Though Christmas day was a holiday in Rome, it wasn't an all-the-stores-and-museums-and-tourist-attractions-closed kind of holiday. And so that morning all the members of the UNICLAM bus tour left our hostel (we had to be out by 9:00 am when the hostel closed for cleaning and we couldn't get back in until it re-opened around 4:00 pm), hopped a city bus and went our respective ways for the day.
I guess I didn't actually explain yesterday how our bus tour of Italy worked. It was an economy special. The price we paid included transportation by bus and a bed in a youth hostel. When we arrived at our destination city the driver parked the bus for the duration and hung out with us and we were all free to go our separate ways. No organized tours, or anything, everyone was on their own. Which was why we all broke up into casual fluid groups each day, which over the course of the day would often subdivide, meet up with other groups, and sometimes trade off members, as in my case. We all watched out for each other in a general way, though.
There were a few people on our trip, mostly older folks who probably weren't even students anymore - there was one woman who appeared to be in her forties and was with a much younger man whom she said was her son but everybody thought was really her sweetie - who obviously expected the trip to be a little more luxe than it actually was and who complained about everything and made life heck for Cato, the trip organizer, and sometimes even muddied the waters somewhat for the rest of us young happy campers. But, anyway, that's the kind of trip that it was.
So, then, I was out and about with my group on Christmas day, and as I recall we were meandering around the ruins of the Colosseum when I caught sight of a girl whom I recognized as a fellow University of Dayton student, though I didn't know her. She recognized my face, as well, and we both smiled and hurried towards each other as if we were old friends.
We introduced ourselves, but she failed to introduce the two guys who were with her.
"Oh, them?" she laughed, "I don't know who they are. They just keep following me."
Now she was a beautiful girl with long dark hair walking alone on Rome, so I'm not surprised the Italian guys were following her, considering that they bothered all the unattached girls, even big rabbits like me. [See yesterday's blog 8) ].
Anyway the UD girl, who I'll call Tina as I can't remember her name any more, was studying in Spain and had decided to travel to Rome - by herself - for the Christmas holiday. We decided to hang together for the day.
So I told my group that I'd catch up with them later then Tina and I took off to explore Rome together.
Not surprisingly, at one point we realized we were being followed by, then walking beside, a couple of young men in uniform. As they spoke no English and we spoke no Italian, I'm not sure how we came to know that they were Italian soldiers on Christmas leave who, like us, were visiting Rome for the holiday. They seemed friendly and harmless and were certainly no older than we were and they didn't know Rome any better than we did, so the four of us spent the afternoon walking around Rome seeing the sights together. I remember that we visited Saint Peter's and climbed to the highest point of the cupola then looked out over the beautiful panorama of the city. I don't specifically remember where else we went, except that we ended up somewhere along the bank of the Tiber River.
That's when I realized that it was getting late, past five o'clock, and would soon be dark and I needed to figure out a way to get back to the hostel on my own. Tina, on the other hand, wanted to go shopping for a coat while in Rome so she took off back towards the town to look for a coat with the soldiers still in tow while I pulled out my map of Rome and tried to figure out where I was.
I located the hostel, which was on the outskirts of town and far from where I was. I'd come into the city on a bus with the others but hadn't bothered to check which bus it was or remember exactly where it had let us off. I looked around me but didn't see any bus stops.
I looked again at my map and realized that the river eventually ran right by the hostel. It looked to be a few miles, but I figured that walking along the Tiber in the direction of the hostel was my best bet.
After I'd walked for a good long while without coming to any of the cross streets indicated on my map I got a sinking feeling that I'd been walking in the wrong direction, away from the hostel rather than towards it. So I started walking, then running, in the opposite direction. It was almost dark and I was getting afraid. By the time I reached the point I'd started at I was breathless and sweaty. I walked a few more blocks in the opposite direction and when I still couldn't get the streets to match up with my map it hit me in the pit of my stomach that I could be looking at the map upside down! I turned the map one way then the other and realized that I had no idea which direction I should be walking in.
By now it was dark and I was alone on the river bank. My heart was pounding and I was shaking from nerves and chill from the sweat that had cooled and dampened my shirt under my coat. I was lost in a big city where I didn't speak the language. Even if I could find a phone booth somewhere I didn't know how to make a phone call. And even if I did know how to make a phone call I didn't know the number of the hostel. And even if I did know the number I wouldn't know how to communicate to whoever answered the phone that I was lost somewhere in the heart of Rome.
I hurried away from the river back towards the city until I reached a busy commercial area full of shops and restaurants and streets full of people out walking on Christmas night. The streets were hung with garlands of Christmas lights and between the lights, shops and streets full of people, it was a lovely festive, story-book scene.
And I was as terrified as I'd ever been in my life.
To be continued....