Rome was a wonderful surprise. I expected a tourist filled mega city of old buildings and little charm and instead I found tree lined streets, quaint cafes, and a darling hotel clerk who I shall call Pietro because much to my regret, I didn’t think to ask his name.
Having successfully navigated our way from the airport through Roma Centro, google maps announced, “you’ve arrived at your destination.” Looking up and down both sides of the street for anything that remotely resembled a hotel and coming up empty, we decided to grab the only parking spot on the block and continue our search on foot. Parking in Rome is a story in and of itself, but suffice to say that it is an art and Jeff became rather skilled at it. Leaving our bags in the car, we walked back down the block and instantly saw a small plaque on the corner of a building, Relais de l’Opera, our first Italian hotel.
Following signs to the third floor, piano 3, we stepped into what we thought was perhaps the world’s tiniest and oldest elevator. Large enough for only two people there was barely room to turn around inside. Jeff pulled the outer metal cage closed, locked it, then closed the two inner wooden doors, and I pushed the button marked 3. We waited. Nothing happened. I pushed the button again. Nothing. Jeff opened the doors, released the cage, relocked it, reclosed the doors, and I pushed the button again. Nothing. Laughing hysterically, we determined the elevator was an antique and no longer operable so we reversed the procedure and took the stairs. Winding our way around three floors, we found a small lobby with a reception desk and a young Italian woman sitting behind it.
A little out of breath from climbing and laughing, Jeff approached the desk, “Zirker. Checking in.”
He was met with a confused expression from the desk clerk.
“Zirker. We have a reservation. Hotel Relais de l’Opera.”
“No. Next up,” she said, pointing to the next floor.
“Oh! Sorry,” we said laughing even more.
Certain we had climbed three floors, because I had been counting, I was a bit confused but wrote it off to fatigue and unfamiliar surroundings. We later learned that the first floor is called Piano 0…therefore, Piano 3 is actually the fourth floor from ground level, a helpful thing to know when traveling to Italy.
Greeting us on Piano 3 was a charming little lobby where we first met Pietro, a young man of around 24 years old. Standing shoulders back and chin high, his head a bit too large, his hair a bit too short, Pietro wore a navy suit, starched white shirt and tie, and shiny black shoes. The suit most likely once belonged to his father as the sleeves were a tad too long, the shoulders a bit too wide, and the hem a bit too long, falling mid way his thigh. Nevertheless, he wore this suit like Armani himself had tailored it to fit his barely 5’7” frame.
“Zirker. We have a reservation.”
“Ah, yes. Mr. Zirker. May I see your documentation please?” Pietro copied the names and numbers from our passports onto a sheet of paper. Then in a most official manner, he motioned for us to join him behind the counter, “Come. I show you de map.”
Thinking perhaps that Pietro was going to show us a hotel map to our room, possibly even in another building, we walked the four steps necessary to reach the table behind Pietro’s counter. Above the table was an eleven by fourteen white picture frame with a shabby chic floral print fabric inside and eight gold hooks, each housing a set of room keys. On the table was a stack of 24 inch square city maps.
Circling a corner building, Pietro explained, “We are here.” Circling a spot a few blocks over, “Here, Metropolitana.” Pietro continued to circle “il Coleseum, il vaticano, Fontana di trevi,” and finally, “piazza di spagna.”
Looking up at each other and smiling, Jeff and I thanked Pietro for the information and took the map he offered to us, “Graci.”
Taking one of the key chains from the framed hooks, “Now, I show you to your room,” he said with his delightful italian accent.
We gathered our suitcases and followed behind our concierge. Pietro led us into the hallway past the staircase and the elevator, which now appeared to be working as we watched it silently glide to the floor above us. A few steps down the hall, pivoting on one foot, arm sweeping to the side, Pietro directed our attention to a wall of glass, behind which was a dark room, “Breakfast is served from seven turty to nine turty AM.”
Receiving a nod from us, he turned and walked six more steps to the end of the hall, chose one of the four keys on the ring and opened the door. “Your room.” Pietro stepped in about four feet to the end of the bed to allow room for us to enter. Leaving the door open, we couldn’t actually bring our bags through the narrow walkway between the bed and the desk until Pietro stepped back out, our guide went over the conveniences in our room. He first explained to us about the key that must be inserted into the hole by the door in order for the electricity to be turned on, another novelty for us that day.
“Here, you have café service,” pointing out the tray on the desk with a variety of cups and saucers. “Here, you have internet access code,” showing us a small neatly typed out note placed under the desktop glass. “Here, for you valuables,” a small safe on a shelf, “and here, mini-bar. All free of charge!” Pietro explained, chest out, a huge grin on his face.
“Free of charge? Wow.” Our response pleased him and he wished us a good day.
Pietro was our first impression of Italy. His charm even more poignant the next morning as we were greeted at the checkout desk by an older gentleman in blue jeans and a polo shirt.