Saturday Night in London

  • Posted on
  • in

Pics here.

It's Guy Fawkes Day and we can see fireworks from our hotel room in London. But I'm too tired to talk about today: our flight here from Rome was very turbulent and I had to take an emergency pill/drink and between that an unexpected Tube closure (never mind that we booked our hotel because it's Tube adjacent) I'm wiped. But I have two days of logs that are kind of eventful so I'll talk about today tomorrow. Here you go:


Steve and I are currently watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in Italian and doing a pretty good job of remembering the English lines when appropriate. "All I have to do is squeeze." "All I have to do is scream."

I'll skip the clichés about Rome, a day, etc but we did walk over 11 miles (not including the 2+ I jogged this morning.) After breakfast we checked out of Hotel Villa Carlotta and took a cab to Santa Maria Novella train station (the site of my very first McDonald's breakfast, many years ago.) We rode to Rome sitting alongside a cool couple about my parents' age from Spokane who schooled us on the pronunciation of "Spokane" and "Gonzaga." The wife is a golf tourney official and her husband is a pro.

The weather in Rome was just as nice as in Florence, even a little bit warmer. We checked into Hotel Apollo on Vei Serpenti. The lobby is about the size of a closet but our room is nicely decorated and if you stick your head way out you can see a bit of the Colosseum down the street. Based on a recommendation from the very friendly concierge, we went down the street to lunch (we realized later on today that we're actually in a great neighborhood, not nearly as touristey as some other parts of town). I had pasta with carcio e pepe that came in a parmesan cheese shell so I was pretty happy, yes.

Then we walked to the Colosseum but didn't go in (we were too cheap, or rather, I told Steve it wasn't worth it). We walked around it but didn't go in, and Steve saw for himself the pushy, rude guys out friend dressed as Trojans (strangely, their English is great.) The whole area around it is lousy with people trying to sell you stuff. We bought tickets to the Forum which made us both kind of crabby, really. I've been there three times before (I'm such a jerk) and I think if you're in Rome, you should see it, but Steve's not really into ruins that much and I probably wasn't the best tour guide. But I thought the House of the Vestal Virgins was interesting (punishment for being caught de-virginized: burial alive) and the private emperor's stadium up on the Palatine hill was very cool.

After that we walked across the Tiber (passing some sort of military display: there were tanks and boats and lots of servicepeople: I wondered it if was some sort of recruitment thing) stopping at the Isola Tiberina for a drink and a snack. As we were sitting this massive swarm of birds flew up around the river and flew around like these living clouds for at half hour at least. I got a little poop on my hand and people around me had umbrellas. The waitress told us this happens every day and as we walked on the Trastevere we saw people in hazmat suits and facemasks carrying these loudspeakers that made these awful squawking noises, so obviously they were getting the birds to fly out of the trees, but what for, we don't know yet (We don't have internet in our hotel tonight).

My friend Megan Rye had recommended we check out Santa Maria in Trastevere and we weren't disappointed. As opposed to the hustle and bustle we'd seen prior that day, Trastevere was quiet and charming, and without nearly the tourist-begging we'd see later that night, even though at the time it seemed fairly touristey. The church had a gorgeous glittering gold mosaic above the altar but we couldn't explore it or take pictures because there was a Mass going on.

Steve was really getting into his map of Rome at that point so we crossed back across the river and checked out Campo Fiori, which my guide had described as bohemian part of town but the palazzo was mostly a tourist trap. We took a seat at an outdoor bar as we have many times this trip but it was the first time we really felt ripped off. My glass of prosecco was practically shot-sized and Steve paid 6 Euros for his beer. Also, the bathroom smelled awful because they asked you to throw away, not flush your t.p. Oh well! Still beats being at work (sorry, work.)

We were in for some more touristey spots. At each square we'd encounter from here on out until dinner, we saw: a fountain, a live musician, guys selling these glowing spinny things they threw up in the sky, street artists and guys outside restaurants begging you to come in. But, we also saw the Piazza Navona, Pantheon and Trevi Fountain (at the Tabacchi where I got change to toss in, I noticed that based on the souvenirs here, the Italians are still really into Pope John Paul II and not so much the new guy.)

On the way back to our hotel we Palazzo del Quirinal (and before that, the Church of the Gesu, so yes, we saw a lot today.) We were exhausted so at dinner we ordered some variations on the mozzarella stick, a big salad with walnuts and feta, and an arugula, corn, cheese and tomato calzone for me (arrabiatta pizza for Steve.) To quote my husband, "I feel like I'm going food-crazy. I feel like every time I smile, tiramisu is going to pour out." Which doesn't make any sense. We didn't even eat tiramisu today.

2 things that are unrelated that I keep meaning to say:
--My husband is fun to look at uber-religious paintings with because he will joke with you about some of the more random things in them, like the laser beam with which God shoots down a bird to Jesus.
--When we were driving around Vinci the other day, Steve got so close to another car on an especially narrow road that they clipped mirrors. But the other driver didn't seem to care and based on his mirror, it didn't look like the first time that had happened.


This morning I woke up feeling a little sorry for myself for silly reasons. My nose was stuffed up, my feet were sore and I thought, "This is my last time coming to Rome. The last 2 times I've been here were to show other people around. Next time I come to Italy I'm going to see something NEW and not drag people around to tourist sites."

The day actually continued along that route for a bit. After breakfast we grabbed the 64 bus, or, rather, crammed ourselves on the third one that came by (the first two were too busy to even attempt trying.) It was packed tighter than the tightest CTA bus, and I could see Steve's upper lip sweating. I was determined not to let our bus tickets to go waste, though, even though in the end we ended up a half hour late for our 10 AM Vatican Museum tour and I was stressing out.

The Vatican Museum was not a great experience. Maybe it's gotten worse since I've been there but the tour groups and people taking photos makes it pretty unbearable to navigate. I pretty quickly gave up trying to see anything but the Raphael rooms and the Sistine Chapel (the latter of which especially is never not-worth seeing) but we were both pretty sick of navigating the hordes, especially at the end when we tried to grab a bite to eat at the Vatican museum cafeteria but each counter we walked up to was immediately swarmed by a horde of 13 year olds. Damned teenagers!!

We finally grabbed a bite at café nearby which was an awful tourist trap with dirty tablecloths and a waiter who helpfully told us he only accepts tips in cash, but at least we were fed and rested. After that we stressfully navigated once again, this time to the Vatican Scavi, or dig site. We got a tour beneath St. Peter's Basilica which was fascinating: we saw the mausoleums that were located beneath the first two basilicas and then what may or may not be St. Peter's tomb and bones. The two thousand year old tombs were amazingly preserved and there was something Indiana Jones -ish about whether the tomb is or isn't what everyone says it is. During the tour we could hear music overhead, as the choir practiced for services that we had been told would interrupt the St. Peter's visiting hours which was distressing news, but he music was beautiful and ethereal.

After the tour we had a drink from a snack truck and I convinced Steve to line up in St. Peter's square at 3:30 since according to the signs the basilica would be closed until 4 to set up for the Vespers. We assumed this meant that Vespers would take place until 4 PM. Right around 4 the line started moving, and we assumed we'd get in in 15 minutes or so to see the basilica, enjoying the people-watching of the various nuns and priests from around the world. Suddenly this tiny old lady materialized in front of us, clutching a handful of green pieces of paper. A swarm of Asian tourists appeared at her side when these came up, and she offered me one of these tickets. I asked for two and I got one for Steve. We thought maybe we had some sort of magic ticket for visiting the basilica before other people until we realized that we not only had tickets for these Vespers, but the Pope would be saying them. We entered St. Peter's (Steve was suitably impressed) and grabbed the most up-front and to-the-center-aisle seats that we could. We sat for a while and some readings began, and then at 5:30 PM the lights went up and the procession began. We could tell the Pope was coming when we heard applause breaking out behind us. After the Swiss Guard and various priests, the pope rolled by on his bier, pushed by various Secret Service looking guys. THE pope. Like 10 feet away from me. I'm more of a Pope John II girl but still, holy crap.

He looked as old and decrepit as he does on film but his voice was gentle and kind, to the point that I didn't actually think it was him doing the readings and homilies we heard until I saw his microphone getting adjusted. Aside from his homily and the prayers, the Vespers were mostly psalms and singings by the Vatican choir. I followed along as best as I could with the program we were given but often I just forced myself to look up around me because this doesn't happen every day. This was all just dumb, dumb luck that we were there. What a special experience.

The pope rolled back by on the way out (all the nuns and priests were as wild as we civilians with their cameras) and then everyone bubbled with excitement over what they'd just seen.

Steve and I hadn't walked very far for the day but we were still pretty tired, so we took a cab back to Trastevere, the cute neighborhood we'd been in the night before. We found a restaurant called Bir & Food whose name caught Steve's attention (I found it in some magazine or newspaper). It's a cool beer bar but we learned that even in Italy, beer snobs are beer snobs. Kind of not that pleasant. But they had really good homemade greasy hot potato chips.

We stopped a gelateria on the way out of Trastevere that I had read about (it was OK but not worth seeking out: I got pear and hazelnut) and walked on to Al Pompiere, an old Italian restaurant I had read about. It was old-timey and fairly touristey but our meal was fine: I got fried artichoke heart and truffle gnocchi and we enjoyed a brief period of wi-fi (we haven't had any since we got to Rome.) Steve also tried limoncello.

After dinner we walked around a bit, including seeing the spot where Julius Caesar was murdered and Trajan's market, and now we're back for our last night in Italy. I'm really glad our trip ended with a bang! That pope sighting will teach me to complain about things that aren't really complain-worthy.

I took no pictures today but eventually I will link to Steve's: he even has video of the pope-ah.