Sunday, September 28 – Blackout in Italian is "blackout"

Overcast, heavy rain on and off

You probably read about it in the papers. The electricity went off in Italy at 3:30am. I woke up in the middle of the night and noticed the power was out. This is one of the weirdest travel feelings for me, waking up in the middle of the night and not remembering where you are or what your room looks like or where the bathroom might be. That happened last night and the room was dark, very dark – no light from the street, no night light showing where the bathroom is. I figured it was out in the town because the power goes out frequently in rural Tuscany.

When it was still out in the morning, and there was no water, first I thought it was just our room, or maybe our hotel, possibly the whole town. I sent Steve down to the front desk and he found out it was out in a larger area. We phoned Stephanie and Cesare in Rome (cell phones still worked and our had recharged before the power went out) and they gave us the details. The power was out for all of Italy, but was already back in northern Italy and was expected back in Rome by the afternoon.

We washed using bottles of water we had with us in the room and lit a candle for light, then went to the breakfast room. They had lit the room with candles and were serving all the usual things except for coffee – they were able somehow to make tea. We were back in the room debating what to do – should we drive to Rome assuming the power would come back or stay at the hotel in case the power did not come back that day – when the power came back on at 10am. So we packed up, checked out, loaded the car and headed to Rome.

We had arranged to meet Tom and Rob from CA (Tom is Goldengate on the mboard) at the restaurant Dante in Montefiascone (I don’t have my map and have probably spelled that wrong) on Lake Bolsena in northern Lazio. Tom and Rob are staying over near Terni. We could not figure out a good place to meet and this was our fall back because someone had posted about this restaurant a year or so ago on the mboard, but we had no address or phone number for it. I had called Tom on his US cell phone in the morning when the power was out and got his voice mail. I left a message cancelling, but when the power went back on I called again and left another message saying lets still have the lunch.

We drove south on the SS2 through Tuscany, from San Quirico, past Bagno Vignoni, Bagni San Fillipi, Radicofani, Celle sul Rigo – areas we have spent many weeks in on other trips – then south into Lazio, Aquapendente and past the area where Cheryl has bought her house in the country (beautiful area) to Lake Bolsena. If you have read my other trip reports, you know I am not the biggest fan of Lazio, but this area of Lazio on the Tuscany/Umbrian border, north of Lake Bolsena was lovely.

You really notice the change when you drive into Lazio. You see many new farmhouses, instead of all old farmhouses that have been renovated as in Tuscany. You see many half constructed large buildings that are abandoned (I don’t know what that is). And you see many falling down old buildings. In Tuscany, everything is perfect – perhaps too perfect. But in Lazio, things are more rundown.

By the time we reached Lazio, it was pouring rain. We found the town Montefiascone but did not see any sign of the restaurant. We drove toward the centro and stopped and asked. We were about two blocks from the restaurant – it is in the historical center, just off the main piazza. We parked and walked up. We had one of those fun experiences where we asked the guy in the newstand where the restaurant Dante was and it was about 10 feet behind us with a big sign. We had walked right by it and not seen it.

One of the reasons we wanted to have this lunch in a small town was so we could park the car beside the restaurant because the car was full of luggage. The trunk had one rolling suitcase, our duffel with hiking stuff, a rolling carryon with our two computers, another rolling carryon with our olive oil and a bottle of limoncello, a small bag full of books. In the back seat was our other rolling suitcase. Way too much luggage – we always bring way too much luggage – and yet we have used and really needed everything we brought (and I wish I had brought another pair of jeans each). So we end up leaving the car on a main street and going to lunch up in the old part of town. We expected the car to be empty when we got back – but we would get the last laugh because one of the computers is dead and they would think they got a good computer. Of course, we got back to the car and everything was fine – as it always is when we leave a car full of luggage anywhere in Italy.

Stephanie called from Rome to say the power went back on around noon.

It was pouring rain, so we went into the restaurant instead of waiting outside for Tom and Rob. I had not got a call from them and I left another message, but we were now thinking they were not coming. We eventually got a call at 4pm – their power in southern Umbria did not go back on until then. They assumed everyone’s power was still out and could not use their cell phone for some reason. Mine worked fine (an Italian TIM phone).

The restaurant Dante is one of those simple small town restaurants with a 1950s d├ęcor and great food. We ordered two primi for me (soup and pasta) and a primo and a secondo for Steve (soup and fish). We thought we made it clear that I was having one primo when Steve had his primo and the other primo when he had his secondo, but I think the idea of having two primi was confusing. They brought the soup (delicious), but a few minutes later brought my pasta. I let it sit until I had finished my soup, but then started eating it because we guessed that they would not bring the secondo until all the primi were gone. We were right. Steve asked for the secondo to be brought so I could eat my primi with it, but they only brought it after I pushed aside my pasta (could not eat it all). So Steve watched me eat, then I watched him eat. Reminded me of the service in many US restaurants when all courses arrive at the same time, or when people together are not served at the same time. We had also ordered some potatoes (contorni) and they gave that to me when they brought Steve’s fish. 43 Euro including water and coffee. Pretty reasonable.

It was still raining, but lighter now, so we walked around Montefiascone. It is a lovely town. There is a huge church and a beautiful main piazza and lovely narrow streets of old houses. You can see Lake Bolsena from the edge of the historic area.

Onward to Rome. We drove south towards Viterbo, then took the Raccordo from Viterbo to Orte, then hopped on the A1 to head to Rome. We stopped at the Autogrill just after the toll booths where you split off on the highway to Rome and got espresso and gas. It was raining on and off. Then I attempted once again to follow my maporama directions to the Via Dei Prati Fiscali Europcar office where we had hoped to drop off the car.

The Maporama directions went well until the very end. They said to follow Via Saleria, then turn right on Via Dei Prati Fiscali. My map showed Via Dei Prati Fiscali to the left. Via Saleria split into two roads, so what you had to do was take the left road, then take an immediate right onto Via Dei Prati Fiscali – so it was a right turn, but was slightly more complicated. We missed the right turn and ended up going back on Via Saleria towards the GRA (Rome ring road). I thought we might take a right turn and swing back to where we missed our turn. We could not do a u-turn on Via Saleria because all left turns were blocked off because some big concert was going on (and the traffic was really thick). So we ended up driving around a neighborhood, and not a good one. When we saw the swastika painted on an apartment building wall, we decided to give up searching for a road to go back to the turn we missed, and head to the GRA and drop off at the airport.

Pauline’s new rule: You can pickup a car from a city location, but always dropoff at the airport. It is just too hard to find these small city offices – unless you have a GPS system (which someone suggested on the mboard and I think sounds like an excellent idea – it would have saved us about two hours today).

The airport was busy and a bit chaotic. We found the dropoff for Europcar easily because we have dropped off there a few times. I had read on the mboard that someone got them to have a taxi come right to the Europcar office, so you don’t have to lug your luggage into the terminal. Brilliant I thought! Two other groups were waiting for taxis. But then the Europcar person came out and told them no taxis would come – they had to go to the airport.

I was figuring we would be loading our luggage straight from our car (at the city office) to a taxi. We ended up managing it all – but looked pretty strange with all that luggage and my hiking poles clutched in my hand. Everyone says not to do this, but we got a gypsy cab. We have done this many times. I ask the price before we get in (60 Euro). The guy had a nice car and talked in Italian to Steve (about politics and the blackout) for the whole ride (Steve loves talking in Italian when he gets the chance).

We got to the hotel around 6pm – what a long day!! We are trying a new hotel, Hotel Farnese near the Vatican, recommended by Pecepe on the mboard. We have the most perfect room! You could live out a 50s Italian movie fantasy here. It is a room built onto the roof with a private terrace. The terrace is as large as most hotel rooms in Rome and our room is large too and with a huge bathroom. I don’t know how we ended up in this room. I booked through Venere (using my clickthru) and asked for a room with large windows.

Robert from Santa Monica was meeting us at 7:30pm then we were meeting Stephanie and Cesare for dinner at 8:30pm. We got a bit unpacked and cleaned up, then Robert arrived, we made him look at our room and terrace, then we all walked to Piazza del Popolo – only 15 minutes away. From there we waited in a short line at the taxi stand and took a cab to Piazza Navona.

We met Stephanie and Cesare at a restaurant they like near Campo dei Fiori (I will put a review on SlowTrav). It is an Italian restaurant, but with a non-traditional approach and a vegetarian section on the menu. The food was excellent. We even had dessert. Steve, Stephanie and I had fruit gelato that came inside the frozen skins of the fruit used. For example, the plum gelato was served inside the outer skin of a frozen plum. I took a bunch of photos and will post them. Delicious and beautiful.

We left the restaurant around 10:30. It was raining off and on. We all walked up to Piazza Navona. The piazza was beautiful and almost empty – perhaps the rain, perhaps because of the blackout. Half of Rome was still without power still. Stephanie and Cesare’s phone and DSL were not working, even though their power had returned earlier in the day. This was a good side-effect of the blackout – we got to see Piazza Navona and then Piazza della Rotunda (the Pantheon) at night time with hardly any other people around. It was magical. The Pantheon is my favorite building in the world. Stephanie and I were walking together and we stopped just at the corner and prepared ourselves before we stepped into the piazza to see it. It sits in that piazza so massively and beautifully.

Stephanie and Cesare left around 11:30 to get their bus home. Robert, Steve and I walked to Piazza Minerva and then down to that main street to get cabs back to our “homes”.

We had a great day today too. We both LOVE Rome. I could happily live here. Steve thinks it is the best city in the world. We have tomorrow, then we fly home on Wednesday. I want to burn every piece of clothing that we brought on the trip – and that computer of mine that broke on day one.

I saw on the mboard that the NY Times mention did not appear. They said it might be held for a week. This means that once I get home, I can work some more on that hiking section – which I would like to do before the article comes out.

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Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.