Day 2 & 3–Finalmente! ROMA! ASCOLI PICENO!

So I finally arrived in Rome.  It was 10:30 p.m. and I was wiped out.  Needless to say, I was a vegetable by the time I got to the Eternal City.  Waiting at the carousel for my luggage, I breathed a sigh of relief that I would soon be in my hotel room sawing enough logs to build a suburban subdivision.

So I waited patiently for my luggage and the large carton (containing my surprise for my uncle).  Eventually the luggage appeared.  But no carton.  I waited.  I waited.  After an hour, I refused to believe the carousel had evacuated everything.  I sat there with another stubborn, clueless person before I finally acquiesced and went to the customer service window.

When my turn came, I described the parcel missing.  The gentleman working next to the lady helping me suggested we look in “storage”.  This meant walking clear across the carousel area on the stumps that had replaced my feet.  The lady opened the storage area and, lo and behold, there was my carton.  Why?  Apparently, as Dutch-KLM was unloading all of us, the workers were so efficient emptying the bowels of plane that my carton made it before I did.  Not wanting to place a sinister box alone (with hundreds of other sinister pieces of luggage, mind you), they opted to store everything and then proceed to forget about it.

By this time, I was so freaking exhausted I just wanted my hotel room.  It was now after midnight.  I walked to the station for “Termini” the main train terminal, which would take me into central Rome, right near my hotel–hence my reason for choosing that particular hotel.

Termini was closed.  It would open again at 6:00 a.m.  I had walked perhaps one thousand feet through one of the largest airports on earth carrying an overstuffed briefcase (so I could pretend to be a writer while drinking espresso in Italian cafes), an enormous suitcase full of Christmas gifts and a 3′ by 2′ carton.  I was sweating, despite the fact that it was thirty degrees.  I was mouthing a few vulgar words which are diametrically opposed to the Christian faith I profess to espouse all the while believing God understands.

I had no idea what to do.  The airport was virtually empty.  Eventually, I went to the bottom floor and walked outside where I found some taxis.  A man offered me a taxi, I told him my destination and asked for a price.  He quoted 62 euros.  I didn’t care.  I would have paid one hundred euros just to get to my bed.  My head hit the pillow at 1:30 a.m. Italy time, after a total of one hour of sleep in thirty-two hours.

The next morning I reveled in a hot shower, clean clothes and a continental breakfast like only Europeans can provide–eggs, various juices, hams, cheeses, cereals, breads, pastries, yogurt, coffee, tea–all gratis.

After inhaling my breakfast, I rushed out the door to find the bus station.  I knew it was near Termini, which was another reason I had chosen this particular hotel.  Yet, despite all my prior visits to Rome, I could not seem to find the station.

It was getting late and I needed to check out of my hotel.  I asked the concierge where the bus station was for Marche, the region where Ascoli Piceno is located.  Naturally, it was five blocks in the opposite direction in which I searched.

I ran up to my room, packed everything and left the hotel.  Now, carrying so many parcels is difficult in an airport.  It’s next to impossible in Rome, on ancient streets, many of which haven’t been repaired since the days of Caesar Augustus.  It made for an animated appearance for this American as I tried to maneuver everything over broken sidewalks, cobblestones and voluminous dog poop.

It’s difficult to pretend you’re one of the locals when you’re trying to keep your coat from dragging in the sludge and losing control of the enormous suitcase you’re pulling.  It’s impossible to walk with aplomb the way the Italians do when you’re burdened with a thirty-five pound satchel, sweat dripping from your brow.

Every time I visit Italy, I always want to blend in.  After all, I’m Italian.  It’s in my blood, right? Well, I keep forgetting that I’m HALF Italian, therefore the persona that expresses itself is my eastern European part.  Or perhaps it’s the Salem, Oregon persona?  No matter, I’ve come to believe that only Italians have the Italian aplomb.  But that didn’t stop me from trying.  And my attempts were amplified even more feebly at the bus terminal for Marche.

I guess it started when I attempted to open the door to the office and the door refused to budge.  I hadn’t noticed the buzzer to push.  The office was full of passengers waiting for their departure.  I went to the window requesting one ticket to Ascoli Piceno.  I offered my card and she handed me a receipt.  I took the receipt when she grabbed me and pointed out that my card had been declined!  No reason.  Sometimes this happens in Europe; I had been using my card easily before this.  So I paid with cash.

Walking away from the window, I reached for my phone and my paperwork.  I’m always conscious of my flight itinerary, passport and mobile phone.  Fumbling around with everything, I managed to push a button on my iPhone unleashing ABBA.  Feverishly, I fought to turn off the warbling harmonies as the Italians broke out laughing.  I then opted to go outside and walk around since the bus wasn’t leaving for three hours.

I walked to the door and it refused to budge.  I continued to push when I saw a sign.  As I attempted to decipher the sign, a woman came up and pushed a button.  Gratefully, I thanked her and pushed the door.  Again.  And again.  Then I figured it out and pulled amidst much snickering from the Italians I was trying to emulate.

Now I’m in an outdoor cafe in the Piazza del Popolo in Ascoli Piceno.  Vendors are everywhere, hawking everything imaginable–all made in China, mind you.

I’m looking straight ahead at a seven hundred year old church; the bells are ringing. Christmas lights are strung over the piazza, the streets and alleys.  People are greeting one another enthusiastically.  The sun is blazing, but it’s cold here in the shade.  I’ve just finished a wonderful meal of lasagna and olive di Ascolana in a favorite restaurant here in the piazza.  I’ve spent most of my time this afternoon writing because, DAMN IT, I’m going to prove I’m a writer!  I might not pass myself off as an Italian, but I can feign being a writer!

I’m going to live the romanticized version of a writer.  I’m going to sit in Italian cafes, drinking espresso until I’m completely narcoleptic.  I’m going to eat pastries until I’m completely diabetic.  But I’m gonna write.  And if anyone engages in conversation, I will tell them about my book that centers on my Ascoli heritage.  I will tell them I’m an autore.

Day 1–Amsterdam, the Netherlands

As I promised, I am attempting to write a day-by-day synopsis of this European trip that will take me to my extended birth family’s home in Ascoli Piceno, Italy.

Today I’m in Amsterdam.  I left Thursday, December 19 around 1:35 p.m. and arrived around 8:40 a.m. on December 20.  It wasn’t until just a day or so ago that I realized the itinerary I had chosen.  Like a fool, I waited way too long to purchase my tickets–in this case, October of this year.  As a result, I’m now sitting in a Starbucks at Schiphol Airport awaiting a flight that leaves at 8:40 p.m. a full TWELVE hours after my arrival.

Fortunately, though, I’m in one of Europe’s most exciting cities.  I took the metro into central Amsterdam and started walking.  The sun was out but was obscured quite a bit by the buildings.  Nevertheless, every so often it would shine brilliantly between the buildings and accent the unique architecture of this canal city built beneath sea level.

As is my style, I just walked.  I generally don’t like agendas because they hold me back and the most exciting things tend to happen when you just wing it.  This time around, that did not happen.  That’s probably because I only had a few hours, my legs were killing me and I’m still suffering some discomfort from my recent surgery.  Next time, though, I’m sure I’ll run into royalty.

The canals give this city an identity all its own.  Houseboats line the canals and tour boats ferry tourists around the city to the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum and the Amsterdam Museum.  They also provide a certain flair as a unique form of transportation.

Anyway, the city is truly interesting.  The Dutch are very environmentally conscious, more so than Oregonians, from what I can see.  Bicycles outnumber cars.  Everywhere are literally hundreds of bikes parked.  Near the metro station, there were THOUSANDS of bikes.  I was flabbergasted.

I was also impressed with the cleanliness of this city.  There’s graffiti to be sure, but it’s relegated mostly to freeway overpasses.  I saw no litter, no homelessness and no begging.  The Netherlands, as much of Europe, has a very generous social safety net and an affluent, educated and progressive population.  Every time I visit a place, I always wonder what it would be like to live there for a year to get a dose of every day reality.  Something tells me that Dutch culture is like this every day.  After all, it’s not like they opted to put on their best face because I was coming.

I walked by the Anne Frank House but didn’t stop in.  I’ve visited Amsterdam before so I’ve seen the museum.  Same for the Van Gogh Museum and the Rembrandt Huis.  Also had an opportunity several years ago to attend a concert at the Concertgebouw, one of the most acoustically perfect music venues in the world.

Now I’m back in the airport dying to get to Italy.  Twelve hours of waiting are eleven and a half hours too many for someone as impatient as I am.  How many times can I carouse the shopping mall and look at chocolates?  Oh well, I will be in Italy soon.