#Europe2017 Day 27: Costa Brava, Cala Sant Francesc

NOTE: All of the pics here are from the internet… we are not doing good at taking our own pictures in Barcelona! Partially because we don’t want to risk our cameras getting stolen, or ruined at the beach.

Today (Wednesday) we did the crazy: we rented a car in a foreign country!

I read a lot of stuff online about car rentals in Spain, and driving here, and the two takeaways were:

1. Driving in Spain is very similar to driving in the U.S… traffic isn’t crazy nuts (like Paris), and the street signs are pretty easy to figure out, and
2. If you find a rental deal (like $4/day, or $6/day) that sounds too good to be true, it is. They’ll nickel and dime you on everything.

From Google… too good to be true?

barc_car_rental

I asked the hotel if they recommended any rental places and it turns out in our little sleepy bedroom community, there is a place two blocks down the road! It couldn’t be more convenient than that! So I went over while the Trio was still snoozing and asked around… an hour later I am the proud renter of a five passenger stick shift with only 147 kilometers on it… ! Everything was great, except the two air freshners. At least two of us are very sensitive to perfumy smells, and since we couldn’t figure out how to open the trunk (we finally did, but not this morning) I stuck them both under my floor mat.

I asked the guy at the front desk, who’s about twenty, what beaches he recommended… he said “give me ten minutes so I can call me dad. He knows all the beaches up there.” Up there means “costa brava,” which means “rough coast.” That is because around Barcelona (and south) there are lots of long beaches with just sand, but about an hour north you start the picturesque beaches that are very small and broken up with rocks and cliffs. It’s really quite beautiful… and more of interest to me, the rocks mean coral, fish, shrimp, and all the fun beach stuff :)

Some background… when I was eleven we moved to Puerto Rico and started to go to the Caribbean beaches. I am definitely a beach snob because of those experiences… my idea of fun at the beach is either (a) animal stuff, whether it is snorkeling or walking around tidal pools… looking for the octopus or starfish or anything cool, and (b) body boarding, which means you need decent waves. So, the idea of going to a place that had rocks and more potential for animals was more interesting than going to a long beach with lots of people just laying there like lizards, working on their tans.

After about an hour of rental car paper signing (by the way, we are paying $47/day, plus $17 in FULL insurance, and I filled the tank up for $45, which will cover 3 days… this is less than public transportation would have cost), I met the Trio by the hotel. This car comes with a GPS and a built in phone. “Call us for ANYTHING.” “If I get a flat, do I change it, or call you?” “Definitely call us. We’ll be there right away.” It’s nice to have the built-in GPS, and it’s weird to be driving!

The front desk guy’s dad said to go to a super cool beach called Cala Sant Fransesc. Cala is the word they use here for “small beach.” In Puerto Rico or Mexico we would say “playita.” Also, since everyone here speaks Catalan (which is NOT Castellano, or what we know as Spanish), the words are easily mixed up and spelled differently by different people. Anyway, we type in some version of Cala Sant Fransesc, by Blanes, find the right one on the GPS, and then head out.

barcelona_cala_sanfrances_map

The car had hardly any gas so about six kilometers up the highway, after four hundred roundabouts, we gas up. “Can I have some water?” “Oh, sorry, we forgot to get water.” Go inside, get water… “Um… did anyone get the towels?” “Not me, not me, not me… ” Ugh! Now we have to go back… the distance wasn’t a big deal but the navigation was. The car is a stick, which I haven’t driven for a long time, and I’m definitely going to need some time to get acclimated to the road system, street signs, and a GPS that sounds like it has a lisp (and uses words for “turn” and “after” and other common GPS words different than I would).

So we go back to get towels… and then finally are on our way. The good news is there is no traffic because (a) we are too far west of Barcelona to get into traffic, and (b) it’s like 2pm by now. It takes time to do all the stuff above!

We start driving and within ten or fifteen minutes the ocean is on our right… the Barcelona area is very hilly (some would say mountains, but not like back home), and the beauty is hard to describe… it is stunning. We are on a hill and can overlook the ocean on the right, with mountains and hills in front, behind, and on the left… and Spain’s unique architecture… it is just a beautiful sight.

About fifteen minutes later I notice Ellie has found a plastic bag and doesn’t look good at all. Finally, Sam says “Dad, we need to pull over.” “I just need to get in the front seat,” Ellie says. You see, with all this beautiful view, the roads are very, very windy. Look at the map above…. see all those tiny subtle turns? They are not tiny or subtle when you are driving them…

We are going up and down and left and right a lot, and poor Ellie is not feeling well. About ten minutes later Sam is showing signs because of the drive plus the lingering smell of those air fresheners… I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it!

I pull over but the shoulders are so narrow that William and Ellie couldn’t open their doors. Ellie climbs out the window (LOL) and William climbs through to the back… and Ellie is now with me in the front, looking like she’s been on the choppy seas for hours… I really hope we keep our rental car puke free.

The drive was about an hour, and the funny part is that for the last twenty minutes the roads were REALLY curvy! Like, drive 20 miles and hour curvy, with hills and dips and lots of switchbacks! Still, not puking.

We finally get there… I drop the Trio off at the walkway to get down to the beach and then I go find a place to park. I read that parking costs… and was prepared to pay, but the payment system was super weird… turns out it was locked and closed… today is free parking :) I walk down a steep hill for about a quarter mile and then get to the walkway and go to find the Trio. Not my picture, but this is the cala:

barc_cala_franc

The great thing about the Cala is that is small, so finding them is easy. This is where we wish he had snorkeling gear… there are lots of underwater rocks to explore, and surely there are fish and other things here! William got some goggles for $10 but they leak water… so not fun :(

We spent hours at this beach… exploring, walking over the rocks, looking at and for stuff, napping, tanning, swimming… the beauty was really amazing. This is THE beach that the locals said to go to, and it was clear why. It was also not as crowded as Barceloneta, which has a metro stop by it and hoards of people (which is fine, just a different beach experience).

This was on one end of the Cala… but the it was gated off at the top. Apparently it’s part of an eight-day hiking trail… we would have been able to easily walk to another beach. Again, not my picture:

barcelona_san_gate

William and I went to one end of the small beach, then we walked over to the other end and up some stairs… there were some people jumping about twenty feet off of a cliff into clear area… no rocks, and probably a good fifteen+ feet down. It looked super fun, and no one seemed to mind the “NO JUMPING” sign! this is not us, but it’s the same place:

barcelona_jumping

William was going to do it but he wanted to walk up to the top of the stairs first (it was gorgeous, of course), and then he wanted to go get the girls, his camera, and some water…

By the time he got back (sans girls) I was chatting with the lifeguard and the police… not in trouble, just chatting. They were very, very nice, and seemed happy to chat in the shade, overlooking the cala, by the NO JUMPING sign :) I said to William (who probably didn’t know about the sign “Go up and JUST take picture :)”

After a while, he left, and I continued talking to the two guys… they suggested a place to buy snorkel gear, and we talked about the region, the food, the languages, the police guy’s trip to the U.S. (Fort Lauderdale), etc. It was fun to chew the fat with these two guys.

“What kind of sea life is in the water here?” “Look up Mediterranean sea life… whatever you find, we have it here!” That sounds very exciting to me :)

By the time I got back it was time to head out. The magic words the Trio uses to leave were “we’re hungry.” At this Cala there is a restaurant, but they don’t serve meals after 4pm. “The kitchen is closed,” which means we’ll give you appetizers but we don’t have full meals. Unfortunately, that is the way it is all around here… if you don’t eat a proper meal by 4pm, you are out of luck and stuck with appetizers. There are also no shops here… this is a vey secluded beach with just beach houses around it (these are all on the mountain), so we go a few miles down the road to Blanes, the big city around here.

The lifeguard said to find “the big rock,” and by the big rock there was a dive store named something like Pesquria or something like that. Hard to remember because they primarily use Catalan, which is too foreign to my ear. We couldn’t find anything that resembled that on the GPS so we just went into town and worked our way towards the water. We found $3 parking (because it was after 5), went to the restaurant on the beach and ordered Tapas (appetizers, really). Two of the four things we ordered were out of stock… man, we are not having great foodie experiences here!

I asked the waiter if there was a place to buy snorkeling gear and the Trio pointed to the store right in front of me… a dive shop :p I then put two and two together and noticed that… hey, there’s a huge landmark rock right off the beach… and there’s the dive shop named peluqa-whateve… this is exactly what the lifeguard was talking about! I thought he was talking about a big rock on land, not in the water. I’m pretty sure this was it (thanks Internet, for the image!):

barc_blanes_rock

I knew the food would take a while so I walked over, found what we wanted, chatted with the owners, and then went back. No food still, so me and William went over and we got him outfitted… tried on the fins, tried on the mask… and $45 later William became the proud owner of his own snorkeling gear!

When we went back and the girls learned it was only $45 for the whole set they both decided they wanted in. They thought it was $45 for the mask only… but this seemed like a good deal. After our good enough tapas they went and got outfitted and then we walked across the street, by the big rock, and got ready.

You might think “got ready” is a fast thing… not really. It took a long time… and the water was cold, and then it turned out that Sam had somehow gotten sand in her snorkel (in the outlet valve) so she was sucking in water (which she made me try, just so I could know that it was really not working right), AND her flippers were falling off… so we leave William and Ellie and me and Sam go to the shop where they guy find the sand, takes off a decorative piece and says “blow really hard in your snorkel.” Sam blew “hard-not-hard” (she has a cough so she can’t really blow hard on demand :p) and they guy was like “um, fire up the air compressor.” He blew it out and it worked… and Sam got some booties so the fins wouldn’t slip off, and we were back to the beach.

This was Ellie’s first snorkeling experience in her life… she liked to stay about five feet from the beach, and not go near the rocks (where all of the awesome is), but she still had a great time.

By now it was getting cooler, the water was colder, and most people were leaving the beach. We decided to pack it up and head back to the hotel… it was a long day of getting the car, shopping, not throwing up on the way to the cala, sunning and swimming, and then starting our snorkeling experience.

We decided to extend our car rental and come back up this way… the dive shop guy gave us the name of another beach, which had the best snorkeling (a fish paradise), and we were anxious to come back tomorrow.

No one was sick on the way home… it was a beautiful drive with the ocean on our left and the sun setting… William and I went to the only restaurant around (Burger King… seriously, everything else was closed or serving tapas only), got a chicken sandwich and some oreo shakes (including one for the girls), and I got some screentime with my family back home… and that was it! Go to bed early because we want to get out early tomorrow!

#Europe2017 Day 26: La Playa Barceloneta

Today was our first full day in Barcelona… we like to take a day to get acclimated a little, explore a little… but la playa was #1 on the list for Barcelona. This has been the place that everyone has been like “_____ is great, but I can’t wait to go to Barcelona!!” Hopefully those high expectations don’t backfire!

I had a 10 a.m. meeting with a JibberJobber user, which was a lot of fun. We talked about doing things to make JibberJobber more Spain-friendly, and the possibility of him being a JibberJobber rep/advocate here (and then in all of Latin America). I have to talk to my team to see what the technical possibilities are of what we would need to do, but it was really fun to talk to a user (that’s always fun) and talk about ideas and growth (again, always fun).

I should mention that we don’t have hardly any pictures of today because we are not taking our cameras to the beach.. we are trying to keep all of the valuables in a tiny bag, so we can keep a close eye on them.

About 30 minutes after my meeting we were off… first stop for me, get directions from the hotel staff. This public transportation system was confusing, partially because of the “theta” they use in Spain… but also because to get to the beach we were going to have to take a train to the main metro station (about 30 minutes), then get on a metro line for just one stop, then another line for two stops, then walk. We were just getting used to Roma’s metro system, and this seemed confusing.

The Trio went to a grocery store next to the hotel to get some food and what-not… and we ate on the .8 mile walk to the train station. We could have taken a bus but that takes longer than walking… so we walked and got to soak in our little town. It’s a cute town, really quiet, and nice people.

When we got to the train station I asked the guy about the T-10 metro ticket, which allows us to ride 10 trips (including multiple changes) for only $20. He started to explain it to me but he was heavy on the theta (barthelona, thero (instead of cero), etc.) and I was upside down. He switched to English and proved to be super helpful. We bought two T-10 tickets and then went to get on the train… BUT we were on the wrong side of the tracks. He walked us all the way around to the other side (that was very cool of him), and his colleague barely got us through the ticket booth right before the train left.

So we go to the end of the train station and then switch to the metro. Barcelona’s underground system is a serious of long walkways that are ramps, stairs, and a lot of diagonal paths… it is very confusing. But, you follow the throngs of people and the signs and next thing you know you are at the right place. We hop on a metro for only 2 stops, then long walks through what seems like a crypt to another line for one stop… on the first metro there were three girls obviously going to the beach and I was like “we follow them!” They didn’t know it but they were the main reason we got to the right line after the first metro.

Once we got out of the metro everyone was going in the same direction: the beach. We found a small store and bought tanning lotion and water, and made our way to the beach. Now people were splitting up… and all roads seemed to lead to the beach. Here’s a road we walked down… there was a maze of roads like this (notice how narrow they are). Apparently it was laundry day… everyone had their clothes hanging to dry. Dryers are rare around here, apparently, and it’s so hot that, who needs them??barceloneta_laundry

We made it, set out our towels, and then the Trio headed off into the cold water. We spent the next many hours doing any of the following: walking up and down the beach, wading up and down the beach in the cold water (after a while I couldn’t feel my hands), laying on the towels, exploring, looking for rocks or fish, etc. Normal beach stuff. My idea of an awesome beach is either body boarding (which requires no balance skills :p), but this beach didn’t have waves for that, or snorkeling, but there wasn’t any coral here.

Around dinnertime it was time to go hunt down food. I suggested we take the metros and train back so we are not in the tourist area, which probably saved us $20 or $30. On the walk back from the train, to our hotel, I asked a lady “Do you live around here?” “NO!” “Oh, I was just wondering if you could recommend a restaurant for dinner…. like paella?” “Paella, for dinner? No one eats paella for dinner. But if you go up that street, then blah blah blah…” It was clear that indeed she did live around here :p

We found the restaurant she talked about, which was a bar that served food, and got 5 different Tapas… which are really just appetizers. I have heard a lot about Spanish Tapas and was anxious to have this experience… they were all good, but none where good enough to want to order again… except the fried potato pieces that were smothered in some kind of mayonnaise/garlic sauce. If there were one food theme on all of our trip, it would be lots of mayonnaise… everywhere!

barcelona_tapas_papas

After that we came home, pretty much burnt to a crisp… and called it a night. Between a late night getting in from the airport and a long day under the super hot sun, we were ready for bed.

Oh yeah, one of the greatest things about today was I figured out how our hotel room thermostat works. So now, instead of having a warm room, we are on the path to having a cool room! #minorthingsinlife

#Europe2017 Day 25: Ciao Rome! Hola Barcelona!!

This morning we did something epic… we all (well three out of four of us) got up before 8am! Wow, it is possible! Note this is 12am where we come from, although it’s been over three weeks, so I’m not sure that’s an excuse anymore.

We had to have everything packed and out of our room (into the lobby of the B&B) by 11am… we had that done a little before 10. We’re good at packing quick. The plan for today is to go back to the Trevi Fountain (the one that gets $3k to $4k a day in coins tossed in), get some Magnum (not man-gum) ice cream right across the street, and then whatever else we fancied. Then, be back to the B&B by 5pm to get a ride to the airport from our B&B hostess.

Amazingly, our plan actually worked (mostly). But before I talk about today, I have to talk about last night. First, here’s my Facebook post from last night:
roma_last_bathroom_stuck

Here’s my explanation… our B&B is just on the second floor of a five story building on a busy road. We have three keys… one for the street entrance, one for the entrance to the B&B (the door at the second floor), and one to get into our room. Our room has two twin beds (for the girls) and one queen (for me and William). There is an accordion door down the middle, which has been nice for a bit of privacy when changing, etc. We also have a functional balcony where William has gone to have phone calls with someone special wink wink.

We also have… wait for it… a key for the bathroom. The bathroom is out or door, down a short hallway, next to another bathroom. So it’s not in our room, and we have to walk through where other people might be in order to use it. No big deal. This is “our” bathroom, not to be shared with any other room. The key/lock system is antiquated… it is a skeleton key that goes in a keyhole that you can look through and see through to the other side of the door (no kidding).

roma8_keyhole

I actually didn’t look through the keyhole… but William did :proma8_keyholeCloseup

The key is kind of weird… if you turn it the correct way it will disable the handle… it doesn’t put a deadbolt in or anything, it just makes it so the handle isn’t able to open the door.

Last night, after talking on the phone, William left his phone to charge and went out of our room. That’s really all I knew… was he pacing around? Was he doing lunges downstairs (far away, and through the B&B door)? Was he doing pushups? Where was he for 30+ minutes?

I was debating what to do… get up and find him, or just go to bed and trust he would come soon. I heard people come and and out of the B&B so I knew he hadn’t locked himself out (the 3 room keys were there, as was the bathroom skeleton key). Then, I heard someone knocking. That was weird. That was unusual. That got me out of bed.

I open our door… no in is in the shared hallway. I open the B&B door and call out… no William. I go to our bathroom and try to open it… it’s locked. What? It’s not supposed to be locked… the key is in the room! “William?” “I’m locked in… :/”

ROFL.

What happened is somehow the door was locked, but it was still able to shut… but not open again. And that is how he spent a good portion of his night. He was trying to figure out what to do – jump out the window? That would just put him on the street for a whole night. Sleep in there? Not a bad option. He said he counted five showers from other tennants and none of them responded to his knocking.

What a night (for him)!

So, back to today… we head out relatively early (around 10, I think), and head to the metro. Our destination was the Trevi Fountain, and then right next to it the Magnum ice cream “make your own” bar. Those were our main plans.

We got off of the metro and immediately saw the fountain we say on our first day walking around. We realized this was the same metro stop, and we were walking the same path! Pretty cool. It was a reminder of how small the “what to see” in Rome is pretty small.

One thing that has stuck out recently on our walks is the Pinocchio carvings… OH YEAH! This is an Italian story!! Duh… totally forgot that. But there are a lot of shops around here with Pinocchio stuff… here’s one on a bench:

roma8_pinochio

Here’s a sign saying the stuff was handmade… I take this with a huge grain of salt since it seems like nothing is handmade here (the paintings I bought (three for the price of one) are all over the place and mass produced, the art that the Africans are hawking “that they made with their own hands” are NOT handmade by them, etc.). This was one of the biggest turnoffs in Rome for me.
roma8_pinochio2

We walked around a bit and, almost without a map, made our way to the fountain. The night before William said “I wish we could see them clean out the coins.” Guess what… when we got there they were cleaning the fountain! It was as cool as it sounds. Here it is, again:roma8_trevi

Why are there so many coins in this fountain? You are supposed to (a) throw it over your shoulder, (b) make a wish, and then (c) throw it into the fountain. If you do that, then you will “return to the Eternal City.” Get that? You’ll go back to Rome. Legend says nothing about your wish :p

Here’s a pic of the Trio right after they threw their coins in (I did not throw any in):roma8_trevi_trio

Next, we walk about thirty paces to the Magnum shop (which I have repeatedly, to the amusement of the Trio, called Man-gum), and made these: roma8_magnum

One of the funny things I saw while in Rome was a police car (old, old fiat) driving up the road by Magnum… immediately, the vendors picked up their makeshift cardboard tables with their wares, held them, looked at anything except the cops, and even though they were obviously vendors without a license trying to hide their stuff, the cops just went right past them. The corruption… bleh.

This is one of many things that we’ve said “we should do this at home!! Why don’t we do this at home??”

When you walk around Rome you see these four letters almost everywhere: roma_8_spqr

Do you know what this stands for? I thought it had something to do with Spartacus… but that doesn’t make sense. I think he was a bad guy, at least at the time, in Rome. So what is it? Actually, it has a fascinating history, and once you know it, it makes you proud (Roman or not).

Check out the meaning here.

As we wandered around more (this was very reminiscent to Day 1 here in Rome, except we were saying goodbye instead of exploring), we happened upon yet another cathedral… I thought it was just a small dome constituting a passageway or gate for the roads here, but when we went in it turned out to be a surprisingly good-sized cathedral. The most impressive thing was the ceiling, which appeared to have God (the Christian God, not a Roman God) at the very top… I don’t remember seeing that anywhere else here (although I’m sure it was around), in the ancient buildings.
roma8_church_cieling

I should mention that the hours spent walking around Rome where in streets, which seemed more like alleys, like this: roma8_sam_walking

There was all kinds of art around… this one jumped out at is… paper mache of old Italian newspapers over shoes, now serving as planting “pots”:roma8_cactus_shoes

Here’s a pic of the palm trees… they were all over, proving that this is a hot and somewhat humid place:roma8_palmtrees

We decided to head back to the hotel area and look for a park that seemed to be on Google Maps… on our way back we walked past the Castel San’Angelo, and all agreed that was a true highlight of our time in Rome. We had been on this path before and knew how to get to the metro. I sat on one of these benches to wait for the Trio to catch up… maybe we should build something similar at home? Kind of a cool bench with greenery. roma8_benches

While waiting, one of the vendors from Africa came up and “gave” me a “free” “gift.” He was aggressive and imposing, but I was adamant that I didn’t have any coins or cash. It was a free gift though… no problem, he kept saying! If you’ve ever been you’ll recognize the gift as some kind of turtle, and an elephant, and a bracelet. When the Trio caught up with me we started walking away and he was like “you gotta pay me!” I was like “you said this was a gift…” and then he got upset, and demanded my free gift back, and huffed off.

I don’t usually mess with people like that but having that experience multiple times a day every day that we’ve been there was enough. Rome really should clean that up.

We got on the metro for the very last time (thank goodness, we didn’t have to hear “busy tomatoes” anymore…) and got to our neighborhood… we walked and walked to where Google Maps said the park should be and found it was just a huge campus of the Roman bank… and definitely off-limits to us. “Is there a park around here?” “Just walk 10 minutes down there, and you’ll get to a park.”

We walk down there, about five minutes, and hit a dead-end. No park. But we were just by our B&B so we decide to kill almost two hours there instead of walking around more (I think we hit 6 miles by the end of the day)… plus, our B&B had a bathroom we could use :p

When we got there our hostess was there and I mentioned that we were ready… she said “want to go now?” HECK YEAH… I usually don’t like to go to the airport that early, but (a) we would miss rush hour traffic, (b) it was better than waiting at the B&B.

So Alina drives us to the airport… she is pretty awesome… she works very hard and was great to us. We got there two hours before we could check in… we were in for a long night.

I walked around looking for Gelato (none!! What? Are we still in Rome??), and got a Sudoku book for 1.5 euros, and sat down to do some puzzles. Two hours later we checked our luggage in, got our ticket, and were directed to Gate D17. REMEMBER THAT… it comes up again!

We hunted around the MASSIVE gate for food and found a nice cafeteria-style place where we had our last Roman meal, then found a gelato place (it was so good), and then went to D17… just a few minutes before it was time to board some of us ran for a potty break… when I got to the line with Sam and William I noticed that D17 was… to Nice, France!!

WHAT??

I’m not going back to France!

I went to a ticket lady who was super rude and not helpful, and then found a monitor to see that sometime they had changed our flight from D17 to C5. UGH.

We hustled to C5 and got there with time to get on, but it was a little stressful considering we were down to the line on this one! Luckily, my ankle was good enough that I could hustle… which surprised at least one of the Trio members :)

We got on our plane and had an uneventful two hour flight… then we land in Barcelona! Even in the dark it was beautiful!

We got our luggage pretty quickly and hopped in a taxi… $45 later we were at our hotel, around midnight. I had a 10 a.m. meeting with a JibberJobber user, so after a quick chat with my family back home we went to bed.

Tomorrow there is only one thing on the agenda: the beach!

#Europe2017 Day 24: Venturing to the Secret Keyhole

Today was a REST DAY. We rested A LOT. By five it was time to go out, though… and today was the perfect day to go to the keyhole that you look through to see down a beautiful view with St. Peters at the end. Sounds like fun :)

We go on Metro A to Termini (we heard “bushy tomato” a lot!), then switched to Metro B to one stop past the Colosseum. This was the walk that we were going to do a few days ago, when we were at the Colosseum, but instead we went to the Forum.

Here’s the metro map we’ve grown to depend on: roma7_keyhole_alba

This was also the first time we got to where we were going without using technology… just an old fashioned map! Right out of the metro, on our way to the keyhole place, were these ruins:
roma7_keyhole_ruins

It really is amazing to be in a city where there are ruins everywhere you go.

roma7_keyhole_castleview

We went up the road and passed a lot of people who had stickers or writings on their shirts… clearly they were together. It looked like a protest of some kind… we asked a couple walking towards us and they said, in very broken English, that it was a protest for free choice about vaccinations. It was really interesting to see so many people protesting for their rights here, about that!

We got to a big round-about and then went left… up the hill. We must be getting closer because the place we are looking for is up a hill, so that you can see over the city. We passed the most beautiful park…. with tons of people hanging around. It is Sunday afternoon, and people are literally out for a slow stroll in the park! Lovers of all ages, dog walkers, friends… it was delightful.

There were also a lot of orange trees all around… in the parks, yards, etc.roma7_keyhole_oranges

There were at least a dozen dogs in the park… and two dozen signs that said no dogs :proma7_keyhole_dg

This was the view from the edge of the park… but no keyhole yet:roma7_keyhole_bird

After a short stop at the park, where we might find the keyhole but didn’t, we kept going up the hill. There was another park, where they were having an art exhibit… very cool. Here’s some of the art (and another dog):
roma7_keyhole_art

The next building turned out to be some kind of cathedral… it wasn’t obvious from the outside, but the inside was amazing. Not super-ornate, but very big, with huge pillars, and a room off to the side where people were praying. It was reverent and quiet, and it was nice to not have throngs of tourists around.

In a room to the left there were doors but… no keyhole.

You see, the instructions we got where to go to the general area, but they we’d have to find the keyhole… it was a bit of a treasure hunt!

We went out of the church and kept going up the hill… further and further up. This little town was really charming. There is lots of foliage here, and even though it’s a tourist destination, it was surprisingly quiet and peaceful.

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Finally, at the top of the hill we know we made it. Not because there was a sign, but because there was a line of people and a food truck :p That’s the real sign around here…!

We waited in line and finally to the keyhole… this is a bad picture of St. Peters (just imagine it there), but you can see how cool all the trees are in this little keyhole view! Definitely worth the adventure to come up here.

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Here’s Ellie looking through the keyhole… a bunch of people had pictures of themselves looking through the keyhole LOL roma7_keyhole_ellie

From there we wound our way down the streets guessing where we should go. It was a fun walk through this super cool town. It’s hard to believe people live here (where so many tourists would be)
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At the bottom of the hill we were treated to a view of this pyramid (which we walked right by, to get to the metro stop):roma7_keyhole_pyramid

And, there was this interesting statue… not sure what it is for, but obviously has to do with oppression:roma7_keyhole_artstatues

We went from Metro B to Termini, then switched to Metro A, and went straight to my new favorite Rome restaurant:roma7_keyhole_chickenbar

We spent at least an hour here… the food doesn’t come out for a good 30 minutes, so you know it’s real and fresh. Then we had to hit this gelato shop on the way home (it was just a few stores down). The owner said it has been open 37 years and is now in the third generation… that’s cool :)roma7_keyhole_gelato

We got home and surprisingly everyone was pretty pooped…. this is our last night in Rome. Tomorrow we pack, get our bags out of our room by 11am, and then explore a little more before we leave for the airport around five or six. We are definitely ready to move on and get to Barcelona! Hopefully, it won’t disappoint!

#Europe2017 Day 23: The Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel

Today we headed out for a 1pm appointment at the Vatican Museum. The Vatican Museum is different than the Vatican, which where church business gets done. The Museum is where the tourists get to go to see all of the Catholic Church’s paintings, statues, and other stuff. It is MASSIVE. We didn’t see everything, but we saw a lot. Here… read this about the Vatican City.

Here’s a bit of trivia… I was watching a documentary on the Vatican and it said that based on the population of the Vatican City (officially Vatican City State), it is the country with the highest crime rate in THE WORLD. Isn’t that crazy?

Here we are in Europe, living the thug life.

Highest crime rate in the world.

It’s because of all the pick pocketing going on here.

We got our tickets online two days ago (maybe it was three days ago), printed them out, and then sat on them until today. We had to be at the ticket office to go in with the group, which means we get to skip the line, by 12:45. We got there and got our little tour group stickers by 12:20, which meant we had plenty of time for lunch. We walk across international borders to Italy and Sam and Ellie go to an expensive looking (read: not hole-in-the-wall) restaurant while William and I continue down the road looking for kebabs.

The beautiful thing about kebabs (which are what we know as gyros in the U.S.) is that they have lots of meat and not many carbs. And here, they have a bunch of lettuce and tomatoes. We are sick of sandwiches and pizza… and feel meat deprived. More on that later.

So we have lunch and head back to our tour group area inside Vatican City (yes, we leave Italy again! Twice in one day! I only wish they would have stamped my passport). The thing that really stuck out at me here was the number of beggars. There are a lot… some are in shambles, some are have no legs, some are really quite hunched over, but others look really good with clean clothes, and they are clean, but hey, why not? All these good-willed Christians… I overheard someone saying they heard that beggars here can make $500 to $1,000 a day. Crazy.

It really is beautiful in here… this is where we’ll be tomorrow to hear the Pope speak:roma6_w_vatican_outside

The tickets I got were “skip the line” tickets… the irony is that we sat around for a long time waiting to skip the line. Finally, it was time to go, so once again we left Vatican City and followed our little tour guide who was holding up a long pole with a brightly colored flag… this was so we could follow him through the busy streets on our way to skipping the line.
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Here’s Ellie at the world-famous Vatican Museum!!roma6_musei_ellie

There must have been a good 75 people in this group, all following the flag guy. We walk this way and that, around this corner and across that street, and then we see “the line” that we were skipping. That’s where you feel like you are saving time, because you skipped the line!!

We get to the entrance of the museum and we get in… a long line. It was full of skip-the-line people, but it was long. Bleh :/

Finally, we get through that and follow our little flag guy… until he stops and just stands there and our group seems to break up. It was kind of chaotic in this area… we had passed security but we still weren’t “in” the museum yet. As we’re waiting in our new “line” I see people break off and go other places, so I go ask him “do we still stay with you, or what?” He says “oh, no… go see that girl for your tickets.”

Nice to know amigo.

So we get in her line… and make our way up to her, and … our tickets aren’t scanning. Turns out, they were for the 8th, not the 10th!!!

UGH!!

Please, please, help us. We are here, ready to do this thing… is there anything you can do? Long story short, we spent about 30 minutes waiting with her, and she got our reservation changed to today. Finally, with official tickets in hand, we go up the stairs and to another line where we scan our tickets and we are officially in the Vatican Museum.

Where do you go? Most people went up an escalator but that was packed (that will be the theme today: packed!). We opted to walk up the spiral walkway… and it was really, really cool! It was decorated with a lot of boat models from across the world, throughout time. Very cool And the walkway was awesome.

Here’s a shot of this walkway from the top… that is a canoe at the bottom: roma6_w_spiral

Once we got to the top we had no idea where to go. You could go in at least three directions and the signage wasn’t very helpful. So, we picked Door Number One and just walked and looked and soaked it all in. Soon we were outside, in a courtyard that had a restaurant and some ancient Egyptian stuff. Then, back in another door with a quick trip to the toilette (that’s what bathrooms are called here), and then up the stairs.

The rest of the day was pretty much that… stairs, long hallways, tons of statues, rooms with statues, statues of people, statues of Roman gods, a room with animal statues, super long hallways… the map hallway (that was very cool), the rug hallway… more statues… here are some of those amazing things we saw and walked through:

Just a statue with toes at the bottom... that was all.

Just a statue with toes at the bottom… that was all.

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This dog statue is missing various parts, including the lower jaw :/

This dog statue is missing various parts, including the lower jaw :/

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My question was, where did they get these Egyptian relics, and why do they have them here?

My question was, where did they get these Egyptian relics, and why do they have them here?

Unfortunately, there were so many people it felt like a crowded subway during rush hour. Everyone moving along slowly, some people pushing their way through, but hard to stop and enjoy any of it. roma6_statues_people

There were paintings all over, and paintings on the ceiling… in fact, thinking back now, it was as if every square foot of that place was covered in something. It was a very visually busy place.

This was cool to walk into. We were in a fairly dark area, then it opened up to this, which was very bright... gold on the ceilings and blues on the walls.

This was cool to walk into. We were in a fairly dark area, then it opened up to this, which was very bright… gold on the ceilings and blues on the walls.

William found a map with "Alba" on it. I always knew we were famous for something :p

William found a map with “Alba” on it. I always knew we were famous for something :p

Here are some statue shots from William:

Not sure what this pose is about... :/

Not sure what this pose is about… :/

Why? Because it's a balding baby, William says. I say it's a cross-country skiing baby.

Why? Because it’s a balding baby, William says. I say it’s a cross-country skiing baby.

We wanted to get at least one picture of statue that had clothes on... !

We wanted to get at least one picture of statue that had clothes on… !

Some of the statues in the animal room.

Some of the statues in the animal room.

Finally, I think this is the tiled floor that was in the Secret Castle ramp, from yesterday:roma6_floor

We worked our way around this way, through that way, and kept following the signs to the Sistine Chapel. If you don’t know anything about the Sistine Chapel, read that link. It’s pretty important… when it’s time to figure out who the next Pope is going to be, the Cardinals lock themselves in this Chapel until the new Pope is chosen. It’s an epic and important place for the Catholic Church.

This was the only place with a bunch of guards saying “no pictures, no video.” And, “keep moving, and don’t sit there.”

By the time we got there we were ready to find the exit… so we went towards the exit signs. The cool thing is that the exit is far away, so on the way out we went through many more rooms with a bunch of relics… including one of my favorites, the globe hallway. We also passed a lot of shops along the way where you could by all kinds of Vatican memorabilia… interesting that they had those little shops (and a few restaurants) as well as the big bookstore at the end.

To get out you had to go down a spiral walkway-slash-staircase (it alternated)… here are two cool pics from that: roma6_vat_exitramproma6_vatican_exit_lookingUp

Finally, we were out, and looking for a metro. There are two metro stops close by, so we took a gamble and just started walking. It paid off… before we know it (maybe ten blocks away?) we found the metro and started our way back.

Might sound like a slow day but we walked 4+ miles and saw a ton of stuff. We left Italy three times, and spent time in The Vatican… wow!

Before we went to our B&B we went shopping… another 25 euros of healthy food… remember I talked about weighing the veggies? Here’s what the machine looks like. You hit the number (99 for zucchinis and 50 for lettuce :p) and then it weighs it and spits out a price label that you stick on the back.

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Also, I mentioned you have to pay one euro (about one dollar) for a shopping cart… here’s the mechanism for that: roma_6_buggies

When we got back we all kind of crashed… I put on a documentary about the Vatican and then slept through a good part of it (William told me what I missed later). Ellie did yoga and William took some pics and just bummed around. I asked him if it was hard to have downtime… he’s young after all, but he said “no, we’ve been walking a lot!”

After my nap he and I were ready for some meat… so we left the B&B around nine and strolled up and down our street… we went past the normal metro to see what there was. This is what our street looks like:
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William got five euros of pizza (a lot of food, really) and then he and I went to a chicken cafe / bar (yes, I took the boy to the bar tonight). It was a place with burgers and fried chicken patties, fries, etc. This was on the wall… I can’t tell if this is American or Italian :p

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The thing that caught our eye was a plate of grilled chicken. “It’s too hot,” the guy said. “Bring it on” was our reply.”

What seemed like an eternity later (maybe 20 minutes?) they brought out our food… this was just grilled, blackened (the way I like it) and super spicy. It was SOOOO GOOOOOOD. Finally, I have found my meat fix. I should mention, I’ve had a banana and a lot of lettuce today, but all this carb diet is killing me. roma6_chicken

We got back and chilled the rest of the night, until now… it’s almost midnight (11:55), and we have a very early morning tomorrow. Tomorrow the plan is to leave at 7 and head out to the Vatican again to see the Pope address the crowd. That will be interesting… the only thing is, no plan that we’ve had that involves getting up before 11 has worked out :p We’ll see.

#Europe2017 Day 22: Roma still, Da Vinci Museum and the Secret Castle (aka Castel San’Angelo)

Guys, we are TIRED. Seriously. William told me a few hours ago that we’ve walked 126 miles since we left on May 17th. That’s not a ton, I guess, but it’s been non-stop, averaging six miles a day. I am doing this out of major bedrest earlier this year, although Sam said “I feel like I’ve been walking non-stop for six months!” She did a lot of walking in the Dominican Republic (since January).

Today we had three things planned, but we only hit two of them. The first was to go back to the Da Vinci Museum and actually go through it. I looked it up this morning on Yelp and… uh… no bueno :(
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And this: roma_5_yelp_davinci2

And another one that says it only has three rooms (one big, two small). Ugh… not good.

HOWEVER, William has been looking forward to this since we saw it two days ago, and I am a bit of a Da Vinci fan… the girls seemed excited to go… so I wasn’t going to cast a negative shadow on this experience… let’s just go, while in Italy (Vinci is in Italy, so he was Italian) and see how it goes. The worst thing that could happen is we spend ten euros each and walk out disappointed.

We sleep in a bit (remember, we are exhausted) and go shopping for fruits and veggies and other snacks at the grocery store down the street. Here are three tidbits of shopping at this grocery store… we haven’t come across this at any other stores on our trip (yet):

1. The shopping carts are chained up, and if you want one you have to pay a euro. The baskets are hit and miss… they are free, but this morning I didn’t see any (not even customers carrying them).

2. You have to bring your own bags. “Did you bring a bag?” Ugh… we were almost there, too far to go back and get one. This just meant that between the four of us we’d have to carry all the stuff back to our B&B in our hands, hoping the cheap fruit bags wouldn’t break.

3. Speaking of fruit, you pick out your produce, put it on a scale, type in the number (like 44), and then it prints a label for you. William figured that out on something he bought, and did it, but the girls didn’t weigh their stuff, so when we went to pay the cashier (who didn’t speak English) frustratedly communicated to us that we had to take it all back, weight it, and get a label. The girls did that, and now we know. That is very convenient for the cashier, but from a systems/process perspective, I can’t imagine how you can efficiently do that when not 100% of your customers are educated on that. Maybe some signs would have helped :p

Here’s a neat veggie that the girls spotted… any idea what this is?roma_5_sam_veggies

After shopping and showers we head out, probably around one or two o’clock. We go about nine or so stops down the metro ($1.50 each person – we are LOVING the price of transportation in Rome!), figure out where the People’s Plaza (Piazza del Popolo) is, and then go to the Da Vinci museum. I was hesitant, but here we go!

Final verdict: This museum was smallish (especially by European standards) but AWESOME!!! AWESOME! I think we spent at least two hours there, and I looked at and read everything. William came up to me more than once and said “I want to build these,” talking about some of the models based on Da Vinci’s drawings.

Awesome.

There were at least five different rooms/corridors, lots of models, lots of art, lots of explanations, and a few movies. Almost half of the models were touchable… you could turn cranks and move things… it was really awesome. The movies (very short documentaries) were well done, and I learned a ton. I have a much greater appreciation for Leonardo than I did before, and I’m inspired to think about writing the movie script I had come up with a few years ago about a very specific part of his life and legacy. It was so inspiring to be there!

When we left we had some very important business to do! Fortunately, across the street, Burger King had free bathrooms. We go down the stairs and I go to the mens/handicap room, thinking “if you are handicapped, you are NOT going to make it down those stairs.” This would not have passed for handicap in the U.S. But it worked for me… quite nicely :)

After that we were ready for food. I was not interested in paying a lot for lunch, like yesterday (still feeling the sting of that), but was very interested in trying a kabob place that we passed by a few times. It was awesome, great food, and only $22. It was right outside the metro, so if you ever go there, just wander from the metro exit to the first and brightest kabob signs you see.

Here’s the pizzas and kabob meat to choose from: roma_5_lunch_food

The “dining area” is a super thing bar, with a window in front of you, so you get a CLOSEUP of yourself eating (actually, this was cool because I could see Sam’s reflection when we talked to one another):roma_5_lunch

Then we are off to find the secret castle, which is a nickname for Castel Sant’Angelo. On the way we crossed a bridge and saw kayakers… the girls said they wanted to hike or do something in nature… so this seemed good. Ellie went down some super long stairs to see how much it was, but you have to take a class and the teacher wasn’t there and blah blah blah it just wasn’t going to work out. Oh well, we tried to do nature in Rome :)
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On our walk around town William got this… he is now obsessed with getting pictures of birds standing on things… I liked how this is a bird on a bird :proma_5_bird_bird

We also passed by a Persian rug store. The door to get in must have been four feet high, then you go down some stairs… but it was authentic (I think). I told the Trio that when I was in Istanbul I spent a couple of hours with a vendor who was named, according to him, Donny Osmond. He said if I didn’t buy something from him I was taking food off of his kids table… lots of schmoozing and guilt trip. We didn’t have that experience here… we were really just in and out: roma_5_rugs

There are gorgeous and amazing buildings all over the place here. While they are old, they are still A.D., so I guess that’s not very old :p I am not sure what this building is but it is by the castel we were going to:
roma_5_bldg

And this one: roma_5_bldg_trio

There are scooters and tiny cars all over the place here. Part, I think, is because of the crazy driving (not as crazy as Paris), and part because a lot of streets are tiny ally-sized roads. Here’s some tiny cars and scooters parked on a narrow street:
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Speaking of tiny cars… great gas mileage, no matter how big you are :)roma_5_smartcar

The Secret Castle is an amazing and fascinating building… it was originally built in the FIRST century (almost 2,000 years ago!) by a guy as his (and his family’s) mausoleum. That is, “when I die, bury me (and later, my family) here.” Reminded me of the purpose of the pyramids. Here are some of the views from outside the castle:roma_5_castle_fortressroma_5_castleroma_5_bridge

I love this shot Sam got of the bridge right outside… how many statues can you fit on a bridge?

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Here’s a more macro view: roma_5_castle

The cool thing about this super old building is that after that, it became other things, and because of that it never became ruins. It was a fortress (the amount of fortifying and safeguarding this building was awesome), personal castle to the Pope (likely because of how close it is to the Vatican), I think a market, and now a museum. It never went into disarray (or at least ruins) and we now get to enjoy some amazing, awesome history in a way that we haven’t yet enjoyed in Rome: the building is still standing!

This castel was huge… much bigger than the Hever castle we visited in London (which is still awesome, by the way). After getting our tickets (and a potty break) we went around the top of the castle where you would think guards would be, shooting arrows and pouring hot oil on people. That was pretty neat.

While up there, overlooking the park, we saw this coach and two students learning parkour… I love seeing this in my travels… people working on being better, learning, growing, etc.
roma_5_park_3roma_5_park_2roma_5_park_1roma_5_park

Then we went down this long ramp, but when we got to the bottom realized that was “the end” of the self-guided tour, so we went back up the ramp. It was amazing… you can see it now below, but they said it had marble 9 feet up the walls, and a beautiful floor (remember, this is 2,000-ish years old). roma_5_castle_rampDown

I guess there was more to see… up more stairs and through hallways so old the art looks like it was on cement from ages ago (it was)… around more and then through a courtyard (we passed by, over, and through this a dozen times as we wandered around).roma_5_castle_sam_courtyard

I love the difference in design in this castle, probably because it’s a thousand years older than other places we’ve been… very rounded instead of square, curved corners, etc. roma_5_castle_stairs

In the courtyard was a statue that had some additions… I consider this rare (based on what I’ve seen)… to add stuff after the statue was done (maybe it was made at the same time, just in a different medium):roma_5_castle_wings

Here’s a cool shot from the top(ish), looking at the castle, St. Peter’s, and the Italian flag:

roma_5_castle_flag

Turns out, there was a second loop to walk around… not part of the fortification part of it, but more like to stroll around. This was quite beautiful and fun to walk around. There was a four-room area with super ancient war stuff – guns, knives, uniforms, etc. In this loop I loved how it felt like a regular nicely attended city street… not a fortress. How could you not love these vines all around?roma_5_castle_sam_foilage

Speaking of war stuff, there are plenty of places they stacked their cannon balls… you can see some here, although I think that is just for decoration… there were no cannons or holes in the walls down that low (they were all on the top rings):roma_5_balls

So why do some refer to this as the Secret Castle? Because in 1527(ish) during one of the Sack(s) of Rome (when Rome was getting overtaken) the pope ran from the Vatican to the Castle and holed himself up there. It says it was in a covered bridge, so probably not this bridge, but you get the idea… this is a pretty cool connection between the Vatican and the castle. So: it’s not a secret because the castle is hidden, rather because the bad guys didn’t know the Pope would be able to escape to it.roma_5_castle_secret_path

This is a pretty big window (there were bunches of them), looking over the Vatican side of the city:roma_5_ellie_boys

This was a great shot Ellie took… from the top of the castle you could see awesome views… this was one of my favorites:roma_5_ellie_castle

Okay, now are we done? Apparently not…. we were about to leave but then we found a set of stairs and went up to…. holy cow, this is the library. It was HUGE. We’re in the center of the top (I thought) part of the ancient castle, and this is a big living area. There’s one room where all the treasures were stored (the walls were lined with walnut cabinets…. William and I recently learned just how hard walnut is, so props to the craftsmen who worked with it back then! Inside were chests and chests that had multiple keys/locks. The biggest one, about the size of a twin sized bed and perhaps six feet tall, had six different keys to open it! I bet they had some good stuff in there!

Now we’re done, right? Oh, just go in this room, and that room, and hey look, more stairs! The next set of stairs led to the antechamber (huge) before the anteroom (where the Pope had a throne) to the Pope’s bedroom. What a trip… this was crazy. This castle didn’t stop with the surprises (or the stairs). roma_5_pope_bed

Throughout the day (and the whole trip) The Trio will pose at the drop of a hat… here’s the difference between girl posing and guy posing: roma_5_modelsroma_5_model_boy

It was getting close to closing time (about 7:30) and we were all feeling it… Sam is starting to feel sick, and we’re just tired… ready for a rest back at the B&B. We fill our water up at the free watering station… thank you Rome for putting these all over the city!!! Here’s an example of a watering fountain (obviously for water bottles, and always running):
roma_5_water

We start to head back to where we think the metro is. But there’s a walkway that runs along the moat area… let’s take a shortcut (and a nicer walk, lined with trees) and go there, no? Turns out, it’s no shortcut. It didn’t let us out at the corner… it forced you to walk all the way around the castle! No big deal, and a great view, but our dogs were barking and we were ready to get on a metro!

Finally, we’re pointed in the right direction… we walk about ten or fifteen blocks to the metro stop and take a twenty or thirty minute ride winding left and right and up and down, under the hustle and bustle of Rome.

We get out of the metro station and head straight home… no shopping, no nothing. And we finally get to rest. We get in earlier than normal, and just chill. I do some JibberJobber work, checking in with my team and on projects, William does a workout, Ellie is on the phone, and Sam is looking up what her sickness might be (according to Google she is near death).

Tomorrow we do laundry and then head out to the Vatican Museum… which is at, but not the same as, the Vatican. We’ll be there by 1 p.m. for our skip-the-line tickets… hopefully we are well-rested and ready for a lot more walking!

#Europe2017: Day 21, The Roman Colosseum and the Roman Forum

Today the plan had been to start the three day city pass, skip the line, and hop-on-hop-off buses. There’s a lot to see here, and we don’t want to waste time (a) walking, and (b) in line (already did that for the Catacombs in Paris).

But when I looked it up I realized that the hop-on bus isn’t that great…. it apparently only goes on the outskirts of town, and compared to seeing them all over London, we haven’t seen them that much here. So it’s not like it’s super easy to get on and off anywhere… to few, bad routes, and too crowded. Furthermore, we weren’t sure we’d make use of the pass and actually see everything on it without rushing too much… So we opted for Plan B: Let’s go see “one thing” but spend a lot of time there.

Of course, one of the epic things to see is the Colosseum. I got skip the line tickets (wasn’t necessary today as the normal line wasn’t big) and we got there by 1ish. Yes, another lazy morning (lazy = sleeping in, blogging, etc.). All the walking and looking we are doing really is exhausting, and getting up at a reasonable hour seems impossible.

What’s been awesome here is the metro… it’s a short jaunt from our B&B, and the Colosseum stop is directly across the street from the Colosseum, so not city walking. The outside of this fantastic building is still pretty awesome, even though we’ve seen it like a dozen times.

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We went to the ticket booth and after getting a lecture about William, who is a “child” (and pays a lot less for tickets) not having any documentation of his age, we finally get our tickets and get in line. The couple in front of us just got off a cruise from Atlanta and is spending one night here… so they are trying to see all they can in less than two days. That’s a mad dash, for sure.

We got audio guides (five euros each, which is totally worth it) and went to the second level of this history-rich facility. The first thing we do is split up. We didn’t mean to, but it happened… and we were split up for a LONG time. Again, we didn’t have a meeting place, and no way to contact one another, but hey, how hard is it to get really lost in the Colosseum? (really easily, actually)roma_4_col_insdie

Everyone had their own walking around time (I think William and Ellie were together the whole time)… I went around the entire second level looking into the center of the Colosseum. It’s amazing to think about all of the death and destruction and heartache there.
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I guess not everyone is happy to be here :/

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Two things from the audio guide:

1. One time, there was a battle or whatever they called it (event?)… there were 10,000 men fighting, and 11,000 animals. Can you fathom that? 21,000 bodies, fighting against one another? The amount of blood, and gore, and stench, and pain, and screams, and horrid? What an amazing way of life (or death). The Colosseum was open to anyone, and the poor people sat at the top while the rich were nearer the action… it’s really quite disgusting.

2. Someone saw or heard about a beached whale and thought “man, we should make a fake beached whale to put in the Colosseum!” So they did. A huge fake whale, and when the mouth opened, fifty bears came running out to fight to the death. These guys were not short on creativity!

I went inside the covered area of the second floor where there are a lot of exhibits – paintings, relics they have dug up, original pillars, etc. I found it interesting that even hundreds of years ago, I think in the seventeen hundreds, the Colosseum was already ruins, and they regarded them as ancient ruins. It’s crazy how old this place (and all of Rome) is.

I overheard a tour guide saying that in some language “arena” is sand (it is for sure in Spanish), and that is where we get “arena”… the battleground, or competitive field, from. “Let’s go to the arena” was probably “let’s go watch sweaty bleeding guys kill eachother on the sand.” Interesting.

I went down the elevator to the first floor… going down stairs is not fun for my ankle (up is fine), and the stairs here are (a) too high, and (b) all uneven. I was hoping to find any of The Trio, but they were nowhere to be found. Darn… how were we going to get together?? I walked around in the lower level… the most striking thing to me was that there was no “floor” in the middle of the Colosseum… at least, the floor that used to be there, where battles happened. Instead, they had removed it so you could see the tunnels that men and beast would navigate to find the right trap door to go up for the battle. the amount of planning and design in this facility really was amazing. roma_4_col_maze

Finally, I found Sam (or she found me) and William and Ellie weren’t far behind. We had been there for two or three hours by now, heard all the audio, seen all that we could, and it was time for our first meal of the day. But first, just one more picture… with a splash of color, this time!
roma_4_flowers

About a half block from the Colosseum was a restaurant that looked good, so we go in for a pretty great meal. Appallingly, the bill was $90. Ugh. If you are ever in Rome, realize there are hidden fees at restaurants. First, they say in Europe you don’t have to worry about tipping… well, you don’t because they put it in the bill. They don’t call it a tip… one place called it a cover charge, and it was way more than 20%. I don’t know what this place called it, but it was very high. They also charge for water… they bring out these bottles the size of a wine bottle with four very small cups… in my party that goes in about four seconds. We went through four or five of those… and they don’t sell those for cheap. It’s one reason why we are only eating a real meal on average once a day. This is just in Rome… in other places we haven’t found meals to be this ridiculously expensive, or to have the hidden fees that surprise the heck out of you when you get your bill. The restaurant name translates to “A Piece of Brain,”

roma_4_piece_of_brain

I asked the waiter what his name was… “Giovanni,” he replied, “or, Johnny.” No, no, no… I didn’t come to Italy to talk to a Johnny! I want Giovanni! After lunch I asked him where we should go next and he said there was a really, really cool thing to see about twenty minutes away…. you walk up here, then around there, and turn this way and that, and you’ll be on a hill where you are in the ruins of a church. Look through a certain keyhole and you’ll see, across Rome, St. Peter’s Basilica. Huh… a true Roman treasure, in a keyhole. Sounds cool.

We started out to do that, however, we realized what time it was and that we had a dinner appointment with my publisher again… so instead of making that trek (and then another 20+ minutes back to the metro, which would put is there about an hour late), we decided to see the Roman Forum… this is across the street from the Colosseum, and our ticket for that included the Forum. Here’s a picture from Wikipedia:roma_4_foru

This is the place next to the movie set we saw yesterday… I didn’t know we’d be here today, wandering around! The cool thing about the Forum is that you can walk all around this place… to almost every corner of it. The history of this place is simply unfathomable. Also, it’s a good 10ish meters below the main Roman streets… why was this place so low, and how and when did the earth get higher? Too many questions.roma_4_forum_old

Here’s a repurposed pillar… now a bench for wary travelers:

roma_4_forum_pillar_bench

Sam asked “Can you imagine finding this… like digging around, and discovering part of this?”

Lots of headless statues and picture opps here… notice some of the ruins are surrounded by even older ruins:roma_4_forum_statue_headlessroma_4_forum_williamroma_4_forum_statuesroma_4_forumroma_4_forum_statue_headless_2

I really wanted to see what was behind these doors… probably some old stuff….roma_4_forum_doors

The Forum is actually quite large… you can easily spend a few hours walking around. It was basically like the village where people lived and did business… and there is a super old road where traders traveled to different areas.roma_4_forum_old

Here’s a bit of tourist or roman culture… the fashionable ones of the group (everyone but me) have noticed that having “popped collars” is pretty popular here… like this: roma_4_forum_popped

After exhausting the Forum we set out to the metro to get to our dinner (“come over for cheese?”). It was dinner time and the line at the ticket kiosk for the metro tickets was long and slow (normally there is no line). We pieced together money (they don’t take credit card or anything over 10 euros), got our tickets, and were off! We’re getting the hang of the metro system and really like it… it’s a lot cheaper than anything else, and very efficient.

We walk a few blocks to Mitchell’s “flat,” which is a three bedroom, spacious apartment on the fifth floor of a building, and relax and get hydrated. As with the night before, the conversation was fun… Alex had prepared a great spread of cheese, fruits (pears, cherries, apples) and vegetables (some eggplant with cheese thing, really good), beets, I don’t remember what else, chocolates, and sliced meats. Very European….! It was a great meal to end the day.

After nine we left for their favorite gelato place (you can’t really go wrong with any gelato place around here). I ordered chocolate for one scoop and pistaccio for another scoop, but I said it in Italian. What I learned is that my Italian stinks… because I didn’t get either chocolate or pistaccio…. I got some white thing with another white thing… ugh. Oh well, I either get better, or I switch to English tourist language :p

Here’s the underground view that has become so familiar to us: roma_3_metroroma_3_metro2

Around eleven Mitchell, Alex, and Duncan walked us to our metro stop where we hugged and said our goodbyes, and then we were off. The metro was pretty empty so we got to sit down. I sat by a college-aged kid who, I was sure, would speak some English. I leaned over, “do you speak English?” “Yes.” “What does ‘bushy tomato mean??”

You see, on the metro, the announcer says “blah blah blah bushy tomato [stop name].” We think she’s saying “the next top is [stop name].” But sometimes it sounds like “bushy tomato” and other times it sounds like “bushy gelato.” I was sure this young chap could help me!

Instead, he was like “I don’t know what you are saying. Bushy tomato??” We did this about three times, and then he got up and left. Was his stop coming up? NO! He went down about 20 seats, where a dumb tourist wasn’t going to bother him, and sat there in peace!

And that was the night I compelled an Italian student to let me have my whole row of seats, all to myself. This is me after my new almost-friend left :/roma_4_subway

I need to learn this language if I’m going to spend much time here!

We got off the metro, and popped out in a different place than the other two places we came out before. We are kind of disoriented at our own metro stop… but we quickly figured out which way to go and made it to our B&B. I called the family because Kaisie said Kim was missing me terribly… and got to talk to each kid and Kaisie. I had to talk quietly, though, because two nights earlier when I was talking the neigbors banged on the wall to tell us to quiet down. So much for being loud and expressive in Italy :p

And that was it… a long, busy day, seeing a lot, taking a lot in, enjoying friends, and getting to bed exhausted. We’ve officially been out for three weeks now, and we’ve been running hard this entire trip. It’s amazing to think about where we’ve been, and try to remember what happened where. Just a few more days in Rome, then almost a week in Barcelona, and then we’ll go back to Utah to try and figure out what “normal” is. We miss our families back home, and are grateful for the cool technology we have to do voice and video calls.

Tomorrow is a loose-ends kind of day… we have three things we want to do. We’ll see how it goes!

#Europe2017 Day 20: Lost in Rome (and dinner with friends)!

Today we got up after a solid night of sleep (aka, we slept in again), and went to the metro station to make heads or tails of where we would go. We don’t have a city map (yet) and are not sure where everything is, but I figure we’ll get to the metro and pick a stop and then start walking. On the metro the stations have little text by some of the stops to indicate historical highlights (like: Colosseum)

What do you think… adventurous, or a waste of time? Would you be more planned?

We were going to get a three day skip-the-line and hop-on-hop-off pass, but most of the reviews are bad… so today we walk around to get oriented and get our feet on the ground. Interestingly, we didn’t see very many hop-on buses, which means we weren’t in tourist areas, or it means the system here is not very good.

We got off of the metro half way between our B&B and the Colloseum, and just started walking. Priority Numero Uno was, you guessed it, food! We walked this way and that, past this shop and that, and past a few restaurants where they have a hawker out front trying to lure you in, until finally we found “the one.” This was “the best food in all of Rome, at the lowest prices, with big portions!” That was the claim from Claudio, a boisterous local who owned this restaurant, but according to him next year will move to Wisconsin with ten or fifteen cows and make the best cheese in the cheese capital of the world.

What does boisterous mean? Look it up… Claudio was born to be a restaurant street hawker, with his booming baritone voice, calling out to anyone who walked by his street to come in for lunch. There was only one other small group there when we went in, and not many people on the street, so we got to chat with him. I asked “Was Mussolini good, or bad?” You see, I love to ask local people about big names in their own countries, to see what the difference is in my American history text and their local (in this case Italian) history text. School is interesting, isn’t it? One of my favorite quotes is “the victor writes the history.” It’s not a favorite because it brings us closer to the truth, but because it frames “history” to help us figure out how truthful it is.

Claudio loudly claims “He was the BEST! Is Trump good?? Was Roosevelt good???” I think I had crossed a line (or, was invited into the intense Italian “discussion”)… but it was clear that he didn’t want any negative Mussolini talk (but might be up for hours of negative US leadership talk :p).

Fortunately, I was with three cute teens, two of which are girls… and that became the theme for the rest of the lunch, kind of. I should say, the food was excellent… totally made up for the day before at the restaurant by the beach (spaghetti-os, remember?) William and I had a terrific pizza, Sam had fettuccine and spent most of the time picking out mushrooms, and Ellie had a salad which was a strip of sliced tomato, a strip of (lots of) mozzarella cheese, and a strip of arrugula (tastes like peanuts, and very spicy aftertaste). roma_3_lunch

The highlight, though, was Claudio. At one point he walked past our table singing an Andre Bocheli song … one of the girls in my party melts when guys sing… and then, he swept her up and they danced while singing into her cheek. It was really quite entertaining for three of us (not sure how Ellie felt). Here’s the song he was singing, after declaring “I AM A TENOR!”

Lots of laughing at our table… He asked all of our names but some things got lost in translation… Sam was Sam, but Ellie became Hammie, I became Trump (because of my question), and William became Jason. Here’s us, enjoying our Italian host (notice how his smile changes based on who he’s with):

roma_3_trump

roma_3_hammie
roma_3_samroma_3_jason

“Where do we go from here?” we asked. “Let me show you…. (going outside) you go up this street, see that big thing that you can’t miss at the top of the road? You go there… that’s the (unintellible). Go there!”

So we go there… up hill, a few blocks, and get one of many great views of this hilly city.

It was a church, of course, and where at the Spanish Steps. We went in the church (amazing) and then down the steps, to the “Fontana della Barcaccia, or Fountain of the Old Boat”. Seriously, if you like churches and fountains and statues, you aren’t going to go wrong in Rome (or Europe, for that matter).

Here’s a rare shot of the four of us, from atop the Spanish Stairs. A street vendor took this, gave the girls roses, and then before he left asked for some coins. Unfortunately, he didn’t take credit cards :p roma_spanish_stairs_foursome

Where to from her? Um… how about that street? Turns out to be the street with super duper high end shopping … the girls led us into one of the shops that was out of my league… I kept thinking “if you have to ask (about the price) then you don’t belong here.” I also thought “why come to Rome to buy super expensive stuff?” This wasn’t my thing, but it was interesting to be in a store like that. We kept walking, turning down this street (aka, alley) and that, and came to a plaza with this fascinating pillar:

From afar: roma_3_pillar_wow

Look at all the detail up close!roma_3_pillar-wow_closeup

Right there was a gelato shop, which of course we patronized. Is it okay to say that I love gelato, but can’t eat much of it? It’s crazy rich… maybe I need to get some fruit flavors, instead of chocolate and nuts… but they make it so affordable! Two euros for a small, which they fill to overflowing.

From there we kept walking and found a really, really old building… super old. So old it made the other things we’ve seen in Europe seem modern. Turns out this was the… hold on, let me check google: “old roman church with hole in the roof”… oh yeah, the Roman Pantheon. Wowzers. This is about 2000 years old (started during the reign of someone, A.D 14, dedicated in the AD 100s. Oldest building I’ve ever been to, and super impressive.roma_pantheon

After spending quite a bit of time there, walking around, looking at the huge hole that was designed in the ceiling (and finding some of the holes in the floor to handle any rain that came in the ceiling hole… interesting planning)… check this out:

roma_3_pantheon_hole

And here’s an inside shot… the art here is 2,000 years old????roma_3_pantheon_inside

… we went outside and sat on a side wall that overlooked the Pantheon. Seriously, this building is so old it makes Europe look young! I loved this shot of my laughing Trio: roma_3_laughing

There were plenty of street vendors… one came up and charmingly tied bracelets on William’s, Ellie’s, and Sam’s wrists, and then gave me some kind of rocky ceramic figurines (an elephant and a turtle), and just as he was about to leave pulled out his phone and showed us “his newborn daughter” (“aaaaweee, she’s so cute!!”), and then the invitation “I’m having a party at my house for her birth tonight, with some friends… can I have some coins? Just any coins… ” he asks each of us. This is like guilt-trip selling, after giving us “gifts,” tugging at our heartstrings with the baby picture, and then appealing to the “i’m throwing a party and I’m short on wine and cheese…” This went on for a good five minutes… I only have a credit card, so that’s my easy answer. Finally, he leaves… short 3 bracelets and two figurines, to find the next tourists who will support his party. It wasn’t us.

Oh yeah, by this time we were in touch with my publisher, from Silicon Valley, for dinner… but our internet access was really spotty (we went hours with no access, and found the best place for wifi was underground in the metro). We kept walking and ended up going up a huge flight of stairs to a church, where we spent at least 45 minutes, and then out the back happened upon on some crazy amazing ancient ruins… they were blocked off, but we were able to walk around and pretty much see them all (from the outside). Remember, we’re just wandering around Rome… getting oriented, with no map (and no wifi), and the city lacks signs saying what you are seeing. But it’s still fun, and AMAZING. roma_3_ruinsroma_ruins_4

We wanted to get closer to these ruins, which was about the size of a neighborhood… multiple city blocks:

roma_ruins_5roma_ruins_6

Here’s a bird that landed two feet away from William… beautiful animal (and great shot): roma_ruins_bird

“Dad, stand there and let me get a picture of you with the bird!” “Sure son, no problem. I’m a professional bird model… get it NOW!”roma_ruins_bird_jason

We went down some stairs and William said “It’s like a movie set!” “I know… all of Rome… all of Europe, is like a movie set!” “No, I mean, a real movie set!” Turns out, we walked into a movie set, set in 1950s (my guess) France (or, Rome, with a bunch of French people and old cars). What a trip. We stayed watching for a while and I was reminded that movie filming is 99% waiting around and 1% action. But we watched a few rounds of filming… people walking, the 3 kids playing… no talking… that was it. roma_movie

We left up the same stairs we came down (everything else was blocked off for the filming) and stopped to hear a tour guide talk about this area, where Peter (or Paul?) was imprisoned, and the stuff that was happening in New Testament times. It was really fun to hear this history, as he held his bible… we are here, where it happened. So crazy. He might have been famous… there were two really nice cameras there:
roma_3_christian

We kept walking and were in the old, old part of town. City of ruins on the right, statues and amphitheater on the left, and street performers up and down the street. Here’s a horse statue… I said it needed to lay off the high fructose corn syrup, William said it was a horse on steroids :p
roma_3_horse

We turn down another road and are in a quiet area when all of the sudden ancient ruins that are being refurbished are in our path… this place is amazing. It’s a mix between “people live and work here” and “here are ancient ruins from 2,000 years ago!”

More walking, more wandering, and we’re in an area with a lot of “argentine” signs… that means silver, apparently (so, Argentina was named because of silver??), and there’s this super old plaza-sized area that is totally blocked off with pillars and foundation. “What is this?” we ask a street vendor (painter). “Its the Largo di Torre Argentina, where Julius Caesar was supposedly killed.” Oh my gosh! Why didn’t I pay more attention to history in school???roma_3_argentia

I’ll tell you what, we’re tired of all the walking, but around every corner is like a gift. Getting lost in Rome is fun! Here’s a funny sight, no matter how powerful the man, how majestic the statue, this and many other birds have gotten the last laugh:roma_3_statue_bird

Somewhere in all of this was a shop that had a lot of replicas of ancient rome warriors… swords, helmets, coins, and penises. I’ll rename that to spanish: pene… so anyway, there are baskets of penes… with wings, of all sizes. I have to ask: “What’s the significance of these… why are there so many all around?” (It’s not like many of the statues are clothed, but these little artistic things all over? Where they earings or decorations or good luck charms, or what?? He replied “in ancient Rome family was a big deal, and having a lot of kids would ensure you could have a legacy and leave things (property) to your kids. It’s all about fertility. It was very common, until the church came along. They ruined everything.” Oooooooh, that makes sense. It was to celebrate fertility. Okay… moving on.

We keep walking and… wait, seriously? Could it really be? The Colosseum? THE Colosseum? “What’s the historical significance of this?” “Well, this is were the gladiators fought, and the prisoners died… man against man, or man against Lion… it was pretty gruesome.” It is probably what we would have more of if we didn’t have TV, the Internet, or Netflix.roma_3_col_army

We walked towards the Colosseum, getting lots of pictures, walking around the military barricades, and chilled for a while outside, just taking in the amazingness of being there. roma_3_col_close

Then, it was time to figure out where we were supposed to be for dinner. Reservations were for 9:15, but we didn’t want to be late (we were meeting at 7-something at some place… where was that, and how do we get there?). We went down the metro stairs (directly across from the Colosseum) and VIOLA! We had internet! We could get and send messages! We could figure out where to meet!

We were just a few stops away (kind of, we had to change metros) to the People’s Plaza, or Piazza de Popolo, which was right by the Davinci museum (we hope to go there… it is small and doesn’t look official). I’m not sure why it’s named the People’s Plaza… but probably because everything is named for or after a saint or city (world) leader. So this one was for the regular people?

We got out of the metro and sat on some stairs to try and orient ourselves. We were a block away, but in which direction? Hard to tell. There was a young university-aged Italian guy there, so I asked him: “Do you speak English?” Yes… all younger people seem to speak English. “Where’s the Piazza de Pop_____?” (I slaughtered the name). “I don’t know, I’m from up north!” He was just off the metro, waiting to meet some friends. Turns out he is a violist in an orchestra up north… having studied in Venice (or Florence?) and Russia. This might be our first celebrity sighting here. He was very nice and after looking on Google, pointed us in the right direction.

We passed this lady… I saw her from afar but didn’t realize the pigeons were crawling all over her.

Talked to some people eating American servings of french fries – turns out they were here from the Philipines because there’s more work here. Lovely people.

We went down and alley and found the People’s Plaza, where we waited for Mitchell Levy and his wife and son… and then the night was about to begin! Until then, we are tired, and glad to be resting in the shade:
roma_3_waiting_people

Finally, they come, our hosts for the night!roma_3_levy

Here’s us, for our first picture (when we are still friends):
roma_3_mitchell

This is the pillar-thing we were by… Duncan explained that this was pillared from some other country and brought here as a decoration: roma_3_hyro

Alex, Mitchell’s wife, is great at details and she loves the city and exploring… we had a couple of hours before dinner, so she had some plans for us! We walked down to the famous Trevi Fountain (trivia: apparently tourists toss in three thousand euros worth of coins in this fountain EVERY DAY. I need to build a fountain like this…!)roma_3_trevi

Then, we went to the Magnum ice cream store, which is an experience not to be missed while in Rome… roma_3_magnum

From there, we wound our way through the streets and alleys to this fountain:
rome_3_fountain

The funny thing is, this is the first thing we saw off the metro… this is where we started the day, and now it’s where we are ending it!

This was a cool shot… the moon was better than what you see in the pic, and the tunnel glowed green:roma_3_greentunnel

Right up the street was the hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, from the outside it looks normal and small, but you go in, and downstairs, and you are in a luxurious restaurant, that is practically by reservation only. The food was well-priced and very, very good. This, so far, has been our best food experience yet. And we were with Mitchell and family, so it was a great night of fun and conversation.

At 11:20 Alex asked “What time is it,” then we asked the server “when does the metro close?” Long story short, we had 10 minutes to hobble on the cobblestone to the metro stop, or else we were in for an expensive ride home!

We made it, with minutes to spare! Safe and sound… rolling in around midnight, and exhausted!

Is tomorrow the 3 day pass adventure… or what? Time will tell, but the plan is to wake up EARLY and get out the door quickly!

Buenas noches, desde Roma!

#Europe2017: Day 19 at the Mediterranean Sea outside of Rome, Italy!

Today started off like any normal European Holiday Vacation… late. We had gotten to our hotel (bed and breakfast, actually) at 2am, after a long day of mostly waiting, then travelling, and what seemed like an eternity waiting for our luggage. But finally, we’re in our hotel at 2am, and we can rest.

The plan for today was to go to the Italian beach. I’m a bit of a beach snob, having lived four years in Puerto Rico and going to many a Caribbean beach. This beach was not anything like the Caribbean (what is?), but it was still really nice. But first… the journey.

I got up at about 10:40, which was great because the “breakfast” part of the B&B closes at noon. We got a ticket/voucher for our entire trip to get a croissant + coffee from a bakery about a block down the street. at 10:50 Sam and I walked down the street and got to the breakfast place, showed them our voucher, and then got a lecture that we really need to get there at 10 or 11am because there’s no guarantee that after that there will be croissants.

I wasn’t expecting a lecture… we were told at the B&B that as long as we get there by 11 we would be fine. But whatever… the main message was really “we might run out, and if we do, too bad.”

Lecture over, we picked out our croissants and asked what coffee we wanted. None of us drink coffee… “can we get some juice?” “No, but you can have milk.” None of us drink milk…but maybe if we keep it up we can get juice. “Can we get some juice?” “No…” so we walked away with a bag of croissants.

We head to the bank (which is just across the street) to use the ATM. After a few tries, and finally switching it over from Italian to English, the card/ATM failed… so we walk back towards the B&B and what luck! There’s an ATM right outside of our B&B, with a bank name that I recognized! This time it worked, we got our cash, and went back to the room to wake the sleepyheads.

“Let’s go!” We had an hour travel ahead of us and I wanted to get in as much non-hotel time as I could, even though we had a late night. While everyone is getting ready we break into the croissants. Now, I’m not much of a bread/carb guy. To me, that’s not a proper meal… but holy cow, this was the best croissant I’ve ever had. If you dressed up a really tasty donut as a croissant, that’s we got. It was superb!

I got instructions from our B&B host and we were off! Today we would try the metro, since Uber is apparently rotten in Italy (it’s not the normal Uber… all Uber drivers are limo drivers, which means they are licensed or whatever, and perhaps as expensive as a Taxi), and the metro is just a block or two from our B&B. So we get on Line A and go to the very end, where we’re supposed to get a bus to the beach. Total travel time: one hour.roma_beach_torvaianica

We get off the metro, Line A, at the end, and then go to the bank of buses. I couldn’t make heads of tales of it, except I could see there were Italians waiting by certain buses, or where buses would park, and I finally found someone who worked there. “Which bus do we take to get to Torvainanica beach, er, playa, or spiaggia from here?”

Try to say “torvainica” or “spiaggia” without any proper training… you say it about six times and the Italians laugh :)

“Oh, no, you need to go back on Metro A, to Termini, then get off, and go up the stairs, then down the stairs, and get on Metro B (another line), to the very end, and then take a bus to the spiaggia.”

OH. MY. GOSH. Should have done the uber for $45. We would have been there by now. But we were only into it $6 so far… we’re trying to be frugal and get used to the metro system.

So we hit the little flee market, get free beach bags (shopping bags, but we used them later at the beach), Ellie gets some pants, and we reject all the bathing suits (William and I both need real swimsuits), and go to Metro A. It was easy enough to get from A to B (just follow the hordes of people), and then … go outside and try to make sense of the buses. I’ll tell you, there’s no making sense of them. At the kiosk you pay by how far you are going (10 kilometers? $1.60. 20 kilimeters? 2 whatever.) I have no idea how far we are going, and by the looks of it, the next bus is in one or two hours.

It’s like 3:00 by now and we’re tired of this figuring-out thing. We miss uber, and we’re hungry. So, we take a taxi. The most expensive thing you could do. It was $45. See the irony here? (if not, reference the uber price a few paragraphs up)

We finally get to the beach but Job #1 is to get some FOOD. This unusual vending machine we saw right out of the taxi didn’t quite have the food we were looking for:

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Unfortunately, everything with real meals is closed. What the heck, Europe? So many great places, most of them closed! The whole Appleby’s until 1am thing is looking pretty great right about now!

We go to a swimsuit/prom dress store (it had a weird variety of clothes) and me and William get our sweet European swimsuits (not that style, of course! He could pull it off, I couldn’t). While there, two girls walk in and the owner is like “English! English!” Turns out they are diving board divers brought in from Romania and Texas, and the owner thought they would interpret for us. But the Texan (who had great English, I might add) didn’t speak a lick of Italian… she has only been here less than a week :p We buy our clothes, and four towels, and are off.

We then walk to find a place to eat… and everything, like I said, was closed. Except the gelato place. Now, I’ve heard of gelato before, but wowzers. Seriously, gelato in Italy is all it is hyped up to be. Here’s an interesting article on the difference between gelato and ice cream. There were about 30 flavors… we each got a small cone for two euros and they piled on about three scoops… much more than I thought would fit. It was really nice to get any food while we were on the hunt for lunch-almost-dinner.

About a block down the road we say a miracle: a food place that was open. We went in and passed the glass showcase with the pre-made pizzas… those have not looked good to us at all yet. On the other side were various foods we didn’t recognize and that didn’t look appetizing… but there was a pan of lasagna cut into very generous portions (about 4 servings per portion!). The Trio each got a plate of that, and I opted to try some fish thing that looked good. The total price was only 22 euros… not bad! Oh yeah, add 1.50 for a big bottle of water, and we’re good.

We open up the water, as we were all super thirsty, and pour it into our tiny cups (every place we have gone in Europe, the drink cups are tiny. I think Europeans drink little at the meal (unless it’s beer) and then get home and drink a lot… who knows?), and very quickly realize this is not “still” water… this is bubbly, or gassy, or, as we call it, mineral water! YUCK. Ugh. No amount of thirst will be satisfied with mineral water :/

So I buy another bottle, after a three minute English-to-Italian (with some Spanish mixed in, and hand gestures) conversation with the lady that no, we don’t want her delicious mineral water, we just want still water. Normal water… normal without gas… oh heavens getting water is hard!

Victory! We got normal, non-gas water, and I went back to the table only to find The Trio is not impressed with their $5 lasagne. “It tastes like it’s out of the can of spaghetti-os.” This is not a complement. I try a bit and indeed, it looked amazing, but it certainly tasted like it was right out of the can. Either this restaurant was rotten, or the spaghetti-o company was right on the money with their Italian food!

My fish wasn’t much better. It was too breaded, not enough fish, and a huge lasagna noodle on the bottom, just to remind you that when you are on the road you eat a lot of carbs. Bleh.

But at least we had our water. Mind you, it’s probably 4pm now and we still haven’t been to the beach! Let’s get going! We buy two more water bottles and go down an alley and we are at the beautiful Mediterranean beach. What happened on this beach, I wondered? Anything with WWI or WWII? Trading from early Roman times?

The Trio immediately set off for the water and played in it for a super long time, I stayed with our stuff. Anyone steals the wallets or phone and we are in a world of hurt. They come back and I walk down the beach to look for shells and see the sights… I was surprised at how empty this beach was.

I come back and the Trio sets off for a walk, and at about 8pm they come back… and we figure we better go figure out how to get a bus back to the metro before everything closes down. But, surprise! You are in a small town, and things are starting to close down! The bus system was weird (not like my experiences in Mexico, or Sam’s in the Dominican Republic)… and we couldn’t figure it out. What’s more, each bus that went by was PACKED, and we weren’t sure we were going to get on any of them!

We try Uber… from the beach to our B&B is eighty Euros… UGH. But that’s the price you pay, I guess. It was late, and we were getting desperate (anyone up for sleeping on the beach?)… no taxis were passing, no buses made sense… and then our Uber driver cancelled. Get another one… he cancels too. NOW WHAT?

We try to download the Rome-Taxi uber competitor, but that is taking too long. I ask a local and he tells me to go down this street, then turn the other way, then look for a sign of a business, and there I’ll find a number for the taxi service. Remember, small town. On our way, and not trusting any local’s directions anymore, I think “the hotel!” Every hotel deals with taxis, and surely a hotel guy can help us!

At least the sunset is beautiful… right?roma_beach_sunset

So I go into a little (LITTLE) hotel and the guy is like “oh yeah, my friend… er, the taxi driver, he’ll do it.”

We just needed a ride to the metro, 14 miles away, before it closed. By now we are all having visions of beach sleeping, and I’m remembering how annoying sand fleas are from when I was a teen sleeping on the beaches in the Virgin Islands… “he says $70 to the metro… just wait out here on the chairs!”

We have no other choice… we wait on the chairs until 9, when he should come. That gives is two hours before the metro shuts down in a town where transportation is rough. At 9:07 I go back to him and ask where the driver is… we’re okay but a little nervous. “Faith not fear,” this is going to work out!

His reply?

“This is Italia!” Meaning 9pm doesn’t mean 9pm… it means 9 or 10 or whenever the driver wants to show up! “And, everyone here is in the mafia!” Not sure how to take that part… I forgot about the mafia thing in Italy.

Turns out our driver, Johnny (yep), is just two minutes away. He pull sup in an older BMW station wagon and we load up and head out. “You speak English?” “No.” “Spanish, French? Polish?” “No, only Italian.” Johnny, pure Italian. Definitely mobster, I figure.

Johnny was an interesting driver. His headlights weren’t that powerful, and he was sweating profusely… I honestly wondered if he was having a heart attack! And if your driver has a heart attack outside of Rome, what do you do? Do you drive, how do you call 911… what’s the protocol? I had a good twenty minutes to think through this on our way to the metro. It’s amazing where your mind can go with a sweaty mobster driving you super fast through unlit roads.

We get there… 70 euros… here’s my card. “No card!” Ugh… I have thirty euros, and it’s getting late (the metro shuts down when??) Luckily Ellie had gotten some cash, we paid off our Johnny, and we were off! We go get tickets and wind our way down to the underground and get on a train. Getting on that metro felt really, really good! We were going to make it!

The rest of the metro ride was uneventful… we go to Termini, switched to Line A, and then got to our stop… after a few minutes of disorientation, figured out which way our hotel was (there are like 5 streets that all come into this one intersection, and we were on the wrong side of familiar), and then started off, planning on a trip to the 24 hour grocery store on the way. Yes, 24 hours… it is a miracle. And they had a lot of good stuff. Problem was we were hungry, which is not the best time to buy.

Finally, we get home, have some cereal and cookies (carbs, carbs, more carbs!) and get to bed. As we’re settling in my family calls and we get to chat for a good 30 to 45 minutes, showing them the room we are in, telling jokes, making faces, and just staying in touch. It’s so good to hear their voices and hear about what they are up to.

We find out on the news that there was a bomb or something at a Roman post office (we need to find a post office soon!), and that we had just missed the second bridge terror attack in London, and a British airways shutdown, etc. Luckily we have avoided any of that stuff… !

And that was it… our beach adventure… tomorrow, we hit ROME!

Con amore, da Italia!

#Europe2017 Day 18: The Most Boringest Day of All (Travel to Rome TONIGHT)

I wonder how many people have been following along on our journeys and thought “Oh my gosh, that is so fun, all the time… how amazing… dream come true, almost like Genovia!”

Don’t get me wrong… this trip has been EPIC. We’ve seen, tasted, smelled, touched, heard, and experienced Europe. We’ve been to famous landmarks and eaten famous foods, and we have fun stories to tell.

But, there are plenty of downtime. Like they day we didn’t get out of the hotel until noon, or the time we got back at 9, and had hours to not be a tourist, but to be a hotel occupant. And then, weird days like today.

We are about 8 miles outside of Paris, in a smaller town called Creteil. It’s plenty nice here, but it’s just a city… hardly anything to do (a park down the road, a few restaurants (but nothing French), some fruit markets (very small stores)… and lots and lots of apartments. There’s hardly anyone out on the streets… so it has a somewhat vacant feel to it (although we are on a main road, and there’s plenty of traffic).

To make matters worse, today is a holiday here (Whit Monday, related to Pentecost Sunday)… so about 3/4 of everything is closed. The plan was this:

1. Get up, do laundry
2. pack, check out (by noon)
3. store our bags at the receptionist desk, then go grab some breakfast/lunch
4. walk around town, and check out the graveyard/church thing half a block down,
5. start going to the airport around 7pm
6. fly to Rome from 10 to midnight
7. uber from airport, about 30 minutes, arrive at hotel by 1am.

Here’s how it really happened:

1. Get up, get laundry going (ugh, someone else was using the washing machine, so I had to go down every 20 minutes to see if they were done yet… not fun. Left my clothes on the washer to claim my spot in line, hoping no one steals the clothes)
2. Get wash done and switch to dryer. Luckily notice that dryer wasn’t working before I ran upstairs… otherwise I would have come back an hour later to wet clothes :/
2. Get everyone else packing by 11:35 (some were already awake, some weren’t (not naming names… teens have a capacity to sleep a lot :p)
4. Check out of hotel, check bags in with front desk, and put clothes on a second dry cycle…. still not dry.
5. Walk to the restaurant street, with about four restaurants, and hope that something is open.
6. Get fruit and candies from the small market,
7. Go to chicken fast food joint, get burgers and fries (while Ellie eats a quarter watermelon with her bare hands (until she asked for a spoon) and same ate a naan-bread-looking thing from the p√Ętisserie.
8. The Trio goes to hang out at a park down the road and I go back to get our clothes out of the dryer before someone else does, and do some JibberJobber work.
9. Got clothes out, packed what was dry, and hung a few things over our luggage (ugh).
10. Started to do some work (pay bills), and then the Trio surprises me by showing up (like 10 minutes later). Bored? Nope, had to pee.
11. Now we are sitting in the hotel foyer, essentially camped out until 7ish. It’s 3:30pm right now. I have plenty of work to do.

So there you go… like I said, any trip is going to have downtime. We’ve been able to talk about our plans for Rome… here’s what we are thinking:

Arrive tonight at 1am and if everything goes well, get in our Bed and Breakfast fine. I overlooked the fact that they close early and you have to make arrangements with them to check in after ours (which is like 8pm!!).

Tuesday: Go to the beach. Haven’t done that on this whole trip, and Sam just got back from the Dominican Replublic and thinks that life is always better at the beach.

Wednesday through Friday: Get hop-on-hop-off, skip-the-line passes to everything, and do the Rome tourist thing.

Saturday: open, probably beach

Sunday: Church, if we can figure that out

Monday: open, at night we fly to Barcelona!

Like I said, this trip has been epic, but for all those at home doing chores and all that, just realize that we are here doing chores and having downtime, too.

For now, I’m hoping that we have no problems getting into our hotel tonight, otherwise we’ll sleep on some park benches in downtown Rome.

From France, for the last time, au revoir!

UPDATED THE NEXT DAY

I wrote that about 3:30, thinking we’d have a pretty standard travel day. It wasn’t exactly “standard.”

After waiting until about 6:30 pm we finally decided to get an uber (earlier than planned) to the airport. We got dropped off and checked in, then were on the hunt for food. We wanted a sit-down, and NO SANDWICHES. By now, we are tired of sandwiches. There were only three options, and the whole “pay $20 euros for a hamburger” just wasn’t setting well with us. In disgust of the options, we finally choose the most Paris-y looking restaurant and sit down. It really was the most parisy environment we were in… super cute. The sliders were only $27. UUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH.

Our meal wasn’t too expensive only because I didn’t order a $27 plate and just shared with the others. “How do you like your steak?” Me and William had ordered a plate with three little burgers. “Um, are they burgers, ground beef, or steak? Are they on buns?” No sir, these are three steaks. “Oh, well in that case, medium.” A while later, he brings out three sliders, which are little hamburgers, not steaks, cooked with too much pink in the middle. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

We finished our meal, not in love with the food, and head to our gate. So, a little bathroom talk… the bathrooms at this airport were some of the nicest looking I’ve ever been to. That’s why I was struck at this crazy sign… it’s a sign I’ve never seen over a urinal, anywhere:
paris_toilette_non-potable

I also have never, ever, ever seen anyone trying to drink out of or fill a water bottle from a urinal :p

After a while we get on, row 4 (I’ve never been so close to the front, except when I got lucky on Southwest), and took off. Flying over France at night was beautiful… we saw the Eiffel Tower from above (that was cool), and then flew over a bunch of sleepy French villages… really beautiful.

After two hours, we arrived in Roma! But, the airport was not staffed well enough, and we had to wait for a team to bring us the stairs to get off the plane. Finally, we get off, get on a bus, and get to the terminal. The lady from the B&B is waiting for us, and WhatsApping us wondering were we are (we made “late accomodations and will you pick us up” arrangements just 24 hours earlier and I wasn’t positive she’d be there… and we needed her to get us into the B&B, which doesn’t have a 24 hour reception desk!).

I left the Trio at the luggage carousel while I went and met her, to chat and make sure she would stay until we were all ready! She was great, but it was getting late (now after 1am). I asked “what is the latest you have picked someone up?” She replied “you guys.”

With WhatsApp (a texting app) we were communicating… I told her to say “where’s Jason???” to freak the kids out a bit, then shortly after we messaged this picture… obviously we were together :p
roma_arrive_alina

Finally, the Trio comes out with our bags and we go to her 2-door mercedes and we’re on our way! She is a gracious hostess, with all kinds of information and advice. She let’s us in, instructs us on the keys (“black is for the street entrance, green is for the inside entrance, silver is for our room”) and the bathroom (“yours is the one of the left… don’t use the one on the right, other rooms share that one”), and we’re alone.

It’s 2am. We’re exhausted. But we are also in beds, in Rome!