nearly noon. Doug had already showered and dressed and was hanging out of the room’s window trying to look around.
“What are you doing?” She felt almost hungover from all of the travel the previous 24 hours.
“I want to see stuff! But you weren’t waking up and I didn’t want to leave you alone.”
She rolled her eyes.
“It couldn’t have been that long. When did you wake up?” She was starting to sit up.
“I woke up around eight fifteen.” He was still half out the window. She could hear the city outside in a way she hadn’t the night before. “Come check this out.”
She stood up and wrapped herself in a robe, not knowing how visible she would be to the people below. Doug was, as usual, naked. He wasn’t inclined to wear clothing in private.
She leaned out the window, and Doug pointed down the alley. At the end of the alley was a sea of cart tents and umbrellas.
“That’s the piazza we walked through last night. That’s Campo de Fiori!”
She smiled at him. “I’ll take a shower and get dressed and we can go for a walk.”
An hour later, they pushed the massive wooden door open into the back alley, and barely recognized it from the night before. It was so well lit that Alice didn’t feel nervous.
Doug was carrying his backpack with his camera, and had on a pair of sneakers and not the sandals Alice thought were more appropriate given the weather, which was sunny and beautiful.
They walked back to the piazza, most of the umbrellas they had seen had left, but there were a few carts remaining, some selling fruit, others drinks.
Alice and Doug strolled to the right of the piazza to a small patio restaurant. A man about Doug’s age smiled and quickly set a table for two for them.
They ordered a couple of sandwiches, and lemon sodas.
While they waited for their food, Doug pulled out his camera and began taking pictures of the piazza. There was a hotel directly across from where they were sitting, with ivy running up to the third floor balconies.
Antonio their waiter came back with some bread and oil while they waited.
“You want me to take your picture?” He asked with a serious look.
“Um… Yes please!” Alice said, motioning for Doug to hand Antonio the camera and leaning in to pose.
While they were eating their lunch, a man with an accordion walked over to them, placed a hat on the ground in front of them and started playing.
Antonio came over before the man had been able to play five notes, and yelled at him in Italian. The man argued back for a moment while he continued to play. Antonio yelled more and got closer to him, and the man walked away quickly.
“Mi scusi.” Antonio said to Alice and Doug.
After they finished eating and paid, they began walking to the far side of the piazza, and through alleyways. Alice followed as Doug referred to the map, after a while they came across Piazza Navona.
Alice’s heart began slamming into her ribs, as she looked around Piazza Navona. It was everything she had pictured about Rome. The Piazza at Campo De Fiori had been nice, with a market of different carts, a couple of restaurants and bars, and a little defunct looking movie theater, but Piazza Navona had a beautiful fountain, the buildings were in the faded salmon color she had imagined, the restaurants were mostly patios with umbrellas and overhangs. As they walked across, she looked up at all the balconies overlooking the piazza and looked at the people selling paintings.
Campo De Fiori had been filled with so many people due to all of the carts selling produce and meats and cheeses, but even though Piazza Navona was teeming with life, it was a manageable amount, and she felt she could casually stroll through much easier. For once, Doug seemed to also be ok with casually strolling.
Sant’Agnese in Agone, was the first building since arriving in Rome the night before, that Alice had seen that had the size and gravitas she associated with Rome. From the front it was the most magnificent church she had ever seen.
“It’s amazing Doug.” She managed as the sight of the entire piazza sucked the breath from her lungs.
“Just wait until you see the Vatican.” The excitement in his voice matched hers.
“We’re not doing the Vatican today are we?” Her attention had been pulled from the massive building to his mention of the Vatican.
Alice wasn’t Catholic, and wasn’t at all excited about the Vatican. Doug had been raised Catholic, but had very serious issues with the Church as an organization, and didn’t believe in most of their core teachings. Prior to leaving Boston, Alice and Doug had discussed visiting the Vatican several times. Doug had mentioned that they had such a huge art collection and that if they were going to Rome they had to go to the Vatican as well. Alice had tried to play to boycott spirit and asked him if he really wanted his money going to the Church. Ultimately Doug said it was worth giving them a hundred Euros to get in.
“No, I want to head over to the Spanish Steps. I think tomorrow will be better for the Vatican. After our cooking class, that way we’re only spending like a half day there.”
She smiled and nodded and motioned for him to lead the way. He took her hand and headed to the opposite side of the Piazza towards a side street. While she strolled across the Piazza it was difficult to not keep staring back at the huge imposing building.
They walked down the street, past the Palazzo Madama which was just outside the Piazza, and had been where the Italian Senate convened. After a few minutes they came to the Piazza where the Pantheon stood.
The Pantheon’s piazza was bizarre to Alice. Here stood this giant marvel of a structure, the Pantheon, and the rest of the piazza was made up of very modern pizza places, and even a pharmacy with green neon signs of the first aid cross.
“Is weed legal in Italy?” Doug asked Alice. She looked at him and rolled her eyes, because she knew that despite having smoked weed a couple of times, and hadn’t really cared for it. He had told her that the burning in his chest wasn’t worth it.
“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t want to buy any in there. You never know what you’re getting.”
He shrugged and moved on to looking at the monstrous stone building in front of them. Hundreds of tourists were crowding in front of it, with their phones and cameras on the ends of ‘selfie sticks.’ As they moved closer, they heard the selfie takers speaking in different languages and accents.
“Surprisingly they’re not Americans.” Doug whispered to Alice. “Maybe we’re not the most shallow culture in the world.”
Alice laughed but blushed, worried that someone might hear him.
“Should we go in?”
Alice nodded and they walked past the columns, into the shade, and towards the entrance. Alice only became aware of how hot she had been in the summer sun as they stepped into the cool air of the Pantheon. A single hole in the center of the roof lit the room dimly, and allowed air to flow freely. Her skirt had stuck to her legs like plastic, but the air came in and separated it.
“Wow!” Doug whispered to himself looking around at the massive room.
There were more than a hundred people, all talking, but it didn’t have the dull roar that Alice expected, somehow the noise was dampened and it sounded to her, as if it were just her and Doug with everyone else off in the distance.
She took his hand and stopped him from walking, pulling him toward her, and kissed him.
“This is amazing!” She said quietly, still holding his hand and looking around with him. “Did you come here with your family?”
He shook his head. “No, we did saw mostly the stuff around where we were staying near the Spanish Steps, and the Coliseum. This is amazing, but the other things were more clustered together, I think that’s why.”
They both stood in the cool air for a couple of minutes. Doug pealed his shirts off of his skin, by pulling it forward, held it for a moment letting the air dry the sticky sweat, and then let it fall back into place.
As they left the the Pantheon, they saw a cart selling drinks and each bought a bottle of water. Alice felt a dull swelling pain between her eyes and thought water might help.
“We should stop in that pharmacy and get Tylenol while we’re here.” Doug said pointing at the green cross.
The air conditioning in the pharmacy was like walking into a refrigerated dairy section of a supermarket, but the entire store. For a couple of minutes it was nice against their sweaty bodies, but it quickly began to give them the chills as the moisture cooled against their skin. They bought some Tylenol and leave quickly.
After forty five minutes of meandering down charming side streets, Alice and Dave found themselves emerging from a small side street onto a major road called VIa del Corso. Alice smiled as she saw the street, because she immediately saw that they’re in a different Rome, when she saw a Calvin Klein store directly in front of her.
She turned and looked down the street, and realized that they are in what she would consider the high end shopping area of Rome. She grinned from ear to ear, and Doug rolled his eyes.
They strolled into clothing stores and leather shops, looked at purses and belts as they saunter down the main road. Without speaking, Alice knew that Doug was getting impatient, but she thought she was being more than reasonable, she was skipping all of the American stores that they passed.
After a couple of blocks, she spotted a Disney Store, and having what Doug would refer to as an unhealthy obsession with all things Disney, she pulled him into the store. In the store, there was a lot of the typical Disney items, but everything was ‘Rome-d’ out. Mickey and Minnie in toga’s with laurels in between their ears.
“Maybe you’d like to go to Olive Garden for dinner tonight…” Doug said sarcastically. Alice knew that there was a short window of shopping time left, and didn’t want to waste it in a Disney Store.
Up at the next block, Alice looked down and saw a Pandora shop not too far down. “Let’s go see if I can get a Roman charm for my bracelet?” She said as much as a statement as a request.
Alice knew that Doug would be relieved by how small the shop was, it didn’t seem even as big as a jewelry counter in a mall back home. As they both looked, Doug would point to ones that he thought Alice would like, and ask how much, as was usually the case, Alice found that he had too expensive taste. After a few minutes, she had narrowed it down to a coliseum charm, or a Vespa charm.
“Which do you like better?” She asked Doug.
“The Vespa, it’s seems more honeymoon appropriate.” She was still regularly surprised that he had opinions on things like this, and interesting insights, when every other guy she knew couldn’t care less.
They paid, and the cashier put the charm in a hard cardboard box, inside of a paper bag, and Alice put it into Doug’s backpack.
Standing in the shady side street, Alice kissed him and smiled. The city was beautiful and she was enjoying everything, but she was completely enamored with her husband. He hadn’t been his normal stressed self, and she was only seeing the loving side of him, that hadn’t been able to thrive during the prior months’ wedding planning.
They headed back to the main drag, and continued down it. Alice would linger in front of stores, but wouldn’t make Doug go in.
After a few more blocks, they turned onto a side street, and wandered down the middle with everyone else.
About half way down the street, Doug pointed at a hotel and said “That’s where I stayed when I came here five years ago. It was a really cool hotel, and the view was of the rest of the hotel’s courtyard, and the building had ivy growing up it.” The excitement drops from his voice, “I’m sorry we couldn’t stay there, it was just way more than I thought was reasonable.”
Alice knew that Doug’s family had paid for it when he went last time. He had planned out most of the details of the trip, and she knew he was trying to have a balance between staying in nice places, and doing all of the things they’d want.
“Don’t worry about it. Giacomo seems so sweet, and honestly, we get to stay in a different part of the city, and get a different feel.” She wasn’t just trying to make him feel better, she genuinely liked the feel of their hotel, and were glad to not be in too lavish a spot.
They continued down the street, and passed a small restaurant with a patio, one of the most upscale restaurants they had seen so far since arriving.
“This restaurant is where I learned that I do not like truffle mushrooms.” Doug said, and Alice raised an eyebrow. “When we went there, they had a dish that was three separate types of pasta in three separate types of sauce. One was marinara, one was pesto, and the last was truffle sauce.” He smiled working up to a confession. “The entire trip, I tried to challenge myself to try new foods, even though I’m not an adventurous eater, and I didn’t ask too many questions, not ever wanting to psych myself out. So when I saw the three sauces, I assumed the truffle sauce was some kind of chocolate sauce.”
Alice began laughing before Doug could finish. “I took a bite, and the flavor was so strong, that I immediately began to drink my Coke to flush the taste from my mouth. It took the entire rest of the meal, and several drinks of Coke and water to not have that taste in my mouth.”
They both laughed as they walked by the restaurant.
“I kept ordering dishes that had the word buffalo in them thinking they meant buffalo sauce, and after about three days, one of my aunts pointed out that the mozzarella had come from buffalo’s milk and not cow’s milk.” He was slightly red from embarrassment, but didn’t seem to be too bent out of shape to Alice.
At the end of the street, they walked into another, very lively piazza. There was a fountain in the middle, but it was much smaller, and people didn’t seem to have any problem accessing it like several of the others that they had passed. Behind the fountain was a giant flight of stairs up to a cathedral.
“These are the Spanish Steps!” Doug said in a voice of reverence.
Alice looked up at them for a moment, and then over at Doug. “Are we going up them?”
Doug nodded. “That was my plan, there is a great view from the top, you can see really far across the city.”
“Ok, but before we do, I want to go to McDonald’s.” She pointed at the McDonald’s sitting on the opposite side of the stairs from them. She had a devilish grin, and seemed to know she was going too far with this.
“You want to go to McDonald’s?” He looked stunned but she knew it would quickly shift to appalled. “…In Rome?”
“I gotta pee.” She said in a sing-song mocking voice. “Plus I want to see if I can get an iced coffee. The espresso’s are nice, but I need iced coffee.”
He nodded, his sensibilities having been insulted, but slowly regaining his calm.
They walked in to the McDonald’s and barely recognized it as such. It looked like a cafe, and the menu didn’t seem to have any of the typical McDonald’s fare on it. Alice walked up to the counter and asked where the bathroom was. The woman pointed down a half flight of stairs that led into a short hallway.
On the far end of the hallway, Alice and Doug discovered a half flight of stairs back up, and when they walked up the stairs, realized that they were in what they recognized as a real McDonald’s. Although they both looked in awe at how much nicer it was than any McDonald’s in the States.
“This is amazing.” Alice said, looking at the fact that they had computer screens for ordering food, and that orders were then placed on the counter when complete.
Alice went off to the bathroom, and again found it to be too clean for its US counterpart.
When she emerged, she found Doug sitting at a table, staring at his phone. Without looking up he told her, “They have wifi, so I was just emailing your parents and my Dad that we’re doing fine.”
After a minute, they returned down the stairs, through the hall, and back up the first set of stairs. Alice ordered an iced coffee, and was disappointed to find out that like every other coffee shop they’d seen, only had hot coffee. She did get a plastic cup filled with ice, and made her own.
They emerged back into the brightly lit piazza and walked back to the center where the stairs ascended.
People sat on the stairs, and lingered, taking selfies and looking back over the square. When Alica and Doug got to the platform about halfway up, Alice looked out and down at the fountain, the piazza seemed even more beautiful from above.
“The view is better at the top.” Doug said pulling her hand up the second set of stairs. As they round the corner, and get a view of area directly in front of the cathedral, they see a row of artists selling large paintings and prints of photographs.
The half round stone rail overlooking the piazza forms a sort of balcony, which Alice and Doug walk to the center of, and look out. They can see over the tops of most of the buildings they had walked past on their way to the Spanish Steps. They could see domes, and some of what Alice was certain had to be the Vatican.
As she looked across the expanse, she could feel her heart pounding quickly against her ribs. The feeling was unsettling, but she knew it was caused by staring at what was the best view she had ever had in her entire life.
“What time is it?” She asked staring forward.
“4:30.” He answered after looking at his phone.
“I was just thinking we should try to be back here for sunset.” Even though she hadn’t asked a question, she used a tone wanting an answer.
“That would be cool, but depending on what else we do, it could be tough to get back here at the right time.” She knew that he had a well planned out variety of things to see, and even though she knew his planning would make the day incredible, staring at this Roman skyline, she couldn’t help but be disappointed in his maybe.
They held hands, and stared out at everything for a few minutes, then Doug took out his camera and began taking some photos.
After another minute, a small dark skinned man, that Alice assumed was Indian, approached them with a very kind smile, and an armful of carnations. He handed Alice a carnation with a smile, and then looked at Doug.
“Two Euros.” He said with the same kind smile.
Alice, then understanding that he was selling them, attempted to hand him back the flower, but he refused. Doug pulled out a two Euro coin and handed it to him with a smile.
“I’m sorry. I forgot your Mom said they would do that.”
“It’s fine, it’s only two Euros, just don’t take anything really expensive if they try to hand it to you.” Doug smiled, and they began to walk back down the stairs. Two steps from the top, Alice realized would probably be the lowest that she’d still have the view, and she stood lingering, trying to take in enough of it to fill her.
Finally, with her eyes darting over every inch of the view, she sucked in a deep breath, and stepped down to the next step. On the way down, they took a couple of selfies and took their time.
They walked back down, and past the McDonald’s, and the piazza was something of a triangle shape, and they walked to the far corner and proceeded down it. They passed gift shops with much more touristy items than earlier in the day. They saw stores with black cloth purses and bags that said “Roma” written all over in different colors, and stores that had Italian flag t-shirts, and Roma sweatshirts, they saw a Godfather movie poster on a t-shirt, but instead of “The Godfather” written on it, it said “il Padrino.” There were lighters, and every type of nick nack that Alice and Doug would see at Hampton Beach, but in Italian.
After the brief alleyway containing all the gift shops, they walked into streets that seemed much less eventful, there were no stores, no big sights to see, but the abundance of people walking with them down these small otherwise empty side streets was clear. Alice didn’t know what they were going to see next, but Doug clearly did.
After passing through two small streets, there was a little stop in the flow of people. There was a person, Alice wasn’t clear if it was a man or a woman, was dressed as some kind of cross between the Statue of Liberty and the sex cult people from Eyes Wide Shut. His or her entire costume was spray painted gold. Other than the breathing he or she wasn’t moving at all, but was standing on a large bucket with another bucket right side up next to it.
After a minute someone walked up and tossed some money into the bucket, and the figure shifted into a dance like pose, with one leg behind him or herself and arms spread wide, and then he or she froze again.
A minute went by, and Alice couldn’t imagine how the artist was able to keep such a pose for so long, so she through a two Euro coin into the bucket. The artist shifted into a squatting pose similar to “The Thinker.”
They continued on down another side street, and after a moment walked into a piazza staring at Trevi Fountain. There was a lot of scaffolding, and protective barriers between the crowd and the fountain. There was a catwalk leading to the center view, with plexiglass shielding the fountain from litter and vandalism.
Alice and Doug waited in line for a few minutes to be able to cross the catwalk. As they took their turn, Doug pointed to a small miniature fountain coming out of the side of a wall ten feet across the normal observation area.
“I was told that if you drink from that fountain, you’ll find your true love within a year.”
“Did you drink from it?” She asked curiously.
“Yeah, the I met you fourteen months later. I figure the two extra months had to either be an exchange rate difference or because they use the metric system here.” He laughed, and Alice laughed too because it was too cute to not ignore his lame jokes.
They stopped and kissed in the middle of the catwalk, and the guard who had been letting the line through periodically snapped at them to keep going. They continued on to the exit on the other side of the catwalk.
Doug lead Alice back in the direction of the main road. As they strolled down the main road, Alice couldn’t help but feel the aesthetic change. She had seen fashion district Rome, romantic stroll Rome, and magnificent architecture Rome, but now she felt as if she was walking down a street not in Rome at all. The pavement was much more modern than the cobblestone of previous sections, and the sidewalks more defined. As they walked they walked by office buildings that were better looking than modern American office buildings, but still had some of the coldness from the lack of storefronts. There were a few storefronts but what little there was seemed to sell newspapers, and bus passes. Alice quickly realized that she felt more like she was walking down the streets of New York City circa World War II, at least the feel that she got from watching movies.
As they walked the feeling didn’t disappoint her, but added another layer of mystique to the Eternal City. Doug had been telling her for nearly four years about how much he loved Rome, and how everywhere he went he felt like he was in a wildly different film, and now she was understanding. There was a tugging at her chest as she looked around, and she started to cry gently.
“What’s the matter?” Doug asked her, stopping her, and pulling her aside up to a building.
“It’s so perfect.” She said with a smile, and then her cheeks turned red from embarrassment as she confessed, “I’m just a little overwhelmed by how perfect.”
Doug laughed at her, and pulled her in for a hug. “I get it. I think it might be even better the second time. Now that I’ve seen it, spent five years in boring old central Mass, and now it’s like being reunited.”
“Yeah, Mass does pale in comparison.”
They held each other for another moment, and proceeded onward.
“Do you want to try to catch a bus?” Doug asked her after a couple of minutes.
“Yes!” She cheered up, she hadn’t wanted to ask Doug, but her feet were throbbing.
“According to this map, there is a hop on, hop off bus tour stop at the next block.” Doug said to her after consulting his map.
They walked ahead and found a shop where they were able to buy their tickets.
“It’s twenty Euros for one day pass. Or twenty five for two days.” The man at the counter told them.
“We’ll just take the one day.” Alice interjected.
“The bus only runs another two hours today, but you can take it all day tomorrow if you do two days.” He said with a smile.
Doug looked at Alice his eyes pleading with her to do two days.
She looked at him and said “we don’t need a second day. We aren’t going to need it tomorrow.” Doug hands the man forty Euros, and gets two one day passes, two brochures, and two sealed packs of headphones.
After about five minutes, the bus came, and Alice and Doug got on. They went up to the roof seats, and found a couple of empty seats near the back. They plugged in their headphones, and Alice put the buds in her ears and immediately heard a well spoken Italian woman speaking concisely enough that she was able to pick up random words. She pressed the button on the armrest console to change the channel until she found English.
As they rode by museums, other modern architectural wonders, and a random field, Alice half listened, and half relaxed as she looked around absentmindedly. After several minutes, and a couple of stops, the Coliseum came up on their left. Alice perked up in her seat.
“Should we get out here?” She asked.
“We can, but they’re done tours for the day, so we can’t go in.” Doug said.
“I don’t want to walk more yet.” She said shrugging, but marveled up at the enormous stadium as the bus stopped.
They continued down the road, and Doug pointed out the Roman Forum as they passed. After they saw the massive Altare della Patria, as the earbuds informed them, and Doug told Alice it was nicknamed the ‘wedding cake.’
“Why is it called that?” She asked right before the bus rounded a bend revealing the magnificent white front of the memorial.
“Because it looks like a wedding cake.” He said, and she nodded. It did indeed look like a gargantuan wedding cake.
“It’s a little tacky.” She whispered to him hoping no one else heard her. He smiled back.
“I think that’s why they gave it the nickname.”
They slowed down, as they entered into an large rotary directly in front of the ‘wedding cake.’ “I think we should get off here. There’s a lot right here, we could get dinner, and the rest of this bus’s route doesn’t seem to go to close to Campo De Fiori.” Doug suggested.
The sun had nearly set, so they took a couple of pictures in front of the ‘wedding cake,’ before crossing to another section surrounding the rotary, where there was a quiet little restaurant, with a view of the active rotary. They walked in the front, which was down three stairs into a basement space, and were seated at the window, where they could see everything going on.
Neither Doug nor Alice, had the energy to investigate the menu thoroughly, and both were too hungry to try something new, and they ended up getting the same dishes as the night before, Doug got the rigatoni amitriciana, and Alice got the cacio e pepe. They found out quickly, that it wasn’t that the restaurant the night before had been something particularly special, but that these dishes were perfect seemingly anywhere they went in the city.
After dinner, they strolled to the other side of the massive rotary to a gelato shop. Doug got a cup of Nutella gelato, and Alice got a cone of fragola, which was strawberry. They walked down one of the main road while they ate.
Once they finished eating, Doug pulled the map out of his pocket to see how to get back to their hotel.
They walked half a block while looking at the map, which was fairly small and not as conspicuous as an average road map, before hearing a voice calling out to them.
“You lost?” A voice, that Alice thought sounded Californian, asked. The sidewalk was abnormally deep, and even though they were technically on the sidewalk, this man was sitting twenty feet away. He was rolling his own cigarette, and put away a can of tobacco.
“If we just follow this road, we’ll end up in Campo de Fiori?” Doug said walking over to him, and gesturing in the direction he and Alice had been initially headed.
“Yeah, but it’s quite a walk. If you walk to the corner, there will be a bus, for a couple Euro’s you can ride most of the way down. No big deal.” He finished sealing up his cigarette, pocketed it, and stood up. “Where’re you from? East coast?”
“Massachusetts.” Doug said, Alice had kept her distance more than he had. She thought that he was too trusting.
“Oh that’s cool. I went to Emerson! I love Boston.” He said with a smile. Alice noticed that he was a couple inches taller than Doug, she thought he was probably six foot two or so.
“Oh yeah!” Doug said with a convincing smile that Alice knew was a lie. He disliked Boston, but he hated when people tried to bond with him over it.
“Anyway, my name’s Trent Lapierre. I’ve been living here a couple months, working on a few acting gigs, but I’m actually heading back to the states next week, because I’m gonna be on Law and Order: SVU!” Alice made note that he would probably be playing the bad guy.
“Oh that’s cool.” Doug said, and she knew this was more genuine than the Boston response. “I used to watch the show all the time, but I had to stop because it was so stressful.”
“Oh I hear ya. I don’t watch that crap, but the acting opportunity is pretty unbeatable.” He shrugged in a cocky way, and Alice knew that he was more impressed by himself than either she or Doug were. “Anyway, I’m on Facebook, you guys should friend me on there. I’m going to meet a couple friends, and then heading over to Trastevere on the other side of the Tiber. —It’s way less touristy, you know, it’s where the real Roman’s go— If you guys want to meet up, message me on there, it’s gonna be a good time.”
“Yeah!” Doug said in a very enthusiastic, but secretly non-genuine tone. “We just need to go change, we’ve been walking around all day, probably take a shower, and then we’ll meet up with you!”
“Cool, man.” Trent said shaking Doug’s hand. Then he pointed at the bus coming. “Hey, don’t miss your bus guys.”
“Thanks again.” Alice said politely as the ran over to the bus stop.
When they get on the bus there were no seats available, so they each held the bar above their heads, and were pushed close together, facing each other.
Once, the bus pulled away from the stop, Alice allowed herself to crack a goofy smile, but held in the laughter she was fighting.
“You will literally talk to anyone, won’t you?” She asked him, in an amused voice.
“Hey, he gave us directions.” Doug said defensively. She laughed, because he never started conversations with strangers, but when they approached him, he could never end the conversation. He once had a twenty minute conversation with someone who neither of them could understand a single word they said.
“I don’t care. It was helpful, and now we can say ‘when we were in Rome we met a hipster who apparently is going to be on SVU.’” She stretches onto her toes and kisses him. “Personally, I though the only weirdos we were going to meet would be in the Vatican.”
He does a fake laugh, mocking her joke.
After a couple of stops, they get off. It was only two blocks to Campo de Fiori, and they walked it slowly, enjoying the moonlight across the cobblestone side streets.
When they got to their room, Alice took off her sandals, the floor tile feeling so cold and nice against her feet which were throbbing. Doug laid down on the bed, with a tired relaxed smile.
Alice leaned over and kissed him. She pulled her leg over him, straddling him, and kissed him again. He kissed her back, and after a minute, she pulled the other leg over him, and fell hard onto her back, her head perfectly center on the pillow.
“Today was perfect.” She said in a breathy voice. “I love you. Goodnight.”
There was a dinginess to all of the foreign airports that Alice had been to until she had found the airport in Dublin to be pristine and sparkling, which had been good for a layover. It was not that the American airports were cleaner, but she could always see the shine peaking from behind the dirt. As she and her husband, Doug, exited the tunnel from the plane into the Fiumicino Airport, she was not surprised by the literal lack of luster in the terminal.
She thought that Doug looked goofy. The entire right side of his head was a big cowlick from sleeping on the plane, and combined with his enthusiastic grin, it made him look like a six foot tall four year old. She had never seen him look as happy as he had in the previous three days. Even though it was difficult to find him attractive in his current state, she assumed that she probably didn’t look much better to him, after having been mostly awake for nearly twenty four hours.
She ducked into a bathroom quickly to splash water on her face. When she came out, she saw that Doug was standing at the empty luggage carousel. He was the only person smiling, among the eleven other people that were standing around waiting for the luggage to come up. It was only 8 P.M. but everyone else was glassy eyed and ready to be done with the airport.
Once they had retrieved their luggage, they went through the doors to the greeting area, where a crowd of people held small handmade signs. They approached the crowd slowly, each looking for ‘Connelly.’
They had read through the different signs three times each, and they saw no sign of a ‘Connelly’ sign. The crowd was thinning as more travelers met up with their drivers and families.
“I’ll call the hotel.” Doug said to Alice, the smile was still on his face, and there was no worry in his eyes. She couldn’t help but notice again that he had been acting so out of character. He was usually the nervous wreck, the one who feared being late, and being left behind. Now they had been literally both, and he wasn’t panicking. She wasn’t sharing his newly found sense of calm.
Alice had read the time on the ticket which had said 18:00, as if it had read 8:00, and so they had been two hours late to Logan airport and missed their flight out of Boston. It was nearly five hundred dollars to get the next flight, but Doug wasn’t upset or worried. ‘Maybe marriage has calmed him down, relaxed him’ she thought.
He hung up the phone, and looked at her. “The woman at the hotel says he should be here, so she’s going to call him and find out where he is.”
A couple minutes later, a tall thin man, wearing jeans and a worn leather coat walked in. He had a cardboard sign dangling at his side, in his hand, that says ‘Connelly.’ Doug walks over to him.
“Hi, are you from the Campo De Fiori hotel?” His smile slightly diminished but not completely.
“Uh… Yes. I sorry. The futball was on. I was in the car.” He turned quickly and starts walking very fast out. Doug was able to keep up, but Alice fell behind.
“Doug!” She said, knowing that he was not even aware that she wasn’t keeping up.
He turned and saw her lagging, and asked the driver to wait a minute, which he did, but clearly didn’t want to.
“Is not far.” He said pointing to a car on the other side of the parking garage, perhaps 50 feet away.
After he had forcefully and thoroughly shoved their luggage into his trunk, they got into the car, and he immediately turned the soccer game back on. Alice was in the back seat, and had a hard time hearing, because the of the game. It didn’t look to her as if Doug and the driver were talking anyway.
As they drove she admired the palm trees in small patches on the side of the road prior to entering the city. In the already dark, but still early evening, she found the streets to look nothing like her imagination of Rome. It looked more modern, more industrial.
After a few minutes of driving, the city began to look like what she had imagined, and the roads became thinner. Alice cringed several times, as the roads became busier, but their driver didn’t seem to slow down at all.
Eventually he slowed as they began to wind down tiny alley ways. Without any warning he stopped the car, and began looking around. Alice assumed they were lost, but a moment later he began inching down the road, and it was clear he was looking for the building numbers.
“Here!” He proclaimed triumphantly, pointing to a building with a giant wooden door, and nothing but a sign reading “134.”
They each stepped out of the car, and grabbed their bags. He walked over to a small intercom on the door, and pressed the button. “Caio!” a man’s voice greeted them from the small speaker.
Their driver begins talking to the box in very rapid Italian. Alice is only able to pick up a couple words, mainly “Connelly,” and “aeroporto.” The door clicked, and cracked open. “You go to third floor.”
“Grazie.” Doug said handing the driver a five Euro note. He walked quickly to the car and drove away.
Once they got to the third floor, there was a large man in his early sixties waiting with a big grin. He immediately grabbed their bags, and helped them in toward the front desk.
“Uh… Welcome!” His English a bit awkward coming out as he settled behind the small desk. “I am Giacomo! My English is not great, sorry.” His accent was thick, and his pronunciation wasn’t great, but he spoke slowly and they both understood him.
Doug handed him his passport and credit card, and Alice passed him her passport. When Giacomo was done all the paperwork he passed them back their passports and the credit card.
“You eat yet?” He asked them. Alice hadn’t thought about dinner, but she knew that Doug would be wanting to eat. She often told him he should star in a Snicker’s commercial, because he became so irritable when he was hungry.
“No, we haven’t. Would you be able to recommend a place?” Doug asked without a moment’s pause.
Giacomo smiled, and pulled out a big pad of identical maps of Rome. He tore off a map neatly, and circled a spot that says ‘Campo De Fiori.’ “This is just down the end the alley.” He said pointing in a direction that meant nothing to disoriented Alice.
Giacomo circled a second spot that said ‘Osteria La Quercia.’ “This good dinner. You order the carbonara. Is traditional Roman dish.”
Giacomo folded up the map, and handed it with their room key to Doug.
“Grazie!” Doug said grinning ear to ear.
Giacomo pointed them to the door directly next to the front desk. Doug unlocked it, and they found a rather large room with a king sized bed and small bathroom. They brought their bags in, and Alice collapsed on the bed. Doug went to close the door, and found that in order to lock it, he had to put the key in from the inside.
“I want to shower and change before we go out.” Alice told him without moving a muscle on her otherwise lifeless body.
After an hour, Alice was ready to leave, although she was relaxed enough from the fresh clothing and shower that she didn’t feel the need to go out. Doug had made it clear to her however, that he wanted to go get some dinner, and that he was looking forward to a walk.
As they left the building, Alice found herself being a little intimidated by the dark alleyway that it lead out into. Without the driver, and his headlights it seemed much less safe.
Doug took her by the hand, and lead her out of the alley into the piazza where there were a couple of small bars still open. She began to feel a little safer as it had opened up, and there was more activity.
They walked the cobblestones to the other side of the piazza and down a side street, it was wider than the alley, and it was clearly leading to a much larger street, and there was clearly still some traffic.
On the main street they walked along, and when they came upon the first restaurant, which Alice thought was charming, she tried to get Doug to stop at it.
“But we’re only a block or two from the one that Giacomo told us about. Let’s just keep going to that one.” She was enjoying the night air, and strolling around, but Doug didn’t really know how to stroll, and again she was struggling to keep up with him.
After passing a couple more restaurants, Alice told Doug he just needed to pick one, and they agreed the next open restaurant they passed they would stop at.
When they came to the end of the block there was another piazza, and the first restaurant had all of their tables out on the patio, underneath umbrellas. All of the tables were empty.
“Caio,” a tired and unfriendly looking man said to them from the host’s stand. “Are going to be eating or just drinking?” His tone was less friendly than he looked.
“Eating.” Doug said with a smile.
“Our kitchen is about to close so I will go ask them not to, but if you could pick what you want quickly please.” He lead them to a table and handed them their menus before rushing off to the kitchen.
After a few moments he returned.
“Can we start with a bottle of Chianti please?” Doug said and gave Alice a side glance and a raised eyebrow. “Also I’ll have the rigatoni all-amatriciana.” He stumbled over the pronunciation but tried to sound confident which Alice knew was to impress her.
“I’ll have the carbonara.” She added with a smile.
“I’ll put that right in for you.” The host said with a genuine smile and walked away.
“I think he’s happy we’re not taking our time.” Doug said taking her hand gently.
“I’m glad, it was a bit ridiculous.” She was getting irritable from exhaustion, but Doug never stopped smiling. She took a deep breath, and looked around at the tiny window of Rome she had.
She laughs at his big grin. “You know, it’s really pretty but you’re like a little kid right now.”
He blushes. “Inhale. The air is just amazing here. It’s cool and soft, and perfect.” He turned so that he could see the main street, and there was an old man pushing some kind of cart. “That guy looks so content, just happy. That must be how you feel when you live here. It’s not as special as it is for me, you know? But he’s happy, he’s home! I don’t feel that way ever.”
Alice relaxed a little, Doug wasn’t much of an optimist, and he complained a lot. He had made no secret to her, or anyone else who would listen, that he didn’t like living in New England. But when he talked to her about the trip he had taken to Italy a year before they met he was always so passionate. She could feel warmth spreading throughout her as he spoke. This was the Doug she loved.
When their food had come, they had each had an entire glass of wine, and were feeling much more relaxed. The plates were massive for individual portions, and were completely filled with food. Alice saw an almost animalistic gleam in Doug’s eyes as he lifted his fork.
Alice hadn’t eaten anything as creamy and heavenly as this carbonara in her entire life. “Mmmm.” She moaned almost inappropriately.
Doug barely covering his full mouth said, “Amazing isn’t it?”
Alice nodded in agreement, twirled a little spaghetti onto her fork and extended it to him for him to try. He took a bit and nodded, scooped up some of his and fed it to her. Alice had no tolerance for spice, and her eyes widen when she realized it was too spicy. Doug laughed and she took another sip of her wine.
“Buona notte.” The host said after they have paid him.
“Buona notte.” Alice said back with a big smile.
They walk out of restaurant’s patio area into the rest of the piazza, and Doug pulls the map Giacomo had given them out of his pocket.
“Let’s just go back and go to bed.” Alice said softly.
“Yeah, I’m just looking to see if the way we came is the quickest.” He looked for another minute, folded the map, took her hand and began to lead her to the opposite side of the piazza.
In the corner, they found a little via which had a little gelato shop closing up for the evening. A little further down was a pizza shop that was only just a storefront and was offering rectangle slices of eight different types of pizza. They were still open and a woman of about fifty years was bringing out a giant metal cooking sheet with another pizza to put in the display case.
“Well we can always come back here if we get hungry after dinner tomorrow.”
Alice rolled her eyes at him, and snuggled in closer as they walked.
Once they got back to the room she collapsed onto the bed again. “I love…” She was asleep before she could finish the sentence.
My wedding ring was constricting around my finger. With my other hand I gave it a gentle tug and felt resistance. That was how I usually determined whether or not I was hydrated properly, but I had drank as much water as my body would allow. It was just too hot.
My suit jacket was tucked under my arm, my tie all the way loosened, but it gave me no relief. Even as I strolled through the shade covered alleyways, I was barely able to keep from melting into a puddle and oozing out of what was left of my suit.
I stepped into the semi cooled lobby of my hotel—a bellhop holding the door open for me.
“Grazie,” I said to him with a pathetic smile.
I pressed the button the laughably small elevator—it had been built into a very old building and could only fit one person, waiting patiently as it ascended centrally through a spiraled staircase. The elevator wasn’t quite as cool as the lobby had been, and the air was perfectly still except for what was going in and coming out of me. After a slow minute the elevator creaked to a stop, on the fourth floor, and I opened the two layers of doors to step out, making sure they both clicked shut behind me to ensure that the next person was able to call for it.
My shoes clicked and clopped on the granite floor, as I walked down the hall past a couple of doors before reaching my room. I swiped the plastic card and the door clicked and unlocked. When I stepped in, I could hear the air conditioning going, but it didn’t seem to have made a major impact. Although the room was much more comfortable than the street outside.
I quickly took off my damp suit, and hung each piece individually in the closet, giving them room to hopefully dry overnight. My bathing suit felt dry and cool as I pulled it up my legs, and then grabbed a towel from the bathroom. I gave another tug at my wedding ring, and had to work it back and forth a little bit in order to get it off. I put it in a glass that was sitting on the counter in the bathroom. My finger stung from where it had been pressing against the ring.
I grabbed my keycard, and walked back down the hall to the elevator, and took it to the sixth floor. I got off, and walked down to the end of the hall, where there was an exit to the rooftop pool.
I laid my towel down on one of the lounge chairs, and walked towards the shallow end of the pool. There was a middle aged couple reading on lounge chairs, and a young woman on the opposite side of the pool with big black sunglasses who was tanning. I looked at the sun beginning to sink in the sky as I waded gently into the pool. They would all probably leave within the next hour by the time the sky had become to dark to be effective for them.
As I waded further in, I took in the view. The sun hadn’t changed they sky’s color, hadn’t turned it pink or purple. It was still blue, but there was plenty of sunfaded pink in the builidings, sprinkled in with the pastel yellow ones. I could see a good distance across the city, and the young woman happened to be in my line of sight. She had nearly black hair, and dark skin, but not in a leathery tanned kind of way. She was too young for that—twenty five maybe. I couldn’t tell if her eyes were even open with those giant sunglasses, so I attempted to look like I was focused on the city and the impending sunset, but her dark skin shining under her bikini was certainly as beautiful.
After a moment the cold of the water lost its icy sting, and I decided to go under and let my body completely cool. I dove under and swam to the far end of the pool. When I came up, I looked out, but was too low to see much of the skyline, and while her eyes wouldn’t have been able to see me leering as much, I also didn’t want to be the creep who was clearly only looking at her. If she had sat up, it would have been obvious from my current height, that I couldn’t see anything but her legs. So I tried to focus on the water.
The gentle chlorination of the water ate at the sweat, and I began to feel not only cooler, but a little less filthy than I had a few minutes earlier. I dunked under again, and when I came back up, I ran my fingers back through my hair vigorously.
I swam a couple of lazy laps, letting the water rush through me, as I moved through it. I eventually stopped and sat on the steps, with the water up to about my waist. The air was warm enough that my exposed skin began to dry nearly immediately, and my hair didn’t take much longer. I would sleep better because of this swim I knew, but much of its effect would be lost when I got out of the pool.
I looked, and realized that the couple had left. The young woman was now playing on a phone quietly, her sunglasses up in her hair now. I tried to pretend as if I was looking out at the city, but she evidently was not fooled.
“Ciao.” She said in an unexcited but friendly voice.
I smiled back and said “Ciao, bona sera.”
“Americano?” She asked, sitting up and giving a little more attention.
“Si.” My face turning red in embarrassment of my poor pronunciation.
“How do you like it here?” Her English was impeccable but there was still an accent.
“I love it. It’s my second time here. My company sent me to talk to a possible customer. I sell parts to car manufacturers.”
“It’s a beautiful city. I’m from up north, but I love coming down whenever I get a chance.”
I smile, and nod not knowing what to say. After a minute she comes out with “I been to America when I was twelve. I went to New York with my family, and then we went to Disney World.”
“Oh yeah, my kids love Disney. We went a couple of years ago. I don’t go into New York too much though. My company doesn’t do much there, and my wife isn’t a fan of all the hustle and bustle.” She gives me a confused frown and I explain, “um… it’s too busy.”
By now the sun is about half behind the horizon of buildings, and the sky is a bright pink. I smile at her again, nervously, and say “Well, I should be going. I have to be at the airport bright and early to fly home tomorrow.” I stand up out of the pool, and everything but my bathing suit dries up in as I walk by her. “I’m Kevin, it was nice to meet you.”
She sits up and extends her hand too me, “Catalina. Good luck with your flight tomorrow.”
As I inhale, I can smell a combination of fading perfume, light sweat, and sunscreen. It is intoxicating. I finish shaking her hand and go grab my towel, I give myself a quick wipe to make sure I don’t drip at all inside.
At the door I turn to her and say “Buona notte.” She laughs at my pronunciation, but not in a cruel way and says it back perfectly.
As I lay in the hotel bed, I think about her, and how perfect she seemed. I think about how if I had been single, and her age what I would have done. How I would have brought her back to this room. I don’t know when my conscious fantasy transitioned to a dream, but it did. I could still smell her.
My alarm woke me up, and I smiled still half in the dream. I put the different pieces of my suit back into their hanging case, and hung them from my suitcase handle. I looked around and saw that I had everything. I walked down the hall to the elevator, and took it down to the first floor. It was slightly cooler than it had been the night before, but it was still early. I definitely wouldn’t miss the heat.
I had the front desk call a cab for me, and stepped next door for a cappuccino and a chocolate croissant. I stood outside under the hotel’s awning eating my croissant when the cab pulled up. The driver loaded my suitcase into the trunk, and I got in the back seat. Just as the cab pulled away, Catalina stepped out in a sundress, with the same sunglasses on, and very elaborate sandals. She smiled to me and waved, I waved back, with a little bit of croissant left in my hand. Once she couldn’t see me, I sighed loudly.
“You know her?” The cab driver asks with a thick accent.
“I met her at the pool last night.”
“And you two?” He is clearly looking for gossip.
“Oh no, she was very nice, but she’s like my daughter’s age.”
He nods, and I can see in the mirror a little bit of disappointment in his eye.
The rest of the drive passes with little questions about what I was able to see, and if I would come back. I told him I certainly hoped so.
A couple of hours later, finally on the plane, and relaxing as we ascended to fly over the alps, I took my right hand to play with my wedding ring as I often did, and realized it wasn’t there. My heart sank into my chest, and I realized it was probably still sitting in the glass at the hotel. I knew my wife wouldn’t be mad, after all she knew that my fingers often swelled in the heat, or with dehydration, but not having it on my finger felt bizarre regardless.
I used the little phone on the chair in front of me, to call the hotel. They told me they would be able to send it. I should have it back within a week. There was a little relief, but I still felt a cold clammy sweat on my forehead, and wracked with guilt.