So as I start drafting this post, I’ve been back for a few days now, and the memories are still pretty fresh in my head. If you follow me on social media at all, you’ll know that I spent the entire back half of September in Europe, on vacation with Didi. It was the trip of a lifetime, and I loved every damn minute of it, even the tough ones.<!– More –>
We did the smart thing and pre-packed the night before. We got up before dawn and caught a cab to the airport. We pay for the Clear service, so we don’t have to wait in long lines at security, which was pretty sick. We got to our gate, had breakfast while we waiting and then had to ride coach to JFK. In JFK, the layover was pretty respectable time-wise. Fortunately, the leg from JFK to Berlin was Delta’s Comfort+, so I wasn’t dying from trying to cram my lanky ass into coach for 10+ hours. We made good time and landed in Berlin 7:00 a.m. local time. We took a cab to the hotel, dropped our bags since check-in time was a few hours away, and we immediately hoofed it out into the city.
- Di’s Achilles tendons on both feet had been bothering her for months leading up to our departure and no amount of medication or physical therapy was helping. This was a concern because we’d planned on a lot of walking, in-tandem with public transit to get to our sites of interest.
- It was a long trip, so it was likely that one (or both) of us would get sick at some point.
We had two days slotted for Berlin, which isn’t enough for any city, to be sure, but I also grew up there and it was mostly an opportunity to take a quick trip down memory lane. I would like to get back here for a four-day trip, so I could spend more time here. This time, though, it was intended to be our opportunity to get ourselves squared away and in the right mindset for getting around via foot and public transit.
So, as mentioned, we hit the ground fast on day one, and started making our way around to see things. This started with a walk from our hotel to the Siegessäule (Victory Column) in the Tiergarten, and then on to the Brandenburger Tor. The impressions I got on just this walk about Berlin and her people: Berlin is very clean; the people are constantly on the move. Joggers and cyclists everywhere. By the time we got to the Tor, I was of the mindset that our moving around town from here on out should be via U-Bahn or bus. And that’s how we handled a lot of it thereafter.
After the Tor, we hoofed it a few blocks and took some time at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which was perhaps the most sobering thing we saw on the entire trip. After this, we intended on some more lighthearted fare, and were headed over to Steel Vintage Bicycles, the café/bike shop that I’d been eyeballing online for years. Conveniently enough, the parking lot right near their shop is what covers the remains of Hitler’s bunker. So I made sure I paused to reflect a moment before spitting on the man’s grave and saying a bunch of unkind things.
That out of my system, we went into SVB. The staff were quite lovely, the bikes were incredible. And then they trucked out the 120,000€ 1946 Bianchi that was owned by Fausto Coppi. Man, the hair on the back of my neck stood up on that one. Holy shit, what a beauty. The retired frame builder in me immediately started picking it apart in my head, trying to get a full idea of why it was built the way it was, but I was overwhelmed by the history of it.
After this, we hoofed it back to the hotel and got checked-in, cleaned-up and took a brief nap before heading over to the area I grew up in during the early 70’s, off of Klayallestrasse. It was eerie to stand in the spot outside of the apartment building, which has seen some minor modifications since I was there. I stood in the spot where my mom taught me to ride a bike, and that was far more emotional an experience than I expected. The base theatre is now the Allied Museum, and the outside hasn’t changed all that much. I kept thinking about how I sat in the balcony and watched Star Wars with my mom while she read the opening crawl to me. A hell of a trip down memory lane.
Somewhere in all of this, we also got over to Potsdamer Platz and put eyes on the remnants of the Wall, which was another strangely emotional moment for me.
After that, we made our way slowly back to the hotel, as Di’s Achilles tendons were starting to bother her quite a bit. Dinner was at a small restaurant and was pretty decent — currywurst, frites, and beer. (Di had something different, but I cannot remember what.)
The next day we were going to be pinched for time as we had a train leaving at 4:30 p.m. for Amsterdam, so we got up early and got cracking. The first stop was a place called Funtainment, where I got started on the kids’ souvenirs. The goal was to get them Magic cards in every language we were exposed to. The store was huge, well-stocked, and the staff were super friendly, even with the language barrier. We made our way toward the museums district as I wanted to hit up the Pergamonmuseum, but upon our arrival, discovered that they were out of tickets for the day. I should’ve planned for this more thoroughly, clearly, and this wasn’t the only time poor planning was going to bite us in the ass. Because we had about six hours left before we had to be on a train, we opted to hit the Berlin Zoo since it wasn’t terribly far from the hotel. We got in, the giant spire of mountain goats inside the main entrance triggered a whole cascade of memories, unsurprisingly. After the zoo, the highlight of which was the pandas, we made our way back to the hotel, jumped on a bus, and got our butts to Berlin Hauptbahnhof for the transfer to our next city.
Berlin to Amsterdam, But Not Really
This was probably the absolute worst part of the entire trip. Our plan was a direct shot via train from Berlin to Amsterdam, leaving at around 4:30 p.m. and arriving sometime around 11:00 p.m. We were to Berlin Hauptbahnhof on-time, found what platform we were expecting to depart from, and then with only about 15 minutes left before departure, our train was completely canceled with no warning and no explanation. Frick!
We made our way to the information booth and the guy there pulled together a route for us that would get us to Amsterdam. At around 2:00 a.m. And had six transfers, some of which were as short as six minutes. Fuck. Miss a connection and everything falls apart. Guess what happened?
Our first point of WTF was en route to our first stop. The train we were in showed us going to a different endpoint than was on our agenda. What I realized after some puzzling over it, was that we were in the wrong half of the train. They will frequently pair a couple of trains together and then uncouple them at a certain point in the line. After a quick conversation with the conductor, we were able to get our shit squared away just in time and we able to get on the correct half of the train at the split.
If only that were the end of the drama.
As the evening wore on, we were going to miss a connection, and we did. We managed to get onto another train, fortunately, and that was going to dump us in Viersen, Germany, around 11:30 pm, with the next train in our series not available until 7:30 am. I was super frustrated, and having shitty internet service wasn’t helping as I was trying to find a way to not spend the evening sleeping in a train station — couldn’t find a hotel near the train station, rental cars were largely unavailable and cost upwards of 700€. A quick chat and we made the executive decision to ride the train to the end of the line in Aachen, a much larger city, and a chance to find better routing to where we were headed. We endured a bunch of drunken teenagers, bad hip-hop being blasted from someone’s Bluetooth speaker, and the fact that we were both sleepless, cranky, and hungry.
When the train finally dumped us in Aachen, it was a relief. Right across the street was a hotel. We went over there, knocked on the door, but got no answer. Frick. A quick look at the map app on the phone indicated a hotel just half a mile away. At this point it was after midnight and we just wanted a place to crash out for a few hours. We immediately got to hoofing it over there with a weird mix of hubris and trepidation. Fortunately, they were open and had a few rooms available. The guy at the front desk thankfully spoke some English, was very pleasant, and got us set up with a room before 1:00 a.m. We had quick showers, and went to bed. Di fell asleep almost immediately, I was too wound up and didn’t fall asleep until almost 2:00 a.m. The alarm went off at 5:00 a.m.
Up and out. We threw our shit back in our bags, dropped off our keys, and immediately trucked back to the train station, and we were on our way to Brussels. Not the most direct route, but fucking whatever, right? Right. In Brussels, we transferred trains, and were instantly en route to Amsterdam. A quick pass through Rotterdam, and then we were dumped at Schiphol Airport. We hit the bathrooms, shoved some light food/caffeine in our faces, and then were on an airport shuttle to the hotel, arriving at 11:00 a.m., about 12 hours later than intended, the whole transition from Berlin to Amsterdam taking almost 20 hours. Fuckery of the highest order.
Channeling our inner 20-somethings, we dropped our shit and got out the door. We walked about 600 meters to a tram station and scurried our asses into the downtown area. We were taking it easy again because of Di’s ongoing tendon issues, which was fine (I certainly didn’t have the energy to go racing around). First order of business was honest-to-god real food. We sat in a little café next to a canal, and tucked in to a couple of beers and some food. The club sandwich was decent. The people-watching was exceptional.
We poked around the city a bit, we looked at a church that was important to Di’s dad and sent him some photos, we hung around Rembrandt Corner, and took a tour of the Rembrandthuis, which was pretty cool. With Di’s tendon problems, a need to get caught up on sleep, and so on, we opted to take the tram back to the hotel, have dinner at the hotel, and then reserved bicycles for the next day, and then got a bunch of sleep.
Day two, we got started early. On the bikes, we rode about eight miles to the Rijksmuseum and took in some art. We didn’t get to the Van Gogh museum on this trip because we both thought the other person had purchased tickets — oops. A quick brunch of frijtes and mayo and then we got down to the business of bouncing around the city — shopping for souvenirs, we got some tattoos done, had lunch, and basically went where our interests and eyes took us.
Around 5pm, we got back on the bikes to head back to the hotel, which was again, awesome. We did get caught in the rain, and waited out the heaviest part of it under an awning before setting out for the hotel again.
Back at the hotel, we got cleaned-up and presentable and took a cab back to downtown to the Red Light District, the details of which we don’t need to discuss here. We got home late, went to bed, and got up super-early (as usual) to hop a cab to Amsterdam Centraal, where another train was waiting to whisk us off to our next city.
Amsterdam to Paris
This was one of the easiest parts of taking trains everywhere. The only issue was on the platform, we were hit up for money by a guy who’d clearly fallen on hard times. Horrible body odor, grey teeth, and so scrawny he made me look like a tank by comparison (and I’m pretty lanky). We apologetically told him we didn’t have any cash, which was true, and he wandered down the platform to accost other people. On the way back past us, he turned around and yelled “FUCK YOU” at us which, y’know, probably not the best way to garner any fucking sympathy.
Thirty minutes later, we were on a train and headed for Paris and the Gare du Nord station.
Man, I cannot say enough good about this place. Was it as clean as Berlin? Not even close. Was there as much opportunity for mischief as Amsterdam? No. But holy shit, I loved this place. We hopped off the train in Gare du Nord, and only had to walk about two blocks to our hotel. Was it the best neighborhood? No. But the hotel was clean, modern, secure, and the staff were exceptional — professional, polite, thoughtful, and friendly. We checked-in, got our shit together and went exploring.
We started with a meal in a café’ by the Bastille, and then we walked up a longish street checking out the little shops as we made our way to the Eiffel Tower. The only thing of important note here was a pair of guys trying to pick my pocket while I was in the area — it’s the “let me put this friendship bracelet on your wrist” scam, where the one guy does this while the other one does the lift while you’re distracted. I saw right through it and immediately started making a scene, and they both panicked and ran. Not surprising, either — the gendarme are everywhere around the Tower, and I suspect these two guys weren’t real interested in getting the cops involved. That done, we stood in line for awhile before getting into a lift and made our way up.
By the time day two in Paris rolled around, Di was starting to really suffer from the Achilles tendon problems. On the way to the Louvre, we stopped into a little pharmacy, and discussed the issue with a pharmacist. He recommended some meds, and we dropped about 40€ on them, because at this point, we wanted to solve the issue.
Day two was mostly about the Louvre, but we did walk around in the Jardin de Tuileries a bit before hand. And then we got down to the business that was our primary reason for getting to Paris in the first place: the Louvre, which Di had been waiting her whole life to see. This was a fantastic experience, obviously, and my only complaint was that Liberty Leading the People was unavailable for viewing. We had a lovely late lunch on a balcony overlooking the courtyard, and then poked around a bit more before we moved on.
That was most of Day Two. We also hit up the post office and mailed a bunch of stuff that we had brought with us that turned out to be extraneous. The guy at the post office was super helpful and we worked through language barriers, and the stuff was all here waiting for us when we got home.
We went back to the hotel, Di rested her achy tendons, had some of the stuff that the pharmacist sold us, and I hoofed it a couple miles to Le Repaire Du Dragon to follow up on the ongoing plan of “get the kids foreign language Magic cards from each place we go.” I snagged a few packs from the gentleman running the store who was surprised that I’d want the French language cards, but was super cool. It was a lovely little neighborhood and the Afro-Caribbean fusion takeaway place smelled amazing when I walked by, but I wasn’t sure how Di’s feet were feeling at this point, so when I got back to the hotel, we planned to eat somewhere nearby. We found an English-style pub, and it seemed interesting, so we gave it a try. Sitting in an English pub in Paris I decided to take a stab at having the pulled pork BBQ sandwich and was pleasantly surprised. We hoofed it back to the hotel and racked out for the night.
Day Three dawned grey and rainy and we woke up early and hiked down to the laundromat down the street to do a quick load of essentials (what you do when you’re packing light). This was entertaining, as Di ran back to the hotel and I was left to attempt a conversation with the drunk (and still drinking) French 20-something that was hanging out and not doing laundry. It was fun — we made a concerted effort to get across the language barrier and both laughed our asses off.
The rain started to clear during breakfast, and this particular day, we opted for something a bit heavier than the usual croissant-and-coffee. Once we were done, we consulted some maps, and we got on our way.
We did a walk-by of Notre Dame because it was there, though still under repairs. I accused (without any sort of evidence) a friend of having a Ph.D. focused on church fires of being the one who started the fire.
The Moulin Rouge was our first big target of the day — we hadn’t planned on going inside, but it was nice to take it in and do a little light exploring of the area. We saw a Halloween store and were pleasantly surprised — it was this small, non-corporate thing, and the sign on the door indicated that you should call whomever it was to come open the store. We opted not to as there were tons of things we wanted to see.
Our next stop was the Picasso Museum, which was maybe my favorite art museum of the trip. We spent a bunch of time working our way through the space and taking everything in. As usual, we exited through the gift shop1, and then moved on to the Arc de Triomphe.
Pictures do the Arc absolutely no justice. The size will overwhelm you, and man, take the elevator up if you can. That set of spiral stairs was a haul. The views atop it were amazing, and it was nice to sit out in the cleared skies and enjoy the weather.
Our plan for after the Arc was to walk the Champs-Élysées and do some shopping while we were there. We’d been hearing from a lot of friends stateside that McDonald’s in France was actually pretty good, so we started off joking about it, but when we saw one, we had to give it a shot. To all of you that hinted that we should try it: you are the lying-est fucking liars that have ever existed. The fries were cold and flaccid, the burger was tasteless and probably gave me Mad Cow Disease, and the Coke was watered-down and barely carbonated. Never the fuck again.
We wandered through the Apple Store, poked our heads into a little shopping arcade, which was meh, and then we did one of the things we came to do and hit up the Prada store for Di. I was fully expecting a snobby and hostile reception given that we were dressed like scrubs, but the woman who helped us was wonderful, kind, and helped Didi find the perfect bag. We walked out very wowed, with her in possession of a handbag that cost more(!) than my custom titanium frame. And I’m fucking thrilled for her. She’d wanted one of these forever and it was nice to see her excitement.
After that, we made our way back to the hotel, got cleaned-up, packed for the next day’s departure, and then got out and had dinner.
Paris to London
The Eurostar from Paris to London was lovely and so uneventful that I have nothing to complain about.
We got in pretty close to on-time, exited in St. Pancras Station, and transferred to a local subway to our hotel. From Tower Station it was a five-minute walk to our hotel. We got checked-in, admired the hotel a bit, breathed a huge sigh of relief and got about our business of exploring London.
One of our first stops was Forbidden Planet, a giant SF&F/nerd store. We picked up more Magic cards for the kids (not that we couldn’t have gotten English-language cards anywhere else), poked around, and snagged a few more things for the kids. We didn’t want to haul a bunch of shit across the rest of the continent, so I kept the wallet close. After that, we hit up the nearby Brew Dog pub — I’d never been to one before, despite being aware of them, and the experience was great. Good food and beer, decent music, awesome staff.
We poked around near Trafalgar Square, and wandered into the National Portrait Gallery, which was cool. Trafalgar Square was packed, and we loitered around for awhile and put eyeballs on the space, sat by the fountain and enjoyed the conversation and sunlight, and took some photos.
We moved on to Picadilly Circus with the intent of just seeing what we could see, maybe to do some light shopping, and we fell into The Art of Banksy. It wasn’t originally in our plans, but we also wanted to be a little flexible here, so we paid and went in. We took our time here — my feet, ankles, and knees were pretty much a daily issue at this point, and I was exhausted. So I really got to absorb everything. And when we finally did leave, no, we did not have to exit through the gift shop (but we did visit it).
We hit Seething Lane Tap for dinner, since it was just down the road from our hotel. I had been grazing for the better part of the day since lunch so I didn’t need to stuff my face. Sometimes, a pint and a plate of frites is just what the doctor ordered.
The morning of day two, we were up and around early, with a lot of shit (and a lot of walking) on the agenda. Di started the morning with a sore throat and a mild cough, which we stayed quietly hopeful about. We caught some breakfast first, before moving on with the morning.
Our first stop of the day was the British Museum, which was amazing. I could’ve spent a whole day in there, but we settled for about three hours. My big thing was the Rosetta Stone, which was breathtaking. We also poked around in the Greek, Egyptian, and Assyrian sections of the first floor for quite awhile, and then made our way through the gift shop, natch. It was amazing and the next time we’re in London, I want to spend a bunch of time there.
After we were done at the museum, walking around, we ducked into a (the?) London Review Bookshop, where I browsed around a bit and mentally added probably two dozen books to my to-read list. One of the things I loved about London — all of Europe, really — was the sheer numbers of people that were eyeball deep in books. Every bookstore I went into was crowded, people on park benches and on subways with their faces buried in books.
After some bouncing around, we hit up O’Neill’s, a pub of some sort, where they had the Rugby World Cup on the big screens, and we tore into some pub food with Japanese beer on the side. I discovered a deep love for steak-and-Guiness pie and mushed peas, and man, I need to go back.
Harrods was our next stop for the day, and we wandered the floors of the store, and I was sometimes impressed and sometimes aghast at the things we found. There’s an eclectic mix of classy shit and gauche garbage that left me scratching my head at times. The crowds were pretty overwhelming so we didn’t hit every last floor, but I did note a few things that I’d return for should I ever hit a big Powerball win. 😜
After Harrods, we wound up over in Westminster. The Abbey was closed, so we settled for photos from outside, and finding Newton’s grave didn’t seem possible. I added it to the list for “next time” (and there will definitely be a next time). We stumbled upon a “protest” of sorts, calling on the UK to rejoin the EU. I’m all for the anti-Brexit mentality, but it’ll be a cold day in hell before
I acknowledge Missouri they welcome you with open arms. Which is a shame. You both need each other.
After hoofing it across the Thames, we wandered down side streets, past the London Eye, and made our way to Suck UK, an eclectic little store that I’d seen online before and that had been mentioned in one of our travel guides. Cool place, but again, in the interest of not having ridiculously overstuffed suitcases, we opted to skip buying anything.
We limped back to the hotel, exhausted, had some food, and debated staying in. I talked Di into not skipping our big plan for the evening, which was the Jack the Ripper Walking Tour. We meandered around London’s East End, saw parts of the original city wall, stood in areas where victims had been found, and generally got to eyeball everything. It was pretty crazy and we had a blast.
Out last full day started early — we had breakfast at a café down the road from the hotel, before we walked over to the Jack the Ripper Museum. It was a nice chaser to the walking tour from the night before, but it’s also something I wouldn’t have enjoyed as much without the walking tour the night before.
We opted to spend the rest of the morning shopping, starting with a quick duck into a Boots Pharmacy to snag COVID test, just in case. Di was still feeling shitty and I was run-down but not terrible yet.2 Neither of us were running fevers, we both had a sense of taste/smell, and we were just paranoid as fuck after long flights and lots of time on public transport.
Waterstones was amazing — six stories of nothing but books, man, and I could’ve spent a whole day and thousands of dollars there. I reined myself in, took a bunch of photos for things to add to my to-read list, and we got out of there. We hit the Moleskine store, Traitor’s Gate for a meal, and a few other spots along the way, before heading back to the hotel
We took the COVID tests and our gut feeling was right. Both negative.
We had some maintenance tasks to do this evening — rebooking part of our London to Milan tickets as the Lyon-to-Milan leg had been unceremoniously cancelled. Good thing I was checking my emails or I’d never have known. So we rebooked everything, including a quick overnight stay in Paris at the same place we’d stayed when we were there.
Then we found a place to sit down and watch the Vikings-Panthers game. Turns out there’s a BBQ chain in London that frequently shows those, and one of the locations was only about a quarter-mile from the hotel. We hoofed it over.
As we were walking in, a guy greeted us with a Minnesota accent, which was pleasantly surprising. To make the world even smaller, during chit-chat, he told us he had started Calabrio, a local company, and asked if we knew it. Did we? Hell yeah, we did! And the guy who was house-sitting for us, Josh, had worked there! And did Tom know Josh? Yes! Josh had done a lot of great work for them and had even designed the invitations for Tom’s son’s wedding. It is a fucking small world and I love being reminded of this.
We had a great time. Di wasn’t impressed with her food. I loved my beef brisket and mashed potatoes. The Vikes were massively shitting the bed, so after halftime we paid our tab, said goodbye to Tom, and trekked back to the hotel to get some much-needed sleep.
Day Four/London to Paris
We intentionally slept in, woke up, packed our shit, and went and scarfed down some breakfast. After checkout, we headed back to St Pancras Station and hung out for a couple of hours while waiting for the Eurostar.
We had a delay of about 40 minutes on the tracks because at one point the Chunnel was down to one track being open and we were having to take turns. Cue Di’s anxiety. She hit the bar car for a couple of cans of wine. I hung out and chilled.
We got to Paris a little later than planned, walked to one of the places we’d eaten before, went home, cleaned up, and went to bed.
Paris to Lille to Zurich to Milan or Something
This was a fucking slog. We got up super early, got a cab that picked us up at the hotel and drove us to Gare du Lyon. From there, we jumped a train to Lille, and from there to Zurich. That was the first seven hours of our day, and it went off without a hitch.
We arrived at Zurich Hauptbahnhof and were able to get tickets for a train leaving for Milan only a couple of hours later. We spent our time sitting around, bored out of our skulls. We had a meal at the station’s Burger King, which 40EURO and resulted in, again, underwhelming food. I began to realize that the Europeans take their real food so seriously that they don’t bother trying to perfect the art of fast food. And that’s a good thing.
We had paid for first-class tickets to Milan, so when we boarded, we settled in, relaxed, and enjoyed our multi-hour ride. We got to see a lot of the Swiss Alps and fell in love with it just from the views. Calling it “breathtaking” sounds trite, but there were moments where I literally felt the breath escape me and my body not wanting to breathe, simply because of the beauty of the scene. Small towns nestled up onto a lake, surrounded by big, craggy alpine peaks, with rays of the sun splitting around them, little waterfalls running off the side of a cliff, everywhere you looked there was something that caught your eye. And the green! My god, the fields and the bottom of the valleys must have some amazingly rich soil because the vegetation was incredibly vibrant. I could’ve looked at Switzerland all damn day.
I did pry my eyes away long enough to get some homework done on the laptop. We had a few immigrants come through the car, panhandling at one point, and there was a bit of a confrontation with one of them that made me a bit on-edge for awhile. The Swiss had police boarding the train at one point, checking passports and tickets, which was unsurprising. That said, they were polite, professional, and not at all like American police.
We arrived in Milan just before sunset and were eager to get off the train after spending most of the day on it.
We walked from the train station to the hotel. It was only about a mile, and we took in our views of Milan. Impressions: clean, busy, lots of restaurants. I got the impression that it was more like a North American city with a bunch of businesses in the downtown core where we were, with lots of people commuting in for work. I could be wrong about that assessment, though, as I was only in the city for a little while.
Once we got to the hotel, we checked in, cleaned up a bit, and then walked to a nearby pizza place and tore into it. I’d been on a pizza hiatus for a couple of weeks, leading up to the Italy part of the trip, and goddammit, I wasn’t waiting a minute longer. The language gap was a bit of a problem and we wound up with a pizza that was basically veggies3 and rather than try to rectify it, I chowed down. And chased it with a bottle of Ceres. It was a pretty damn good meal. We got our exhausted asses back to the hotel and hit the bed. Di’s coughing was getting pretty bad by this point.
We only had one full day in Milan and it was great. We had breakfast at the hotel, which was fantastic, and then we set about seeing a bunch of the touristy stuff that was in the Lonely Planet guide. We started with Cova, a café that was founded by one of Napolean’s soldiers, and is the oldest café in the city. The pastry counter alone was worth the trip. After that, we hit a bookstore that was in the area around the Duomo, but I was left somewhat underwhelmed by it, especially after my trip to Waterstones in London. After that, we hung out in the plaza in front of the Duomo, had a snack and some fluids, and took in the sights and the people-watching. It was beautiful, and given the company, I could have done it all day.
For a light lunch, we grabbed fried pizza…things…from a place called Luini’s. The guidebook raved about them and the line for them was pretty sizeable. And they were just okay. I was a little saddened by this, but whatever — it was still better than something comparable in the States.
Our big thing for the day was the Museo del Novecento (20th century art), which was great. Modern art is definitely my favorite, so this was wonderful and I was exposed to a lot of artists I had never heard of, and really enjoyed.
After that, we hit a gelato place that was impromptu, and the lemon flavor was incredible. It’s a good thing I don’t live in Italy — I’d weigh 300 pounds.
Milan to Rome
The trip from Milan to Rome was another of those uneventful hauls. We got to ride Italian high-speed rail and it was on-time, quick, and efficient. Mussolini not only made the trains run on-time, but he scared them into continuing to do it 90 years later.
We arrived in Rome in the early afternoon and hoofed it from the main train station to our hotel. This was not great — the neighborhood was rough, the hotel was remarkably shitty and we cursed ourselves for not finding better accommodations sooner. (We booked only about 6-7 weeks beforehand.) It could’ve been worse, I suppose.
We checked in, we hung out for a little bit, and then we walked toward the Colosseum. It wasn’t our target for the day, but we did have tickets for a guided tour the next day. On the way, we found a place to have dinner, looked around a bit, and generally got a feel for where we were.
Di’s illness was getting worse and in the evening she was a coughing machine.
The first of our two full days, we got up early, had breakfast across the street from the Colosseum, and then we embarked on our guided tour. We got to explore the Roman Forum, and the climbed Palatine Hill to see everything from a higher angle. The weight of history here was stunning.
The only disappointing part about the Colosseum was the complete absence of stray cats. They’ve relocated most of the population while they clean the site. Two remain. This was another of those “holy shit I can’t believe they built this 2000 years ago” moments. We paid the extra to be able to go onto the arena floor, of course, and when you were down there you really got the feel for the size of the place.
After the Colosseum, we got lunch nearby, which was pleasant. More pizza for me, and Di had some fresh mozzarella and tomatoes in some sort of salad-like thing. We watched the people go by.
We did a little bit of light shopping and had dinner before calling it a night — by this time, my ankles and feet were in pretty bad shape and Di’s bronchitis was getting bad, and I was starting to sho. She was having such a hard time breathing that I gave her a few hits off my albuterol inhaler that I’m happy we brought. In retrospect, we probably should have gone to the local equivalent of Urgent Care, but she emphatically nixed that idea.
Day Two, we woke up late, had breakfast, and caught a cab to the Vatican Museums. While ornate, and full of interesting stuff to look at, the more time we spent there, the more disgusted I became with what I was seeing. Here’s an organization that it supposed to be about the betterment of mankind, sitting on a hoard of treasures that could be easily sold off for food, medicines, etc. Cap it off with the fact that the cab driver scammed us out of fifty euro and I was pretty salty all morning. The place was overcrowded and insane, and we opted to GTFO and walked through some shopping areas on our way to Trevi Fountain. We ate gelato, we watched people, and then we spent the early evening exploring the city and having dinner.
By this point, we were both just done with Rome, ready to fly home, and we went back to the hotel, packed up our stuff, threw away a bunch of things we didn’t want to haul back with us, and collapsed for the night.
The cab to Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino (FCO) was pretty uneventful and we didn’t get scammed out of fifty euro this time, so that was awesome. We hung around the airport for awhile, hydrated, and generally just killed time. The flight from there to NYC was coach (couldn’t upgrade to Comfort+ — we tried), and I was pretty miserable. I had intended on trying to stay awake, but that wasn’t in the cards. Too much pent-up exhaustion.
We got to NYC, we went through customs, which had ridiculous lines, but they didn’t ask us for anything. No paperwork, no bag check, nada. I found that a bit weird, and we went on our way into the airport. Again, we had to wait for multiple hours before we got on our flight. This time, we had Comfort+, which was a godsend. We got into Minnepolis after 11pm, hoofed it to ground transport, and caught a cab to home.
At home, the dog was overjoyed to see us, the cats were all “you were gone?” and sleeping in our own bed again was sheer fucking joy.
- Book your hotel in Rome as far ahead as you possibly can so that you have better selection. Don’t stay near Roma Centrale train station. Holy fucking shit.
- Man, the French herbal-based anti-inflammatories are better than Advil. We’re looking for ways to buy them in the States.
- We didn’t spend enough time in any city, except maybe Rome. I’d have liked an extra day in Amsterdam, Berlin and Milan, and probably 2-3 extra days each in London and Paris.
- The trains are not nearly as dependable as advertised, but once you understand them, they’re pretty awesome.
- On returning to Europe: want to go back to London, probably with the kids, for like a week.
- Overall rating: 9/10. Definitely will go again.