2 Days 2 Avellino
Saturday, September 22 and Sunday, September 23
My sister Elvira and I left on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I had worked very carefully with the flight arrangements, seeking to find both reasonable prices and achieve an itinerary that would allow us to match mother's return flight nine days later.
Awaiting departure from Ottawa
One of the compromises we had to put up with to satisfy these requirements was a long stayover at the Montreal International Airport, which I put to good use by taking pictures of interesting-looking passenger airliners. As a reward, I got some good shots of two distinctive and interesting specimens - the three-engined McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 and the massive Airbus A380 superjumbo.
The eight-hour overnight flight was uneventful, except for the fact that neither I nor my sister got any more than a few minutes of sleep. I've never been one to easily sleep on red-eye flights, especially when bunched-up in the center section of seats (which was the best I could manage on this particular flight). As the real-time map showed us approaching Italy's capital city of Rome, I knew it was going to be one of those woolly-feeling sleep-deprived days.
We arrived at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport shortly before 10am. Strangely, we did not get off on a jetbridge, but rather emerged down stairs onto tarmac. Strange for such a large overseas flight, I thought. A bus then took us to the main arrivals area. Either this airport needs a few upgrades or Air Canada has somehow displeased the airport authority!
The next forty-five minutes were spent figuring out where to claim our bags and to locate our rental car counter. Rome's airport is ok, but not up to the standards of the world's very best.
We were in a slight rush to get through all of this travel minutiae, because we were on a bit of a schedule: we had discovered a few days before that Jenn's aunt-in-law Trudy was going to be in Rome this very weekend, as part of the beginning of a multi-week long Croatian cycling trip. Since Elvira and I were going to be here exactly when she was, we thought it might be fun to spend the afternoon walking around beautiful downtown Rome. We had agreed to meet at her downtown hotel by no later than 1:00pm, and our progress at the airport was beginning to make that time look a bit tight.
Our Rental Lancia
A dark gray Lancia Delta (I had wanted something with a bit of Italian character) stood waiting for us in the far corner of the Sixt rental car garage. After a detailed look around the car to note any pre-existing scratches or dents, we were good to go. And a good thing, too, because it was getting close to noon, and we had only just over an hour to go before the end of our pre-agreed upon meeting window with Trudy. I was glad to sit in the car and set the air conditioning to max - we'd worked up a bit of sweat to get this far, and the temperature outside was working its way up towards thirty degrees celcius.
Our Lancia had a built-in navigation system (again a pre-planned item) and we wasted no time telling it to guide us to the Villa Borghese parking lot - a large underground 24-hour facility just on the outskirts of the downtown core. I knew from past experience that this was the best place to leave the car before making our way on foot to Trudy's hotel.
Once parked in the cool underground of the Villa Borghese parking facility, we walked briskly through tunnels, past an underground supermarket (good to remember that this is here for future reference), then to a staircase and out into the warm Roman afternoon. We were at the top of a wide street (the Via Veneto) that led south and downhill from the Villa Borghese towards the downtown. It was fortunately only just over a kilometer's walk to Trudy's hotel, most of it downhill. Still, time was tight, so we were forced to keep the walking pace brisk.
It was wonderful to be back in Rome again, walking down the shady, tree-filled Via Veneto past stately buildings and bustling cafes. Once at the bottom of Via Veneto, we crossed the Piazza Barberini and climbed up briefly to the Quirinale Hill - one of Rome's famous seven hills - and alongside the sprawling Palazzo Quirinale - the official residence of Italy's president.
Just minutes after passing by the Quirinale, we arrived at the stately front of Trudy's hotel - the Hotel Hiberia. With only about fifteen minutes to spare, no less (I apologize, Elvira, for the somewhat brisk walk).
We were welcomed in the Hotel's tiny lobby by Trudy's big hugs. I explained the cause for our near-lateness, which Trudy graciously shrugged off. She then invited us up to her tiny room, which we reached by using a truly historic little wooden elevator, which perfectly set the old-world Bogart-Roman-Holidy mood. Her room was tiny but tidy; elegant, too, with a pristine little bathroom, an in-wall moulded headboard, and luxurious drapes. A cozy little corner getaway.
View from Hiberia
After taking a brief rest-break, we discussed what we wanted to do. Originally the plan had been to spend the afternoon walking about downtown Rome, seeing some of the major sights, and having an early dinner at a restaurant. Elvira, however, was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the combination of a lack of sleep and the rush to get here, and we all felt it best if we scaled back our plans. We decided instead to set out on foot in the general direction of the Villa Borghese parking lot, where our car was located. We'd see what there was to see along the way, and upon reaching the Villa Borghese, Elvira and I would set off from Rome towards Avellino, where my Aunt Rosetta lived (and where my mother was currently visiting).
Via della Pilotta
Leaving the Hotel Hiberia, we started off generally in a northerly direction. Now that we were in no rush, we were able to slow down to an easy saunter, look around, and drink in the ambiance of the place. We walked along a street over which the graceful arches of several old bridges spanned; these were the bridges of the Via della Pilotta, built in the 1700s to link a palace to nearby gardens. We continued on towards Rome's most famous water-based landmark - the Trevi Fountain.
The Trevi fountain is truly a masterpiece of baroque artistry. Unfortunately, early afternoon at one of Rome's most famous landmarks meant an oppressively large throng of visitors, so we did not dally here for too long.
We continued north through quiet back streets - more filled with people than with cars - before arriving at a narrow wedge-shaped piazza (Piazza San Lorenzo), where we stopped for a tasty treat at a cafe. I had originally hoped to visit a Vodafone telephone store to acquire a temporary data-and-voice plan for my phone while in Italy, but unfortunately, the store was closed for over an hour more due to "technical difficulties". As a consolation, the gelati we experienced at the cafe was excellent.
To the Spanish Steps
After our cafe stop, we decided to take a slightly more wandering route back towards the Villa Borghese. Interest in exploring had increased in proportion to the more relaxed pace we had been adopting. We veered a bit to the east, walking down the crowded Via Condotti another famous landmark - the Spanish Steps. Although the Via Condotti was ostensibly a street open to cars, it was crowded with people, even in the middle of the road. Any cars present had to carefully inch their way forward. This was most definitely not anything like any street back in my home city, unless it was in the middle of the yearly Canada Day celebrations!
After a brief stop at the Spanish Steps, which were only slightly less busy than had been the Trevi Fountain, we moved on north again, towards the Piazza del Popolo. The two twin churches at the southern end of the Piazza had always been a distinctive and striking feature, and I wanted to show them off to Trudy and Elvira.
Unfortunately, one of the two churches was under renovation, preventing us from taking in their interesting and aesthetic symmetry. Still, the piazza was a scenic place to be, with wide-open spaces surrounded by historic buildings and structures, an overlook of the Villa Borghese above, and punctuated by a soaring Egyptian obelisk in its center.
After a brief rest, we started uphill towards the edge of the Villa Borghese, whose tree-lined heights looked down upon the piazza. We stopped at the broad overlook above the piazza for a grand look at much of ancient downtown Rome, from the Quirinale Hill all the way to the dome of St. Peter's basilica in the Vatican. This was also our parting spot, for we were almost back at the entrance to our parking garage. We bid goodbye to Trudy, and wished her well for her upcoming cycle tour. (If by chance you'd like to read about Trudy's cycle adventure, she has put up a blog which you can read here
South from V. Borghese
Interactive Trackmap, Afternoon in Rome. Click map to view
It was about 3:30pm by the time we arrived back at our rental Lancia. This meant that we'd be arriving at my Aunt's house in Avellino around 6 or 7pm, a few hours earlier than we had originally intended. Unfortunately, the inability to get a SIM card for my phone meant that we'd be unable to phone ahead and inform everyone of our 'earlyness'. Hopefully they wouldn't mind too much!
South on Autostrada del Sole
The weather was good and the Autostrada del Sole (the 'Expressway of the Sun') was in perfect shape as we left Rome and cruised towards southern Italy. My Mom's hometown is not far from Naples, and was about a two and a half hour drive, assuming one drives at Italy's Autostrada speed limit of 130 km/hr.
The previous thirty-six hours of no sleep started to catch up with me during the drive, and I felt the need for a 30-minute sleep break at one of the highway's many convenience stops. It did a world of good - my droopy eyelid state went completely away after a twenty-minute nap.
With the autumn sun low on the horizon, we turned west, away from the A1 and onto a secondary Autostrada, heading inland towards a range of green, moderately-high mountains. These were the Partenio Mountains, part of the larger Appenine Mountain Range. They were also the mountains that overlooked my mother's family's home town of Avellino.
As we drove through the gathering dusk along the streets of Avellino, I could sense a bit of the culture strangeness my sister was experiencing at that moment. For myself, having travelled back here quite a few times over the last ten or fifteen years, it seemed reasonably familiar. But for her, after forty years of being away, the 'different-ness' of it, if I can use such a word, was probably more acute.
We pulled up to the iron fence surrounding my Aunt's house shortly thereafter, and with a bit of communicating via the 'citifono' (the intercom), we got her to open the main gates, and drove inside.
After several happy pleasantries and greetings, we ended up getting a bit of a grill over why we were "late". Apparently the entire family had prepared a big lunch, and we expecting us to arrive mid-afternoon. With a furrowed brow, I cast my mind back to the telephone conversation I had had with my aunt and mother two days' prior. I remember specifically stating that we would be going into Rome for the afternoon, and planned to eat dinner there, and that we would be arriving late evening. In fact, if it had not been for our unplanned early departure from Rome, we would have been here even later - no doubt throwing the entire household into a state of uproar. How our plans had not gotten clearly communicated, I'll never know. I must remember to double... nay, triple-verify that I've been understood the next time I communicate plans!
After things had settled down, Zia Rosetta (Zia = aunt in Italian) had some warmed up lunch leftovers ready for us to eat - very welcome after a long day of travelling. After that, it was down to the flat where my mother was staying, and where Elvira and I would be living during our stay. I'll explain more about this flat in the next day's narrative.