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Ah, Rome! I’ve traveled enough that I’m not usually impressed by a new country or a new city, but dammit, this is Rome. The city of Ben-Hur, Spartacus, Julius Caesar, and even Russell Crowe as the Gladiator. I know a lot of Roman history, and I’m about to see some of it with my very own eyes. However, before I can bathe my very essence in all things Roman, I have to get from the airport to the city. The train seems to be fifteen euro and a bus is a lot less, but I can’t figure out which bus goes where. A taxi is about fifty euro, and while I’m trying to discuss with Louise what we should do, we’re approached by a nice-looking Italian gentlemen who asks if we need to get into Rome. He informs us he has a private car and will drive us in for fifteen euros each, the same price as the train. Well, it turns out it won’t be just us in the car; he grabs two other couples, and now he’s got a trip to Rome that’s going to pay him ninety euros. Better than driving a taxi. Private enterprise is alive and well. Eventually we are dropped off somewhere in downtown Rome at the apartment Louise has rented for the next few days. Its down a very narrow side street, and the woman who owns it meets us at the door. We’re on the third floor, and there is no elevator. Louise admonishes me that it’s “only” three floors. I’m not happy—I have some severe breathing problems, and stairs can be a real challenge. That’s okay, though; I’ve been working out, and I can handle three little flights. Except it’s not three little flights. It’s fifteen steps to a landing, then turn left and head up fifteen more steps to the next floor. When I finally reach the third floor, there’s no sign of Louise or the woman. I hear them up the next flight. Wait a minute, you said three floors. I had forgotten that, in Europe, the ground floor is not the first floor; the first floor is actually the second floor. This means that our apartment is on the fourth floor, not the third. I am now even less happy, but I grab my suitcase and soldier on. Reaching our apartment, I collapse on the couch until my lungs catch up with me; they’re still back on the second floor. After we clean up a bit we decide to venture out and explore our immediate surroundings. We head up the narrow little street, and in a tiny little square there’s a small restaurant with outside tables just like in the movies. We order a couple of beers and a plate of antipasto. Maybe its my imagination, but this antipasto tastes like nothing I’ve had in America. Louise and I are almost fighting over it, and it disappears in short order. The cheese is fresh, the meats more flavorful, and the olive oil . . . nettare degli dei (nectar of the gods)! I’m not in Italy very long before I become convinced that I can speak Italian. What really happens is that I become relatively fluent in speaking fake Italian, though even the locals tell me I have a very good local accent. I will use this newfound ability throughout the trip to completely annoy Louise. I should point out that years ago, Louise lived in Italy with her Italian boyfriend and became fluent in the language. Today she understands pretty much everything, but has lost the vocabulary and can’t really carry on a conversation. She asks me how I can expect her to remember when it was more than forty years ago. I consider pointing out that she has been insisting for as long as I’ve known her that she’s only twenty-nine and I have finally caught her in an inconsistency, but I wisely decide to let it go. After a bit of aimless wandering, we discover the Palazzo Venezia about one hundred yards from our apartment. The picture at the top is the Palazzo. As you can see, there are more steps . . . a lot more steps. Its also eighty-four degrees and quite humid, but this is no barrier to the intrepid Louise, who begins her march up the stairs as if she’s General Patton on her way to take Berlin. I follow a little more sedately—and by that I mean I take fifteen steps and grab my inhaler. Fifteen more steps and grab my inhaler. By the time I get partway up, Louise is on her way back down. She glowingly describes the view from the top of the building and tells me she could see from the Coliseum to the Vatican. I ask her if she took any pictures, because that’s the only way I’m ever going to see it. All I get in response is that “Louise” look that I’ve written about before. I don’t like that look. I soon find myself joyfully back on street level and in need of refreshment. Across the Palazzo I spy a small restaurant with a lot of outdoor seating. In front of the restaurant the local polizia and carabinieri are casually hanging out and smoking cigarettes. In America, if the cops are hanging outside a restaurant it’s usually a sign that the food is pretty good, so I’m happy with my choice—until I realize that the police station is on the first floor right above the restaurant and these guys are all between shifts. No matter, the gelato is cold and I need to rest my bum for a while. If you want to have some real fun, grab a curbside table at a restaurant in Rome and spend some time just watching the people going by. It’s almost as good as sitting at home and watching the Discovery Channel. Tomorrow we’re headed to the Vatican, so I know it’s going to be a long day. We head back to our apartment, and all I can think about is how many more steps it will take to get up the four floors so I can go to bed. If Paris is the City of Lights, then Rome should be the City of Steps.


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