The longest walk

A good thing can’t last forever. We didn’t leave the house to see the sights until 4:30 p.m. yesterday. Good thing the sun doesn’t set until around 9:30 p.m.

To be fair, Aitza had been up since 8 a.m. doing laundry and going to the market for fruit and lovely cream-filled pastries.

Part of our late starts comes from my insomnia. I can’t seem to conk out before 4-5 a.m. I’m not sure why. Still jet lagged perhaps. The espresso is too strong. My allergies are raging. Our bed is a bit too lumpy. The road is a bit too noisy – police cars wee-wah-ing, drunk revelers yelling, and the strangest sounding seagulls gargling and blathering all night long.

Bike week in Rome

Bike week in Rome

Extra noisy these last two weeks. It’s Bike Week in Rome and the streets roar with Harleys day and night. Leather clad bikers from England, France and Germany pack the bars and restaurants. In Lido de Ostia, the seaside road looked like Daytona Beach in spring. A few days ago, at a Trastavere restaurant, four dudes in jean vests and Harley shirts sat down next to us. One had an Orlando Harley Davidson T-shirt. We got chatting and toasting. They’d been to Daytona Bike Week in ’92. Small world.

When I had finally woken up and eaten breakfast (around 1 p.m.), I decided to go for a jog through the city. At a quick clip, most of the major sights of Rome are quite close. I ran past the Piazza de Venezia, the Jewish Ghetto, and 100 other impressive unnameable monuments.

And some unimpressive. I ran down a stairway to the Tiber river promenade and was instantly punched in the face by the stench of trash and soiled clothes and human waste. The riverside is the realm of the homeless and drug addicts. I ran up the very next stairs. Rome is an obstacle course, winding back alleys and traffic clogged thoroughfares, undulating cobblestones and Vespas swerving around corners, stairs and stairs and stairs, and tourists ambling everywhere. I did about 4 miles, a rough estimate since it’s hard to track every little switchback.

Late afternoon, and the family finally ventured out for late lunch/early dinner. Aitza had located a restaurant with an extensive gluten-free menu and was beaming. Shade and Mayan ordered their standard: Quattro Frommagio Pizza. Aitza finally was able to enjoy bruschetta with mozzarella and anchovies, linguine Bolognese and torta  del mundo. And I stuffed my guts with fried vegetables, spinach in butter and cheese sauce, some cheese stuffed canollini, penne with sausage and cream sauce, scalloped pork with mushrooms, a liter of house red, and finally flan and café latte. Gorging like a senator! Aitza ordered a pizza Napoli to go. So we wouldn’t have to carry a pizza around Rome, I foolishly offered to take it back to the apartment, which was half a mile away. When I returned, Aitza said we only had a handful of change left after paying the bill, so I ran back to the apartment again, this time with Mayan, to get more cash. Lesson learned: never run on a stuffed stomach. For the rest of the night, I thought I was going to share my meal with the gutters of Rome.

Caffe Latte

Caffe Latte

Pizza Napoli

Pizza Napoli

That boy is eating too much pizza.

That boy is eating too much pizza.

IMG_2724 IMG_2711 IMG_2707

Aitza can finally "mange."

Aitza can finally “mange.”

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The restaurant with a gluten free menu.

The restaurant with a gluten free menu.

The fountain of the Ugly Boat at the bottom of the Spanish Steps

The fountain of the Ugly Boat at the bottom of the Spanish Steps

IMG_2757 IMG_2761Our only tourist attraction this day was the Spanish Steps, much to Shade’s chagrin. The steps were clogged with sitting tourists. I guess that’s what you do on the Spanish Steps. Sit. It is the widest staircase in Europe so there’s plenty of sitting space. In the Piazza di Spagna at the base of the steps is the beautiful Fontana della Barcaccia (which ironically means Fountain of the Ugly Boat) where visitors fill their water bottles from the fresh flow, or dunk their heads under if they’ve just walked half the city to get here. Mayan and I ran up the 135 steps to the Trinita dei Monti church at the top. As he turned the corner at the top of the stairs, Mayan starting jumping up and down, yelling and pointing. Laying against the Sallustiano obelisk that marks the entrance of the church were four exhausted American tourists: Edwin, Raizza, Brett and Roanna. They were finishing off a Duff beer. (Yes, the Simpson’s beer does exist. “Can’t get enough of that wonderful Duff.”)

IMG_2763My stair run had just begun. I went back to the base and helped Shade walk up to the Big Kids. Then I returned and carried the wheelchair up. Renaissance engineers didn’t give a hoot about wheelchair accessibility.

We sat on the stairs and watched the sinking sun until the bells of the church rang eight times. I had previously arranged to meet at 8 p.m. our Orlando friends, Todd and Melinda Howell and their kids, Braden and Jackson. Mayan and Braden are best buddies at Westbrooke Elementary.

“How far is it?” asked Aitza.

I looked on Google Maps on my phone. About one inch. “It won’t be more than a 5-10 minute walk.

I'm totally getting this suit.

I’m totally getting this suit.

Rolling up and down endless hills.

Rolling up and down endless hills.

Random Roman ruin

Random Roman ruin

IMG_2745Note: Google Maps is a big fat liar. Plus, I’m a bad map reader. We happened to be at one of the highest points in Rome, and our route took us down, then up, then down, then up some of the lowest and highest other points of Rome. Shade’s wheelchair handles have become our makeshift bag and water bottle hangers, adding a good 30 pounds of extra weight plus Shade’s 120 pounds, plus the wheelchair itself. Aitza pushed in the smoother parts, and I took the rough patches and steep hills. The exertion really took its toll. And poor Shade. I hadn’t thought of this, but Shade was getting shaken like a Bond-ordered martini for the entire ride. I’m surprised he didn’t detach a kidney.  45 minutes later, we reached Hotel Morgana, where the Howells were staying.

A big, tough, greasy steak

A big, tough, greasy steak

Salute

Salute

Dinner with the Howells

Dinner with the Howells

It’s exciting to see people you know 5,000 miles from where you know them. Not sure why. But seeing the Howells was like a family reunion. We camped out at the sidewalk tables of a restaurant just outside their hotel. (We’ve only eaten inside a restaurant once during the entire time in Rome.) My stomach still hadn’t settled, so all I could order was some fruit and gelato. And red, red wine. That works like Alka Seltzer for me. The boys ordered … take a guess … Quattro Frommagio Pizza. And Aitza had minestrone. A very light dinner after a very long walk. Todd, on the other hand, ordered a steak that was the size of the Roman Forum. But it was as tough as a Roman gladiator. Italy might do pasta right, but you can’t beat an American steak.

At about 11 p.m., we said our goodbyes and headed for the bus station around the corner. Shade was on the edge of exhaustion meltdown. Considering that he suffers from fatigue during a one hour workout, he’s had the fortitude of a Navy Seal on this trip. The bus station was two blocks away. We should be home in 15 minutes. Well, we should be, if the buses were running correctly. We waited a full hour for one to come. Meanwhile, at the bus station, Mayan was making friends with pretty French girls and explaining to backpackers which bus to get on. I think Mayan could adapt to Roman living quite easily.

We made it home after midnight, wiped out. Showers, bed. Stare at the ceiling until 5 a.m. I hate insomnia.

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