Sunday, June 22, 2008

Being Quiet on a Train, and Gee, This Place Looks a Lot Like Portland.

April 22nd - Arrival In London

I love British Airways. Seriously, they take care of you very well on flights, from the well planned meals that aren't too terrible, plenty of reading materials, and great customer service. We took off, settled in, and had some great sandwiches, and within a half an hour of takeoff, we had the announcement that we had to fill out another immigration card to get into the UK. Not wanting a repeat of the last adventure with the card, I paid attention and filled it out right and without making mistakes. We also rounded up our remaining Euros for exchange once we landed.

We landed again in Terminal 5, and again had no issues with landing or immigration. We breezed along with a minimum of questions, and our bags were waiting for us once we found the claim spot. The London weather was a bit better this time, as the sun was shining but it wasn't too terribly warm. We collected our things, and soon were off to find an Underground ticket machine to buy fare to Tower Hill, this being the closest terminal to our flat. We had to take the Picadilly line into town, then switch to the District Line to get us to our stop, which should take about 45 minutes. It was early part of the afternoon, and our hope was to get to where we needed to go before the rush hour commute started.

The Underground is extremely quiet, as people sit and read or listen to music, but conversations just don't happen on it. And when they do, it's usually tourists that don't realize this standard. Girl and I found a spot with our bags, putting our backpacks on our laps, and sat quietly and relaxed cause we would be on the train for a bit. The Picadilly line is unusual in the fact that at the far west end of the line, it's actually above ground, so it reminds me of the MAX here in Portland. There's a bit more advertisements in English stations, and there's the announcements to mind the gap, but outside of that, it looks about the same. By the way, the Mind the Gap thing is an announcement reminding riders to mind the gap between the train and the platform, which can be a few inches and slightly up or down. Just want you to pay attention to what you are doing.

We decided to switch trains at Hammersmith, because it's a level crossing, and so we quickly moved from line to line in a matter of moments. Not bad timing, as a District train is right there. It's a bit crowded, but we were able to find a spot for us and luggage, so soon we were off. Not bad for 4 pounds, getting from point A to point B. We are now truly underground, as the only things you see outside the trains are train stations and tunnel walls. In many case, there are only a couple of inches between the train and the wall. I also noticed the lack of rubbish in the train stations despite no trash cans about, which was a nice touch and I was reminded of why there are no rubbish bins in the train areas. We finally arrive at Tower Hill, and soon make our way up the stairs to the station exit. The Underground requires you to scan your ticket to get into the station, but you also scan your ticket to leave. Sometimes, the ticket is kept while other times you keep it for proof of fare. In this case, we got to keep our ticket, but I had an adventure trying to get my bag through the gate.

Once we were free of the station, we were on street level and trying to find our flat. Oh, look, the Tower of London is right across the street. And there's Tower Bridge, very tall and stoic crossing the Thames. But we were on task to try and find our way to the flat. After a couple of pedestrian loops about and crossing streets, we got our bearings and headed east. I did like the touches on the crosswalks telling you which direction to look for traffic, but I didn't like one of the wheels of my luggage rubbing on the wheel well which now means I'm dragging my bag. I'm really starting to get a bit drained, but we soon find a grocery store complex and then a crosswalk which then is the street we need to find the flat. Soon enough, we wander through this residential area, over a canal, and to a small cul de sac. We finally find number 80, and our flat is now ours.

It's a nice little place near Wapping, studio size with a Murphy bed, nice size futon, cable TV, a small kitchen, bathroom, and nice closet space. Oh, and our badly needed washer. The flat has some supplies already there, as the flat has a community approach to supplies. You buy stuff and leave it there, and you can use anything that is already there in the flat, sort of a community approach, but definitely keep things there to avoid the kharma wrath. We found detergent, some coffee, and lots of other things for use. We also sat for a bit and relaxed, knowing we didn't have to be up at any given time. We read the packet of information for us to get a lay of the land, and saw that today was trash day for our flat. We decided to do a bit of wash, walk about for a bit, and grab some stuff for dinner.

The Thames isn't too far of a walk from the flat, as we check out the waterfront and the surrounding area. We soon wander back to the grocery store, and grab some essentials for dinner and breakfast. Oh, and Quavers and alcohol. Ok, I love Quavers, and so I had to grab a few bags, while we decided on angus burgers for dinner. We also picked up some condiments, bread, tea, and newspapers, so we were all set for the night. We get back in time to do a little cooking, settle in for some telly, and put out our trash for the night. I also got to see my first episode of EastEnders, which is a staple here in the UK. Ok, it's a soap opera but the stories are fascinating and the characters are pretty normal folk. We got to bed at a reasonable hour, wanting to wander about town tomorrow.

April 23rd - The Thames River

We slept in, which was very much needed, and had a hearty breakfast of bacon sandwiches and coffee. I was just happy to be able to sleep through the night, but we had also made a friend in the process.

Our flat is next door to another flat owned by Arthur, a rather right British bloke. He smoked his pipe everywhere, and tended to his garden downstairs. We read about Arthur in our welcome pack that he didn't mind the tourists coming in, but please respect his privacy and keep your noise level down. We had done a good job with this on night one, but we also put out our trash and before our excursion, we pulled in our can plus his for storage to be nice. Girl had noticed his TV was kept up last evenings, and apparently in the blog post about the flat, the TV noise was mentioned as an issue. But I can imagine it might be due to inconsiderate neighbors, for which we didn't want to fall into.

We had started doing laundry, but by now, the clothes to wear were at a minimum, as I dressed in slacks and a collared shirt for our excursion down the Thames. We left mid afternoon, and walked from Wapping down to Westminster. The waterfront path took us under the Tower Bridge, past London Bridge, a few others, all the way to Westminster Bridge near the Eye. All the while walking along the Thames, I'm reminded of Portland with the river running near downtown and bridges everywhere. We see a few tourists about, but we don't hit the big tour groups until we get near Westminster. It's weird seeing this bridge with people on it, as the last time I'd seen it was in 28 Weeks Later completely abandoned. We wander past Big Ben, the Parliament area, up a major road and find our way to Trafalgar Square. It's actually St. George's holiday in Britain, so there's a large celebration in the square. I'm happily taking photos, and reveling in the fact that we helped celebrate major holidays in Rome and London while here.

I'm also getting a bit thirsty from the walking about, and so we wander up to Leicester Square to find some water and batteries for my camera. In my focus to find batteries, though, I wandered past a few places that sold water which girl found amusing or annoying. I lost a bit of focus, but once we had water, we found batteries and we were good to go. Leicester Square has some theatres nearby, and many UK movie premieres happen right here. We soon wandered over to Picadilly Circus to get shots with the famous billboards, and then headed back toward the Thames through St. James Park. Apparently, this is one of the smaller parks in London, but it was fairly huge and full of people and flowers. It was a gorgeous day, and people were enjoying the weather. We found our way back to Westminster and decided to take the tube back to our flat. Easy enough, we squish our way on a train, and we're back at Tower Hill in no time flat.

We stop at the market again to grab a few essentials, and as we arrive back at the flat, we meet Arthur in person. He's amazed we came so far to enjoy London, but he's a delightful person to chat with, and we made an impression by keeping quiet the preceding night, and by pulling in the rubbish bins. As we settled in for dinner and TV, we noticed Arthur's TV isn't as loud as previous nights. We watched EastEnders, drank a bit of wine and cider, ate some great food, and decided that tomorrow, we would venture to find a Tesco market. Girl loved shopping there, and apparently, there's one in Canary Wharf that's not too terribly far away per the phone book. As we settled in to bed, I never realized that one of the most important lessons in my married life was about to happen...

Next Time - A Lesson in the Rain, And Fun on the English Beach.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

More Adventures at the Park, and Saying Goodbye to Rome and Hello to London

April 21st - Staying Close to Hotel

With more walking from yesterday and our impending departure on Tuesday, we decided to stay close to our hotel and get things organized for the flight to London. Plus, we wanted to ensure that we got a little sun, not knowing if the weather would play nicely once we left. Plus, packing was going to be important, as this was our last stop with just one checked bag each.

We wandered to the same park again visited on Saturday, and found a different bench to sit in to relax. Our favorite person was there, laughing and yelling about but he had a friend this time to talk with. Girl theorized that he might be one of those people that could hear a lot of different voices, and he was just responding to whatever voice was loudest at the moment. He was very happy, though, as we heard plenty of laughter and random comments. I wished at this moment my Italian was a bit better.

We also visited the grocery store for some last minute items and checked out some of the other restaurants in the area to see if there was anything nearby for dinner. There were some Indian places close, and a world famous gelato place that was closed Mondays, but nothing was striking our fancy. We decided to complete the packing in the afternoon, so that everything was put away so we could get up, shower and leave right away. Our flight left Rome at about 11 AM, so we needed to be up very early to catch the train to then get us to the airport on time. At this point, I wasn't so concerned about how it looked in my luggage, but simply that it made it into the bag. I took the scarves I'd brought over and they became nice wraps for the more fragile items.

After a bit of a nap, we awoke for some dinner, and I tried to find something different for dinner. Not that I didn't mind the place that we had been dining at, but I wanted to find something different. Plus, after finding Kric Krok on Saturday night for girl, it was time to see if we could find something interesting. Kric Krok is kind of like potato chips made in Italy, but there are a bit different than that. Sort of like kettle chips, but a bit more puffy, it was something we'd seen in stores for a while, but didn't try until I finally found some to buy. So Monday night was sort of trying to find food adventure. Girl has had falafel before, and since there was a shop nearby, we thought we'd try it. So I got her one of those, and I got some pizza and drinks.

I had been managing my way around town pretty well with my mangled Italian and broken English, but tonight they asked me if I wanted chips on the falafel and I said yes. I only said this because honestly, I wasn't sure if they had them or not and I didn't want to leave them off. When I got back to the room, girl unwrapped it and started eating with some delight. Then, she asked me "Are there chips on this falafel?" To which I replied, "Yes, they are." Apparently the taste wasn't too bad, although now understanding what falafel is, chips seems odd.

We watched a bit of TV, and then heard some commotion outside. Knowing this place, it could have been people, buildings, car accidents, we had the shudders closed to keep the room dark. We opened the window to see the most amazing thunderstorm going on. It rained about 3 inches in a 10 minute period, flooding the streets and sending poor pedestrians scrambling for cover. The thunder and lightning made many of the building glow, and the rain was puddling all over the streets. It was very intense, reminding me a lot of the thunderstorms I'd experienced growing up. But my memories didn't have glowing buildings, water splashing about on streets, people scrambling to find cover, and thunder echoing off things. Girl had said Rome gets storms like this from time to time, and she wasn't kidding. I'm glad I got to see this before we left. As we laid down to sleep, our concern was making sure that it wasn't still raining when we were ready to leave in the morning to possibly delay us leaving the hotel or our plane.

April 22nd - Departure Day to London

We awoke very early to allow us time to get final packing done, walk to the train station and catch our almost hour train ride to Rome Airport. While it was very early in the morning, we awoke without too much issue. I think both of us were happy to have come here, but ready to go to London. We did our double check in the room to ensure we had everything, grabbed our last belongings and left. I've found that traveling for me is a lot easier in more casual clothes, so I'm in a t-shirt and Timbers track pants. We walked past the park again, and headed to the train station. I enjoyed Nomi a lot, but really was looking forward to a hotel where we could sleep in a bit if desired.

We got to the train station with about 15 minutes for the next train, but the first bay of ticket machines was being difficult and wouldn't complete a purchase for girl. I found another set of ticket machines, and quickly paid for two tickets to go. We scurried to get a good place for our bags on the train, as it was waiting in one of the terminals. We found a good bank of seats, and I was able to get our bags into the upper luggage area. Man these things are heavy. We settled in for the ride, and arrived about 2 1/2 hours before our check-in. We were now preparing ourselves for our last trip through Terminal 5 and staying in London.

Our arrival in immigration was about as short as our departure through there, as we shuttled by some officers who examined our papers and let us go through. We then found a couple of snacks to go with some sandwiches we'd packed the previous day, and ate a breakfast/lunch thing. Once our gate was assigned we were off to the races. We took a short tram from the main building to our terminal, where one of our trip goals was about to be fulfilled, well we hope anyway.

Girl's previous excursion to Rome brought her to this terminal and one of the best gelato places ever. And she got to keep the special gelato dish and ate some desserts out of it here in the States, well until I accidentally crushed it putting dishes away a few months ago. Our hope was the same gelato place was open and we could get some for a snack and replace her dish. We searched and searched, and found some water and chips for snacks, but the gelato place wasn't open yet. Our hope was that it would open up in time for us before our flight.

In the terminal, we sat near some Catholic cardinals that had been traveling to Rome for business. We also go to listen to one of the most obnoxious women ever talk about all of her travel experiences to two guys flying to Chicago. Seriously, there's TMI and then there's this chick, who talked about anything and everything. I kept disappearing to check on gelato, but it was getting close to boarding time and it didn't appear the place would open in time. At least I didn't have to hear her crappy stories. We finally were called to our gate and ready to depart, when there was a final security check in Rome.

Ok, this isn't one of my brighter moments here, but I had packed my toiletries in my carry on backpack. While most of my stuff was travel size, it wasn't in the special ziplocks required by security. Oh, and my razor was in there too. I knew better, but in the quickness to get packed, I just grabbed things and put them where they fit. As the security guy looked at my backpack, he looked at my toothbrush, a few papers, and waived me through. I hurried to catch up with girl, and told her about my experience. This led to a discussion where I finally put two and two together and realized I'd violated more than a few travel rules. I was really embarrassed about it, and just figured Ok, I got through, not going to happen again. The funny thing was that I felt a lot more safe with security there, as they did a few more checks and I really liked the random gate approach. If you're going to stop people from doing bad things to planes, don't make things that obvious. Ok, makes for some anxiety filled moments in the terminal, but we'd planned for good time layovers, so it wasn't too stressful.

And as we left Rome, I thought back on the adventures of our time, and thought this place was truly special for the history and the architecture. It's very cool to see history everywhere, and for how large Rome is, it actually doesn't feel like a big city in most places. I leaned back and was ready for our last stop - London.

Next Time - Being Quiet on a Train, and Gee, This Place Looks a Lot Like Portland.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Walking Finally Catches Up with Us, and Are Newcastle Fans Everywhere?

April 19th - Sticking Close to Our Hotel

After being very busy, walking everywhere and staying up too late, things begin to catch up with us today. We did a lot of walking on the preceding Friday, and our plan today was to catch the Newcastle -Sunderland match on TV at a pub, then head to a nice dinner on Via Cavour. Since we are a bit tired and girl's feet are really hurting from all the walking, we decide to take it easy in the midday and then head out in the evening. There is a park near the hotel, so we decide to get some sun, then grab some lunch at the grocery store, and then get ready for the walk to Cavour.

The park is an absolute oasis in Rome, with lots of trees, a small kid's ride area, some playground equipment, and lots of benches. We find one near the center of the park, and just people watch while soaking up some rays. It's about 80 degrees and sunny today, so after the chill of Seaham, we are enjoying the weather a lot. Our attention is soon turned to a guy sitting on a bench that resembled Fidel Castro, who was talking at the top of his lungs spouting random phrases in Italian about 200 yards away from us. When the policia would come near, he would get quiet, but when they weren't around, he was yelling to anyone that would listen. Girl was inspired to try and figure out what he was saying, and it became a game of guess what the crazy guy was saying. What became odd about this game was that the more she guessed and said things, the more it was apparent that he knew she could hear him and it because a very odd inside joke. He spent a lot of time laughing at things, including a guy who was sitting at one bench while his cart was about 100 yards away from him. It was entertaining fun, but creepy at the fact this guy said things that girl had mentioned to me just prior to him saying them. He either was a crazy person or someone brilliant with a scarred mind but in tune like a psychic.

We wandered to the grocery store to grab things, then back to our hotel to eat and get ready for our evening plans. It was apparent rather quickly that the travel had taken a toll not only on us, but our wardrobes as our clothing selections were pretty bare. With the warm temperatures and no washer since Portland, we were on fumes until London and the washer we knew was in the flat. So it was figure out what worked best, and then watch girl put tons of band aids on her feet to get through the evening. We were trying to avoid public transit, and since cabs weren't regulated, it was walk or nothing. The match was scheduled for 4 PM, and we left our hotel about that time only to make it a few blocks before girl's feet gave out. By this point, any shoe was irritating her feet and so it was time for plan B. We decided to give it a rest for the evening and get ready for tomorrow, which meant me getting some food later on. I went back to the grocery store to get more first aid supplies, and then headed to the restaurant I'd visited the previous night for more pizza and spaghetti. In visiting there, I found out the Roma - Milan match was going on at the Olympic Stadium that night in town, and folks would be flooding pubs to watch it. Ironically, the pub we were going to would have been packed to the hilt with soccer fans, and we might have been stuck in this mess. As I waited for the food to get done, I heard police sirens abound outside, and we heard many of them as the night wore on. Apparently, the match was great but fans here get a little nuts about it, so the police get busy afterwards. So I got back with pizza, and we watched bad American TV dubbed into Italian. It wasn't exactly what we expected to do, but it was a fun improvised night none the less.

April 20th - Special Parade, Trastevere, Irish Pub

Girl's feet felt better, and we woke up Sunday with new optimism or at least physically more able to cope with walking. After a biscuit breakfast, we wandered down the street to a great cappacino bar for some coffee and breakfast cake. The coffee was amazing, and the cake filled us up with sugary goodness, as we wandered down past the Colosseum and past the arch. What we ran into was a special parade, where folks were dressed in ancient costumes and marching to the Colosseum. I think it was a special holiday celebration, but we watched the parade of soldiers, senators, dancers, servants, and other people representing the various regions about the area. They chanted, marched, danced, and it was amazing fun to watch. And just like some of our other great adventures, we just sort of ran into it. The parade took about an hour, but was worth watching.

We walked past some sites we'd seen earlier until we reached the Fiume Tevere, a large river running through Rome. You cross a bridge, and enter the Trastevere region of Rome. If you want amazing restaurants and great art, this is the place to be. There's plenty of narrow walkways and roads abound, but more than that are little restaurants tucked into corners with various specials. The smells were intoxicating, and it was great to see so many excellent looking restaurants until we found a McDonalds. Look, for what it is, it's not threatening and Americanized, but if I'm going to Italy, I don't need a fucking golden arches at every nice place. Seriously..

We found a gelato place nearby and had some amazing dessert, knowing that in a few hours we would find the Irish Pub that we wanted to visit the previous day. It was nearby, and allowed a simple loop back to our apartment. We also found some great cinemas near the area that I bet some of our friends back in the States might like. We wandered through downtown, and found our pub with some time to spare. In checking the game times, we knew the live broadcast was Saturday, but there was a replay at 3 PM on Sunday, so we had a back up plan in case we needed it. And with the injuries, it worked out just fine. We found our way to the pub, and sat down, expecting to drink a bit and munch some great Irish food.

If there was any on the menu, which there wasn't. Seriously, no shepards pie, no fish and chips, but rather burgers, nachos and bagette sandwiches. Ok, I know this is Rome, but you've got an Irish pub with staff that speaks English, yet no Irish food at all. Well, the Guiness was there and cold, so that worked. We sat behind a lad who was rooting for Sunderland as well, and saw a few other English folks sit near us for the game. And all seemed right until a group of Russians walked in, sat down, and started singing Newcastle songs behind us. I can tease, cause one of my best friends is a Newcastle fan and he married girl and I, but seriously, are these guys everywhere? At least the game is ready to start, and I'm optimistic of a competitive game. The cats give up an early goal, and things don't get much better as the game goes on. The Russians keep coming and going, with only minimal chanting going on. By the end of the match, only girl and I were left to watch the bitter end. But at least the food and beer were good.

The match result didn't help as Sunderland lost to their arch rivals, and I felt bad for Gary and the rest of the Mackems, as they needed points to keep themselves out of relegation. We knew that it would be easy next week to keep track of scores being in London, but it was a nice thing to catch up on the footy world. I have never appreciated the ability to read a newspaper or visit the web as much as I did at this point, because I felt a bit isolated from the world. I know, it's honeymoon time so we should be focused on it, but at the same time, knowing a bit about the world isn't such a bad thing. The only reason I knew the Pope wasn't around was cause of the non stop coverage as he visited New York.

We took our time heading back to the hotel, and walking near the Colosseum ran into a street festival celebrating the holiday. There were booths all over the street, and a wacky waving arm guy near the Colosseum. Yea, couldn't believe my eyes on that, but we did get to see a great street entertainer that juggled flaming sticks and rode a unicycle. He was very good, and it was nice to be able to watch some entertainment amongst the locals. Bands were playing nearby, dancers were performing on the street, it was really fun to see this area so festive and lively. We wandered back slowly to our hotel room, and vegged out for the rest of the night, especially after eating so much and slowly building up the walking. I never drank so much water in trying to beat the heat, but so far, the trip has been everything it's lived up to. And we have one more day in Rome, then fly off to London for our last stop of the trip. Whoo hoo!!!

Next time - More Adventures at the Park, and Saying Goodbye to Rome and Hello to London

Monday, June 2, 2008

Seeing the Forum Up Close, and Visiting the Pope's House.

April 17th - Colosseum Up Close, Forum, Palatine Hill

In waking up on the 17th, I realized that today would be Timber Jim's last day at a Timbers match, and girl and I were 6000 miles away. I truly respect TJ and everything he is, not just the mascot but the man himself and how he lives his life. While I know everyone was understanding about it, I just felt a little odd not being there. But soon enough, I got a text that my friend Obi would be standing in our row in honor of us with girl's maid of honor, Jeane. Obi is truly a best man's best man, and knowing our thoughts were there and we were represented, we tried to figure out the day's activities.

Knowing the Vatican was a good walk away from our hotel (probably 3 to 4 miles), we decided to make that our Friday destination and spend all day there. For today, it was back to the Colosseum to actually go inside, then see the Forum and Palatine Hill where many of the ruins are. This also was a bit of a shorter walk, after our previous day's excursion so it would allow us to rest up for Friday. There was also a famous statue near the Forum that girl wanted to visit, Boca De Veritas. This literally translates to Mouth of Truth, and it's a rather famous exhibit. As legend has it, the statue is of a large face with an open mouth in the front. If a person stuck their hand in the statue's mouth and it was bitten, they were found to be lying. Only an honest person could stick their hand in the mouth and not be injured, although apparently for some emperors they found it amusing to put lobsters in the statue just for fun.

We walked past the Colosseum to see the wait time, and ended up speaking Spanish to mess with the tour guides and vendors that wanted our money. We passed by the Forum, which as with many of the sites, it was hard to believe that thousands of years ago, there were athletic events going on here. What was funny to watch was the dozens of joggers making laps around the ancient track. We made it to the Mouth of Truth, and there was a small service charge to get in. Girl lamented that when she was here, it was free and there was no line. Now, about 50 people patiently waited to get pictures. When I got up there, I did my best imitation of the face, and we walked through the very small chapel next door. The art work and architecture is truly amazing, again showing elegance and simplicity in design.

We then decided to actually head to the Colosseum to get the full pass to view it, Palatine Hill and the various ruins about. You can see the gardens, the ruins of the senator's house, and various chapels and arches plus the Colosseum for one price, so we scooted in and got our tickets. As much as a tour might have been nice, I think it was unnecessary to pay someone to show you the things that you could see yourself. The Colosseum is really hard to describe, as I could see the stadium seats and pathways which when standing would have held 35,000 people for various events. The catacombs under the floor wove about underground, and I could see some people easily getting lost in there if you weren't careful. The crowd wasn't so bad because it was around siesta time, so we could move about pretty easily.

Once we were done, we zipped past the Arch and headed for the gardens and ruins. Again, there is so much history present, it was simply overwhelming and hard to fathom sometimes. Walking past places that used to have fountains, large dining rooms, servants quarters, and chapels and seeing the skeletal remains, you could image what these places would be like in their heyday. There's so much to go through, it was a bit of a whirlwind. But I felt a sense of honor to see these ruins, and really see how large the area is. We even passed by a parliament building that was having election meetings going on, as we found out later watching the news. Most of the buildings are now roped or sealed off so you couldn't walk within most of the ruins, which was frustrating but I understood why. After years and years of tourists coming in, the ruins were starting to show more wear and the Romans were taking measures to protect their treasures.

We walked back to the hotel and rested a bit, as girl's feet were bugging her. Apparently, the new Adidas shoes we got for her didn't prevent blisters from forming on some of her toes. We decided to go get some pizza and eat in, trying to watch Italian TV. Outside of the language, I observed that (1) their version of Deal or No Deal didn't have models and people opened boxes to show the amounts (2) in Wheel of Fortune, apparently Victoria Silvstedt knows enough Italian to be their version of Vanna White (3) Bender in Futurama Italian style has the most annoying voice ever (4) Homer is also annoying but not as bad (5) South Park is very funny and the voices match, but the only way I knew what was going on was to have already seen the episode. We know we had a big day tomorrow, so we turned in and got some rest.

April 18th - Visiting the Pope's House

The news was talking about the Pope a lot, and how he was off to New York. Of course, we come to visit and the pope decides to leave. Apparently, he got the memo from someone, but regardless, we ate food, got dressed up and headed out for Vatican City. Unlike other tourist destinations, the Vatican requires you to dress nicely and girls can't show legs out of respect. So we actually dressed up a bit for our venture. Girl had also bandaged up her feet, and we started the long walk to the Vatican. We made a few stops simply to rest up and keep her feet fresh, as we literally walked across town.

While heading to the Vatican, we found the only Irish pub in Rome that also advertised soccer matches, and this was good news to know, as we had interest in watching the Sunderland - Newcastle derby on Saturday. The walk wasn't so bad from the hotel, so we knew where our Saturday would take us. We finally made it to the gates of Vatican City, where two large statues sat at the main entrance. We also saw the Castle Sant Angelo to our right, which was built as protection of the Vatican. It was rather humongous, I could see why this castle could protect the Vatican. Once we walked across the river and took the first left, we were on the main road into Vatican City.

Growing up Catholic, people always talked about wanting to make the trek to see this, and so being there at the Basilica was something I had to take in for a bit. The columns around the main plaza were about 100 feet high, and the art work was very detailed. We viewed some of the fountains on site, then got in line to enter the Basilica. It was moving pretty well, even though there were about 3000 people in line preceding us. As we looked about, there were guards ever present with huge machine guns at the ready. I'm not sure if I felt safe or unnerved at the firepower, but soon, we were heading inside. I'd see the Basilica on TV for Christmas mass, and the TV doesn't do it justice. This place is over 30 football pitches big, and at least a couple pitches tall. There are chapels everywhere, I could foresee multiple masses going on at the same time during the day. We then headed over to see the Papal museum.

I'd also known that the Catholic Church had some riches, and once you see this tour, you'll see why. I have never seen emeralds and diamonds so large ever, and seeing ones as big as my hand was magnificent but sad at the same time. It's an honor to see them, but thinking that these jewels could be used to feed poor people or help economic strife, it was tough to see the opulence and not get a little angry. And it just kept going and going, as you saw more jewels, more scepters, more robes, and more gold. I think my head hurt after seeing all of this...

But it just prepared me for our trip to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, which is actually a bit of a walk from Vatican City. We made it over in about 20 minutes, and soon we were off to the races. We spent over 3 hours there, and really you could spend three days here and not see everything. There's so much to see, but we took it all in - ceilings, paintings, statues of naked guys, gardens, chapels, bathes. You name it, it was there, and you could actually take pictures of most of it. Ok, you had to turn off the flash, but at least some of my pictures came out. The museum kept going and going and going, and you made a turn and suddenly there was more stuff to see. I just kept taking pictures and watching the sites until we got to the Sistine Chapel itself. You have to remain quiet and you can't take pictures, but rather you take it in and see the sites above. It was overwhelming to think of how much time and detail it took to make this, and here I was looking at it. The guards at the gate kept yelling at people to shut up and not take pictures, but that didn't stop them from trying. It was well worth the trip to get out here.

We left the museum, and tried to loop back around to the river to get back into Rome. However, the wall surrounding the Vatican made it rather difficult to get over there, as we took a shortcut to try and get back to the river. After a few minutes, we backtracked to the museum and went back the same way we came. We did get to see the policia scare some vendors who were blocking a sidewalk. As the lights flashed, the vendors scrambled not to get caught, it was truly a COPS moment. We took our time getting back to the hotel, stopping for plenty of breaks and water and we got back to our room about dinner time.

After some rest, I headed out for more food as we decided to eat in our room again. We had found a grocery store down the road from us, and so we were able to load up on a few things like water and snacks. The pizza place I visited the previous night was very good, so I grabbed some pizza and authentic spaghetti for the road. And it was really good, not greasy at all and quite filling. The pizza crust was thin, but very flavorful, and the sauce was not too spicy. It was very filling, and allowed us to watch more bad TV.

About 11 Pm, the Italian TV gets some of their adult shows on regular broadcast TV, and they think nothing about showing full frontal nudity on TV. Some of the shows were really cheesy - one in particular was a girl in a room with some phones. People would call in to ask the girl to do things for them on TV, and then she would talk to the camera every now and then. This girl would take her top off, wiggle her tongue and point her fingers at it repeatedly. Then, she would put her top back on, and then take another phone call. We also found a casino show where the losers of various gambling games would have to strip for losing. I may not have understood what they were saying, but I understood boobs. And then we met Justine, who either was a man who became a woman or she had the worst boob job in the history of medicine. They were deformed, there was no other way to put it. But people kept calling in, so apparently Italians either like boobs or they aren't very picky about what boobs they see. But at least it's entertaining.

Next Time - Walking Finally Catches Up with Us, and Are Newcastle Fans Everywhere?