Oh, des toilettes

Rome travel tip No. 17:

We have found three kinds of toilets here: 1) toilets with a seat; 2) toilets without a seat, and 3) toilets without a toilet. I prefer them in that order.

Each of the three types can be found with or without toilet paper, although there is a slight tendency for toilet paper to be available more prominently in the order of preference I suggested.

I don’t have a solution to this. Just thought people would want to know, and be forewarned.

Toured de force

I have never really been comfortable with the idea of travel tours. Pat has been on great guided tours in India and Egypt, and she is convinced they wouldn’t have had nearly as good an experience without the arrangements and well-educated guides. As well as, in India game reserves, the well-armed guides.

But I have always thought that at least in Western Europe, this is an unnecessary appendage. And, besides, how many more people do I need to tell me that it is time to get up and get going?

On this trip, however, we have been on three guided tours, with mixed results: The “Dark Rome” tour of the Vatican, the “Eating Italy” food tour of the Trastevere, and the “Walks of Italy” tour of the Villa Borghese.

The Vatican tour lasted for three hours. I have had dental work that was more pleasant. And Dark Rome did not provide novocaine. Our guide was an architect and grad student in art history, and she went on interminably. We’d been there for more than two hours and still weren’t inside the Sistine Chapel. We were outside the Sistine Chapel, in fact, listening to her describe in detail what we were going to see in each of the panels — as if we could remember that. There’s no talking inside, so that was the reason for the lecture, but she apparently was unable to sense the rising tide of anger and resentment. She had just described, in great detail, each of the four walls in each of the Raphael rooms leading us here, so there was plenty of opportunity for her to pick up on the body language. My advice: you don’t need a tour of the Vatican. Just go in the front door, see St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel, read about them in the guidebook, and then go through the Vatican Museum if you like.

Our friends Tom and Margaret Mesaros were just here for a day, and they did a Vatican tour in the morning and a Rome tour in the afternoon, so I am eager to hear what there experience was like. And my great pal and colleague Rebecca Whitham is due here at the end of the month and has booked a tour under the Vatican. It will be fun to know if we ever hear from her again. A lot of the folks under the Vatican aren’t coming out again.

The next night was completely different. My former colleagues at the zoo had given us a tour of Trastavere as a farewell gift, and it was spectacular. It was a walk between small, family-owned businesses, with a little history thrown in. We drank wine in the basement of a building which had housed the city’s oldest synagogue, predating the Colisseum; we toured a pharmacy that had been operated by Carmelite monks from the 16th Century until 1954, and we ate locally produced antipasti, cookies, pasta and gelato, an drank wine at at least four or five of the stops — I think I may have lost count of that.

And, yesterday, we did a guided, two-hour tour of the Galleria Borghese which was very heavy on information but really worthwhile. You can do the Borghese gallery on a self-guided tour as well, and that likely would be fine, but our guide — packing a master’s in art history — was very good and could read her audience well.

Finally — and this was unplanned — we were going in to see the Jewish museum and main synagogue and ended up in line right behind Drs. Rob and Marti Lidell. Rob is a great zoo board member and good friend, and Marti practices in the Polyclinic in the same suite as my doc. I am eager to see how they liked the tour of the old ghetto area they were heading toward.

Rome’s jews are from among the oldest Jewish communities — dating from Roman times, right — and predate the Ashekenazi and Sepphardim.  Jews were treated relatively well early on, but as in many other cities, they were confined to a ghetto during the Middle Ages — ghetto is an Italian word — were not allowed to own property, and could follow only two professions: lending money and dealing in used clothing. They attained a good measure of freedom in the late 19th Century: a Jew was elected mayor of Rome, but of course that ended in the runup to World War II when Victor Emmanuel and Mussolini made a deal to exterminate them. About 25,000 exist now, and they are proud of their heritage. Admission to the museum requires a guided tour of the synagogue, and the tour was hard to understand and quite repetitive of what we had just read on the panels. Do it anyway. A very good museum.

So I guess that’s hardly conclusive.

One other thought, as we were coming out of St. Peters, exhausted and still pissed off, were were hurrying to find a taxi stand to get to what we had decided would be our next stop and Pat, in her wisdom, said “I’d rather get a drink.” Part of the lesson of this trip, and this blog, is to try to hit the balance between travel and touring and just enjoying ourselves, using the month off to live more in the moment.

I noted that we were still living like we were on a one-week trip rather than a monthlong visit. We will try to do better.

The photos below come from the Trastevere visit. I still need to learn how to wrap text.

DSC00098 DSC00114

OK. Now we’re here.

DSC00019We are staying in an apartment near the Vatican, on the Vatican side of the river, but within a block or two of one of the many bridges over the Tiber, so it is also quite walkable to get to Piazza Navona and other sights on that side. We rented the apartment through Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO,) and we have had good luck with that sight on other visits. This location was marketed as Trastevere — tras (across) and tevere (the Tiber River) — from Central Rome. That is a little like trying to sell your fixer in Greenwood as “close to all the exciting new clubs and restaurants in Ballard,” but it is a very nice apartment and the location is fine. The photos here show the street and courtyard of our apartment.


On international travel


I want to just say a couple of words about traveling to Europe from Seattle. It is a lonImageg way, and unless you have enough miles or money to travel first or business class, the trip can be grueling. I suppose folks back home reading this from Italy are going to think that’s kind of petty, but I do have some tips:

The first is to fly through one of the European cities rather than from New York or Atlanta. You get on the plane in the afternoon in Seattle and arrive the next morning, and that has seemed to be a lot more tolerable — and shorter — than going through another American airport.

We have flown on SAS to Copenhagen, Air France to Paris, and this time on Lufthansa to Frankfurt, and it is pretty easy and convenient to get a connecting flight from there. Actually, the best flight from Seattle is to London Heathrow, but it is sometimes harder to get a connecting flight from there because so many of the flights to the continent go from Gatwick, and you have to make that switch.

That being said, you can see from the accompanying photo of an American traveler enjoying the comforts of the Frankfurt airport that this system isn’t foolproof. But at least they don’t have armrests, so one can stretch out. sort of. We were on an Airbus 330 in steerage. Plenty of legroom. If you are under 5-feet.