London, Paris, Rome with Dani
Saturday, July 28, 2001
In the spring Linda informed Danielle and me that she would be too busy to travel this summer. So Danielle and I began looking for something interesting to do, and hit upon this relaxed two-week trip to Europe. Although Danielle lived in France from the time she was three months to six months old, this would be the first trip within her memory. I’m pretty familiar with London, even more so with Paris — where Henry Corrado is a good friend — but we settled upon a tour because it was economical, would be a good introduction for Danielle… and I wouldn’t have to lug both of our suitcases.When I signed us up for this European tour, I never suspected we’d be setting out only five days after returning from Australia! But opportunities arise, and the Australia trip was great. Best of all, Linda was able to go along on that one.So feeling like expert travelers, at midday we headed for the airport, and the overnight flight to London.
Sunday, July 29, 2001
The Australia conditioning is still working. The trip to Charlotte seemed instantaneous, and the trip across the Atlantic passed fairly quickly as well. We took an Airbus A330, which is a lovely plane. It offers much more coach seating room than the competitors, and has personal video and CD on-demand players in every seat. We were lucky; the seat next to Danielle was empty, so she was able to sleep with her head on my leg most of the way.
I brought a Palm Pilot that came free with a new computer we purchased, and Danielle immediately seized upon it. She’s gotten quite good at the Graffiti writing, and is keeping her trip journal on it.
We arrived at Gatwick a bit early, about 7:50am. The Far & Wide travel reps met us, moved our baggage onto the express train to London, and gave us tickets. The train was the Eurostar style; Danielle immediately noticed the absence of clacketa-clacketa noises.
At Victoria Station another Far & Wide rep met us, and escorted us to a minivan for the ride to the Hilton Metropole. The hotel looks nice, and is conveniently located just north of Kensington. We were met by our Tour Director, Gloria, who secured us a room in the new tower. Unfortunately, our room wasn’t ready yet — no surprise at 10:00am — so we checked everything and, at Gloria’s suggestion, headed by taxi to St. James Palace. Just for the record, the taxi driver was the same surly bastard type that I’ve had every time I’ve ever taken a London cab.
At St. James Danielle posed with the guard, and then we walked through Green Park to Buckingham Palace. At 85 degrees it’s hot here in London — yesterday set a record — so the ice cream stand was doing some serious business. We sampled their wares while we waited for the changing of the guard. On Sundays the Mall (rhymes with Al) in front of Buckingham Palace is closed to automobiles, so we were able to jump into the street in advance of the trooping guards and take pictures — mostly of Japanese tourists doing the same thing. Rather than wade through the tourists to see the actual change of the guard, we headed down the Mall past St. James Park and under the Admiralty Arch to Trafalgar Square. There we had a extraordinarily mediocre pizza buffet, bought tourist trinkets, and caught the tube at Charring Cross.
Six quick stops brought us to Edgware Road, where we emerged across the street from the hotel. I’m always amazed by the comprehensiveness of the London Underground. The trip took ten minutes and cost $3, as compared with the $15 cab ride. And no surly driver.Although I was skeptical of the Palm Pilot, it’s been useful for three things so far: currency conversion when I wanted to change Danielle’s $165 into equal parts Pounds, Francs and Lire; Figuring the most efficient Metro route (I downloaded the data for all three cities we’re visiting); and, of course, entertaining Danielle.
On returning to the hotel at 1:30 our room still wasn’t ready, so we camped in the lounge and updated our journals, looking very high tech with our dueling electronic appliances. It was nice to be offered free drinks, but a bed would be much nicer.
At about 2:00pm our room was ready. Danielle was asleep in seconds.
At 5:30 I went down for orientation and then collected her for dinner in La Fiama, the Metropole’s downstairs restaurant. We dined with a nice couple from Arizona, the Drumms, who have been in the UK for twelve days, most of it at the British Open. The demographics of this tour are quite different from the Tauk Tour, although I guess that’s a seasonal thing. The average age of this group is probably late forties, and it’s fairly evenly distributed.
Monday, July 30, 2001
Feeling surprisingly like we’re on the right time zone, we breakfasted in La Fiama and then joined the group for a city tour. We started by retracing our steps yesterday to St. James Palace and Buckingham Palace. I took the opportunity to peek into the window at Berry & Rudd Ltd., one of the oldest wine merchants in the city. Our walk this time took us through St. James Park, along the Princess Diana memorial walkway. Rejoining the bus, we drove through the West End, pausing at Westminster Abbey for a quick photo. Then it was on to the British Museum.
Trying to do the British Museum in an hour is the ultimate exercise in futility. But Danielle and I split off from the group and shifted into high gear, hitting the highlights in rapid fire: The Elgin Marbles (stolen from the Parthenon), the Rosetta Stone (stolen from the French, who stole it from the Egyptians), many, many mummies (ditto) and Latham Man, a 200-year-old man perfectly preserved by being tossed into a peat bog after being ritually killed (this last item was from Northern England, and actually wasn’t stolen).
Next stop: Covent Garden, for lunch and shopping. Danielle and I had a baked potato and a waffle (you can guess who assembled the menu) in an open air cafe, and then Danielle bought several hundred stuffed animals. She’s now in the hole $48 — time to do some math workbook pages and earn some spending money.
The afternoon tour took us to St. Paul’s Cathedral (no photos allowed). It’s big, but not as attractive as Notre Dame. Danielle was hesitant to visit the crypt until I pointed out that it couldn’t be too creepy, as there was a Crypt Cafe. We visited the tombs of Christopher Wren, the Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson, and Danielle learned some history. She says they’re studying English history this year in school, so this should put it wonderfully in context.
Our final stop was the Tower of London, where Danielle learned a LOT of history, particularly about Henry VIII and his sexual proclivities. The displays in the White Tower have been significantly improved since I was there last. I still think this original structure, built by William the Conqueror starting in 1066, is the most impressive.
It was extremely hot in London today — hotter than Havana! — and we were all pretty tired by the time we headed back to the hotel. A cool shower improved things, and then Danielle and I headed up to Aspects on the 23rd floor for a leisurely four course dinner. They featured a California cuisine which was the best non-ethnic food I’ve had in London.
Tuesday, July 31, 2001
The wake-up call for Stonehenge and Bath was at 6:45am, but we still got almost nine hours of sleep. If we weren’t reading such an interesting bedtime book — the fifth volume of The Indian in the Cupboard series — we would have gotten more.Danielle caught a nap on the tour bus as we headed through the English countryside to the Salisbury Plain. This is the third Mercedes tour bus we’ve had in as many tours (including Australia) and they’re really comfortable. The ride is smooth enough that I’ve spent it bringing this journal up to date.
Stonehenge:According to Danielle, “The stones are larger, and the circles smaller than I’d imagined.” I concur. There’s an eeriness about the place in its very improbability. Even the busloads of tourists, and the rope that maintains a fairly distant perimeter don’t prevent you from getting the feeling that some really strange things went on here 5000 years ago.
There are four stone rings inside an earthen ditch, with an alley leading to their center. The inner rings are horseshoe shaped, and the outer ones circular. Two of the rings are relatively “small” irregular stones called “blue stones”. These were transported from Southern Wales, over 240 miles away. No one can imagine how, and recent attempts by college students to duplicate the feat have ended with the stones at the bottom of the ocean.
The upright stones and horizontal lintels that we associate with Stonehenge are from much closer — about 30 miles away. But they weigh up to 50 tons. They’re fastened together like giant furniture, with pegs and holes.
Stonehenge was built by a group we call the “Beaker” People, from the fact that they placed beakers in their burial mounds. These mounds are called “barrows”. Several are visible from Stonehenge itself. Little else is known about the site, except for the fact that it’s a calendar. The flat stone near the front aligns perfectly with the central “altar” stone at sunrise on the longest day of the year, and sunset on the shortest.
Stonehenge really only occupies you for about an hour, and the free interpretive audio tour isn’t terribly informative. Nevertheless, it’s well worth the trip because it’s just so darn strange.
Bath:I wasn’t expecting much from Bath — frankly I had no idea what it was; but it turned out to be quite a nice mixture of history and ambiance. Bath is all about water — hence the name. It’s a good sized town built around the site of England’s only hot spring. The story goes that it was discovered by a leper who noticed that his pigs’ skin problems were healed when they bathed in the mud of the hot spring. He did likewise and was cured, then went on to become the king.
Later the Romans set up one of their elaborate bath houses on the spot, and it is chiefly the archaeology of this period that is presented at the historical site. The Roman building incorporated a temple, hypocaust, calderium, and a sacred pool into which you could throw pewter scrolls for the goddess Minerva — chiefly requests to curse people who had done you wrong.
Following the Romans, the Victorians rediscovered the spring, and turned it into a fashionable resort. The discovery of the Roman ruins in the 19th century further encouraged tourism. Today the town is filled with tourists, cafes, shops and flowers. Well worth the trip.
After a late lunch overlooking the river Avon (not Shakespeare’s Avon: Avon is Celtic for “river”, so there are a lot of River Avons — literally “River River”) we headed back to London, arriving at 5:30. Showered and changed, we headed out at 7:00pm for Agatha Christie’s “Mousetrap”, which at 49 years is London’s — and the world’s — longest running play.
It’s presented in a small theater that reminded me of the Victorian music hall described in the Indian in the Cupboard series. The play is quite good, although we’ve watched so many Perry Mason episodes that we had it mostly figured out at intermission. At the end, the audience is sworn to secrecy, but I can assure you that the butler didn’t do it (there isn’t one).
We spent our cab fare on a T-Shirt, so we didn’t stay in the theatre district for a late supper as planned, but instead headed back to the hotel on the tour bus and went to bed.
Wednesday, August 1, 2001
This tour may be called “Leisure Europe”, but the pace hasn’t been too leisurely so far. I’m glad we didn’t select “Frenetic Europe”! So we decided to take this morning off. We’ll skip the optional Windsor Castle trip and rejoin the group for tea at Harrod’s.
After a truly appalling breakfast as only the English can ruin it, we caught the tube to Westminster for the tour of the Cabinet War Rooms. To our surprise, this turned out to be the highlight of our London stay.
The warren of underground rooms, protected by a 3-foot-thick concrete ceiling, housed Churchill and other key planners and military figures during the London blitz, from late 1940 until the end of the war. It has been preserved EXACTLY as they left it — right down to the last paperclip and cigar butt. The narration of the self-guided audio tour was excellent, capturing the uncertainty of the times with bits of actual recordings. Highly recommended.
On the way back to the Westminster tube station we walked past the Horse Guards. Incidentally, Westminster Station is quite amazing. It’s about eight stories deep, with crisscrossing escalators and interlinking tube platforms, and is entirely concrete and steel. It looks a lot like a scene out of Star Wars.
Back at the Hilton we had lunch downstairs. The Caesar salad consisted of equal parts lettuce, ham and eggs, all put through a meat grinder, with two sardines on top. Yum. (How can these people live only 40 miles from France?)
At 4:00 pm the motor coach dropped us off at Harrod’s for tea. Harrod’s is a really, really, really friggin’ big store. It’s six stories of an entire block filled with merchandise, much of it ridiculously priced, but with enough reasonably priced items to cater to all tourists and many locals. There are — get this — 300 departments, and 4000 employees. You can get furniture, plasma screens, furs and lettuce all under one roof. The cheese case alone was about 50 feet long. Tea was the usual finger sandwich and cardboard pastry nonsense, but we enjoyed conversing with the couple from Arizona.
Danielle, who is still trying to “math” her way out of debt, dropped another 32 pounds on stuffed bears and the hard cover special edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.I bought a bottle of water for 99p.
Thursday, August 2, 2001
Our wake-up call came at 5:00 am, for the 8:23 am Eurostar train to Paris. Is it coincidence that the London station that connects to Paris is named Waterloo?
The train poked along through England until the coastline, when it hit the smooth tracks of the Chunnel. As we pulled away from English soil, we bid a fond farewell to all the history of London, and a not so fond farewell to everything else about the place! Rudeness, inefficiency and bad food dwindled in the distance, as we continued at about 50mph throughout the 20 minute trip deep beneath the English Channel.
As we emerged into Normandy, the train gathered speed and soon we were hitting close to 200mph. It’s most impressive when you pass another one of these TGV’s going the other direction. At 400mph, they’ve disappeared in a little over a second.An hour later we arrived at the Gare du Nord. Our tour bus stopped at the Opera to pick up our local guide, Nicola. Since his mother was American, he speaks with virtually no accent — he sounds like someone out of a1950’s western, in fact.
Our city tour took us down the Champs Elysee, stopped at the Eiffel Tower for photos, and then took us to Notre Dame. The cathedral is impressive, but I think we’re both cathedralled out. More impressive to us was the food from the sidewalk cafes. Danielle says it was the best hot dog she ever tasted, and the brie was even better.
We checked into our hotel at 4:00 pm, and arranged to meet Henry at 7:00 pm for dinner at Quay Oest, his favorite riverfront restaurant, out on the west side.
Friday, August 3, 2001
Henry picked us up at 9:00 am and we had breakfast at La Duree, near the Place Madeleine. Now Danielle understands what a croissant is. Wow.We reached Paris Disneyland shortly before noon, where we went on Space Mountain — which Danielle loathed — and then met Jean Claude Boyer and Frederic Sauthier at Walt’s on Main Street for lunch. Afterwards, we did mostly Frontier land, which is a lot different than Magic Kingdom.For dinner we stopped at the mall in Serris to buy food, and then had a nice evening, dining on the table in Henry’s backyard in nearby Chalifert.
Saturday, August 4, 2001
Today was Eiffel Tower day. Henry picked us up at 11:30am for our lunch at Jules Vernes, the restaurant on the second level, 270 feet above the Seine. Lunch was fabulous. Particular highlights were the butter(!), foie gras and the incredibly complex flavor of the chocolate truffles. Better bring money, though — even the appetizers were $40 each (yeow!) At least it satisfied Danielle’s request for a fine dining experience in Paris, and it could have been worse — it could have been dinner pricing.
After lunch we took the elevator to the top of the tower to experience the view of all of Paris from about 1000 feet. Spectacular. We took the elevator back to the second level and then climbed down the 649 stairs to street level.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at Le Bon Marche, a fancy food store in the 7th Arondissment and bought some gourmet foods to bring home with us.
After relaxing for a few hours, we decided that since it was our last chance, we’d venture out onto the Place de la Republique in search of the true Paris bistro experience. The neighborhood was one that seemed to specialize in mussels and other shellfish, which wasn’t quite what Danielle had in mind.
We settled on the brasserie Maitre Kanter because they had duck. It was decent food, but the ambience was great, sitting at a table out on the sidewalk and dining late into the evening. Before desert it started to rain lightly and they moved us inside, where we enjoyed watching the crabs try to climb out of their large rock aquarium. By the end of dinner the skies had cleared, and we headed back to the hotel.
Sunday, August 5, 2001
We slept late again this morning; Henry picked us up at 11:30 and we drove to the Champs Elysee for lunch at the other La Duree. This one serves a complete menu, not just pastries. Mmm.
Next stop the Louvre. The Louvre is really, really, really big. In three hours we walked through perhaps 10% of the collection, pretty much without stopping. There were more Egyptian antiquities there than I remembered, and that area was less crowded than the painting section. The Mona Lisa (La Jaconde, the French call her) is mandatory, of course, but getting to it is another matter. Danielle finally squirmed through the crowd to get a glimpse. It is true that her eyes always seem to be looking at you, wherever you stand, a feature not apparent in the reproductions. It’s just a shame it’s impossible to really appreciate it because of the crowds. After visiting my favorites — the Flemish paintings — we headed back to the hotel for showers, fancy clothes, and a meeting with our tour group — the first in three days. Many thanks to Henry for entertaining us for our entire Paris visit; it was great.
We all boarded the bus at 7:00pm looking very different, in our jackets and ties. The group had obviously grown together during their Paris stay (many had taken up to four optional trips together). Several mentioned that they’d missed us. I guess Danielle tends to liven things up a bit. She enjoys talking to both the teenagers and the older people. I particularly like the Chinese family from San Francisco, the Midwesterners who now live in Marin, and Gloria, our tour guide. At 8:00 we boarded the Batteau Mouches for a dinner cruise on the Seine. Champagne was followed by a four course dinner of surprisingly good food. There were no complaints about the wine, either — a 1998 St. Emilion Grand Cru. It flowed freely, a fact that I’m sure was regretted by a few the next morning.
As the boat rounded the Isle de la Cite and Isle St. Louis, a band began to play dance music, and Gloria coaxed quite a few of us out onto the dance floor — Danielle and I included. A light rain outside, floating down almost like snow in the bright lights of the boat just added to the atmosphere. I was nearly midnight before we got back to the hotel; all in all a very pleasant evening, one I recommend to all Paris visitors.
Monday, August 6, 2001
Our wakeup call wasn’t until 7:45, but I was up at 7:15 to shower and pack. After breakfast we piled onto the bus and headed for Charles De Gaulle airport. I think everyone was reluctant to leave Paris, as always.The flight was only about 90 minutes, and Air France food was good, as usual. But with the logistics at both ends figured in, it was 5:00pm before we checked into the Mediterraneo in Rome.
Coming into Rome we passed though many mid-20th century buildings, most of which were marked with graffiti. Gloria explained that it could be expensive to clean your building, because it might attract the attention of the tax assessor! As we passed through the ancient Roman wall surrounding the old city there began to be many more ornate and Renaissance buildings.
Our hotel is located near Termini, the main train station, which the guide book says is not the greatest neighborhood, although it looks nice enough. The hotel appears to be about 100 years old, but is in good repair. The floors are marble, and there are rare woods throughout. Our room is large by European standards, with a nicely remodeled bathroom, including a bidet (“If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium” comes to mind). The beds are twin size, though.
Danielle walked through the door and fell asleep. We decided to skip the evening’s walking tour, including the Trevi fountain (of “Three Coins” fame) and the group’s many course Italian dinner, because we had a 6:00am call for the city tour on Tuesday. I went out to a small local market for some water and snacks and scoped out the neighborhood while Danielle slept, then caught a nap myself until 9:00pm.
When Danielle awoke she was ready for dinner, so we walked up to the Piazza di Republica and had pizza and pasta (yes, that’s really what they eat) in a sidewalk Tratorria overlooking the square. For dessert she had a fantastically rich chocolate gelato.
Tuesday, August 7, 2001
Rome is busy, but not like in the movies. We’re told that it’s “empty” because it’s August and everyone is out of town. It’s not empty, but our guide, Gloria, was surprised at how early we got to the Vatican: about a half hour before opening. We were the second or third group in. Our local guide, Amelia, was informative, but not as interesting as Gloria. We visited a single corridor of the Vatican Museum, then entered the Sistine Chapel.
It’s amazingly colorful since the cleaning of a few years ago. I had read some descriptions of the different sections in the excellent Dorling Kindersley Rome travel guide (don’t leave home without it), so it was more interesting than I was anticipating. Gloria rented personal radio headsets for us for the entire day. These were fantastic, as they allowed Amelia to speak in a whisper, even from 100 feet away, and we could all hear her. It made it very easy to collect the group as we moved from area to area, and saved us a lot of time throughout the day.
The Sistine Chapel empties into St. Peter’s square, where we made a U-turn and entered St. Peter’s Basilica. This is the largest of the cathedrals on the trip; the tallest building in Orlando would easily fit under the 448 foot high dome. Inside is the Pieta, now behind bullet proof glass, and many works by Bernini, who shared architectural credit with Michelangelo. Unlike the other cathedrals we’ve visited, this one is a work in progress, with many new mosaics honoring recent popes and parishes around the world. The large “paintings” in the various shrines are actually mosaic copies of famous paintings in the Vatican painting gallery; when examined extremely closely it becomes apparent that they are made of millions of colored glass beads.
After St. Peter’s we took a break so that Danielle could get fleeced in a tourist shop, and then wound our way through the historic part of the city to the Colosseum. On the way we saw many sights in the forum and surrounding area. While it would have been nice to walk, it was over 90 degrees, and the bus’ air conditioning felt great. I was a little surprised to discover that the forum is not only surrounded by modern highways, but is actually bisected by one. Those postcard photos must be shot very carefully.
Inside the Colosseum Amelia led us around the edge of the main floor, describing how the area beneath the floor was used to store live animals. Their cages were winched through trap doors to provide a dramatic entrance at the proper moment. Then they were slaughtered. Fun.
Because of the light crowds, we finished our tour by 1:30, a couple of hours early, and decided to have a quiet afternoon. (We have a 4:30 am wake-up call tomorrow… groan.)
We had dinner in a trattoria on a small street near the hotel. When I say “on”, I mean on — our table was almost in the middle of the pavement. Oddly, it was run by a Japanese man, but the food was strictly Italian, and better than last night’s. I had fettuccine Bolognese and we shared a ham pizza; this flatbread pizza style, reminiscent of what I fix on the barbecue, is apparently the true Italian style, invented in Naples.
Wednesday, August 8, 2001
This was the big day of the trip: Naples (Napoli), Capri and Pompeii. We were on the bus by 5:00am, but I think we were all comatose for the first ninety minutes until we hit a rest stop with a coffee bar.
At 9:30 we reached Naples, a big, unattractive city on a large bay. The culture is different in southern Italy, and the activities of the mafia and the underground economy have hurt the southern cities, which lag the north in prosperity. We were early, as the roads were empty, so we killed a bit of time in a square in front of what was the palace of a southern king. An interesting note is that stray dogs here are not rounded up, they are fed by the citizens.
At the docks we met Marco, our local guide for the day. He was a handsome and charming Italian, but fairly worthless as a guide. During our visits to Capri and Sorrento he was invisible most of the time, and did little more than point out good places to take photos. We emerged knowing nothing of those two places.
In Pompeii he was more informative, but spent much of his time making sure we bought books from his friend. But I digress.We took a hydrofoil to Capri, a 45-minute trip diagonally across the bay. The water was smooth, almost glassy, even as we ventured out into the edge of the Mediterranean. Seagulls floated on it all the way across.
Capri is a dramatic saddle of limestone jutting over 1000 feet upwards out of the bay. There is almost no level ground, but thousands of narrow terraces have been cut into the stone, and are planted with trees, shrubs or vines. A road switchbacks its was up the saddle and then across the vertical cliff face of the northern end. Wherever possible, it is lined with narrow houses squeezed against the cliff face and each other. There are few spots wide enough for even the tiny minibuses to pass, and scooters are the preferred method of transport. Our minibus ride was reminiscent of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride; at one point we had to negotiate a complete 360 in order to make a sharp right turn. We drove though three of the four villages on the five-square-mile island, starting from Marina Grande and proceeding through Capri to Anacapri, perched atop the northern end. Even with the early morning fog still shrouding much of the island, the views were spectacular: deep blue water dotted with dozens of sailboats and yachts, rocky limestone cliffs plunging to the sea, and everywhere colorful bursts of bougainvillea.
In Anacapri we boarded a skyride to the very highest point of the island. This was pretty exciting, as the seats were individual ski lift chairs, so our feet dangled above the scenery as we climbed almost another 1000 feet to the highest point on the island. On the way up our feet nearly grazed the tops of some of the trees, and we passed over many vineyards, gardens, and a backyard filled with what appeared to be shrines made from Barbie doll parts, plastic toys and seashells. From the top of the mountain we looked down another steep cliff to the small grotto where mermaids lured the Greek sailors in the Odyssey.
Back at the base of the lift we walked through the narrow shopping bazaar to the Hotel Saint Michele, an attractive white complex on the ridge, overlooking the harbor. We had a pleasant lunch, sharing a table with the Drumms, then retraced our minibus journey back to the hydrofoil for the shorter trip to Sorrento, at the southern end of the bay.
Sorrento is as charming as Naples is homely. Beautiful old buildings cling to the cliff tops, and the public squares are lined with interesting restaurants and shops. Unfortunately we were just passing through, taking a bus back to our tour bus, but this town definitely merits an extended stay.
The road from Sorrento back to Naples definitely tested the skill of Daniele (accent on the final ‘e’), our tour bus driver for the Italian portion of our trip. It clings to the rocky cliff top, skirting many volcanic beaches, and plunging through long, winding tunnels at several spots. The beaches were crowded with sunbathers and swimmers, but traffic was light.I was surprised to discover that Pompeii is surrounded by a suburb of Naples; I had imagined it in some secluded spot. But unlike the forum in Rome, which is bisected by a major highway, Pompeii is isolated by its size and the local topology, a lot of which is volcanic ash and pumice. Incidentally, Vesuvius erupts about every 50 years. The last time was in 1944. You do the math. There are 500,000 people in the immediate vicinity, and a single lane road leading in and out.
Pompeii is a city. Yes, I knew that, but somehow I was thinking four square blocks. In fact it’s huge, stretching in all directions as far as you can see. The second floors of most buildings are gone, but the first floors, including mosaics, frescoes, and even plumbing survive.
Buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, Pompeii was only discovered in the 19th century, and excavation still continues. Delicate objects such as amphorae and wooden things have been gathered up and placed in storage areas or museums, but most of the structures are open for you to walk through.
Marco seemed to be fascinated by anything that was a penis, so we got what amounted to the erotic tour of Pompeii. There were penis stools, frescoes with giant penises, penises carved into the pavement to point you to the brothels, and penises mounted above the apothecary where you got treated for the clap you caught at the brothel. Inside the brothel were detailed paintings of the “menu”. I guess Danielle won’t be needing any sex ed classes.
We also toured some of the baths (which were much more interesting than the complex in Bath), an ornate private home, a bar and casino, and the public square. The level of detail in Pompeii is amazing, and we left with many unanswered questions about mysterious objects that we passed on the way through. Two hours is not enough. I’m not sure two days would have been. We will definitely want to return.
It was another three hours on the bus back to Rome, but the time went quickly, as Gloria told us stories on the way, including the history of the Hapsburgs, the gossip on the British royal family, and a hilarious tale about her vacation in a “camping machine”.We arrived at the hotel about 9:00pm and received sad news. Danielle’s Grandpa Dean passed away today. He was the kindest man I’ve ever known, and we’ll miss him very much. We’ll fly to Los Angeles on Saturday to join Linda at her mother’s.
Thursday, August 9, 2001
A late morning. While much of the rest of the group headed out at 6:00 am for the optional Florence tour, we hedonistically spent the morning in bed. We didn’t actually make it out of the room until after 1:00, but we had an energetic afternoon, walking halfway across the old city, through the Quirinal district, one of the original seven hills of Rome.
We lunched at a charming trattoria in a narrow alleyway, then spent the better part of an hour wandering around looking for the Trevi fountain. In retrospect, I think we missed it by one block three times, but the sightseeing was interesting; in the maze of twisty little streets there were many upscale shops and restaurants. We passed a bronze guy on a horse, a very ornately carved column, and a brand new water fountain built in 1957 where Danielle discovered that by covering the spigot it would water the top of your head (it was hot). Our map wasn’t good enough to identify any of these.
At the Trevi Fountain we threw in three coins: one from England, one from France, and one from Italy. Legend says that if you toss a coin in the fountain you will return to Rome. We’re hoping surrogate tossing works, because our third coin was for Linda.
On the way back, along the Via Nazionale I bought Danielle a gold heart pendant as a remembrance of our trip together.
In the evening the entire group went out to an Italian restaurant for our “last supper”. There were opera singers, and they had our frequent dining companions, the Drumms, play Romeo and Juliet in honor of their fiftieth wedding anniversary.
Friday, August 10, 2001
What an expedition we had getting home! It was supposed to be a nine-hour flight from Rome, but we hit a holding pattern over Boston and then had to stop in Baltimore to refuel. Then we spent an hour waiting for clearance to Philly, and an hour sitting on the runway in Philly waiting for a gate. Finally, after 13 hours in the plane, we got off to face an hour line in immigration. After clearing customs there was a three-hour line to rebook, since all the flights had been missed or cancelled. In fact, the soonest flight we could get was 24 hours later.
Anyway, we spent the night in Philly, and are rerouting ourselves directly to L.A. on Delta, where we expect to be for the next week.
And so we say “Arrivaderci Roma”, and bid a fond farewell to all of Europe. Thanks to Gloria and all the nice people who traveled with us for making it such a special trip.