Europe 2001

London, Paris, Rome with Dani

Saturday, July 28, 2001

Orlando

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

London

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 innediately 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.


 

Check out his equipment.

 

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.



Write your own caption.

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.

I don’t know who the lady is with the horse’s head.

 

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.

Danielle discovers the baguette avec fromage.

 

Thursday, August 2, 2001

Paris

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.


 


Straight down.

 

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

Rome

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
desert 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 tratorria 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.


Napoli

 

 


Marina Grande in Capri and the view from Paradise
Point.


Sorrento.

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.

 


Legend says whoever throws a coin into the Trevi
fountain will return to Rome.


The Drumms as Romeo and Juliet;


Gloria, our tour guide.


Farewell to Rome dinner

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.


Liberty Square in Philly.

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.

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