Travel is part of the story – Rome

Sadly, my passion for travel fuels my passion for writing, and we take any chance we can to go away, and hopefully, I can find an interesting location to incorporate into one of my stories.

One location did, eventually, the Trevi Fountain.

But…

We visited Rome in August

It was hot.

It was verrrry hot.

We flew into Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino airport after a rather bumpy flight from London.  Unlike most other airports the plane parked at a satellite terminal and after we disembarked we had to catch a train to the main terminal.

The most notable memory of this airport was my daughter’s discovery of a salami shop.

We had booked a transfer to take us to the hotel the Roma Corso Trieste Mercure in Via Gradisca from the airport.  It was a white air-conditioned van and so far we had avoided the heat.

One of the rooms had a faulty air conditioning an absolute must as the rooms were very hot without it and necessitated a room change which was done quickly and efficiently.

The hotel was in the suburbs and without a car we were dependent on public transport.  According to the reception staff, there was a bus stop nearby, and a longer walk to the tram or light railway.  The bus seemed to be the best option as it would take us to the central terminal near the railway station, where all tour buses also operated from, and particularly the open top buses that went to all the major tourist attractions.

That first day basically was given over to traveling, arriving by plane and settling into the hotel, thus we didn’t get to feel the force of the heat.  That came the next day.

After a walk around the hotel precinct to get our bearings and see what shops and restaurants were available, on returning to the hotel we were faced with the limited choices of room service or to go out for dinner.

My daughter and l go for a long walk up Via Nomentana to find several shops and a restaurant.  We went into the restaurant and sat down.   We waited for 10 minutes and got no service nor did anyone come and ask us if we wanted to order food so instead we left somewhat disappointed and go next door to what seems to be the Italian version of a delicatessen and order sandwiches and beer.   I bought a half dozen cans of Moretti beer two of which I drank on the way home.

It was still very hot even at eight at night and the sandwiches are delicious.  It just might be by that time we were starving and anything would have tasted great.

The next morning we are up and ready to chance the weather and some history.  Breakfast at the hotel is limited but very good.

We were going to use public transport and I’d studied up on the Internet.

Traveling on the bus required pre-purchase of tickets which could be bought in certain shops and locally when exploring the area near the hotel, l found a tobacconist.

Next, we needed to understand how to use the tickets. There was no one on the bus who could help so when l tried to scan the tickets and it failed, l gave up.  We had the same issue each day and in the end, the tickets never got used.

The trip to central Rome by bus took about 15 minutes.  In the morning it was reasonably cool and showed us a little of suburban Rome.  We also saw the trams but we would not be able to use them because our hotel not on a direct route.

That first full day we decided to go and see the Vatican.

Not understanding buses and which one we needed to get to the Vatican, we took a taxi.

Wow.  It was the metaphorical equivalent of driving over the edge of a cliff with a daredevil.  It was quite literally terrifying.

Or maybe we just didn’t know that this was probably the way people drove in Rome.

Shaken but delivered in one piece we found ourselves in the square opposite St Peters Basilica.

The square is impressive, with the statues atop a circular colonnaded walkway.  The church is incredible and took a few hours to take in and to top off the day we did a tour of the Vatican museum which took the rest of the afternoon.

Then it was back to the delicatessen for more sandwiches and beer, and an interesting discussion with several elderly Italian ladies, of which I did not understand one word.

The second full day we decided to use one of the open top bus tours and eventually decided on the hop on hop off tour simply because the bus was at the central transport terminal for trains and buses and it was getting hotter.

Our first stop was the Colosseum.  There were other monuments nearby, such as the Arch of Constantine, but as the heat factor increased we joined the queue to go into the Colosseum and gladly welcomed the shade once we got inside.

The queue was long and the wait equally so, but it was worth the wait.  It would be more interesting if they could restore part of it to its former glory so we could get a sense of the place as it once was.  But alas that may never happen, but even so, it is still magnificent as a ruin.

Outside in the heat, it was off to the ruins which was a longish walk from the Colosseum, taking Via Sacra, not far from the Arch of Constantine.  This day in the walkway there were a number of illegal vendors, selling knockoff goods such as handbags and watches, and who, at the first sight of the police, packed up their wares in a blanket and ran.

Included in these ruins were The Roman Forum, or just a few columns remaining, the Palatine Hill, Imperial Fori, including the Forum of Augustus, the Forum of Caesar, and more specifically the Forum of Trajan.  It was, unfortunately very hot and dusty in the ruins the day we visited.

We walked all the way to the Foro Romano and the Septimus Severo Arch at the other end of the ruins, past the Temple of Caesar.  I found it very difficult to picture what it was like when the buildings were intact, so I bought a guide to the ruins which showed the buildings as ruins and an overlay of how they would have looked.  The buildings, then, would be as amazing as the Colosseum, and it would have been interesting to have lived back then, though perhaps not as a Christian.

I lost count of the number of bottles of water we bought, but the word ‘frizzante’ was ringing in my ears by the end of the day.  Fortunately, water did not cost a lot to buy.

At the end of the day, we caught the hop on hop off bus at the Colosseum and decided not to get off and see any more monuments but observe them from the bus.  The only one I remember seeing was Circo Massimo.  Perhaps if we’d know it was going to be twice as hot on the bus, yes, there was no air-conditioning; we may have chosen another form of transport to get back to the hotel.

The third and last day in Rome we decided to go to the Trevi Fountain, see the pantheon and walk up the Spanish Steps.  We spent most of the morning in the cool of a café watching the tourists at the fountain.  By the time we reached the top of the Spanish Steps, we were finished.

It was time to move on to Paris.

A story inspired by Castello di Brolio – Episode 1

Another story inspired from a visit to an old castle in Italy.  It was, of course, written while traveling on a plane, though I’m not sure if it was from Calgary to Toronto, or New York to Vancouver.

But, there’s more to come.  Those were long flights…

 

“You have got the guards set up on the back wall,” I asked Jackerby, the officer in charge of the rearguards.

“Can you see them?” he said in a tone that dripped sarcasm.

 

I didn’t like Jackerby, he seemed far too sure of himself and his men, and so far, we hadn’t had to rely on them.

But that time was coming, and sooner than any of us wanted to believe.

“No.”

“Then no one else will either.  Trust me, no one will be coming over the back wall.  I’ll be in the command post, and it has a clear view of anything coming.”

“Excellent,” I said, trying to sound more confident that I felt.

 

Jackerby was Johannson’s man.  He had recruited him, in circumstances that seemed a little too coincidental for my liking.  Johannson was too easy going for me, and although he had not made a mistake, yet, I felt sure one was going to happen on my watch.

I think that’s why I’d been sent to keep an eye on operations.

There’d already been one attempt at an incursion, and we’d been saved by a dog, one I found on the roadside, injured by the same roadside bomb that had nearly killed me as well, and brought him with me.  The thought of doing so, at the time, had been on the end of a single idea, a dog could not betray me, men and women could.

And the fact its name was Jack seemed to me to be rather poetic, if not somewhat ironic in the circumstances.

There was a coded communication in my pocket, one I’d received earlier in the afternoon, uncoded from the signal room.  My special code.  A warning of a second incursion.

Tonight.

 

Jack and I were in the guard tower at the south-western corner of the castle.  It overlooked the valley and gave a clear view of anyone or anything coming from that quadrant. 

Of course, if it came by air, you’d expect to hear it.

I didn’t, but Jack did.  He suddenly stood and made a small moaning noise, as if he knew quiet communication was needed.  The stiffness in his body told me it was danger.

I heard it, before I saw it, a glider, and following the swooping sound, the land of men on the gravel walkways just down from the tower.  A precision flight and precision landing of a dozen stormtroopers.

And Jackerby’s guards were nowhere to be seen.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

Will this heat ever let up?

Just think, a month ago we were driving around in sub-zero temperatures.

But, it could have been worse…

When we were in New York it was a range between 4 degrees and minus six degrees Fahrenheit.

A week later, after we left, those temperatures dropped to minus fifty, not necessarily in New York but in other places quite near, like Chicago.

Wow, did we get out of dodge at the right time?

Now, having been back for a month, what was a welcome relief from the freezing cold has become a monotonous heat wave, where to venture out in the endless heat and, worse, humidity is more than a chore.

Dare I say it but the air conditioning is going night and day, and the only saving grace is the fact we have solar power, and that endless sunshine works for us.

In a manner of speaking.

But..

I’m now on a quest for a place that is more temperate to visit, you know, not too hot, not too cold, but does such a place exist?

Have we managed through global warming to destroy anything that could be described as paradise?

Is there such a thing as global warming?

Have we been on this planet long enough, with the science to prove it, that what’s apparently happening now, hasn’t happened before at one time or another?

I have no doubt paradise exists somewhere, but why would you tell anyone about it?  Once everyone does, it ceases to be paradise.

So much for that quest.

Perhaps I should be grateful we have air conditioning.

And next year try to find somewhere less cold to visit.

What could be called an ‘alternative’ night out

It’s not for the faint-hearted, so that’s why we took the grandchildren skating.

Unless you are a skater of the roller variety there is little for the guardians to except sit back relax and listen to the head banging music that is luckily for us, of our era.

ACDC, ‘Thunderstruck’, over the loudspeaker system is just like being at a rock concert.

Little by little the floor starts to fill with skaters of all types of skill level from the side wall huggers to the almost falling over, and of course, the experts who glide effortlessly in and out of the novices.

The first game of the night for anyone who can actually skate, collect little red witches hats, those that get one stay in, those that don’t, well, you know how this works

Fewer and fewer witches hats each time leads to an eventual winner, a youthful skater of considerable skill.

Now we have Queen.  Not exactly headbanging but a classic, ‘We Are The Champions’.  This cuts to a track by The Vapors.  How do I know this?  We have a video screen.  I’m just surprised some of these songs had a video made of them.

Well, there is always Shazam.

The second game of the night; I think only the organizers know what it is about.  I try to get the gist and instead wished music would come back.

Ok, those that couldn’t skate still can’t, and after an hour there is attrition.  More room for those who can.

But wait there’s more, the doors are still open and more people are arriving.

And thankfully we’re back to ACDC.

I have three grandchildren out on the floor each with a varying grade of skill.  They don’t do this very often so each session begins a little rusty and by the time they go home, it’s too soon to go.  At least they can stay on their feet and not, as some do, crash into the walls, thinking that is the best way to stop.

Bring on the music!  Next is the Divinyls.

Forget that, we now have Men At Work. ‘I Live in a Land Downunder’.  I’m missing the full effect of the stadium sound because one of my charges had decided to practice in the baby pen, a small area set aside for beginner skaters to get their bearings, or practice before they go out on the main floor.

I suspect this is a ploy for her to get me to buy a slushy without the other two.  Sadly that will not work.  We’ll have to wait and see till after the session.  Only an hour to go.

The sad pleading eyes are meant to weaken my resolve.

An exhibition of speed skating in different directions give our charges a chance to rest, relax, and have their slushies. A timely break before the last session.

But what the heck, we’ve got ‘you got nothing I want you’ve got nothing I need’.  Good old head banging music.   Then I’m in seventh heaven, with Michael Jackson blasting through the stadium.  It’s not hard to imagine his ensemble dancing on the floor, ‘don’t stop till you get enough’.

Bring on the kaleidoscope lighting.

No, forget that just bring back ACDc.  Oh, they just have.  ‘Highway to hell’!

Last game of the night, just when the three girls are just about out of steam.  Red Rover.  They sit this one out, and as the skaters get fewer and fewer, the speed and evasiveness of those left is breathtaking, and end up with a few collisions with the floor.

What do they say, no pain no gain?

That’s why I’m the chauffeur.

To round out the night, INXS and Midnight Oil.

A great night out?  Hell yeah!

We all seek to escape from reality, for a brief moment or maybe longer

And that’s where escapist entertainment comes in.

Television in the form of a comedy, dramedy, or drama, in series format or just a good movie, gives us that temporary respite from everything that’sd going on around us.

For a longer respite we turn to a book, sometimes an action-packed thriller where the plot could be only too real or a flight of fancy that just borders on the unbelievable.  Or maybe a good romance, just to remind us, or reinforce the notion that there can be a happy ending.

But the trouble these days is finding the time as more and more everyday stuff impinges on our lives, making less time for everything else.

Stories have got shorter, e.g. the advent of the ‘novella’.

Mills and Boon head the right idea, making their romance novels fit into 187 pages, not too long and not too short.  I don’t know how they did it, I tried writing one, and no way would it fit into 187 pages, but then it did sneak off into the thriller category.

It might be why science fiction and fantasy books are so popular.  If we’re going to leave this world for a while, why not go all the way to another world.  Things have to be better there, don’t they?

It’s probably why I can come up with so many ideas about being anywhere but here, in this reality.  It is probably one of the most boring existence because I cannot work, and in retirement, other than tormenting grandchildren, gardening, which I never really liked, and house renovations, which there are only so many you can do, there’s very little else.

It’s probably why most of us don’t read or view real life.  We already have that, we don’t want to be reminded of it.

So…

Time to get back to my other reality.

Is it me, or are the queues getting longer

It seems that we spend nearly as much time waiting as some of us do sleeping.  In fact, I’ve been known to be sleeping while waiting.

What is it in this era of mechanization and computerization that we still have to wait.  Is it the human element that is still holding us back?

But, hang on, isn’t it the human element that creates the mechanization and computerization?  Perhaps we are building in redundancy so that we are not replaced by the very things we are creating to make our lives easier?

We don’t have robots who can perform the same tasks as a GP doctor because we still need the human factor, and since one size does not fit all, no consultation can ever be fit into a specific time frame so there will always be waiting especially as the day wears on.

We cannot automate phone call answering except for the part where you are put in a queue and told your call is important and then you sit there listening to some awful music, seemingly forgotten

There will always be hundreds of calls in a queue for the most important services. or when you need an answer in a hurry, because only a few people are available to answer the phone.  Robots will not be able to answer calls either, because once again, only a real person can respond to the randomness of callers questions.

Artificial intelligence only works in science fiction.

Then there is the time we spend waiting at traffic lights, and then, even when the lights are with us, in traffic jams.  We are still stumped by trying to find an all-conquering answer to moving masses of people, either by the roads or by public transport.

The latter is all too frequently suffering delays and congestion due to the number of services needed and decaying networks and infrastructure, all of which is only going to get worse, with, of course, longer delays and more waiting.

Maybe the answer is to work from home but sadly the internet, that so-called answer to all our off-site networking, is not going to cope, and in fact, in this country, our latest update is a retrograde step on speed and availability, ie more waiting and less work.

Waiting, it seems, we are stuck with it whether we like it or not.  Good thing then our lives are longer.  But, if we delve into the mystery of longer lives now against what they were back when there was less waiting, maybe we still have the same amount of life, and the fact we’re living longer is negated by all the waiting.

I’m sure we didn’t have to wait very long for anything a hundred years ago.

Just saying.

That’s two days of my life I won’t get back

Yep…

I just spent 26 and a half hours in planes and in airport terminals getting home, and lost two days in the process.  The 15th of January just didn’t exist for us.

This is what happens when you fly from Vancouver in Canada to Brisbane Australia, via Shanghai.  The thing is, everywhere way, way overseas is a two-stop run.  We have to break our journey somewhere, like Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, and for the sake of managing delays at the originating end, we usually end up with a mid airports stay of five to ten hours.

It all means that when you finally arrive in Australia, you are tired, and look it.  I feel sorry for the Immigration officials who must rarely see people looking good on their arrival.

This time we were fortunate to get back in the morning.  To save being picked up by relatives we arranged for a limousine service, and it worked out well.

I couldn’t say the same for some of the pickup services overseas, but that was more the fault of the travel agent here than anything else.

It only reinforced my thoughts on travel agents, some are excellent, and some are complacent, relying too much on travel wholesalers whose knowledge of the products they sell is appalling.

The original bookings were fine, the agent we used knew her stuff.  But she left and someone else took over, and not so good I’m afraid.

However…

On the whole, it was an incredible expedition, from temperatures of 30 plus celsius to temperatures of -21 degrees Fahrenheit, and rarely above 6 degrees Fahrenheit.

The highlight:  Lake Louise in Canada.  Everyone should see this place in Winter at least once in their lifetime.  Certainly, my wife’s 65th birthday, spent there, was something she will never forget.

And the sleigh ride, in -14 or -15 degrees, well, we might be eligible to be declared start staring mad, but seeing the frozen waterfall was just another of those magical moments that reinforces why we should be preserving the planet, not trying to destroy it.

But…

We’re back home and glad to be so.