Rome: The First Night

by Beryl Singleton Bissell /
Beryl Singleton Bissell's picture
Feb 03, 2010 / 1 comments

NOTE: This is the continuation of an Italian Sojourn taken during the fall of 2008 with my husband Bill. A risky trip as we were  retracing the journeys taken with my deceased husband Vittorio thirty years earlier(The Scent of God: A memoir), but one in which we wove wondrous new memories of our own. Click here to read the first installment, Before Leaving.



We arrived at Fiumicino Airport outside Rome and encountered our first challenge. We could not rent a luggage dolly which cost 50 centavos. Our lowest denomination euro was a € 100 bill. Lesson number one: always carry small denomination bills to handle essentials like luggage carts, shuttles, and tips.

Because we could not rent a dolly, Bill tried to piggyback our other bags onto his new oversized bag,  the handle of which promptly broke. Lesson number two: do not piggy back more than one bag at a time.

The information desk was, of course, empty. A passing janitor threw up his hands and went off muttering something about crazy Americans. I’d wanted everything to go smoothly on this trip to Italy (Bill had appointed me tour director) and instead my cosmopolitan traveling husband had disappeared, replaced instead by an Iowa farm boy cursing a recalcitrant cow (the luggage, not me).  When the janitor returned minutes later, he was transformed into a rescuing knight, not on a white stallion but with a dolly, initiating the first of the many kindnesses Bill and I would encounter on this trip. Lesson number three: do not under-estimate a stranger’s willingness to help.

We took a shuttle to the apartment we’d rented in Rome, only one block from the Spanish Steps, a ride that should have taken 40-50 minutes but actually took close to two hours because the drop off’s were scattered throughout the city and its suburbs. As mentioned earlier, we had only €100 bills. The shuttle cost €45 and the driver didn’t have enough change, though we were willing to tip well.


Spanish Steps, Rome, Italy


Lesson number four: take a taxi. It costs around the same, you get there a lot faster and, the driver is more likely to have change.

While we scrambled to find someone who could break our €100, the shuttle driver nervously pointed out that he was blocking other traffic from entering the narrow street on which we were parked. The apartment owner gave us assorted Euro’s in exchange for our €100.

As we began unloading the luggage from the shuttle we encountered the next problem. The apartment was on the third floor, there was no elevator, and the stairway was narrow. Lesson: get details when renting apartments.

Finally settled, we set out to find food. We were hungry. I suggested that we head toward the Spanish steps (down which Vittorio had ridden his bicycle as a kid), where there were certain to be good dining establishments. On the way we were accosted by one of those ubiquitous rose vendors found throughout Rome, who handed me two roses for “amore.” When I shook my head, he said “Free, free,” but didn’t refuse the Euros Bill handed him from the stash of smaller bills we acquired from the apartment owner.


Roses in Rome


Climbing the steps to the famed Trinità dei Monti, was an emotional moment. Thirty years earlier Vittorio had placed me in the convent attached to that famed church while he wrestled with the Vatican to obtain a dispensation so we could marry. He was a priest and I was an ex-nun, not at all happy about the housing arrangements he’d made for me while in Rome.

We passed the Hassler Hotel, and walked down Via Gregoriana. I wanted to show Bill the place where Vittorio had grown up and where his family had lived for over 100 years but disappointment awaited. The lovely wisteria draped gateway had been torn down; in its place stood an ugly metal gate, the lion’s head fountain and courtyard lost beneath the debris of building renovation. That night it resembled a demolition rather than a restoration.

Finding a small restaurant on a nearby street, I was somewhat comforted. The seating was unique -- a small table on a platform above the sidewalk but the food was delicious: bambollot all’amatriciana—a type of fat ridged pasta with a spicy, bacon-infused roman sauce, a carafe of a good vino rosso, and a salad. As we ate, we carried on a lively conversation with a woman from Norway at a nearby table who lived in Italy several months a year. Despite the chaos of our arrival, our first night in Italy was a success. A fine introduction to the wonderful days that would follow...

© Beryl Singleton Bissell 2009

The Minneapolis Star Tribune named Beryl as a "Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors." Her book The Scent of God  was a “Notable” Book Sense selection for April 2006. She is a columnist for the Cook County News Herald and has been published in anthologies and periodicals nationwide. See Road Writer for her travel blog and Finding Time for God for her blog on living a contemplative life in a busy world. You can also follow her on Gather, Twitter, and Facebook.

Comments (1)

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    13 years 10 months ago

    beryl - i love reading of your new journeys (as well as the old - your book stays with me!)...thanks for sharing!


    Jessie Voigts, PhD


Leave a comment