Some Laundry, the Vatican, a Crack on the Head, and an Emergency Room: Our First Day in Rome
May 18, 2019
Note: I have finally figured out how to place photos in my blogs so that you can click on them to see bigger versions. Enjoy.
Compared to the wonderful accommodations in Siena, our hotel in Rome was a disappointment. Spacious but unwelcoming, it was also peculiar.
We were given a large room on the top (4th) floor with two queen-sized beds facing one another, one of which would have folded itself into a couch once upon a time but could no longer do so. All it did was take up space, so we used it as a very large luggage stand. It was impossible to direct the shower head in any way that did not splash water all over the floor, so we reluctantly deployed towel after towel just to mop up water. The back stairwell was used as a storage area for garbage and for Christmas decorations. And as icing to the cake, most of the front-desk staff were distracted, brusque or rude.
On the positive side, the large windows in our room opened onto the back of the hotel, where there was a pond stocked with turtles and goldfish that swam towards me when I approached, thinking I had food. There were a lot of cats. And there were tennis courts, but since it was raining most of the time we were there, and since I can’t play tennis, we didn’t make use of those.
After checking in on Friday afternoon (May 17), we tracked down a place to get our laundry done. This was not as straightforward as it sounds. If you want a laundromat in Italy, you need to ask for a lavanderia a gettoni (laundry with tokens) not just a lavenderia (laundry). Although we were looking for the former, we kept asking for the latter, and we kept being directed to the latter. It turned out there weren’t any of the former in our part of town anyway, so we settled for the latter. To add to the challenge, the closest lavenderia would close at noon on Saturday and not re-open until Monday. We’d need to be back before noon the next day to collect our stuff or we’d be out of luck (aka clothing). So the next morning after breakfast, we took the car to collect the laundry, returned to deposit it and the car at the hotel, and then set out on public transit to get to the Vatican Museums by noon: which was the start of the two hour time-slot printed on the admission tickets I had purchased before we’d left Toronto. We made it, but just barely.
There is no point in my trying to describe the Vatican Museums to you. If you’ve seen them, you know. If you haven’t, you can quite easily spend an hour or so reading about them online. The vast structure contains not only collections of “art, archaeology and ethno-anthropology” assembled by various popes since the beginning of papal time (26 museums in total), but entire rooms and suites that a few popes occupied during their tenures. It is impossible to absorb even a small portion of what is on display. In total there are more than 70, 000 exhibits in an area covering about 162,000 square meters, or 1,744,000 square feet. (There are also villas and gardens. We didn’t even contemplate checking those out.) The works contained within the Museums include sculptures, paintings, historical artifacts, religious art, papal thrones, sarcophagi, tablets, chapels, maps, stairways, and a lot of highly decorated ceilings.
It all culminates of course, with the most amazing ceiling of all: the one in the Sistine Chapel. There, Arnie surreptitiously took photos of Michelangelo frescoes as we stood pressed against hundreds of other people from all around the world, all looking up, most of us with our mouths open in astonishment.
After lunch in the Museums’ cafeteria, we walked over to St. Peter’s Square – mainly because I had purchased a couple of postcards that I was determined to mail from the Vatican Post Office to my kids back in Canada. My younger son had sent postcards to me from that location on two occasions in years past, and I owed him one.
The Square was not located just around the corner as a security person just outside the Museums exit had assured us that it was, and once we got there we realized that the square, like everything else in the vicinity, was massive. Having worn out our feet entirely inside the Museums, by the time we’d finished touring St. Peter’s Square and mailing my postcards, we were ready to go back to the hotel and soak our feet in the goldfish pond. Or at least in the pools of water on the bathroom floor.
But our day was far from over. Also before leaving Canada, I had bought tickets to see the Borghese Gallery and Museum at 3 p.m. that day. I knew that scheduling visits to two immense and significant exhibitions in one day was a terrible idea, but I had bought the Borghese Gallery tickets before I realized that the Vatican Museums would not be open on the Sunday we were there, and that we would therefore have to see those on Saturday as well. Booking tickets on an Italian site is challenging enough: I wasn’t about to try to change the date of the Borghese tickets after the fact.
We did not know exactly where the Galleria Borghese was, but we did have a general idea and we knew that there was a Villa Borghese exit at the Spagna metro stop. That sounded promising, so away we went.
We left the Metropolitana with a few other tourists who were also headed for the Borghese Gallery, and found ourselves walking along wide trails through a nearly deserted green area. We asked the occasional passersby for directions, but most of them had no more idea where the Borghese Gallery was than we did.
We subsequently learned that we were approaching one of the largest green spaces in Rome – Villa Borghese Gardens, “a landscape garden in the naturalistic English manner” – and within that space are several museums and other buildings. The gallery we were seeking was on the far side of that park and would have been at least a kilometre from where we were even if we’d known which way we were going. Our actual route would have taken us even farther.
After we’d walked for another ten or fifteen minutes, Arnie caught sight of a map posted on a gate and (sensibly) went with the others to have a look at it. With my FitBit indicating that we had walked 18,000 steps that day and my backpack feeling heavier by the moment, I was fearful that if I stopped moving I would never be able to start again. I therefore decided to head up a path straight ahead of me that would take me to the top of a small hill, and see what I could see from there. To my surprise and pleasure, there ahead of me through the trees as I crested the hill, I saw a building.
Certain that this must be our destination (it wasn’t) I turned, relieved and happy, to report to Arnie on my successful scouting initiative. Instead of returning down the path I’d taken up, I took a shortcut across the grounds. A moment later, my foot hit a small tree stump mostly buried in the dirt and I pitched forward, landing on the upper left quadrant of my face with a resounding “CRACK.”
I knew immediately that the “crack” I’d heard did not bode well for me. After rolling onto my side and then easing myself into a sitting position, I discovered that my glasses were broken and that my head was bleeding. However, I considered myself lucky to still be conscious and I sensed that if I wanted to stay that way, I had better not stand up. So I either yelled or waited (I don’t remember which). Before long, Arnie was at my side and I was trying to explain to him what I was doing on the ground and why I thought that medical attention was going to be required.
A nearby cab driver and the owner of what might be described as an “auto rickshaw” summoned an ambulance for us. The attendants were kind and concerned and agreed that we needed to go to a hospital. They helped me down the hill and into the ambulance, and arranged a seat for Arnie. With the help of my travel booklet and Google translate, I figured out how to ask if they thought I had a concussion and the female attendant, rubbing the dirt from my wounds as gently as she could, assured me that from what I had told her, she thought that I did not. She seemed surprised when this news caused me to start crying. (I was surprised too.)
The ambulance dropped us at the emergency department of the Ospidale San Carlo di Nancy and, to our amazement, we learned that there would be no charge for the ambulance trip. Italian or foreigner, a ride to the hospital and attendant care was free.
As I sank into the nearest unoccupied wheelchair and Arnie wheeled me into the emergency room, even the pain in my head was not enough to diminish my relief that I was finally sitting down.