Wow! November 14th already? Diane met me at my house and my mom drove us down to SeaTac. I had used miles to upgrade to business (so worth it on long flights!) and so we enjoyed the amenities of the lounge while waiting for our flight. British Airways is in the process of upgrading their cabins and we were on one of upgraded planes. It was nice!! The beds fully reclined, we had a library of movies to choose from, and a warm comfy blanket. The flight was fairly uneventful. After landing, we walked around Heathrow to pass the time until our next flight to Rome. I ended up with the dreaded middle seat, but I was so tired I was still able to fall asleep. It wasn’t long and we had landed in Rome and I got the first stamp in my new passport! We arrived at the train station just in time for the next train into Rome. Because we were both tired and I wasn’t sure exactly where our hotel was we decided the easiest way would be to take a taxi from the train station to our hotel. Before this I can say I’ve never really worried too much about a taxi ripping me off – I always make sure to get an official taxi and I’ve never had problems. We got into the official taxi line and took the next official taxi, or at least the next “official-looking” taxi. We got to our hotel, well across the street and down a little from our hotel and the driver said the cost was €20! I was expecting €10 not €20!! But I was tired and I hate confrontation so I didn’t say anything and we paid him. I looked up taxis in Rick’s book and sure enough, it should have been around €10. Oh well – it’s only money.
The hotel was located on the second floor and the elevator looked a little intimidating (at least to me) so we drug our suitcases up the two flights of stairs. The hotel room was large, and directly off the reception desk. The bathroom, the shower in particular, was tiny! But it was clean and in a good area. We rested for a little bit before deciding to explore. Our hotel wasn’t too far from the Colosseum so we walked towards the Colosseum before continuing on to the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain where we threw our coins in the fountain to ensure our return to Rome. We were hungry by this point and tired so we walked back toward our hotel. We ate at a restaurant I’d eaten at before. Their margherita pizza was just as good as I remembered! At this point we were exhausted and so went back to the hotel.
During the night I discovered the beds at the hotel were heat-sucking beds! It’s as if the bed sucks all the heat from your body into the mattress then radiates it back – the mattress gets really warm. Heat-sucking bed aside, the rest of the night passed peacefully and before I knew it was time to get up. The tiny shower proved interesting but mangeable. Breakfast was served in our room and consisted of various rolls, yogurt, and a cappuccino. We finished breakfast and stepped outside to discover it was raining. We made our way to the Colosseum. It really is amazing to me how much of that structure is still intact. Next was Palatine Hill. We walked around looking at the ruins and avoiding the puddles that were quickly forming. At the back of the Palatine Hill area we were able to see Circus Maximus in the distance. There is really only a well worn track left of what used to be an impressive arena that held chariot races. We made our way back to the Forum and walked through what used to be the center of Roman living. We visited the Mamertine prison, where legend has it both St. Peter & St. Paul were held prisoners. It was really interesting to visit, plus it was indoors which allowed us to get out of the rain. The rain was really coming down so we ran up the stairs through the back entrance to the top of the Victor Emmanuel monument and stopped in the café to take a break from the rain and rethink the plan for the day. Granted, we are two Seattle girls and should be used to the rain but it was coming down pretty hard at this point and with the wind an umbrella would be useless. Where was the guy selling ponchos? The rain had abated when we finished our drinks and we decided to head back to the hotel to dry off. When we left the hotel the rain was still at a little drizzle so we decided to keep with our original plan, with a slight deviation. St. Peter in Chains was fairly close to our hotel so we walked up the stairs to the church. As we are walking up we were saying we’ve done pretty well avoiding the puddles. And with excellent timing we step into a huge puddle!! Oh no. So much for avoiding puddles. We reach the top of the stairs only to find the church was closed for lunch. We continued on to the Pantheon where I was happy to discover there was no construction. The last few times I’ve been there scaffolding has been up. We went over to Piazza Navona before stopping for gelato! Yum! It was on to the Trevi Fountain where we again threw a coin in to the fountain. We walked up to the Spanish Steps and debated walking up to the top, in case we decided to come back at night. We decided to walk halfway up the stairs. We walked up to the Piazza del Popolo. From there we took the metro over to Santa Maria della Vittoria to see Bernini’s sculpture of St. Teresa in Ecstasy. We then took the metro back over to St. Peter in Chains which was open this time! There was a mass going on in the corner while we were there. It’s funny but it took me a second to realize it was in English (as opposed to Italian or Latin). We walked back over to the Spanish Steps and this time climbed all the way to the top (135 stairs). It was when we paused to take in the view we realized exactly how tired we were. We took the metro back to our hotel and had dinner at the restaurant near our hotel. We topped it off with gelato (yes, that would be the second time we had gelato today – I’m on vacation!!).
Stair count: 60+ x 2 up to St. Peter in Chains and 135 up to top of Spanish Steps (not to mention climbing halfway up earlier in the day)
It was still on the chilly side today, but at least no rain! First stop was the Vatican Museums. I figured there would be a line, but as it was in the middle of November, I didn’t expect a long line. Boy was I wrong! When we joined the line it was almost back to the entrance to St. Peter’s! Guides were offering tours which would let us bypass the line and were warning that at this point the line was around 2 hours long. We decided to stick it out in line and fortunately the line moved along. We only ended up being in line for a little over an hour. We were probably about halfway through the line when this couple cut in line in front of us! As previously mentioned, I hate confrontation, but I also hate “cheating” which is basically what they were trying to do. What to do? I’m also passive aggressive, which showed when I told Diane to follow me and we basically cut in line in front of them. So while they did cut – at least it wasn’t in front of us!
Finally inside we got in line to buy tickets. Diane was in front of me and the cashier asked if she was a student. She said no, but he replied yes and gave her the discounted student rate. I step up thinking he might do the same for me. Yeah, no. I paid full price. We made our way through the museum until finally we reached the Sistine Chapel. Stepping inside, it takes a minute for the grandness of it all to sink in. We stand around gazing up before taking the “secret” exit which opens out right near the actual entrance to St. Peter’s instead of winding your way back through the museum and then walking all the way back to St. Peter’s.
Stepping inside of St. Peter’s I am overwhelmed at the sheer grandness of the basilica. We toured the basilica before sitting down to rest. Feeling rested, we began the climb up to the top of the dome, taking the elevator to the base. The climb wasn’t actually too bad, I think partly because there were so many people in front of us it was slow going with frequent stops. We reached the top and were trying to take a Diane & Emily self portrait when a guy comes up to us and says he’ll take our picture. Diane gives him her camera and he decides where we are isn’t going to make a good shot so he starts walking back and climbs up on a post to get a better angle. He has us move around until he is satisfied with the shot and finally takes the picture. We thank him and then look at the picture. I’m not sure what he was looking at when he took the picture but he just barely got us in the picture. Oh well!
Not sure what to do after St. Peter’s we decide to make our way to Ostia Antica (ancient Ostia). Ostia was a port city which was abandoned when Rome fell and was covered up over time by mud and silt. I really enjoyed Ostia because you can really explore and climb all over and imagine what life would have been like once upon a time. We were almost through to the end when the guides told us it was closing and we had to leave. We turned around and headed back to the entrance, stopping off at the theater to “take a bow”.
Back in Rome, we decided to try a restaurant in Diane’s book. We took the metro over to Piazza del Popolo and found the restaurant. Unfortunately it was closed. We walked over to the metro near the Spanish Steps and went back to the hotel. We walked around and found a restaurant nearby. There was only one other couple there when we got there which was a little worrisome but by the end it had filled up. The food was good! We finished up the day with a gelato.
Stair count: 323 to the top of St. Peter’s
It was our last morning in Rome. After breakfast we took the metro to the train station and picked up our tickets to Venice. A little background on Venice, or my feelings on Venice: I don’t like Venice. The last and only time I was there it was super hot and crowded. While that wasn’t fun, it wasn’t enough to turn me off Venice. What did that was the smell and the garbage. Venice is very smelly and dirty. Diane really wanted to go to Venice and I decided to give it another chance. When we got there I was happy to find it wasn’t as dirty or as smelly as I remembered it. We took the water bus to our hotel, which was down the tiniest street! We were shown up to our hotel room, which was very red. We got a map and directions from the hotel clerk and started off towards the Rialto Bridge. Venice is very picturesque with all the canals and bridges. We found our way to Rialto Bridge, doing a little shopping on the way. We twisted and turned along the little streets over to St. Mark’s Square. After doing a little more shopping we wandered back over to the Rialto Bridge and had dinner outside along the Grand Canal. Yes, outside even though it was really cold! We had tiramisu for dessert (instead of gelato). We started off back to the hotel and got lost. Backtracking we ran into a couple who was also lost. A couple streets down we found where we had made the wrong turn and continued on to our hotel. We ran into the lost couple again – it looked as if they were still lost. We finally reached our hotel. It was so hot in our room! We couldn’t get the air conditioning to work and I broke down and opened the window. But thankfully it wasn’t too smelly! It was after I had been in bed for a little while I realized my skin was still so cold! The side of my body that had been closest to the water at dinner was the coldest. Where is the heat sucking bed when you need it?
When we first had looked around the hotel room, we had noticed we didn’t have a traditional hair dryer but we figured it would work. It did work – sort of. It was more of a hair blower than a hair dryer but it was better than nothing.
Stepping out of our hotel room we could smell breakfast wafting up the stairs! They had rolls and yogurt, but also fruit and cereal. After breakfast we checked out and left our bags and started walking towards St. Mark’s Square. The basilica was first on our list. I really like the Byzantine influence evident in St. Mark’s. From there we went to the Doge’s Palace, a very interesting mix of Gothic and Eastern styles. Unfortunately the Bridge of Sighs and the prisons were closed for renovations so we weren’t able to see them. Next up was the Campanile, which had an elevator. Hooray! No stairs! The ticket we bought for the Doge’s Palace allowed us to visit the Correr Museum, across the square. This museum has a lot of Venetian history and art. The exciting moment came when Diane leant a little too close to a sculpture and set off the alarm! Oh no! She stepped back and the alarm shut off. We took a makeshift “tour” of Venice via the water bus from St. Mark’s Square to the Rialto Bridge. We stopped for gelato and then for a late lunch. A little backwards to have dessert before lunch but again I’m on vacation! We did a little more shopping before heading back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and head to the train station to catch a train to Florence.
My verdict on Venice? I would visit again, always in the off-season! It’s not in my top 10 and it’ll probably be awhile before I would visit again but I would visit again. And I’d definitely stay in the hotel again! It was my favorite of this trip.
We arrived in Florence and walked to the hotel. It was late by this point so we called it a day.
Our breakfasts continued to get better. This morning we had the normal rolls, yogurt, fruit & cereal, plus meats and cheeses! After breakfast we started off towards the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. Every time I see David, I get a little ga-ga. I’m so impressed with all the details, especially the hands! The Duomo was next and then we climbed the bell tower, instead of the dome. It was 50 steps shorter, less crowded and gave us a great view of the dome. About halfway up the bells rang which was pretty cool and very loud! We continued on to Santa Croche and then on to Palazzo Vecchio, once home to the powerful Medici family. The original David used to stand outside this palace but now there is a fake David in its place. The next stop was Ponte Vecchio which was not Diane’s favorite ponte! I really like Ponte Vecchio (it is one of my favorite pontes) so it became a joke that Diane was not as impressed with it. After doing a bit more shopping we took the bus up to Piazzale Michelangelo for a view of the city and a view of another fake David. I’m always nervous about taking a bus but I feel so accomplished when I arrive at my destination. I don’t know what it is about a bus that makes it different than the metro. We got back down and found a restaurant near our hotel, recommended by Rick. We realized after a bit they stuck us in the back with all the other tourists. The food was good and the cappuccino had a heart in the foam. According to Rick, Florence has the best gelato in Italy so after dinner we started hunting for gelato. We finally found a spot open which was more expensive but it was our last night in Italy and we had to have gelato!! And what’s better than gelato and tiramisu? Tiramisu flavored gelato!!
Stair count: 414 up to the top of the Bell Tower
We had breakfast before heading over to the train station to catch the train to the Pisa Airport where we caught a plane to London. We took the train into London and got a taxi over to our hotel. We relaxed and watched television for a bit before heading out to find a pub for dinner. We got directions from the concierge but didn’t find the one he directed us to but found another one. I had fish and chips and split a stick toffee pudding with custard for dessert. It was really yummy! We realized after we had started eating it we hadn’t taken a picture of the dessert. It had started pouring outside so we ran for it. We reached our hotel and called it a night.
We took the train out to Leeds Castle. On the train we noticed the weather was fairly gloomy and it looked as if it could rain. We got to the castle and in the gift shop they were selling ponchos. Knowing if we bought one we probably wouldn’t need it, but if we didn’t we probably would, we erred on the side of buying the poncho. We walked up to the castle, which is extremely picturesque. We toured the castle which is still in use today. We had lunch at the castle restaurant. Diane had pork & apple cutlet with potatoes and I had a lamb & apricot dish, also with potatoes. Halfway through our meal we realized today was Thanksgiving and both of our dishes were appropriate with the side of potatoes! Unfortunately I didn’t think about taking a picture of our food until after we had already eaten.
The castle also had a maze. We did okay at the beginning but then got off track. Who knows how long we would have wandered around in there if we hadn’t overheard the guide telling someone else the secret of the maze? We didn’t quite hear the whole secret so instead we followed the ones that had heard the secret and soon we were at the middle!
We made it back to London and took the tube over to Westminster Abbey thinking it would still be open but it wasn’t. We walked across the bridge and went on the London Eye. Before we bought our ticket we used the restroom at the London Eye – they have the coolest hand dryers ever! You put your hands all the way in and slowly draw them out and your hands are completely dry! They need more of these hand dryers!! We were the only people in line and a pod was coming up so we thought for a second we’d get a pod to ourselves but they wouldn’t let us on saying they needed at least three people. So the pod went by – empty. A few more people came and we were able to get on the next one. I love the view from the London Eye – it reminds me of Peter Pan.
When we finished at the London Eye, we took the tube over to Harrods to do a little shopping.
Last February, when Jana and I were in London, we found this cute little restaurant near our hotel – The Muffin Man. I think we ended up eating there just about everyday! Some point later in time (I forget when) I was reading Something Blue by Emily Giffin and to my surprise she also mentions The Muffin Man and from what I could tell it was the same restaurant. How does this all tie in? Well, our hotel this time was in the same neighborhood (and by in the neighborhood I mean a brisk 10 minute walk down the road). I had talked it up to Diane and so we trekked over there for breakfast. I remembered they had great paninis but wasn’t sure about having one for breakfast. But one of the other customers was having a panini when we arrived so I figured I should go ahead and have one as well. And my excuse? I’m on vacation, of course! Good choice – it was yummy!
After breakfast, we took the tube to Westminster Abbey so we could actually go inside this time! Touring the Abbey we saw the oldest door in Britain, dating back to the time of Edward the Confessor. Making my way through the church I overheard two kids complaining that they couldn’t read anything because it was all in Latin. Part of me completely sympathized with them, but part of me was thinking your parents took you to England – enjoy it! Later I overheard another kid (different family) talking about what he was seeing. Two very different attitudes – I’d like to think I would have been more like the second kid but I’m not so sure.
We walked over to Buckingham Palace just in time for the changing of the guards. We took the tube over to St. Paul’s. There was a teacher there with her class touring the church. She was really good! Her explanations were really interesting and entertaining. We wanted to join her group! We thought about doing the stairs at St. Paul’s but decided against it. We took the tube over to the Tower of London where we found out we had just missed the last Yeoman warder tour so we decided to wait and do the Tower of London the next morning before we had to leave. We took the tube over to Piccadilly Circus where we did some shopping and had our first eggnog latte of the season. We were going to try and find a different pub for dinner but couldn’t so we ended up at the pub we ate at the first night.
Our friend Jamie had been in Barcelona for work and was spending a few days in London and we met up with her and a few of her co-workers and their friends for a drink at a pub just a few streets over. It was on the other side of the street where we had been looking! I guess we should have looked on the other side of the street!
Last day! We ended up deciding to see how we felt in the morning whether or not we wanted to hike over to the Tower of London or not. It ended up being not. We finished packing and checked and made our way over to The Muffin Man for our last breakfast on vacation.
In a lot of ways the best part about a vacation, for me anyway, is the planning and the anticipation. The vacation itself is always great but once it starts I know it will end. Which is probably why I take so many trips! 🙂 I need something else to look forward to! So until next time….