Ok, an Italian, an American, and a Frenchman are all on a flight to Rome.  You've heard this one before, eh?  Well, no kidding, I lived this story, except my version doesn't end up with 2/3 of us disembarking at 30,000 feet to save a malfunctioning plane. 

            I managed to squeeze out of work early on Friday to head off to Rome with Vincenzo and Yannick for the weekend.  This was my first trip to Italy, and my idea was to acquire a small taste of Italy so that I could get a feel of how much more time I should spend there on a future trip.  I've wanted to hit Italy with Vincenzo for some time now, but our schedules kept colliding like a couple of Amtrak trains.  Vincenzo has had a great deal of experience in Rome, and he is a natural tour guide.  In fact, after two cups of espresso, he's the most unrelenting tour guide you've ever met, but I'll get to that later.  We arrived at Campino Airport, which happens to be the home of the world's first helicopter flight in 1930.  Fortunately the temperature in Rome was near t-shirt weather warm and not ball-freezing cold like it was back in Belgium.  After renting a car, we stopped for our first cup of espresso, which turned out to be far from our last one.  Actually, come to think of it, it seems like during the whole trip Vincenzo made sure we stopped and got coffee about every 10 km. 

Typical scenario: Me: "Hey, Vincenzo, where are we going to next?" 

Vincenzo: "Uh, we're going to <insert famous site here>, but first we stop for a café." 

            So, after getting buzzed up on coffee, we dropped off our bags at the house of Vincenzo's friend, and then went off to eat dinner at said friend's restaurant.  This marked the first time I've ever downed "real" hand-made Italian food, and I can't lie, it was fantastic.  Since Vincenzo knew the owners of the restaurant, we got about 120 € worth of pasta and wine for 60 €, which quickly helped turn the trip into "How to see Rome the Cheap Way."  Following dinner, we downed some more coffee, and started getting a whirlwind tour of Rome.  We kicked off this expedition around 0000 hrs, which happened to be a time when traffic in the city was low.  I guess it's time now for me to get into the most shocking part of Rome: Roman drivers.  From the minute we started on the road until the final minutes leading up to dropping off the car at the air pork (as my buddy Mark's son calls it), I felt like I was living in that David Carradine film from the '70s, Death Race 2000

            Before I continue, let me say that the following should information should not be taken jokingly, even though it might seem funny, as the events I describe our 100% truthful.  Roman drivers are insane.  They drive at high speeds through narrow streets within an inch of each other.  If you have a two lane road with a little room between cars on either side, somebody will try and make a third lane.  If a driver on the freeway switches on a turn signal with someone behind him in the other lane, that's considered a dare and the other driver will do everything in his or her power to stop this "lane-changing atrocity" from happening.  For the "I-SHIT-YOU-NOT" line of the week: Red lights are looked upon as mere a suggestion.  To make sure that I did not lose my wits, I just started pretending that I was on a ride at Six Flags and that all the sudden stops, starts, horn honking, and cutoffs were all just part of a thrill ride meant to engage the senses but never endanger me.  It was comfortably numb thinking like this that keep me from ripping off the "Oh Shit" bar that I'm so fond of holding when I'm riding shotgun.  Here is my warning to the world: unless you are suicidal, a demolition derby race car driver, or Italian, DO NOT DRIVE IN ROME. 

            So, back to the story, we ended up hitting over a dozen landmarks on the first evening in the wee hours of the morning.  By 0400 hrs, just about anything looked like a landmark to my weary eyes, so I'm not 100% sure of everything that we saw.  Of particular note, though, is of one special landmark that Vincenzo claims that most Romans do not even know about.  At this place called the "Malta", you can look through a keyhole on a large doorway and you'll get a straight-shot view through a row of bushes and be able to see the Vatican exactly 10 km away.  During the evening's excursion, we also made a stop at a bar/restaurant that is famous for having a wishing well in their unisex restroom.  I never imagined that I would come to Rome to see a toilet as a major attraction, but there we were doing it.  The only thing remarkable that I remember about this particular place was that the proprietor looked like Kris Kristofferson's character from the Blade films.   The last noteworthy thing I noticed on Friday was a store in the city whose logo bore a strong similarity to the Old Navy stores back in the states, but it was called "Original Marine" instead.  Hmmm.  I'm not a big Old Navy shopper or anything, I just think it's always funny to tell people how when the stores started coming to Texas that my dad went there thinking that it was a nice Army/Navy store.  I remember him coming back home saying how the name of the story was almost flagrant false advertising. 

            Since we were out so late on Friday night, we woke up way late on Saturday and missed getting in to see the Sistine Chapel.  FYI #1- the Sistine Chapel is only open on Saturdays and the last Sunday of each month from 0845 - 1220 hrs.  Missing out on this huge part of Roman history was just as unsettling as the effects of Mongolian food at 3 o'clock in the morning, but we made the best of the situation by going to Saint Peter's Cathedral.  A few months ago, I made a comment about Prague hosting the Indy 500 of churches.  Well, I guess in my limited super-church going experience I was quite hasty in making such a judgment, as Saint-Peter's Cathedral is THE CHURCH.  It just does not get any more opulent, more extravagant, or more larger than life than at Saint-Peter's house of worship. 

            After visiting the church and downing some lunch (plus coffee), we made it over to the Coliseum.  The Coliseum is probably my favorite site in Rome thus far, and the history behind it is undoubtedly fascinating.  Now, here's a little back story that is appropriate for this occasion.  From his first day at work, I've always thought that Yannick bears any uncanny resemblance to Joaquin Phoenix.  Therefore, I wasted no time in getting him to pose with his thumb down overlooking the Coliseum in homage to Gladiator.  FYI #2 - for everyone that cared not to watch the documentary featurette on the Gladiator DVD (thanks Steff), thumbs down back during the Roman times actually meant that a fighter would live as opposed to being killed like we associate the gesture with now. 

            Following the Coliseum, Yannick surprised me with a clever impromptu joke of the day.  We headed over to another monument that was closed (don't ask me which one, because it was closed), but you could look through a keyhole and see inside the area.  Yannick quickly ran up to the keyhole and looked inside, and then excitedly urged Vincenzo and myself to look in the hole as well.  When we finally looked through the hole, all we could see was a little red Ford Fiesta that Yannick quickly claimed was exactly 10 km away.  Funny guy.

            Saturday evening was spent with the ex-girlfriend of Vincenzo, whom he conveniently picked up at a mobile phone store while we were visiting a fountain in the city.  Analisa proved to be the hottest and friendliest woman we saw in Rome, and it's mind-boggling to think that Vincenzo broke up with her.  We all ate at what I would describe as an Italian roadhouse, but the name of this establishment has slipped my mind as of this writing.  No special stories here, except that once again, Italian food in Italy is certainly worth writing home about. 

            Sunday was fairly uneventful, as we headed to the largest outlet mall in the area that vaguely reminded me of any outlet mall in America, except the names that adorned these stores were the likes of Dolce & Gabbana and Versace, to name a few.  Like an American outlet mall though, they did have a Levi's store there, and I certainly made sure to look at how much a pair of 501s costs over there; try 53 € or about $72 with the current exchange rate.  I bet the Levi company would fold up if they charged that much back in the states.  After perusing some suits and shirts that even the real King of Belgium could barely afford, we left the mall and went to an ice cream shop on the waterfront.  On the way, I noticed a huge ancient Egyptian obelisk in the city with a crucifixion cross on top.  The amateur theologian in me makes me think that this structure probably was not originally built with a cross on top.  Nevertheless, while Rome is home to the worst drivers in the world, it is also home to what is (hands-down) the best ice cream that I've ever had.  Their ice cream has so much texture and is so creamy that it almost makes your teeth hurt with its sweetness.  Do yourselves a favor when you go to Rome and definitely sample their gelato.

            I can't believe I've written this much about a trip that only lasted three days and two nights, but I had a heck of a great time in this city.  To quote Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rome, "I'll be back." 


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