Day 7: Back to Rome, Pantheon, and Capitoline Museum
After three nights in Florence, it was time to return to Rome where we would spend another night before catching a plane out of Italy. We started the day with breakfast at the same cafe on the Duomo plaza. I’m a big fan of a simple breakfast of croissants and coffee, so that’s what I ordered once again. Then we packed our stuff, hauled our luggage down four flights of stairs, and through the streets of Florence back to the train station. By this time, such trips were becoming fairly routine. The train ride was easy. From my very limited experience on this trip, Europe just seems to do train and plane travel a lot better than we do in the U.S. Back in Rome, we stayed in the Hotel Torino whose main asset is being close to the train station. It was perfectly serviceable, but it was billed as a four star hotel — so I guess I don’t know what that rating entails. Certainly nothing to do with quality WiFi! But, we weren’t spending much time in the hotel anyway, so it didn’t much matter.
Once we got our stuff up to the fourth floor rooms (elevator this time!) the first order of business was lunch. We ate at Er Buchetto. This place was fantastic for what we wanted. Just a quick, inexpensive sandwich to tide us over. The sandwiches were incredible — pretty much just pork on bread which we ate standing up at tables, which sounds awful, but when the pork is a delicious porchetta and the bread is great and the table you’re standing at is on a sidewalk in Rome, it’s the opposite of awful. I also had a Peroni because, why not?
From there, we walked to the Pantheon. We had seen the outside on the first night in Rome but had arrived too late to go in. When we went in, I was a little surprised — but really shouldn’t have been: the many gods one expects with a word like “Pantheon” have been replaced by the one Christian god. I know the popes haven’t controlled Rome for the full 2,000 years of Christianity, but they have at least done so for a long time. It makes sense that the Pantheon wouldn’t remain dedicated to pagan Gods. Wikipedia tells me it was dedicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs in the 7th century.
From there, we had yet more gelato, enjoyed some fountains, and made our way to the Capitoline Museums. This museum had been recommended by our tour guide for the Colosseum, and (in my opinion) it delivers. It sits atop the Capitoline Hill, has great exhibits, and was very uncrowded. In particular, the huge statues of Marcus Aurelius and Constantine are impressive. And the length of time there have been people settled on Capitoline Hill is staggering. They had evidence of Bronze Age settlements there. It’s a good, defensible location on the Tiber connecting the Mediterranean to the interior of Italy, so settlement there makes a certain amount of sense. We cut this visit a little short — our Museum Tyrant was a little gassed (as was the family generally) and not insisting on seeing every room.
So, we made the long walk back to the hotel and had a little rest before dinner. Our last dinner in Italy was at the Alessio — a nice restaurant down the street from the Hotel Torino with tables in the basement. Seemed to be a popular place for Americans. I had a mushroom and sausage pizza. But, Harper’s meal was probably the most interesting — it was a seafood pasta with things like oysters, clams, and shrimp on top of the pasta. She had to do a fair amount of work peeling and whatnot with her meal, but it looked delicious!
I think I mentioned that traffic in Rome is like a perpetual game of chicken. At the crosswalks without lights, you have to kind of walk out into the middle of traffic and trust that cars will stop for you. And, they do stop. But for an American not used to this kind of thing, the level of trust it takes to walk in front of a fairly fast moving car is unnerving. Indecision will get you hurt. We were taking a stroll after dinner when we came upon one of these crosswalks. Harper kind of lost her nerve and her body was trying to go forward and backward at the same time, causing her to fall in the middle of the street! The rest of us were there and, so, the traffic was coming to a stop; so, nothing was hurt but her pride.
Day 8: Rome to Berlin
Our last day in Italy began with breakfast on the roof of the Hotel Torino. I was moderately excited to see a self-serve coffee dispenser, since I had not had a large cup of coffee since our trip began. But, unfortunately, the coffee was not that great. After making ourselves some plates, we went out onto the roof. This was clearly the pigeons’ roof. We were mere visitors. The wait staff had to be quick to remove the plates and the tablecloth when a patron finished eating because those pigeons were going to be on the table quickly. I think at this point, Harper started rethinking her view of pigeons as cute and interesting and began gravitating more toward the “rats-with-wings” consensus.
We took the Leonardo Train from Termini Station to the airport. There was a bit of trouble with the conductor as we had inadvertently not paid the fare for Cole. When buying the tickets we must have marked both kids down as “children” when 13 year old kids were required to pay full fare. Fortunately, the conductor chalked it up to a misunderstanding and we were able to simply pay the fare without paying the associated fine. Other than that, the train ride, checking bags, security, and the flight from Rome to Berlin were easy. I don’t know if we were lucky or if the Europeans are just better at this sort of thing than we are, but travel on trains and airplanes seemed to be much less of a hassle than I’m used to here in the U.S.
Once we got to Berlin, we were happy to see trees again. When I heard birds chirping again, I realized I hadn’t heard birds chirping while I was in Italy. The driving also seemed more civilized with cars giving each other more space and rules of the road being observed. We stayed at the Hotel 103 which was an interesting place. We initially had some trouble with the buzzer to get into the hotel. We rang the bell, the hotel staff buzzed to unlock the door, but we kept pulling instead of pushing. The guy came out and let us in, then observed that the door didn’t have a “push” sign on it and figured that was something he ought to take care of. The place almost has a feel of a cross between a hotel and a dorm or hostel. The lobby is more hotel like whereas the bedrooms are definitely more dorm-like. Our four bed bedroom was just a long, narrow room with four single beds lined up in a row along the wall with a small table separating each one. There was a table in the corner with a 12” TV. The table was situated such that the bathroom door didn’t open up all the way.
Making matters even more interesting, the lights wouldn’t turn on. After our inability to get in the front door, I was hesitant to ask the guy at the desk. But, we have to have light. Turns out there is a receptacle on the wall inside the room where you put your key card. This activates the lights. It’s an energy saving strategy. The front desk guy said it’s on his list of things he tries to remember to tell Americans because we’re apparently very often unfamiliar with the concept. We also asked for restaurant recommendations. He offered us a variety of cuisine types, but — much as we like, for example, Thai food — we felt we should get some German food. So, he recommended Zum Bayernmichel which was a block or two away and fit the bill perfectly. He said his wife — who grew up in Germany — described it as the sort of comfort food her grandma might make. The owner was so friendly. He was so enthusiastic whenever I’d order, I felt like I’d done something really good! I honestly can’t remember what I ordered. It was big, heavy, tasty, and made of some part of a pig. I mostly remember the cole slaw which was all kinds of delicious. And, I had some German beer. Again, I don’t remember what it was – but it was listed as the house beer. A pilsner of some sort.
While we were in the restaurant, the only rain of the vacation began. It came down heavy, but was finished by the time we finished eating. So, we took a walk to the Mauerpark where we saw some of the graffiti painted on remnants of the Berlin Wall. Max Schmeling Hall was also in the area, mainly of interest to me simply because I’ve heard the stories about the Max Schmeling – Joe Louis fights in 1936 and 1938 and his later friendship with Louis.
At the end of the evening, we returned to the Hotel 103 where we had a delightful conversation with the hotel manager and his wife. Afterward, we thought we saw on the name tag that his name was Ben. But, that could have been part of his surname. But, for purposes of our story, we’ll call him Ben. He kind of ran the check in desk and the bar immediately adjacent to the check in desk. So, he was mixing drinks for us while chatting us up. I just had a beer, but he made the kids some kind of fruity, pineapple, nonalcoholic drink. I think Amy had a Berliner Weiss mit Schuss — like a wheat beer with raspberry syrup. Ben was originally from Israel but had moved to Germany and become a citizen. His wife told us about the time she’d been to the U.S. She told a story about going to New Jersey and getting hit on by Bruce Springsteen. Ben told us about the ongoing Berlin airport boondoggle. He asked us about health insurance in the U.S. We could have talked to him for hours. But, for me, that would have inevitably have led to drinking at the bar for hours, and we had a flight to catch in the morning. So, we made our way up to the room and called it a night. As we were waiting for the elevator, the kids and I were marveling at the vending machine that had beer as an option. A fellow patron confided in us that the beers were horribly overpriced. (Which was o.k. If I wanted another beer, I would have had it at the bar, talking to Ben.)
Day 9: Headed Home
The day started early because the sun rose at about 4:45 a.m. in Berlin. The trip home was smooth. We got a cab, took it about 7 miles to the airport, checked our bags, cleared customs, and ate breakfast in about an hour. Again, Europe seems to be a lot better at moving people than we are. Air Berlin, once again, seemed eager to feed us, giving us a couple of meals and a snack. I was seated behind an aggressive recliner. But, all in all, the flight wasn’t too bad. The entertainment systems on board are pretty remarkable when you compare the situation 10 or 20 years ago. A few dozen movies to choose from, plus TV shows, music, and games with a console at each seat. Our biggest challenge on the return was that the review mirror had become detached from the window. I think it was an add-on mirror (with fancy pants temperature gauge and compass) and the adhesive that held it up had given way. The parking facility where we had our car helped us out with some duct tape to keep it from dangling from its wires. Other than that, there were no problems getting home.
The jet lag was definitely easier to deal with, returning east to west, when compared to the return from our Hawaii trip, coming the other way. As it turned out, with the early sun rise in Berlin and the late sunset in Indiana, we had about 22 hours of sunlight. Sad to have our trip end, but happy to be home.