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2016 European Vacation

 
 
cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 Sep, 2016 04:21 pm
@McGentrix,
Did you guys visit Teatro alla Scala? It's full of the history of classical musicians and musical instruments.
0 Replies
 
margo
 
  3  
Reply Fri 2 Sep, 2016 03:59 am
McGentrix

Allow me to introduce you to Mark Smith, the Man in Seat 61. Allow him to become your very best friend for your next European trip:

http://www.seat61.com/
McGentrix
 
  1  
Reply Fri 2 Sep, 2016 06:31 am
@margo,
That's awesome. I did not know of this, thank you.
0 Replies
 
McGentrix
 
  3  
Reply Tue 6 Sep, 2016 12:17 pm
July 13, 2016
You know what Europe has a lot of? Pharmacies. Every block seems to have one. It got to be a joke after a while. I’d see one and say “We must be close to the hotel, there’s the pharmacy!” It’s like Tim Horton’s and Star Buck’s in Toronto.

Got up, had a nice breakfast and it turned out we were only like 5 blocks from the train station. We got to see Piazza Duca d’Acosta on our way in to the station. Everything in Italy has a cool name. The station in Milan was very big and we had a little bit of trouble finding our track. We had to wait until the train actually got in before they would announce which track it would be on. So, we got to stand around nervously for a bit.

We had the same kind of seating we had on all the trains. 4 seats facing each other with a table. I was tired so I took a nap on the way to Rome. We arrived in Rome early enough that I decided we should walk to our hotel. There were some moans and groans but life is an adventure!

The only thing that was between us and the hotel was, now dig this name, “Santa Maria degli Angeli e del Marti” which I think was an active monastery or church or something but was also ruins. The first thing my wife notices about Rome was the guy that decided he needed to take a piss on the tree as we walked by. What a great way to introduce a city to a bunch of tourists… Everyone was nervous for some reason. I mean there was no way any of us, lugging our suitcases, could have been mistaken for anything other than tourists.

Rome streets are not very orderly. We come around the backside of the temple thing and we are at the back side of the Museo Della Zecca which is 3 blocks wide. So we now have to go around that. I didn’t plan very well apparently… I chose left and should have chosen right. Go over 2 more blocks and finally get to the road our hotel is on, Via Flavia… It was so Roman! Get to the hotel, get checked in and the rooms are wrong again… Get that straightened out, everyone has a twin bed now. The concierge was pretty cool at this hotel as well.

We still have the whole rest of the day! What do we do?! Well, we do the obvious and grab a cab to the Coloseo. That is the thing everyone wants to see. The driving in Rome was as bad as, if not worse that Milan. I figure it’s an Italy thing. Trains run on time and everyone drives like a crazy person. We drive all these back roads, left, right, zig and zag… just crazy. We are driving down this ally and suddenly there it was. It was really weird to see this famous thing just appear out of an alleyway in a crazy cab. It is just as fabulous as you imagine it to be.

We walked down the hillside to get to the bottom level and the lines to get in were really long so we all just knowingly nod to each other that we are not going to stand in line to get in. This was cool enough. We walked completely around it and read all the history and looked at the new construction and I marveled at the memory I had of visiting this as a child compared to visiting as an adult and how much had changed. There were no cats that I noticed. I seem to remember this place being full of cats. There is another Arc near the Colosseum, “Arco di Costantino”. Something about them arches, they liked their arches in the olden days.

Next to the Colosseum is a set of ruins on Palatine hill. It is all fenced off and you can pay to go in if you like. There was a road that led up the hill and we, well, I mean I decided we should see where it went. Well, I can say it went uphill, it was windy and it ended at a church where a wedding was going on. I should say dead ended at the church. There was no way around or through so we had to go back down the hill… We went down and circled to the south to see the “Circo Massimo” which was also fenced off. But, they were setting up for a big concert for that night or the next. They had a giant stage, various vender tents and kegs, I mean like hundreds of kegs of beer waiting to be tapped. It’s a long walk circling Palatine Hill. We got to the River Tiber and got to see that. Rome is full of ruins… We saw all the stuff along the “Via Luigi Petroselli” as we kept going until we got to the “Altare Della Patria” What a place! Were it not for so many stairs, we might have walked up it. But it was really hot and we were tired.

At Piazza Venezia, we grabbed a cab to go to the Pantheon. It wasn’t that far away, but we were tired. Did I mention that the streets in Rome really made no sense? They are a throw back to ancient Rome I believe. A way to confuse the barbarians and make them lose any interest in going further into Rome. The Pantheon was really incredible. The largest doors I have ever seen. There was also a larger than normal military contingent in the “Piazza della Rotando”. You could still see bullet holes from WW2 across the doorway. Inside was just amazing. People just don’t build things like that anymore.

What we needed was a guide to tell us what to see and do. I was just all over the place and missed a lot of things near where we might have been. The lack of Internet access was also a hindrance. All this took more time than I thought it would have and family was getting over heated and tired so we cabbed it back to the hotel. We had to go find the Hard Rock Café and get a T-Shirt yet so we walked that way with intentions of dining along the way. We were successful.

Getting back to the hotel I talked to the concierge for a while about things I wanted to do with touring the Vatican as a prime thing. Well, he whips out a brochure and says “Do this!” and before I could get my credit card out he was on the phone setting it all up. We would get a fast pass tour bypassing the lines and tour the Vatican museum, St. Peters Basilica and the grounds of the Vatican… Like I said this guy was great. We had some Italian food, we were successful in getting a T-shirt and we walked along the streets of Rome without a care in the world. Life truly was beautiful…

0 Replies
 
hingehead
 
  2  
Reply Wed 7 Sep, 2016 09:52 pm
Pharmacies - damn straight! One on every corner!

Oh the ubiquitous neon flashing green cross tells told you the time and the temperature.
0 Replies
 
McGentrix
 
  4  
Reply Mon 19 Sep, 2016 01:47 pm
July 14, 2016
The Vatican – So we scheduled a tour of the Vatican. A good walking tour of the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. I wonder about the ethics of the whole “Skip the line” thing. I mean people are always standing in line everywhere we go. I’m not going to fight it though. As a “rich American” I feel ok with the process. We had breakfast and everyone was excited for the day. We catch a cab to the Vatican where we are supposed to meet our tour group along the backside of the place near a piazza with a small café in the middle of it.

Because I like to be early to everything, we were early to this. Like 45 minutes early so we got to walk around a bit and admire the already formed lines and tourist clutter. “Selfie Stick?”, “Hey, want a selfie stick?”, “Excuse me, would you like to buy a selfie stick?” It was like that everywhere so why should the Vatican be any different right? Lots of Vatican chachkies with popes and saints and other religious stuff. All in all, a terrible place to be a vampire. So, I felt safe from that at least.

Our tour group coalesced out of the nether a couple people at a time until a pair of smiling tour guide type people showed and starting clapping hands and taking roll call. Wanted name and hotel that booked us. And I thought our guy was just being nice… kick backs will make people very nice it seems.
We get split into two groups and we hike around the perimeter wall towards the museum entrances. We passed a line that was literally a mile long to get to a stand around area. We all had to get our ear piece and translator for our guided tour. This was important. I spent much of the remaining day acting like a body guard to my wife with my earpiece and sunglasses on. Look the part, act the part right? I kept feeling like someone was watching us when I realized that a few hundred people were actually watching us as we excused ourselves past them and walked on inside the museum. They had only waited in line for hours to get where they were. We got inside and did a final sound check our guide had a car antennae with a bit of fuzz on it so we would know where she was. And then we started.

You know all those people outside? Well, just as many were already inside. I felt like I was just along for the ride as the press of human flesh closed in around us. My daughter has space issues and doesn’t like being touched all that much… WRONG place to be. But, OH MY GOSH! The art inside the Vatican museum is simply AMAZING. I’m not much of an artist though I pretend I can draw now and again, but man can I appreciate art! Everything was painted, tiled, sculpted, carved, rendered, weaved, arted up. It all goes by so fast though as you have to keep moving. So, my camera was just click, click, click, click at everything that even caught my eye. I figured I could reminisce about it later. Sculptures were just so fantastic. The art on the ceiling was bright and vibrant and told so many stories. The halls of tapestries and paintings and everything was so overwhelming. But… man, Raphael… words can never do justice to actually seeing the scope and majesty of his work. He was like 23ish when he did much of his work. I mean look at this!

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a8/Raffael_Stanza_della_Segnatura.jpg

Just so magnificent. From there we made our way to the Sistine Chapel. Oh Leonardo. I see now why you looked down at me from your statue in Milan. It wasn’t scorn. It was pity that you had for us mere mortals. Imagine the greatest piece of art in the world and you are trapped in a giant room with 4000 other people all the while 3 Italian police men yell at you over a speaker system about no photography, silencio and keep moving. *sigh* It was really marvelous and I have a good 40-50 high res photos. Take that policeman!

We made it through that to go to St. Peters Basilica. My wife is a lifelong Catholic and this part of the trip was important to her so I tried to keep as reverent as I could but the majesty of this church is just tongue lollingly epic. Again, the artwork inside is truly amazing. I think anyone that can appreciate art should make it a goal to visit these places. I could go on for days but I am a lazy typist. Getting out into the sun, we had to give up our earpieces and our fantasies of being a secret agent. As with all tours, we ended in a gift shop. We got some trinkets and souvenirs for friends and family at home.

The rest of the day was far less dramatic. I needed to find an additional piece of luggage as everything we bought would not fit into the carry ons we had brought with us but I knew this ahead of time and I knew we would need a piece of checked luggage for ride home. So the rest of the day was spent questing for a good backpack that we would use when we got home. Easy right? HA! Not in Rome! Luggage stores were no problem. I didn’t need another suitcase though. We spent the trip back to the hotel looking and we dropped the kids at the hotel and decided we would take a stroll down the main street we were on and look for something.

A couple hours later...

We found a place called the “American Hotel”. Well, ****. Went in and hoped that I would find people that spoke English and lo, did that happen. A short subway trip out of the inner circle would lead us to a “mall” (no mall by American standards, but a location that had several stores anyways) that had a camping/sports store. Well, with just the 2 of us, we went ahead and took the subway and just like the guy said, found the store, found a decent backpack and we were back in business. What could have taken us 45 minutes had we spoken Italian, took us 5 hours instead.

That night we went to an expensive Italian restaurant and had some excellent wine and food. A send off as we had to go back to dreary, artless America the next day.
margo
 
  1  
Reply Mon 19 Sep, 2016 02:21 pm
@McGentrix,
I'm sad this trip (report) is just about over.

It's been quite interesting and educational hearing an American perspective.
0 Replies
 
cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Mon 19 Sep, 2016 03:13 pm
@McGentrix,
Thanks for sharing your trip is us.
0 Replies
 
ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Mon 19 Sep, 2016 03:23 pm
@McGentrix,
Thanks for another great write-up. I was speeding up in the crowded bits - slowing to read your descriptions.
0 Replies
 
hingehead
 
  2  
Reply Mon 19 Sep, 2016 11:31 pm
@McGentrix,
Glad you did the Vatican thing - I told you it was worth it.

But - Michelangelo did the Sistine Chapel not Leonardo.
McGentrix
 
  1  
Reply Tue 20 Sep, 2016 06:06 am
@hingehead,
hingehead wrote:

Glad you did the Vatican thing - I told you it was worth it.

But - Michelangelo did the Sistine Chapel not Leonardo.


of course you are correct. I had the wrong turtle. Thanks I will make the correction in the log. What the heck was I thinking anyways?
Walter Hinteler
 
  2  
Reply Tue 20 Sep, 2016 06:19 am
@McGentrix,
... and there aren't Italian police men usually inside the Vatican: it's an independent state with an own police force Wink
0 Replies
 
hingehead
 
  2  
Reply Tue 20 Sep, 2016 06:20 am
@McGentrix,
Well I don't think Da Vinci would be insulted by the mistake; -)
0 Replies
 
McGentrix
 
  6  
Reply Wed 21 Sep, 2016 12:36 pm
July 15, 2016

*sniff* Our last day in Europe. Our tour contractor had the smarts to get us transportation to the Leonardo da Vinci airport which I had no idea was so far away from where we were staying. We had time for a leisurely breakfast and to get properly packed. The ride to the airport was nice. We had one of those mini shuttle bus deals and we were able to see more of the sights on the way out of Rome. It’s amazing how fast 2 weeks can go by when you aren’t sitting behind a desk 8 hours a day. I mean it seemed like just yesterday we were arriving and now we were leaving already.

The airport was busy. Stupid busy. We had to go talk to customs about receipts to get tax money back. We had to get our tickets, we had to check a bag… but, by arriving really early I think I saved our bacon on this one. Did customs first. Had to fill out paper work, get stamped go back to other guy get a stamp, have to go to another guy for different tax stamp… holy crap. I decided that some of it wasn’t worth it and ended up only doing my wife’s purse which was like €75. That was worth it. The rest was merely a couple dollars.

Then we got in the Air Canada line to check a bag and just as soon as we do, like 4 bus load of people stack up behind us. Literally, over 200 people just appeared behind us. I am not sure if some of them made their flights or not.
No first class for me on the way home this time. I had 3 seats in a row and the window seat behind us. Of course the TV in the seat behind us didn’t work and the headphone jack on my daughter’s seat didn’t work either. Don’t these planes get maintenance? My wife and I shared my ear buds and my daughter watched TV on the middle seat TV. I wanted to watch “The Revenant” on way home as it had been available on way to Europe. But, noooooo…. Why would I be able to do that? I think we watch Office Space and something else silly and slept a bit and had crummy food and half sodas. The best part of the trip was landing back in Toronto at good ol’ YYZ.

Our trip through customs was retarded. Airline said we didn’t have to fill out a form, custom’s said we did so I waited in line, then had to leave and get back in line and then the passport scanner wasn’t working like it should so had to go to another line… just phooey. As crappy as that was, we still beat the luggage to the carousal. Grabbed our backpack and then went to figure out where to go to catch shuttle back to hotel where our car was parked. We were in negotiations as to whether we wanted to stay the night in Toronto or try to make it home. It ended up being unanimous to go home.

US border was extraordinarily chill. Asked us where we were, if we enjoyed it. If we were in Nice at the time the guy ran people over on the boardwalk and if we had anything to declare. I told him the usual tourist stuff and we were on our way. Had the best border crossings ever on this trip.
Somewhere between Rochester and Syracuse I made my wife drive as I was tired and she had been napping. I napped the rest of the way home and there it was. Home. Still standing, nothing burnt down, no one left the stove on and the grass needed mowing.

Looking back on this trip I have a lot of fond memories of a lot of places that just kind of mingle with each other. One of the things I love about my family is that we don’t have big arguments, we don’t fight and everyone had a good time. My two kids are a blessing and my wife in unique in the world about how much of my **** she will take before exploding.

This was totally a once in a lifetime experience for us. I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience a fun family trip like this. Now, I just have to spend the next 20 years paying for it.

I’d like to thank ehBeth for helping me in Toronto and for pointing out that Canada Day was a thing. I knew that deep down Canadians were a little patriotic. If only for another reason to drink beer. My kind of people.

-THE END-
ossobucotemp
 
  2  
Reply Wed 21 Sep, 2016 01:46 pm
So good, and home safe and sound. I understand about the "20 years paying".
0 Replies
 
cicerone imposter
 
  2  
Reply Wed 21 Sep, 2016 02:43 pm
@McGentrix,
Read every word of your interesting trip. Many of the sites are places I have also visited many decades ago. Reliving the places you and your family visited just brought back good memories. Thanks for spending the time to write your blog, and keep on travel'n.
0 Replies
 
lmur
 
  3  
Reply Wed 21 Sep, 2016 02:50 pm
@McGentrix,
Terrifically entertaining read. Thanks for sharing and glad that you and your family have (mostly) happy memories of your European adventure.
0 Replies
 
ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Wed 21 Sep, 2016 03:34 pm
@McGentrix,
Another smile-making journal entry.

Such a great set of memories.

___
___

What does your daughter have on her grad wishlist?
momoends
 
  1  
Reply Mon 26 Sep, 2016 08:09 pm
@McGentrix,
i haven't read all the posts but you didn´t visit Spain at all? Its a pity... you may consider it next trip
hingehead
 
  1  
Reply Mon 26 Sep, 2016 09:30 pm
@momoends,
I amazed he got as much done as he did in that time period.

But, tell us what you'd recommend in Spain - I haven't been since 2006.
 

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