Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Roaming Rome With Jace… Then Home

Now that we’re back home from our European trip with Jace, our first thought is “Yay, we did it.” We have managed to take all eight of our grandchildren on five separate excursions to Europe over the past 10 years: Jake in 2014, Avery in 2015, Taegan in 2016, Lily, Peyton, and Riley together in 2019, Blane in 2022, and Jace in 2024.

Our other reaction is wondering whether travel is harder, whether this trip presented its own challenges, or whether we’re just getting older.  It was probably some of each. 

On this expedition we had to deal with two flight cancellations, two train cancellations, two significantly late flights, and even the sellers of our expensive Colosseum tour trying to change the time of our tour to a much less desirable time. However, we managed to overcome it all and have a fine time that we hope Jace remembers for many years to come.

We travelled First Class on ItaliaRail from Venice to Rome Termini, and made our way from there to the Hilton Rome EUR La Lama, a modern 400-room high-tech hotel that offered us a corner room upgrade.

The room also incorporated a strange glitch commented on by TripAdvisor reviewers:  The “bathroom” consists of an enclosed toilet on the left, a shower stall on the right, and a central area with a sink and no door, and thus no private place to towel off and get dressed.

We solved that bizarre lack of privacy by having morning coffee and hot chocolate in the Executive Lounge while one of us showered and dressed, and lingering in the quite excellent restaurant after breakfast while another took a turn. We made it work.  

We had reserved tickets to visit the Vatican Museum and arrived there by taxi in ample time to face the huge crowds. In something like a dozen trips to Rome, we have never encountered as many throngs of humanity as we did on this visit. Even with supposedly “skip-the-line” tickets there are still various queues to traverse before finally arriving.

We spent some time with Jace inside, visiting what is regarded as one of the greatest museums in the world. For example, Jace saw his first mummy, as well as many amazingly painted ceilings besides the Sistine Chapel.

Once through the museum, we exited the Vatican via its famous double-helix Spiral Staircase.

Look for the handsome young man in the green shirt.

As we slipped around the corner to peek inside Saint Peter’s Square (another long line that we eschewed), we caught sight of a member of the “Pope’s army,” the Swiss Guards.

Along the way we encountered nuns and this gentleman, munching on some kind of sandwich as he passed us.

First a Gelato break.

We then enjoyed a relaxing lunch in a friendly little restaurant before heading back to our hotel and a little Executive Lounge time in the evening.

Relaxing back at the Hilton…

The temperature topped out in the mid to high 70s (F) the following day, so it remained bearable as we made our way to admire the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps.

Jace throws the ceremonial coin with his right hand over his left shoulder, meaning he will someday return.

We sat down for lunch at the pleasant Dobar-doris restaurant, not that far from the Spanish Steps.

 Unfortunately, the service was a bit leisurely, but we still managed to gulp it down before making our way back to the Metro station adjacent to the Spanish Steps to travel to the Colosseo stop. 

Unfortunately, the elevator we thought would take us down to the Metro instead took us all the way to the top of the Spanish Steps. Rather than wait in the long line to descend, we walked down the entire length of the 135 steps and still caught a train in time to make our appointment. Funny in retrospect…

Our guide took a liking to Jace (who wouldn’t?) and asked him questions in such heavily accented English that it was almost impossible to understand her. However, we did get a good look at the Colosseum.

On Sunday we stored our luggage at the hotel and returned to the Colosseo Metro stop to visit the forum, ancient Downtown Rome.

We learned another new factoid. Apparently there is free admission to the Forum and a lot of other sites on the first Sunday of every month.

Pro tip: never plan a visit to an historical Roman site on the first Sunday of the month!

After about a half hour of frustrated wandering and a couple of false starts, we found our way to a shorter line for those who already had tickets. 

Amazingly, it wasn't as crowded inside as we would have feared, and we had some time for Jace to follow an excellent Rick Steves audio tour. He also was able to peek inside the alleged site of Caesar's grave, under a rather ugly metal roof, the spot where Marc Antony gave his famous oration as immortalized by Shakespeare: "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears..."

Alas, it was now time to say Arrivederci Roma, and to take a taxi to the airport with a friendly driver who suggested payment in U.S. cash toward a planned trip to New York. We have no doubt he will declare it on his income tax, as would any dutiful Italian.

At Rome Airport (FCO), Jace enjoyed his first Calzone, and had time to show Kathy a couple of chess moves on a large board.

Kathy declared it a draw and off we went to our gate.

The flight was late and we suffered a 30-minute wait for our checked bag at FRA.

We made the long walk to the Frankfurt Airport Hilton, inside the airport but quite a way from our arrival and departure gates, arriving at close to 11 p.m. and looking forward to our junior suite. 

The hotel had regrettably failed to deliver a rollaway bed for Jace (they did remember the welcome gifts on the table for lifetime Diamond Kathy), but an employee brought a bed promptly when we asked, and also a fan to circulate the air in the hot German room.

We enjoyed a good breakfast the following morning, where Jace savored his favored breakfast menu of croissants, crisp bacon, yogurt, hot chocolate, and freshly squeezed orange juice.

Condor is a decent airline to fly, but its ground services leave much to be desired. The plane was upwards of two hours late, and the boarding process was an absolute fiasco. We've seen better in a number of so-called Third World countries. So much for stereotypical German efficiency!  We were far from the only passengers laughing at the ineptitude.

When we were finally in our premium economy seats (not bad), an announcement was made that employees would have to check boarding passes again, causing numerous pssengers to leap up to the overhead compartments to retrieve them. While we had duplicates on our phones, we were never asked, and for the next 30 minutes or so employees would call out the odd name and then huddle amongst themselves. 

How strange. It was described as a "boarding issue," and a nearby flight attendant, when someone asked him what was going on, replied mysteriously "We're not allowed to say." 

Our A330 did eventually take off, it landed 10 or so hours later at SEA, and Jace's father, John, picked us up and drove us back to their house, where our car had been stored during our trip.

There, we were thrilled to watch Jace give his family the cute and thoughtful presents he had bought them, and we then wended our way back to Birch Bay.

We'll retain great memories of this adventure with our youngest grandchild, and hope he does too. 

Now it's time to catch up on things before flying to Lima a week from today.

This one is a wrap!

That Salzburg salt mine tour feels like it happened a long time ago…

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