Lost in Rome
Home Up

Barcelona 2009 Home Barcelona Day One Barcelona Day Two Isle of Capri Day Three Evil Map of Rome Day Four
Florence and Pisa Day Five Nice and Eze Day Six Marseilles Day Seven Who Went Formal Pictures
Precruise Information Capri - PreC Rome Reborn Florence - PreC  
The Fabulous French Riviera Nice and Eze Monaco Fast Lane Grace Kelly Cote d'Azur

Written by Rick Archer
January, 2010

Our morning walk from St. Peter's Train Station to the Roman Forum had not only been supremely frustrating, all that walking had really tired Marla and myself out.

Our afternoon of wandering around the Roman Forum and the neverending Palatine Hill had not only been supremely frustrating, all that walking had worn us out even more. 

We were now on our last legs and hungry too.  We had not eaten since early that morning.  Marla agreed with me that our trip to the Roman Forum had tired us out so much that we would be nuts to try walking back to Vatican and the nearby Saint Peter's Train Station.  Besides, we probably didn't have enough time to walk. 

So we strolled over to the Metro station next to the Colosseum and hopped on the subway back to the Vatican.  The trip cost us one euro apiece and took about ten minutes.  It was amazing how cheap, fast, and easy this trip was.  Maybe if Houston had mass transit options this effective, our city would have more luck bidding for the Olympics.  But our city's obsession with the almighty car makes the chance of that ever happening pretty slim.

We got off the subway at Station Ottaviano, named for the nearby street Via Ottaviano, sister of Emperor Augustus. This was the same subway station we had used the year before.  I felt pretty good because we were traveling in familiar territory.

Marla and I stopped at a nearby pizzeria along Via Ottaviano for a quick bite.  Then we took a slight detour to Hotel Alimandi, the hotel we had stayed at the year before, so I could pick up a fresh copy of the Evil Map that I have used to help explain this story.

We began to walk around the Vatican on our way to the train station.  Right about the spot where the red arrow ends on the map, I got lost.  Even though we were in a limited area only a half mile from the train station, I got so lost that I actually had a serious panic attack.  The Evil Map had struck again.  I had just entered the Zona Twilite Vaticano!!

1. The Ottaviano subway station services both S Pietro (St Peters Square) as well as Musei Vaticani (the Vatican Museum).

2. Looking at the map above, walking down Via Ottaviano, it is only three blocks from the subway to the Vatican

3. Hotel Alimandi is located right across the street from the Vatican Museum.  I took a slight detour to pick up a fresh copy of the Evil Map.  Truth be told, I had a love-hate relationship w that map.  Even though it misled me three times on this trip, I still liked it better than my other two maps.

4. The Vatican Museum is located on the north side of Vatican City.  We visited here last year, but unfortunately were too jet-lagged to fully appreciate it.

5. That white car is passing the front door of the Hotel Alimandi.  The Vatican Museum is right across the street.

6. Using the map above for reference, you can find the Piazza Risorgimento at the northeast corner of the Vatican. 

7. Using the map above for reference, you will see that Via Di Porta Angelica runs parallel to the Vatican.

8. Via Di Porta Angelica.  As you can see, the afternoon sun is to the right.  We were headed south with the enormous Vatican wall just to our right. 

9. Here is a quick peek inside Vatican City.  I was in an odd mood.  I was still mad about getting lost last year, so I decided to take a picture of every single street I passed for future reference. 

10. I located Via Corridori on the map.

11. I located Via Conciliazione on the map.

12. I definitely knew where I was on the Evil Map.  I was still doing fine at this point.

13. The iconic dome of St Peter's Basilica dominates the skyline of Rome.

14. Saint Peter's Square.  It is so enormous!

15. Our path hugged the perimeter of St. Peter's Square.   The red arrow marks the spot where I got lost.

Three things happened in quick succession. 

First, we ran into Margie Ortega and Deborah Ebner, two friends from the cruise. 

Second, a giant plaza suddenly went missing!

Third, I entered the Tunnel of Doom.

16. Just after we passed St. Peter's Square, Marla and I ran into Margie Ortega and Deborah Ebner as they were heading back to the train.   You wouldn't think these two lovely ladies were trouble makers, but they did inadvertently throw me off my game.

When the two ladies said they knew where the train station was, I stopped worrying about where I was going for a while.  My problems began when I decided to look at the Evil Map again.  My instincts told me we should be crossing an enormous open area shown on the map as Piazza del S. Uffizio.  However, with tall buildings around us, there was no plaza to be seen.

17.  Do you see the big Piazza on the map?  Piazzas/Plazas are supposed to be big, open places, right?   As I looked around me, I was baffled.  There were no open spaces, just tall buildings. Nor were there any signs to be seen listing the "Piazza del S. Uffizio".

I was really upset.  Where on earth was this enormous plaza?  Yes, I had been distracted while talking with Margie and Deb about their adventures of the day, but something this big cannot be overlooked. 

Where exactly were we on the map?   How could I have missed this plaza?  If I missed it, maybe we took a wrong turn!!

18. What I did not know at the time was that my Evil Map had lied to me again. 

In reality, there was no open area!!

As you can see in the Google Earth map above, there are tightly packed buildings that occupy the same place where the wide open Piazza del S. Uffizio was supposed to be. 

Since I had lost my way on the Evil Map, I had no choice but to follow Margie and Deborah.  Now we entered a tunnel... the Tunnel of Doom as far as I was concerned.


As we crossed through the Tunnel of Doom, I was growing worried.  I was upset about two things.  First, as we descended into the tunnel, I was puzzled by the "Terminal Gianico"sign.  There was definitely no street in the area on my map named "Gianico".  Where is Gianico

Second, Marla reminded me we were running out of time.  I did not have a watch.  Since I had no idea how much farther it was to the train station and no way to tell time, I started to seriously worry.  Sensing Marla's urgency, I knew we had better hurry up and find the train station!!  

Underlying my concern was the fact I didn't know where we were any more.  I was completely lost my place on my map and now we were running out of time.   There was no indication of any tunnel on my map and no road or building named "Terminal Gianico".  Furthermore, I didn't even know where we had entered the tunnel or what street we were walking under. 

In the middle of the tunnel, there was a side route that seemed to go in the direction of the train station... or what I thought was the correct direction.  Margie and Deb walked right past it.  Had we just missed the cut-off to the train station? 

When we surfaced, I looked around furiously for a street sign.  The first (and only) sign I saw said "Borgo" (see picture).  As I stared at my map (see map), my eyes were drawn to the only "Borgo" in the area, a street named "Borgo Santo Spirito".  How on earth did we get over there!?  

My Evil Map said that Borgo Santo was headed east towards the Tiber River!!  If we really were on Borgo Santo Street, that might explain why we never saw the Uffizio Plaza.  I was still worried about my place on the map because I still hadn't figured out where the massive Piazza del S. Uffizio had disappeared to.  And now, based on the location of "Borgo" on the Evil Map, I believed there was an outside chance we were actually headed east, not south or west.  My mood switched from 'definitely concerned' to 'very worried'.

(Side Note:  Using Google Earth, a couple months later I was able to backtrack my entire trip.  By comparing Google Earth to the Evil Map I used and the pictures I took, I now know where I got lost each time and why I got lost as well.  For example, Google Earth helped me realize I was never able to locate the Uffizio Plaza because it is much much smaller than the Evil Map had indicated.  Google Earth helped me find exactly where that tunnel was.   Then Google Earth helped me find the next location of my confusion.  Thanks to Google Earth, every one of my mistakes and misconceptions was cleared up.

However during my Find the Train Station Odyssey, I had absolutely no idea where I was supposed to be on the Evil Map.  I thought there was a very real chance the Tiber River could appear at any moment and we would miss the train.  That is how lost I was.)

I kept my worries to myself.  We had Deborah and Margie with us.  They said they knew where we were going.  Plus they had one big advantage over me - they had passed this same way earlier in the day.  When we got off the train in the morning, Marla and I were the only people who had headed south.  Everyone else - including Deborah and Margie - had headed north towards the Vatican.  I tried to calm myself by reminding myself they were retracing a route they were already familiar with.  So, despite my serious misgivings, I followed quietly behind the three women.

Then one of the ladies stopped.  We had just come to some sort of three-way crossroad.  She said she wasn't sure where we were... but surely the train station had to be around here somewhere!

Her words stopped me cold.  Just that small admission of doubt froze me.  My paranoia about going the wrong direction on Borgo Santo Street was instantly ratcheted up to sickening new levels.  What if we were going the wrong direction?   We did not have enough time to make a serious mistake.  That is when I made my fateful decision - I wasn't going to take another step until I figured out where I was on the map!  

I didn't want to offend Margie or Deborah, so I made up an excuse.  I said, "I need to take some pictures.  Why don't you ladies go on up ahead and I will run and catch up to you in a moment!" 

So the three ladies went on ahead.  Meanwhile I got out my bigger map and unfolded it on the hood of a nearby car.   I carefully scanned both the Evil Map plus the larger map all the way to the Tiber River trying to find that damn missing Uffizio Piazza.  It didn't make any sense at all.  Where was it?

As the reader can see from the maps, the entire time the train station was only about four blocks away.  However, at the time, the tall buildings made it impossible to know if this was true or not. 

All I knew was that I was faced with three possible directions in front of me plus the chance I would need to backtrack if it turned out I really had wandered onto Borgo Santo Street.  As I pondered which route to take, a new crushing reality dawned on me.  The three ladies were nowhere in sight!  Not only was I completely lost, now I was also completely alone.  What was I going to do?

That is St Peter's Square in the background. 
The "
Borgo" sign was my only landmark. 
I could only see one "
Borgo" on my map.
And where was the
Piazza del S. Uffizio?

You can see where the tunnel was, but I had no idea.  The "X" marks the spot where I furiously studied my map for some clue to where the "Borgo" sign might be.

Put yourself in my shoes.  Do you see any other "
Borgo" in the area?  I honestly believed we were walking on Borgo Santo St!


My heart was pounding as I realized I had completely lost sight of the three ladies!  Furious that I had lost track, I scanned every possible direction.  I could not see them!  I realized I had not even paid attention to which of the three routes they had taken.  Where do I go to find them? 

Like a good boy scout, I looked for the sun to get a direction.  No luck there.  The buildings around me were so tall I could not see the sun nor any shadows.  I instinctively reached for my cell phone.  Oops, I kept forgetting. No service in Rome.

From where I stood, there were three possible directions to choose from.  Not one of them had a street sign that I could see.  Which one to choose?  Where to go?  And how much time did I have left? My heart was racing.  I was now in full blown panic mode. 

I started to run.  Every time I came to a person, I stopped to ask where the train station was.  I swear I asked four people in a row, but not one of them knew anything.  This was not a good omen.  The train station was supposed to be nearby.  If no one knew a thing, maybe that was because I was on Borgo Santo Street about to fall into the Tiber River!

I looked around.  Right behind me, I finally saw a street sign.  I snapped a picture.  OMG... it was Fornaci Street!   Fornaci had been the one-way street Marla and I had walked on this morning.  I gasped with relief to discover this street because it meant the train station was indeed nearby.  Although I didn't know exactly where I was on Via Fornaci, I guessed that the train station had to be towards the sun (I could see it now).  I felt an incredible surge of relief pour over me.  No time for more pictures or maps.  This was it.  I started running again. Then I started to run fast.  Then faster!

The next chance I had to turn right, I took it and sprinted as hard as I could.  One block later, as I crossed an intersection, I thought I heard someone call my name.  I stopped to stare.  No one.  I waited to see if I could hear my name called again.  No sound, nothing.  Frustrated, I started running again.  One block later, the train station came into sight.  I cannot remember feeling more relieved. I had made it to the train station with ten minutes to spare.  But where was my wife?  

A couple minutes later Marla plus Deb and Margie showed up behind me.  I was confused.  How did I get ahead of them?   Marla greeted me with arms crossed and total indifference.  I was getting the silent treatment.  Marla was really mad at me about something.  Back in the doghouse again.  My day in Rome was ending exactly the same way it had started. 

The street sign that saved me - Fornaci Street

St. Peter's Train Station


Piazza del Sant Uffizio

Like most people, I don't enjoy being out of control.  It was humiliating to get lost, especially when I had gone out of my way ahead of time to prevent it from happening again!  After I returned to Houston, I was determined to figure out what had gone wrong.  I had first lost track of things when the mysterious giant Plaza of Saint Uffizi alluded to by my Evil Map had failed to materialize.  Let's start there.  So I typed "Piazza del Sant Uffizio" into Google.  What popped up was the map on the right.

As I stared at the map, I learned that Piazza del Sant Uffizio was not a plaza at all, but rather the name of a street.  In fact, I was embarrassed to discover that I had been walking on this exact street while I was furiously looking everywhere for the missing plaza!  In other words, I was figuratively sitting on top of the very elephant I was looking for.  In fact, this same street was the one that took me to the Tunnel of Doom
Rione Borgo

As I zoomed in and out of the map looking for more information, something mysterious happened... the mapped morphed into a picture! 

It showed exactly where the Piazza del Sant Uffizio turned into the Tunnel of Doom

That's when I had a déjà vu experience... Where have I seen this picture before? 

I looked at my own pictures and discovered I had taken a snapshot of that same brown building right after we exited the Tunnel of Doom.  In fact, this was the exact moment when I first saw the "Borgo" sign that confused me so much. 

It was the combination of the missing Plaza of Saint Uffizi and the appearance of the word "Borgo" that led me to worry that we had accidentally begun walking down a street named "Borgo Santo" (see Evil Map).  

Now was the time to solve the mystery.   As I sat at my computer, I studied the "Borgo" picture again. I tried to make out the word above "Borgo".  It looked to me like it said "Rione XIV".  So I typed "Rione Borgo" into Google.  Immediately Wikipedia popped up with an answer.

Rione Borgo 14 is the 14th historic district (rione) of Rome. It lies on the west bank of the Tiber. The Borgo borders the Vatican City (Saint Peter's Square) to the west, the Tiber to the east, Prati to the north, the quartiere Aurelio to the southwest and Trastevere to the south.

'Rione' was the Italian word for "district". 'Borgo' was the name of the district I was in. This explained why the word 'Borgo' appeared as part of several street names in this area.  This was the Borgo District of Rome

First I had mistakenly looked for a plaza (Uffizi) which turned out to be the name of a street instead.  Then I had mistaken a sign marking a section of Rome (Borgo) for a street name.  Now I knew how I had managed to get so lost. I even figured out that the Terminal
Gianico sign I had seen in the Tunnel of Doom referred to the Gianicolense Park that Marla and I had tried to visit first thing that morning only to be blocked by the giant wall.  It was all becoming much clearer now.


Too bad things weren't so clear during the day of our 2009 Roman Forum Adventure.  Marla doesn't get mad at me very often.  And when she does get mad at me, I usually have a pretty good idea what she is mad about.  The incident involving the train station proved to be the exception... I had never quite figured out why she was so upset with me in the train station that afternoon. 

Of course all sorts of things had gone wrong that day.  Our death-defying walk down Via Fornaci with cars speeding past us like flying torpedoes had gotten us off on the wrong foot.  Our winding walk through Trastavere with all the energy-consuming detours didn't help.  Our disappointing visit to the Roman Forum had made us both feel even grumpier.  This was definitely wasn't our day. 

Yet something I had done wrong on our mad rush to St Peter's Train Station had made things even worse between us (as if that was possible).  On the long train trip back to Civitavecchia, Marla hadn't said a word to me.  Thanks to my train station-related panic attack, I was feeling pretty beat up myself, so I didn't feel like bringing the subject back up either.

Four months later, now that I had done my homework and figured out what had gone wrong that day (at least from my point of view), I figured it was time to ask Marla why she had been so mad at me at Saint Peter's Train Station. 

Even though four months had passed, I discovered the details of that incident were still fresh in her mind.  Why was I not surprised?   Here is what happened.

After Marla, Margie, Deborah, and I had crossed through the Tunnel of Doom, one of the ladies said she wasn't sure which direction to take next.  Since I was already worried that we were quite possibly going the wrong direction, her hesitation triggered my worst nightmare that we were in serious danger of missing the train. 

(1) The combination of the missing Uffizi Plaza, (2) the strange misleading Borgo sign across the street, (3) the mysterious side route in the tunnel that we had just bypassed, and (4) now these haunting words of hesitation all worked together to make me worry we might be going the wrong way.  Unfortunately we had no time to spare.  If somehow we were going the wrong direction, I had better find out RIGHT NOW while there was still time to correct our mistake.  I believed my best chance to solve the mystery was to use my two maps.  That is when I stopped at the corner and told the ladies to go on.

Let me explain my decision to stop another way.  There were only two possibilities.  If we were close to the train station... which is what my instincts told me was likely... then we had enough time to spare for me to stop and double-check. 

If we were indeed lost and walking in the opposite direction... which is what my brain told me was a small but very real possibility... then our only chance of making the train was finding out now before it was too late to turn around.  Either way, we had nothing to lose if I stopped to eliminate all doubt we were going the wrong direction. 

Unbeknownst to me, two incidents occurred that upset Marla.  The first occurred almost immediately.  While I had my nose buried in the Evil Map, Marla had walked on.  About 50 yards further down the street, Marla was at an angle where she was able to catch a glimpse of the train in a gap between the buildings as it raced by.  Marla turned to shout at me, "Rick, I saw the train!  Here it is!  Come on."

The problem was that I couldn't hear what she said.  I don't hear that well plus her voice isn't that strong, especially with the distance and all the noise from the traffic.  Marla said I screamed back at her, "I have a map!  Go ahead.  I have a map!"

My behavior didn't make any sense to her, but Marla assumed I was serious about wanting to take those pictures.  For that matter, I doubt Marla had any idea why I was so obsessed with that map.  Marla, Deborah, and Margie walked a little further down the street, then stopped to wait for me (the picture shows where they waited).

When I woke up from my map reading, I panicked and began to run south down Via Fornaci.  The map shows where I made my right turn.   As I crossed the next intersection, I was now ahead of the three ladies.  Marla saw me and shouted my name.  That's when I stopped and looked around.  The three ladies were about 50 yards away. Marla says I looked right at her!  Unfortunately I never saw her.  

The ladies were incredulous to see me stare right at them, then turn and run away!

How rude!  In their minds, they thought I was behaving like a silly little boy trying to beat them to the train station.  They had been sitting there for over ten minutes waiting for me to catch up and now I didn't even have the courtesy to rejoin them.  Instead I was going to race them to the train station. No wonder they were mad.

It was all a misunderstanding.  The truth is that I don't hear very well and I don't see very well.  And in my panic, I imagine I was much less attuned to my environment.

All Marla knew was that this day had seen one colossal screw-up after another.  She just wanted to go back to the ship and be done with it.


As Marla and I talked over what had happened that day in Rome four months earlier, there was one thing Marla was definitely right about.  She said I had been in a strange mood all day long.

Marla was correct.  I had an axe to grind, but it wasn't necessarily with her.  I was dealing with some bruised pride.  During the previous year's 2008 Greece-Italy-Turkey Trip, I had repeatedly let down my family due to my lack of energy.  For example, our trip to the Vatican Museum was ruined when I had physically fallen apart and was forced to return to the hotel.

Marla understood my lack of energy was probably related to a serious thyroid problem known as "Graves Disease" that had recently been diagnosed.  Although I was receiving medication, the problem wasn't under control yet.  My problem was made worse by a combination of jet lag and the hot sun.  Still, Marla had to be disappointed to see me barely drag through one day after the next during the trip.  I wasn't oblivious to her frustration.  I hated not being able to keep up.

Plus I can be so absent minded at times.  For example, there was the day last year when I nearly cost us our trip to the Borghese Museum when I had read the cursed Evil Map the wrong way. 

That was last year.  I had vowed to myself to do better this year.  The thyroid problem was under control now and I was ready to show Marla I could pull my own weight on this trip.   

So Marla was correct that I was in some sort of a mood.  My intensity during the morning walk to the Roman Forum was directly related to my wounded pride from last year's trip. 

Likewise, my determination to get things right on the late afternoon walk back to the train was related to the same motivation - I wasn't going to let us get lost again! 

So, considering my personal vow not to let us get lost again, how do you suppose I felt when I discovered I was lost again?   Yeah, not so hot.   In fact, I was really really mad at myself during that train ride back to the cruise ship.  The entire day was supposed to demonstrate to Marla that I knew what I was doing.  If that was the case, I had not come even remotely close to accomplishing my mission. Marla was clearly disgusted with me. 

My bad mood might explain why I made yet one more serious error in judgment when the train stopped in Civitavecchia.  While everyone else from the train boarded the buses to be driven back to the cruise ship, I told Marla I was going to walk back instead.  We still had 30 minutes left before we had to be back on board.  That would give me plenty of time to walk back to the ship. 

Marla stared at me incredulously.  The first thing Marla thought to herself was that I was nuts.  She knew for a fact that it was a long way back to the boat - 3 miles.  Marla knew it was a long way because in the morning we had taken that route on the bus ride from the ship to the train. 

However, Marla's second thought was that maybe I really did know what I was doing.  After all, I had taken the same bus ride from the ship to the train that she did, so obviously I was well aware just how far it was.  Marla decided to give me the benefit of the doubt.  She told herself that maybe I really did know a shortcut back to the boat that I could take on foot, but that a bus couldn't use (well, as I discovered, there actually was a shortcut that would have shortened my three mile walk to about 300 yards... if I wanted to swim). 

The one thing Marla did know was that she was exhausted and didn't feel like arguing with me.  If Rick wanted to walk back to the boat, fine, let him do it his way.

The problem was that Marla's first instinct was the correct one.  I was completely out of my mind!

So what was I thinking?   The reason I wanted to walk back to the cruise ship was so I could learn more about the port of Civitavecchia.  That's all there was to it.  I had 30 minutes left to try to salvage something positive from this terrible worthless ruined day.  Maybe this little adventure would cheer me up.  I could use some cheering up.

My plan had started that morning.  While we stood around on the ship waiting to be released to go to our buses, I had overheard a snippet of conversation from someone in our group.  The man had told his girlfriend that you could walk from the ship to the train.  Or at least that is what I thought I heard him say.  As I would discover the hard way, whatever that guy was talking about, he could not possibly have been talking about this particular port!  I obviously misunderstood him.  That will teach me to eavesdrop.

Now, Marla was correct about another thing too.  I had indeed taken the same bus ride that morning.  The problem for me had been that I didn't pay any attention.  For the entire ride I had played computer chess.  Distracted by my game, I had not realized that the distance from the ship to the train was a fifteen minute bus ride.  The circuitous route added up to a considerable distance.

This meant I was basing my decision to walk back to the ship on not just one, but two pieces of incorrect data.  I guess this was my day to be stupid all day long.  Maybe I should have checked my horoscope that morning.

I quickly discovered this walk wasn't particularly interesting.  As the pictures show, there wasn't much to see.  Ordinarily this might have been the most unbelievably boring walk I have ever taken except that I managed to find a way to make it very interesting.   As the walk stretched on and on, I seriously began to wonder if 30 minutes would be enough time to cover the distance.  Once I realized this walk was going to take a lot longer than I had ever imagined, for the third time day I panicked (dodging speeding cars in the morning, lost in the Twilight Zone in the afternoon, and now this insanity). 

I didn't have a watch and I didn't know the actual distance.  Maybe it was five miles?  Faced with this uncertainty, all I knew was that I had better pick up my pace dramatically. 

I began to run.  I am actually a fairly good runner.  Thanks to my thyroid problem, about 18 months ago I started running every morning at home to improve my stamina.  As a rule, I cover 1.3 miles in 12 minutes during my run in the morning.  If you do the math, this means I run at a pace equal to 6 miles an hour... except there's no way I can keep up that pace for a complete hour!  Or could I?

There's an old African saying that you run faster with a lion chasing you.  In my case, the thought of what Marla would say to me if I missed the boat was almost as fearsome.  I was scared out of my wits that I was going to be late.  After all the screw-ups of the day, I couldn't afford another one.  So I ran.  Somehow I covered 3 miles in 30 minutes.  How did I do it?  Once I got scared, I ran harder than I have ever run before in my life.    And since I didn't have a watch, I had no idea where I stood... so I refused to let up until I was sure of success.  I couldn't bear the thought of missing the boat.

For the entire time I ran, buses kept passing me.  I took that as a good sign.  As long as buses kept passing me, that meant there were still passengers who hadn't yet made it back to the ship. 

I finally made it to cruise ship row.  In all I passed four cruise ships... Carnival's Grand Celebration, a Grimaldi Cruise Ship, an Azmara Cruise Ship (I forgot to take a picture), and the Celebrity Century.

Every cruise ship had staff personnel outside to greet returning passengers.  I would ask them where the Voyager of the Seas was.  They all smiled and pointed... down there somewhere.  Lucky me.  My ship was the very last one on the pier. 

Truth be told, I didn't make it back to the ship on time after all. It was 6:05 when I got on board. The ship was delayed because a ship-sponsored tour bus was a few minutes late. The lady who greeted me said I did not even have the dubious honor of being the last person back.  However, she added, I was the first person she had ever seen come back to the ship on foot at this port.  Seeing me frown, like a true pro, she smiled to reassure me this was meant as some sort of compliment.   Yeah, sure.

From the train to the bus... except for me of course

The train departs after dropping us off

Taxis that have just dropped off passengers

A Carnival ship

"Grimaldi" is the name of the Royal Family of Monaco

Celebrity Cruise Line is now a part of Royal Caribbean

As long as buses kept passing me, I figured I was okay

My ship was at the very end of the pier.  Serves me right.  I was so tired when I got back on board I actually had to sit on the floor as I waited for my elevator.

The more I study this picture of my long walk back to the ship, maybe I really should have considered swimming instead. 

When I entered the cabin, Marla was pretty surprised to see me.  Earlier when she ran into Cher Longoria on the elevator, Marla had privately said she didn't think I would make the ship. 

What Marla didn't realize is the thought of having to live this mistake down for the rest of my life was so unbearable that I had made a herculean effort to beat the clock.  Now I collapsed on the bed.  I have never been more tired.  This had been one of the longest days of my life. 

Actually, one couple from our group did miss the train.  At a cost of several hundred dollars, they were forced to take a cab ride from Rome.   

The constant threat of missing the boat definitely adds an element of suspense to the end of every travel adventure.

I suppose you wonder if I am going to write about all the noble lessons I learned this day. Don't be ridiculous - other than learning I have the ability to be an idiot, I didn't learn much else.  Maybe I did learn to pay better attention.  But if I did that, then you wouldn't have all these bizarre stories to read, now would you?


When Marla and I began our walk in the morning, I never dreamed the events of the day would result in so much disappointment.

In our family, there is no doubt that Marla knows more about the finer details of travel.  Thanks to her vast travel experience and natural interest in travel, she is way ahead of me.  We often tease that Marla mainly brings me along on trips to carry the luggage, take pictures and help her with the dress clasp on Formal Nights.  I accept my role as Junior Partner in our travel schemes willingly.  My male ego has no problem with Marla's excellence.  That said, I do aspire to develop more competency just so she doesn't have to do everything herself.  No one wants to be a drag.

Marla planned every single aspect of our Barcelona Trip except one - Rome.  Perhaps as a way to atone for last year's problems, long ago I had asked for and been given the responsibility for planning today's activities.  I had purchased an impressive map at the bookstore.  Together with my new map plus the Evil Map from last year's stay at Hotel Alimandi, I had carefully studied the best route to the Forum well in advance.

As I stared at my new map, there was one overwhelming reality that caught my eye - the Gianicolense Park which included the Garibaldi Monument, Palazzo Corsini, and the Botanical Gardens.  Here was a chance to walk through a beautiful city park on our way to the Forum and this park was right across the street from St Peter's Station.  A nature walk!  This adventure was sure to please my wife.

Considering how much thought I had put into the plans for our walk, imagine my dismay when Marla had proposed an alternate route just seconds before we started.  Marla looked at the map and suggested we simply walk from the Vatican to the Forum along the Imperial Highway just like the ancient Romans did.

I disagreed.  Calmly pointing out the beautiful garden I wanted us to visit on my route, I also said that I had planned on returning to the Vatican at the end of the day using Marla's Imperial Highway route.  That persuaded Marla to go along with my plan.


In retrospect, as you can see on the Evil Map, thanks to all the twists and turns we were forced to take, Marla's direct route would have been far superior to our actual route.  However, I think my proposed route thru the park would have been the same distance. 

Unfortunately, my Evil Map set me up for failure all day long!

ONE.  My Evil Map didn't tell me the stupid Gianicolense Park can only be entered from the south.  If you look, there are clearly roads on the Evil Map that connect the park to the Via Fornacci.

TWO. Furthermore the map had two streets that appeared to intersect. In reality we found out the hard way those 2 streets were separated by a massive drop at Janiculum Hill.

THREE. I got terribly lost late in the day trying to find St. Peter's Station mainly because the map indicated a massive plaza (Uffizi) where none existed.

When you add these three problems to my earlier problems with the map from 2008, you can begin to see why I am beginning to wonder if the Evil Map was designed by the Devil himself.

I realize that blaming all my problems on a map carries about as much weight in serious circles as telling the teacher the dog ate my homework.  That said, I am sticking to my story.  There is no doubt that I made four serious mistakes all based on misleading information provided by that particular map.  Considering the Evil Map was free, I guess I got what I paid for. 

Experience is a Comb that Life throws you after you have already lost your Hair
.  Unfortunately, like many problems in life, I didn't realize the Evil Map was inadequate until it was too late to do anything about it.  Actually, it wasn't till we returned to Houston that I realized every one of my problems in Rome had been related to misinterpreting the Evil Map.  I swear I knew where north and south was all day long and I had three different maps along with me to make sure there were no mistakes.  And yet I made mistakes all day long.  Why?  Because I didn't know at the time my favorite map was full of distortions.  I suppose in the effort to make the map look more appealing to tourists, lots of graphics (and advertisements) were added which took up valuable space, thus leaving less room for the fine details.

Like many lessons in life,  I learned my lesson too late to be of any benefit on this trip.  Next time I will either get a better map or maybe I will simply accept my shortcomings and let a guide show me around instead. 


It is hard for a man to admit that he can't understand a map, but the fact remains I was truly humbled by this day's disappointments.  I was also upset that Marla had lost so much confidence in my sense of direction.  When the trip was over, I was still so upset by the problems of the Roman Forum Day that I continued to give the subject more thought. 

I decided to do some research on the subject.  Navigation turns out to be a major Venus/Mars Hot Button!  Like a fault line in the earth, the subject of Maps and Directions is a bigger source of tension between men and women than I had previously realized.  Mind you, the tension on this subject is not quite as serious as the recurring gender differences on sex, money, and how to raise the children, but men and women definitely have different approaches to the topic of Directions. 

I quickly discovered that the issue of Maps and Directions has become fodder for many jokes. Here are a few of the nuggets I came across.

  • Women cannot use a map without turning the map to correspond to the direction that they are heading.
  • Women will drive miles out of their way using a well known route in thick traffic to avoid the possibility of getting lost using a shortcut.
  • Women would rather make three right turns instead of one left.
  • How do we know that men invented maps?
    Only a man would take an inch and pretend it was a mile.
  • Out on the road, how many men does it take to change a mind?
    None. Once their minds are made up, they never change.
  • Why are maps useless to most men?
    Because they are too conceited to bother to look at them.
  • Why won't men ask for directions?
    Because they won't listen anyway.
  • Why does it take millions of sperm to fertilize one egg?
    Because sperm are 'male' and won't stop to ask for directions. 
  • Why doesn't evolution produce men who will ask for directions?
    The sperm that gets 'lucky' to reproduce turns into a man who is genetically incapable of asking for directions, so the cycle continues.

If I am to believe what I read, the conventional wisdom is that the male members of our species have a great reluctance to admit they are lost, especially when they are in the company of women.  While this may be true, on the flip side of the coin, I have personally observed women who have to rotate maps around until the map is facing the same identical direction as the street in order to understand it.  And I also know women who absolutely hate it when men take driving shortcuts.  So obviously there is enough truth in all of those jokes to make them funny (unless they are directed at you, of course).

Believe it or not, there has even been academic research on sex differences when it comes to directions.  As I poked around the Internet, I discovered someone has actually written a book on the subject... Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps.

As I glanced through a couple chapters of the book, I discovered an amusing story about a pair of English researchers who actually devised a test to explore the concept that women have to turn the map around for it to be effective.  In 1998, English researchers John and Ashley Sims created a double map... one for people traveling north and a second "upside down" map for people traveling south.  Advertising in a national newspaper, they said the map was free to the first 100 people to ask for one.  They received requests from 15,000 women, but only a handful of men.  Draw your own conclusions.

I also found several scientific studies that attempted to prove why men were better than women at navigation and tried to explain the reasons behind men's natural superiority.  The general conclusion was that evolution had made cavemen the better navigators due to their hunting and gathering duties... for example, men who could find their way back to the cave were more likely to reproduce than men who couldn't.  Cooking in a cave, on the other hand, had not stimulated women's navigational brain cells for eons.  Voila!  There you have it.  Anyone who cooks cannot read maps.  Mind you, these studies and conclusions seem to have all been made by male researchers.

Here is one smug male-oriented conclusion I came across that is sure to raise the hackles of the women.

Witness how many women get lost from their seat after a trip to the restroom at a football game, a problem not shared by men. A Man's brain has lot of space for handling the analytical process, so he can easily analyze the situation and find the solution.  Many men can design a map of a building with little effort after walking through the area just one single time.  On the other hand, if a complex map is viewed by women, she can not understand it. She can not grasp the details of the map easily.  For her it is just a clump of lines on a piece of paper. 

Point/Counterpoint.   I also ran across articles written by women that said all these studies and anti-female conclusions were total nonsense.  From the energy in some of the responses, I can see that the issue of maps and directions remains a hot topic in the legendary battle of the sexes.  Here are a few examples.

Christina, December 6, 2007

"I know my right from my left.  Not my husband.  I have sore feet from dancing to prove it. I can also read maps just fine.  My husband, on the other hand, is the worst navigator I have ever dealt with.  Good thing he didn't join the military.  He might be stupid enough to get lost and ask the enemy for directions."

Sally, July 22, 2005

"When it comes to finding places or getting lost, there are good drivers and bad drivers of both sexes.  To me, the real difference is the way men and women's brains work while trying to figure out where to go. It's not as black and white as I say it now of course, but the *average* man and the *average* woman will use different ways of finding their way.

Men use directions (500 meters, then left, then 2 km then right at the crossroads) while women use landmarks (drive until the KFC, turn right, then straight ahead until you can see that lovely blue house I'd like to buy).

This theory was proven on my parents!  Try it yourself.  Just test it by asking your mum and dad separately to tell you how to get somewhere.  You will be amazed at how different their explanations are.  The exception, of course, comes when women do not know any landmarks.  Then they have to use the "male" technique which they are less good at so they get lost more."

Kim, February 6, 2009

"So they say that women can't read maps!  Ha!

While this notion has certainly been bandied around for as long as I can remember, the idea was made popular by Allan and Barbara Pease in their 2001 book, Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps. It was then given more credence by a report released by the University of Warwick in 2007 that claimed that women are apparently genetically predisposed to remain forever lost.

Really, I'd just like to say what a load of rubbish!

I for one am very adept at reading maps (road maps, that is) and love nothing more than plotting a route and hitting the highway with a map close at hand. Perhaps it is because I've spent so many hours following and drawing up maps for the travel guidebooks I have worked on, but I pride myself on being able to get from point A to point B without getting lost. I've even, with my trusty map in hand, managed to have a fight with a GPS and been proven to be right (it's a long story).

Personally, I think it is more a case of men not listening to the women who are reading the maps. I have had this happen to me on several occasions while travelling for work.  Once, in spite of the fact that I had a perfectly good map and was providing accurate directions to the destination I was seeking, my male driver refused to listen to me and instead continually stopped to ask other men for directions. In one particular instance, the driver had blindly driven past the place we were trying to find, but rather than following my advice to turn around and go back, he simply ignored me and continued on down the road in the wrong direction!

I have no choice but to conclude it is true: men don't listen!  They especially don't listen to women."


Personally speaking, I enjoyed reading the variety of comments on maps and navigation.  Apparently I am not the only person to ever have issues with maps. 

As for my own battle with the so-called Evil Map, truth be told, I did not even realize that hotel map was the culprit until I sat down to write this article.  That's when I went back and looked at each incident carefully to see where I had gone wrong.  As I analyzed every mistake, I realized that my misinterpretation of the map had been responsible each time. 

However, now that I know how easy it is to misinterpret maps, I think I will be a lot more careful in the future.  I will conclude with a comment about directions and maps that I liked very much.

"A map assumes you are up high in a balloon looking down below with total perspective.  A map forgets that once on the ground, thanks to all the buildings, roads that made perfect sense from above now assume the complexity of a dense forest or a forbidding maze.

Furthermore, what good is a map in a country where streets may not have signs, much less in a language you can't read, with tall buildings to frustrate locating helpful landmarks, and three dimensional topography such as hills that may not appear?"

Amen.  As a person whose day was ruined repeatedly thanks to an Evil Map that played mean tricks on him, I wish I had written this comment myself.   RA



Was Rick Guilty of Not Listening to Marla?

I definitely agree that the woman named Kim is right about her assertion that men don't listen to women.  

For that matter, I readily admit my own guilt.  This story lists at least two occasions where she said something that I didn't hear.  That proves that sometimes I don't hear things my wife says.  However I don't do it intentionally.

For example, when Marla and I went back to rehash the events of the day, Marla swore up and down she had told me about the Secret Passage to Gianicolense Park and that I had completely ignored her. 

In retrospect, it looks like the secret passage to the park was a dead end all along.  The driveway appears to lead to a garage entrance.  There appears to be a silver fence that would discourage pedestrian traffic.  Nevertheless, as Marla said, it would not have hurt to check it out when we had the chance.  She accused me of not listening to her.  Since missing that secret passage doomed us to the scary walk down one-way Via Fornaci, she had every right to be upset that I hadn't listened to her. I replied that I never heard Marla say a thing about it.  Hmm. It is very disconcerting to have my wife tell me I don't listen, especially when I think I do.

No one likes to be confronted with evidence they might have a blind spot, or in my case, a deaf ear.  However, I can think of an simple explanation.  I know for a fact that when I am concentrating hard on something, I sometimes lose all track of time and the environment around me.  If a sound is loud enough, I may hear something, but quite often I don't hear a thing.  The ability to tune out distractions is a trick a lifelong bookworm like myself learned long ago. 

After reading these articles and comments, I now realize there are definite Venus-Mars gender differences in the way men and women handle Navigation.  Thanks to what I have learned, I will be much more patient with my wife the next time she objects to another one of my shortcuts.  And for that matter, I promise to spend more time making sure we agree on everything before proceeding into uncharted waters.

For that matter, I hope that Marla will remember that although I may not hear everything she says, I don't do it deliberately. 

I honestly believe that men get so focused on problems that they unconsciously tune out distractions so they can concentrate.  So in the future if Marla has something important to say, I hope she will make sure she has my attention first. 

The Dangerous Decision - Who was Right?

The serious question is to ask what was the right thing to do when confronted with the seemingly suicidal walk down Via Fornaci? 

This is a decision that has no right answer.  It was a situation that fell right on the fault line between classic male-female differences.  The Venus approach is one of caution.  The Mars approach tends towards risk taking.  

We took a risk and our gamble worked.  However Marla was angry with me for the rest of the day because it was so dangerous.  Had we turned around and gone back, I suppose I in turn would have been pretty mad at the huge waste of time.  I can't see a win-win.  Maybe it's there, but I am not seeing it.

If we had gone the beaten path - the traditional female preference - and headed towards the Vatican there never would have been a problem.   I preferred to be the adventurer - the traditional male preference.  Although at first glance you wouldn't think a walk through a city park would be dangerous, my trip off the beaten path got us in serious trouble.  That's why they say the pioneers are the brave ones for taking the risks.  And that's why I keep reminding that some pioneers get arrows in their back as a souvenir for their efforts.

I confess that I don't know what I do if confronted by another similar situation.  I still have a lot of misgivings about our mile hike down Suicide Lane.  You can tell the pioneers by the blood splatter on the wall.


Was Rick Guilty of Sexism towards Margie and Deborah?

"Personally, I think it is more a case of men not listening to the women who are reading the maps. I have had this happen to me on several occasions while travelling for work.  Once, in spite of the fact that I had a perfectly good map and was providing accurate directions to the destination I was seeking, my male driver refused to listen to me and instead continually stopped to ask other men for directions. In one particular instance, the driver had blindly driven past the place we were trying to find, but rather than following my advice to turn around and go back, he simply ignored me and continued on down the road in the wrong direction!"    A quote from Kim listed above

When I re-read my own story, there was something that still troubled me about the incident where I sent the ladies ahead so I could pull out my maps. 

"I kept my worries to myself.  We had Deborah and Margie with us.  They said they knew where we were going.  I tried to calm myself by reminding myself they were retracing a route they were already familiar with.  So, despite my serious misgivings, I followed quietly behind the three women.

Then one of the ladies stopped.  We had just come to some sort of three-way crossroad.  She said she wasn't sure where we were... but surely the train station had to be around here somewhere!

Her words stopped me cold.  Just that small admission of doubt froze me.  My paranoia about going the wrong direction on Borgo Santo Street was instantly ratcheted up to sickening new levels.  What if we were going the wrong direction?   We did not have enough time to make a serious mistake.  That is when I made my fateful decision - I wasn't going to take another step until I figured out where I was on the map!  

I didn't want to offend Margie or Deborah, so I made up an excuse.  I said, 'I need to take some pictures.  Why don't you ladies go on up ahead and I will run and catch up to you in a moment!' " 

Perception is such a funny thing.  In this situation, here were two women who said they were pretty sure they knew where the train station was.  However, at their slightest hesitation, it appeared that I lost confidence in their ability to find the train station. 

Someone could read that passage and easily conclude "this is definitely a case of a man not listening to two women who say they know where they are going." 

When you factor in the crazy incident where I stared right at the women and appeared to ignore them so I could beat them to the train station, both Deborah and Margie could actually make the case that I was incredibly rude not only to my wife, but to them as well. 

Now you know what was troubling me.  I had to ask myself, "Was I guilty of sexism and disrespect towards these women?" 

On the surface, the answer would be YES.  As they say, actions speak louder than words.  My actions in both instances - stopping to read the map even though the women said they knew where they were going plus rudely running past all three women a few minutes later - would definitely be grounds for indictment.

That said, I would plead "Not Guilty".... in which case all three women would tell me I have some explaining to do. 

As for the second point, I have already explained I ran past the three women because I never saw them.  That is the absolute truth.  So let's focus on the first point.


My behavior on the first point was ambiguous.  On the surface, it didn't look good.  In fact, I was almost ready to convict myself until I realized I didn't "feel" guilty.  Sometimes my intuition races ahead of my brain. So I gave it some more thought.  I decided to try to remember what I was really thinking when I told the women to walk on while I stopped and pulled out the maps.  Suddenly I remembered with crystal clarity what was going on in my mind when I had stopped.

Do you remember I mentioned that Marla said I had been in a weird mood all day long?   I tried to explain my strange mood, but I didn't go deep enough.  Here is the final piece of the puzzle.

In 2008, the most important person on our Italy-Greece-Turkey Cruise was a man named Iqbal Nagji.  Thanks to his prior knowledge of Athens and Turkey, for two days in a row Iqbal was able to guide large groups through both locations (read the stories:  Athens 2008 and Turkey 2008). 

Not only did Iqbal save the members of our group a tremendous amount of money by acting as our guide, his vast knowledge of the areas was easily the equal of any tour guide we could have hired.  I remember feeling incredibly grateful for Iqbal's help. He was so incredibly unselfish to give up his own vacation time to help us. 

At the time, I realized that I would probably never be able to repay Iqbal for his immense contributions.  So instead I made a quiet vow to myself that, if given the chance, someday I wanted to be able to do the same thing for our group!

When Marla scheduled the Barcelona Trip for 2009, in my mind I thought I might know enough about Rome based on our 2008 Trip to lead a group through the streets of Rome like Iqbal had in Athens the year before.  I thought we would simply retrace our steps from the 2008 Rome Walk and have a great time.

However, as the Barcelona Trip grew closer, I had a failure of confidence.  My biggest worry was that I didn't know Rome well enough to GUARANTEE I could get a large group back to the train station on time.  This thought alone gave me nightmares!  Even if I could find my way around, I didn't think I had enough experience to know the best time to head back to Train Station.  How long does it take to get from the Colosseum to the Vatican using the Metro?  How long does it take to walk from the Vatican subway to St Peters Train Station?   I did not know the answers to these questions.  Therefore I wasn't qualified to be a leader.  

In other words, I wasn't in any position to play guide based on just one visit to Rome.  Recalling how upset I was when I nearly cost my family our trip to Borghese Museum in 2008, I worried that my inexperience might jeopardize any new adventure.  The thought of messing up again with lots of people depending on me was just too much responsibility to assume based on too little experience.  So I chickened out.

That is when I decided I would use 2009 to acquire more knowledge about Rome in case we were fortunate enough to ever bring a cruise group from Houston through here again.  Now you know the real reason why we did so much walking and exploring.  I was trying to learn enough to someday be able to guide people through Rome.

One of the things I learned from my 2008 Rome Trip is to take as many pictures as possible and relate each picture to the Evil Map.  So when Marla and I set out across Rome in 2009, I vowed to take pictures and follow the map religiously so I could RETRACE MY STEPS AT A LATER DATE.   By the way, I took 322 pictures of Rome during our 2009.  I promise you I could duplicate the path we took that day without trouble.  For that matter, using my diagrams, so could you!

Yes, in my heart, I believed Deborah and Margie could lead us back to the train.  On the other hand, when I say there was some doubt in my mind that we might be lost, although I thought it was a possibility that should be checked out, I didn't think it was very likely.  The real reason I stopped to pull out my maps was not because I thought Margie and Deborah were lost, but rather because I myself was lost.

Okay, so I was lost.  If I had confidence that the two women knew where they were going, why not simply follow Margie and Deborah to the station?

My answer is this - How on earth could I ever hope to lead a group through Rome in the future if I couldn't retrace my own steps?  So the underlying reason that I stopped was to try to understand where I had lost the path on the map.  As it turned out, I was unable to solve the mystery on the spot.  However, I am glad I stopped.  This gave me the chance to take several photographs such as the "Borgo Picture" which helped me figure out where had I gone wrong later on. 

In other words, my secret agenda in 2009 was to learn enough about Rome to attain knowledge I could use again in the future.  I wanted to be sure which route we had taken this year from the Vatican to the train station so that next year I could find my way by myself. 

For that matter, that was the same reason I took my ridiculous walk through the Port of Civitavecchia - I was trying to map out in my mind the relationship of the pier to the train station.  Obviously if I had known the true distance, I wouldn't have dreamed of making that walk. 

Yes, my Rome behavior was strange, but easier to understand when you accept it was born of a desire to serve. I wanted to learn enough about the places we visited so that someday I can be able to guide people myself.  Every trip needs a person like Iqbal.  I would count myself blessed to someday be able to assume that same role. 

Based on my constant mishaps on the 2009 Trip through Rome, I wouldn't blame you for thinking twice before asking my advice on any future travel adventure.  However, look at it this way - in just two trips, I have learned an amazing amount of information about the streets of Rome and its history.  For example, ask yourself this question - Now that I have done my homework, do you think I might be qualified to lead a group through the Roman Forum someday and be able to explain the stories behind each structure?  I hope your answer is 'yes'.

Sure, I stumbled both years in Rome on several different occasions.  But I picked myself up and kept going.  I am still a rookie at this Travel stuff, but I am learning fast.  One of these days, God willing, I will be ready to lead.  

Thanks for reading my story.

Rick Archer
January 2010



Barcelona 2009 Home Barcelona Day One Barcelona Day Two Isle of Capri Day Three Evil Map of Rome Day Four
Florence and Pisa Day Five Nice and Eze Day Six Marseilles Day Seven Who Went Formal Pictures
Precruise Information Capri - PreC Rome Reborn Florence - PreC  
The Fabulous French Riviera Nice and Eze Monaco Fast Lane Grace Kelly Cote d'Azur
SSQQ Front Page Parties/Calendar Jokes
SSQQ Information Schedule of Classes Writeups
SSQQ Archive Newsletter History of SSQQ