I decided to start a little “story telling” blog about our first experience in Europe, which was Italy. What brought this on?Throughout the years I have had family, friends and acquaintances ask about our travels to Europe. I find several are very hesitant to go even though they really want to experience Europe. I’m hoping some of our early travels help people realize travel is not perfect all the time, as you will read with this first blog in my series “Our First European Experience”. So I hope you enjoy each installment and for the ones who have hesitated on going… we survived!
Let’s get to Italy…
Our travels in Europe began back in 1996 when we made a decision to take our kids and niece to Italy. It was our first time too, so it was a little scary. But we were feeling confident as the departure date soon became a reality. We planned everything out; flights, rental car, stops and hotels. All systems go…
The itinerary had us flying into Rome and renting a van. Getting off the plane we felt pretty good that we were understanding all the directional signs. The signs led us directly to the rental car office. All good right? Not so much. As we entered the garage to pick up our van, for 6 people, we stopped short to see what was arranged. Unfortunately, the van was a mini van. Now if you drive a mini van you know unless you lay seats down there is no extra room for luggage. Did I mention we each had two suitcases for the 14 day trip? Of course, there were no other vehicles available. So we did what we had to do, sit on pieces of luggage and also have them in our laps.
Are we there yet?
We are now off and even though we missed the entrance to the autostrade we ended up on a road that followed right alongside the highway all the way to Rome. Our hotel was Hotel Columbus which is just a few steps from the Vatican. Feeling very fortunate that it is located next to the Vatican so that we could easily view on a map, we headed into the city. For you young people who have never used a map, you don’t know how lucky you are that you have GPS now! Maps do not necessarily show you one way streets.
It took us three hours of driving to get to our hotel. We actually saw the entire city and all the monuments we planned on going to; the Pantheon, Coluseum, Spanish Steps, Altare della Patria, you name it we drove by them. In fact we drove down a oneway street twice going the wrong way. The Rome police shook their heads and just laughed at us the 2nd time around.
Finally the hotel!
Finally, we make it to the side road outside our hotel. At the Hotel Columbus you pull into a tunnel like area to get to the back parking area. It was a little narrow and before my husband was willing to move off this oneway side road he asked me to go to the hotel desk and make sure we were at the right place and if this is where we were to park. Off I go, the front desk was so kind and helpful. Yes we were in the right place and the bellboys will help with luggage and the car. So back outside I am waving for Kevin to turn and pull into the tunnel. He is shaking his head no. I look at the bellboy, he is motioning for Kevin to drive forward. Kevin is still shaking his head no. Car’s are now beeping at him to move. No movement. The bellboy and I approach the mini van, just to see through the car window Kevin holding something in his hand. It looks like the entire gear shift!
What happens next I do not take full responsibility. I mean okay I should of brushed up on my Italian a little more. Being the one they designate to steer the van as the bellboys (2), the hotel manager, my two sons and my husband push the vehicle through the tunnel. I might of not fully understood when they were telling me right or left. So under the tunnel before entering the back parking area, the van might of scrapped down the whole right side. To point out, notice the rental car company is not being mentioned by name. Anyways there has to be a statue of limitations right?
What do we do now?
We pretty much felt like the Griswolds by now. I have to say the hotel was wonderful, helping us with the AAA of Italy and arranging another van for us to rent. So we checked in and headed right back out to the other airport in Rome, Ciampino Airport. Not feeling comfortable leaving the kids, we took two taxi’s. Good news; we received a huge van that would fit everything. Smart idea my husband had; a few of us ride in the taxi which he can follow so it doesn’t take us 3 hours again. Bad news; Kevin had to drive this van in Rome! In his words “you couldn’t drive a needle up my a_ _ with a jackhammer”.
Did I mention?
That Pope John Paul II was going to be making an appearance outside that very next day on Sunday. So after a long Saturday we had a wonderful dinner and hit the sack. The next thing I knew my phone was ringing, it was my Mother. She was asking me how exciting it was to see the Pope. I told her she had the times mixed up, we had not even gone yet. She continue to inform me she just watched on the television! I pulled back the heavy block out all light possible curtains to see the street filled with people going in the opposite direction of the Vatican! Here we have a prime example of jet lag!
Rome had our hearts
Regardless, of everything that happened, we all throughly enjoyed Rome! Richard, Westley, Alyssa and our niece Tori loved every moment. They were in awe of all the artifacts and sights that were able to see, touch and experience. Gelato was the biggest hit with Richard, especially since there was a Gelato shop right next to the hotel.
PS: We found out 18 months later on our 2nd trip and staying again at Hotel Columbus that the broken down van stayed parked for over 3 months in their parking lot. The tow truck couldn’t get their truck through the tunnel! It’s safe to say I believe the Hotel Columbus knows are last name 🙂
Next installment will be on the road to Assisi!