Thursday, June 19, 2008

Seeing Rome on two wheels and nine lives

DSC08359 Stitch <Sigh>  'really in a mood to write a bit on what's been happening at work the past month since the transfer and layoff was announced, but things are still up in the air.  Negotiations are ongoing regarding advice, settlements, and pensions, and it needs to conclude without my two cents here.  I have opinions, though.

So, for now, continuing in Rome...

Today we decided to take the day for historic Rome according to the Michelin guide.

I usually prefer Frommers, but their book has become too large to carry and consult.  My friends prefer Lonely Planet, but I've become skeptical since reading Thomas Kohnstamm’s "Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?", detailing the ways that he cut corners in compiling advice.  Even though his experiences are probably universal, the fact that they happened at a particular company is warning I can't ignore.

This is my first time trying the green book: it seems to have better reviews of architecture and history, but it's very difficult to find things inside of it.  Places are arranged by neighborhood, which is almost impossible to use quickly when you don't know (and can't spell) where things are.  The "One day" tour also covers a lot of ground: it became clear when we started at 8:30 and had only hit the Coliseum and the Palatine Hill by noon that we needed to find an alternative to walking between venues (NOT cutting time from seeing the venues themselves...).

The guide made the suggestion that scooter rentals are easy and cheap and, indeed, they are.  30 euro for a full day, 18 year minimum age.

"Do you know how to ride, sir? That's fine, here are the keys!" 

"By the way, our scooters are out, so we'll upgrade you to a full 125 cc bike for only 40 euros total.  Be back by seven and wear a helmet please."

So it was, with my son at the controls and me on the back, that we launched into Rome's traffic on a shiny black Dink 125.  Pretty basic transportation, but also pretty powerful for our level of experience.  It's fully capable of getting up to 80 km/hr without much effort, and I found myself perched up above most of the compact cars pressing in around us.

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Still, it was a fun day, and a totally unique experience in Rome.

Early on, we found that traffic in Rome moves briskly, ignores lane markers, and, indeed, ignores most traffic signage (including stop signs, stop lights, do-not-enter signs, and bus/taxi lane markers).  Not that things are that well marked to begin with: routes to major sights are poorly marked, bus lanes spring out of nowhere, and roads plunge into tunnels and traffic circles without guidance or warning.  The carabiniere simply wait on the sidelines, everywhere, to clean up if something happens.

In this circumstance, I was actually glad that William was driving.  I said the other night that young people have confidence in themselves, and it gave him just enough edge that he could sort out situations and (generally) handle them properly, where I would have analyzed and hesitated (and crashed).  I could apply my confidence to navigation and map-reading (and girl-watching).


We also found that the added speed did not simply get us from place to place faster: it actually got us lost over wider areas.  Arno Penzias made the same observation once about faster computers.  I would look at the map and say, okay, if we are at the Spanish Steps and want to get to the Trevi Fountain, it's easy: down a block, right, forward two blocks, left, and one kilometer ahead to the square.  The problem was that Rome is filled with one-way streets, so the end of the block would have a blue arrow pointing left, then we would follow the flow for a half kilometer searching in vain for a street right without a do-not-enter.  Then, finding one, we would end up an a series of one-way handoffs and lane splits until I was so turned around that we had to pull over and start again.

At least parking was a snap: there are blue-line areas for bikes to park everywhere, and nobody seemed to want money.

So, we really covered everything we wanted to see, had a lot of serendipitous drops into neighborhoods that we wouldn't have entered otherwise, kept the carbon footprint low, and survived to toast the tale at the end of the day.  



AB said...

Sounds like a great way to see Rome! You guys are braver than I am though -

Textual Healer said...

Bet your son had a big smile on his face all day. Maybe the race track in Germany will seem less appealling having don eth interactive driving from hell.

Dave Hampton said...

AB, I don't think I'm that brave again. It was great fun, but a bit shivery in retrospect. 40 Euro a day, though, can't be beat.

TH, he did: it was a great experience (especially since Mom won't see these pictures :) ). He's still hingering for the racetrack though: I might have to just get him a sticker next time I'm near Koln.