First Night in Rome – Getting lost, practicing Italian with a nightclub dancer and drunk Americans

It’s currently noon on my second day in Rome and I’m still in bed, head aching and still dizzy from everything that happened last night. Fourteen hours of travel is enough to make anyone woozy, and I had decided, after a short nap, to take a leisurely evening stroll around the Fontana di Trevi, snap a few nighttime photos, grab a slice of pizza at Da Michele and call it a night.

I clearly failed at this.

I take the Metro to Stazione Barberini and head toward the Fontana, a bit tired still from jet lag and lack of sleep. As I’m walking down the Via del Tritone, shortly after passing the Fontana del Tritone, I hear a man’s voice at my right. “Is this the way to the Trevi Fountain?” he asks. I tell him I don’t really know, but I think so. He is a Greek man in his middle ages, named Frankos or Franky or something, married with two kids. He owns a restaurant near the Acropolis and enjoys taking short trips to Rome. He works fifteen hours a day and business is demanding. We keep chatting and walking toward the Fontana and reach it in a few minutes.

Fontana di Trevi

You know you are close to the Fontana di Trevi when the soothing sound of flowing water begins to hit your ears. Nestled among a series of buildings, it seems to come out of nowhere. Tonight, there is a relatively large crowd here, much larger than when I visited during the early morning six months ago. I take some photos, enjoy the scene and Frankos (or Franky) asks what I’m up to after. I tell him I was going to grab some pizza somewhere. He suggests a beer around Via Veneto (he wants to see the American Embassy). Sure, why not, I think to myself. We head back toward the Piazza Barberini.

This is when things get a little weird. We walk down Via Veneto, admiring the past clientele of the Café de Paris (Fellini, Mastroianni, Belluci, etc.) and the quietness of the American Embassy at night. We head down Via Emilia and Frankos asks the doorman at a place called Carrousel if there is good pizza nearby. The doorman looks at him and quickly responds, “Pizza? Yeah, good pizza. Downstairs.” Given that this establishment is clearly a nightclub, I don’t actually expect anything remotely related to food downstairs. Frankos insists we check it out for a beer anyway.

Upon entering the downstairs room, I immediately see two dancing girls dressed in black on the dance floor. The place is empty. We head to the bar and he asks for two beers, in which we get back bottles of Beck’s. Frankos insists on paying, which is a huge relief for me given what happens next.

Shortly after getting our beers, a huge group of people enter (thankfully) and begin chatting with the staff. One of them walks up to the bar and orders two bottles of Peroni and a cocktail, running him 45€ (that’s 14€ for each Peroni and 17€ for a Jack and Coke). Clearly, he’s taken aback. The bartender complains, “This is a nightclub, not a bar.” He looks at Frankos and myself and shakes his head, “This is a nightclub, not a bar.” I look at one of the guys in the big group and ask, “American?” “Yes sir!” “Where are you from?” “Wisconsin.” “San Francisco.” Then the guy ordering drinks is half laughing in disbelief while verbally vowing never to return. I make a mental note never to return as well.

The big group leaves, Frankos says something to the bartender and he gestures that we should sit at a table. I have a feeling about where this is going, and I am proven correct. The two dancers come by and each sit beside us. I tell her I know a bit of Italian, so we converse. She’s very polite and even corrects me a bit when I make a grammatical error. She’s Romanian, 23, and moved to Rome for work. At this point, Frankos and his “conversation partner” move to a booth in the corner and a bottle of sparking wine is popped. In an effort to save time, I flat out tell her that I have no money, that I just met the guy and that I am about to leave. She tells me that they accept credit cards too. I walk her over to Frankos’s table and ask if he minds that she join them. He is obviously elated, so I leave them all and get back to fresh air and sanity outside.

I’m still hungry, buzzed on Beck’s and walking across Via Aurora, when I spot a huge group walking my way. I smile when I realize it’s the big group of Americans that also escaped Carrousel. I regale them of my story of how I met Frankos and the dancers, and they invite me to tag along. As serendipity had me meeting new friends on airplanes, streets and bars all day, I couldn’t help but say yes.

Simone at Pepy's Bar in Rome

We walk back down Via Veneto to a place called Pepy’s Bar, near the Piazza Barberini. The environment is lovely: live music, a nice bar and decent prices on wine. The bartender, Simone, is a fun guy, accommodating, despite the fact that there is a fairly large group of intoxicated Americans filling the place. I hear his coworker grumble a bit.

A credit card is thrown down and drinks are bought (the group works with a major American insurance company, so I’m hoping it was a company card). Several glasses of Italian wine later, the group filters out and it’s just down to a couple and myself. We say our goodbyes and they return to their hotel. By now, it’s about one in the morning. I head back to the Fontana di Trevi, thinking Da Michele might be a nocturnal pizza spot. It’s not (I misread “3pm” for “3am” in my Lonely Planet book). I get a few more shots and head back to the Metro.

The Metro is closed. Oops. I start walking back toward Roma Termini, hoping to follow the major streets station-by-station back to where I’m living near Re di Roma. I pass a few buildings that I can’t recall, as well as the beautiful Teatro dell’Opera.

Teatro dell'Opera

At Roma Termini, I spot a large group waiting at a bus stop. I ask a bus driver walking past how best to go back to Re di Roma at this hour, and he tells me which bus to take and indicates the stop. I eventually catch the owl bus, head back to Re di Roma (while missing my stop and getting lost several times), and eventually sink into bed sometime after 2am.


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