Finally, after being home confined for the past two years, and not leaving the country in nearly three, we’re off to see the world again. This time, to Rome.
We started talking about doing this trip for my wife’s birthday, however, it appeared at that time that the Delta variant was a on the rise and it was unclear as to whether anyone would actually let us in. Even now, there’s still a certain amount of concern, countries are checking vaccination status, and a negative COVID test at the time was still necessary to re enter the United States.
Looking back, I probably should have done this blog post a bit differently rather than one massive post as I am doing, instead do it as several smaller more manageable parts, such as giving each day or city its own post. In addition, it has now been several weeks since my return, and my posts for the later days, don’t feel quite as detailed as my post from the earlier days, which were generally written while the trip was in progress, and is certainly something I will need to keep in mind for sabbatical postings and other travels going forward.
Direct flights from Seattle to Rome have never been available, even pre pandemic. So, for this flight we need to connect in Toronto, flying Air Canada.
Although the mask mandates for public transport in the United States had been lifted several weeks ago, since we’re flying Canadian, that ruling doesn’t apply, hence, its time to strap on our KN95, and hit the skies
We started the first day early, at 4am, knowing that today is going to be a particularly long day. I generally don’t sleep on planes so, this being Saturday morning, I am fully expecting not to get any sleep until Sunday Night. We catch one of the first light rail trains to the airport that morning a little after 5AM.
Arriving at the airport, once I clear security, I head to McDonald’s. As an adult, airport McDonald’s is really the only acceptable McDonald’s. The one here at SeaTac airport is mostly automated, and can turn around hundreds of orders per hour. Hence, I was in and out of there within 5 minutes, with my Sausage Biscuit with Egg and Large Coffee. After getting up at 4, I was well overdue for a coffee by the time I got there at six. My wife on the other hand went to the Airport Starbucks, and had to wait in a line of customers for their drink orders. I would rate the Airport McDonald’s experience as clearly superior to the airport Starbucks experience.
Finally, around 8, our flight took off for Toronto. As it turns out, this would be the only one of our four flights for this vacation to actually depart on time.
First Stop Toronto
Since there are no direct flights from Seattle to Rome, we needed to do a layover in Toronto. Upon arriving in Toronto, however, we needed to wait on the tarmac for about an hour due to restrictions Canada had put on place on the number of international travelers the airport could accommodate. Once those restrictions had been lifted, we needed to wait at the gate again for the ground crew to prep the gate area for our arrival.
Our flight from Toronto to Rome was first delayed because of some thunderstorms in Ottawa, which delayed our incoming plane by about an hour. However, then, they weren’t able to get a crew to load the bags on our plane. It appears that Canada is having a lot of the same labor shortage issues that the US is having in the post pandemic world. Thanks a lot Justin Trudeau. After about a three hour delay all together, in addition to our earlier delays waiting on the tarmac to get off our plane from Seattle, we were off the ground and on our way to Rome
Being our first trip our in several years, we splurged on the flights, buying Air Canada Premium Economy service, which essentially doubled the cost of our flights. I got these tickets expecting it to be similar to Economy Plus on United. However, Air Canada has angled their Premium Economy as much more of a premium product than United’s Economy Plus, which is essentially an economy seat, with about 3 extra inches of legroom. Air Canada’s Premium economy gave us Premium food service on actual glassware, in addition to the extra space. However, it is also a much more limited product, taking up only three rows on a Boeing 777. This particular plane actually had more seats in Business Class than in Premium Economy class.
After the eight hour flight, we finally made it to Rome. Clearing customs now was fairly simple process as an American, where you now simply scan your passport, move to the next chamber to remove your mask and have your photo taken, then move ahead to the border control agent,who stamps your passport. My wife however had issues with her passport being scanned, and ended up having to use the non automated border control, as a result, we got separated, where I was continuing to proceed to the train station, frantically texting and telegramming my wife, not knowing she would actually get my messages, since I knew she had not set up her Italian SIM card yet. She was however able to get on Airport Wi-Fi, and eventually we reconnected via that, and were able to meet up at the train station, where we had our first Italian Coffee, and made way to the Rome Termini Station.
Now that we were in Rome, we needed to figure out a way to get to our Airbnb in Trastevere, and summoned an Uber to get there. There is a rumor going around Rome that Uber is illegal, and the fine for using it is six thousand euros per passenger. This is has been largely pushed by the local taxi industry, and is entirely false. Uber in Rome works fine, even if it is a little pricey compared to local cab fares.
Getting checked into our AirBNB was easy. This is my first time ever using AirBNB, and our host, Carlo was very helpful in terms of getting us checked into the unit, explaining the rules, and getting us oriented with the neighborhood. Once we got checked in, we went out to explore. This being a Sunday afternoon, not much was open at the time. However, we did find a co-op grocery store, with the help of Carlo, and were able to get the few groceries and snacks that we would need for our four days in Rome.
Finally, we went down for a dinner in lower Trasteverse, at a place, where, as I write this four days latter, I can’t remember, but then again, seemed somewhat insignificant, so it’s not like I would have recommended it anyhow. I essentially had a pasta dish with a lot of salt and cheese, with some bacon thrown in for good measure.
After dinner, it was time to head back to the apartment, and call it a night. Unfortunately, my sleep in Rome was not that great. I mostly attribute this to drinking, and the side effects of it causing night sweats. I used to be able to handle these effects no problem, but now that I am getting older, it’s becoming more of a problem where I lie awake for several hours in the middle of the night. As I write this, leaving Rome, I am contemplating taking a day or two off of drinking so I can potentially get a better night’s sleep. Perhaps I will write a separate post about this topic.
Rome Day 1
Our first full day in Rome, we got our visitor passes and ended up behind some other tourists who had nothing planned out, and sort of expected the visitor pass agency to do all of their planning for them, tourists are hilarious. After this we went on to the ruins of the Colosseum, and next door to Palatine Hill and the Forum. After exploring those sites, we headed to Scholars Lounge, an Irish pub. for a wrap as well as a Heineken, then heading back to our apartment.
Public Transit in Rome is not very good by European standards for a city of its size. The city is still very car focused, and what little transit they do have tends to be very car/bus focused. Somewhat similar to back home in Seattle. I suppose one of the problems you would have in Rome but not in other cities is that every time you try to build a subway, it ends up becoming an archeological site, given the amount of history that happened here.
We were able to take a tram back to our general neighborhood. However, then completing the trip involved a lot of steps, as our place is pretty much near the top of a hill. There will be a lot of hills and steps on this trip. If you plan on traveling to Italy, plan on taking on a lot of stairs.
Rome Day Two
Day two in Rome was the day that we specified to go to the Vatican area sites, including St Peters, and the Vatican Museum, including the Sistine Chapel.
Growing up in Lutheran Schools, I was aware of the history Martin Luther and my own church, as well as the indulgences that were being sold at the time to build what is now the Vatican complex, where you or your loved ones can get a Get out of Purgatory Free pass in exchange to a contribution to the church. Although I have since abandoned religion, I still consider myself quite knowledgeable on such issues, and found a lot of the art intriguing.
Our neighborhood was not too far from Vatican City, at least it seemed that way, unfortunately, Apple Maps tried to get us to walk down several streets where clearly pedestrians should not be walking, hence we needed to improvise and ended up creating our own route through a park, and where we were not going to risk being run over.
Once getting to Vatican City, we took the tour of St Peters. Although the lines did seem significant, they weren’t operating at full capacity, as many of the security checkpoints weren’t operating. It appears that tourism in Rome has not yet fully recovered from the pandemic.
After St Peters, we took a lunch break and then headed to the Vatican Museum, where we saw some more religious paintings, as well as the Sistine Chapel. The lines for people without tickets here were quite extensive, however, we had booked our tickets online ahead of time, so we could bypass most of that, and get on with the museum.
Photos are prohibited in the Sistine Chapel, hence I have none, but I was able to get some photos of some of the ‘lesser chapels’ that make up the Vatican Museum’s chapel complex.
Rome Day 3
This was the day we went a bit outside of town and visited some of the catacombs, used by early christians and pagans. Due to grave robbers looters and such over the centuries, many of the bodies had been removed, or had been relocated to avoid looting. However, the complex of catacombs is quite vast, and the tours can only show a small part of it.
The catacomb complex is several dozen kilometers, and we only got to see a small part. Also, being 90 degree Fahrenheit outside, the caves were quite a bit cooler than the surface, creating some relief.
Afterwards we took the train back to the hotel, took a nap for a couple of hours, then headed to Mama Eat, a restaurant that is very tourist focused, with several locations in the most touristy areas of Rome. Typically, this would be something to avoid, however, they did have a gluten free pizza. My wife, having a gluten allergy, wanted to try that out. I got a pasta there, which wasn’t too bad, but my wife remarked that the gluten free pizza there was likely the best she had ever had, much better than anything we have back home in Seattle.
The restaurant was close enough to be walkable from our apartment, it was easy going downhill, but we got to burn our pizza and pasta off heading back up afterwards.
Day 5, Heading to the Coast
We started the day by taking a train to Salerno. This was probably not planned well, as we bought our tickets online that morning. As as result we had to pay more than we would have otherwise. In addition, the train was somewhat full, so we weren’t able to sit together.
Additionally, the Italian train system has a pass for foreigners like us, that allows for unlimited rides for a set number of days, which was only about 20 euros more than we ended up paying for the one ticket from Rome to Salerno. If someone is going to Italy and plans on getting around by train, I would suggest doing that than trying to buy the tickets individually like we have.
After about 2 hours on a high speed train, we get to Salerno, and now have to wait several hours for the ferry to get us to Minori, the town where our next AirBNB is. During this time we stoped at Zero Healthy Bar and Poke and got some avocado toast, which was probably some of the best avocado toast I have ever had. Then again, I haven’t really had a lot of avocado toast on this level.
While at this restaurant, I realized we had not yet purchased tickets for the ferry to Minori, so I had to get on my phone’s internet and get that all straightened out before we could get on the boat, and get out of Salerno.
Looking back, I do kind of wish I was able to make more time in Salerno. It really wasn’t a destination for our trip, as we were only intending to transition from train to boat, and the only part of town we saw was the couple of blocks between the train station and the ferry terminal. It is possible that this is the ‘best part of town’ as it’s the part that caters to tourists like us, transitioning from the train to ferries to the Amalfi coast, but I think I would like to see more of it.
Finally we made it on the boat, and were off to Minori, including several towns along the way.
Checking into our AirBNB, we met our host’s representative on the dock. Getting this arranged was a bit of a problem, as the rep didn’t have access to the AirBNB messaging system the way that a host would, hence, messaging was going to be a bit of a hassle. The first couple of times we were able to message the hoist, but they the host noticed that I wasn’t on WhatsApp, which is something that it seems everyone in Europe uses. I tried to download it to my phone, however, since I was out of the country, and didn’t have access to my phone number, as I was on a data only SIM, I wasn’t able to get the verification text message that is necessary to set up the account.
As I got in the taxi that morning in Rome to head to the train station, I noticed that the taxi driver was chatting the entire time on his iPhone, which got me thinking, ok, IPhones are big in Europe much like the US. What if I send a text message to the WeChat number I have and they also have an IPhone, the message would go through IMessage, which I could receive. After all, my wife and I have been using IMessage to text each other this entire trip. Turns out, when I typed the number in, it turned blue. They were on IMessage also. Hence, I was able to arrange the meetup and checkin with our host’s rep over IMessage. Now that I am back in the US, I was able to get WeChat on my phone to avoid this issue with future AirBNB’s, so I guess this brings me back into the Facebook universe, as much as I have been trying to escape it. Oh well.
Finally, we got checked into our AirBNB, which, probably has the best views from the balcony I have ever had. Of course, to get these views, you need a lot of stairs, old narrow janky stairs at that. Getting luggage up and down these steps was an adventure, but was worth it for the apartment.
After getting checked in, we headed down the steps, which lead us to the town square, its a lot of steps, but convienient, and had dinner at Bar Antares, which ended up being our main hangout for our time in Minori. Well, that and the deck of our apartment.
After dinner, we stoped by a neighborhood bodega in the town square, which may have very well been the only grocery store in town, got some cheep wine, and enjoyed our AirBNB deck.
Day 6, Minori
Our first full day in Minori we actually went to Amalfi, the largest city in the area by ferry. There were a lot of boat trips on this vacation. Amalfi is much more of a tourist destination than Minori, with several large hotels accommodating tourists, while Minori its mostly smaller boutique hotels spread among a whole bunch of AirBNB’s. Staying in Amalfi is also somewhat more expensive, given their established tourist market, and it shows that the streets, restaurants are generally more crowded than Minori.
After exploring the town, and getting lunch, we headed back from Amalfi to Minori, where we again headed to Bar Antares for afternoon drinks, its now like we’re becoming regulars there. We then headed back up the steps to the apartment and spent the rest of the day relaxing and admiring the view.
Minori Day 7
On our second full day in Minori, we started by visiting the ruins of a Roman villa that had been found in the center of town, and hiked around those for a while. In Italy, these things seem to be everywhere.
After exploring the ruins for a while, we walked the path of lemons to Maiori, another larger neighboring town that is also built on the tourism industry. The walk also generated some great views, as well as a lot of views of lemon trees. It also involved a lot of steps.
Coming back from Maiori to Minori, we walked the main road. It’s a bit nerve wrecking, cars are zooming around you on both directions, on a road that is about a lane and a half wide, if even that, yet, numerous locals do this every day, and the road, obviously, has no steps, unlike the path that we took to get to Maiori that morning.
After that we headed to Midnight Sun for dinner, which is also in the square immediately down from the steps to our apartment, and back to the neighborhood bodega for another bottle of what is now our favorite wine of Italy, Est Est Est, from our apartment.
Minori to Sorento, Day 8
This was the day that we had to say good bye to our apartment in Minori, and head to Sorento. We started by checking out of our AirBNB, messaging our host that we had left, and got one last coffee in the town square, while waiting for our first boat to get us from Minori back to Amalfi, where we had gone two days earlier.
The second leg of our trip today was from Amalfi to Sorento. We had booked tickets for this online via a website, Mrferry.com. However, once we got to Amalfi, the ticket desk to get us on the boat had not recognized the ticket we had, and was unable to locate records of us taking the boat that day. In short, Mr Ferry seems somewhat janky. Finally, a supervisor was able to somewhow locate us and we were able to board the boat for a couple hours long ferry ride around the Amalfi coast, past the isle of Capri, and into Sorento.
Sorento is also the first actual hotel we stayed in over the course of this trip, though we would only be here for two nights. When we booked all of our plane tickets and AirBNB’s we had accrued enough credit card points that we were able to stay in this hotel at no cost.
Sorento is essentially built on the side of a cliff, so to get from the dock to the town, you can either take on a couple hundred steps, up the cliff to get to the town, or for 1 euro you could take an elevator to get to the town. Having enough of stairs at this point, we chose the elevator. A couple more blocks and we were able to check in to our place at Hotel Sorento City.
Sorento is much more of a tourist oriented town than any place we had stayed in previously on this trip, specifically British tourists. Walking from the dock to the hotel, I came across a place Star Pub, which seemed like a decent place for lunch, they seemed to be going for a British theme, however, upon getting there, it essentially an Italian restaurant made out to be a pub. What kind of pub can you not even get a Guinness in?
We then walked around and explored the town a bit more, with its Victorian structures and whatnot, the aspirational Brits in us felt at home, I guess. Although, it is quite hot, for us and most Brits I would imagine.
Sorento, Day 9
We actually didn’t have much of any plans for Sorento, so we basically spent most of the time exploring the town, and hitting up an actual British style pub, where you could actually get a Guinness. In addition, there were also a lot more hills for us to climb up and down.
A chunk of the day was also spent dealing with the next leg our our trip in Naples. That morning, I had messaged our AirBNB host about how to check into our unit. He told us that we had been ‘upgraded’ to another larger unit, as the unit he had originally booked with us was occupied. However, getting into the details, we figured out it was actually a part of his unit that we would be renting. This seemed problematic, as we believed we were paying for an individual private unit, which this was clearly not.
We asked the host to cancel our reservation at this point, so we could simply try to Hotwire a hotel for our stay in Naples, which he refused. At this point then our options were to either accept the reservation as is, or we could get our own separate reservations, and try to get a refund from AirBNB. After looking through various AirBNB forums we decided our chances of actually getting a refund out of AirBNB were 50/50 at best, so we decided to go with the accept things as they are approach. Besides, were on vacation, and the last thing we want to be doing is stressing ourselves out about things like AirBNB reservations. Vacations typically tend to be a lot less stressful if you just accept things are the way they are.
Sorento to Naples, Day 9
This was the day that we were to go from Sorento to Naples. This is our shortest journey in terms of distance on this trip from one destination to another, with the total distance only being about 30 miles between the two. There are also multiple options. We had purchased ferry tickets before going on our trip, however, the ferry terminal as it turned out was a pretty far distance from where we were staying in central Naples.
Going by train was the other option, which would have dropped us off at the Naples Train Station, just a couple of blocks from where we were staying. In the end, we decided to disregard our ferry tickets and go by train to Naples, which also got us into town a few hours earlier than the ferry would have.
After, getting to Naples, and checking in with our host, we decided to go out and explore the town. Naples, unlike the other cities we had stayed in on this trip, was not particularly tourist oriented, and is mostly an industrial city, particularly in our neighborhood, in an older part of town, and the streets much more resemble something out of Morocco rather than Europe.
After researching online, we decided to go to a pizzaria not too far from where we were staying that appeared to have some decent glutten free options. On the way back we walked through the chaos of Naples, and its a beautiful chaos, streets mostly full of people and vendors, with the occasional car or vespa trying to push its way through a street that was clearly not built for it.
Naples, day 11
Today we took a road trip, via a tourist bus, to Pompei, the ancient Roman town that was buried by a volcano in 70 AD. Although I am familiar with the legend of Pompei since childhood, it doesn’t really impose just how large the town actually was, an how large the archeological site is. Also interesting is how well preserved some of the mosaic tile work and wall murals are that occupied peoples homes. After all, it’s not like there are a lot of homes today with murals on the walls. The reds and gold paints seemed to stick particularly well, though I don’t know if this is a product of those pigments and the things they are made of just sticking around better than other colors. Pompei also offers to opportunity to enter into a full on Colosseum style amphitheater, something the one in Rome does not, as the floor there had deteriorated centuries ago. Most of the buildings and homes were quite large, as Pompei was a pretty well of city in the Roman Empire, with many of the Emperors, Senators, and whatnots making their vacation homes here.
Exploiting Pompei is something that could certainly be a full day activity, which this did end up taking up most of the day, after which we got back on the tourist bus, at the assigned place and time, and headed back to Naples.
Naples, day 12
This was our day to explore Naples itself, going to the Donnaregina Museum of Contemporary Art, which took up a large part of our morning. The night before, we had also found a Salvador Dali, Alfred Hitchcock exhibit on the 1945 movie Spellbound in a church that had been converted to museum space, so we hit that up also. After these two museums, and lunch at Dambo Beef, we decided to take in the city site seeing tours done via double decker bus. There are actually two different routes available in Naples, both of which go back to the same place near the town port. The first one goes from the port into the historic center of town, near where we were staying, while the other one goes out toward some of the seaside communities and more of the resort like areas of town. Since we had time to kill, and no definate plans for our time in Naples, we decided to do both.
Prior to this, I had never done one of the hop on/hop off bus tours like we had here, they had always seemed a bit too touristy. This is something that is also offered back home in Seattle, but seemed to have a certain cheesiness associated with them, perhaps because back in Seattle, we are in fact not tourists at all, but locals, and the product is clearly not geared towards us. Going forward however, I will probably need to consider this more for our future trips, and we did in fact do one more the next day on arriving in Rome.
This was also ‘Republic Day’ in Italy, where the Italians celebrate the country choosing to become a republic instead of a monarchy, so not everything was necessary open, including the restaurant where we had our reservations for the evening. Hence, we had to quickly come up with alternate dining plans and go to another pasta place in the same touristy neighborhood.
Naples to Rome, day 13
This day we took the high speed train from Naples back to Rome, in order to catch our flight back home the next day. Once arriving at the train station, we need to find a place to dump our bags, since our hotel was at the airport, and we really didn’t want to go tracking all the way over there to drop them off, nor did we want to spend the whole day attached to our luggage. Once we found a place to drop our bags, we then needed to find a place to get a COVID test.
The United States at this time was still requiring proof of a negative COVID test within a day before boarding our flight. Upon getting off the train in Rome and dropping off our luggage, this was then our first priority. We found a pharmacy within the Rome Termini station, got our noses swabbed for the test, then went to the food court for food court sushi lunch, and to await our results. Within 10 minutes of sitting down, we had received our proof of negative test via email from the pharmacy.
It also turns out that the Rome train station was the hop on hop off bus pickup location for the Rome tours, so we decided to kill a few hours by hopping on that. At first, there was some drama around a large family that wanted to get on the bus with us, but none of them had the proper FFP2/KN95 masks that were being required for all public transit in Italy. Finally, one of the family members arrived with a box full of FFP2’s for the family to put on to board the bus, which they prominently removed once they were seated on the roof area.
A lot of what we saw this time we had already seen on our prior days in Rome, so this was really more just like a cliff notes version of our earlier days in Rome. It did however last several hours, which were our kind of farewell to Rome and Italy.
After doing the entire loop of the hop on hop off tour, we were back where we started at the train station, where we picked up our bags and hoped on a train to the Airport.
Our flight wasn’t until the next day, however, it was a morning flight, Rome to Montreal, then on from Montreal back to Seattle, hence our decision to just stay at the Hilton Rome Airport. In addition, this would give us a chance to relax in a hotel room and order room service, which generally wasn’t an option at the places we had been staying.
The only English language television we were able to find was the BBC, CNN and Sky news. The BBC and Sky were essentially wall to wall coverage of the Queen’s Jubilee, which was happening over the course of that weekend. Also being reported however was that air travel in Europe had become a mess that weekend, with flight cancelations, bad weather, and security lines stretching out the airport doors. We were somewhat concerned this would be the case for us as well as we were due to fly the next day.
Back to Seattle, day 14
Finally down to the final day of the trip. After a hotel breakfast, we got our stuff together and walked to the airport, this was possible as our hotel was within walking distance of the Rome Airport, and walking was in fact the most convenient way to get there.
Checking out of the hotel, I also noticed a long line of customers checking in, at 9 in the morning. Customers who’s flights had been canceled, and were now being forced to spend the day at the hotel while they awaited alternate travel arrangements from the airline. I though at that moment we might soon be facing a similar fate. However, getting through security at the Rome Airport was fairly simple, unlike some of the nightmarish scenarios that were developing in Amsterdam and London at that time.
Our flight back was initially delayed by about an hour because of delays with the incoming aircraft. However, once the plane had boarded, the pilot announced that due to air traffic control issues over the Atlantic, that our departure would now be delayed by an additional hour. Finally, after a two hour delay we were ready to depart to Montreal.
On arriving in Montreal, there were clearly issues with Canadian Customs. It appears that our flight back arrived at about the same time as several other flights back to Canada, so there was a massive line to get through Canadian border control and into Montreal. Fortunately for us, this was not an issue, as we needed to use a separate ‘Americans’ line, which would take us through the normal pre-clearance process of entering the US via a Canadian airport. There was a bit of a line, but not too much, and we had cleared the US border control within 20 minutes of arriving, and now in the United States Pre Clearance section of the Montreal Airport.
US Pre-clearance in Montreal is a bit strange in that you are technically in the United States, however, the language here is French, sure they all know English, but it is somewhat novel being greeted by a US agent with ‘Bonjour’.
Our flight from Montreal to Seattle was now also being delayed due to scheduling issues with Air Canada. Initially by an hour, and now by two. Hence, despite our flight from Rome coming in late, we were in no danger of missing our connection. In addition, once boarding our aircraft, the airline once again had issues finding a ground crew to load the plane, plus the plane needed to be ‘rebooted’.
Prior to this trip, I had actually had a somewhat positive opinion of Air Canada, however, post pandemic, it seems as though they forgot how to run an airline. Although I would not currently consider Air Canada something to ‘avoid unless absolutely necessary’, something I currently only reserve for Avianca and American Airlines, I likely would have to think twice about taking them in the future. Plus, their hub in Vancouver still makes Air Canada a pretty convenient option for international travel for us in Seattle.
Finally, after the additional 5 hour flight from Montreal to Seattle, we finally got home and were ready to go straight to bed at around 11 that night. We had been up for well over 24 hours at this point and ready to crash. Perhaps this is a result of me getting older, but previously, I would have done this on a Sunday night and then showed up for work bright and early the next morning. However, this being a Saturday night, there was no need to do that the next day, and thankfully so, as I likely would have not been ready at all for that. Going forward, I will probably look to end most of my international travels on Saturdays so I can recover the next day.
This was an enjoyable vacation all together, and it was nice to be back to international travel again, after being home bound for nearly three years. Next, I need to start planning my much delayed sabbatical.