Homer's Travels: October 2023

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Southeast Asia 2023 - Days Twelve, Thirteen, and Fourteen - Chiang Mai, Thailand

UPDATED 12-03-2023: Added photos.

Day Twelve (Tuesday)

Today we got up early to feed the monks.  Buddhist monks are not allowed to kill animals.  Each morning they leave the temples and walk the streets carrying a bowl.  People give them prepared food (including meat) in return for getting a blessing by the monk.  People often give them a favorite food of a passed loved one in the hope that the food will make their loved one happy.

The monks praying to the people who offer them food.
We returned to the hotel for our own breakfast before we were picked up once again and headed to a rice farm (more like a tourist rice farm).  Here we learned about various types of rise, fed chickens, picked butterfly pea flowers, made banana leaf boats ( or tried to) to make omelets in, and made blue rice (using the butterfly pea flowers). We donned rice planting clothes, got knee deep in mud, and planted rice.  After getting out of the muddy field we decided we weren't muddy enough so the Wife and I went down the mud slide into the muddy water pool.  The Wife took a second plunge before we took showers and put some clean clothes on.  All this was followed by lunch of an egg omelet, chicken, and the blue rice we prepared earlier.

We returned to the hotel for another rest before we drove up into the mountains to visit a Hmong village.  A little girl in native clothes, eight years old if I recall correctly, offered to be our guide of the village.  She did a great job explaining everything about her village and her native clothes.  Turns out there were a group of kids who shared the tour guide duties for the village. 

A beautiful temple covered in gold.
After the village we went to a Buddhist temple where we listened to chanting monks and enjoyed the view of Chiang Mai from the top of the mountain. 

Day Thirteen (Wednesday)

Our last tour day in Thailand took us to an elephant sanctuary where we walked amongst the rescued pachyderms and the water buffalo.  We enjoyed a vegetarian meal when we heard a bunch of elephants trumpeting.  The founder of the sanctuary, who had been on a trip overseas, had returned and the elephants were happy to see her.

A baby elephant sitting on another baby elephant playing by the river.
The rest of the afternoon was free.  The Wife got a Thai massage.  I decided not to partake as I have had a love-hate relationship with massage.  I love the idea of it but hate the feeling of disappointment I often have after it.

In the evening we were picked up and taken to a riverfront restaurant for a goodbye dinner.  The meal was a bit too fancy for me.  The food was good but just too fussy. 

Day Fourteen (Thursday)

After a lazy morning we went to the airport and flew back to Bangkok. We were met at the hotel by the parents of a couple of the Wife's students (they are in their thirties and forties now with families of their own).  They took us out for dinner at a very nice Thai restaurant.  The Wife caught up with her students and their young families.  I sat next to the father and he kept putting food on my plate or suggesting things for me to eat.  I filled my plate a couple times until I was full.  Fortunately this seemed to satisfy the father and he stopped piling on the food. 

The parents dropped us off at the hotel.  Along the way one of their granddaughters sat between us and sang Old MacDonald Had a Farm with the Wife. 

We went to bed and got up at 3:00 am so we could check out and go to the airport.   Our adventure would continue in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Photos can be found in my 2023 Thailand Google Photos album. 

Friday, October 27, 2023

Southeast Asia 2023 - Days Nine, Ten, And Eleven - Chiang Rai, Thailand

UPDATED 12-03-2023: Added photos.

Day Nine (Saturday)

We were picked by our guide - her guide name was Beer - and driver and we headed up into the mountains not far from Chiang Rai.  We ended up at the 101 Tea plantation.  The process of growing and producing teas was explained before we sat down for a tasting of seven or eight different varieties of tea.  Not being tea drinkers, the Wife and I agreed that they all tasted like grass.  This tasting just reinforced my dislike of tea.

A tea plantation in the misty morning.
After the tea tasting we drove into the nearby town and walked through the market.  Our guide pointed out the variety of food and spices available. I am a man of simple tastes and spices, to me, just muddle the true flavor of the food you are trying to eat and if you need to spice something to make it good then maybe you shouldn't be eating it.

Inside the Black House.
After the market we had lunch at a Chinese restaurant.  The majority of tourist visiting Thailand are from China so many restaurants cater to them.  The food was good and a nice change from the Thai food we'd been eating.

In the afternoon we visited the Black House, an artist/professor's house and gallery.  His house and the surrounding compound featured his art and the art of his students.  It was an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary Thai art.  I liked most of it but he definitely had a phallic fixation.

The last stop of the day was the White Temple built by a friend and colleague of the Black House professor.   The spectacular White Temple gleams in the sun.  Inside and outside there is a mixture of traditional and contemporary images.  Unlike the Black House, the White Temple has a stronger Buddhist vibe even though there are images of Marvel and DC superheroes, Star Wars characters, and some anime cartoons decorating some of the interior not to mention the Thai Ironman statue outside the temple entrance.

The White temple.
Day Ten (Sunday)

We drove back up into the mountains to visit the Queen Mother's Villa.  From here she ran many education and retraining projects to help move people away from the drug trade towards legal exports.  On the way up the mountains our van had to compete with runners and cyclists doing a marathon up the mountain to celebrate the late Queen Mother's birthday.

The Queen Mother's gardens with her villa.
The villa was a very comfortable looking with views of the mountains and the villa gardens.  We had some cookies and cream coconut milk ice cream which was really good.

After leaving the villa we wondered around trying to find a restaurant that wasn't crowded and ended up at a really good Thai restaurant.  I think our guide added it to her mental list for future reference. 

After lunch we drove up to the Thai - Burmese border to shop at a Burmese market.  We found a place with really cool stuff but, no matter how hard the Wife tried, they would not negotiate the prices down enough. This was her first negotiation failure but the blame is on the shopkeeper who wouldn't accept a fair price. 

After our disappointment we drove to the Golden Triangle where Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos meet.  The three countries are divided by the Mekong and the Ruak rivers. We visited a temple and an Opium Museum here.  The museum displayed the history and tools of the opium trade as well as example of hill tribe dress and customs. 

Day Eleven (Monday)

This day was a lot of driving.  We were leaving Chiang Rai and heading to Chiang Mai.  Along the way we visited Akha and Palaung tribal villages.  During the Akha tour we experienced our first rain.  I also managed to break one of the driver's umbrellas.  His tip went up because of that.

Inside the cave/temple.
We stopped at a cave which was being used as a Buddhist temple.  While I was there I accidentally knocked over a bottle of Fanta Red that was an offering to a shrine.  I haven't experienced any bad luck yet but I'm trying to be careful.

We ended the day in Chiang Mai.  The Wife and I took a tuk-tuk to one of the night bazaars to look for treasures. I didn't find anything for me but the Wife got some good deals. 

It was a long day.  Tomorrow we explore some more of Thailand. 

Photos can be found in my 2023 Thailand Google Photos album. 

Monday, October 23, 2023

Southeast Asia 2023 - Days Six, Seven, And Eight - The River Kwai

UPDATED 12-03-2023: Added photos.

Day Six (Wednesday)

We checked out of our hotel and headed out of Bangkok.  The first stop, southwest of Bangkok, was the Mae Klong Railway Market. This market is famous for being located along the railroad tracks.  Four time a day (twice in the morning and twice in the late afternoon) the train comes through forcing the vendors to move their tables out of the way of the train.  Most of the tables are on wheels and are moved back near the track as soon as the train goes past.  It was a cool thing to see.

A floating market.
Next we drove to a pier and rode a long boat through a floating market.  You could buy things from vendors on shore or on other boats.  We got off our boat and did a little shopping before moving on to our next destination:  Kanchanaburi, Thailand. 

The infamous bridge over the river Kwai.
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant on the Kwae Noi river, more commonly known as the River Kwai.  From our restaurant you had a great view of the bridge and we watched a train cross it as we ate.  After lunch we walked part way across the bridge before walking to the train station where we caught our van.

Next stop was the Death Railroad museum which talked about the construction of the Thai - Burma railroad by the Japanese using POW labor.  The conditions were horrific and you could almost feel the suffering.  Across the street from the museum was a cemetery for some of the POW laborers who died building the railway.

The Float House hotel from our patio.
The day ended on another long boat which took us to our hotel.  The hotel, the Float House, are  floating cabins strung out along the bank of the Kwae Noi river.  Each floating cabin has a floating patio on the river.  It was weird feeling the room bob up and down on the wake of passing boats.  One activity they offer - the Wife did it the first night - is to put on a lifejacket and jump into the swift flowing river that takes you down the length of the hotel until your reach one of two ladders where you climb out and walk back to your cabin.  This is done unsupervised and I'm surprised it is allowed.

Day Seven (Thursday)

Part of Hellfire Pass
carved by POW Labor.
Today we took a boat farther up the river to visit a Mon village.  The Mon were some of the first people in the Thai - Myanmar area to adopt Buddhism.  The Thai government provides them with some assistance but many Mon from the village provide most of the labor for the river hotels.

Next we left the river and went to the Hellfire Pass museum.  The museum discribes the hardships experienced by Australian POWs who opened a pass through solid granite.  Then we walked through the actual pass to a memorial to those who didn't survive.  While we were there a new plaque was unvailed commemorating the six hundred plus American POWs that lost there life there.

We ate lunch at a train station before boarding the train for a short trip through the countryside.  It was relaxing and the views were interesting.  After getting off the train we visited a waterfall on the way back to the Float House hotel. 

On this night all three of us jumped in the river and floated down to the end of the hotel.  I have to say the current made it a bit hard to get over to one of the two ladders.  The Wife had to catch our tour mate before she missed the ladder.  Despite being a tough swim, it was very refreshing. 

Day Eight (Friday)

We got up early and said our goodbyes to the Float House.  We drove three hours to one of the three old capitals of Thailand.  We spent a few hours exploring ruins and temples.  We saw lots of temples in Thailand - there are over forty-two thousand Buddhist temples in Thailand - and they all had some interesting or unique feature.  

Buddhist temple amongst the trees ... and welcoming shade.
We returned to Bangkok and caught our flight to Chiang Rai where our adventure would continue. 

Photos can be found in my 2023 Thailand Google Photos album. 

Friday, October 20, 2023

Southeast Asia 2023 - Days Four And Five - Bangkok, Thailand

UPDATED 12-03-2023: Added photos.

Day Four (Monday)

The Emerald (jade) Buddha.
Our tour finally started with a tour around Bangkok.  First stop was the Grand Palace and the temples used by the king.  The complex is pretty magnificent.  Thai Buddhist temples are intricate and colorful.  They are a mix of Buddhist and Hindu which is something I didn't expect.  On the way back to the van we stopped in an alley where vendors sell amulets and charms.  We purchased several little clay tablet featuring Buddha and other deities.

Next on the itinerary was the temple of the reclining Buddha. This temple features sitting, standing, reclining, and walking Buddha statues.  We witnessed a blessing ceremony with chanting monks.

The reclining Buddha itself was huge and pretty spectacular.  It's so big it is hard to take in.

It was time for lunch so we stopped at a restaurant on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. We enjoyed some Thai food as we watched boats go by on the river.

A truck engine on a long tail boat.
After lunch we boarded a long boat to explore the canals of Bangkok. The long boats (or long-tail boats) use truck motors and propellers on long shafts.  A large group of long boats crammed into a lock that lets you move from the river to the canals.

Once we left the lock we traveled through the canals to see homes and businesses built over the canal on stilts.  We stopped at a cafe and artists house which had a very hippy vibe to it.  We fed the catfish which were abundant in the canals.  Along with the fish we saw a water monitor lizard.  The thing was huge.  Its belly was big so it was probably digesting a fish or possibly a bird.

Wat Arun.
The last stop of the long boat was Wat Arun, a very large Buddhist temple and stupa.  The place was crowded with women of all ages dressed in the traditional costume of their favorite soap opera star.  The Soap opera takes place at the temple.  Walking around the stupa was difficult as we constantly had to avoid photobombing some selfie taking fangirl in a shiny silk dress she had rented nearby.  I think this was my first true superfan encounter.

That night we ate a meal at the Italian place in the hotel.  It was not very good which is strange since the other two meals we had there were pretty good.

Day Five (Tuesday)

This would turn out to be a very strange day.  We had only one activity scheduled, a cooking class at the Blue Elephant Cooking School next door to our hotel.  I was not looking forward to it as I don't like cooking and I don't like fussy food.

Two of the teachers first took the students on the Metro to a nearby food market.  There they explained different foods and ingredients that we would be using when we prepared four different dishes.  The market was extremely hot and humid.  By the time we were heading back to the Metro station the Wife was overheating.  When she overheats she passes out.  Fortunately she caught it before it got too far.  One of the teachers bought her water and she was very patient as we slowly made our way back to the school.  There the wife made the decision not to participate in the class since standing in a kitchen for three to four hours was not a good idea for her.  We made our way back to the hotel.

A water monitor lizard chillin'.
We headed to the pool as that was probably the fastest way to cool the Wife down and it worked though the lightheadedness would persist into the afternoon.

Later on when she was feeling better we took a taxi to the MBK Center which is also known as the knockoff market.  We bought some souvenirs, including magnets, and the Wife bought three 'high end' purses and a winter coat.  The winter coat, a Canada Goose brand, can go as high as $1,500 but she got hers for $100.  There was a hole in one pocket but the vendor fixed it on the spot for free (he had a sewing machine in his stall).

The next day we will be leaving Bangkok going into the countryside to see more cool stuff.

Phota can be found in my 2023 Thailand Google Photos album.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

The Tenth Caminoversay Of The End Of My Second Camino

It has been ten years since my second Camino came to an end at Fisterra, Spain.  This commemoration is losing some importance as the Wife and I started my third Camino - her first - earlier this year.  Even so, this ending of my second Camino was still important in my life.  Afterwards I would ride RAGBRAI and try my best - which wasn't enough it appears - to complete the Appalachian Trail.

Life has changed a lot since then.  People exited my life ... people entered my life.  Life moves on.  We all get older.  Some of us even get wiser.  I can't say I am one of those. 

Fisterra in the distance.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Southeast Asia 2023 - Days Zero, One, Two, And Three - Getting There And Lots Of Sleep

Days 0, 1, and 2 (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday)

Our flights out of Omaha, Chicago, and Doha, Qatar were mostly on time.  We had large layovers so there wasn't any rushing to gates on the way to Bangkok, Thailand.

A KAWS sculpture
at the Qatar airport.
Our stop in Doha was a first for us.  It's a nice enough airport.  We passed an Oreo bar while we were there where you could make you own Oreos.  We decided to skip it for now.  We will have another chance on the way back as we fly the exact same route backwards on the way home.

We were greeted at the gate in Bangkok and we're taken to our guide, Ling, who briefed us on the plans on the way to the hotel.  We would have nearly two days free before the actual tour would start.

It was too early to check in so we ate breakfast and walked around the area a little and located a church for the Wife's Sunday Mass.

We got into our room at 10am.  I took a shower and then planned to take a short one or two hour nap.  Nine hours later the Wife woke me up.  She'd taken a nap, gone to the pool and had a few beers while I was in Dreamland.  She texted me a few times asking if I would join her but I slept through my phone pinging.

We had some late dinner, watched some BBC news, read a little, and then proceeded to sleep another nine hours.  I guess not sleeping well on the plane and witnessing nightfall twice in twelve hours (along with being on a twelve hour flight followed by a six hour flight) kinda messed with me.

Day 4 (Sunday)

We got up at a regular time, ate a nice buffet breakfast before going to Mass.  After Mass it was to the pool.

The Wife pointed out a waitress who has served her the day before.  On Saturday her name tag said Artie.  Today it said Polly.  We started referring to her as Pollyartie.

We met our tour mate later in the day (our tour group was only three people total) before the Wife and I took a taxi to Asiatique ( a night market).  We explored the shops and bought some interesting pieces that I'll surely post about later.

At the night market in Bangkok, Thailand. 
For dinner we just went to a 7-11 for snacks.  Buying 'dinner' at minimarts had worked pretty good in Rome but Thai minimarts don't have the same types of food.  I didn't find anything but the Wife bought some chips.  I ended up eating some snacks I'd packed for the flight.

On Monday the tour would start and cool stuff will be seen.

Photos can be found in my 2023 Thailand Google Photos album.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

See You Later!

 We're off on another adventure.  See y'all after Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Sunday, October 08, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #71

  • Last Sunday Mom, the Wife, and I went to Uncle Jimmy's memorial service.  The service was nice and it was nice to see people I hadn't seen in a long time.
  • After getting back from the funeral I went to T-Mobile to get a new phone.  Fortunately for me I was able to keep my number (the old SIM was deactivated).  Keeping my old number makes it so much easier.  You don't realize just what is linked to our cell phones like two factor authentication.  It took me a few days to set it up back to the way it was ... actually it's still not like I had it.  Samsung and Google cloud backups made it a lot easier to get back to where I was.  I even have all my texts and call history back.
  • The Wife got sick on Monday.  We think it was food poisoning but we can't narrow it down to anything she ate.  Fortunately it only lasted a couple days.
  • I had our furnace checked out and our sprinkler system was blown out (so we don't have water in the pipes that could freeze).  We cleared everything off and power washed our deck and back patio, washed the windows, and brought all our plants inside.  Our house is now officially ready for winter.  We had our first frost alert yesterday morning so winter is definitely on its way.
  • We finally got our Vietnam visas.  They were delayed due to an office move in the company processing our visa request.  We are now ready for our trip this week.  While this trip is four times longer than our Rome trip it will be a lot easier.  We will be on tours the whole time so we don't have to worry about transportation, lodging, or food.  We just have to sit back and enjoy everything.
  • I got my COVID booster and my RSV vaccination today.  I got the flu shot before we left for Rome.  The Wife got her shots this week as well.  I think I'm up to date on all my vaccinations.
  • I watched "The Continental" on Peacock.  It's a three episode prequel/spinoff of the John Wick movie series.  It was entertaining.  Also binged "Ahsoka" on Disney+.  It was ok.  Not great but good enough.  I did like the call back to Rebels.
  • Mom's last visit with the home physical therapist is this coming week.  She is officially being 'discharged'.  She will continue her physical therapy in the office going forward.
  • This week I have to clean the bathroom and repack for our trip.  I'm not quite as organized for this trip as I usually am but I still have a few days to pull things together.

Saturday, October 07, 2023

Rome 2023 - Days Six, Seven, Eight, And A Brief Epilogue

Day Six (Thursday)

This was the day we came to Rome for. Today was the day of the Wife's student's ordination into the Diaconate. We put on our best clothes (first time I've traveled with a suit and a second pair of shoes) and entered into St Peters through a side entrance and celebrated the ordination of several seminary students from all over the United States. As the Wife said, I've never seen so many priests in one place before.  ou couldn't ask for a better location.

After the ceremony we dressed down and tried to get to the Pantheon again. This time we tried to hail a cab. The cab hailing apps in Rome are a joke. Over two days trying we never successfully hailed a taxi - we just got a "the Taxis are very busy" message. All the taxis we took were pure luck like when we caught one dropping someone off. We caught one this way and went to the Pantheon.

The unreinforced concrete dome of the Pantheon.
The Pantheon was interesting as was just about everywhere we went in Rome. The former Roman temple, converted into a Catholic church, has the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world.  It's kind of amazing how a two thousand year old building can look almost new.  We tried to catch another taxi at a taxi stand next to the Pantheon but the line was long and taxis were dropping people and leaving without picking up another fare. We decided to walk a couple blocks away and the Wife finally was able to wave a taxi down.

That night we were invited to a restaurant by the new Deacon's family. We dressed up again and spent an hour trying our best to get a taxi to stop. There was a line a block long at a taxi stand and as we waited we saw zero taxis stop to pick up people. We finally gave up and had dinner at a bistro not far from the taxi stand. I think, while our hotel was in a great location for walking, it was a terrible location for hailing a ride.  It was just too busy with all the tourists.

Day Seven (Friday)

Our last day in Rome turned out to be one of the best. We got up early to attend the Wife's student's first Mass. We needed to take a taxi and we were not taking no for an answer. We reserved a taxi the night before ... which didn't show up. Fortunately a taxi dropped someone off right in front of us and we jumped in.  (I had a bus route in my back pocket as a backup plan.)

Santa Cecilia entombed under the Basilica altar.
We arrived at the Basilica of Santa Cecilia (the patron saint of music and of Omaha). Out of an abundance of caution and paranoia we got there an hour early. As we waited, about a dozen nuns gathered to sing their morning prayers. It was an unexpected pleasure to witness.

The beautiful chapel to Saint Cecilia in the crypts under the basilica.
Others from Omaha began arriving and Mass was celebrated. The new Deacon said a good first homily. After Mass we all went down in the crypts below the church. There is a beautiful chapel dedicated to St Cecilia there.

We left the church and walked towards the main street that ran along the Tiber river. We would either find a taxi or eat lunch whichever came first. We passed a taxi backing out of a very narrow passage and we asked if he was available and he was. These two easy taxis didn't make up for not getting one the night before and missing dinner but it was a start.

We stopped for lunch before going to our room and napping a little. We had one more planned event for the day and we wanted to be rested up.

The last planned event was a Scavi tour. The Scavi is a group of underground crypts including the remains of Saint Peter. We met a group from Oklahoma and a friend from Omaha (a Deacon who participated in the ordination) with his mother and had a very interesting tour of the Scavi.  The story about the discovery of Saint Peter's remains is practically a thriller.  Unfortunately ... no photos allowed.

After the tour the friend from Omaha and his mother joined us for dinner in a cafe just outside St Peter's Square. We were eating our food when the Wife, in a raised voice, not a yell, said "Father, we're TWiT fans!"
Note: For those who do not know, TWiT is This Week in Tech, a video podcast hosted by Leo Laporte. Leo hosted a tech show called the Screen Savers back when TechTV was a thing on cable. When TechTV was bought and eventually shut down, Leo started his podcast network and has been doing it for over eighteen years (the longest continuous tech podcast in the world). The Father the Wife called out to is a regular guest on TWiT. Father B is one of the Vatican's IT guys and a self proclaimed grey hat hacker.
Father came over, said hello. He recognized the Wife through her tweets (Xits). She followed him as he tweeted about feeding the Vaticats, stray cats who roam the Jesuit compound. He offered to take us to the Vatican store to buy some Grappa. Only our friend from Omaha took him up on that.

Some of the Vaticats.
When they got back from the store Father invited us to the Jesuit compound where he took us up on the roof. The Jesuits have awesome views from the top of their building with views of St Peters and most of Rome. We even saw some Vaticats waiting for their evening meal. While on the roof another Father that the Wife follows on Twitter came by and she had a huge fangirl moment.

Father B was so kind to give of his time. His stories were, frankly, more interesting than the stories of most of the tour guides. Meeting him and seeing where he hangs out made the Wife's and my day. What a great ending to our stay in Rome.

Saint Peters at night.
Due to the unexpected Father encounter we managed to see St Peters all lit up. The Wife and I rarely go out at night so we miss these sights. We'll have to keep that in mind going forward.

Day Eight (Saturday)

Our hotel shuttle took us to the airport.  We hoped for as smooth of a return as our arrival had been but it was not to be.  Our flight to Washington D.C. was fine but out flight to Chicago was delayed by over an hour.  We arrived in Chicago roughly ten minutes before our connecting flight to Omaha was to depart.  We fran from concourse C to concourse E as fast as we could.  We arrived and the door to our plane was closed and there were no airline reps anywhere.  We both kinda freaked out a bit until an airline rep came out of the jetway.  We asked if we could get on and were allowed in.  There were several empty seats on the plane and someone said they were waiting for over eighteen passengers to check in.  This was probably the closest I've come to missing a flight without actually missing a flight.


A week is a long time to spend in a single city but there are a few that have more than enough to see and do. Rome is one of the few. This trip was one of the first pseudo-spontaneous ones we've done. Except for the thieving of my phone, my intermittent navigation skills, and the difficulty catching taxis in a timely fashion, our visit to Rome was an incredible success.

Rome is a beautiful city full of thousands of years of history.  You probably could spend a lifetime exploring its nooks and crannies.  Having said this it is unlikely we will ever return to Rome.  There is so much more to see in Italy outside of Rome.  We saw everything we wanted to see (except for the statue of Romulus and Remus ... that is a long story) in the city.  It is time to move on to the next place on our list.

Next ... Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia next week.

Photographs can be found in my 2023 Rome Google Photo's album.

Friday, October 06, 2023

Happy Happy Birthday Birthday!!

 Happy Birthday to the Wife!!!

I think we'll celebrate by leaving the country next week.

Thursday, October 05, 2023

Rome 2023 - Days Three, Four, and Five

Day Three (Monday)

On our third day we visited the Vatican museum.  For the past couple days we'd watched the huge lines going into the museum from our hotel window.  We decided to do a skip-the-line tour to save us four to six hours of waiting in line.  There was a lot of cool stuff to see once you got used to the herd of people you were a part of.  The tour ends in the Sistine Chapel.  Photos are not allowed in the chapel since Nippon TV helped restore the chapel for exclusive rights to the image and videos of Michelangelo's frescoes.  Capitalism ... Such a humanitarian system.

The very cool spiral stairs near the entrance of the Vatican museum.
Since our tour didn't cover the Borgia apartments we separated from our tour guide after the Sistine Chapel and, after eating some lunch, went through the whole museum again. This mostly meant finding holes in the crowd we could move through quickly. We left through the Sistine Chapel again not even stopping to look again. I'm sure people who saw us wondered why we didn't care about all the beauty around us as we rushed through the chapel for our second time.

Stature of Pope Pius IX in Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore.
In the afternoon we took the metro to Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore.  The Wife has decreed that Italian churches are too flat and that she prefers Spanish churches that have more texture.  I have to say I see where she's coming from.  The churches are beautiful but they lack something.  Next to the Basilica is a gelato vendor that sells only one flavor.  The flavor was specially made for the basilica to commemorate a time when it snowed in Rome.  It is a lemon gelato with crunchy meringue bits.  It was refreshing.

The slightly overhyped Trevi Fountain.
We then walked to the Trevi fountain.  While it is beautiful and all it is just a pretty fountain surrounded by a crowd of people.  We did not throw the three coins into the fountain. I'm happy I got to see it though.

Day Four (Tuesday)

Inside of Saint Peter's dome.
Today was an early day.  We took a tour up to the Saint Peter's Basilica Dome.  By law no building can be taller than this dome so the view from up there is pretty magnificent.  The dome climb is around five hundred and fifty steps but we took the elevator that skips three hundred and thirty steps. The remaining two hundred and twenty are a mix of ramps, narrow slanting stairs and winding spiral staircases. Besides the views of Rome you also get an up close view of the mosaics on the inside of the dome.

A close up of one of the mosaics on the inside of the dome.
After the dome we explored the rest of St Peters.  It is very big and all the mosaic tile work is incredible (all 'paintings' in Saint Peters are actually mosaics made of small tiles).  Still, it too was a bit flat.

Inside Saint Peters - it is definitely a big place.
We exited through the crypts and, of course, the gift shop where we found the best prices so we loaded up with Pope blessed souvenirs, gifts, and magnets.

View of the Tiber river from the top of castel Sant'Angelo.
After leaving St Peters we walked to the castel Sant'Angelo also known as Hadrian's Mausoleum.  It was hot and there were more stairs.  Today definitely was stairs day.  At the top we had more great views including views of the Tiber river. 

Day Five (Wednesday)

This morning we attended an audience with the Pope.  We were seated in St Peter's Square with at least eighteen thousand other people or at least that was the number on our ticket.  The Pope entered in his Pope mobile and drove around the crowd a few times before driving up the stairs of St Peters and getting out.  Since there were people from several countries everything he said and mother representatives said was repeated in several languages including Italian, English, German, Spanish, Polish, Czech, and French.  This lengthened out the proceedings a bit.

Pope Francis driving through the crowd in the popemobile.
In the afternoon we took the metro to the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. Another big, beautiful but flat church.  This was the seat for the Pope before Vatican city was built. We ate lunch in a nice bistro nearby. 

A carving in Saint John Lateran Basilica presaging how
I would feel when we got lost on the way to the Pantheon.
We got back on the metro and headed to the Pantheon.  At least we tried.  After leaving the metro station and following Google maps directions we ended up going in nearly the opposite direction than we should.  It is disconcerting, when you are following a map closely, that the ETA gets longer and longer.  We eventually gave up, got on at another metro station, and went back to our hotel hot, sweaty, tired, and disappointed.

Saint Agnes.
After resting in our room we tried again, this time walking to the Piazza Navona. We made it there without incident and enjoyed the fountains and explored churches dedicated to St Agnes and St Mary before walking back past St Peters on the way back to our hotel.

Photographs can be found in my 2023 Rome Google Photo's album.

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Rome 2023 - Days Zero, One, And Two

Days Zero and One (Friday and Saturday)

Our flights to Rome couldn't have gone smoother. We were on time to the airport, all our planes left on time, and we arrived in Rome ten minutes early. Our checked bags arrived and we breezed through passport control. The driver provided by our hotel was waiting for us and we arrived at our apartment/hotel before 9:30am. I then made the mistake of telling the Wife that I'd never had a smoother trip. That statement would jinx the heck out of me later that day.

Saint Peter's from the square.
We walked around the area. The hotel was in a great location near the Vatican museum and within walking distance to attractions, the metro, and restaurants. We visited Saint Peter's square - the first of many visits to the square. After getting our bearings we went back to our room and rested up. Our first tour was later in the afternoon and neither of us had slept very well on the plane.

We walked the four blocks to the metro station and headed to our first tour, the Golden House of Nero. Sometime around the Termini station my phone decided to take a walk. Rome is notorious for pickpocketing and I was careless and apparently had a target on my back. The phone was both our hotel key and my two factor authentication device so this would give us headaches the rest of our stay in Rome. Fortunately the Wife kept control of her phone.

Inside Nero's Golden Home (Golden because of the amount of light ... not actual gold)
(Photo taken by the Wife)
Nero's Golden House was interesting but fairly modest as it isn't a high priority for archeological exploration. There is so much history in Rome everything competes for time and money and Nero isn't a high priority (yet).

We returned to our hotel and I ran Find-My-Phone on my tablet. It seems the phone ended up in a place you could buy phones so I assume the SIM card was swapped out as soon as they could. I remotely logged the phone out of all accounts just in case. I was pretty much in an anxious mood all night. To be safe I called our investment account and had the account locked.

The View from our room.  The people are in line to get into the Vatican museum.
(Photo taken by the Wife)


Day Two (Sunday)

We had two tours booked for the second day. The first was a catacombs tour including the Capuchin church. The highlight of the Capuchin church are alcoves decorated with the bones of former monks. The intricate patterns of skulls, pelvises, and other bones nailed to the whitewashed walls were oddly beautiful, strange, and disturbing all at the same time. I learned quite a bit here including the origin of the name, capuchin, which is derived from the fact they wore hooded robes ... a cap as it were. Photos, naturally, were not allowed.

We got on a bus which took us outside the walls of the old city to one of several catacombs open to the public. There are miles of hand dug underground catacombs holding the remains of everyone from Popes to common laborers. Due to people stealing bones to sell back to the church for ransom and tourists taking souvenir bones, the level of catacombs you can visit has been emptied of all human remains. There is always some jerk that ruins it for everyone else.

We were dropped off near where the tour started and we took the metro to the colosseum. We were early so we found a cafe and ate some lunch to kill some time. We walked around the perimeter of the colosseum and found a shady spot where we could people watch.

The Colosseum.
Our guide showed up and we went into the colosseum and learned about the history of this structure built to entertain the common people. The tour continued into the Roman Forum and Palatine hill where some Roman rulers and the rich lived. The views from the hill were pretty awesome.

Ruins of the Roman forum seen from Palatine Hill.
The park was near closing when we saw where the cremated remains of Julius Caesar were buried so we made our way back to the metro and back to our hotel. It was a long day and we were both tired. Neither of us felt like going out to eat so we found a minimart and bought some food we could eat in our room (this would be our habit for most of the week - grocery shopping and meals in the room at night).

Photographs can be found in my 2023 Rome Google Photo's album.