Saturday, March 27:  Seattle to Rome

4:30 AM wake-up call, 5:00 AM arrival at the ticket counter. We stayed one step ahead of the lines at security and the snack bar, though Pat joined a long line at Starbuck’s. The flight to Chicago was uneventful -- the boys are pretty good travelers now. (Photo 1) The boys did get their first math lesson, some combinatorics based on the card game SET -- a bit of the multiplication principle and expected time for linear search of an unordered list. They beat me handily though at SET, David 15, Robert 9, Dad 1.

We headed down to the exits outside baggage claim, crossed several lanes of traffic, and poof!, we were at the doorstep of the Hilton Hotel. Pat had arranged to meet her brother, Steve, and her mother, Gerry, for lunch, since we had several hours between flights. Also with them was Judy, who takes care of Gerry. Gerry is 87 years old, and now a bit immobile. She also has lots of trouble with her short-term memory. But she was in good spirits and looked great.

We had a relaxed lunch in the hotel. There were pictures of Pat’s Dad with a baby David presented as gifts (to Pat, David and Robert), and Lego sets for the boys. The framed pictures will be mailed to Gig Harbor, the Legos got repackaged into the boys’ backpacks.

Steve has seized the opportunity to do some chores around their house and so got a room at the Hilton for Judy and Gerry. That way he has a brief eighteen hour window when he can make all the noise and dust he wants without disturbing anybody. Every time Gerry heard any mention of the overnight stay away from her home, she said, “Nobody told me I’d be staying the night! Who’ll take care of my dog?” Late in the meal, I turned to David and said, “Did you know Gerry will be spending the night here?” He didn’t miss a beat, looked right at me straight-faced and said, “Yes, but who’ll feed the dog?”

We checked out their room, and then headed back to the airport, performing our first car-pedestrian showdown right under the nose of Chicago’s Finest. Pedestrians 1, Cars 0.

Our Iberia flight left Chicago about 5 PM, but first I had to get our seat assignments straightened out, as the four of us were distributed among three locations. It was an eight hour flight to Madrid, departing at twilight, and meeting the sun on the other side as we watched sunrise over the western Atlantic.

Photo 1  En route
Photo 2  Robert at Roberto’s
Once touched down in Madrid, we needed to clear immigration and take a bus ride to our gates for the flight to Rome. Originally, we’d only had an hour layover, but several months ago our arrival time had been changed to about fifteen minutes later, and they shifted us to a later flight to Rome. Good thing, as our gates were at opposite ends of the airport.

With about an hour until boarding, the other three crashed on benches, while I backtracked to get a quick snack. I was pleased with myself for successfully ordering a couple of bacon and cheese baguettes, wrapped to go, with a plastic knife for splitting them, using the few words of Spanish I know, borrowing from signs, and using my hands.

First impressions: more smoking (though it seems to generally be segregated), lax security and even more English than I’d expected.

Excepting Robert’s bloody nose right as they began boarding, the two hour flight from Madrid to Rome was routine. I expected to have to pass through immigration again, but as soon as we went through the door for “green line” (nothing to declare at customs), we were out in the arrivals hall. I suspect that once we cleared immigration in Spain, we were cleared for all our travels in the whole European Union.

We totally ignored the hawking taxi drivers inside (which bothered David greatly) until we laid eyes on a white one (not yellow!) with a meter. The ride in was lots of fun. The jockeying with cars didn’t bother me much, nor the speed, but near to the center of the city I was surprised by the close calls with pedestrians. I practiced my Italian with the driver, learning a few words in the process. I tried talking about cycling, but he quickly let me know that cycling was big in Northern Italy, and football was king in Southern Italy. 50 euro later we arrived at Hotel Aberdeen. (Photo 3)

Once organized in the room we set out for a brief expedition before dinner. Pat had pegged two interesting churches to see, located right near our hotel. Santa Sussana is about two blocks away, and is the American Church in Rome. Masses in English. Sure enough, one was being conducted right then. We watched from the vestibule and resolved to return for one of the daily masses during the week. On the other side of the intersection was Santa Maria Vittoria. A smaller church, very ornate, lots of marble. The prime attraction is a sculpture of Saint Theresa by Bernini (I think we’ll see Bernini himself tomorrow). Across in the other alcove is a sculpture that appears to be Zeus, fronted by the prone corpse of a female saint in a glass case. A priest came out and switched on the lights illuminating this scene as a group of 10-15 tourists had formed.

We proceeded away from this minor plaza and its fountain with a sculpture of Zeus, in search of the Diocletian baths, and instead stumbled on the Basilica of Santa Maria de Anglesi. The entrance is topped by a symmetric circular dome, followed by a very wide transept, an engineering marvel of its day. Built in 300 AD, in ten years time, its original purpose was as the exercise studio for the adjacent baths. In the 1500’s Michelangelo redesigned it as a church. The eight principal columns supporting the roof of the transept are about five feet in diameter at their base, and are original equipment. While the thought of ancient Romans congregating here daily for their baths was intriguing, I was most impressed by the architectural accomplishment.

Outside we hit the gelati stand, prepping ourselves by consulting the guidebook for translations of our desired flavors. No use, the vendor was Indian and seemed to prefer just talking in English rather than our fractured Italian. We negotiated crossing the roundabout on Plaza de Republica to gain the central fountain, where we sat and consumed our treats. Three hours since we hit town and we felt like we were getting the hang of it.

Back to the hotel for coats, and then we almost exactly retraced our steps to Cuizina Nationale for dinner, a recommendation from the hotel for easy, cheap eats. It was just the place for us, though they presented us with the menus in English and again seemed content to speak with us only in English. So far, the taxi driver is the only person who has not spoken English, and that was not an impediment to the transaction, just an impediment to my making conversation. The boys split a cheese pizza (with no tomato sauce as we had warned them) and the adults had pasta. My spaghetti carbonara was excellent. It was subtlety different from the version Pat makes at home, and very good, but not necessarily superior. Pat ordered a post-dinner liqueur, sambucca. The concentrated annis flavor was everything I don’t like about black licorice, but I could see where some might enjoy it.

By this point, the lack of sleep and the time shift were taking their toll and we headed back to the hotel for an early turn-in. Walking home, Pat was nearly struck by an airborne baguette sandwich that was launched from some window several floors up and landed in the narrow street with a thud. Not sure what sort of local custom this is. Back in the room, the three males wrote in their journals, while Pat collapsed in bed. Robert and David are off to a great start with their journals and scrapbooks.