Let's Blow This Popcorn Stand...After We Stand In Line For A While

US Air says to get to the airport 3 hours ahead for international flights. And they aren’t kidding. It only takes these 9 easy steps, and I probably missed some. We got to the airport at 9:20 am for our 11:50 am flight.

1. Once off the “Leonardo Express”, which comes into Terminal 3, we had to take a shuttle to Terminal 5. 

2. Stand in line for what we thought was check-in, but turns out it was just to have our passports checked.

3. Go stand in another line to check-in and deal with luggage.

4. Stand in line to go through security. Interestingly, no one takes their shoes off to go through security here. 

5. Go through another passport check.

6. Get on another shuttle to get to the departure gates.

7. Stand in line to…we thought, board. They take our tickets, check our passports again.

8. I get pulled out of line for a pat down.

9. Get in line for another shuttle bus, which takes us out to the plane, on the tarmac, where we climb the stairs to the plane.

Plane is packed with school or church groups who find it highly amusing to press the call buttons repeatedly, plus the required number of crying babies and toddlers. Between the 4 of us we watch Amelia, Marley and Me, The Invention of Lying, The New Adventures of Old Christine, a Robin Williams comedy special.

At Philadelphia, we have the following steps:

1. Stand in line to have passports and customs cards checked. 

2. Collect checked bags so we can haul them over to some guy who loads them into another conveyor.

3. Stand in line to have passports checked.

4. Get customs cards collected.

5. Stand in line to go through security. Remove shoes.

6. Stand in line for another passport check.

It was exhausting. We had what was supposed to be a 2 1/2 hour layover, and we barely had time to grab a bite to eat at the food court. I am checking my calendar now, hoping that I have nothing that involves standing in line for anything in the next month.

Dinner Sunday

After that, you might wonder why I bothered to ask the hotel staff to recommend a restaurant, but I was in the mood to really push the outer limits of their abilities. Although you might think I had already done that with the boarding passes. Anyway, this place was quite a walk, back down to the area we had such a good dinner Saturday. It was way past where the end of the lines for the Vatican Museum were for every day we were in Rome…

Lo and behold, the place was yummy.  Fried baby calamari – and they were babies, ½ inch long and delicious, and yes, I am also wondering how you obtain baby squids. Are they farmed? Secret breeding grounds discovered and monitored?

A meat platter for the meatitarians – several types of salami, proscuitto, plus fresh mozzarella and grilled veggies. Pasta and steak and seafood risotto, all very very good, especially with the bottle of Sicilian syrah Bob and I had. British waiter who was a bit nutty, but enjoyable and helpful.

Such a pleasant way to end the day and the stay…until we walked out into the pouring rain. Huge thunderstorm. I suggested we have the restaurant staff call a taxi, but Bob’s response (come on, you all know him, you know what his response was!) “We don’t need a cab.”

I haven’t been that mad at my husband in a very very long time. I haven’t been that wet with all my clothes on in a very very long time. I mentally kicked myself for not just telling him, “Meet you there” and taking a cab with the boys – which of course I couldn’t do anyway because he has been handing out the euros like they were papal favors.

Wet clothes to pack, damp shoes to wear on our 12 hour trip home…

But not to worry, he's still alive, we are still married, and I was speaking to him by lunchtime Monday.

About Our Hotel In Rome

We are staying at the Hotel Spring House, which is a Best Western property of all things. Anyway, when we checked in, we discovered the fridge in our room wasn’t working., so we did what anyone would do, and we let the front desk staff know. We got this funny response – you know, when they say they’ll take care of it right away but they have this look on their face like they can’t figure out why this would bother you. We continued to ask every single day we were there, because the fridge never did work. It became one of the standing jokes of our stay – “Anyone check the fridge today?” "Oh, it's not working!"

There was one electrical outlet that was marked as having power 24 hours. We couldn’t figure out why this was noteworthy until we figured out that you had to insert the room key into a slot inside the room for the lights to work. When you left with the key, the power in the room turned off. This meant we also set off the room alarm several times, usually in the morning as we made our separate ways to breakfast.Why? Because you can only have one key (and one internet login, per room, that can’t be used on more than one device at a time - another story for another time perhaps). So, if Bob and I left the boys sleeping, and took the key, and I went back to the room and they let me in, the alarm would go off. Because the door was being opened without a key in either door slot or the inside light slot. Get it? We didn't either. Somehow, this was all to ensure our safety, we were told every time we set the alarm off.

I’m posting these tidbits now, because I decided to print our boarding passes Sunday night, and went to the guest computer nook and hooked up my laptop to the printer. Started printing the passes – no ink. Not that I was surprised at this point. Went to the front desk, and of course, no one was capable of finding/installing a new ink cartridge. So, they had me email the pass PDF to the front desk so they could print them, complete with grumbling about the 8 pages this was going to take (4 people, 2 flights, sorry!).

It just all seemed to make sense then.

Last Day in Rome

We are fried and cranky and have no plan. I don’t know if that is a better way to deal with the day or not. Bob announces he wants to check out the Castel Sant' Angelo so we trek down the boulevard in front of St Peter’s Square. The castle was used by the popes during times of war, and then as the treasury, which they needed to fund the bazillion pounds of gold leaf that is apparently necessary to truly glorify God. The castle was pretty cool and we were able to wander around the battlements and towers and get more great views of the city.

The day turned into a hiking day as we headed over to Piazza Navona and Campo de Fiori. And Ryne found a McDonald’s. 

I indulged in a diet coke WITH ICE – OMG, it was soooo good. Haven’t had a drink with ice since Paris, where they would give you all of three cubes in your drink, and even those were hollow.

This behemoth is the monument for Victor Emmanuel II, which is quite spectacular and can be seen from all over town. It seems to serve several purposes that I am still unclear about. But it means something important to Italians, to the point that you have to follow "church rules" of no sitting, loud noises, disrespectful behavior, etc.

Then we headed back around to Trajan’s Forum and via die Fori Imperiali,  which they close to traffic on weekends. And found this really awful Second Coming of Michael Jackson.

The photo does not do justice to how truly bad this guy was, and I have no explanation for the huge crowd that surrounded him. Maybe they were as horrified as we were and simply could't tear their eyes away.

Things I Don't Understand

Yeah, they are legion, I’m sure. But more specifically,  I just don’t understand why I am expected to tip someone whose job is simply to tell me when a bathroom stall is available.

I don’t understand restaurant cover charges. Most places charge about 2 euro per person apparently because you are going to take up space at a table and spend money on food and drink.

No Need To Know Italian For This Kind of Thing

I’m sitting on the metro in Rome. Across from me is an older man, and a young  Europeanly-attractive couple gets on and sits next to him. Body language indicates that the young woman is pissed, and sure enough she starts letting loose with rapid-fire Italian (the f-word is the same in Italian, too!) and flailing hands. The young man is sprawled in his seat with what can only be described as a not-this-again attitude. After about 5 minutes of passionate Italian spewage and many f-bombs later, her companion finally starts to respond, and he takes the completely wrong approach with (apparently) whatever the Italian is for “I don’t know why you are making such a big deal about this.” This results in a non-stop stream of what I am sure were Italian obsenities, and he continues with what is clearly along the lines of  “That’s not really what happened” and/or “What is your problem” and/or “You just need to calm down about this,”  all delivered with a slight smile and the slouching posture, and none of which settles her down, what a surprise. She jumps up to get off at the next stop, which surprises him - and they both exit the train. Show's over folks! I look over at the older man who was next to them and roll my eyes. He laughs and shrugs.

Classic Italian Restaurant Tale

Last night, we (Vonn opted to skip dinner and stay in the room) went out with 2 recommended restaurant choices in hand, all within walking distance. The first I knew would not appeal to Ryne, who does not agree that eating should be an adventure. The second had a menu that looked good, but no seating available. We checked out a few more and settled on a place that had spaghetti and meatballs on the menu for Ryne (meatballs are harder to find here than you would think). I was more worried about Bob and I, since the rest of the menu looked pretty limited.

When the waiter came over, I decided to just ask what was the good pasta today and he immediately described a salmon in cream sauce on gnocchi. There was no gnocchi on the menu at all, let alone a salmon cream sauce. Needless to say, I went with his recommendation (and Bob got the sauce on spaghetti) and it was awesome (shout out to Tom B - your gnocchi hold up real well when compared to the Roman version!).

Ryne's meatballs were good too.

Eating in Rome

Our experience in Venice was that you could walk in to any restaurant and get great food, and the house wine was great as well (the region produces cabernet and merlot, of all things). In Rome? Well, not so much...

The Tourist Menu: The closer you are to a major site, the more likely you are to see the infamous Tourist Menu. It's fairly cheap - 10 euro for pizza, spaghetti or lasagna, plus a drink and dessert. And it's not awful, it's certainly filling, but it's also not very good. Even without the Tourist Menu you will see menu after menu with the same choices on it, so it gets a little tiresome.

The Wine: Our experience so far has been that the "house" wine (red anyway) is not always the best choice. Two evenings of that and we decided to order bottles even if we couldn't drink it all. Definitely the smart choice - had a nice dolcetto Friday and a superb near d'avolo last night.

Another Gorgeous Day In Roma

I'm sorry. I know many of you are experiencing a last blast of winter, but it was in the upper 60s and sunny again today. So, we set out for Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon.

A word about getting around in Rome - the metro is easy, but signage is scarce once you come up from the station. A map is a must, and even then it takes a few tries to get going in the right direction (no we did not bring a GPS). Coming up into a piazza is even worse, where anywhere from 3 to 6 streets might converge. Another thing I would do differently is get a better guidebook. I bought a Fodor's and I don't like it. And you really need to have one with good descriptions of sites because there is rarely any English signage - and what there is can be an interesting translation.

Back to the Trevi:

I am tossing a coin over my shoulder into the fountain - my wish is supposed to come true AND I will return to Rome...or something like that.

The Pantheon was originally dedicated to various deities before being taken over by the Christian church. The oculus is the only source of light and is not covered, and looks really cool, like this:

We hopped back on the metro and then a bus to get to Appia Antica, or the Appian Way. This was the first road to Rome, and it is now a park. The catacombs - underground cemeteries - are located here, outside the city walls. No photos allowed here, but the whole idea is morbidly fascinating. Level after level of niches that held linen-wrapped bodies...including many of the first bishops of Rome, before Christianity was "legalized."

St. Peter's Square and Basilica

We walked by the line for the Vatican Museums this morning and immediately decided to do the basilica first. The line for the basilica was pretty long as well, but it was moving at least.

The inside of this church is difficult to describe and even harder to photograph. In the spirit of intra-church competition, there are markers all down the floor of the nave that indicate where some other famous cathedral would have ended. In other words, this is the big one, folks.

The bronze altar is 7 stories tall:

The dome:

Michelangelo's Pieta is behind bulletproof glass after Lazlo Toth went after it with a hammer in 1972. We know this because Ryne googled it when we got back to the hotel. Lazlo was never charged, although they did find him to be a "socially dangerous person" and he was committed to 2 years in a mental institution before he was deported to Australia. But the Pieta is still beautiful.

We went up to the cupola...even with the elevator, you climb 320 steps according to the signs. As the dome starts to curve, you get this effect:

View from the top, on a beautiful day in Rome:


You have to be eating your way through Paris, Venice and Rome to realize that we really don't understand the importance of bread in the States. I can buy a sandwich at one of the stands in a metro station, and it will come on amazing bread I could only find at Panera (although personally, I think their bread is over-rated), or Zingerman's, or some specialty bistro. In Paris, people just walked around munching on baguettes, and why not?

Pompei Ruins

This place is HUGE. If you even get to Rome, schedule a day here. We took a Eurostar to Naples, took about an hour - then another 30 minutes or so on the Circumvesuviana train. Very very easy. The ruins are awesome, extensive, well preserved. The audioguide is good, inexpensive, but a little dull. You can do almost as well with the free map and guidebooklet. Rick Steve's also has a decent podcast that takes you through. This is the forum, with Vesuvius in the background. If you follow the sides up and complete the triangle, you can get an idea of what it looked like before it blew up 2000 years ago.

The ruts in the road here are from the carts 2000 years ago:

Here are some gladiators fallen on the field of combat in the amphitheater:

It's A Dog's Life - Even in Pompei

These are Vesuvius Archeological Site Dogs. No, that's not the name of the breed (at least, I don't think it is!). Apparently, you can now adopt them, http://www.pompeiisites.org/Sezione.jsp?idSezione=2180.

They tend to hang around the only cafe in the site, or follow large school groups around, knowing something edible will drop at some point.

Today in Rome

We are at the Spring House hotel, a Best Western property. Very modern and spacious room, but no hotel cats here. We are literally next to the wall of the Vatican, and only a few blocks from the metro. Today's adventure involved a trip to the Colosseum and the Forum, and once again - much to Ryne's dismay - lunch was sacrificed to schedule.

We downloaded Rick Steve's audio tours of both sites, ready to avoid any guided tour pressure - and they do jump right on you as soon as you exit the metro. However, when we were getting in line for tickets, we were able to make a deal for a guided tour of the colosseum and the forum for only 16 euro above the regular ticket price - basically, no charge for the kids - with an assurance of a "native English speaking guide." Well, the colosseum guide was definitely not a native English speaker, but he did speak well, and was quite hilarious. His descriptions of the games were very colorful - beasts "exploding" into the arena from below, roaring of animals and crowds, blood and guts...slaves pouring perfume down narrow gutters to combat the smell...and so on.

Ryne and I had chocolate gelato from one of the snack carts, and I bought a frozen Coke light - I was so excited to have an ice cold diet coke that I opened the bottle before the ice had melted enough and 1/3 of it fizzed out the top. But I didn't care. It was so good.

After that, we had a tour of the Palatine with a British guide who must have started her day with 15 double espressos. She was very enthusiastic, thankfully not in an annoying way, and gave a a great tour of the hill and an overview of the forum. We then wandered all over the forum for a while.

Back to the hotel neighborhood to pick up the laundry...we went looking for a laundromat, even though the hotel staff told us there weren't any ("It's not like America, you know"). They suggested we use the hotel service - 7 euro for each pair of pants, 3 euro for underwear. I don't think so! We didn't find a "self service" wash, but we did find a small place that just did it for us...at an outrageous price, but much less than the hotel, plus we didn't have to take the time ourselves. And it's done.

Tomorrow we hope to get to Pompeii.

Venice to Rome

Another good breakfast of "empty" croissants, nutella and salami sandwiches and then off to the train station on the water bus. The water bus is not as romantic as it sounds - they are slow, noisy and crowded. But we got the station in plenty of time to get our Eurostar to Rome, with stops in Bologna and Firenze. Termini station in Rome is nuts, but manageable. Lucky for us the weather is nice today, because the hotel website says to get off at the Vatican Museums metro stop, but then gives directions to the hotel from the next metro stop over (and closer to the hotel). We ended up buying a map, and it ended up being an easy walk...but still...