Thursday, July 2, 2009 – Travel day - So far so good, the cab driver is on time (he is a very articulate cabbie – only on the job for a couple of days so he has both hands on the wheel and is obeying the speed limits – he is actually a business man forced to drive a cab due to the economy).
Our 777 awaits – my favorite commercial jet and we are in 31A and 31B – second best seats in coach (next to the two seat sides in row 20) – lots of leg room – no deep vein thrombosis here.
Takeoff is right on time at 9:10 AM – we are doing the very long day version of the Chicago London flight – so far we are happy passengers. We became even happier passengers when the flight attendant in the jump seat at takeoff brought us each a glass of champagne to enjoy along with our coach meal. Somehow, that made the meal semi-edible. When’s the last time that happened – in fact all the flight attendants were terrific on this flight.
The flight is just about the smoothest Transatlantic flight we have ever taken – just some very light chop – even though there are some clouds, you can actually see the Atlantic and even pick out the white caps – but this picture sums it up – sunset over the Celtic Sea (about 45 minutes before touchdown at Heathrow
Touchdown was a few minutes late at 10:50 PM and we proceeded to spend the next two hours trying to get from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5 for our flight a few hours from now. We came in too late to catch the train and the inter-terminal bus didn’t start its run until 1:00 AM(I am writing this entry at 3:00 AM in Terminal 5 while Ellen is trying to get some sleep. Heathrow Terminal 5 is quite the structure – giant screens playing unintelligible videos and all sorts of cool computer graphics explaining check-in requirements – there is also an army of self check in kiosks. Now it is deserted except for a few sad souls trying to pretend they are sleeping.
Friday, July 3, 2009 – Travel Day – No sleep (too noisy with some guy cleaning the same 20 sq ft of floor all night long. About 5 AM, the airport started to come alive with British Air employees arriving to get the early morning flights underway. We were hungry so we had an “English Breakfast” (food but not food) at one of the restaurants thinking our two hour flight to Rome would not come with a meal.
British Air announces its gate assignments about 40 minutes prior to departure so if you happen to be in Terminal 5 and you do not get an A gate, you’ve got to OJ over to the correct terminal to catch your flight – I’d like to think this is for security purposes but the Brits could be having fun with us. Anyhow, we scored an A gate and our Airbus A321 was parked across the street from the terminal. In this terminal you take an escalator down a few floors and then a jet bridge across a street to reach your plane.
I love to fly British Air- the pilot are so formal and yet they put you at ease right away with this confidence (hard to describe). They also fly their jets differently than US pilots (they keep the seat belt sign off during turbulence that would have had the light on on a US flight). Any way, they waste no time getting into the air – the A321 roll was so fast that it was but a minute or so before the plane was airborne (it was raining and foggy) – the plane was only at 10,000 feet and the seat belt sign was off (never in the US).
Climb out from London
It turns out that we did get a pretty nice meal during the flight so we are ahead of the game on meals. It was a very nice flight through France and down the western coast of Italy- the weather was clear and the coastline spectacular as we approached Rome’s Fiumicino Airport
On approach to Fiumicino Airport
Best thing – the bags were there (I won’t have to wear a full line of Celebrity Cruise Line logo wear). After some confusion concerning the trains and subways, we did arrive at our hotel, which was only a few blocks from the subway station. The room was Euro-nice (small but with new stuff – hi-tech AC Unit on a shelf near the 11 ft ceiling and a plasma TV). We had dinner at a restaurant near the hotel (by the way, this neighborhood has a restaurant every 100 feet). The pasta and pizza were great and we managed to stay awake until 10:00 PM local time so we could get on to a local schedule.
Saturday, July 4, 2009 – Happy Fourth – Rome, Italy, 86F – Sunny
Beautiful day but hot and muggy (just like home) – Slept that jet lagged hallucination sleep but felt somewhat OK in morning. Had breakfast at the hotel (included) – eggs, cereal (warm milk), lots of breads, cappuccino (OK).
Today’s plan is to walk to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. It’s hot but we plan to walk on the shady side of the street and drink plenty of water. At 10:30 AM, we were on our way. The route took us in a southwest direction; we passed an ancient basilica, some archeological digs, and wonderful architecture on the way but the first major site was the Quirinale (a massive building where the President of Italy stays (and you know he never gets out)
The obelisk in the Quirinale Square
We walked down the hill from the Quirinale on our way to the Trevi Fountain (knowing that it would be uphill on the way home. This area is best described as very narrow streets (each street only lasts a block or two before changing names), quaint restaurants, and tourist shops. We could tell we were getting close to the Fountain because of the density of the people. One more narrow alley way and there was the magnificent Trevi Fountain
Ellen and the Trevi Fountain
The fountain, fed by an aqueduct and a co-star in the movie “Three Coins in the Fountain” is one of the world’s most famous water features. There is stadium seating around the fountain and beautiful baroque statuary behind the fountain. Locals – I believe also drink from the many flowing spigots near the fountain. We didn’t have any coins to toss into the water so we may not be returning to Rome anytime soon (wait, we’ll be back in two weeks after our cruise). FYI: A small church at the SW corner of the piazza contains (stop eating now) the hearts and intestines of Popes from the last several hundred years.
Next stop: Piazza della Trinita del Monti – home to the famous Spanish Steps (the Spanish Steps have no connection to the Spanish – the Spanish Embassy was nearby at one point – hence the name). Our trip there takes us along wide boulevards with fashionable shops but with sideways that are only wide enough for two people. The Piazza again is saturated with people
The church with its obelisk is magnificent. The House on the right at the foot of the steps is where English poet John Keats lived and died. At the foot of the steps is the Barcaccia fountain – small and boat shaped (ca. 16th century)
It was hot and time to start our homeward journey. After some exploring we found the correct streets and headed out. An interesting street along the way – Via della Quattro Fontane – had a fountain on each of the intersecting streets.
Again, the locals (and some tourists) drink water or fill their water bottles up with water that runs constantly from little “fountains”. These water stations are all over the city but we have not tried this (especially before the cruise). Maybe after.
We finally made it back to our hotel. The total output for the day per my pedometer - 14,000 steps – 6.58 miles. Yes, that’s a lot of miles on a day where the temps were near 90F.
Cooled off – had a bite in our room, watched some Italian TV (I could never live here – they have nothing for me to watch).
Sunday, July 5,2009 – Rome, Italy – 85F – Sunny
Could’ve slept better – still jet lagged. Same breakfast as yesterday and awfully crowded in the tiny breakfast room. Not a relaxing breakfast at all.
Today, the plan is to take the subway to the Roman Colosseum and take in the Palatine Hill archeological dig. We walked the four blocks to Termini Station and bought our all day Metrobus passes and we were off to the Colosseum - only two stops away. The structure is big (always smaller in person)
The standard view and side view of the Colosseum
Needless to say, there were tons of people there but it could have been worse (had it not been so hot). We walked over to the entrance of the archeological site. After looking at the line to go in and taking into account the heat and humidity, we opted not to suffer heat stroke in a historical site (we made the opposite decision at Ephesus a few years ago and that was a mess).
Instead we walked to the Circus Maximus, which had nothing to do with a circus but is actually a very large oval arena (think Ben Hur). Most of its monuments have been stolen over the years and now it is a very large bowl filled with grass and occasional wildflowers.
Just beyond the Circus Maximus is the famed Tiber River. It’s kind of green and scummy now but still impressive with its many bridges, a central island – Isola – and some reminders of grander days.
The Tiber River – New Bridge and remains of a medieval bridge
On the East bank of the Tiber is the Central Synagogue of Rome. The magnificent structure was built in 1904 and is essentially unchanged since then. It has a church like four sided dome that is several stories high. It is located in the “Jewish Ghetto” section of Rome – a name held over from Medieval times.
We toured the Synagogue and got a in de0th explanation of the structure’s history as well as that of the neighborhood. We decided to try one of the many Kosher restaurants in the area – finally settling on a fast food hamburger place (FK Kosher Fast). Note: Never eat the “Italian Meat” – so spicy that we both had to take a Zantac. Settled on buffalo burger and a beef burger – each with fries (too many to eat) and a diet coke – total tab: 15.00 Euros ($21.00).
We headed along the East Bank of the Tiber where we got another view of the Synagogue
The Synagogue’s Four Sided dome from across the Tiber (the tents are on the island of Isola)
As well as a great view of the Circus Maximus and the Palatine Hill
The Metro station was just beyond the hill – the train was right there and two stops later we were in Termini Station.
It was hot but a great day. By the way: My pedometer: 16,291 steps – 7.65 miles. Are we crazy?