Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rome Day quattro e cinque

Days 4 and 5 were on the weekend so we spent them driving short distances in our rented Puegeot "piccolo". These were the only days that Oldest Son did not have classes and we squeezed as much out of them as we could.

We were very fluid in our requirements about how long to rent a car but not flexible on price - it had to be cheap. All told, I think we spent more on gas and tolls then we did on the car.

Actually renting the car was adventure in it's self. The line wasn't bad when we got in it, there was one German guy in front of us that The Chancellor labelled "Prince Charming" because he looked, well, a lot like Prince Charming.

Prince Charming was taking foooooorevvvvver and we couldn't figure out why. The car rental agent was an older Italian guy who was all smiles and very little efficiency. Mr Italian Smiles was talking and writing numbers on paper then Prince Charming would ask questions in broken English and the Italian guy would answer them. More writing, more questions.

In the mean time a giant line formed behind us and pressure was building on Mr Italian smiles but it didn't bother him in the least. He just kept working with Prince Charming.

Finally Prince Charming rented his Mercedes and then we found out what takes so long. In order to get the advertised rate on the car, you had to hold thousands of Euros on your credit card as a deposit. APparently there was a lot of negotiating between smiley and Prince Charming.

The Chancellor did not like this and was very honest with Mr Italian Smiles. I asked for other options and we got a slightly high higher rate but lower deposit and after 20 minutes of paper shuffling, Mr Italian Smiles handed us the keys.

After a slight snafu getting out of the parking lot (Mr Italian Smiles neglected to tell us to get a parking ticket before getting the car) we were off with Oldest son navigating from the back seat of the piccolo. There were a few "look kids, it's Big Ben and Parliament" moments but for the most part we were headed to Florence for the day.

Nearly 300 Km later through ups and downs along the A1 Autostrata, the piccolo got us to Florence safely. There was a lot of shifting between 5th and 4th gear on the uphills but we were there (Not nearly as much as the next day though).

IMG_2266We visited the top of the Cupola at the Duomo of the Basilica of S Maria, shopped, ate a quick pizza (what else?) and we headed back to the car.

The Chancellor had wanted to drive through country side of Tuscany as one of her "must dos" and Oldest son and I thought this was a little vague. We thought a drive needed a destination, a direction, something and given our lack of sleep, the pace we had been going and the long car ride in the piccolo, this nearly caused an emotional breakdown. In the end we decided to take back roads on the way home, at least through parts of Tuscany.

We did not regret this. The sun was setting as we drove along the curvy mountain roads and the Chancellor attempted photographing every river view, sometimes hanging her camera out the window. I refused to let her do this with my new Camera.

We had dinner at a little local spot in the hills of Tuscany. It was like the only little family restaurant and since it was Saturday Night, all the locals started showing up as we ate. It was fascinating to see this part of Italian country life.

We got home late and after a pinball like drive through Rome to get to Prati, got some sleep and did the same thing the next day but headed out to Ascoli Piceno in the Marches region on Italy.

The piccolo struggled mightily through the Mountains of Abruzzi along the A24 but once again, got the job done.

Ascoli Piceno is not your typical tourist destination but instead is the area that my Father's family was from. My brother had gone in November and I wanted to see it too. It's a shame my Dad didn't get to see it before he passed in January and he would have been proud of Oldest Son as he spoke fluently with the locals but knowing Dad, he would have been anxious to get to what ever was next.

Here are pictures from both days with a personal best of 261 Pictures for Sunday (Day 5) with some help from The Chancellor and Oldest Son while driving.

Day 4 
Day 5

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Rome Day Tre

Day 4 in Rome will officially be known as the "day of the strike".

The Italians have regularly scheduled strikes at least one Friday a month according to Oldest Son, so we knew this one was coming, it just showed up in a different form than expected.

We planned a day at the Vatican Museums and then later in the afternoon we would walk over to our pre-purchased, special tour of the coliseum. We expected to walk all day  and so Oldest Son and I headed out the Vatican Museum line about 9 AM with our prosciutto sandwiches and fruit for lunch.

We were surprised to see the 990 bus since there was supposed to be strike but we hopped on it for a few stops. While on  the bus, oldest son overheard a woman talking in Italian with the bus driver that the strike didn't start until 9:30 AM. How timely.

This was actually good and bad since The Chancellor stayed behind at Apartment Maximus and we were to gather information about the walk and relay it back to her. Now all we could say was "there was this bus..."

The line to the Vatican wasn't bad by Vatican line standards. Oldest Son and I were in the security checkpoint by 10:30.

In 2006 I had been in the same checkpoint and had to check a tripod, so I knew not to bring one of those again or it would be arrivederci tripod. But, what I had forgotten was that I had a laptop security lock in my bag and wasn't I surprised when I saw it on the x-ray of my bag. So was security and I was sent in the direction off the controllo bagagli.

I knew where this leads. I end up with a ticket and no bag, a ticket that I will later lose.

So I simply got out of line and went into the Museum. It was sort of scary how easily this was done.

By 11:30 we had made our way to the Sistine Chapel where it is still absurd but this time I took pictures and movies of being there. Of course this too is against the rules.

Here is a picture I took of the last judgement by simply pointing the camera in the general direction of the wall:
Rome2011-Day3 035
At the exit of the Museum I saw I sign for the baggage claim and I made Oldest Son ask in Italian if they still had my tripod from 2006. No, I did not have a biglietto. He was embarrassed to ask but they made an effort to at least look. The guards say that if you mail them the ticket, they will ship the item back to you for free.

Nice to know - now.

By 1 we called the Chancellor and had her make the walk to St Peters from Apartment Maximus.

We were a little concerned about letting her make the walk on her own but she clearly did not want to see the Vatican again since as far as she was concerned, she had checked that off in 2006 during our first trip here.

According to Google Maps, it's a 30 minute walk and Oldest Son and I had planned to map it out with pictures along our walk and we really had good intentions - until the bus came.

View Larger Map

We told her we would meet her at the Obelisk in St Peters but we found ourselves directly in the path of her walk so we thought we would call her to get a status update and try to meet her. This seemed like a good idea at the time - really. Of course what we could not predict was her exact path and somehow we missed each other.

Oldest Son and I realized that too much time had passed and headed to the Square and the original meeting place of the Obelisk.

As we are walking, we see TV film crew ahead talking with someone.

Guess who.
Rome2011-Day3 047

They interviewed her about what her take was on the royal wedding and when she didn't have one, they told her to make something up.

From there we made our way to the Coliseum where we discovered it very difficult to tell if it is opened or closed from a distance. We learned that you really have to be right on top of it to see that the iron gates are all closed and there is an absurd number of people outside it and none inside it.

They were on strike.

We emailed our tour company and rescheduled for the following Friday.

Lesson for the day: prescheduled items are good in the beginning, bad at the end. (imagine if we scheduled the Coliseum for the end of the trip).

All day 3 pictures are here.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Rome Day Due

On Day two we began our touring of Rome in earnest and took the Metro from our Apartment to Piazza De Popolo. From there we went up the hill to Villa Borghese and made our reservations for later in the week for the Art Museum there.

Along the way, the Chancellor and I began work on our new hobby, taking pictures for strangers. It began on the hill over looking Piazza De Popolo where we ran into an English couple who had picked out the very spot that The Chancellor wanted to use for our picture.

You can tell a lot about a couple just from the very first words that come out their mouths. When we first asked if they wanted us to take their picture, the husband - busy being the subject of the picture said "Well, I'm not in charge of the camera". Aha. Enough said. We thought that a bit awkward until the Chancellor asked where they were from and they said Devon, England. She responded that she too was from Devon - PA and we were off. We asked again if they wanted us to take their picture, this time directing the question to the camera controller and she said yes.

The Chancellor began directing them around with commands like "OK Stand over here, take off your sunglasses, take off your purse" etc while I took up their camera. We make a team. She directs and I take over the technical aspects of the photo.

I noticed right off that Mrs Camera Controller was no serious photographer as she had the camera upside down as she handed it to me. That's correct, she had been holding the camera upside down with the words SONY upside down, facing her and the shutter on the bottom. (Had she been taking photos this way the entire trip?) She also had the flash on, in direct sun. I took one picture and saw it was completely washed out and asked to take another with the flash off. Mr Subject objected a bit saying she wanted it that way but I said let's try one.

Later they will get home to Devon and call us stupid for taking their picture upside down but they took a beautiful photo for us. They forgot to tell us to take our sunglasses and purses off.
Rome2011-1 053

From there we had a little lunch outdoors on the Via Veneto and Oldest Son went off to class. The Chancellor and I headed to the Spanish Steps on our own where worked on our new hobby a bit with a set of 3 French women.

The language barrier made The Chancellor's part a bit harder but she turned it into a game of charades, gesturing "taking off your sunglasses, what about your purse". My job was also more difficult with three cameras. (Why do people insist on taking the same picture with their own camera? Do we not share the pictures?). Our hobby helps us get pictures of ourselves too.
Rome2011-1 135

From there we headed back to Apartment Maximus to relax a bit before dinner and then it was off to meet Oldest Son at his Apartment.

He was late so we worked on our hobby a bit and found a new twist - people that do not want to be photographed together. I thought that was weird until I realized that these two people were not supposed to be in Rome together and they saw this as not a memento of a vacation but as evidence.

Dinner was excellent and my friend John D has so far been correct with his adage -  "You can not get a bad meal in Rome". We had dinner at a tiny little restaurant called "Alfredo e Ada"  around the corner from Oldest Son's place. Dinner was excellent but it would have helped to know that it came in two courses - "Primo" and  a "Secondo".  I was full after Primo of Carbonara but pressed on with my Secondo of braciole like steak.

We sat at a long table with two Japanese women. We did not offer to take their picture and we took more pictures than they did.

Day Two's lesson: Not everyone wants their picture taken

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Rome Day Una

If you find yourself at Zara on Via Del Corso in Roma, I would be very cautious of trying on pants in my size.

Let me explain.

Day one's afternoon found us in our apartment waiting on Air France to deliver our lost luggage. I needed a shower but the only clothing I had were literally the clothes on my back.

1 Short Sleeved Man's shirt
1 Pair Men's shorts, 1 size too big
1 Pair of low cut white athletic socks.
1 pair of underwear
1 pair of athletic shoes.
1 "sleeveless coat of many pockets" officially known as the "tech vest"

And courtesy of Air France's "Sky Team", 1 plain white mens undershirt.

All of which stank after 24 hours of travel and thinking the worst, I needed to buy clothes and now.
Since Apartment Maximus has a washer (but no dryer, as is common here in Italy), I decided to wash the shirt, socks and underwear.

Oldest Son came by to pick us up and guide us to the shopping areas and so I wore everything not in the wash.

And so that is how I got on the 913 bus - unintentionally commando, which I really didn't think much of until I had to try on new pants.

That's when things got a little dicey.

Yes, I had to try on pants without underwear, all because the weather changed in Philly as we were leaving:

Which caused air traffic control to switch the outbound runway at Philly International
Which caused us to be 30th, yes 30th, in line for take off
Which caused us to take off 1.5 hours late.
Which caused us to land in Paris 1/2 hour late.

That wouldn't have been so bad except for the fact that our flight to Rome took off within 50 minutes of touching down in Paris and that would n't have been so bad except it took 20 minutes to taxi to the gate and another 10 minutes to get off the plane.

From there it was like an episode of the Amazing Race. In 20 minutes we:

  • Talked the French police into letting us in the short line so we could run through Customs like blur. (just stamp the f'ing thing)
  • Had to find Terminal F, Gate 27 
  • Had to be security screened again since Customs is outside the secured area of the Paris airport. 
  • And run to the plane. 

Given the snappy efficiency of the average French baggage handler, I was pretty sure our luggage wasn't going to make our flight so it wasn't a surprise that we found ourselves hopelessly watching an empty baggage carousel go around and around

Oh and since I was fooling around with my phone on the runway in Philly, the battery was completely drained because there are no cell towers at 38,000 feet but the phone spent all of it's energy try to reach out to one ever 15 seconds. (it's like a 5 year old in you backseat saying "are we there yet, are we there yet,are we there yet, are we there yet,are we there yet, are we there yet..." Is there cell tower, is there a cell tower...")

Our driver was there, our bags were not and so we had little choice but to go to the apartment.

All is well today. Air France delivered that bags to our Apartment around midnight last night. I now have underwear.

Today's lesson:: pack underwear in your carry on.

The first 160 pictures here.