2007 trip to London, Paris Prauge & Rome

Europe Travel Blog

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Trafalgar Square
Wednesday 10/31/07 DEPARTURE DAY
Up at 06:30, had our coffee & breakfast then started getting ready for our departure to the Newark airport. After leaving our car at a friend's house, they drove us to the airport and we quickly found the Silver Jet lounge where a greeter took care of our bags, passports and sign in. While we thought this lounge was nice, it was nothing compared to the returning one in Luton, England. They are available 24 hours a day for arriving and departing Silver Jet flyers. Also showers and a complimentary do it yourself snack and drink station that had small sandwiches, fruits, bags of chips, sodas and a variety of wines and champagnes. In addition, a good variety of liquor from Jack Daniel's to Absolute. We felt duty bound to test the wine and drink.
Waiting for the Queen to let me in.
About 6 they announced we would be boarding shortly for our 19:30 Silver jet flight # Y70102.  We made our way to the center isle seats 3C & 3D. Wow, what a difference from first class, where they close a curtain and give you a few free things, not even close to Business class. The whole plane is Business class. All the seats were doubles, specious and comfortable. The seats reclined in different positions by push button motors on a central console and include a massage feature. They also had their own shell container so you were not intruding into the seat behind yours space. The movie players were individual ones that were entirely controlled by you with a large variety of movies, games and more. It would sit on your large fold out table.
Harrod's department store
They provide sock type slippers and even include a toothbrush and toothpaste. The flight attendant would offer a variety of wines, champagnes and mixed drinks, and yes, once again we thought we should taste test them. Takeoff was about 20:10. Note the US is still on daylight savings, but London is not.  Dinner was a menu choice of about 4 different dinners. I ordered a fish dinner and Lynn a vegetarian course. It was served on a cloth table cover with real silverware and china. Good by airline standards and of course came with salad and desert. After dinner, we watched some movies. I looked at one of the Pirates of the Caribbean until I got tired and decided to try some sleep. We put the seats in the recline position and did our best to get some rest.
Big Ben


Thursday 11/1/07 DAY ONE, LONDON
I couldn't get comfortable and didn't think I slept at all, however before we knew it the pilot was announcing that he was starting his landing decent for London's Luton airport. We felt the gears go down about 06:55 and touched down to a foggy London about 07:20 11/01/07 London time. The flight attendant has offered us breakfast and coffee to eat in, or as most did, take it with you. We quickly went through immigration and picked up our luggage. There was no customs inspection so we sat and ate our breakfast. Next we found an ATM and withdrew 200 L, about $416 USD.  It turns out none of the foreign ATMs charged a transaction fee. The bathrooms however were a different story. It seems that to use the bathroom, toilet or WC, at most the public places you had better have some local change, as they charge between 20 and 50 pence.
Henry the VIII's armor
, coin operated.  After a short wait, we boarded our 08:20 bus for the hour drive to Victoria Station, London. We had made reservations online and printed out our ticket, which you must show, so that put us ahead of the many ticket buyers who were waiting for a seat. The buses were all full. At Victoria Station we bought 2 one day bus/tube passes for 10.40 L. Lynn (my wife) did a great job figuring out the subway system so it was a short walk from the subway stop to our hotel, the Club Quarters St Paul's. They let us in early, 11:30, so we showered and headed out to explore. We stopped at a sidewalk cafe for a tea & coffee, 3.80 L or $7.60 USD. A bit pricey for a tiny, lousy tasting cup of coffee, tea was a little better.  We took the subway to Trafalgar Square, to view Nelson's column, commemorating the 1805 battle of Trafalgar.
Us at the Eiffel Tower
Then we walked through an arch to the mall at Buckingham Palace, which has served as the official London residence of Britain's sovereigns since 1837. It evolved from a town house that was owned from the beginning of the eighteenth century by the Dukes of Buckingham. Today it is The Queen's official residence, with 775 rooms. We viewed Westminster Abby, built in 1045, a huge building, how the heck they did it, I'll never know. From here, we walked past the large House of Parliament building, where Briton's versions of our politicians do battle. Then of course Big Ben and finally past number 10 Downing, the British White House. Next, we caught the subway to Porter's restaurant, recommended by Rick Steves guide book, for an early bird dinner at 16:30.
Our room at the Tim Hotel
It was good and cost about $60 USD with tip, remember everything is double here. After dinner, we caught the tube to London Bridge, thinking it was the Tower Bridge. However, the real London Bridge is in Texas, shipped there stone by stone about 30 years ago. So, off we go again by tube to Piccadilly Circus, which is London's Times Square. I didn't think it was even close. The weather was warm and a nice evening so it looked like most the city decided to come out to enjoy it. The tubes (subway) were also crowded as we made our way back to the hotel about 19:30 for some much needed rest. We have been up for about 24 hours.

Friday 11/2/07 DAY 2, LONDON

We had breakfast at a sidewalk cafe for 9.5 L including a 10% tip. Tipping here is less then the US and you have to read the fine print because it is sometimes included in the bill.
Notre Dame
Next we walked to the London Museum which houses an interesting history of London dating back to Roman times and includes the great fire of 1666. Now we are off by tube to view Kennsington Palace, a sort of spare residence used on and off by the royal family. As usual, it is an immense structure, they did not build small palaces, and you never know when you might need 6 or 700 rooms. We took a walk around Hyde Park. It's beautiful day, we had lunch at "Natural Foods", then walked to the free Science Museum. This unique, breathtaking gallery chronologically presents 150 of the most significant items from the Science Museum's collections from 1750 to 2000. Nowhere else in the world will you be able to see a display that shows so vividly the development of the modern industrial world.
View from Notre Dame's bell tower
The collection includes mechanical devices from early steam engines, locomotives, cars, boats, aircraft, models and even an early National Cash Register, (I worked for them for 36 years) wish I had more time to explore it. About 16:30 we had a coffee and Tea in their cafeteria, 2.8 L. Now we walked to the free Victoria and Albert museum with its decorative arts collection. It houses over 27,000 works and over 43,000 images, including ceramics, fashion, furniture, glass, metalwork, paintings, photographs, prints, sculpture, and textiles. An interesting collection, that includes the very ornate rooms from bygone mansions. Oh, a minor mishap in the museum when I couldn't resist touching a 375 year old piece of furniture and set off the "do not touch" alarm, we escaped before being captured, as the guards rushed in we walked calmly out.
Winged Victory
Never could resist touching wet paint.  Now it is about 17:30, think Lynn would let me take a break? Ah ah, its back to the tube to visit Harrods, London's famous department store, now owned by oil sheiks. Lynn liked it but I was disappointed. I think Wanamakers in Phila is much more impressive, however the outside was nicely lighted. Finally we caught the very crowded tube and are heading back to our hotel to clean up and rest for dinner. We walked to a recommended pub called "Ye Old Cheshire Cheese" and I had fish and chips, not bad, dinner cost about 21 L with tip. There was a minor incident at the pub, when my menu burst into flames, but the smoke alarm did not go off and there was no panic. Actually Lynn and I were in the "Chop Room" by our selves, when Lynn hollered Bob, I lifted my menu which was over the tables candle and poof, up it went, I quickly blew it out and put it on the bottom before anyone knew.
After dinner we took a walk around the area and back to the hotel about 22:00. We had a nice night. Lynn has really mastered the subway system. I just follow her.




Saturday 11/03/07 Day 3, LONDON

Up at 7 out at 10, caught the tube towards the British Museum, most the museums in London are free. It's a bit of a contrast to the other countries we will visit. We stopped at a small cafe for breakfast, I ordered he "Full English Breakfast" of bacon (more like fried ham), sausage (hot dog), scrambled eggs, toast and a small 1/2 filled cup of coffee, no refills here. Lynn had scrambled eggs, 9.4 L + 1 L tip, about $20 USD. We spent most the day touring the museum, with its extensive collection of Roman art. There is some international pressure on museums to return the art that they claim was looted during the 1800's by archaeologists.
Vatican
  The museum disputes that and says it would have been lost to looters or used as rubble for construction. The museum collections, which number more than 13 million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its beginning to the present. The British Museum was established in 1753, largely based on the collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Slone.  Among the items displayed is the renowned Rosetta stone created in 196 BC, which when discovered in 1799 provided the key to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. We had a late lunch and shared a sandwich at a cafe. Getting back on the tube was a little trickier then usual as one of the lines we usually use was shut down for repairs, but with a little local help we were back on track and walked the short distance to our hotel.
Prague
Had a little happy hour then off for dinner about 18:00. We walked to "Ye Old Cheshire Cheese" again and I had the fish and chips and Lynn the Bangers and Mash, 19 L with tip. We stopped back at the hotel to use the water closet, then out for a walk across the Millennium Bridge to the free Tate Museum of Modern Art, What a waste. It is a huge restored power plant, with nothing but the weirdest collection of modern art you ever saw. The gigantic main floor which is the size of a football field had their most prized art work, a big crack in the concrete floor that ran from one end of the building to the other. It was purposely put in, at great expense, as artwork, phew, weird, weird. Here is the official description of the work.     "Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth is the first work to intervene directly in the fabric of the Turbine Hall.
City square, Prague
Rather than fill this iconic space with a conventional sculpture or installation, Salcedo has created a subterranean chasm that stretches the length of the Turbine Hall. The concrete walls of the crevice are ruptured by a steel mesh fence, creating a tension between these elements that resist yet depend on one another. By making the floor the principal focus of her project, Salcedo dramatically shifts our perception of the Turbine Hall's architecture, subtly subverting its claims to monumentality and grandeur. Shibboleth asks questions about the interaction of sculpture and space, about architecture and the values it enshrines, and about the shaky ideological foundations on which Western notions of modernity are built. In particular, Salcedo is addressing a long legacy of racism and colonialism that underlies the modern world.
A 'shibboleth' is a custom, phrase or use of language that acts as a test of belonging to a particular social group or class. By definition, it is used to exclude those deemed unsuitable to join this group. 'The history of racism', Salcedo writes, 'runs parallel to the history of modernity, and is its untold dark side'. For hundreds of years, Western ideas of progress and prosperity have been underpinned by colonial exploitation and the withdrawal of basic rights from others. Our own time, Salcedo is keen to remind us, remains defined by the existence of a huge socially excluded underclass, in Western as well as post-colonial societies. In breaking open the floor of the museum, Salcedo is exposing a fracture in modernity itself. Her work encourages us to confront uncomfortable truths about our history and about ourselves with absolute candidness, and without self-deception.
Well enough art for us, back to the hotel.




Sunday 11/4/07 Day 4, London

Out and about by 09:00. We bought a Metro pass and boarded a double decker bus to the Tower of London, had a quick breakfast at a fast food place then bought two senior tickets for   26 L and an audio tour for 3.5 L. The Tower tour was very good. It turns out it is a large complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. Originally built as London or England's first castle by William the Conqueror in 1078. It has a mixed and often bloody history as a castle, prison, torture chamber and a place of execution. It contains a nice collection of period armor, weapons and since 1303 the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom which includes the largest diamond ever found.
Speaking of crown jewels, the guide had to explain the rather prominent bulge on King Henry VIII's armor (see pictures). She said that men, particularly with their armor, thought bigger is better. Well Henry being king and all, of course had to be bigger, well you get the picture.   We finished about 14:30 and had a late lunch at a Subways, where we split a small sub, 2.90 L. There are many aggressive ravens about and I even saw them attacking and chasing off the seagulls. They seem to know the tale of how the British Empire will fall if the Ravens leave the tower. They keep caged ravens there as a backup. Took the bus back to the hotel. The hotel has a free washer and dryer so we are getting some wash done before dinner. We left about 18:30 for dinner, catching a bus to Trafalgar Square for the "Sherlock Holmes Restaurant", recommended by an internet blog.
Titus arch, Rome
It's very old, or at least looks it and quite quaint. I had bangers and chips, (sausage and fries) and Lynn had the Shepherd's Pie and desert, both very good, 25.55 L with tip. We caught the bus to see Westminster and Parliament all lighted at night. Nice evening, cool but not cold. Back at the hotel about 21:30 and final packing. We are taking the Tunnel train to Paris in the morning. Out of the 200 L we withdrew we have 12.85 L left. We'll use 10 L for the taxi to Waterloo Station for the train.





Monday 11/5/07 Day 5, London / Paris

We picked up a couple sandwiches for breakfast the night before so we finished packing and were in our cab at 09:15. Waterloo Station was a confusing mob scene. Turns out they are closing it for a new one a few days from now.
Rape of Proserpine by Apollo, Borghese Gallery, Rome
Anyway, after asking a few questions we got in the correct line and went through French emigration and customs, then found our train, the 10:40, # 9018 to Paris. You carry on your luggage and the train left on time for the 2.5 hour trip. It was a very smooth quite ride of about an hour through the English countryside. We entered the Tunnel at 11:40 for the 20 minute ride under the English channel. It is a dark ride with a downhill feeling for the first part, also a little ear popping from the pressure. We arrived in Calais France about noon and about an hour ride through the French countryside to Paris. The sky is overcast. We arrived at the Paris outskirts about 13:20 and could make out the Eiffel tower in the distance. We were at the station at 14:00.
Heading home on Silver Jet business class flight
Set the clocks ahead one hour to 15:00. The toilets at the station cost .60 Euro or 1 Euro if your a women or want to use a stall. This is the reason the subway stations all smelled like urine, people didn't have change or didn't want to pay. We withdrew 100 E from an ATM and bought a Carna of Metro tickets (book of 10) for 11.20 E then caught the Metro to the Tim Hotel. The hotel is a picturesque older hotel down a picturesque narrow side street. The room is small but has 2 floor to ceiling windows that open to a small balcony and has one of those old time exposed lifts (elevators). The shower is so tiny, 2.5 x 2.5 feet that a heavy person better book elsewhere. We walked to look at the nearby Louvre museum, then had a crepe dinner at the La Carousel Restaurant, 19.8 E. After dinner we caught a bus to see the Eiffel Tower at night. It is quite a spectacle all lighted. They put on a strobe light show every hour. Nice night, a little cool but not bad. Back to the hotel about 20:30.






Tuesday 11/6/07 Day 6, PARIS

We ordered the hotel shuttle transportation to the airport for our Thursday morning flight to Prague, cost 34 E. Had an early lunch/brunch at a Subway Restaurant 10.20 E then an ice cream for 2 E.  Next we caught the subway and bought a 2 day museum pass for 60 E on CC. Bought another carna of Metro tickets, 10 for 11.20 E. and toured Notre Dame. It is an amazing structure started in 1163 and finished in 1345. We climbed the 400 winding steps to the bell tower for a breathtaking view of Paris, well worth the agony. Next, we toured nearby Sainte Chapelle, which was built in 1246 to house the crown of thorns.  The church has huge magnificent stained glass windows that make you say WOW as soon as you enter. It was commissioned by Louis IX just to house Jesus's crown of thorns that he bought in Spain for 135,000 Livres, the church by contrast only cost 40,000 livres to build.  Hope he didn't get snookered.  Next we took the subway to the Arc De Triomphe. The arch was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate his victories, but he was ousted before the arch was completed. In fact, it wasn't completed until 1836 during the reign of Louis-Philippe. The design of the arch by Jean Chalgrin is based on the Arch of Titus in Rome. The Arc de Triomphe is much higher (50m versus 15m), but it has exactly the same proportions. The arch also includes the Grave of the Unknown Soldiers from the first World War. The arch is located at the end of the Champs-Elysees, in the middle of the Place Charles de Gaulle, a large circular square from which no less than 12 streets emanate.  The top of the arch features a viewing platform from where you have great views of the intersecting streets. Make sure you take one of the underpasses to the arch, it is too dangerous to try and cross the street. There is no elevator in the arch, so be prepared to walk up 234 steps.  The view from the top of the arch is great, particularly at night.  We had dinner at the nearby Monte Carlo Cafe, then took a stroll down the Champs Elysees Boulevard. We had a little trouble with the subway getting back to the hotel, mainly poor signage and the language barrier, but Lynn quickly figured it all out. Would follow her anywhere. Back to the Hotel.




Wednesday  11/7/07 Day 7, PARIS

Have 22.88 Euro left. We ate a snack in our room for breakfast, withdrew 100 E and walked to the Louvre Museum, which is comprised of several connected former palaces, so the interior is very ornate. The day is overcast and a little cooler but not bad. We used our Rick Steve's guide book of Paris to steer us through and to pick out the main features or we would be there for 3 days. Besides the many art works we viewed the most famous would be Venus de Milo, 100 BC. She is the Greek goddess of love and caused a sensation when she was discovered in 1820. Next was the beautiful, but headless, Winged Victory of Samothrace, 190 BC. This woman with wings, poised on the prow of a ship, once stood on a hilltop to commemorate a naval victory. Her clothes are wind-blown and sea-sprayed, clinging to her body close enough to win a wet T-shirt contest. Then Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, 1503. It is a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy Florentine merchant. Mona Lisa in Italian translates to "my lady Lisa". She is one of the few works kept under glass since some nut slashed her years ago. Then of course sculptures by Michelangelo, paintings by Raphael, Veronese, and countless other painters and sculptors, some famous some lesser known. One interesting exhibit was in the Richelien Wing where a stone tablet displayed the first known written law from 1760 BC.  This was written 4 centuries before the 10 commandments and is called the "Law Codex of Hammurabi, King of Babylon. Some samples of the 282 laws are, #1 If any man ensnares another falsely, he shell be put to death. #57 If your sheep graze another man's land, you must repay 20 gur of grain. #137 if you divorce your wife, you must pay alimony and child support, Hmm, things never change, must have had lawyers back then. #129 If a couple is caught in adultery they shell both be tied up and thrown in the water, Ah, quick justice, and my favorite, #218  A surgeon who bungles an operation shall have his hands cut off, sounds like it might discourage many from going into the medical profession. And finally the all time best #196 If a man put out the eye of another man then his eye shell be put out and # 200, a tooth for a tooth. Well the museum is overwhelming and can't remember all we saw. We had lunch in the museum cafeteria about 13:00, cost 13,70 Euro, then walked to the Orsay Museum of Impressionist Art. The Musée d'Orsay (in English: The Orsay Museum) is a museum, on the left bank of the Seine, housed in a former restored railway station. It holds mainly French Art dating from 1848 to 1914, including works by Courbet, Millet, Corot, Cabanel, Chavannes, Monet, Van Gogh, Whistler, of Whistler's mother fame and many sculptures. Interesting, but not my favorite style. We decided to take the 30-minute walk back to our hotel, stopping to pick up a few snacks and a wine to have a little happy hour before dinner. It was interesting to see many police patrols on roller blades zipping up and down the streets, usually 2 at a time, sometimes 4. We left our hotel about 18:30 by bus to La Cafe du Marche near the Eiffel Tower, recommended by Rick Steves's guide book. It was very good and cost 31.50 Euro with tip. I had the raw hamburger, lightly browned on the outside, roasted potatoes and a small salad. Lynn had their raw salmon. This is the first restaurant that included bread at no extra charge. After dinner, back to the hotel to finish packing for Prague.


Thursday 11/8/07 Day 8, PARIS / PRAGUE

We woke up at 05:30 for our 7 AM shuttle to Paris's Orly Sud airport. We ate a sandwich in our room that we picked up the night before. The shuttle ride took about 35 minutes and check in was easy in the clean modern terminal, with free bathrooms. Lynn had booked our flight with Sky Europe for 119 USD.  Sky Europe is a no frills airline but cheap and dependable. They have a fleet of 15 new Boeing 737-700's. The flight is only about 2 hours. We bought a coke and coffee for 4 Euro. All Lynn's planning was coming together just like it was supposed to. We landed in Prague at 11:00. The airport is new, modern and clean. The bathrooms are spotless with female cleaning attendants working while you go, sorry, just old ladies. We got 2000 Koruna or about 100 USD from an ATM.  While we were pondering our next move we were approached by a gypsy cab driver who said he would take us right to our hotel for 550 K. While the guidebooks advised against it we decided to chance it. Worked out fine as he dropped us off at the door. They are not big on tipping cab drivers in Europe so we did not want to break the tradition. The Hotel Elite does not allow check in until 14:00 so we left our bags and went to get some lunch. Our guidebook recommended the nearby Cafe Louvre, very good, lunch was 296 K + 24 K tip. We had been told that they put a basket of bread on your table and charge for what you have eaten, so we did not eat any. We found out when the bill came, we should have because they have a service charge if you do not eat it. Oh well, they will get you one way or the other. After lunch we walked around the Old Town with it's narrow winding cobble stone streets and sidewalks. The homes all have red tile roofs and it looks like something out of a fairy tale book. The Old Town Square features a mechanical clock and astronomical dial that dates back to 1410. The Prague clock was one of a number of complex astronomical clocks designed and constructed during the 14th and 15th centuries, soon after the invention of the mechanical clock. Later, presumably around 1490, the calendar dials were added and clock facade decorated with gothic sculptures. After a walking tour of the area, we went back to settle into our hotel room. The quaint little hotel also has a quaint little room, which was very nice, Lynn said it was romantic, HMMM, I think I'm going to like it here.  The bathroom only has a bathtub, no shower but a flexible hose to rinse off with. I actually enjoyed the bath after hard days walking, it felt great to soak for awhile, no, not big enough for two. After getting settled, we walked to the Cafe Louvre again for dinner. We found that if you go to the non-smoking section you get a nice candle light dinner with a fresh flower on the table. A much nicer atmosphere. Dinner was 496 K + 54 K tip. We went to the Tesco department store and bought some candy for a snack, 61.50 K. Stopped at an ATM and withdrew another 2000 K. Then back to the hotel.


Friday 11/9/07 Day 9, PRAGUE

The hotel includes a free, very good breakfast buffet, bacon, eggs, sausage (hot dogs), fruits, rolls, juice, good coffee. I go down first and bring back a couple cups of coffee while we get ready and Lynn makes herself beautiful. After breakfast, we walked to the Old Quarter. The weather is about 40 D and overcast, some light rain. We toured the clock tower, 120 K. It gives a great view of the city but to tour the astronomical clock mechanism you have to be part of a tour group. Next, we walked around the old Jewish section. All the Jews were rounded up and put in a concentration camp during the Nazi occupation. We walked across the bridge towards the castle.  We stopped for a coffee and tea and split a sandwich, 237 K. We went for a free tour of the castle church and climbed the hundreds of narrow winding steps, with two way traffic and no railings to the bell tower, with a great view of the city. Worth the pain.  Next we walked (you can walk to just about anything) to a toy museum, 120 K. This museum contains sixty showcases full of toys including wooden and tin animals, trains, cars, ships, farmyards and castles, some of them as much as 150 years old. There are also hundreds of teddies, Barbie dolls, toy trains and tin clockwork contraptions of every kind. It is all housed in the High Burgrave's Palace at Prague Castle. Children's filmmaker Ivan Steiger established this museum from his own private collection. After this, we walked back to the hotel to relax before dinner. We went to the Cafe Louvre again. It is very nice with a good dinner, drinks and desert for about 650 K including tip. That is about 36 USD. We went back to the room for an early night.

Saturday 11/10/07 Day 10, PRAGUE

Overcast, light rain. Have 1316 K left. We had our breakfast and set out to go to the WWII Jewish concentration camp at Torazine. By the time, we got to the bus station for the hour ride it was noon, which would get us there about 1. They said the last return bus was at 3:30. It would not have given us much time there so we backed out. This area of town was away from the clean tourist area and somewhat seedy. We caught the subway back to our hotel to regroup. We decided to catch the tram to tour the monastery and library, 80 K, interesting but not much. Had lunch in the monastery cafe and a couple of their homemade dark beers, 270 K. From here we caught the tram back to the Charles Bridge to see it in daylight. The Charles Bridge is a stone Gothic Bridge that connects Old Town and Mala Strana. Construction was begun 1357. It has a tower at each end and has 30 Baroque statues on either side. Caught the tram back to the hotel at 5:30 to rest for dinner. Went to our favorite restaurant again, the Louvre, dinner 450 K. After dinner we walked to the "Good King Wensela" square, the Times Square of Prague. We noticed a huge police presence and had earlier wondered about a helicopter that had circled overhead for an hour or two. They all raced off for somewhere about 8:30. The next day we found out that a large bunch of Neo Nazi skin heads were planning on a riot to celebrate the anniversary of Hitler's Crystal Night when they smashed all the Jewish store windows. 300 demonstrators and 50 police were injured and here we were in the middle of it.  Back to pack. Lynn almost had a conniption fit when she looked everywhere and could not find her Steve Rick's guide to Rome.  She said she would be lost without it. I finally found it in a pocket of her suitcase she overlooked. While language is a handicap, it has not been that big of a barrier. Lynn with the help of the guidebook has been very good at mastering the subways, trolleys, trams, trains & planes. She finds her way around like a native.


Sunday 11/11/07 Day 11, PRAGUE / ROME

We are up at 07:00, light snow. We had our free breakfast buffet then back to pack. Checked out at 10. The hotel bill balance was 705 K. 600 K for the hotel shuttle and 105 K for 3 mini bar sodas. I left them all of my Koruna's, 400 and charged the rest. We departed at 10:30 for the 20-minute ride to the airport. There was a light snow on the ground as we got outside the city. I gave the driver a 20 K tip, about one USD. He was very nice and we were his only passengers. We easily checked in, got our boarding passes and cleared security. There was some confusion about the boarding gate as our ticket said D5 but it turns out it was D6. Have to watch those monitors with the latest info on them.  We boarded our Sky Europe flight to Rome, $129 USD, at noon and took off at 12:40. We bought a black coffee and soda for 4 E.  We flew over and could view the Alps. We landed in Rome about 14:00 and after picking up our luggage withdrew 250 Euro from the ATM. We decided to take a shuttle directly to our hotel for 40 E. instead of doing battle with the subway, then a short walk to find the hotel. It was about a half-hour drive, then the driver turned down a graffiti filed narrow street and here we were, the hotel XX Settimbri. No it was not XXX. Anyway, it turns out that just about any empty spot in Rome is covered with graffiti. The wall, fences, benches, trashcans, lampposts, subway stations and most of all the subway cars, inside and out. The streets are littered with trash. First appearances are of a dirty messy city. Except for the major tourist spots, it really is one. The toilets are free but no toilet seats in any public toilets, ok for me but tough on the women, and of course no toilet paper. However, the hotel was OK and the staff very helpful and nice. The room was adequate but Lynn did not like the carpet, looked dirty. The bathroom had a small but ok shower, and an extra contraption called a bidet, which we never did figure out.  Lynn was hungry so we went out to try to find a snack, she settled for a roll. We went back to the hotel to get an umbrella and regroup for dinner. We walked to the Irish Pub restaurant as recommended by Rick Steve. It was good, cost 23.30 E, then back to our room about 19:30, rainy out.




Monday 11/12/07 Day 12 ROME

Warm and sunny day. Have 166 E. The free breakfast at the hotel is nice, not quite as good as Prague but ok, nicely set tables. The cook/waitress is very nice. I come down about 7 and she makes 2 cups of coffee and puts it on a silver tray for me to take back to the room while we get ready.  I have taken 1690 pictures so far, have them all stored on my laptop. Now out to explore, We took the subway to the Vatican and found the line was about 4 wide and stretched, without exaggeration for at least a mile. As we walked towards the endless end we were approached by a hawker who said for 40 E each he will put us in a English speaking tour group and move us to the front of the line with only a 15 minute wait. Lynn was leery, the old "sounds to good to be true" syndrome, but I said if we want to see the Vatican, and it's a must see, we had better do it. So, we along with others, followed him like the pied piper to their small no name office where they collected our money. This included admission and a 10 E deposit for the radios. Next they took us to the front of the line and wedged us in front of people who had been waiting hours, nobody complained so it was ok with us. Once inside a guide met us and gave us our admission tickets. It turns out he was an art expert who was educated in the US and spoke flawless English. He knew every inch of the Vatican and gave us a great 2.5 hour tour. The Vatican is a vast storehouse of priceless art. From Michelangelo's Pieta, meaning pity, done when he was 24. It is the statue of Mary holding Jesus after he was taken down from the cross. It is now contained behind bullet proof glass because in 1972 some nut started smashing it with a hammer. Then Michelangelo's masterpiece, the spectacular Sistine Chapel ceiling, and the Last Judgement. It is breathtaking to view them as they were when new, as opposed to the grimy look that people were used to seeing not to many years ago. Some interesting tidbits that the guide pointed out, were some of his women in the fresco had a very masculine look because Michelangelo was embarrassed to use nude women models. Also, how he did not consider himself a painter and hated doing it. He had to learn how to do fresco painting from scratch. Fresco is painting with wet plaster so that the colors are infused into the dried plaster a few micrometers, making it very durable, but difficult to work with, as you only get one chance, you can't make corrections easily. Well after this spellbinding tour our guide suggested we climb the dome of Saint Peter's for a magnificent view of the city. A total of about 500 steps, but for 14 E, you can cheat and take an elevator part way, leaving a mere 300 winding narrow railing less steps to clime. As you near the top of the dome, the walls slant in, looking like some kind of amusement park fun house. Like all the other bell towers we climbed, it was well worth it for the view. I hate to use the word again, but breathtaking. After this we bought a couple pieces of pizza and a soda, 7 E, and sat in the Vatican's plaza and ate. Nice day weather wise. Now Lynn had a craving for ice cream so we each had a cup of Italian Ice Cream, 2 E, very, very good. Well, back to the hotel about 17:00 for rest and get ready for dinner. Have 55 E left, Going to Target restaurant for dinner, nice, fancy, recommended by you know who, Rick Steves. Dinner cost 43 E. Withdrew 150 E from an ATM, and caught the subway to see the Coliseum at night. Now a little walking tour of the area. Back to our room about 22:00.  Oh, some good news, I found 30 E laying on the dirty trash filled sidewalk while walking form the subway to the hotel, about $50 US. Another interesting thing about life in Rome, is that traffic must stop for pedestrians, so it is a game of chicken to cross the street. Everyone drives like they are in a Grand Prix, but the locals, after a quick glance just boldly march out in the path of speeding buses, cars or motorbikes. The traffic tries to intimidate you be speeding close and stopping at the last second. Also it's important that if you do take the plunge into traffic don't falter as the oncoming traffic times itself to go one side or the other if there is room. Towards the end of our stay, we got better at it but it was scary. We did notice many ambulances rushing about with their unique European sirens blaring.  Tomorrows another day.

Tuesday 11/13/07 Day 13, ROME
Another warm and sunny day. Have 191 E left. We had our free hotel breakfast and were out around 09:30. We made reservations at the hotel to visit the Borghese Gallery at 15:00 on Wednesday. A very exclusive don't miss museum that requires a reservation. Now we caught the subway to the Coliseum. The famous Coliseum, originally the Flavian Amphitheater in the center of the city is the largest ever built in the Roman Empire. It is one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering. Occupying a site just east of the Roman Forum its construction started between 70 and 72 AD under the emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 AD under Titus. Originally capable of seating around 50,000 spectators, the Coliseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles. It remained in use for nearly 500 years with the last recorded games being held there as late as the 6th century. As well as the traditional gladiatorial games, many other public spectacles were held there, such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactment's of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building eventually ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval ages. It was later reused for such varied purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, a trash pit and a Christian shrine. Although it is now in a ruined condition due to damage caused by earthquakes and stone-robbers, the Coliseum has long been seen as an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome. Today it is one of modern Rome's most popular tourist attractions and still has close connections with the Roman Catholic Church, as each Good Friday the Pope leads a torch lit "Way of the Cross" procession to the amphitheater. An interesting but gory note was that 2000 gladiators and 9000 animals were killed on the 100 day opening festival to satisfy the cheering thongs. They would pit gladiator against gladiator or sometimes put one in the arena and surprise him by raising wild beasts through trap doors located in different locations in the floor. Usually lions, tigers and bears, oh my. Today your biggest fear is the pickpockets or gangs of kids they warn you about in the guidebooks. We didn't see any signs of that though, but we were off season. Also we didn't carry a wallet or pocketbook but wore money belts. We stood at the spot that the emperor would decide life or death over a fallen gladiator by thumbs up or down or sometimes let the crowd decide. I also had to visit the spot where the vestal virgins once stood and were paid tribute to by the gladiators after they hailed the emperor. The vestal virgins are women committed to virginity until they reach the age of 30, when they can marry, fail in the endeavor and you are given a loaf of bread and buried alive. They didn't say what happened to the man, but back then it was a man's world, ah the good old days. Next, we went to the Arch of Titus where you could look out over the rubble-littered valley called the forum. This arch is where the conquering general with great pomp and pageantry would march his victorious army, displaying all the captured booty and slaves. We went up Palatine Hill, the site of the former palace, which overlooks the Circus Maximus, where the Ben Hur type chariot races took place. You can see the remains of their baths, fountains and gardens.  We went to lunch at another Rick Steves choice, and when we walked in, the owner saw the guide book and welcomed us with open arms. She gave us a nice sidewalk table and 2 complimentary cocktails, a couple great sandwiches with a coffee, soda and an ice cream big enough for 2, 19 E including tip. After this, we went to the nearby Basilica Di San Pietro in Vincoli or "Peter in Chains". I have been in so many churches and Basilicas that I might not ever have to go to church again. We stopped at the official information center that was useless and it's single bathroom, with no toilet seat of course, was so bad the women couldn't go. There must have a major toilet seat shortage over here. Hmm, maybe there's some money to be made importing toilet seats, have to ponder that. After that we walked to the Pantheon built in 27 BC and dedicated to all their 30,000 gods, yes 30,000. They had a god for everything, even a sewer god. It survived mostly intact and was the first domed structure. It has been the inspiration for all future domes including the White House. The massive 40 foot high one-piece columns that support the entrance arrived 10 foot shorter then ordered and caused a visible alteration to the roofline, which must have pissed off the Architect. Remember, measure twice, cut once. You would think we would be worn out by now but we pushed on, walking to Trevi Fountain, 1776, of 3 coins in the fountain fame. Yes we threw 3 coins over our shoulder, so guess we have to come back. Hope they clean the city up by then. The famed Spanish steps were part of the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican, which has been there for over 300 years. We are starting to drag now so headed to catch our subway back to the hotel. We found our line was shutdown due to derailment so here we were with no option but to try to get a cab. After about a 20 minute wait we hailed one and finally got back about 19:00, exhausted.  We had some happy hour and decided we were not too hungry so ate a few snacks we had and relaxed.   

Wednesday 11/14/07 Day 14, ROME

Overcast, pouring rain at times, we had our breakfast then walked to the National Museum of Rome, most the museums have been covered by the museum pass we bought earlier. The museum houses the greatest collection of ancient Roman art anywhere, including busts of emperors and a copy of the famous "Greek discus thrower". Next we toured the Bathes of  Diocletian about 300 BC. At one time it would accommodate 3000 bathers, the part that is left is now a Huge impressive church. We had lunch at McDonald's 7.20 E, then caught a bus to Borghese Gallery. Once a villa for the art loving Borghese family and today is open to the public by reservation only. You must arrive at your time slot and are only allowed 2 hours to tour the building. They also take your camera as no pictures are allowed. Some of the marble statues by Berini, such as his "David", "Apollo & Daphne", and his lifelike "The Rape of Proserphine" by the God Apollo are so delicate and perfect as to defy description. They say the marble work on the Apollo & Daphine is so fine that some parts ring like cut glass when pinged. I tried but the guards jumped me before I could. Berini was such a genius with marble that at the age of 10, when most kids can barely make a snake out of play dough, he carved out a statue of a child milking a goat that looks as if it could come to life. A life size statue of Napoleon's sister reclining on a marble couch by Canova is another of the masterpieces housed here. These along with countless paintings, fresco ceilings and ornate room settings make it a must see. After the tour, we caught a very crowded bus back to Termini station to check out our airport bus for Thursday morning. We walked back to the hotel, across the busy street, being careful to not let the drivers think you looked at them, and just plunged out in traffic. They will stop 99.8 % of the time. The other .02 % is the sirens we always hear going by. We picked up a bottle of wine for our last night here. After a little relaxing time we set out for dinner at Target again. We had our dinners and split a big salad, water, wine & desert, 60 E with tip. Walked back and packed.

Thursday 11/15/07 Day 15 ROME / LONDON

Party's over up at 5:30.   Overcast, pouring rain at times. Have about 72 E left. We have to be at the bus terminal to board our Teravision airport bus at 7:45. We asked for a 5:30 wake up. The desk clerk called on time but he was not sure if I picked up so he came up and knocked. Also when we checked out around 6:45 we asked when breakfast is served and he said he would tell them to start it now and would be ready in 5 minutes, sure enough it was. The hotel staff was great. We ate and left about 7:15 for the 10 or 15 minute walk to the station. We put our luggage in the luggage compartment and boarded a standing room only bus. They came on and said all standees have to get off and another bus will be here shortly. I extracted our luggage, have to handle your own, and waited for the next bus. Shortly it arrived and we were off for the 40-minute trip to the Ciampino CIA airport. Small, something like Atlantic City. Easy check in for our critical Ryan Air connection to London's Luton and Silver Jet. We boarded the free seating aircraft about 10:30, The cute little check in girl gave me a priority seating pass so we could pick our seat, must have thought I was cute, not old. We took off about 11:10 and bought a coffee and the tiniest Pepsi we ever saw for about 4.80 E. That's about $6.86 USD.  We landed about 12:30 and after emigration made our way to the comfort and safety of the Silver Jet lounge. They pamper and hold your hand from here on. This is much nicer then the one in Newark. They offer you a drink right away then bring out a non stop flow of horsdeouvres and other snacks, fruits, juices you name it. At boarding time they round you up and take you through their own Silver Jet security, with pleasant smiling people. We were assigned window seats 1A & 1B. They are the first 2 seats and roomiest of all. As soon as your seated they offer you Champagne or any drink you want, looks like a long flight and I'm not driving so what the hell. They serve the drink with a dish of warm nuts. The plane is a Boeing 767 and we took off around 17:00. After the plane reached it's altitude they took your order and served dinner, starting with a tomato salad and olive bread. They first place a tablecloth on the large swing out table with your cloth napkin and silver. Lynn and I decided on the salmon cakes for the main course and desert was Creme Brulee, all very good. Out the window we can see the planet Venus and how we are chasing but slowly losing the race with the sunset. The earth spins at about 1000 mph at the equator but only between 700 and 900 at our latitude so we stayed up with it for awhile. The movie I'm watching is Evan Almighty, another of those silly God talks to them movies, entertaining but barely. Time now 22:00, watching another Harry Potter, but after a couple wines I'm getting sleepy. Must have dosed off because it wasn't long and we were landing. They came by and offered us some fruit. We landed about 20:00 US time and after emigration and customs went to the Silver Jet lounge and called our friends. They were there in about a half hour, but since I gave them the wrong term C, should have been B there was a slight delay in pick up. Lorraine says she'll only talk to Lynn from now on. We had coffee at their house, they offered overnight but we wanted to get home. Home about 2 AM. Took 2453 pictures. Lynn did an unbelievable job of putting everything together. Besides all the hotels, connecting flights, Tunnel train and misc. transportation, she put together a nonstop itinerary that made the best use of our time there. Not to mention her mastery of the subways, streets and restaurants. Another trip of a lifetime. GREAT

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Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square
Waiting for the Queen to let me in.
Waiting for the Queen to let me in.
Harrods department store
Harrod's department store
Big Ben
Big Ben
Henry the VIIIs armor
Henry the VIII's armor
Us at the Eiffel Tower
Us at the Eiffel Tower
Our room at the Tim Hotel
Our room at the Tim Hotel
Notre Dame
Notre Dame
View from Notre Dames bell tower
View from Notre Dame's bell tower
Winged Victory
Winged Victory
Vatican
Vatican
Prague
Prague
City square, Prague
City square, Prague
Titus arch, Rome
Titus arch, Rome
Rape of Proserpine by Apollo, Borg…
Rape of Proserpine by Apollo, Bor…
Heading home on Silver Jet busines…
Heading home on Silver Jet busine…
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