Thursday, July 17, 2008

Desperately Seeking Marcus Aurelius (A Very Long Italian Story, Part Fourteen)

The last leg of our Italian journey began as we settled our bill, loaded up the Punto, and headed east to the unknown streets of Chiusi, where we were contracted to return the rental. Our drive to Chiusi was uneventful, if not beautiful, but, as we arrived in town, we were in the midst of the most half-baked plan of any we had devised on the entire trip.

All we knew about the rental office was the address (82 Via Marcus Aurelius). Along with us, we had no map, no Garmin, no directions. Just the address and the assurance from the office in Firenze where we picked up the car that the location was “downtown.” So, as we approached Chiusi, we tried to figure out where “downtown” was. We stayed on the main road, thinking that would lead us into the bustling interior of the urban hive that is Chiusi. The main road took us into the centro storico, instead, the old town, with the tiny streets and the cobblestones.

We were on a sort of deadline, too, needing to return the car before 11, or we’d get charged for an extra day. We had already decided that the short drive to Chiusi had not used up enough gas to label the tank “not full,” so we didn’t fear any fuel charges, but we didn’t want to tack on any penalties, if we could avoid them, and being charged for a whole day when you only had the car an extra fifteen minutes because you were turning circles trying to find the place where you were supposed to drop the car off for an hour plus seemed to us like a height of stupidity to which we wished not to soar.

In the middle of our turning and turning and backtracking and neck craning and street sign reading, we were forced to turn into a parking lot, in order to turn around. I remembered that many of the parking lots we had visited in these smaller towns had large maps of the towns in them, and I spied one as we turned in. I hopped out as Monkey pulled the car out of the main traffic area. After a few moments looking at the map, I found our street, which wasn’t far away. I hopped back in the car, and we headed that way.

We found the road pretty easily, but, as we drove along, watching the numbers, we seemed to drive right by 82 (with no markings of it anywhere). There was 78. There was 81. There was 90. What happened to 82? We knew that in Italy, the residences and the business each had different colored numbering systems, and it was perfectly natural for a business 82 to come just before a residential 34, or after a 126, so we kept driving. Then, as streets often do, Marcus Aurelius took a quick turn, leaving us on a street we did not want to be on, so, we swung around and got back on. A few blocks later, Marcus Aurelius seemed to disappear altogether.

But, we were clearly in a downtown-like area. We did a few turns (and maybe broke a few of those phantom Italian “traffic laws”). We passed the train station, where we needed to ultimately be to get a train to Rome, and, then, as if on cue at the lowest ebb of hope and highest tide of despair, we turned inexplicably back onto Marcus Aurelius, only two store fronts from the Eurocar office.

As we pulled up, the Eurocar rep was getting into a car.

“One moment,” he said, and drove off.

We sat on our luggage. It was 10:45. At 10:55, he did return with a cup of coffee. We checked in with no problem and walked over to the train station to wait for the train to Roma.

Our tickets to Roma cost 16 Euro each. This was a great difference between our tickets to Firenze from Milano, which cost 36 Euro each. We wondered if we had the right tickets, but, as we waited for, boarded, and rode the two hours south, nobody accosted us.

We got off the train in a very hot Roma, walked the three blocks to our accommodations, where they held our luggage, because we couldn’t really occupy our room until 3pm. So, with map in hand, we wandered the streets of Rome, beginning a trend that would continue for the remainder of our trip of walking (nearly) everywhere, covering miles each day, and consuming gallons of aqueduct supplied public water.

We planned our tomorrow: Coliseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, and then got previews of a few of those places. One side note on Rome: I may have mentioned in a previous post that I was nervous about Rome, since I have a sort of loathing of large urban areas (maybe loathing is too strong a word…), but, for the three days plus that we were there, I rarely, if ever, felt the same way as I have described feeling about Chicago, or San Francisco, or Baltimore. I don’t know why, but, my enjoyment of Rome was not in the least hampered by my own paranoid hang ups, so, hooray for me, I guess.


La Fashionista said...

Maybe after the rental car return trust exercise - topped off by the rep's dash for coffee right at the last dramatic minutes of the hour - you were too relieved and elated to feel edgy in Roma?

I doubt this is the case, but I thought I'd speculate.

Or perhaps it was the euphoria of delicious food, satisfying drink, and beautiful culture you'd been steeped in during your relaxing vacation that helped you let go of some of your usual city guardedness?

Travel is an adventure! The shift in perspective that accompanies being in a new place can be quite freeing and refreshing.


claire said...

for anyone inspired by this bog to plan a trip to rome i suggest to look into vacation rentals in rome where you can find an ideal accommodation with a free wi-fi connection...