|here is my journal from our trip to london, paris & rome, from 11/26/08 through 12/7/08. my mom had booked flights with two of her friends to london cuz they found an awesome deal. so then i started trying to plan the trip to her to ensure she would have a good time. in the end, i decided the best way to guarantee a good trip for her would be to just go myself. and nick absolutely would not let me go to europe without him, so in the end it was a party of five. my mom's friends pretty much sucked and definitely cramped our style (and embarrassed the shit out of me on more than one occasion), but my mom says she enjoyed herself, so i consider it a success. also, honestly, paris and rome are just so damn awesome nothing couldn't ruined them ;) as usual, i've left all the original typos. if you want to see more photos AND VIDEOS from this trip, please click here
europe 1st email
so it`s 4:17 am on 12/2 in paris, and i`m finally finding myself at a computer. i`m using the mac at my b&b in paris and the keyboard is totally different, which is making this really hard. plus this is a mac and i suck on these as well.
my god so much has already happened and i`m sure i`ve already forgotten a ton of stuff; but here we go...
so we flew british airways on 11/26 and from the beginning things weren`t going so well. our flight was supposed to depart at 3:40 pm and instead we didn`t leave until around 5:10 pm. despite the fact that we had checked in online and had no check-in baggage didn`t help at all. we still ended up waiting forever in the "fast bag check-in" line. fast my ass! something about two flights coming in at the same time and the crews working as fast as possible to prepare our flight, and this not being standard for the airline. yeah, whatever! they also ended up with no duty-free shopping at all, so there were definitely some other glitches. at first i played some cards with my mom to help pass the time. then after they served food (either a thanksgiving-style turkey dinner or beef pot roast), i gave my mom an ambien to help her sleep, and i decided to watch "wanted" cuz i knew nick would never watch it with me. hey it wasn`t great but it definitely kept me entertained for about two hours. and that`s when things started to go south. my mom is totally a creature of habit, and she just had to take all her various vitamins and medications on schedule, even though i told her she should wait until after the flight. see, she gets horribly motion sick. and of course i ended up being right, and she spent the last two hours of the flight barfing. and of course we were delayed in landing and had to circle for a while, and they were banking so hard, hell, i was even starting to feel sick! then when we finally landed we ended up super far from the terminals and had to be bussed in. they tried to get special transport for her, but they didn`t have enough room (translation: we were not first-class). and so of course she continued puking on the bus as well. it all sucked pretty bad and i don`t believe i`ll be flying british airways again anytime soon. we arrived a little before 11 am on 11/27.
so after a long ride on the tube (my mom fortunately did survive this unscathed), we ended up at our easyhotel in earl`s court. this place took me back to japan. hell this room was actually smaller than our rooms in japan if you can believe that. i knew that prior to booking but went ahead because they were at least cheap, modern, and had soft beds. and they were bright orange! we arrived at around 1 pm but we couldn`t check-in until 3 pm so we went to a nearby tesco supermarket with a costa coffee (like starbucks) and chilled there for two hours. i made the mistake of ordering a macchiato which was way too strong for me and basically put my digestion on hyperdrive. and it kept me from being able to nap at all when we were finally able to check-in. so while everyone else was napping from 3 to 5:30 pm, i just layed around with an awful coffee taste in my mouth and my heart racing.
so after no sleep (i didn`t sleep on the plane either), we decided to hit chinatown. since my mom was still recovering, she really wanted "comfort food." so we walked around soho and all the theatres and finally ended up in london`s rather tiny chinatown. the place we ended up at was alright but the servings were tiny and expensive. funny since we had eaten chinese food before our flight, which consisted of huge portions, for only about 9 dollars per person, and london was tiny and about 20 dollars per person.
then we went to leicester square to see all the pretty christmas lights that were already up. funny how much that area reminded me of times square. we also walked to piccadilly circus and to trafalgar square. it still looked pretty cool at night. after this my mom and her friends went back to the hotel, and we decided to hit chelsea bridge. apparently one of nick`s favorite songs was named after this place so he really wanted to go. it was quite he trek and took about two hours total. it was lit up super nice at night but of course neither of us had brought our camera so i told nick we`d go again the following night. after that, we just went back to the hotel for the night. i didn`t sleep at all! but i know nick did cuz i could hear him snoring like all night. my mind was totally racing out of control for some reason and none of it really made any sense. i kept going back and forth from sorting through travel research i had done and doggie research. damn it sucked!
so we went to benjy`s restaurant near our hotel and had an english breakfast. it consisted of an oily egg, british bacon (fattier and less crunchy), bread-like sausages, toast, and tea. interesting, glad i got to try it once, but probably won`t be ordering it again anytime soon.
after this, we headed off to westminster abbey and surrounding areas which was nice. that church always kinda creeps me out cuz of the whole dead-people-everywhere thing! but i still do enjoy looking around everytime. nick spent way too much time crouching next to chaucer`s coffin, which he called, `hanging out with chaucer.` afterwards we went to london tower. i found it rather boring actually. i figured as much but other people wanted to see it. we did see some massive ravens though, which totally excited nick (he loves everything corvus). it was freezing and raining lightly all day but i was expecting that so no biggie. < br>
for lunch i sent my mom and her friends to wagamama, a popular japanese noodle place, while we tried out masala zone, an indian place across the street. i had a sweet lassi with chicken korma and nick got chicken tikka masala. the place looked kinda trendy/fast-foody but the food was actually really good and cheap. after dinner everyone was tired so we decided to take an afternoon nap.
then at night, we went back to soho to find karl marx`s house (chinese people like marx). and for dinner we found a halal/doner place and had awesome kabobs, like shawarmas and gyros. we all sat on a ledge in front of a closed restaurant and ate on the street. kinda fun ;)
then as promised, we went back to chelsea bridge. this time my mom came along and hopefully we both got some rad nighttime photos. i was able to take a photo of the skyline from the bridge (by using the bridge railing as my tripod), and the city looked pretty cool and eerie. here`s hoping it comes out as well in print as it looks on my tiny lcd screen.
we got cornish pasties for breakfast. mine had broccoli, cheese, and sweetcorn, and i`m sad to report wasn`t nearly as good as i had remembered from my last trip. still i`m glad i had it cuz my mom`s friend insisted on watching the changing of the guard at buckingham. it basically consisted of standing in the freezing cold london weather for a solid hour to watch like three sets of soldiers + marching band (playing the theme songs from indiana jones, star wars, and a little michael jackson) march inside the gates (out of sight from us), and then reappear again and march away. at least i got to pet one of the horses the police were riding. so after this fiasco, they wanted to go to the winston churchill war rooms for a two-hour tour, and that`s when i put my foot down and decided we`d go do something else and meet up again later. the changing of the guard debacle was the limit to my patience. i was not about to spend good money to stand around for two hours in a war museum!
so me, nick, and my mom walked by the horse guards parade, 10 downing street, crossed westminster bridge, and rode the london eye. the eye was actually way cooler than i would`ve thought. it also let us rest our feet for 30 minutes which was a welcome break.
after this, we met up with everyone again and went by 10 downing street again (my mom`s friend was chinese military for like 20 years and loves government, military, and war sh!t). then we decided to go to the charles dickens house museum near russell square. it was neat. it`s his old house with a collection of his personal belongings, books/drafts, photos, and tons of personal info. he wrote all of nicholas nickelby while living there.
we then rushed back to the hotel to get our luggage for our eurostar trip to paris at 7 pm. my mom and her friends scarfed down hot noodles at wagamama again and nick and i had doner meat again. we got to st pancras just in time for our train and even managed to pick up a cherry tango soda for nick. apple tango was our favorite british drink from back in 2000, but we were having diffculty finding the stuff this time around. sad.
our train cabin turned out to be practically empty which was great. the women played cards and the men read. why do i always sound like the dumb one in the relationship?
anyways the time passed very quickly and we arrived with no problems. fortunately i had changed my leftover pounds to euros before leaving london so we were able to quickly purchase some paris metro tickets and get to our hotel. there were no atm machines at the station and the automatic ticket machines were not accepting our credit cards. ellie saves the day!
we checked in to our hotel near place d`́talie with no problems, and it was nice to have a reasonably normal-sized room finally ;)
our first morning in paris we found a local cafe and had cafe au lait (nick had chocolat chaud), orange juice, croissants, and baguette with jam, and most importantly got to people-watch! then i went with my mom and her friends to find an atm, and then escorted them to breakfast at the same place so i could help them order. my three years of french was at least good enough for that ;)
then i headed back to our room to wait for our friends jean-philippe and segolene to pick us up. this was very exciting for us as we hadn`t seen each other in over a year. we had met through west la karate and shared a great love for eating, so when we found out we could reconnect, we were thrilled! i had purposely picked this hotel location as it was near the paris chinatown and had prepared maps for my mom so they could sight-see on their own without getting lost. so at around 10:30 am, our friends picked us up and took us to their new house in the paris countryside and made us a huge traditional french lunch. we started with appetizer finger foods, then sat down to duck, potatoes, and mushrooms which we totally loved. then came cheese and salad, and then a warm chocolate cake dessert with mint ice cream. it was all very good and we were soooo stuffed! we also got to meet his parents and their super awesome dogs. one was a smaller lab/pointer mix and the other a bichon frise mix they had picked up while on vacation in martinique! seriously, if i`m fortunate to get a dog half as sweet as those two, i will count myself very lucky!
so after stuffing ourselves with food for several hours, they drove us back to paris to meet up with everyone else. unfortunately, this is when nick got sick. i think he ate too much and the car ride exacerbated it. by the time we got back to the hotel, he didn`t want to do anything. we sat in the luggage storage room for a while and chatted, to give nick time to recover, then we headed out for a walk. we walked around the neighborhood of la butte aux cailles. our friends had made dinner reservations but no one was hungry after our huge lunch. so we decided to cancel and meet up again for dinner on tuesday, 12/2.
after this we packed up and moved to our current b&b up north in montmartre, checked in, then set out for the arc de triomphe and champs elysees. earlier in the day jean-philippe had already driven us through the center of town and damn this city is beautiful. like seriously there is just nothing like it. and at night, with all the christmas decorations, it`s just crazy gorgeous! the parisians can be as snotty and arrogant as they like as far as i`m concerned ;)
we also grabbed a late dinner at bistro romain, an italian restaurant jean-philiippe had recommended. we all got really good food and got to watch the lights outside on the champs elysees. not bad for a late dinner at around 11 pm!
we got back to our hotel close to 1 am and went directly to sleep.
we got a traditional breakfast of cafe au lait, orange juice, croissants, and baguette with homemade jam. their apricot jam was crazy good! then we went back out to the arc de triomphe to see it during the daylight. we proceeded to walk all the way down the champs elysees. i had fun counting the number of stores i could actually afford to shop in on one hand ;)
we walked by the grand and petit palais museums, then crossed the alexandre iii bridge, and walked up to les invalides, where i believe napoleon is buried. the museum was closed so we just walked the grounds. then we crossed back over via the concorde bridge to the place de la concorde. from there we walked to la madeleine, this cool roman/greek looking church, and then had lunch in the area. nick had more duck (confit de canard), which he loved, and i had this huge salad with lettuce and tomatoes topped with roasted potatoes, fried gizzards, and mushrooms. as awful as that may sound it was amazing! and it was so damn filling i just about passed out afterwards!
so after that we proceeded on to the louvre and checked the place out. it`s so big it`s kinda daunting and i was exhausted before i even started. beautiful place though for sure, and of course i had to check out the mona lisa and venus de milo ;)
we stayed till closing at 5:30 pm, then spent another 20 minutes trying to get the hell out! it`s like a maze in there!
we got out and it was cold and rainy, and everyone`s feet hurt, so we headed back to the hotel. i did some laundry in the bathroom even though i was exhausted and didn`t want to stand anymore, but the prospect of nick wearing dirty underwear was even more horrifying to me.
then i had to play translator and find my mom and her friends: 1 atm, 2 post office, 3 bakery. i found all these things and even managed to order a bunch of pastries and bread all in french! i was so proud of myself ;)
we went up to the common dining area at the b&b and had our make-shift dinner. the hosts were very accomodating as we practically kicked them out of their own dining/living room. then off to bed i went at like 9 pm. mind you, nick didn`t run errands with us and had in fact been in bed since like 7 or 8 pm! i even brought him the pastries and bread in bed!
so now we`re both up in the common area and our sleep schedules are totally messed up. oh well, i`m just so glad to finally have access to a computer.
hopefully i`ll be able to post again soon. we`re planning to go to versailles today before meeting up with jean-philippe and segolene for dinner.
rest of paris
hmmm... so i'm now home... so much for that whole travel "journal." this is now more of a summary/recap. this totally sucks. but i guess this is what i get for volunteering to play tour guide to my mom and her friends. i've had like no free time to myself. also, i noticed that in my haste to play catch-up in my first entry that i managed to type basically a really boring laundry list of stuff i'd done. that also must be remedied. now if only i can remember what i've done through my haze of jetlag...
so first off about me playing tour guide. i had only agreed to come on this trip after my mom booked tickets to london with this chinese couple since they found a great deal. i was afraid she'd go with her chinese friends (who barely speak english), get lost a lot, eat lots of crappy food, and then end up hating london, so i decided to take it upon myself to guarantee a great vacation for her. unfortunately i barely knew her friends beforehand, but i now know for certain that they're not my ideal traveling companions. there were times when their "chinese" ways totally embarassed me and made me ashamed to be both american and chinese, and i also sense they are more into checking off items that they "must see" and photograph, rather than try to live like a local and soak in the atmosphere. basically i'm afraid to ever return to any of our hotels from embarassment, and i felt totally rushed and hurried the whole time, for fear they'd get bored.
also, a random note about food. i found myself not eating much and feeling hungry a lot in london. short of the great middle eastern food, i just wasn't tempted much. it's not that london doesn't have great food, it's just that i can't afford most of the good stuff. paris on the other hand was stuffing me silly. for people who know me well, they know it's practically impossible to fill me up, and yet somehow i could never quite finish my food in paris. i mean my damn gizzard and mushroom SALAD even totally filled me up. i think the ingredients must just be much heavier than i'm accustomed to.
okay so i think i left off with the morning we were going to versailles. we got an early start and attempted to get on the damn train to versailles. this brings up another point. as much as i may have disliked the london food, i really wish everyone else would post the huge metro signs like the london underground. as visually pleasing as paris is, i didn't much enjoy spending like an hour circling the same damn square trying to locate the metro! i mean, we'd be like 100 meters away and still not be able to see it! they just don't really label them. instead you walk up and notice, hey there's a hole in the ground with a stairwell leading down, and that's it! and signs pointing you in a certain direction would lead nowhere! basically we were constantly lost in paris.
so like way later than we had planned, we ended up at versailles. it's really pretty rad, all fancy inside and with a really nice garden/lake area. unfortunately, by the time you've seen all the inside of the palace, including the hall of mirrors, and walked down along the lakes and fountains, you're just exhausted. and at that point, there's a sign stating it'll take another 10 minutes to get to the marie antoinette section. so unfortunately we had to skip that portion altogether. there were a bunch of swans in the lake area, and they would come right up to the edge to greet you. we figured they probably had lots of people feed them. so then nick decided to be evil and pretend to get something out of his pocket and throw it in the air for them. and the super absurd thing is that they'd actually open up their mouths up to the sky to "catch" the non-existent food. nick thought this was so funny he proceeded to do it several more times. they really are pretty dumb, and i have to admit it was kinda funny.
we ended up grabbing lunch in the town of versailles at brasserie sevigne. it was like a pub and they prepared all the food right behind the counter (no back kitchen area). my mom's friends were just horrified they were using their bare hands and not necessarily cleaning their hands after touching money. normally this would probably also gross me out, IF WE WERE IN AMERICA. but we weren't, so it kinda bugged me they were making such a huge deal with it. hey, when in rome right? anyways, dirty or not, they managed to make a really good salad with potatoes, eggs, and tuna for me, and a duck sausage with french fries for nick (i think nick was determined to have duck for every meal while in paris). i noticed a lot of places served fries as a side. it kinda cracked me up to go to kinda nice restaurants where they would serve a fancy entree with a side of fries ;)
this also brings me to my embarassment at our paris b&b. my mom's friends like tea, and they were pretty adamant about having it every day. the wife would walk like right into the owner's kitchen every morning and just say "hot water." this mortified me. also, they would like stuff themselves silly at breakfast, even though the traditional french breakfast is really quite small. they even packed away some chocolates the hostess had laid out for us one day, and then ate them later! so thereafter, whenever i heard them mention they were going to pack away something, i made it a point to try to eat all of it while at breakfast so there would be nothing left to take. this is some family's house after all, not a damn buffet!
but the absolute worst was one night when we were too tired to go to a sitdown restaurant. we went to a local boulangerie (bakery) and picked up some bread and quiches and stuff like that. i got sh!tloads of dessert for dinner cuz that's how i roll ;) anyways, we get back to the place, and we go upstairs to eat in the common area so we don't dirty up our bedrooms. unfortunately it looked like the family was just wrapping up their own dinner, so i felt bad about rushing them out of their own dining room. i would've just gone back to my room and waited a while, but instead they went up to the lady and asked for plates and silverware and for their food to be microwaved! mind you, this is a bed & BREAKFAST, not a bed & breakfast, lunch, and dinner. god i felt so bad. and perhaps it's no coincidence that after this incident i found they had shut off their computer, therefore making it impossible for me to continue with my journal. previously, they had told me i could use it, and it was always on, and then suddenly it was off. coincidence? i think not.
anyways, so after our late lunch in versailles, we headed back to paris and stopped by the eiffel tower. the plan was to get there right before dusk and climb it to see the sunset from the top. unfortunately we weren't the only ones with that idea. it was freezing cold at ground level and there were huge lines of people trying to get to the top. in the end, we decided it was simply too cold to wait. the climb will have to wait till another trip (hopefully alone).
after admitting defeat, we returned to our rooms and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon/early night. we probably would've just stayed in for the rest of the night, but we had made plans to meet up with jean-philippe and segolene for dinner at 8:30 pm that night. so nick, me, and my mom went to saint michel in the latin quarter since her friends were too "tired" to come along (translation: didn't want to spend the money to eat out). honestly i prefered the smaller group anyways. i felt bad though cuz i think jean-philippe was pretty tired that day as well but of course didn't want to cancel on us. they ended up taking us for a little walk around the area (which they knew well from their college days) and then settled on a restaurant. for a change of pace, nick actually ordered lamb. i believe i also ordered some cut of lamb, but apparently they were out of that particular cut and brought me out something "similar." honestly i don't think it was lamb at all. in fact, i have no clue what i ate. i was really delirious that night and managed to hit my knee on the dining table, and then also run my shoulder and other knee into a door trying to get out of the bathroom. it was not a good night for me. i think also earlier that morning i started laughing uncontrollably. we had just finished showering and stuff and were heading out for breakfast when nick cracked some joke (i can't even remember what it was), and it apparently just tickled me pink. i had to brace myself against the dresser to keep from complete collapse. we had only reached the halfway point of the trip and i was already losing it. but back to dinner. we had some sangria and just hung out and talked. it was really nice. then at around 11 pm we decided it was time to call it a night. after all, they had to catch a train home that would probably take about 45 minutes, and they both worked in the morning. i sincerely hope to meet up with them sometime soon again, perhaps nyc or antarctica!
so for our last day in paris, we had a rather modest plan of just hitting four places: sacre coeur, pere lachaise cemetery, paris catacombs, and notre dame. but this being paris and all, and us constantly get lost and delayed, we barely managed to fit this all in. first off, after breakfast, we set off to walk to sacre coeur church in montmartre. it was only supposed to be like 10 minutes away. a note about "10 minutes" in paris. it seemed everyone like to say everything was "10 minutes" away when in reality this time frame could be anywhere from 10 to like 45 minutes away. it was completely unreliable. anyways, in our case, it was definitely more than 10 minutes since i walked 10 minutes in the WRONG DIRECTION before i realized my error. i'm such a 'tard sometimes. and it was rainy that day. but we did finally make it up there, on a big tiring hill, and it was quite the sight to behold. however, walking in my hiking boots, with my alpaca beanie on, and climbing uphill totally brought back many unsavory memories from peru. i must retire those boots to prevent any future negative associations.
after this we took the metro to pere lachaise. my mom's friend really wanted to go there to see hugo's and both the dumas' graves. his travel book said they were buried there. but when we got there, we discovered that his book was wrong. it was also pouring rain and only had one map with information in the whole huge cemetery! so we walked around, got lost a bunch, all in the rain, with a bunch of dead people. it wasn't pleasant. we did however manage to find chopin's and oscar wilde's graves.
after this we decided we needed to see more dead people. we went to the paris catacombs which are actually all over the place, under the city. we had to take a spiral winding staircase way way down. and at first we walked through some rooms with basic info and history and some sand castles. then i knew we'd encountered the bones cuz my mom wandered off ahead and let out quite the shriek! dude, it's pretty gross (to me anyways). there are just thousands and thousands of skulls and bones all stacked up alongside all the walls. and nick started touching them! agh! so after like an hour of wandering around with bones everywhere (you actually get desensitized rather quickly due to the sheer volume you're dealing with), we decided to rush to notre dame.
we were leaving for rome that night and had wanted to get all our bags and leave our b&b by 5 pm. we had just enough time to rush to notre dame and spend about 45 minutes to an hour there. by the time we got there, it wasn't really raining anymore, which was nice, but it was still grey and freezing. we were starving so we stopped at a crepe stand. i had decided i must try some crepes since they're very french. i pigged out and got ham & cheese and chestnut cream crepes. they were super yummy, warm on a cold day, and easy to eat while walking. there were also tons of pigeons there that would actually land on you! they were all over my mom and nick, and we got cool pictures with them. but they wouldn't land of me! it was sad :( maybe they didn't like the purple jacket i was wearing?! anyways, i finally lured one with a piece of my crepe and i made sure to take tons of photos :)
so we were all just finishing up inside the church and meeting out front. that's when we realized my mom was nowhere to be found. nick says the theme/motto of this trip was "where is my mom?" or "where did my mom go?" of all days to disappear, like an hour before we needed to leave paris, my mom decides to disappear. i ended up running, in the freezing cold, on my totally cramped and messed up feet, all the way around notre dame. notre dame is not a small church. of course i didn't find her, but at least i now know that my lungs are in quite good condition, even if it completely destroyed my feet. i don't believe my feet ever did recover from that little "jog." it turned out she had wandered off to take more photos, saw me running around the church, but couldn't catch up. note this will not be the last time she gets "lost" at a most inconvenient time.
anyways, after rushing back to the hotel and loading up, we made it to the brand new paris bercy train station. it is so damn new the ticket office is hidden in the back by construction and is completely separate from the train loading area. there are no chairs, no bathrooms, and no shops to buy food. since we were supposed to board at 7 pm, we needed to buy some dinner food beforehand. fortunately we found a boulangerie nearby and bought some sandwiches and a baguette. but of course the train ended up being super late. so we basically freaked out and rushed over there for nothing. and my feet were so messed up i started squatting (since there were no chairs) just to alleviate the foot pain, at the expense of my thigh muscles.
so about the train. we got a 6-berth couchette. these cars had chairs that converted to 6 bunk beds. i knew these would be small, but wow! you'll see later as nick videotaped this. anyways, so there were five of us, which meant we were gambling that a sixth person would share the car with us. anyways, so we lost, or rather the newcomer lost. the poor french girl walked in and i'm sure was immediately horrified this was a fully-booked train. she ended up having to sit in the middle seat of three because for some reason my mom's friends wouldn't scoot and at least give her a corner seat so she could keep to herself. instead she was like thrust in the middle of our group and looked really uncomfortable. nick and i both felt really bad but were both too exhausted to make the effort to socialize in french. in the end, i decided the best thing i could do for her was to ignore her. at least that meant one fewer set of eyes staring at her. she had another friend on the train and would frequently leave to get away from us i think. and when it was time to sleep, it didn't help that one of my mom's friends was definitely a snorer. now, if you knew you snored, would you suggest sharing sleeping cars? it just seems rude to me. they had wanted to share triple rooms with my mom (to save money) for pretty much every night we booked. but that just meant my mom had to try sleeping to the sound of snoring every night. and even if he didn't know he snored, you'd think his wife would've told him. anyways, it just seemed really uncool to me.
so after a horrible night attempting to sleep on the train (it stopped a billion times it seemed and made tons of noise), we got to see some italian countryside after sunrise. the poor french girl i think just pretended to sleep on her bottom bunk so she could be left alone. then my mom's friend started insisting that we wake her up so we could convert back to regular seats. my mom and i interjected for her sake. i figured we were already making her life miserable. the least we could do is let her continue pretending to sleep to get some peace. but after about 9 am she grabbed her bags and peaced out anyways. we were supposed to arrive in rome just before 10 am. we didn't arrive till 1 pm! thank goodness we bought a ton of food the night before. and apparently baguettes get very limp and soft overnight. i will never do a sleeper train again. not only was it super uncomfortable and dirty (no running water at all!), but i guess they have a tendency to be super late.
italy will have to wait till tomorrow cuz i'm now far too tired, and i have to work tomorrow :(
nick & ellie's roman holiday (+3 people)
so about rome. pretty rad in a totally different way from paris. it was also the warmest place we'd hit so it was nice to finally ditch one of the layers and look somewhat "normal" again. our last day here was also the first risk of skin cancer we had encountered. the best way i can describe it is that it's like walking around a museum, only outdoors and for real. everywhere you look you see awesome ancient columns and classical looking buildings. and combine the whitish gleam of the architecture with the bright blue skies, and you really get something else.
so after arriving super late into rome, we walked the 10-15 minutes to our b&b: nicolas inn. it's really a shame we were only spending two nights there as it was by far the nicest hotel of the trip. the outside facade was ancient of course, but inside was recently renovated in a very modern style. the rooms were HUGE by european standards, as was the bathroom, and it was super clean and had really good shower water pressure and water that stayed hot. i forgot to mention but our first morning in the paris b&b, we ran out of hot water and nick had to go without. apparently the rest of our party used it all up. they apparently had to shower twice a day, once before bed and again in the morning! seriously, i like to be clean too, but i definitely let myself go a bit when traveling.
the owners were melissa (an american from chicago) and her husband francois (lebanese-italian). francois told us the coolest story about how they met. apparently melissa was traveling through europe on vacation, intending to go to paris after rome. but she met him while he was working in some tourist office, and needless to say she never made it to paris... isn't that awesome! god it's just so damn romantic i love it!
anyways, so they were very nice and melissa went over a map of rome with us with recommendations/suggestions for sites and food. since we were starving, she directed us to a deli, pizza e mortadella, just a few doors down for some fast and cheap pizza. they had tons of varieties of pizza, all in big squarish slabs, and they would cut a rectangular piece off for you and then fold it in half to form a square sandwich. nick and i ordered three types to get a sampling and seriously it was amazing! they were like room tempurature/cold and i had never tasted better pizza. maybe we were just starving but i don't think so since we went back later and it was still freakin' awesome! i just loved that i could go to some random deli and get (who knows how old) cold pizza and it would taste so good. and it was cheap!
so after satisfying my never-ending hunger, i decided i had to hit ancient rome, which was only a few minutes away. we could actually like see the colosseum from the hotel, which was really rad, so we went there first. maybe it's just me and i love ancient ruins, but i really thought it was just spectacular to see. it's still so majestic even though it's really decayed quite a bit. we paid the single ticket for both the colosseum and the palatine hill/forum and went inside. since it was late afternoon, there were long shadows and an orangey glow to everything which made it pretty cool. i really hope some of my photos come out.
after this, i decided to hit up palatine hill/roman forum. this is when we discovered that nick lost his ticket. i usually hold on to all these things for him (cuz i don't trust him), and earlier he had complained that he never gets to keep anything. so, i decided to be nice and let him hold on to his own damn ancient rome ticket. and what does he do?! he loses it within one hour! ugh! so we spent another 12 euros to get him into palatine :(
this portion i think bored the rest of our group cuz it's large, lush, and just has tons of ruins in it, but i loved it! and there were orange trees everywhere and you could find orange peels from tourists who would pick and eat them as they went. unfortunately they were recently ransacked so nothing left for us. then i started getting bitten by mosquitoes. somehow, they always manage to find me. mind you, no one else in our group got bitten. at this point, they were all concentrated on my right hand. when i carry my camera, i always wrap the strap around my wrist so if someone tries to yank it away from me, they'd end up taking the rest of me with them. anyways, the bites ended up all being right where the straps touched my hand. i think the slight rubbing irritated the bite areas and made them blow up. the next morning i woke up to four bites on the right side of my face too! since i had messed up my left shoulder early on in the trip (i couldn't lift my left arm at all and dressing/undressing was absolutely excruciating), i was sleeping on my right side every night. apparently i had also been bitten on the face but didn't notice. but the pillow touching the right side of my face at night had apparently aggravated it. so now i was two-face! my whole right side was covered in red lumps! god i have the worst luck :(
oh yeah, and remember that mosquito bite i got on my left bicep during my trip to the yucatan in december 2007? well it started itching again! i guess it wanted in on the new action.
so after wandering around palatine for a while, they kicked us out. i guess it was closing time and they were serious about getting you out! so then i decided to head over to piazza venezia, in front of capital hill and the vittorio emanuele monument. this was a really cool looking area, but unfortunately there was tons of construction on the streets in the area which really took away from the grandeur. it was already dark by now, and i decided to continue on to the pantheon since it was open late.
the pantheon looks pretty cool from the outside, but unfortunately you can't see the huge dome well from close up, so it's not so impressive from the small piazza it stands in, in my opinion. but once you go inside and look up, it's really cool. it's actually now a catholic church of some sort. however, since it was late, no one had brought their cameras, so we just stayed a while and promised to come back. we were all hungry again so we picked a restaurant in the piazza out front and had dinner.
as soon as we sat down and the bread was brought out, the all-too-frequent question of "where's the butter?" surfaced again. you've got to understand i had already tried to explain to my mom's friends like every night in paris that the parisians don't butter their bread traditionally so they won't automatically bring butter out (nor should we expect them to). so now we were in rome, i was having to explain this again. it felt like i was talking to a wall cuz this question would reappear again. the whole "when in rome" thing would not sink into their heads.
anyways, so i had a pasta dish with "agrippa's secret sauce" and nick ordered carbonara. mine consisted of a bunch of different cheeses and ground up nuts. it was actually really awesome. i figured i couldn't go wrong ordering the restaurant's special dish. i also tried a soda called san pellegrino chino, made of some local fruit similar to an orange, and it was really good.
we also made an incredible discovery! italian fanta is just like spanish fanta! in spain we discovered that their orange fanta had 12% real orange juice in it. everywhere else we've been to (mexico, peru, england, france, america) has the 100% artificial version, and let me tell you the 12% juice makes a huge difference. we celebrated by purchasing several large bottles of it (which are now sitting empty on my bedroom dresser).
so after dinner, i remembered that someone had recommended a gelato place in the same piazza so we headed over for dessert. i got three scoops: tiramisu, hazelnut, and a cream with candied fruit in it. all super yummy! and we were served by stanley tucci! not really but he really resembled him. and as we were leaving it started raining so stanley let us sit inside in their very fancy dining room to eat. it was empty since everyone was eating outside on the piazza in the covered patios. i really enjoyed the outdoor eating in rome too.
after our yummy dinner and dessert, we headed back to the hotel for an early night. we tended to be in bed by around 9 or 10 pm in rome. there wasn't as much to see at night in rome as in paris so we figured we'd catch up on sleep. i hadn't really noticed, but one lady we met at a store mentioned how the romans really don't get into christmas (i find this funny since they've got vatican city like in it), but the city really wasn't very decorated or lit up. paris on the other hand was totally lit up and gorgeous at night. the lady blamed it on the romans being cheap, but i'm not going to comment on that. all i know is the romans we met were all very nice ;)
our b&b's breakfast consisted of a voucher to a nearby cafe where you could order a drink and a pastry. very simple. and i was thankful because at least now the other members of our party couldn't embarrass me with their weird requests. it was simple: you hand over the voucher and you get two items, no bargaining, no negotiations. i got a capuccino and custard-filled pastry. i'm not much of a coffee drinker but this thing was good! i didn't even have to add sugar or anything. i'm now totally afraid to order anything coffee-related in the states cuz the stuff i had in paris and rome was just soooo good. i'd hate to be disappointed :(
so after the commuting nightmares of paris, i was determined to set out in rome all organized and not get lost. armed with my map, i had planned out an itinerary of places to see. first off, the trevi fountain. since we had gone to bed early, we got out to the fountain very early and no one was there! we had it all to ourselves. it was really huge and beautiful. the romans sure do love their fountains (they're everywhere!). nick and i each threw a euro in the fountain to guarantee our return. i later found out they collect all the money found in there (i'm guessing every night cuz there was nothing in it when we got there in the morning), and use it to feed the poor. pretty cool. anyways, so i took a photo of nick doing it, and he was supposed to take one of me doing it. of course, he messed up and never took the photo. so i had to stand there and "pretend" to throw a coin again. pretty silly.
after this, we went to the spanish steps. there's also a fountain in front of that too (they're seriously everywhere). we got to try some roasted chestnuts here. i had been super excited to get them in paris after i'd read about them, but we never really found any in paris (maybe we were still too early in the season?), so i was pumped they had them in rome. we also climbed all the way to the top and hung out a bit. good times.
after this, we continued north to the piazza del popolo which was really cool looking. we seemed to be just ahead of all the tourists cuz we'd show up to a place empty, and by the time we'd leave, there'd be more tourists. on this day i attempted to look normal. i wore black jeans, a black zip-up hoodie, and black scarf. i think i even put on some eyeliner. i was tired of looking like crap in london and paris where we were so bundled up for warmth and wearing beanies everyday. so my modified get-up in rome wouldn't have been half bad if it weren't for the HUGE RED WELTS ON MY FACE! god, i just can't win.
after wandering around a bit in the piazza, i decided we should cross the tevere (tiber) river and head to vatican city. along the way, we stopped by castel sant angelo. my mom loves the movie "roman holiday" so i tried to stop at all the points seen in the movie. and since i had made a point of watching it just a few weeks before our trip, it was all still very fresh in my mind. we even went by via margutta by accident, which was where gregory peck's apartment was. from here we headed to saint peter's. entry here is free, and apparently the whole world was lined up to enter it. since no one in our party is actually catholic, we decided this wait was simply not worth it.
instead we decided to head to the vatican city museum where you could see michelangelo's sistine chapel and last judgement. i figured we'd skip most of the museum and go straight to the sistine chapel. ha! so you enter and there are signs directing you towards certain exhibits or the sistine chapel. so you follow the sistine chapel signs thinking this will take you directly there. what you don't know is that they take you through a labyrinth of rooms for over 4 km before dumping you in the sistine chapel. seriously, after like 45 minutes of wandering through room after room of christian imagery, by the time you get to the sistine chapel, you're so exhausted and overloaded with murals, you almost don't care! plus, there's nowhere to sit in the chapel and pissed off men overlook the crowd yelling "silence" and "no photos" over and over again. they kinda kill it for you. still, yes, the paintings are gorgeous and wonderful pieces of art. i just wish you could see them fresh and not exhausted.
after this trial and penance, we were starving. while trying to find a particular restaurant we had received a flyer for, i got lost again! so finally we kinda just settled for the first thing we came upon. this turned out to be a bad idea since it basically landed us in a super touristy restaurant that charged for everything! and like spain, apparently the italians also charge automatically for bread whether you want it or not. anyways, i had tortellini with cream and pancetta bacon and peas, and nick had a quattro formaggi pizza which he absolutely loved. this looked more like the american pizzas we know. and for dessert we shared a tiramisu. the bill came and it was definitely a rip-off. i guess we should've known when we saw all the americans/foreigners in the restaurant. this really bummed me out. it's not even about the money for me, but i hate wasting meals on crappy good. sure it wasn't bad, but i don't think it was authentic. and when i travel, i really like to try the stuff the locals eat, not the stuff catered to americans.
after this we walked by saint peter's again just to check if the lines had died down, but they hadn't, so we decided to just move on. we crossed the river again and headed to piazza navona. unfortunately at this point it was raining pretty hard. the piazza was full of stalls with candy and toys, and there was a merry-go-round in the middle, along with more fountains (of course). since the weather was so bad, we decided we couldn't stay outside much longer. we hurried over to the pantheon again, this time during daylight, and with cameras. and yes, the opening up top really is just that, totally open. there was a pool of water in the middle of the church. seems like kinda bad planning to me, but i guess they don't mind the flooding issue.
so by now, it was coming down really hard and we decided we needed to get back to the b&b. we did take advantage of this time to stop by some souvenir shops though. since it was so wet and windy outside, it was nice to get indoors to shop. funny thing about the windy rain is that everyone's umbrellas were getting flipped. it was funny to watch people get buffeted about. you could only laugh cuz it was pretty miserable.
when we finally made it back to the hotel, we had to change out of all our wet clothes. we took a few hours to rest, and then me, nick, and my mom decided to try to local restaurant our hostess recommended. basically it was only two blocks away which was good since we didn't want to venture much further due to the potential rain. it seemed this place did lots of business with nearby hotels since they had several reservations made through hotels. they were very small, only six tables i think? we got appetizers of caprese (with some of best green olives ever!) and cold cuts. all very good. for the main courses, i got a beef and mushroom dish and nick got veal saltimbocca. i wouldn't say i loved my dish but it was definitely different. nick liked his a lot. for dessert, i got a sweet ricotta cream with pistacchios and chocolate which was AWESOME! and nick got a panna cotta with berries, also very good. after this, we just went home and slept.
so i woke up on our last day in rome realizing that i got entirely too much done the day before. i had hit almost all the major spots the day before, and now had very little left on the agenda. normally, nick and i would just wander around aimlessly for fun, but i was afraid this would bore the rest of our party.
so we decided to check out the bocca della verita' (mouth of truth) and trastevere. we found the mouth of truth easily and took some photos. then we wandered over to circo massimo. then we wandered over to the river and ended up on isola tiberina, this small island in the river, near trastevere. from here we took stairs down to the river where there were walkways to follow the river. we did this for a while, even though it was killing me cuz i had to use the bathroom (i have a pathetic bladder). and after all this wandering around all morning, we were all hungry and decided to get food.
we then wandered up to campo de' fiori which has a huge open market. we walked around all the stalls of fresh produce and other products. then it was time to eat! we had wandered the perimeter and settled on a restaurant that was very busy and popular. this tactic served us well as they were cheap and good. i got my first latte macchiato which was awesome! i got another tortellini with pancetta and nick got beef canneloni. both very good. this is when the other people totally mortified me again. apparently it wasn't enough food for them so the wife whips out a freakin' cucumber from her backpack and starts munching on it. yes, you read correctly: a freakin' cucumber! beside the obvious faux pas of bringing outside food to a restaurant, the absolute absurdity of the cucumber was just too much. fortunately my mom is the slowest eater on the face of the planet so i figured as long as someone at our table was eating restaurant-purchased food, i could stomach this a bit longer.
after this i decided we should see piazza navona again since it was now sunny and nice. on the way there, my mom found a homeless guy who had a mother dog with suckling pups. so cute! i was momentarily inspired by jean-philippe's dad who brought a puppy home from vacationing in martinique, but these puppies were far too young to be weaned. anyways, so back to the piazza. this is where my mom got lost for the second time, and once again on the last day in a particular town. she paused to take a photo of the fountain, so the rest of us literally walked like five steps over to a stall and bought some nougat. and i guess while we were paying, my mom noticed we were gone and went into a panic. rather than go to the center of the plaza and look around, which would've been logical, she assumed that we had just walked right on through and left her behind. the only thing is that each piazza feeds out into like 10 different streets so there's no way to guess which one we would've taken. anyways after running around for like 45 minutes, we finally found her at the other end of the piazza. she was all mad we ran off till i yelled/explained to her we were right there and she just didn't see us. plus, she was the only person who had managed to lost, not once, but twice! anyways, i was very irritated so i decided i must have more gelato. we went to tre scalini which is supposedly very famous. i got cafe and this de' fiori flavor which was basically sweet cream. super good! better than the last place we went to. this made me feel much better :)
so by now i was totally out of ideas, so we decided to wander back to the river and cross into trastevere. i had read this area was more true rome and it had come highly recommended. maybe i hit the wrong areas, but i just wasn't impressed. definitely not feeling it. so we went back to the island and wandered by the river some more. i decided to stop using the map and just allow us to get lost a bit. we ended up finding a cat sanctuary that was right in the middle of a bunch of ruins that were below ground level. it was trippy and odd. all these cats in these beautiful ruins with columns and stuff. we also went through the old jewish ghetto. we went through one alleyway that had a tribute to a bunch of murdered jews during the war. there was a plaque up depecting families with kids lined up against the wall with a soldier shooting them. really sad.
after this, since the sun was starting to set, we decided to run back to the colosseum one last time to get some cool sunset photos. i took a few and i really hope at least one comes out. i'd love to print it out big and put it in my living room :)
we rushed back to the hotel, grabbed more yummy cold pizza and 12% juice fanta, and took a minivan to the airport. our hosts called a private car to take us for 60 euros, which was a great deal considering a train from the station would have been 11 euros each person, plus we'd have to lug all our stuff all the way to the station again. and i didn't want to deal with late trains again...
so about easyjet. they fly cheap within europe. our flights were like $30 from rome to london gatwick. but man, you kinda pay for it. it's free-for-all seating. no drinks, not even water, and the seats don't recline at all. good thing i brought playing cards and played with my mom. it would've been the longest 2.5 hours ever!
then upon arrival at gatwick, we had to take a national express bus to heathrow. the 45-minute ride cost 20 pounds per person! and i had booked a hotel at heathrow since i thought it would be convenient for us to fly out the following morning. well british airways used to fly out of terminal 4, which is where the yotel was, but apparently this has changed and now no one goes there anymore. so we get dropped off in freezing cold london at like 11 pm at terminal 5 and then had to wait 30 minutes for the next bus to terminal 4. by now i'm soooo tired of buses and trains. we finally get to the yotel at around midnight. the rooms are called cabins and that's pretty apt. they're like what i imagine submarine cabins are like. i actually thought it was pretty fun. you sleep in a little pod with purple mood lighting :)
i got up at 8 am and got to shower in the combined shower/sink/toilet area. there's just a glass partion between the bathroom and the main cabin. then we went out into the terminal where there was a wetherspoon's pub and got english breakfasts. i guess i was hungry cuz man did i scarf that down fast! it was pretty good too and only 5 pounds. then we went back out to the freezing cold to wait for a bus back to terminal 5. ugh!
and of course our flight was late. it was also shockingly empty. we got to the terminal and it was empty! the flight i think was less than half full which is crazy these days. i can't even remember the last time i flew when it wasn't fully booked. and the plane was frozen or something so they had to defrost for 20 minutes. then there was a huge line/queue to take off, so we were delayed even further. i think we sat on the plane for over an hour before we took off, so we just sat around hungry waiting for the food service.
but at least once it began it was great. they had so much food and drink since there were so few passengers. you got whatever you wanted pretty much. lunch was beef lasagna which was pretty good. still i swear it was the longest 12 hours ever! we played cards a bunch but even that got boring eventually. then my mom decided she needed to lay down (this was possible since entire rows were empty), and i watched "mamma mia." nick hates abba and i figured this was my only chance. it was silly and fun. then we played more cards. then we got afternoon tea on the plane. i was actually happy about this since i had wanted to have afternoon tea in london but it never panned out. i was kept too busy trying to keep everyone else happy i never had the time :(
and finally we landed a full hour late at around 4:10 pm. fortunately customs was a breeze and we had no check-in luggage so we got out fast. then we had to call the courtesy van to pick us up. you have no idea how happy i was to see my own car again. after all the subways and buses, i actually enjoyed driving in traffic back home ;)
but of course, everyone was hungry and, surprise surprise, we ended up at a chinese restaurant again! we started the journey at a hop li on pico, and ended it with a dinner at another hop li on santa monica boulevard. after a very hazy dinner, i finally got back home just after 7 pm! they all took off immediately for SD and finally i was left alone. fortunately my plants had survived and the first thing i did was to water them all thoroughly.
i think this brings me up to date. the last email i sent was right after i had gotten in and was full of typos and stuff. but what did you expect when i hadn't slept in like 24 hours?!
anyways, some final thoughts. i will never travel with strangers again. then again, i only did this for my mom. she says she really enjoyed herself and didn't miss home at all, so i believe i accomplished my mission. i love my car. and despite all the irritations, i don't believe anything could've ruined paris and rome for me. they are just such awesome cities, you can't help but enjoy yourself. nick also believes that the trip averaged out to "good, but not great." but that's okay, cuz i think we'll definitely be back in the future :)
and now back to my normal life and getting ready for a dog. by this sunday, i promise i'll have a new baby! oh yeah, and this was our second attempt at a honeymoon. and since i don't feel it was a total success, i guess we'll just have to try again! one of these days, we're bound to get it right. if at first (or second) you don't succeed, try, try again ;)
next up (hopefully): antarctica!
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