BLOG WRITING FOR AN ONLINE TRAVEL MAGAZINE
| Written by Corielle Heath for InRomeNow.com
Since the Coliseum’s glory days, the citizens
of Rome have taken a special pleasure in watching outsiders battle for their lives. In the Romans' defense, the gladiator game has experienced an eloquent evolution over the last thousand years. The modern-day Maximus, armed with bucket hat and neck pouch, willingly follows the umbrellawaving tour guide to the gates of the “Coloseo,” where he actually pays to enter the arena! Before he realizes his peril, he's clutching ten Euros worth of roses — thrust upon him by an itinerant vendor as a “free gift” — and his wallet is missing. If you think
tossing tourists to the lions is simply not something the Romans do, then you’ve clearly never forked over 180 Euros for 200 lbs. of rented-Vespa, as I have. I willingly threw myself into Rome’s present-day pit of lions for you, fellow globe trotters. “In Rome Now” recommends the Bici Baci scooter rental company to its bravest readers, yet, until last Saturday, we had reviewed the experience from an exclusively secondhand perspective. Being the fearless Trekkie that I am, I volunteered to saddle up boldly go where no member of our team had gone before.
Several days prior to my adventure, I visited the Bici Baci website. I was greeted by copious photographs of unreasonably good-looking tourists gleefully enjoying a carefree and effortless ride on the back of a vintage Vespa.
Using the site’s “book online” tool, I considered my options. Having been in Rome for several weeks already, I considered myself too familiar with the city to enjoy the guided “Roman Holiday” tour. I opted instead for a solo rental of the Vespa Piaggio LX 125cc.
Given the absurdly revealing attire worn by the tourists in the promotional pictures, I considered myself responsibly over-prepared when I arrived at Bici Baci the next morning wearing a full-body leather jumpsuit. Everyone in the establishment spoke perfect English, so I was able to pay, get fitted for a helmet, and plopped onto a scooter in less than ten minutes. They operated like a NASCAR team, and I felt slightly flustered as I probed my scooter-assistant for directions to the Via Cassia. “How far are you intending to take the scooter outside of Rome?” he asked, hesitating in his attempt to adjust my helmet strap somewhere between asphyxiating tightness and blowing-in-the-wind loose. The honest answer was that I had already formulated a very elaborate plan to ride the scooter 120 kilometers to Lake Bolsena, which Trip Advisor called “scenic” and which really didn’t look all that far from Rome on Rick Steve’s map of Italy. “Lago di Bolsena” is the largest lake in Europe,
located north of Rome in the crater of an erupted volcano. Better yet, it houses the ruins of what archeologists believe to be the first human lakesettlement. “Oh, not far, really,” I mumbled, studying the handle bars and wondering if he was going to show me how to turn the engine on. “I read that the Cassia was the pilgrim’s route to Rome, and I’m Catholic, and… I really just want to, you know, experience the most famous road leading to Rome.” With the same look that I’m sure gladiators’ attendants gave before sending them out to face the lions, he told me to make the next two left turns, cross the river at the Olympic Stadium, and follow the signs to the Cassia. “Just follow the signs,” has achieved platinum status on the list of Famous Last Words, yet, miraculously, I cruised proudly out of Rome, tire-to-tire with my fellow scooterists, without striking a pedestrian or sustaining any significant personal injury.
That it took me four more hours to travel the 120 kilometers to Lake Bolsena is due to the simple fact that my 125 cc. Vespa was not built for highway travel. Not that the scenic Cassia is a highway by anyone’s definition, but, with my bottom perched precariously atop the trembling engine and my hands clenched in twin death grips around the handlebars, it certainly felt like a highway. Although it may have been a carexhaust induced hallucination, a red, flashing “SERVICE” light appeared on the Vespa’s dashboard
a mere 35 minutes into my ride, doing little to alleviate my fear of fulfilling my grandmotherâ€™s prophecy and dying alone, in a ditch, on the side of the road. The maximum velocity of a Vespa Piaggio LX 125 cc. is 55k per hour, and I was quickly relegated to the extreme right shoulder. Other motorists flew past, leaving me in a wind-tunnel of dust. Iâ€™m sure I would have immensely enjoyed exploring Rome with the wind in my face like a true local. Yet, out on the open road, even the light breeze felt like it was about to suck me off to Oz. Four hours later, I arrived safely, albeit windblown and covered in kicked-up road dirt, at the Hotel Zodiaco, I flattened my hair and attempted to regain my composure before entering the cramped lobby.
It is impossible to overstate how close the Zodiaco clerk came to death when he informed me that the hotel was overbooked and unable to fulfill my reservation. Perhaps sensing the his imminent danger, he quickly assured me that he could arranged for me to stay at a nearby campground for the same rate, seventy Euro per night. I wasn’t sure what this campground would entail, but I was fairly certain it would involve mosquitoes. He got as far as the word “hammock” before I cut him off. “Sir,” I began, trying to remain calm and polite. “Do you see that scooter parked outside?” He nodded. “I rode here on that…from Rome.” His melodramatic gasp confirmed my suspicions about the scooter’s capacity for highway travel.
I held his gaze and leaned forward. “Tomorrow morning, I will ride that scooter back to Rome. I will not spend what may be the last night of my existence in a hammock.” Five minutes later, I was back on my scooter, armed with a “complimentary” map of Bolsena on which a long stretch of road along the lakeshore had been marked with several stars. I took my time navigating through the main part of town, soaking in the serene, ancient atmosphere. September is considered the off-season for the area, so I only had to avoid hitting one or two locals out wandering along the narrow, cobblestoned streets.
The moment I walked into the lobby of the Loriana Park Hotel, I knew losing my reservation at the Zodiaco was the best luck I had had thus far. Set right against the glittering lake and surrounded by thick, green, flowering bushes, the Loriana had a room available for fifty Euro.
Nearly delirious with delight, I spent the next 10 minutes attempting to balance my 200lbs. scooter on its feeble little kickstand. A smiling attendance then showed me to my small, simply furnished room overlooking a white marble fountain and the hotelâ€™s private gelateria. I took a few minutes to nurse the minor injuries I had sustained when the scooter fell on me while I attempted to park it. With pride and knee freshly bandaged, I grabbed my camera and set out on foot.
Bolsena and its lake proved to be worth the illplanned trip. The lake was an unimaginable shade of blue that gave off a shimmering silver glow as the sun began to set. I walked up and through the town, stopping to buy a toy Vespa souvenir in one of the many local gift shops and to photograph a striking blue frieze above the main entrance to La Basilica di Santa Cristina. I explored the rows of ancient houses and shops which led up to the Rocca di Bolsena.
The climb to the castle was short for the breathtaking beauty of the view it afforded me. I could well imagine why a 13th-century noble had
chosen to build his castle on this hilltop, overlooking his peasant citizenry and his jewel studded lake. I arrived at the castleâ€™s museum around three in the afternoon and found that it was closed from one to four every day for siesta. Unphased, I meandered along the steep, narrow perimeter, taking pictures of the extraordinary view. By the time I had fully explored the castle armaments and walked back into town, the locals had emerged from their midafternoon slumber. What had been a quiet, sleepy town when I arrived was now full and alive. Friends met for coffee under cafĂŠ umbrellas and people on bikes cruised along pedestrian-only pathways. I passed the rest of the afternoon wandering along the vast stretch of volcanic shoreline, admiring the
black and green volcanic sand. At sunset, I jogged along the boardwalk and down each of the long piers, working up a formidable appetite.
I took my time selecting from a multitude of restaurants until I found one that looked full and friendly and had a variety of menu items senza glutine. The friendly hostess at the Antica Trattoria del Corso seated me at a table for four toward the back. Even
after a fair amount of solo traveling, I’m still uncomfortable eating dinner alone. Attempting to ease my own awkwardness, I ordered a glass of wine along with an appetizer of mixed cheeses and lake fish. Much to my surprise, I was presented with a platter of cheeses twice the size of my head and a full bottle of wine, which only made me feel more like a sad, lonely traveler. Most likely out of pity, I was soon joined by a delightful German couple on a post-retirement second honeymoon. Their first act of charity on my behalf was to confirm with the waitress that seven Euros bought an entire bottle of “Est! Est!! Est!!!” vino. It did. Over the next hour, I awed them with a slightly enhanced tale of my scooter skills, and they told me the story of the wine I had ordered.
Produced in a nearby Lake Bolsena town, the wine was considered the “Pearl of Northern Lazio.” In 1111, the servant of a German bishop en route to Rome was sent ahead on a wine sampling mission. His instructions were to label all quality wines he encountered with the word “Est,” Latin for “It is.” When the servant tried the Montefiscone Moscatello he exclaimed, “Est! Est!! Est!!!”
Since I agreed with the servant’s evaluation, the next morning, at sunrise, I loaded the re-corked bottle into my scooter’s trunk before my 6:30 a.m. departure. I hoped to complete my journey before any Italian in their right mind was out of bed, and, for the most part, I had a much more relaxing cruise on an empty Via Cassia all the way back to Bici Baci’s doorstep.
My personal attendant from the day before helped me unload my now blood-stained leather jumpsuit, camera and half-empty bottle of wine without comment, most likely because he was speechless with shock that I had returned alive. My only complaint, I told him in parting, was that the Vespa wasn’t as fast as my “motorcycle” back in the States.