Italy 2004 - Rome, Part 1 of 2

[Note: We started our trip in London, where we spent three days before flying to Rome. Therefore, the Italy travel diary starts with Day Four.]

Travel Diary

Day 4: From London to Rome

Steve wrote:

We awoke early, had some breakfast at the Piccolo Bar, checked out of the Munchkinland Hilton and headed for the tube. Even on wheels, our suitcase is a real load and carrying it down the stairs on to the train was a lot of work. Hard to believe that an underground tunnel can be hot, but it is. As we got closer to the airport, more and more passengers also had luggage.

Navigated the signs at Heathrow to Terminal #1, checked in, got our seat assignments and went to the waiting area for the gates. The gate assignments aren't posted until it's time to board each flight, so everyone waits in the middle of a shopping mall until their flight is listed.

The flight to Rome was uneventful, except that coach seating on British Air has as much leg room as any airline I’ve flown. We met our driver (sent by the hotel) and proceeded into Rome, taking a drive around the Vatican on our way.

We checked into the Hotel Locarno. Our room is one of several in a separate building from the rest of the hotel. We leave the lobby and go around the corner, where a key opens a door to a small room that leads to an old-fashioned cage elevator that only holds two people. We go up the elevator and through a series of locked doors until we get to our room. As in London, the key is necessary to turn on the lights. What wasn’t on, unfortunately, was the air conditioning. The bellboy came back to try to fix the controls but to no avail. As we were three flights up, we could open the windows for some circulation and had some privacy due to some metal shades that rolled mechanically rolled down. What they didn't block out, as we came to find, was the noise from the street below.

Which leads to a little known fact about Italy - not only is honking your horn a sport here, apparently it’s a competitive sport. Once one idiot does it, everyone else chimes in. This, and the fact that our room never cooled off, made it a tough night for sleeping.

Rosemary wrote:

The drive from the airport into Rome is on a freeway and through terrain that looks a lot like southern California. But then you enter the city, and the Vatican looms up before you. Everywhere there are piazzas with sculptures and fountains, decorated bridges, old buildings with Roman inscriptions.

Our room is quite something. High ceiling, marble floor, elegant-looking bathroom. A hand-held "shower" in a dangerously high-sided tub, and no shower curtain. I have been told this is typical.

Boldly, I am using my Italian vocabulary (what I can remember of it). Of course, so far everyone we have encountered speaks at least a little English. We walked around the block and chose a restaurant (one that had been recommended by the bellman). At La Penna d'Oca, we had a delicious - and expensive - meal that took about two hours to eat. It was after midnight, and many of the local restaurants were still full of diners.

Day 5: Rome

Rosemary wrote:

This is the city that never sleeps. The ventilated shutters did not keep out the noise - garbage collection and street sweeping at 2:00 am! A hot, restless, night. But the air conditioning was fixed this morning, so things are looking up.

Steve wrote:

We walked a couple of blocks to Piazza di Popoli and picked up a cab to go to the Colosseum, about a third of which is still intact after only 2,000 years. Amazing to think about what happened there and how you can envision it while standing in the remains.

From there, we walked a short distance to the Roman Forum, where we caught a free tour given by a young Texan studying philosophy in Rome. We were dubious about the "free" part, but he works for a tour company that offers paid tours of other areas of Rome, so this was a promotional thing for them. The kid was an amazing guide and explained a lot, separating fact from fiction, all with a sense of humor. He told the story of St. Lawrence, who was martyred by being roasted alive over a fire of hot coals. At one point, after about ten hours over a low heat, he said to his captors, "You can turn me over, I'm done on this side." We will forever refer to St. Lawrence as the Patron Saint of Barbecue.

Rosemary wrote:

In telling the story of Romulus and Remus, legendary founders of Rome, the guide pointed out that if Remus had killed Romulus, instead of the other way around, we would now be in the city of Reme, looking at Reman ruins, learning Remantic languages, etc.

Steve wrote:

After this two-hour tour, we walked to Capitoline Hill and to the Victor Emmanuel Monument. This is an incredible looking structure which we first saw from our taxi on the way to the Colosseum. Built in the late 1800's, it commemorates the unification of Italy, with statues, columns and several levels, with over 250 steps to the top (sense a recurring theme?). Upon reaching the upper level, we were rewarded with amazing views of the city.

Since it was around 3:00 PM, we had a quick lunch at one of the nearby "bars" and set out for the Pantheon, one of the oldest intact structures in Rome. Built and rebuilt, it set design standards that have been used for centuries. Made almost entirely of concrete, its walls at the base are about 30 feet thick, yet the concrete at the top of the dome is only 5 feet thick. It is exactly as wide as it is tall and has a circular opening at the top that provides all necessary light. The floors slope outward for drainage. Just incredible!

After a quick stop for some amazing gelato (our first of many in Italy!), we walked to the Trevi Fountain which, as you might expect, was crowded on this warm day. Again beautiful sculptures that had survived centuries. We each tossed in the traditional three coins, which means we will return someday.

Rosemary wrote:

We caught a taxi back to the hotel and saw on the way that the Spanish Steps are within walking distance. After a shower and some rest we went out for dinner. It was a good meal, much simpler and less expensive than last night. Back to the cool room. We have acknowledged that we will be hot and sweaty all day, every day. It is much hotter here than we had expected. Everywhere is jammed with tourists. The streets are narrow, filled with tiny cars and motor scooters. Strangely, some drivers will stop for pedestrians! It helps to be assertive and stick with a crowd.

Day 6: The Vatican

Steve wrote:

After a good night's sleep we woke up early, had a quick breakfast at the hotel and caught a cab to the Vatican Museum. After a few minutes, our guide Linda ("Leeeenda") and the rest of our group of thirteen arrived. Although we had early access before the general public was let in, there were a lot of tour groups, so it took a while to actually get in. Once inside, a couple in our group had trouble with their tickets and one old guy took forever to come back from the bathroom. As a result, we lost our time advantage on the crowds.

And a crowd it was - about 20,000 people a day go through the museums, so it’s hard to get a good look or clear photo of any exhibit or statue at eye level. Fortunately, most of the items are so big or so high that there’s still plenty to see. Walls, arches, domes - all with incredible artwork, either paint or mosaic. There is a ceiling that looked like the figures had been carved into the material, but it was painted with such dimension that you found it hard to believe even after being told.

At the beginning of the tour, Linda spent quite a while discussing the Sistine Chapel, using some charts supplied by the museum in the courtyard. One of them showed the panels by different artists depicting the lives of Moses and Jesus, one detailing the ceiling of the Chapel itself and one describing “The Last Judgment”.

The center of the Chapel shows nine scenes from Genesis, flanked by the prophets and ancestors of Jesus. It took over four years to create, with Michelangelo working mostly by himself. (Linda, not wishing to offend anyone with references to Michelangelo's alleged homosexuality, said that "he was unmarried, so he had a lot of time on his hands.") The images themselves are frescoes - paint on wet plaster - so it's incredibly difficult work. If the artist makes a mistake, the plaster must be removed and the scene started again. And by painting on wet plaster, the colors change when it dries.

It is Michelangelo's view of the history of the world until the birth of Jesus. I know nothing about art and even less about religion, but I think I can say that this is the greatest artistic achievement in history and has to be seen to be appreciated. Then, thirty years later, Michelangelo was asked to paint an entire wall of the Chapel, "The Last Judgment". He was older and the figures reflect that; they are larger, thicker and heavier than those on the ceiling. No longer as optimistic as before, he portrays Jesus as angry, deciding who will go to Heaven and who will go to Hell. The artist used images of his contemporaries as models for the figures, including a self portrait of a tortured soul. One of his enemies had complained about the nudity of the figures, so Michelangelo used his image to depict someone in Hell with a snake wrapped around his waist. When the man asked the Pope to have it changed, he demurred, saying that he had no control over what happened in Hell. It’s hard to see all the details in all of this - it's on the ceiling in a long (120 feet) and narrow (45 feet) space filled with tourists all craning their necks to the sky. It would take days to examine it fully and we only spent about 20 minutes inside. Breathtaking and unbelievable at the same time.

From there, we went to St. Peter's Basilica, the largest church in the world, a fact commemorated by markings on the floor of the church showing where the largest churches in other major cities would be if they were inside St. Peter’s. All of the artwork is either sculpture or mosaic, so it’s in pretty good shape.

Except for some tombs of some of the Popes, everything else is open to the chapel with one exception, Michelangelo's "Pieta", which was attacked with a hammer by a madman over 30 years ago.

After all of this, exhausted with the walking and climbing we had done over the last few days, we had some lunch and took the afternoon off. Later, we took a walk to the Spanish Steps via one of Rome's most expensive shopping districts and the walk back, we had dinner across the street from the hotel and went to bed.

Rosemary wrote:

I can say that my pidgin Italian has been helpful at times. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not true that "everyone speaks English". None of our taxi drivers have spoken English. The charming old lady who sold us some fruit had not a word of it. Some of the hotel porters speak English, some do not. Most people who do speak English can tell just by looking at us that we need it.

The hotel elevator is a tiny, caged box that just holds two people (suitcases have to make a separate trip). The elevator shaft smells of garbage - I suspect they store garbage in the basement. We turned in our laundry this morning for the alleged same-day service, but as of 10:45 pm it had not returned. I don't know what I will wear tomorrow if it doesn't come back tonight or in the morning (or for the rest of the trip if it is lost).

At the Roman Forum, tourists and locals walk on the same stones where Julius Caesar and other historical figures strolled. Pieces of ancient structures lie randomly on the ground, where we can sit on them.

The temple of Romulus Divus, built in 307, still has its original bronze doors.

Looking toward the Palatine Hill.

At the Roman Forum, people still leave flowers in memory of Julius Caesar, on the spot where he was cremated.

The huge monument to Victor Emmanuel II was built between 1885 and
1911 (a process which destroyed Roman ruins and medieval churches). Those columns at the back are 15 meters (about 50 feet) high. There are many oversized, highly dramatic statues, as well as the grave of the Unknown Soldier.

Originally a temple for all the gods, the Pantheon was converted to a Catholic church in 1609.

"Sfera con Sfera" (Sphere within a Sphere) is a sculpture by Arnaldo Pomodoro in the courtyard of the Vatican Museum.

Because the guides are not allowed to speak in the Sistine Chapel, the courtyard includes diagrams which are used to explain everything to the tourists ahead of time. (Photography is not allowed inside the chapel.)

The Vatican Museums house a vast collection of amazing and historically significant artwork. This "Laocoon" is a Roman copy of the Greek original.


London 2004 - Part 3 of 3

Buckingham Palace

Steve relaxes with one of the statues on the huge monument in front of the palace.

From the palace, we took a pleasant walk through St. James Park.

We climbed 530 steps (many of them steep and tightly wound) to the top of the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral to enjoy a terrific view of the city below.

This was a common theme everywhere we traveled.

We enjoyed the baskets, window boxes, and flower gardens.

We weren't tired enough, so after St. Paul's we decided to visit Westminster Abbey.

On the exterior of Westminster Abbey are sculptures honoring 20th century martyrs: Maximilian Kolbe, Manche Masemola, Janani Luwum, Elizabeth of Russia, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Esther John, Lucian Tapiedi, Wang Zhiming.

The 19th century statue at the top of the fountain in Picadilly Circus was meant to represent Christian Charity, not a pagan god of love, but everybody calls him Eros.

Everywhere we turned in London, we found statues, monuments, historical markers, fountains, and grand old buildings. At the same time, it's a modern, constantly-changing city.

At the entrance to Westminster Abbey.

Victory atop the Wellington Arch.

The new towers over the old.

[Note: This was our first trip to London. We returned a few times, including living in a small apartment in The City for a month in 2018.]


London 2004 - Part 2 of 3

A view from the Golden Gallery

Travel Diary

Day 3: London

Steve wrote:

We started the day by buying an all-day pass for the Tube and heading to St. Paul’s Cathedral, the center of the Anglican Church. Built after the Great Fire of London in 1666 and designed by Christopher Wren, it is as ornate a place as you can imagine, with tombs and memorials to Britain’s monarchs and military, as well as to scientists and artists. Parts of it are being cleaned in anticipation of the 300th anniversary of its completion, so it’s hard to get the get the full beauty of it, but it must be seen on any trip to London.

Rosemary wrote:

Much of the exterior was shrouded with plastic and scaffolding, and much of the interior was also obscured by scaffolding and construction junk. We climbed all the way to the top of the dome - 530 steps one way! We were not able to test the acoustics of the Whispering Gallery (the first level), because too much construction material was hanging from the ceiling, spoiling the effect. The winding staircases were hot and stuffy, growing steeper and tighter as the elevation increased. The Stone Gallery (second level) offered a nice breeze and a good view of London. The Golden Gallery (the top) was also breezy, and tightly packed with tourists. There we had a truly grand view of the city.

After lunch in the Crypt Cafe (yes, it is in the crypt), we went on to Westminster Abbey. It is nearly 1000 years old. The bodies of many historical figures, famous folks, and now-unknown people are here. We walk on their graves, and, as in the crypt at St. Paul’s, gradually wear away the inscriptions. Dust to dust. One must move with the tide in the sea of tourists, slowly circulating from point to point. The history and art that are here are well worth the effort. Edward the Confessor, the cathedral’s founder, is still here, in a tomb behind the altar. Queen Elizabeth I and her enemy/half-sister Queen Mary now share the same tomb. Charles Darwin, Rudyard Kipling, and Laurence Olivier are all buried here, next to the ancient monarchs, the beloved daughters of nobility, and the abbey’s plumber.

Exhausted, we still managed to walk through Covent Garden, Leicester Square, and Piccadilly Circus. These are the places people go walking, socializing, shopping and eating. Here is where aimless young people sit and stroll and panhandle. My feet hurt all the way up to my knees.

We had all-day tube passes, very handy for all the places we went. The tube is notoriously hot; there are prominent posters urging people to carry water. This makes no sense to me, since underground caves and cellars usually feel cool in the summer. In the later afternoon the overcrowded trains reek of damp, tired humanity. So many people run at top speed up and down the escalators and sprint through the corridors, as if two minutes will really make a difference in their lives.

Steve wrote:

We came back to the hotel, rested a bit, cleaned up and went to dinner. So far, we haven’t left Shepherd’s Market due to the diversity of the restaurants. Tonight, we had French food but could have chosen from Lebanese, Italian or (and I’m not making this up) Polish/Mexican. Not to mention a few pubs, sandwich shops and coffee houses. A very interesting location!

The London Eye, opened in 2000, is the world's largest Ferris wheel. A single rotation takes 30 minutes.

What was the Dixie Queen doing on the Thames?

It was a lovely day for a cruise along the Thames. This is the Tower Bridge.

A legend states that at least six ravens must remain at the Tower of London, or the monarchy will fall. As a precaution, the ravens' wings have been clipped.

The museum at the Tower of London includes many examples of old arms and armor, including this replica of a knight on horseback.

The Traitor's Gate was a waterway entrance to the Tower from the Thames.


London 2004 Part 1 of 3

[Note: Our first big European vacation was a trip to Italy, preceded by three days in London. We managed to do and see a lot in a short time.]

Travel Diary

Day 1: Los Angeles to London

Steve wrote:

We were picked up at 8:00 AM by a limo to drive to LAX. Despite an accident on the 405 we got to the airport in plenty of time for our 11:00 AM flight, and a three-hour layover in New York before going on to London. Once again, hoarding miles to upgrade to business class is the way to go. Having flown coach to MIDEM in January, I can’t even begin to describe the improvement!

We arrived at London/Heathrow about 8:30 local time, about an hour early. A long walk to customs and more walking to claim our baggage, the world’s heaviest suitcase. The main arrival concourse at Heathrow is quite unlike LAX. Money changing booths, lots of ATM machines, lots of signs for various types of transportation and directions to other terminals. We got some British pounds from an ATM and set on our way.

Having decided to try to take the Underground, or "Tube", to our hotel, we followed the signs through a series of pedestrian tunnels to the main Tube station. After a little confusion about how to purchase a ticket (many different types of tickets, different types of machines, some cash, some cash but no change, some take credit cards, etc.), we made our way down to the trains. Clean, well-cared for cars, plenty of room and clearly marked with maps of all the stops in each car. We got on for a 30-35 minute ride.

Upon hitting the streets, we asked for directions and went towards the hotel, the Hilton London Mews, trying to remember to look in the opposite direction when crossing the street. We had asked for early check-in and, fortunately, they could accommodate us. We went up to a charming but very small room. It was about 2:00 AM L.A. time, so we went to sleep for a few hours. We woke about 5:00 PM local time, showered and went for a walk before dinner. We walked back through Shepherd’s Market and saw several restaurants and pubs. We walked to where Green Park and Hyde Park meet and saw some great statues and monuments: the Wellington Arch, with Victory pulled by a chariot of horses on the Wellington Arch, a memorial to Australian soldiers who died fighting alongside the British, and several others. We crossed over to the edge of Hyde Park, then went back to Shepherd’s Market and had dinner at a Turkish restaurant called "Sofra". We shared some mixed appetizers, a lamb stew, some salmon, and finished with some chocolate ice cream. All very good.

Day 2: London!

Steve wrote:

Went to a local place called Piccolo Bar for a "traditional English breakfast": two fried eggs, a "banger" sausage, two slabs of bacon, buttered toast and coffee or tea. I could feel my arteries closing as I ate.

We had purchased tickets for one of the "hop on, hop off" bus tours. A model of efficiency, these folks really knew their business. Detailed maps, clearly marked stops and company representatives working at every stop. A great way to see the city.
We got off at Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. We only looked at the gift shop, but were impressed to see you could order a print of many of their works and have it printed out while you waited. Aside from the usual statuary and monuments in Trafalgar, there was a bicycle exhibition. Due to the amount of car traffic in the city, the mayor has a program encouraging riding a bike into town. Like L.A., the streets are too narrow for safety. A valiant effort nonetheless.

We walked from Trafalgar to the Queen’s Horse Guard - horses with the same demeanor as their riders. Nothing bothered man or beast - tourists wanting to take pictures, crowds of people, etc. Some streets were blocked off and we saw a small parade of World War II veterans, most in some sort of uniform, or business suits with their medals pinned on their chests. Not too many of the folks are left and it was nice to see them honored some 60 years after D-Day.

As part of the bus ticket, we got a short boat ride on the Thames. Although Rosemary started off a little queasy, we stayed on the boat and got a unique perspective on some of the sights. After a quick lunch of fish & chips from "The Red Lion" pub, we got back on the bus to go to the Tower of London. With parts of it going back to the year 1077, this is historical London at its best. The Tower has some amazing displays of re-created rooms within the original structure, as well as exhibits of weapons, armor and the Crown Jewels. It was crowded and hot in the buildings on an otherwise beautiful day - sunny and in the mid-70s. After the Tower, we got back on the bus and went to Buckingham Palace. The grounds are amazing and the Palace beautiful. We walked through St. James Park back to our hotel to clean up before dinner. Speaking of our hotel, did I mention the room was small? Not much space to maneuver around the bed for one person, much less two. We kept bumping into each other just trying to get dressed, but it did get four stars from The Lollipop Guild.

We went to a local Indian restaurant that was excellent, "Shardam". They opened November 22, 1963, the date of the JFK assassination. Business has improved since then, although the restaurant was empty while we were there. But the food was good and we walked out full and a little tipsy after splitting a full bottle of wine.

These "hop on, hop off" bus tours are a convenient way to visit the major tourist attractions.

The Queen's Horse Guards are always attentive.

We came upon a veteran's parade that included some impressive uniforms.

The traditional red phone booths were still in use.

Big Ben towers over Parliament.

Parliament is well-guarded these days.


American Southwest 2007 - Even More!

Rosemary stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and took this picture.

"Standin' on the Corner" is a small "park" in this tiny, barren town. It's an
important landmark, listed on the town's "Welcome" sign, and lending some flavor
to nearby small businesses. The day we were there, the area was being renovated,
and we had to take pictures at a bad angle through a chain link fence. The
"windows" behind the statue are actually part of a very well-done mural.

Loud music wafted from the doorway of this shop

A few weeks later, our friends Andrei and Nida visited the
same spot, the chain link fence now gone, and got the shot we wanted.

We love the big stuff, seemingly endless landscapes composed of
vast deserts, towering mountains, and dizzying canyon depths. But
there are also smaller views worth considering. Here are some of the
wildflowers we saw along the way.

On the North Rim

At Mesa Verde

At Bandelier

Somewhere in New Mexico

At Mesa Verde

At Bryce Canyon

Just about every road we traveled had lots signs warning us of of elk crossings.
We saw a few cows and some mule deer, but no elk. We also saw these guys.

A raven enjoys the view.


We have a lot of these Western Fence Lizards at home, too.

There were several different kinds of squirrels and chipmunks in the parks.

Abert's squirrel is known for its long, tasseled ears and its very fluffy tail.

The Grand Canyon is so big that sometimes it's hard to really "see"
how great the distance is. Even using the digital camera's 10x zoom, we
couldn't get any closer for this shot. Those two groups of small bumps
at a wide spot in the trail are groups of several burros.

Now abandoned, this was once an active uranium mine in the Grand Canyon.

This establishment on the road between the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff
has a gift shop, a diner and a play area, all with a wacky Bedrock theme.

Another view from the Grand Canyon's South Rim.

Red Rock Canyon is part of the entrance to Bryce Canyon.

The rocks and soil around the Petrified Forest display some interesting colors.

But it is a tremendously barren area.