Back to the real world

The vacation is over. We are back on PEI and putting our home together. We have promised the girls a “second Christmas” celebration that has a real tree and not a picture of a tree on a chair in a hotel. For the most part, we are attempting to get back to a regular schedule and prepare for the start of school and all of the activities of everyday life.

This marks the end of the blog, at least for now. We have great plans for additional travels of the same sort. Our trip was a complete success beyond our expectations. There is no question of wanting to go again to a new place for an extended trip so the blog may be revived when we are able to travel again.

Until we travel again.

A Christmas present

I called Air Canada and the person to whom I spoke (Neil) found us a flight today back to Halifax. We are on the way to the airport in 15 minutes. The vacation has been over for a few days (mentally–there was no stopping that). We should be home tomorrow some time. Phew.

I’m coming home

I am coming home tomorrow. I have enjoyed my time away but I am happy to be coming home because it is time to go home. I have learned how to cook on a fire lit stove. It is not as easy it sounds you have to watch out for a flame and not put anything near the flame or it will catch fire. I can’t wait to go back to school and see you all again. I have to go because it is time to go on the plane see you all again soon.

I can’t wait to see you again.

Queue at Ciampino

None of us wanted to leave Rome except that it meant returning home. We are all anxious for that. After a perfect morning, we went to Ciampino airport to check in for our RyanAir (discount carrier) flight to London and then off to Halifax the next day. The next day part did not happen because Heathrow was closed. We are still in London.

We allowed about three hours in the airport because we did not want any problems getting out. Hah. When we arrived there was a line that was hundreds of people long. It stretched from the agents’ desk and filled the entrance to the airport. It then stretched across to the security area of the airport before bending at right angles to continue towards the restaurants and convenience stores. It was a long line.

We queued up and began waiting. There were three agents working the desk. An hour passed. It was hot. When we finally made it to the entrance area (this was the main serpentine queue that eventually would lead to an agent) we knew we would have lots of time before our flight and remained happy. Not everybody shared our joy.

Then an agent left for a lunch break.

A group of three young men (one wearing the stars and stripes as a pair of shorts over his pants) attempted to move to a new part of the queue. Another man got angry at the agent who was leaving for lunch. A lady got angry at the moving young men. People pushed. The queue then gave way to a shouting and crowding mob that formed a tight semi-circle around the remaining agents at the desk. We were about twenty people from the front of the queue when this happened.

I have mentioned the incessant honking of car horns in traffic and the shouts of motorists before. I had thought that Italian, or at least Roman, impatience was a cliché (and it is) but being in the centre of a gesturing and shouting crowd was quite an experience. The hubbub subsided and a replacement agent came to the desk and the check-in procedure returned to normal, albeit without the previous queue and with a tight semi-circle around the desk. We actually had to force our way out of the mob to get to the security checkpoint.

I should point out that everybody in the line was going to be able to fly that day. There were no closures of airports at that point. Even the people who were getting tight on time were taken out of the line and directed to the desk for immediate service. It was just the result of long waits and tired travelers.

Although both girls were jammed in close quarters neither got upset (confused is technically not the same as upset) and we all managed to laugh about it. The disintegration of the queue was very strange sensation for us as people who are trained from an early age to stand in queues and wait for orderly service. For couple of the Brits in the mob (obviously feeling that the queue is an essential part of daily life) I had visions of shaky recollections to therapists as soon as they were back on British soil.

All in all, our morning was an idyllically Roman experience; the afternoon in the airport was somewhat less idyllic but it was a counterpoint to the morning and gave us far more to talk about. Besides, we got to see a lot of new hand gestures.

Cinderella ending

Because the last couple of days have been so hectic (this is something that has always been true on this trip: the day we change cities is spent getting settled and relaxing from the travel and changes–the change of plans because of Heathrow being closed just made it more so) we are tempted to forget the last day in Rome and focus on the first day in London. The last day in Rome was beautiful.

Our driver (we had a driver!) was to pick us up at the villa at 11:30am. We were packed and ready to leave at around 9:30am. Since we had eaten all the food–ALL the food, including red peppers and leftover potato chips–for dinner the previous day, our plan was to find a place to have breakfast and then visit the local market to have a final coffee (sigh) before going to the airport. This ended up being as perfect a morning as anything Audrey Hepburn could have experienced on the back of a Vespa.

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It was a little late in the day for breakfast but we found a place that had three panini left (two prosciutto and one chicken) that provided us sustenance for a little money and provided decent coffee in the bargain. After eating we visited the market to buy a few things and have “the coffee.” Janet, more than I, was recognized and genuinely welcomed at the market. If you have watched the television show Cheers in the past, I watched Janet evoke a Norm Peterson-like response. The father and son team that ran the coffee stall spoke with her for at least 20 minutes saying goodbye. The girls and I were swept into her wake of smiles and handshakes (and hugs). As we walked out, a number of vendors smiled, waved, and arrivederci-ed us.

Rome was exceptionally good to us. Our neighborhood was “normal” in the sense that there were few attractions and generally served the people who lived there. We walked around older ladies, nuns, mothers and children to get groceries. The people in the market certainly saw us as novelties but treated us very well. In the words of the owner of the coffee stall, “mondo è piccolo“.

Our walk back to the villa was on clouds.

Christmas in London

This is the first time in a very long time that I am intentionally in a McDonalds. We had a good flight from Rome to London Gatwick yesterday. We flew over the Alps and the view was incredible. We could see the Mediterranean Sea, the strip of civilization between the sea and mountains and then mountains for as far as we could see. It was stunning. We also saw the sun set with the clouds below us. All in all, a beautiful trip. I have blocked out the angry Italians at the airport and the cattle car in which we flew.

Unfortunately, the news when we finally made it to our hotel was not great. Todays flight was canceled and it looks like we are not going to be getting out until December 28. We are now making plans for a week in London… not a bad place to. It certainly beats those staying at Heathrow.

Prelude to an ending

This is our last night in Rome and our second-to-last night in Europe. If all goes well tomorrow we will fly to London and spend the night in an airport motel before flying to Halifax on Tuesday. There has been a lot of delays in London in the last couple of days. We will see how things go. We are packed and ready to travel.

I am a tad melancholic at the moment as I hate to have our extended vacation come to an end–but it was a vacation and I do miss PEI a lot.

We spent our last freewheeling day of vacation walking around Rome with a gentleman named John Fort. He is an exceptional guide to Rome and recently updated the classic guide, The Companion Guide to Rome, and provided us with a wonderful morning walk and commentary. He also took us to a gelato place that he described as being “quite exceptional.” It was.

He also took us to some wonderful places (such as a courtyard inside a hospital that we would never have found) and showed us some great views. He also took the only picture of the four of us together on this trip. Funny that–we never thought to take such a picture previously.

Tomorrow we are going back to the market nearby and having some breakfast and coffee at the little shop in the market. Then off to the airport and London.

Daddy daughter day

Roman drivers have the same attitude to a painted crosswalk that the wild animals had to the chained criminals in the Colosseum. It is nice having one’s prey all in one place.

Crossing the street in Rome, with or without a crosswalk, is an act of bravery and faith of biblical proportions. The guide books suggest that a pedestrian begin by stepping onto the road (thereby announcing the desire to cross the street) and then, after enough time for the drivers to recognize your intention, start walking across the road.

You will notice the lack of intervening details like “wait for the cars to stop.” This bit of information is missing because … the cars will NOT stop. The cars will time their passage to go around you as you are crossing so (and this is the part that keeps the adult diaper companies in business) do not slow down or speed up when crossing the street.

If any modern-day writer wants to retell faith-testing bible stories using modern metaphors, Rome is the place and rush hour is the time. A writer’s ink need never stop flowing.

As you may have gathered, I took the girls to the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus a few days ago and we walked there and back. Walking there was a relative breeze because it was about 1:00 pm and the streets were relatively empty. Our route also crosses the main road where there is a crossing light. This is something that does not mean that there are no cars driving across the crosswalk (because there are cars turning, and so on), but these cars are much slower and there seems to be a general agreement that pedestrians are acceptable at these times.

The Colosseum is impressive. The scale of the building and the engineering effort is very difficult to comprehend. The mass of the structure is enormous. It is hard to imagine structure on PEI existing 2000 years from now and it is hard to imagine the Colosseum not existing in another 2000 years. Time and tide (and sulphuric exhaust) will not doubt prove me wrong and it, too, will crumble. For now, it is beautiful in its ruin and I admit to loving it in the most clichéd and tourist manner.

After the Colosseum, Robin, Sarah, and I went to get a printout of our boarding passes for the flight to London on Monday. It was a quick walk to Mailboxes Etc. (yes, they are in Rome) where four pages were printed from a USB stick for €1. A completely disinterested (she barely looked or spoke to me the entire time–her body language was a muted ‘meh’ in my direction) lady pointed to the machine spilling our pages and we picked them up, folded them into Sarah’s bag, and with a grazie were out the door.

We decided to go home via the Forum (the Colosseum ticket also permits access to the Forum) but it was closed. Instead, we continued along the Via di San Gregorio to the Circus Maximus and from there to the Baths of Caracalla and then back home. I just wanted to look at these places rather than visit as the Circus Maximus is just a field and the Baths are too much to see in a hurry but are very large (25 hectares). This walk was one of the most stressful I have ever taken.

It was about 4:00 pm so the traffic was not full mad. It was very busy and crossing the roads was something I will never forget. Hand-in-hand we ventured across six lanes of traffic that was moving in both directions and contained motorcycles splitting the lanes. At one point, a police car (one of the many types of police–not sure which ones) honked at us to hurry up as it wanted to rush through the intersection. This was approximately 5 lanes into an 7 lane crossing. To their credit, neither girl complained or panicked. They have become seasoned travelers and I am as proud of them as I can be.

The last street crossing was from the right-hand side of Vale delle Terme di Caracalla to the right-hand side of Via Druso. I am including the map below to give an idea of the complexity of the crossing. We came down from the top of the map on the Vale delle Terme di Caracalla (we were on the side of the road that is on the left of the map below) and had to cross the tangle of lanes and roads to end on the Via Druso moving up to the top of the map on the right-hand side of the Via Druso.


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Waiting for the house to get warm

Right now I am cold. We went out to get some baking powder so the house could get warm. Mom is going to cook something in the oven so it will be warm. The house is cold righ now so I can’t wait for it to get warmer and to eat what mom has made for us.

Too Cold

When we got to Rome it was warm. now we are getting minus two for a forcast. This is a big change partly because we don’t have all day heating. We get four hours in the morning and five at night. Lately we have been putting more blankets on the beds, because Sarah and I are waking up in the middle of the night. Today we are making biscuites to warm up the kitchen. At night we are wearing a lot of layers to bed to stay warm. I wish we had our winter jackets, boots, and pants; they would keep us warm when we go out.

It’s nice in Rome but too cold for me.