Thursday, February 18, 2010

Travel to Rome: Going Home

Finally, after 2 months from the date of our trip I am finishing my travel blog!

On Monday, December 28, 2009 we had to leave Italy. The time had come to end our wonderful trip....okay, no lie, we were ready to go. There is something to be said about going home.

Our plane didn't leave until 6:30 PM, but since we didn't know about security issues we knew we would need to get there early. We checked out of our hotel in the morning but asked if they would hold our luggage until around 2:00 PM.

We had three things to do: 1) Find stamps for the postcards. 2) Go to the grocery store for food souvenirs. 3) Eat one last meal in Italy.

I bought 15 postcards on the first day we went out to see the sights, a Wednesday, to send to family and a few friends. The next day, Christmas Eve, a Thursday, I forgot to bring the postcards to buy stamps and mail them. It never dawned on me that we could buy stamps and then just drop the cards in a drop box. I had it in my mind that I HAD to have the cards in my hand in order to buy the stamps. I knew I wanted to show the person the cards that I bought the stamps from just in case they didn't understand me, so I think that is why I had that stuck in my head.

Christmas day, nothing was open. The next day, a Friday, I did look for stamps, but there was a line at the one place we went to and I gave up. Had I known the trouble these little postcards would have caused I would have stood in that silly line! Saturday, nothing was open or the places we asked did not have any because they didn't sell them or had run out already. Sunday, nothing was open. Monday was the day we were leaving!

So, on Monday, we walked about a mile to the nearest tabacchi shop, where they sell stamps and other items. We get there and she only has five! Ugh....who gets the ones with the Italian stamp and who has to wait and get one with a stamp from America? The people at the hotel told us that we can buy stamps at the airport...so the plan becomes check for 10 more when we get to the airport.

After stamps we head to the grocery store to buy goodies. I loved going to the store to look at all the different things they have. If we had more time and Frankie wasn't rushing me I would have loved to look longer. We bought our goodies, which of course included candy. I even bought some candy to share with all my students.

We then headed back towards the hotel and enjoyed our final meal in Italy along the way. We ate at a fast food place that served sandwiches and one of the few places we found that had soda fountains. We could have gone to McDonald's but decided against that.

Upon returning to the hotel we packed our last purchases into our bags and the taxi driver showed up. He told us it would be 50 Euros to get to the airport. Coming in it was 40 Euros so I figured he was overcharging us. He didn't turn on the meter during the trip either. So I think we gave him a late little Christmas bonus. Hope he enjoyed it! I could have argued it, but didn't. After all he got us there FAST! The speed limit was 70 kph which is around 45 miles per hour and he was going 150 kph which is around 95 mph! I am so glad that traffic was light!

We got to the airport around 3:00 PM for our 6:30 PM flight. Can you guess what we did? Yeap, we waited, and waited, and waited. Saw this cafe in the airport and had to snap a picture.

goodbye roma

While we waited I went to look for 10 more stamps for the postcards. I did not have any luck. Frankie then went to look and he came back triumphant! I asked him where he got them and he told me. I had asked the exact same person for stamps and she said no to me and to him, but then Frankie went one step further and asked where he could get some. I was able to send all 15 postcards out! Of course we got home before they got to America, but that is alright. The postcards arrived about a week after we mailed them and that was including the New Years holidays!

We finally boarded and security was not an issue going from Rome to London. We arrived in London about 8 PM, their time.

welcome to london

We were going to go into London and meet a friend of mine, but we were scared that we might not be able to get back in and didn't want to chance it. Security was tighter in London because of that idiot who tried to blow the plane up on Christmas day. I even got in trouble for taking this picture, although, I am not sure why. All the man said was, "No pictures." Too late though, I had already taken it.

uk border

We did go outside the airport, but just on the shuttle to get to the terminal where we would spend the night since our flight to Houston didn't leave until 10:00 AM the next morning. We got to actually travel on the wrong side of the road and see someone sit on the wrong side of the shuttle to drive. It wasn't as strange feeling as I thought it would be, but then again traffic was VERY light.

wrong side driver

Once we got to the terminal we looked for something to eat. It was almost 10:00 PM and everything was shutting down for the night. We found one store that sold cold sandwiches and snacks, but even they were about to close so we quickly made our choices. I found some nice comfy couches and was ready to fall asleep on but then a man came over and said we had to move. He said that everyone had to stay in one area of terminal for security reasons. This new area had no nice comfy couches only slightly cushioned benches. There were no arms on the benches so at least I was able to lay down to try to sleep for a few hours. Frankie again got no sleep. He said he couldn't get comfortable so he watched TV all night.

The airport reopened around 5:00 AM. So we got up and found a place to get some breakfast. I have to say after mornings, afternoons, and evenings of wonderful Italian coffee the coffee we had for breakfast in London was not very pleasant. Our flight still didn't leave until 10:00 AM, so we did some more waiting.

Once boarding started it took close to three hours to board everyone. Every bag that went on the plane got check and every person that went on that plane got the pat down, even the little kids. Thanks, stupid idiot who tried to blow up a plane on Christmas day!

We sat on plane for 2 hours before it left because our seats were in the back we were one of the first to get on the plane. Finally, we took off for the 10 hour flight to Houston. It was BRIGHT daylight the entire trip, but most people kept their shades down on the windows. I put mine up every once in awhile to see what I could see.

I saw the Atlantic ocean. Second time in my life I have seen it.

atlantic ocean

And I saw snow in Indiana or Ohio. Which is a big deal to someone from south Texas!

snow in indiana or ohio

We arrived in Houston at around 5:00 PM our time. We were able to find the right shuttle to get to the parking lot where we left the car. We did have a small dispute about which parking spot the car was actually in. I won, by the way! Go me and my good memory! Getting on the shuttle we saw this sign and wondered what in the world we had come back to!

stop slavery

And people wonder why I dislike Houston!

We got in the car and drove in the sane, we understoond it traffic, went to a nearby hotel that was easy to find, showered in a large shower, ate food we could pronounce, turned on the TV with only English (and okay some Spanish) speaking channels, got on the Internet that was free, and said, "Ahhhh.....America we missed you!"

Of course, now that we have recuperated we are ready for more travel.

We are thinking Ireland...


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Travel to Rome: Humor

No matter where we go, there is always something that makes us smile and laugh. Those things are what make a trip fun and worthwhile. We saw and had our share of humor in Rome. Here are some of them.

The Picture-less Bus Story:

I don't have a picture to go with this story. I didn't even think about it. At one point we were going to get on a bus that would take us to a metro stop. We were going to ride the metro to the end of the line and try to find a place to eat supper that was NOT in a tourist area. This was on a Sunday around 5 PM. We waited at a bus stop for a long time with a bunch of other people. Finally the buses started to come around, but every one we wanted that did come by was packed! Like third world country packed! The doors couldn't even close without people pushing each other to cram themselves in one more inch. It was crazy! I have no idea why is was crowded, like I said it was 5 PM on a Sunday!

We waited even longer and it didn't get any better. There were some buses coming by that were almost empty, but they didn't go to where we wanted to go. So we waited a little longer. Finally, we gave up and got on one of the emptier buses. We had no idea where it went, but we decided to take our chances. Luckily, it stopped at a main stop so we got off and got on another bus that took us to a metro stop and all was well. It was so funny to see all those people CRAM themselves on a bus and I am glad we were NOT on of them!

Confused Italians:

I understand that we were in a foreign country, but there are so many people there that speak English that the signs in English should have no mistakes. Especially at major museums, such as St. Angelo's Castle.

english

Notice this time the English is perfect, but the picture doesn't match the brand name.

friskies dog food

In the land of pasta, pizza, and gelato; one would think that a no food sign would show that and not American food.

No food sign

Mathematics Is Everywhere:

It is good to let people know when there is danger, but the way it is portrayed here is hilarious to me.

danger

Then there is the h = 25 m, which reminds me of all kinds of math problems! I am sure I have written that statement myself sometime during my teaching career!

Have you ever been to a negative floor? Does that mean underground or in Hell? Where is 1, 0, and -3? I am so confused, but excited to see a negative! :) This was in the London airport.

negative floor

Statues and Fountains:

There are so many fabulous statues and fountains in Rome, and then you have this one.

Mossy fountain

His whole body is covered in moss, except for his head. It makes me wonder if his head was missing for a long time and over that time the body became mossy. Then later they found his head and placed it back on and it hasn't sat there long enough to get mossy. Or his head is made of a different material than the body. Either way, it is funny. I think we saw it right after Trevi Fountain so that just enhanced it ugliness.

I didn't want to mention this, but this statue has had an obvious nose job, or the person the statue represents had nose issues.

nose job

To have a statue made of a person, I would assume that the person was someone important in life. But then, how important could they be if their head ends up outside a toilet?

heads by tiolette

More About Bathrooms:

I thought this sign was funny because someone drew not only a head for this lady but also gave her a purse! I guess women and their purses are universal!

Womens restroom

I can now add to my life accomplishment that I used a pay toilet. What you see is not an elevator, but the bathroom!

pay toilet

It cost .50 euros to use. I put the money in and pushed a button that opened the door. I stepped in and the door automatically closed behind me. As it closed I looked and Frankie with a worried look on my face. What if it never opened again? I would die in a public restroom. The horror!

After the door closed a voice started talking, saying all these directions in Italian. I had no clue what it was saying. All I could do was look around for a little bit. I wish I had taken pictures in there, but I was a little freaked out. I had no idea where to get toliet paper to wipe the wet seat off...wait make that rim because there was no seat...as was the case several times in Rome.

I finally saw some instructions in English and it said I was limited to only 10 squares of toilet paper. I knew I wasn't going to need more, but I feel sorry for the ones who end up needing more. I tried to pull out some toilet paper, but it wouldn't budge. I pulled out a Kleenex from a small back I had put in my purse because of past bathroom sagas in Rome to wipe the seat off.

The English version of the instructions came on after the Italian. I am glad, it did English and again I felt sorry for anyone who didn't understand Italian or English! The voice was saying where things and how to use them. It then told me I had 15 minutes to get it all done in....granted plenty of time for me, but still strange!

I did what I needed to and then had to push a button to open the door back up...not sure what would have happened at the 15 minute mark and wasn't about to find out. I could just imagine some man, and yes it would be a man, sitting there doing his business and all the sudden the doors open. And you know there would be a women standing there with little kids!

It wasn't the most fun experience I had in Rome, but it was interesting to say the least!

Money:

Euros are very easy to use and understand. It helps that it is a relatively new form of money. The larger the amount the larger the coin. Makes sense, right? Well, the British pounds are crazy. There is no reasoning behind the size. 2 pence (cents) is larger in size than the actual pound (dollar coin). The 5 pence is smaller than the 1 pence.

Both of these pictures have the money in order from largest amount to smallest. Euros on left Pounds on right.

euros pounds and pence

Wait...the British money sounds like American money! After looking at these I looked at American money and came to the realization that on our money some of it doesn't even tell the amount of the coin. How is someone suppose to know what a dime is worth??

Speaking of all this change. We were in line to buy tickets for St. Angelo Castle and we saw this guy dressed up as a gladiator. He had dropped some money on the ground and because of his costume he couldn't bend over to pick it up. He had to ask a lady passing by if she would get it for him. It was hilarious! I guess he needed change or something because the went to the ticket window and we didn't think he was buying a ticket.

gladiator getting change

Now, for the final topic of humor.

Us In Rome:

We were trying to get a picture of both of us without having to ask anyone to take the picture. I had a bright idea of trying to use the panoramic feature of my camera. It takes a picture, then you turn slightly and line up the last portion of the picture with a new picture.

So I thought that I would take a picture of Frankie in panoramic mode, then he and I would switch places, he would take a picture of me, and then the camera would do its magic stitching the two together. I made sure to stand a little a part from where Frankie had been standing so the picture would be stitched together correctly, but I ended up standing basically right where he had been. Our panoramic project was an epic fail, but funny.

Panoramic Fail

Here is a three-wheeled delivery truck. The vehicles were so small!

delivery truck

But to put things in perspective, I am 5"1 feet tall....

me and delivery truck

For my last pictures, I have an even better example of small vehicles of Italy. Check out this tiny car.


tiny car

And now to put it in perspective, Frankie is 6"1' feet tall. This is my absolute favorite picture from the whole trip!

frankie and tiny car

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Travel to Rome: Rome Sites

Through out our time in Rome we saw so many things. There are the larger popular sites, and then there are the random sites and the strange sites. I have blogged about the larger popular sites, now I would like to share the smaller random sites and just things we found to be different in Italy.

Upon arriving in Rome we, of course, needed to use the facilities. This was our second encounter with European toilets and it was still just as strange. There is very little water in the bowl and there were no tanks. I didn't catch it in the picture, but to flush you had to push a large button on the wall. There were actually two buttons, I never figured out what the difference was between the two.

European toilet

Other oddity in the bathroom was the hair dryer. This one had a little door that raised up so we could plug in an electric razor if we so desired. It looks more like a vacuum cleaner if you ask me.

Hair Dryer

I do have a story that goes with this. We decided to travel light and would wash some clothes in the sink. Frankie had the bright idea of using this hair dryer to help speed up the drying of his pants, but not in any type of normal way. I don't know if I should be proud of his ingenuity or embarrassed by his hillbilliness. :)

Drying pants

From our hotel room we had a wonderful view of Rome and the sunrise.

sunrise

Out and about, walking in Rome there were many sites. One of the interesting things about Rome is the fact that all their stop signs use the word "STOP" in English and not Italian.

stop sign

Stop signs weren't the only reminders of America. There were also advertisements for American movies, in Italian, of course, but still we knew what they were for. Take for instance this one.

Cloudy with a chance of meatballs

One of our walks was to Campo de Fiori which means field of flowers. It is an outdoor market where you can find all kinds of things to buy. We were there on a Sunday and later in the day so there wasn't as many vendors, but it was still neat. This is an example of one of the vendors selling spices.

campo di fiori

At one stall they had many different types of pasta for sale. I asked how much the pasta was and I asked in Italian. The seller answered in English 3 Euros. Must have been the accent or the fact that we looked like tourist that he answered in English. We were going to pay the price he said but I guess it looked as if we hesitating because he then said that since Frankie was a big guy he could have it for free. Smiling but serious he said we could have two bags for 5 euros. He kept joking with Frankie and said that as big as Frankie was that he must be a member of the American mafia. The head boss. Another guy working with him also joked and said that Frankie and the seller must both be members of the mafia because they were bigger guys. We ended up buying some rainbow colored pasta and some teddy bear shaped pasta, both for family.

Other sites include Christmas lights. They are not like what we are used to seeing in America, that being string lights. These lights hung down between buildings of some of the smaller streets.

Here is one of the smaller streets.

Small road

And here are some of the Christmas lights.

christmas lights

I loved this! We would go down a side street and the noise of the city would die away. We would be walking down this small road of apartments with the Christmas lights twinkling above us. It was magical.

Another one of my favorite sites was the Tiber River that runs through Rome. Rivers are so peaceful to me. This is my favorite picture of the river.

Tiber River

A surprise find in Rome was this one section of the city where orange trees were not only growing but had oranges on them, in December no less!

orange trees

On most of the walls in Rome there was graffiti, but not like you see in America. It wasn't gang related from what I could tell. Unless there is the Pope gang and the Stencil gang.....you know the truly scary ones!

graffiti2

The stenciled part says, "Defend your anger" not sure about the other part. Alrighty then...

Graffiti

I leave you with a final picture, it's a favorite of mine.

Rome car plate

Friday, February 12, 2010

Travel to Rome: (Castel Sant'Angelo) St. Angelo's Castle

Near Vatican City there is a round building with a statue of the arch angel Michael on top.

Sant'Angelo Castel

When Frankie saw it, he got all excited and started talking about the movie Angels and Demons and how this building was in it. This we had to check out!

St. Angelo's Castle was originally build as a emperor's mausoleum, but has been a fortress, a castle, a prison, a papal residence (with a secure covered passageway from the Vatican to the castle, still there), I use to live there (just kidding) and currently is a museum.

We bought our biglietti (tickets) for 8.50 Euros and went in.

Biglietti Sign

The original arch angel Michael statue that topped the castle was marble. It was replaced with the current bronze one in the 18th century. I personally like the original one by Rafaello da Montelupo better which is now located inside the castle in a courtyard.

Archangel Michael by Raffaello at St Angelo Castel

You can still evidence of a different time.

cannons and cannon balls

cannons at castel

There is a lot of walking, ramps, and stairs in the castle.

Frankie at castel

But it leads you to the top where the view of Rome is FANTASTIC!

st peters from castel


us at castel

Before leaving I went to bathroom. Not that you need to know this, but it leads to a story. I was pretty sure I walked into the women's restroom but there was a man standing in there. That is a little unnerving especially when you are in a foreign country and never sure if you are in the right place to begin with.

The man and a lady were trying to get a stall door opened. They have actual rooms for each toilet. It is nice. Almost like Buc-ees, if you have ever been there. Anyhow, a lady, I think it was anyways, it might have been a kid but there was no mother waiting nearby and no one was crying, somehow got locked in one of the little rooms. They were trying to get her out. I was a leery of going in one of the little rooms if I could possible get locked in! I wouldn't have handled it as calmly as the person trapped did. I would be crying like a big baby! It would have been embarrassing to say the least.

I don't know if they got it unlocked or not, because we went out of the castle to the Ponte Sant'Angelo (Bridge of Holy Angles) which leads out from the castle across the Tiber river to the center of Rome. I love this bridge! Here are a few different views of the bridge.

From the top of the castle.

bridge of angels3

Look at the different colors of the river in the next two. They were taken on different days. Rivers have moods you know!

bridge of angels

bridges of angels2

Once on the bridge there was loads to see and this was just a bridge! There was a guy standing on the bridge drawing the castle. I can't tell you if he really was drawing or not. I didn't see him make a mark. He put his pen in the ink and then traced over a line that was already there. IF he was drawing, then wow!

artist on bridge of angels

There is a bridge in Rome, dubbed the Bridge of Love. On it was a lamppost that people would put a lock on it. On the lock they would write their name and the name of the person they loved on it then throw the key into the river to show their eternal love for each other. The locks got so heavy that the lamppost started to buckle and had to be removed for safety reasons.

The Bridge of Angels we were on has the same tradition starting on it. There were not many, but it was still neat to see.

locks on bridge

The last photos are going to be the reason the bridge is called the Bridge of Angels. I loved the angels! They were beautiful. The last one is my favorite, that is why I made the photo bigger.

Angel with Column on Sant'Angelo Bridge

Angel with the Sudarium on Sant'Angelo Bridge

Angel with Nails on Sant'Angelo Bridge

Angel with cross on Sant'Angelo bridge

Angel with lance on Sant'Angelo Bridge