April 1, 2004

Background & En Route

My sister moved to Italy in 2003 to work in the Rome office of her employer. At about the same time, my aunt and uncle moved to Vienna so that my uncle could work for the IAEA. Over the winter, the consensus developed in my family that it would be a lot of fun for us to all meet in Rome to celebrate Passover there together. So Scott and I will be meeting up with my parents, my aunt & uncle, their two kids, and my cousin's girlfriend, my sister, and last but not least, two friends of my parents who have spent a lot of holidays with our family.

This will be my third trip to Rome and Scott's first.

It's a long flight from SFO to Heathrow but not as bad as I'd feared it would be. Haven't flown British Airways in more than a decade but they're quite nice. Despite my best efforts and a sleeping pill, I scarcely sleep. Too wound up from running around full tilt all day trying to get ready, I suspect.

The layover in Heathrow is annoying - 3 hours. There's more & better shops in the waiting lounge but it's basically just another airport. One sign that you're definitely not in the US - a seafood bar in the food court. I did have a 'proper' British breakfast in the pub here, which was fun. Baked beans and a portobello mushroom alongside bacon, sausage & fried eggs. Scott had the sausages.

Even here, folks line up for Burger King. It grosses me out just thinking about it. American fast food is sucky enough at home, why would you want to eat it here when there are better options? Pret a Manger is right next door and has some tasty looking snacks. I order a coffee and some Blood Red Sicilian Orange Juice.

I prowl the shops a bit to kill time. I can't find an old favorite candy bar - Lion bars. Kind of sad, that. It's great to be able to use my ATM card to buy stuff though. What a relief, not having to mess with traveler's checks and multiple currencies.

Finally, we board the 2nd flight and head for Rome.

As my mother had promised, there's an ATM by the baggage claim area. I pull out some Euros and we hit the taxi stand. The driver's English is sketchy (as is our Italian) but with the help of a map we show him which hotel we're heading for. You know you're Somewhere Else when your taxi driver goes barrelling down the highway at top speed, while simultaneously chatting with friends on his cell phone and smoking a cigarette. At least traffic was light so he didn't have to weave in and out of cars as well.

American pop music is just as jarring now as it was the first time I heard it on the radio in Italy. I still don't like Italian pop though.

It's late at night as we speed through the streets of Rome and I see it again for the first time in a decade. The first thing that jumps out at me is how small it is. Like you'd taken a regular city and put it into a shrinking machine. Streets are much narrower than streets in any American city I've been in, with the possible exception of the oldest parts of Philadelphia. The via Condotti, for example, is the Roman equivalent of Fifth Avenue in New York, but it's about 1/4 the size.

The other thing that leaps out at me is how much like New York it feels. The energy feels similar. Also the dirt levels. Crowded and busy, even at night. But that' s OK - you recognize that it's just part of the appeal.

We're staying in a tiny hotel called La Lumiere, 3 blocks from the Piazza di Spagna. If you raise the metal blinds over our room's window and look down, you see the via Condotti. To the left is the Piazza and the Spanish Steps. The hotel at the top of those famous steps is surrounded by scaffolding this trip.

Exhausted, we sleep.

April 2, 2004

Day 1

Jet lag kicks us in the butt and we have trouble sleeping through the night. We hit breakfast as soon as it's available and head off to Vatican City. One of our guidebooks tells us that taxis are one of the best ways to get around Rome and we quickly recognize the truth of this. There's a taxi stand 2 blocks from the hotel. We're not the first ones at the stand and amuse ourselves watching how crazy Roman drivers can be as we wait our turn.

The line at the Vatican Museum looks huge but moves quickly. Our Rick Steves guidebook quickly proves its worth. His tour of the Vatican Museum was spot-on in getting us through the museum, to various highlights, the Sistine Chapel, and then through a special back door to St. Peter's that saved us a long unnecessary walk.

In the sculpture garden, Laocoon packed a wallop. It's the piece that stand out the most from what at times was an overwhelming sensory overload. I was unhappily surprised when we got to the Sistine Chapel - the colors in many of the panels seemed to have changed from what I remember of them. Several of the major looked like there was too much red - or that the blues had perhaps faded too much. The smaller figures did not seem to be affected as much. But even so, the chapel is impressive. I don't want to leave, there's so much to take in you feel you could stay there for hours.

Eventually we make our way over to St Peter's. It's easy to forget in the hordes of sightseers that St Peter's Basilica is in fact a functioning church. The rows of confessional booths are a reminder that it is in fact a place of worship. Also the monk I spot lighting candles. Michelangelo's Pieta is unimpressive. The space itself is much more so. We took a swing down one level to check out some of the papal tombs on our way out. John Paul I (the 33 day pope) has an extremely plain tomb compared to the rest. Perhaps becase there was so little time to get it ready?

The plaza outside was set up full of chairs - don't know why, though I assume it's for some sort of concert or perhaps a Mass - and the result was to take away some of the impact Bernini intended with his use of the space. It's getting warm, we're tired, and we don't linger too long.

As if that wasn't enough for one day, we decide to head over to the Castel Saint'Angelo next. This site is a new one for me. Lots of old, dark, dank walls and given that the site was built one layer on top of another from antiquity, you get a real sense of age & time's passage. Scott loves it. He keeps patting the walls and marveling about how old they are. We pause for lunch at the bar in the castle and quickly learn how much our Italian books suck. Mom had suggested I buy a Living Language tape & book set as preparation & we had brought the books along with us. We should have gotten a Berlitz guide instead. I'd thought the LL books would cover what we'd need but I was wrong. We manage anyway.

I snap a bunch of photos from the top of the castle - excellent views! - and we start back across the Tiber, heading more or less in the direction of our hotel. It's still early afternoon, but we've seen a lot already and didn't have much left on the agenda for the day. My sense of direction is somewhat off and we get off course. Happily, we find ourselves at the Pantheon and decide we might as well tour it next.

The Pantheon is basically the only building in Rome that has survived intact since antiquity - Scott was thrilled. It is currently a church, but what impresses most is the architecture. Our other guidebook, Rome City Secrets, says that watching snow or rain fall into the Pantheon is quite a sight. I've never seen in in bad weather, but it's awe inspiring at any time. It's hard to wrap your brain around the fact that this amazing dome was built two thousand years ago. No power tools, no calculators, just human effort and ingenuity.

Several map miscues trying to leave the area showed us that the Fodor's Rome street map we'd bought was not as good as we'd hoped. We find a mini-map in Rick Steves that guides us to Giolitti's, an excellent gelateria nearby. As we find our way back to our hotel, I realize that my sense of direction is completely flummoxed and my memories of Rome are not helping. We keep making wrong turns, but eventually get back to the hotel.

Fighting jet lag then took over. We keeled over for a 2 hour nap and would have slept longer had my mother not called to confirm when we'd been meeting up for dinner. I struggled to stay awake after that, finally resorting to an insanely overpriced Coke from the minibar for a caffeine kick. Outside the US, Coke is made with sugar, not corn syrup, and it definitely tastes better.

We struggled through and made it to dinnertime. We met up with my parents and their friends, and headed to a Sicilian trattoria not far from the Vatican called Siciliainbocca. If my sister hadn't taken my mother to this restaurant last year we'd never have found the place. They speak little to no English at the restaurant. I can get very intimidated by my inability to communicate, but luckily we're with my parents, whose Italian is much better & helps me feel less overwhelmed. It was an excellent meal - my pasta course in particular was an amazing risotto with slivers of zuchini, orange and lemon zest. I'm reminded that experience and fearlessness are two keys to successful travel.

A long day is over, we head back to the hotel stuffed and sleepy.

April 3, 2004

Day 2

Jet lag is still an issue, but we manage to get a good night's sleep. The hotel's coffee is excellent and gives us a good kick start for the day.

We start the day with San Pietro in Vincoli to see the Michaelangeo "Moses". En route to our next stop, the Basilica of San Clemente, we run across a major protest march down by the Colosseum. I'm bad at estimating crowds but this one was easily in the tens of thousands, probably more. Lots of whistles blowing, bands playing, noise, flags, and signs. I was delighted and amazed, Scott less so. Once it became clear that we'd have to cut through the crowd to get to our next stop, I got a little nervous, but we eventually found an ebb in the crowd and cut through it.

We spent a fair amount of time at San Clemente because it's got three places of worship on one site. At the very bottom, a temple of Mithras. Scott is big on Arthurian legends and the cult of Mithras plays a part in them. This is the first time either of us has seen a temple of Mithras and we're both impressed. Then a 4th century church is built on top of that, and finally a third church on top of the old church. Scott loves to touch the oldest walls and he gives these little happy sighs as he revels in the sense of antiquity around us.

We buy a few postcards and find out from the lady who sells them that the protest march we saw was related to pension reform. I feel vaguely disappointed, I think I had expected it to be an anti-war march of some sort, but apparently pension reform is a Very Big Deal in Europe these days.

The Rick Steves guidebook saves us a lot of time at this point. We go to the Palatine Hill to buy access tickets - they will also get us into the Colosseum, but without having to wait on the much, MUCH longer ticket line there. We tour the Palatine Hill site while we're there. Some nice views, and Scott made friends with a cat who was taking the sun in one of the gardens. Feral cats are all over Rome. Most are shy of people but a few have realized that being friendly gets them attention and presumably food as well.

And speaking of lunch, we were pretty hungry by now. We knew better than to eat at the overpriced sandwich stands which cater to tourists at the Forum and Colosseum, but were too hungry to wander too far away either. We settled on a somewhat touristy hostaria called Angelino Ai Foro a few blocks away. For an overpriced tourist spot, the food was actually pretty decent. My tagliatelli w/mushrooms was quite good, although ordering carciofi alla Giudea was a bit of a reach. I didn't care. I love artichokes.

After lunch, back on the tourist path. I found the Forum to be somewhat depressing. It's lots of bits and pieces of things; a column here, a part of a wall there. Mostly just brickwork with bits of marble piled up or attached, and it seemed to me to be a lot of guesswork in trying to reassemble some of the bits. But still, it's a glimpse into the past and you certainly wouldn't want to eradicate what's left. The Curia is more or less intact - surprise, it was turned into a church - and I loved the patterning on the marble floor.

Next, the Colosseum. You have to wend your way through hucksters selling the usual tourist crap and fake Gucci handbags, guys dressed up as gladiators who for a few Euros let you take their photo, and tons of tourists to get in. And once we got there, I was strongly reminded of Yankee Stadium. It's a large, impressive site, but not in and of itself as thrilling as it could have been. You can't tour most of the place, just promenade around the edges, which may have been why I felt that way. Or maybe I was just getting tired.

We had plans to meet up with my parents and the Schwartzes at 5:00 at Nero's Golden House for a tour, and we had about 45 minutes to kill, so Scott and I stopped at a cafe for a rest and a drink. I ordered a "caffe fredo" and probably due to my bad accent, confused the waiter, who asked if I wanted "shaken coffee". I thought I had ordered correctly but apparently not. I felt bad about it. The coffee was good though.

The Domus Aurea of Nero has only recently been opened to the public, and it was a chilly, damp bust as far as we were concerned. The tour was not well organized, poorly lit, and a little boring. We took the subway back to our hotel, rested for about an hour, and then the evening festivities began. First over to a hole in the wall bar for a quick drink with my sister, aunt, uncle, & their kids, then a dash over to Trastevere with my parents for dinner. We ate at the Spirito DiVino and it was another excellent meal, although by the end of the evening I was so tired I fell asleep in the taxi.

April 5, 2004

Day 3

Palm Sunday. Not that that meant much to us, but I was a little concerned it might cause problems for us with stuff being closed.

We got a slow start, slept late, and decided to take it a bit easier today. In light of the holiday, we thought hitting Trastevere and the Jewish Quarter of town would be a good itinerary for the day.

Our first stop was the main synagogue of Rome. After a terrorist attack in the early 1980's, the synagogue has been heavily guarded ever since. Tourists snapping photos are discouraged by policemen toting machine guns. It's intimidating, and designed to be. There's a two-room exhibit area with old prayer books, torah scroll covers and the like, and a gift shop crammed in next to the sanctuary. Visitors can't enter the sanctuary on their own, only with tours, so we waited about 30 minutes for an English-language tour to begin. An Italian group was being given a tour of the exhibit area while we waited. I tried to make out what was being said, but could only guess based on the scattering of Hebrew words I caught (names of festivals, etc). I brought my diary up to date as we waited.

The sanctuary itself was tall, filled with light and color, and quite lovely. I purchased a postcard, as photography is not permitted inside either. The Jewish community of Rome has a sad history I'd rather not depress myself by repeating, but anyone familiar with the history of Jews in Europe will know the basics - restrictive laws, forcing into ghettoes, the usual. Italy actually did give Jews full rights when the country was established, but Mussolini & the Nazis changed that. There's a decent-sized Jewish community in Rome today. I forgot to ask my sister if she attends services - it's an Orthodox congregation, so I suspect she does not.

At any rate, we made our way over the Tiber to Trastevere next. Trastevere is supposedly the funky/artsy part of Rome. There's a few more artsy shops there, but to my eyes it's not all that different from the rest of Rome, except the buildings tend to be smaller and older. We use another one of Rick Steves' walking tours to guide ourselves around. We are pleasantly surprised to find the restaurant we'd eaten dinner at the night before is a part of the tour. At one point it had been a synagogue and some Hebrew engraving is visible on the exterior of the building. We'd missed this last night, as it was dark and we were rushing to make our reservation.

We hit 2 churches to see their mosaics - I don't generally like most of the decorations inside the churches here (too Baroque), but early mosaics are another story. As we arrive at Santa Maria in Trastevere, Mass has ended, and we see Romans departing all clutching what look like olive branches, not palm fronds. One older gentleman exits Mass in a suit and tie with a white parrot on his shoulder. I want to take his photo but decided not to be rude.

It was high time for lunch at this point, and our City Secrets guidebook pointed us to a place just behind Santa Maria - La Tana di Noantri. We opted to eat indoors rather than wait for an outside table. We were the only tourists in the place as far as I could tell (although outdoors may have been a different story). I've found that Scott is much more willing to go into situations where people don't speak English than I am - mostly because I hate showing how bad my Italian is. I feel embarrassed to be living proof that Americans are uneducated in languages other than their own. At any rate, we're tired, and decided that a long relaxed lunch would be nice.

Scott flips for the excellent caprese salad and my carciofi are excellent, the best I've had so far. I risk ordering penne arrabiata and find to my relief that they've got a kick but not so much that my mouth blows off. I'm a bit of a wuss when it comes to spicy foods. Scott's gnocchi are also great. We congratulate ourselves on scoring such a good meal and relax.

Eventually we crossed the Tiber again ad stumbled across the Teatro Marcello and a temple of Apollo. Compared to some of the other Roman ruins we'd seen so far, it was a mess in bad condition. However, unlike the other ruins, walking paths had been set up to take you right through the center of things. It was nice to not fell walled away from what was there.

There's a cat sanctuary in Rome that I'd been told to visit, and we were heading towards it when we were stopped by the sound of someone calling my name. Turns out my aunt, uncle, and their kids were having a later lunch al fresco in the Piazza di San Marco. We chatted for a few minutes then headed on our way.

The Torre Argentina cat sanctuary is located at the edge of a plaza next to three ruined Roman temples. Compared to what I'm used to at the SF SPCA, the facilities are small and very primitive, but definitely much better than nothing. We felt very welcome, which was nice considering we were two tourists wandering in off the street. There was a large table with chairs where a lady from Sweden was in the process of adopting a large tuxedo cat and another woman from Boston was hanging out and talking. We took seats and almost immediately another kitty claimed Scott's lap. I noticed that most of the cats were unwashed, had colds, and I became a bit concerned about the possibility of us catching ringworm, but I kept my mouth shut. The volunteers at Torre Argentina work very hard under not very good conditions and I didn't want to sound unappreciative. It also made me realize how good the SPCA has it. They don't have the funds to do everything they want either, but compared to Torre Argentina the SPCA is a palace.

We stayed and chatted about cats for about 45 minutes. Eventually, we left a donation, washed our hands, and wandered out. We headed back to the hotel by way of the Fontana di Trevi. As always, it was beautiful and completely crowded. I'm not generally superstitious but I insisted we toss coins into the fountain (said to ensure the traveler will return to Rome one day), just in case. The crowds on the Via del Corso were huge. It felt like all of Rome was out for a stroll and a shop this Sunday afternoon.

Back at the hotel, we relaxed and reviewed our day. If today had a theme, it would be "Living Rome", as compared to the previous two days which were focused much more on the past than anything else.

In the evening, we were to meet up with the whole family for dinner at Ristorante Vecchia Roma to celebrate my cousin Matt's 21st birthday. A side note about Roman taxi drivers - most of the ones we've had so far have not done very well in their ability to get us to where we wanted to go. We'd expected that taxi drivers would be more familiar with getting around, especially in the central city area. I don't know if it's our lack of communication skills, bad luck, or willful ignorance on the drivers' part. Regardless of the reason, this is now the third time that a taxi driver has professed he did not know how to get where we wanted him to go. Our Fodor's map is not terribly helpful either -- too many of the smaller streets are missing from it. The City Secrets book has the city broken down into smaller maps but they are much more detailed and helpful despite their size.

Anyhow, back to the festivities. Despite the special event and the pleasure of having so much family together so far from home, this dinner was a low point for me. The room was noisy and we were sitting down at the far end, so we didn't realize we'd ordered one more course than everyone else, causing them all to wait while we quickly ate it. Then something I ate (probably the salmon appetizer) did not sit too well with me. I spent an unhappy night wondering if I was going to vomit. It was not an auspicious omen for the next day.

April 6, 2004

Day 4

We had a nice itinerary planned for this day but as we sat over breakfast, doing a review of the day's plans, we realized that most of the sites and museums we'd wanted to visit were closed on Mondays. Silly me. I was worried that Palm Sunday was going to disrupt things and got blindsided by this.

The weather, which up until this day had been blessedly warm and sunny, was also much more mixed today. Cloudy and cooler, although not actually rainy.

We revised our plans and started out. We had a nice walk, then ran into our next bit of bad news. The first church we'd planned on visiting - Santa Maria della Concezione - turned out to be closed for renovations. We sat on the steps on the via Veneto, and yet again revised our plans. Both of us were cranky and snappy by this point, but made an effort to refocus and keep moving. Rome wasn't going to wait.

More walking took us over to the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. I admired the mosaics and Scott was pleased to discover the wealth of Old Testament and even outright Jewish iconography here. You don't generally expect to find a menorah in a stained glass window of a Catholic church.

Disappointment and frustration continued to be the theme of the day, though, as we realized that our favorite guidebook, the Rick Steves book, had vanished somewhere in or around the basilica. One of us put it down at some point and lost track of it. We retraced our steps but the book was long gone. Highly displeased, we continued on to the church of San Giovanni in Laterano.

At this point I'd really had my fill of churches and Scott had developed a blister on his foot that was becoming painful. We did run across a part of an old Roman aqueduct (I think it was the Aqua Felicia) as we wandered around outside San Giovanni, which was kind of neat. But we were both cold, hungry, and not very thrilled with our day, so we jumped in a taxi and headed back to the hotel. 3+ miles of walking and not a lot to show for it was enough.

Back at the hotel, Fodor's listed nearby Bar Frattina as one of the city's best. We found it overpriced and the food rather mediocre, but it was close and the service was quick, so we really didn't care too much at that point. We split a pizza and a pasta and felt much better.

Refreshed, we window shopped our way over to the Piazza del Populo. It's significantly larger than Piazza di Spagna - or for than matter than most of the other piazzas in the city - but oddly it is not anywhere near as crowded. I would have expected at least some of the sunglass and handbag sellers pushing their wares to tourists there but no. Although there was a 'jazz' band comprised of 2 accordions, bass, guitar, and saxophone with a hat out for donations. I laughed to hear them - they were playing "Hava Negillah". Not exactly what you'd expect to hear in Rome.

The sun had come out by this point, so we enjoyed the scene as we waited for Santa Maria del Populo to re-open after its midday break. As I said earlier, I was pretty churched out at this point, but this church has two Caravaggios in a side chapel that were worth the stop. The "Conversion of St Paul" in particular was amazing. I just wish they were better placed for viewing. There's only one spot jammed into a corner that provides the best view of each painting. And of course there's a crowd of tourists vying for that one good spot.

Our last stop of the day was a place nearby that our City Secrets guidebook spoke highly of - the mausoleum of Augustus. It too was a bust, sadly. A large pile of bricks, almost no signage, broken bottles and other garbage scattered around. And the Mussolini-era buildings surrounding the tomb gave the whole plaza an oppressive feel. A real example - albeit a negative one - of how architecture can affect one's emotional state.

After a brief rest & change of clothes, we headed off to meet up with the family and celebrate the first night of Passover at my sister's house. She has a lovely 2 bedroom aparement with a great view of the river, and an upstairs terrace with even better views. It was an odd affair in some respects. We sat scattered around the living room at small folding tables, since my sister doesn't have one table big enough to hold the whole crowd (no surprise since she'd only moved in a short time ago). There was no matzoh ball soup or gefillte fish - we had Roman style cuisine instead. The food was excellent, though, and a good time was had by all, with the possible exception of my cousin Vera, who got a full glass of red wine spilled all over her nice new skirt, purchased on the Corso that afternoon.

Leaving my sister's house was sad for me because I don't know how long it will be before I see her again. It could be a year or more. I regret now that I did not plan to spend more time with her while we were here. Carolyn looks great though, and seems to be very happy in Rome. She usually is.

April 7, 2004

Day 5

Our last day in Rome. I woke early and spent some time re-reading my notes, adding bits, and thinking. Overall I feel we've done a very good job maximizing our limited time here.

We've decided that our last day will be spent outside Rome proper at the excavated port town of Ostia. There's still many more things we could see or do here in Rome but they will have to wait for our next visit. We brave the subway system to get to Ostia. Subways here are old and covered with graffiti - bringing to mind the subways in New York City back in the 70s, before they got cleaned up.

After the compact feel of Rome for the last several days, it was nice to get out and see some more or less open countryside. The weather continues cool and cloudy for a second day, making me feel annoyed we'd wasted money buying sun block that morning. The crowds we encountered lined up to enter Ostia was also a surprise, but not so much when we notice the dozen large tour buses parked in the lot.

Once we got into the grounds and away from the tour groups, things improved. Ostia is several orders of magnitude larger than any of the ruins in Rome and there was a lot of ground to cover. Somehow, I'd gotten the impression that Ostia would be dry and barren (hence the sun block purchase) but instead it was lush and green, with plenty of trees and grass. Some sections of the ruins are walled off from tourists for restoration, but you can climb all over the majority of the site.

We badly missed our Rick Steves guidebook, instead trying to make do with a Michelin guide borrowed from my mother. Matching up what we saw with what was in the hard-to-read map was no easy task. I happily photographed many of the black and white mosaics adorning both private and municipal buildings while Scott wrestled with the guidebook. We particularly wanted to find a Mithraic chapel listed in the book to compare it to the one we'd seen in Rome under San Clemente, but it took some doing to find.

After about 2 and a half hours we knocked off for a lunch break. If we'd thought it through, we could have brought picnic fixings with us from Rome but instead ate mediocre, overpriced cafeteria food. Even so, what we had was better than what'd you'd get in a typical US cafeteria. Lots of veggies, even my favorite artichokes.

We browsed through the small onsite museum after lunch to get a look at some of the sculptures there, but the weather had turned cool and cloudy again. I was cold and tired. I slept a bit on the ride back but once we'd changed trains for the second part of the trip back I got tense instead. Even to an experienced urban navigator like me, the Roman subways feel intimidating. I felt a distinct sense of relief when we came back out into the Piazza di Spagna.

Scott decided to rest, but I went out shopping on the Corso for a little while. I wanted to have at least one good souvenir of our trip. I cruised in and out of a bunch of stores and ended up buying a gorgeous patterned wool shawl. I won't get too much use out of it back home with Spring already in full swing, but it's too pretty (and too good a deal) to let it pass. I saw a jacket that I also wanted, but decided that I could probably find something similar back in the US and let it go.

I wear the shawl that night as we head off to the Piazza Navona and the Bar Della Pace. We meet up with my parents, my aunt & uncle, and the cousins for a final drink. Although the cousins, Scott and I, and my parents are all leaving the next morning, my aunt & uncle have a few days more to spend in Rome and we ply them with too many suggestions on what to do with their remaining time. My parents then head off to meet my sister for a final dinner.

In the 4 years since I left New York, I've learned that sometimes it's harder than others to say goodbye to my parents. This is one of the hard times. I tear up a little as they walk off. The rest of us then go in search of a place to eat our last dinner in Rome. The area around the Piazza Navona is full of good options, so we quickly settle on a nice looking place called Osteria Del Gallo. The food was good but the service was slow even by European standards. Mildly annoying, but spending time with the family is the important thing, so we try to overlook it. Many invitations to visit Vienna and San Francisco are exchanged as we all head out.

Scott and I grab a last gelato and try to find a taxi stand. We end up back at the Piazza Argentina. Sadly, we head back to the hotel and start packing. We have an extremely early flight home. This has been a fantastic holiday and aside from being eager to see our cats waiting for us at home, it's hard to find reasons to leave.

April 8, 2004

Homeward Bound

The alarm goes off at 5:00AM and with the suddenness of a slammed door our time in Rome is over. A last cappuccino at the airport bar (even there, the coffee is excellent), a bottle of duty-free limoncello tucked into my bag, and British Airways whisks us away.

It was really nice to get away from America for a time. It's been more than a decade since my previous trip to Europe and I hope it's not anywhere near as long until our next trip. As many travelers undoubtedly do, Scott and I speculate on whether we could find a way to live abroad for a time. Given the state of the world economy and immigration laws being what they are, we're all too aware that's not likely to happen.

I'm old enough to be amazed at the fact that an ATM card and a printed e-mail of our itinerary are all you need to fly 6000+ miles away from home and buy whatever you want while you're there. I definitely do not miss printed airline tickets and traveler's checks. As sad as I am that our vacation is over, I do feel relieved that I don't have to stumble in Italian anymore though.

Another layover in Heathrow, another long flight back to SFO. "Master and Commander" is one of the movie choices on this flight and I would watch it twice, but Scott makes fun of me. I try not to sleep, so as not to be too jet lagged when we get home. I have to be at work tomorrow.

Finally, we touch ground at SFO. There's a faint smell of eucalyptus in the air as we step out into California again. We're home.