After enjoying a fantastic performance of Mary Poppins the Musical in Sacramento, the Peck family said their heartfelt goodbyes and left us at the Larson residence. We took a 3-hour nap and awoke at 4am to groggily gather our single (large) carry-on bags, containing all of our necessary belongings and accessories, as well as our (thankfully) smaller, lighter day packs. Off to Sacramento airport we rode, in the uncharacteristically rainy June weather, with Jennifer Larson as our honorable driver. After a brave yet reluctant goodbye from Jennifer, we proceeded to check in with United airlines. With only a minor delay, and no hassle with checked baggage (thanks to my mom and Rick Steves) we bypassed security with no trouble and headed toward our gate, where we sampled some bland Starbucks oatmeal and waited anxiously for our first departure. Neither of us could believe this day had finally come. We still can't.
The flight from Sacramento across the United States to Washington DC was fairly short-lived, or at the very least, I remembered little of the 5 hour flight, as I fell quickly asleep in favor of watching the exceedingly generic Adjustment Bureau. After catching some chicken tenders and braving the vast line at Subway, we found ourselves boarding the smallest commercial craft I've ever experienced, requiring us to leave our invaluable larger carry-ons in the hands of the attendants to be stowed below the plane. Between fits of sleep and fleeting worries about the fate of our baggage, the two-hour flight to Montreal was a blessedly short one.
Despite our excitement at beginning the final and most tedious leg of our exodus, the Montreal airport was both beautiful and beastly. Thankfully customs went smoothly, and in spite of a gate change, we prepared for our 8-hour trek to Rome. In all honesty, for me this was the strangest part of the travel, as most of our time on this flight was spent in darkness, which was a bit depressing. However, I must explicitly say that Air Canada was a stunning carrier, which included personal touch screens, decent in flight food, and the general amenities. The seats were comfortable, and the only complaint I can make is only a mistake on my part, as sitting at an exit door proved to be quite cold at 37000 feet, 78 degrees below.
The Italian coastline was a welcome sight, only obscured by slight cloud cover. We gathered our hefty belongings for the final time and exited the plane into the sharp contrast of 73 degrees and humid. After being shuttled like sardines to Fiumicino, we made our long journey to the bus station, following the signs, amid the rush of people, listening to the tumult of languages swirling about us constantly. Advantageously we picked up two Roma passes on our way to the bus depot, where we boarded a large charter bus to take us to the Termini station. This is where it really began.
As we lumbered from the agricultural outskirts of the Roman countryside and deeper into Rome proper, the excitement grew increasingly palpable. Signs in Italian, tiny cars vying for the same spaces as buses, and daring vespa drivers gave a hint of what was to come. Winding our way through the seedier parts of Rome, we anticipated reaching the old city center, which when it did finally appear, did so as a monarch commands attention. Modern, decrepit structures suddenly were traded for ancient robust works of achictectural mastery. Our hearts both skipped a beat as we said a quick 'ciao' to the Vatican wall, then before we knew it, we were shuffling from the bus at the Termini bus stop-- though it looked different than I had expected. Having thrown us for a bit of a loop, this turn of events proved to be the most challenging part of our first day in Rome. We headed down the street in search of a bus stop. The 73 degrees with humidity was a drastic difference from California's low 60s, and we quickly shed our jackets, and wished we could trade our jeans for shorts. After reading a bus sign or two, with no sight of our stop (Chiesa Nuova), we stopped in to a Tabacchi shop to ask for directions. Thankfully the reply told us that we needed to board bus 40, which gave us a bit of a lead. With our packs already straining our shoulders and spines, we stood at the bus stop down the street for what seemed an eternity, waiting for the 40 bus. To our dismay, every bus which would take us to our destination either whizzed by us, was too full, or we missed it for various reasons. We decided to follow the buses' routes down the road, where we found success at last. We boarded the correct bus, feeling much like obnoxious turtles in the cramped and stuffy space, though the ride through the city was worth the trouble. We hopped off at Chiesa Nuova, which we soon learned is only a two minute walk from our apartment.
We are at a perfect location. Five minutes walking in one direction gets us to piazza Navona, and an additional five minutes from there is the Pantheon. We are a two minute walk from the main street in Rome, Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, which if taken for 15-20 minutes will lead you to St. Peter's. The apartment is on Via Governo Vecchio, framed by an arched doorway. After passing through the door on the street you follow a low passage and out into an inner alley, where three small apartments sit within the shadow of the taller buildings which flank them. We found the door to #34 open, and within the owner, Andrea Marchi. He was a humorous, good-natured man in his late thirties, bespectacled with a receding hairline and slightly wild curly hair. He enthusiastically gave us the tour of the very small apartment, handed us the keys and bid farewell. Not long after we settled our belongings, the overcast weather turned to rain and going out was no longer an option. Our jetlagged bodies were grateful as we slept for several hours, sleep having been difficult on the plane. Around 7:00 that evening I woke with a start, realizing the rain had stopped. We grabbed our day packs and went to explore the neighborhood. The streets were saturated, but there was no shortage of Vespas, smart cars and pedestrians attempting to occupy the same narrow passages. The restaurants were full and the rain didn't seem to have deterred anyone in the least. We stopped at a small rustic restaurant after checking their menu, and sat down at a table with a direct view of the street. Erik ordered the quintessential Italian pizza, and I a traditional plate of assorted meats and cheeses. Both our dishes were fresh and authentic, the atmosphere quiet and quaint. The perfect beginning to a Roman holiday.