Friday, May 26, 2023

March 10, 2023 – Rome, Italy – Cloudy, chance of rain, 65F

Looks like we are getting out of here just in time as today’s weather is not going to be so great.  Seems like "nice" and "not so nice" days alternate here this time of year.

Up at the breakfast buffet when it opened at 7:00 AM.  Another bowl of Corn Flakes, strawberries, and milk.  Two pancakes and two eggs over medium.  A roll with butter and a pastry plus some sliced oranges.  As delicious as always.  As I was leaving, I told the cook that he had done a great job for us and we told us to come back soon.  If we do, we will certainly look at Hotel Isa again.

I took the bags down to the lobby while Ellen was getting ready.  The clerk at the desk came over to tell me that our scheduled ride was running at least 10 minutes late and that he could call me a “White Cab” that would be here in four minutes.  I opted for the cab, and he got there in about a minute. The fare was actually a little less at 50 Euros.  The desk clerk loaded our bags in the cab (full service) and we were off. 

The cab took the surface streets for about 90 percent of the trip and then got on the highway and then finishing up on a multi-mile FCO exit ramp on which he did about 70mph.  We got to Terminal 3 serving American Airlines and were directed to our check in line. There was no one in line so the agent checked us in quickly and tagged our bags.  She told us that our gate, E31, would require a shuttle bus to get there.  The shuttles were downstairs at E1.  We somehow missed E1 and had to backtrack to find it.  I should mention that the part of FCO we were in was essentially an upscale mall with shops and restaurants.  I did not remember any of this the last time we flew out of FCO.

We found E1 and boarded the shuttle that meandered around gates and planes and eventually got us to E31.  We found a seat and we would only have a short time to wait.  Our plane – AA111 (787-900) – had flown in earlier from Philadelphia and was due to depart at 11:05 AM with boarding at 10:25 AM (in about 10 minutes). 

Our group, Group 4, was called quickly and we boarded.  We are in Cabin Extra seats 31A and B (aisle and window) with a woman with a bad hip on the aisle.  She asked us if we wanted to trade the window for the aisle, but I like to watch the takeoff, so we passed.  The problem was that it was difficult for her to get out of her seat whenever I needed a break.  That’s the price you pay for the aisle seat.  I had a nice view from my window,

We've only flown on a 787 Dreamliner once before and it was a very nice experience.  The plane has a different design than other Boeing jets.  It has a pleasant blue light in the "roomy" washroom, large windows that darken via a high-tech process (the windows contain a gel that darkens when an electric current is applied). and, because the plane is constructed partially of carbon composite, it can be pressurized to a lower altitude.  This makes it more comfortable for passengers especially on landing when ears pop (or don't).  The wings on this plane also flex a lot more than on standard jets.  It's a nice plane.

We have a female pilot on this flight (very easy to understand) and we pushed right on time.  We did wait a long time on the active taxiway before turning on to the runway.  

Finally, the engines spooled up and the nose lifted and we were off.

The climb out was smooth 

but we would spend some time in low clouds before seeing any blue sky.

The delay would be made up on the way over.  The flight time was about 9 hr. 45 minutes.  The flight was smooth the entire time across Europe (we were over Nice and Cannes in this picture)

and the Atlantic 

and only got bumpy when we made landfall in Newfoundland.  We had ordered kosher meals and they consisted of rice and chicken, rolls, a desert cupcake, and inedible, as always, cold veggies.  Overall, the meals, prepared in Italy, and packaged in a nice box were very good (the meal was easy to unwrap).  I had a white wine cooler with my meal. 

My only complaint had to do with the darkening windows. When needed, the window darkness on this jet can be controlled by the flight crew and for some reason, they blued out the windows for about three hours or more during the crossing.  For me, this resulted in artificial jet lag by simulating night and sunrise.  This was not done the last time we flew one of these jets.  Finally, the sunlight returned.

This photo was taken as the plane flew over Lake Superior (when the windows were "open" again).

About an hour before arriving in Chicago, when this picture was taken (check out the cool contrail),

a kosher snack arrived as well – pizza, and some rice croquettes along with another roll and desert cupcake.  I had a club soda with this and also a Baileys on ice.  The snack was good too.

We landed on time in Chicago at around 2:15 PM at Terminal 5.  We took another long walk to the customs area and went through Global Entry.  I barely had time to take off my cap for the photo when Ellen said that we had passed and should get our bags.  They came out quickly (maybe because they had "priority" tags) and we handed our Global Entry passes to immigration and headed for the exit.

I called American Taxi and cab 107 was there in five minutes and soon we were back at the condo after an amazing trip.

Summary: Celebrity Beyond was not as noisy as we thought it would be; the second cabin on deck 9 was wonderful and Guest Services was very helpful in dealing with the cabin issue; the food on Beyond was good (at least for me); the Entertainment Staff was great to work with; the lecture turnouts were great; positive feedback from the passengers was generous; we both coped reasonably well with the time changes on the crossing; Hotel Isa was great (especially the food); the weather on the cruise was mostly good especially once back on land; the time in Rome was nice, despite the iffy weather, and using the hop-on-hop-off bus (the first time we had done this) worked perfectly. I was able to do the walking despite my back and leg issues.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

May 9, 2023 – Rome, Italy – Mostly Sunny – 75F

Today is the exact opposite of yesterday – beautiful sunny skies, no wind, and no rain.

The room was quiet but the cleaning crew gets in early so we get up when they start cleaning.

We went up to breakfast at around 7:30 AM again and this time, there were hardly any people up there.  I wanted to try something different today, so I asked the cook for two pancakes and two eggs over medium.  The pancakes were made earlier and microwaved to heat them up.  The pancakes were still soft and tasty post waving (when I do this, the pancakes don’t always come back to life).  The syrup available was imported from Canada and was really good.  

While the pancakes and eggs were in progress, I had my bowl of cornflakes, strawberries, and milk (still yummy).  I can’t do this at home because we don’t have any milk in the house. The pancakes and eggs were great, and the coffee was, again, excellent.  Simply a great breakfast.  You can even make your own mimosas using Prosecco and orange juice (passed on that).

Our plan to day is to use the hop-on-hop-off bus to take us to the Jewish Ghetto, where we will have another wonderful kosher meal (most likely a hamburger), and also check out what has happened to that area of Rome over the last several years. Here's where we want to go.

Ellen had recalled that Stop 5 was the best option for the Ghetto. Stop 5 is Teatro Marcellus and Monument Vittoria Emanuel II and from our past walking experiences, those are good access points.  And, besides, Ellen is always right. 

We used a different route to get to the bus stop today going down the second street from the Courthouse – that put us on a diagonal which ended up at the Castel Sant’Angelo.  

We went across the bridge (full of kids again today) and we were there.  Much shorter.

We caught the brown line bus today (the two lines have pretty much the same stops in a slightly different order) and our stop is still No. 5.

Sat on the top level because it was covered and took some more pictures on our way to our stop.  We got off at No. 5 and crossed a multi-laned street to the Teatro Marcello.

The Teatro, which looks like a mini-Colosseum (and may have been an inspiration for the larger structure, is actually the start of an archeological dig that ultimately leads to the Jewish Ghetto (it all came back to me).  The dig contains such interesting structures as The Roman Temple of the Portico D’Ottavia.  Before the first Century CE, this was a popular passageway in Rome.  Emperor Augustus named the area after his sister Ottavia.

We also passed by the Chiesa di Santangelo in Pescheria, so named because of its location next to the ancient fish market in the Portico.  Shots of the Chiesa are below.

I also got a nice picture of the Portico as we made our way to the entrance to the Ghetto.

We found ourselves in a sea of school kids visiting the archeological site and went up a small ramp to the level of the Ghetto. 

The place was saturated with diners – perhaps it was the time of day – near lunch.  

The food looked interesting, and the prices were not crazy, but we were really looking for something a little less formal.  At the end of the Ghetto main street, we found Fonzie the Burger House, the burger place we had eaten at five years ago.  The menu had some more items on it and we planned to come back here a little later in the day.

Across the street from Fonzies was a new place – a spa – “Sum Up” - that offered esthetic services including a Thai Massage Special at 45 Euros for an hour.  Michelle, the owner, indicated that the special was no longer available and quoted a price of 80 Euros.  We told her that that was pricier than back home, and she said she would charge us 60 Euros a piece for an hour.  She was just finishing up with other customers and said we should come back in 20 minutes.  We spent the 20 minutes walking through the side streets of the Ghetto.  Just a few blocks in from the main street we found La Fontana de la Tartarughe ("Turtle Fountain") (ca. late sixteenth century).  

We could not leave the ghetto without visiting the Great Synagogue of Rome.  

The structure was draped – of course – and undergoing some kind of renovation. 

We went back to the Spa and Michelle’s assistant led me down some very tight stairs to the room downstairs.  The room was clean, the place was clean, and there was no smell (not even cigarette smoke – I guess the techs didn’t smoke).  All I can say, is that the massage was the best I have had in all the time I’ve been in Europe.  It was perfect in every way and it went the full hour.  Ellen said that Michelle’s massage was also perfect.  We tipped them each 10 Euros and they were thrilled for such a large tip – the customers before us tipped them 5 Euros.  Should we return to Rome, this place will be on our list to visit.

After the massage, we went across the path to Fonzies and ordered Thai Chicken Salad and a Steak Sandwich along with fries and a Coke Zero.  

It would have been perfect had the steak sandwich not had mustard on it.  They bring ketchup and mayo on the side, but they put mustard on as part of the preparation.  Ellen removed as much mustard as she could.  I liked both dishes, but I think a standard hamburger might have been better.  Next time.

Price for lunch: 29.50 Euros; $32.61.  Very reasonable considering the amount of food.

We went back through the archeological dig to Stop 5 and caught our bus back to the Hotel.  We were too stuffed for any dinner, so we went up to the bar and were offered complimentary glasses of prosecco and orange juice.  It was nice and warm up on the roof and I liked the drink.  While up there, I took some nighttime pictures of the area - Basilica of St Peter and Castel Sant'Angelo.

Our ride to the airport is set up for tomorrow at 8:20 AM so we went to our room to do any last-minute packing.

I went to the desk to check out so I would save some time in the morning.

The room is quiet and we hope it stays that way.

My smartwatch documented our day.  More riding than walking.

May 8, 2023 – Rome, Italy – Cool, windy, chance of rain – 65F

The room was not warm, and it was quiet - I think we slept well.

We went up for breakfast at 7:30 AM or so.  The breakfast area is fantastic.  Nice tables with linens and utensils all set up.  They have tons of fruits, cheeses, breads, and pastries.  I started off with a bowl of corn flakes and milk along with some fresh strawberries.  I just like corn flakes.  They also have a short order cook that makes omelets, pancakes, or fried eggs.  We both tried omelets (cheese or cheese and tomato).  They were good although the mozzarella cheese didn’t quite melt. The breads seemed fresh.  The pastries were yummy especially the chocolate filled ones and one that seemed to be filled with pecans.  The breakfast spread was probably one of the best we have ever experienced in a hotel anywhere.  And finally, the coffee was really hot and good – I did have to dilute the coffee with hot water to make it drinkable.  Everything was fantastic. We have had breakfast included at hotels in Europe several times but nothing like this (especially items cooked to order).

We were told by the desk that a room had opened up on the fifth floor. Ellen went to check it out and came back and told the desk we would take it for the remaining two nights.  The hotel staff would move our bags to the new room – we hadn’t unpacked so only toiletries and meds had to be tossed into our backpacks.  Both rooms had safes with a real key, so Ellen got a new key for our new room, 500.  

I had been looking into private golf cart tours of Rome but the price was astronomical – in the 250 – 400 Euro range.  Instead, I purchased two 48 hour tickets on the Green Line hop-on-hop-off bus that stops at the major sites in Rome.  The tickets were on sale -  68 Euros discounted to 54 Euros ($59.67).  The pickup point was just over the Castel Sant’Angelo bridge on the other side of the Tiber (about a 10 minute walk).  Today, we would just do the whole circuit to see the big picture and then decide tomorrow where we might want to get off and walk around. 

We went to the pickup point right after breakfast and got on the green route bus.  You check in using a QR code emailed by the bus company.  When I showed the nice ticket girl the code she said that i needed a code for each of us.  I told her - because I thought it to be the case -that I only got one.  I showed her the bank receipt for the charge.  She was very patient with me and looked at my phone - the second QR code was at the bottom of the email - Always scroll all the way down.  Kudos to the bus girl for being so patient.  Once you are scanned in, you don't have to go through it again (just show them the QR code).

Ellen wanted to sit upstairs to get a better view.  I miscalculated the wind and temperature and did not dress accordingly.  When the bus was not on the street bordered by tall buildings the conditions were OK but in the open air, it was chilly and windy.  We did take a lot of pictures of well-known sites (I should note that the bus does not stop at the sites proper but nearby so picture taking is hit and miss): 

After several attempts we managed to get a good shot of the Circus Maximus

great shots of the Colosseum (the bus drove around the structure).

When we were last in Rome, there was street construction around the Colosseum area and we couldn't get within two blocks of it.   

The bus then entered the Piazza Venezia

which at one end, stands the Vittorio Emmanuelle II Monument, which we have walked to several times,

on this visit, we could see the flames and soldiers at the Tomb of the Unknown (the shot isn't great but there were two soldiers guarding the tomb)

Just before you reach the actual monument, there is the Basilica Santa Maria in Ara Coeli (Saint Mary of the Altar in Heaven) with 124 stairs leading to the entrance. 

Women who were having difficulty getting pregnant would climb the stairs on their knees in hopes of a better outcome.  The Basilica also contains the relics of St. Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine. 

We drove past the Largo di Torre Argentina, the site where Julius Caesar was killed,  It was at one time overrun with feral cats but now is an archeological dig free of felines.

We stopped near Palatine Hill, and the Forum but I could only get a peripheral shot of one of the Seven Hills of Rome.

We drove by the Piazza Barberini, with its Fontana del Tritone (Fountain of Triton) by Bernini.

The bus continued through the Quirinale District of Rome, where we saw the Fontana de Mose (Fountain of Moses).  The statue reminded me of Michelangelo's Moses, so I knew immediately what I was looking at.

The tour continued as we circled the block at the Basilica Santa Maria de Maggiore, one of the four basilicas in Rome.

We got off the bus and stopped to take some pictures of Castel Sant'Angelo from across the river.

Ellen took some nice pictures of me on the Ponte Sant'Angelo, with the Basilica of St Peter in the background.

We made our way across the bridge in the rain and headed back to the Isa Hotel.  I also got a nice shot of the Vatican from the bridge.

At the hotel, we checked out our new room – everything had been moved. This room was an upgrade from our other room – bigger overall and a bigger bathroom (with a step-up shower).This room had a balcony overlooking the courtyard as well as easy access to the elevator, You could walk up to the dining room (one flight) and roof top bar and terrace. 


We went back up in the roof top bar where we spent a good deal of the afternoon.  It was raining now so we really couldn’t go anywhere.  I dodged raindrops to get this picture of St. Peter's Basilica framed by a trellis.

When the rain stopped, we took advantage of our bus privileges and took another circuit of Rome.  This time out we had jackets on and were in an area on top where there wasn't much wind. The bus has an earbud system that narrates the tour is several languages.  It is perfectly synchronized so you can really identify the sites.

We passed the Teatro di Marcello.  The theater, at 111 m in diameter was the largest and most important theater at the end of the Roman Empire. We also learned from the bus employee on board that it is the best stop for the Jewish Ghetto (useful for tomorrow's plan).

The bus drove along the Iranian Wall, which was, according to the recorded guide, constructed to keep out barbarians.  I had trouble finding confirmation of this wall on line but I am going with what the guide said.  

At one point, we thought we heard that the next stop would be the last one of the day. Ellen checked and it wasn’t. For a moment I thought we might have to take a cab home. We got back to Castel Sant’Angelo and it was just as nice the second time around.  We walked past Piazza Cavour and the Supreme Court building on our way.  No rain, no wind, just right.

We tried again to go to San Marco Pizzeria but it was very crowded and for some reason completed taken over by what appeared to be an Asian Tour group.  We again opted not to eat here.  We wound up at a place called RAF Pizzeria. We split a Pizza Funghi and a very nice salad (with corn and an egg). This pizza was more substantial, and the salad was very good.  We also had some bread and again shared a Coke Zero.  When I got the bill, there were two cokes on the tab and we were charged for the bread.  I started to complain, and the waiter immediately took off the incorrect charges.  I started to wonder if this is a mini scam pulled on unsuspecting tourists.  Anyway, the food was good and cost 26 Euros ($28.73). 

We went back to the hotel and I took a picture of the one of the art pieces that are found throughout the hotel.

Back to our room.  There was some people noise in the hall and in the courtyard beneath our room.  Earplugs were at the ready in case it didn’t stop.  At around 10 PM, the noise essentially stopped.

Today was a walking and riding day.  Here are the results of our big day in Rome.