Sunday, October 24, 2004

Rome, Italy—Ancona, Italy—Rome, Italy—Day 267

I got off to an extra early start this morning to catch my 7:30 express train to Ancona, actually to Falconara Marittima to the zoo there—the last of the Italian zoos on my itinerary. Ancona is about three hours from Rome, in the sort of North-Easterly direction on the other side of Italy on the coast.

Luckily there was a train that took me right there, so I did not have to switch trains or anything. I took a taxi to the train station (loathing the fact that my hotel is ridiculously far away from everything—more about the hotel later) and bought a 12 Euro reservation for the train thinking that the train would be packed and that I would need one (because I have a Eurorail pass, I don’t need to buy separate tickets wherever I go, just need to get a reservation if I think the train is going to be full—like when Mo and I headed down to Venice the train was packed cattle-car style—we had to sit in the aisles!) Anyways, I got on the train and there were like four other people on it. I took my reserved seat and the train started off and I realized how silly it was that I paid for a reservation.

Anyways, reservation or not, I made it to Falconara Marittima. Quite a name for a small town on the coast! I immediately went outside in search of the taxi (I didn’t want a repeat performance of my experience in Punta Verde, Italy) and found the taxi but with no driver. This seemed a bit weird, the taxi was parked in the taxi spot but no one was there to drive it! I assumed that the driver was just in a shop or something so I eyed everyone who came out of the surround shops and buildings, trying to making eye contact and gestures about needing the taxi.

This didn’t work and I stood there for quite a while. When I turned around in ultimate frustration (with the intention of heading back into the train station to ask for help) I saw a small room off to the left saying “TAXI.” Oh.

I went into the little door and found the taxi driver sitting there (he was like five feet from me this whole time) and he rushed to start up the taxi and get me on my way. He took me up and around the hills to the top of a hill overlooking the water (Ancona is where there are ferries to Greece and back so its right on the water---of course I was scheming to myself on whether I could warrant a few days over in Greece while we made our way to the zoo).

He dropped me off and I went up and paid for my admission and headed into the zoo. I found the lone hippo (ippopotamo in Italian!) in this teeny tiny little pond. He took up practically the entire thing and was obviously trying to make the most of what he had. The pool he was sitting in was filling itself up. Poor guy!

I took lots and lots of pictures every time he moved or did something different (like turned his head). It was obvious that he wasn’t going to be getting up and out of the pool anytime soon, and from the remnants of hay in his enclosure, it was safe to say that he had just eaten and REALLY wouldn’t be out of his pool anytime in the near future. So I took pictures and sat on the bench near his enclosure waiting for any sudden movements.

The only sudden movements I got the whole time were the families with children racing up and shouting at the hippo. Now we all know that Italians are stereotyped as being loud and argumentative (I say this and don’t mean to offend any Italians out there) but when you combine that with Italian CHILDREN, woah! Several families would come up at one time and the children would just be yelling and yelling and yelling “IPPOPOTAMOOOOOOO! IP-O-POT-A-MOOOOO!” like it was the last thing on earth. I swear, it hurt even my ears so I felt bad for the poor hippo would had to listen to that every time anyone came to visit him.

The parents weren’t all that encouraging of them to be quiet either, although one man did yank his child away from the hippo after he threw a few rocks into its pond.

Luckily this rush of chaos only happened every half hour or so and in the meantime I was the only person there sitting with the hippo. I took more pictures as the pool filled up until the hippo decided to stick his head under water for good. Even my attempts at calling out at him didn’t work (I wasn’t surprised) so I set off in search of his name.

I walked all around trying to find a keeper (no luck) so I went into the main ticket area which also served as the restaurant, gift shop, restrooms AND game area. There were several sort of old crappy electronic games set up to lure children (and their parents) into playing them on the way out of the zoo. The zoo in itself was a pretty small little place. With small, inadequate enclosures for all of the animals. The poor tiger was just walking around in circles back and forth growling while the zebras trotted back and forth in their small pen as well.

I inquired about the hippo's name and both the woman working at the ticket booth and her co workers in the restaurant agreed that his name was Pippo.

Pippo! AGAIN!?!?! How on earth can every male hippo in Italy (sans Carlo from Rome of course) be called PIPPO!?!?! Let’s get something original here!

I thanked them (I didn’t show them my disbelief) and went back to see Pippo again, who of course, hadn’t budged.

So I made my way out of the zoo and wrote down “Could you order me a taxi, please?” in Italian from my phrase book and handed it back to the ticket woman. She smiled and called up a taxi for me and I went outside and waited until the same taxi driver picked me up and brought me back to the Falconara train station.

Problem was that my train wasn’t leaving for another hour and I had to wait at the station, which was all fine and good except I was hungry. I walked around the area for a bit but being Sunday everything was closed. I finally came upon a small café and bought a sandwich that had looked like it had been sitting there for quite some time. Even the girl asked me, oh, you want THIS one? And I smiled and handed over my one-euro-fifty for it.

I ate my sandwich on the way back to the station and found a bench to sit on to wait for my train. it finally came (this time it was slow train, not an express) and the four hour train ride back to Rome was just fine—if not very crowded at the end but luckily I had a seat the entire time.

Back in Rome I walked around a bit in search of dinner. This might seem like an easy thing considering that there are THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS (or what it seems like anyways) of restaurants all serving the typical tourist. But I don’t WANT touristy food, I wanted the real deal. This meant that I would wander and wander and wander some more until I just about couldn’t go any farther. Literally, my feet were so tired. But my wandering would pay off and just when I was about to give in to the point-to-the-picture menus, I found a nice little place, albeit a tad touristy (I guess you have to give in at some point!) Being on my own, its easy to get a table since they can just about shove you anywhere there is space for just one person. This time it meant that I was shoved back to an outside table in the corner—just as far back as you can get into a corner really. It didn’t matter though, I was hungry and the food was excellent.