Europe 1999 ???????????

The coffee, and fascists and the tokens

[The kids get down to the serious business of playing soccer]Another glorious day in Roma (Rome), and our first activity of the day was to head back to Pincio, a little corner of the gigantic park Villa Borghese. We were going to meet L’s Italian teacher Giuseppe, who when he’s not in Melbourne teaching Aussies how to speak Italian, is in Roma being a Roman. We met him, and his two kids Johan and Alice and our two kids Isaac and Jeremy
got on with the serious business of playing "throw the soccer ball in the fountain", with each round being followed by "find an adult to get the soccer ball out of the fountain by making splashing waves and using a long hooky stick".

After a while we wandered around the park a bit and found a cafe. Foolishly failing to inspect the price list for consumption of coffee and ice-cream at their tables, we consumed coffee and ice-cream at their tables. When the bill for 48,000 lire (two coffees and 5 ice-creams; you do the maths) arrived, we were somewhat surprised. Alas, the prices were as published, and accepting the undeniable fact that most of us were gullible tourists, we grudgingly paid up. Then when one of the kids spilt some ice-cream on the tablecloth, Giuseppe made sure that enough other debris got left on the tablecloth that at least we’d have the satisfaction of knowing that they had to change it when we’d gone.

We paid up a far more decent 20,000 lire to hire a four-seater bike thingy for an hour, and explored some more of the park on that. Villa Borghese is quite a huge place, with some lovely gardens, a museum, amusements, and on this particular Sunday morning, lots of people out enjoying the sunshine.

Eventually we said goodbye to our Roman friends, and wandered back to the Scalinata di Spagna (the Spanish Steps), watching more of the crowds and basking in the sunlight. We re-filled our water bottles, then after consulting our guidebook decided to head out on the Metro to a mysterious Roman suburb called EUR. It stands for Esposizione Universale di Roma, and started life as Mussolini’s pet project. The guidebook said it has excellent versions of Fascist architecture, and certainly walking around it, the vast majority of big buildings were ugly and grey and reminded us of pictures of Eastern Europe.

[Looking down one of the main streets of EUR]Evidently there was generally not a lot going on there on a Sunday, and we were getting hungry. Finding the only open restaurant to be a very well patronised McDonalds, we opted for that, but vowing not to have any more Maccas for the rest of the trip, a promise that we very nearly kept. While I found us some seats and kept yet more begging gypsy children at bay, L, being the best versed in Italian, went off to order. Amusingly the order got a little muddled somewhere along the line and she came back with, along with the rest of the meal as intended, three large Cokes and three large Fries.

With everyone else happily settling into their meals, and with two large Cokes and a bewildering number of French fries allocated to me for disposal, as well as the burger I’d asked for, I did my best at consuming this mountain of Maccas, and when we eventually toddled off to explore EUR further, I waddled and burped my way up the street for quite some considerable time.

We saw a church spectacularly placed on top of the hill at one end, and some equally spectacular public buildings, which we tried and failed to determine the actual purpose of. We also found a Sunday market, along the lines of art and craft markets that you find open on Sundays in car parks all over the world.

There were more, slightly less reputable looking stalls down by the lake, with shonky-looking radios and CDs and jewellery on sale. We wandered around the lake, and found a kids’ combined playground and amusement arcade on the other side. Isaac romped on the swings and zipped down the slides, and Jeremy looked around at the coin-operated rides.

He chose his preferred ride and climbed aboard. I peered at the instructions to try and figure out how to make it go. "DUE GETTONI" said the notice. "Hmmmm…", I thought, "Due gettoni". Ah, token? I looked around, sure enough there was a token booth. Thinking I was incredibly clever, I went and exchanged 500 lire for a token. I put it into the token-shaped slot and… nothing. Tap the machine. No movement.

I went and found the attendant, and attempted to explain what had (or hadn’t) happened. He had a good chuckle and signalled that two tokens were in fact required. I bought another one and pondered slapping myself for not realising that "Due" means two. 

After wearing ourselves out in the rest of the park, we headed back to the Metro station and the hotel, followed by another killer dinner at the Trattoria around the corner, which if I can read my own writing from my notes, was called the Trattoria Cavoni. By the time we stumbled up the stairs to our room we were well and truly stuffed in more ways than one.

I did however manage to summon up enough energy to traipse out to an Internet caf� to catch up on e-mails and news from home (whoa… the election result wasn’t a Coalition landslide?!? Wow) before collapsing into bed.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.