So we’re back in Italy after five days in London. Back home. It’s strange how a place where you can barely speak the language, where your clothes look out of place and they can spot you as a foreigner a mile away seems like home. But London felt like the foreign land and Italy like home. Rome sweet Rome.
Our Rome visit will actually be two mini-visits. For the next day we are shepherding our sons and their school friends until they fly home to return to school after a three week spring break. Then we are moving into the Trastevere section of Rome for three days at a friend’s apartment. But for last night and tonight our home is the Rome Airport Hilton Hotel.
The Hilton is an oddity, not quite American, not quite Italian, but we find ourselves coming back here often. The biggest draw is that it is almost in the airport itself, easily walkable by skybridge to the domestic terminal and until recently the international departure terminal. A few years ago, however, in response to tightened post-911 security, a new terminal was opened for flights to the United States. That terminal, which for some reason was called Terminal 5 when the existing terminals were A, B and C (they have since been renamed 1, 2 and 3), is not connected to the main cluster of buildings and while it is walkable from the hotel, it is not a short walk. It is always possible to scare up the hotel shuttle bus, however, so the convenience remains.
Besides the proximity, it’s a rather pleasant hotel. The rooms are not huge, but they’re not small and there is plenty of room to spread out your suitcase and repack for the journey home. The showers are excellent. After a trip across Italy staying in independent, family run hotels you forget how excellent a good shower is. There are always bottles of shampoo and conditioner, too, although the writing on them is too tiny to tell which is which, which sometimes leads to bad hair days.
Service at the Hilton is always excellent. The front desk staff is incredible. Multilingual and always pleasant, for them everything is possible. They don’t know how to say no, even though they are fluent in half a dozen languages. They must be trained in smiling, too, because they always look happy. I don’t know what they’re on, but I’d like some too.
Dinner at the Hilton is a bit of an odd affair. The food is a bit of a no man’s land. Something between Italy and America but not quite either. If you drew a line on a map between Rome and New York, the halfway point would be in the middle of the ocean. That’s Rome Hilton cuisine.
Our group last night went the bicontinental route. There were plates of caccio e pepe, the famous Roman pasta, amatriciana and a pizza (with American style pepperoni). On the other end of the spectrum there was a club sandwich on toasted white bread and a hamburger. I think they do the American dishes better than the Italian, but even the mediocre bucatini all’amatriciana, with its rich tomato sauce made me feel like I was back in Italy.
The restaurant has a pretty decent wine list, for the most part reasonably priced. I think the waiters like it when you know something about the wines.
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With all the goodwill that the Hilton has built up with us over the years, yesterday’s pool episode really stands out. One of the hotel’s amenities, in addition to an exercise room is its heated indoor pool, a feature we had never used before. So after our late afternoon arrival at Fiumicino the boys put on the bathing suits and headed to the pool while Suzy and I caught up on some work. A few minutes later they appeared at our door, having been refused entry by the overly officious pool attendant who was enforcing the “no unsupervised children under 18.” Tomorrow is the twins’ 18th birthday and we plan on spending all night teaching them the proper unsupervised pool etiquette so they will be responsible pool users, but it must have been apparent to Herr Lifeguard that they would not exercise the proper restraint.
So Suzy stopped her work and accompanied them back to the pool where they joined an aqua aerobics class in progress. When I was finished with my work a half hour later I went down to the pool to get the room key from Suzy, walking across the pool deck in, horror of horrors, my boat shoes. Before I was halfway across the deck a wildeyed man came charging around the corner, stabbing at the air with his finger and looking over me. I turned and came back to him but now his fury was directed at Suzy, who was sitting in a chaise in her civilian shoes. Veins bulging from his neck and arms flailing he ordered her to come (we think, that is what he said, but were too distracted by the spit that was flying from his foaming mouth) and proceeded to lecture both of us for several minutes about the importance of the rules, which were posted in three, count them – tre, places. Slippers, or rather “sleepers” must be worn for hygienic reasons but rather than issue us a couple of pairs, he simply threw us out of the pool area. No pool for you.
We slunk away with our son’s friend Chase, who got to watch two adults getting busted and headed to the reception desk, home of the perpetually smile, where we were given a couple pairs of sleepers and vented about being treated so poorly. But no problem, Chase was going to return to the pool in his sleepers and the other boys were already safe in the pool doing a bang up cardio workout.
Only a few minutes later the entire crowd showed up at our room. Chase, despite complying with the sleeper rule had violated another sacred cow – he had failed to sign in! Who knew that writing one’s name on a piece of paper was so instrumental to the safety and wellbeing of the hotel guests. But according to David Hasselus it was, you guessed it, grounds for expulsion. Even worse, though, was failure to sign in and failure to pay for the aquatics class, which the other three had perpetrated. No pool for them, too. Ever!
On the way out of the pool area, Chase, the sole felon wearing sleepers slipped on the floor and fell with such violence that the other sleeper flew off his foot and shot down the hallway. With an air of satisfaction Little Raincloud glared at Chase and seeing the one unshod foot told him that he would not have slipped if he had been wearing sleepers.
Italy is a nation of rule breakers. No one pays taxes, everyone speeds and most men have mistresses. Only in this little Twilight Zone a short shuttle ride to Terminal 5, caught somewhere between Italy and America, can you find the one man who not only reads and posts the rules, but enforces them.
Bill and Suzy