Saturday, June 04, 2005

Singapore to Rome and Beyond

After another excellent flight with Singapore Airlines I arrived in Rome on time. It was an experience to fly first class for the first time after the unexpected upgrade. The huge spacious seat could be completely transformed into a very comfortable flat bed. I could right stretch out and, as a result, managed eight hours sleep on the fourteen it took to reach Rome from Singapore. The entertainment system (and this also applies to economy class) must be one the most advanced in the airline industry. We had a selection of 60 movies on demand, 101 TV programs, 220 CD albums including audio books, 12 music channels and 56 interactive games. I may never have the opportunity to do this again but from now on will certainly save my frequent flyer points for economy to business upgrades rather than for free flights.
Immigration at Fiumicino was a bit of a joke. The guy looked at the front cover of my passport and then stamped a random page. Then I settled down for the five-hour wait for my travel partner to turn up. She was on time too and we decided to grab a bite at the airport before heading for the train station. This was the first chance to try out my Italian which I had been studying hard for at least 3 days before departure. “Uno panino, per favore” produced one bottle of Pepsi. So it was back to the drawing board!
We caught two connecting trains, including a very nice fast intercity, without any problems, to Terni. This is the second biggest town in Umbria and is very industrialized. It has a huge steel mill and a munitions factory. As a result it was flattened during WW2 but they have rebuilt and a lot of the Roman and medieval relics have been fully restored. It is not a place to stay in for any length of time but is a great jumping off point in Umbria if you don’t want to run the gauntlet of Rome traffic on arrival in Italy. For trivia buffs, the gun that killed John Kennedy was made here.
The hotel was conveniently right across from the station and very comfortable and great for a jet lagged couple. Despite the latter, we ventured out on the town for dinner and there discovered the basics of an Italian menu.
Appetizers (antipasto) of cured meats, olives, pickled vegetables or bruschetta are followed by pasta or soups (primi) followed by meat or fish (secondi). Vegetables are ordered separately with the latter. Then there is cheese (formaggio), fruit (frutta) and dessert (dolce). There is no way you can do the lot and feel comfortable after. We tried…..once! One or two courses plus a dessert was usually enough.
Next morning after breakfast we caught a cab to our car rental office.
The place was locked and had been obviously deserted for some time. The taxi driver was great. He spoke no English but took my rental documents, got on his mobile phone and made a few calls. The office had changed location and the local Australian Eurocar agent had failed to tell us. We eventually arrived at the new office to pick up a very nice four door manual diesel Alpha Romeo. So much for my learning “fill her up with unleaded, please “
With map in hand (eventually facing the right way up) and a woman navigating we headed up the A45 and S316 towards Gualdo Catteneo.
Italians turned out to be some of the nicest, friendliest and helpful people that I have encountered in my travels. However, on the road, there is a total metamorphous and they all turn into the devil incarnate. The speed limit on any road is there to be ignored. You learn to drive a minimum of 20km/hr over. If you don’t, you get tail gated within centimeters. In true Australian fashion I slowed even more when this happened. I know they must have appreciated this by the friendly shake of a fist they gave me as they roared passed after waiting for a suicidal blind corner to make this maneuver. Another rule seemed to be not to slow down for any corners. Just cut across it into the lane of oncoming traffic and swerve back at the last moment. Passing on hill crests and pulling out from side roads without looking also seemed standard. Stop signs are advisory and pedestrian crossings are Russian roulette. This applied to push bikes, scooters, motorcycles, three wheeled trucky things, cars, trucks, busses and semis. A change of underwear in the glove box is essential for comfortable driving in Italy.

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