Last gasps in Rome

Saturday 23 June 2018

I was wrong about our hotel room being the work of the Smart Car designer. I found the real designer (Dr Confineo Shrinkiarie) and the car he designed after he’d finished our room. As you can see, the Smart is quite large compared to this electric two-seater. There are quite a few of these types of cars buzzing around Rome – yet another car-choked city that is looking for solutions. It is going to happen in Melbourne and Sydney eventually, so better to get used to a micro-mini electric now. This one has room for two passengers side by side, with storage provided by a plastic box fixed high up at the rear. Another type, a Renault, where you have to rent the battery by the month, holds two people, but one behind the other, and no storage. Clearly, these cars force choices upon their owners that we’re not used to.

I should add that when Michelle booked our hotel room, the promotional photograph showed a big bank of cupboards, a small table and chairs, and tea and coffee making facilities – all which appeared to part of our room. Wrong. This turned out to be a public space where we sat for breakfast as a couple of the friendly girls (they might be back-packers) who work in the hotel, grapple anew every morning with breakfast – including toast which is made off-site. Hence no hotel toaster report.

We went window shopping yesterday determined not to actually enter a shop. However, Michelle did enter a spectacle frames shop and emerged considerably richer in frame and poorer in money. I also unintentionally entered a menswear shop and emerged richer in jacket but only modestly poorer in money when compared to Michelle’s Specspenders(copyright). To recover from these disturbing events, we lined up at the leading gelato palace on the main drag down to the Spanish Steps. I should mention that, in addition to pasta, there is another dietary nightmare throughout Italy: gelato. There was a long queue stretching outside the shop, signifying top gelato quality, but once inside we beheld one of the wonders of the eating disorder world: the liquid chocolate wall. We’ve all seen chocolate fountains, but a whole wall, running at two billion calories per second into a trough and being recirculated? Being a chocaholic, that was a eureka moment for me. However, I couldn’t dwell on it for too long because once you are holding a cone full of gelato you have to apply yourself immediately to the task of oral disposal. Authentic gelato melts very quickly and wants to run down over your wrist before you can intercept it with your tongue. You can’t talk to a serious gelato consumer in the act. Concentration has to be absolute.

As a counter to bodily pleasures we took a cultural tour of a palace – the 1000 room Palazzo Doria Panphilj – off Rome’s via del Corsa. An audio player carries the voice of the current head of the family that owns it – along with massive other property assets. Listening to Prince Johnathan talk you through a huge collection of priceless paintings and sculptures you’d swear he came from English aristocracy, but he’s legally Italian, having been sent to England for his education and to acquire a super-plummy accent. The family’s history is as intriguing as its wealth. Johnathan is not from the family’s blood line at all, but was adopted as a baby from an English Catholic orphanage, along with a girl (turning her into a princess) and they run the family. Johnathan is single, has a male partner and they have two surrogate children who will no doubt take over the role as custodians of the estates in the future – although the ownership of the properties is now held in a government trust. They all live within the palace in apartments upstairs, unfortunately not included in the tour.



End of days

Monday 25 June

We’re now time travellers, having left Rome and our miniscule room on Sunday morning to join thousands of confused, desperate people trying to make the best of gross overcrowding at Rome Airport as they wait in queues to get into other queues – which can often be the wrong queues.

Our Singapore Airlines flight left at 11 am after which we were served lunch but had to pretend it was dinner, so we could then pretend it was night-time and obediently go to bed early in the afternoon. After a long period of pretend darkness, we had a pretend breakfast at about midnight, but it was really six o’clock in the morning. And exiting the aircraft doesn’t restore reality, because the interior of Changi Airport looks the same no matter what the clock may tell you.

Because we were doing most of this trip on points, we had to take what tickets were available – meaning an 18-hour stopover at Changi. The way around this was to book a block of hours at the Urgent Lovers’ Airport Hotel which claims to be the only airport hotel in the world with a swimming pool. The plan was to sit by the sunny pool, swim and listen to the roar of jet engines. But this was hard to enjoy in the middle of a thunderstorm. Paying to lie in the rain is not good value, either. We changed plan and booked in to a free bus tour of Singapore along with a team of other disorientated travellers, most of whom wanted to sit in the bus and go to sleep. But our lively tour guide had other plans. She made us get off the bus to behold the water-spewing Singapore lion, the Bay Sands Hotel and a famous mosque that was closed. By this time the thunder storm had gone elsewhere, and we would have loved the pool, we were trapped on the bus tour. When we finally made the airport hotel, we were too exhausted to swim or lie by the pool. Because our body time was the middle of the night, we fell into bed – which will result in insomnia on the plane tonight. I realise, of course, that these types of problems are well known to all overseas travellers, but I note that they are much worse on the way home when you’ve spent your money, seen or failed to see what you went away for and are wearing part of an additional person around your waist.

That’s all folks. As usual, I am heavily indebted to my extraordinary tour guide and wife Michelle whose talents could easily be applied to troop movements in the armed forces. I am also indebted to you, my little band of readers, who give me a reason to set all this stuff down. I’ve been doing it for years, and now see the value of retaining created memories – which I suppose is the reason we travel.