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Trip Report Trip Report - 5 Nights in Rome/4 Nights in London

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DH and I were excited to travel to Rome and London last month. We are both early-fities, and recent empy-nesters. This was the 2011 trip that never happened for DH thanks to a medical issue he encountered shortly before our scheduled trip. DS and I went on without him for that trip, and I have been trying to schedule this for DH ever since. AAdvantage seats opened up in late October of 2014, giving us 5 nights in Rome and 4 nights in London. Not nearly enough time, but with DH's work schedule we were lucky to get away at all. I worked up an itinerary to include all the "must-see" stuff in Rome, less so in London since we had less time there and I had to pick and choose. DH and I have the best time together when we travel. He is quite the history buff, so I can't wait to show him both cities!

Day 1

Austin Bergstrom airport currently only has one flight to and from Europe, which is to London Heathrow. Hence, our first leg is Austin-Chicago. After a 4 hour layover in Chicago, we took off for Rome about 5:30 pm. The flight was incident free, although I did not sleep for one second. DH enjoyed a solid four hour nap. I wish I could sleep like that on a plane!

Day 2

Flight landed in Rome a bit early. Normally this is fine by me, but knowing our official hotel check in time was 2:00 pm gave me some angst. I hate stowing luggage and feeling forced to wander about when I haven't unpacked and freshened up. Our reservations were at the Albergo del Senato, and thanks to their popularity they normally stay quite full. Sure enough, we arrived via taxi about 10:30 am to learn that our room was not ready. Not much we could do except leave our bags and regroup for our first outing: Rick Steves' "Heart of Rome" walking tour.

Yes, I know many on this forum are not fans of Rick Steves, but I find some of his suggestions useful. In this case, I wanted to get my geographic bearings while showing DH some of the "low impact" sights within walking distance. So with map in hand, we marched off to Trevi Fountain... which I discovered is being completely renovated, so no water, lots of scaffolding, a strange plywood walkway circling it for tourists to get close. Hoards of people (this will become a common theme) were lined up to go across the walkway to "see" the fountain. Needless to say, I was disappointed that the first site I had selected to show DH was basically shut down. We marched on.

Our second site: Spanish Steps. We walked to the top and turned around for our first real view of Rome. We were happy in the moment, just appreciating the roof tops and domes, the pretty weather, and even the crowds of people.

My next stop was the Capuchin Crypt and Museum, which is not far from the Spanish Steps. I had not actually visited this before, and was interested in understanding how the monks made art out of bones. We went through their little museum where we learned about the Capuchin order. DH and I thought it was well done, and we lingered a bit. Then we moved on to the bones.

I was not quite sure what to expect, as it sounded almost kitschy to me in a creepy way. Art from pelvic bones and skulls? While I did not particularly enjoy the artistic aspect, I was honestly surprised at my own reaction to these bones. Hundreds of skulls that belonged to live human beings at one time. I had my own little "ashes to ashes" moment and reflected on what a minuscule blip in the universe I am.

At that point, DH was ready for sustenance. I had jotted down a couple of restaurant ideas, but by the time we worked our way back to the Pantheon area I was getting foggy. DH picked one of the less desirable tourist-type cafes with outdoor seating. I had no appetite, and so I picked around at some Penne all’Arrabbiata and watched DH devour Lasagna. He is a marathon runner, and his appetite astounds me. Fortunately, he is easy to please. Internally, I was scolding myself for eating at the exact kind of Rome restaurant I abhor -- touristy, overpriced, and with mediocre food. I should have done a better job of planning our first meal.

On to our hotel. Rick Steves and his tour would have to wait. By this hour, the Piazza della Rotunda was PACKED. The young immigrant men trying to sell "selfie-sticks" (those cheap poles to which one can attach a cell phone and take selfies) were ubiquitous. Huge tour groups, which turned out to be cruise passengers day-tripping everywhere we went during the week, were thick in front of the Pantheon. Musicians were setting up in front of our hotel, and a guitarist started playing "Stairway to Heaven." We would hear this played often over the next five days.

Alleluia! Our room was ready, and not too early. I was fading fast. The staff at Albergo del Senato was courteous and professional, as always. Unfortunately, I had neglected to request a quiet room on an upper floor when I made the reservation. Our room was #105, which is on the lowest floor overlooking the piazza. We could not have asked for a louder room. It also did not help that our room was the smallest of all the rooms they offer. I am well aware of the need to adjust my expectations on room size when traveling to certain places -- Rome and Manhattan, for example -- but this was REALLY tiny. I did not know they had rooms this small. DH and I discussed how to handle it; at the end he was fine with it and I was just disappointed. So we let it go. The hotel was full, and I took it as a lesson to make my expectations known ahead of time when booking my next hotel stay.

After unpacking and taking a brief rest, we headed back out to finish our little walking tour. But first I wanted to swing by the church of San Luigi de' Francesi so DH could see Caravaggio's famous "Matthew" paintings. Sadly, a very pushy tour group had taken over most of the interior, never mind the area around the paintings. We did our best, but moved on quickly. Piazza Navona was just as I remembered it, and it did not feel as crowded and frantic as the other sites we had visited. I showed him the lovely Fountain of Four Rivers and explained about Bernini and his contribution to the Renaissance. DH knows his history but not so much his art, so it feels good to explain things once in a while. We stepped in to the Sant'Agnese in Agone church. This was my first time in this particular church. I had my first "wow" moment, when you walk into one of the many churches in Rome and just feel the visually breathtaking beauty surround you. Do the Romans get desensitized to all of that beauty?

Next, we moved on to Campo de Fiori. I pointed out the medieval features of the square to DH, but otherwise there wasn't much going on at that hour. We sat down at Obika Mozzarella Bar and polished off our first pizza and bottle of wine. It tasted good to me. At that point, I had been awake for 30+ hours straight. We went back to the hotel, and I fell asleep listening to the musicians in front of out hotel playing Dire Straights' "Sultans of Swing." The noise didn't hinder my ability to sleep one bit!

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