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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Final week in Umbria and Rome

There's much to catch up with as I start this at Vienna airport.  Early on Tuesday morning I went to Perugia airport, where I met the fast-traveling two young women, the neighbors' daughter and her friend, arriving on a flight from Cagliari.  We had a fine time for the little time that we saw them, as the time included their full day trip to Rome on the bus, including missing the return bus so we needed to meet them on the train at Ponte S. Giovanni.

Now another font from offline composition on the plane: After final greetings with the local people we saw every day, we loaded the car for an 8 a.m. departure to Rome, to make the 11 a.m. promised rental return time.  I hadn't had a need for the TomTom satnav GPS we have for Europe before on this trip.  I'd turned it on in the house and it seemed the battery was drained.  I plugged it into the car lighter, and it was having problems getting a signal around even the small Umbertide buildings.  Margaret said a signal came up right when we left the piazza, and I figured I could put the destination in when we next had a stop.  That was at the end of the autostrada, when I filled up with diesel fuel.  After the pumps there was only a place to hover:  I put in the destination as a street intersection:  the device said it was looking through thousands of routes and I handed it to Margaret to say when the route was finally showing.  She saw that it gave walking directions; as she was trying to reset it, it pulled up a last destination on Capri.  Apparently I'd used it for walking directions there, and that was the last I'd used it.  Margaret was not seeing how to change it to driving directions; I'd looked over the route on Google Maps the previous day and had a general sense of it, but I'd have liked to know when the turns were approaching.  The worst problem was when I guessed I was at the spot to turn left, I figured I was fully in the left-turn lane, waiting at a red arrow, but a van behind me was honking, indicating I was blocking the way to go straight with a green light, so I went ahead and went straight.  It turns out that took me on a loop so I could go back and get on the street where I wanted, this time as a right turn.  Hoping I had it correct, I was looking for via Po and there it was:  I was making my way where I wanted in Rome with minimal trouble.  I got to our hotel, the Principessa Isabella, and left Margaret off with most of the bags, a problem since she isn't supposed to lift much and there's an outdoor ramp down to the entrance to turn in before one is in view of desk staff.  I was stopped in the street with no place to pull over, but only motorcycles showed up in the time I was stopped.  I made my way to the designated return spot at the garage of the Hotel Excelsior on via Sicilia.  Europcar staff took over the car when I pulled in, and I later got an email of the final charges for road taxes showing that they'd done dynamic currency conversion converting the charge to dollars, something I disapprove of but the extra charge was small.

I walked back to our hotel, Margaret had not tried to check in; I found that our room would not be ready until 2, ending a string of good luck I've had in that regard in Rome.  We walked towards via Veneto, expecting to find overpriced places if we were thinking of having lunch, but found the Stil Novo, offering an "Easy Lunch."  They offered main dishes with sides for €10.  We got back to the hotel around 1.30, and could get into the room.  Margaret encouraged the dour desk manager to smile, and he did, saying he was dealing with a dental problem, so we had more sympathy about his attitude.

We were settled in the room, and didn't have much of an agenda for these two days in Rome; we'd left open the chance that Lisa and Dawn would be there and we'd do things together.  For now, our stroll took us to Villa Borghese with many people out, leading us back to via Veneto and our hotel.  We had dinner at a Sardinian restaurant, where I had a fried seafood platter and Margaret stuck to Roman specialties.

We awoke to rain the next morning.  We had the hotel's nice breakfast spread and wondered what to do, since we were to check out by noon to move to another hotel (both stays on points).  Margaret wasn't up to any museum visits; we talked about going to Stazione Termini for the enclosed shopping space, although it's a place to be on one's guard.  We started to walk there, with one small umbrella, and it wasn't working; we turned around, preferring to sit in the lobby rather than the small room.  We had the idea to call the next hotel and ask if a room would be ready, and it was.  We checked out and had them call a taxi (actually make an online request), and the rain had stopped.

Our destination was the Hotel de la Ville.  The taxi overshot it and went to the Hassler; we could have walked next door easily enough, but the driver insisted on going around the block to do it right, with the meter running.  We checked in to the nice place at the top of the Spanish Steps.  Margaret's interest now was in taking a walk to Piazza Navona, Campo de' Fiori, and Via Monserrato, where the school where we met was.  We had sandwiches at a bar on the way, and also paused for a drink at the Caffè Farnese.

We'd had some calls and notes during these days to meet with Slow Travelers Wendy and Rob.  Now it was time to meet them for drinks at the Hotel Excelsior.  We got an honest taxi driver taking us between these top-class hotels for €5.  It was a very pleasant meeting with them, in anticipation of more time with them on the Monterey Peninsula in July.

Without having given much thought to where we would have our last dinner, we took Wendy and Rob's suggestion to go to Nino, where I'd eaten decades ago.  It's a Tuscan place in demand, with people waiting outside at the 7.30 opening, and we got in.  We found it tourist-oriented, but nice.

Now it was the eve of our separate departures.  Margaret got her boarding passes printed; I had wanted a mobile BP from Austrian Airlines, but I was running into problems.  They were giving a list of departure places that didn't include Rome or most of the busier airports.  I ran into the same problem also on the business center's desktop.  

In the morning, I saw Margaret off on the limo we'd arranged through Rome Shuttle Limousine.  I could stay in the room a few more hours, getting some texts on her progress, before I needed to go.  Being on my own, I tried the cheap public transport route.  I checked out of the hotel, and went to the top of the Spanish Steps, where there's a metro entrance calling for going down some steps, then getting the elevator.  The metro and other shortcut walkway was very busy, I bought a ticket from the machine, saw how the turnstiles now operate, and took a series of escalators down to the metro tracks.  On the train, a young man gave up his seat to me with my luggage; I guess I now look old enough to deserve such an offer.

I went to Termini, where I'd made an advance  booking, printing the ticket, for the Terravision bus.  I found the Terra Café on via Marsala, on the side of the train station, where I needed to show the prepaid (€4) ticket to get a plastic boarding card assuring my place on the bus.  The ticket said the pass issuance would start 20 minutes before departure; the line was long enough that I figured I'd get to the counter at that point, and I later heard them say it opened at 30 minutes.  I got that pass without problems and could wait on the sidewalk in the shade before the bus showed up at the median in the sun.  There was a woman with a bright vest with the airport name saying when to board; passengers put bags directly in the luggage hold, I boarded without problems, but others appeared to have trouble when they hadn't followed procedure.  We left with a full bus and a long line of people on the median in the sun; I'm not sure what their situation was, but I was glad to have boarded by procedure.

The bus got to Fiumicino airport, in the bus area past the end of Terminal 3, where I hadn't been before, and there was a departure board showing buses to Rome by the different companies.  Since I needed to do regular check-in, I found the designated counters for my flight, got boarding passes including for the next morning's flight, and wasn't challenged in carrying on my backpack.  I got a nice enough pasta dish at the Ciao cafeteria upstairs, and got the code to add value to my Italian cell phone in a year to keep the number active.  Airport security went relatively efficiently, and the departure gate to Vienna was posted only as Concourse D, no number given until within an hour of the flight; like many, I stood around a screen until it was posted, and went to that gate. 

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