Thursday, September 01, 2016

Canada: Montreal and home

And so it was. We crammed our suitcases to overflowing, checking and weighing each piece of luggage and hand luggage to make sure we were not overweight. We were not, but the suitcases are very heavy! We went off to the Roma Termini in plenty of time to get the Leonardo Express to the airport. 
Roma Termini
The flight left on time and was very uneventful until we got to the Montreal airport. I have traveled to many countries through many airports, but I have not ever seen this. This was the scene at the Montreal Trudeau airport when we arrived in Canada today. 
The lineup just to get into the terminal started at the door of the plane. It went through the hallways and by the time we looked downstairs, we could hardly believe what we were seeing. We thought for sure it would take us 2-3 hours to get through the line. 

Amazingly, we went down the escalator to join the massive line, only to see that there was a much shorter line for Nexus card holders. By much shorter, I mean that there were 10 Nexus terminals so the three of us (me Robin,Sunita) went to one each and completed our immigration processing in less than 10 minutes! 

I paid $50 for the Nexus card which is good for 5 years and it is by far the most valuable $50 I ever spent. The card has saved me hours and hours over the last few years. If you do not have one and you travel even a couple times per year, apply for one. You will be forever grateful you did. 

Montreal airport
Finally on the way back to Winnipeg and home. It was good to be away, but it's always good to go home. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Italy: Rome - Colosseum, Spanish Steps, Shopping

Lots to see and do today as it's our last day in Rome and we are trying to squeeze every bit of excitement and culture from the day. And oh yes, and power shopping too. 

Robin and I had an early breakfast and headed off for our 10 minute walk to the Colosseum. Like I mentioned in the previous post, Hotel Hiberia is in a very good location to walk to many sights. 

Apparently, in its heyday, it could hold upwards of 80,000 people. A lot of it has crumbled due to natural disasters but it is still magnificent, even after nearly 2000 years. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. 

We walked back along the narrow streets to the hotel and halfway there, we encountered to most terrific thunderstorm with lashing rain. We had umbrellas but the wind was so strong that they turned inside out. They became water collectors rather than water repellents.

We took shelter in a leather store with tons of lovely handbags crammed into a small space. I found several bags - one of which Sharm wanted (se texted a picture). Of the ones I liked, I could not decide on a final selection so I did the next best thing - I bought them all!

Sunita and the kids had gone off shopping by the Trevi Fountain and they also got caught in the rain. We found a deli, ordered some food to take back to the hotel and ate our lunch in our rooms.

Dinner was at the Al Caminetto Restaurant. We were sitting outdoors when we heard a lot of shouting and quite a commotion. In short order, our server bolted from our table in a speedy gallop. When he returned a few minutes later, he told us that an older Asian man was robbed. The thief cut the money belt off the man's waist and ran. The daughter who was probably in her 40s, chased after the thief shouting while she was running. A server from a nearby restaurant joined the chase with our server and they managed to tackle the thief to the ground and retrieve the money belt.

All was well, after all. The owner of our restaurant nonchalantly mentioned that thieves are quite common in Rome. According to her, they target Asian people especially because they (Asians) do not generally use credit cards and will walk with wads of money.

Poor Ronin got  scared and wondered if the thieves would target his money pouch (similar to Grandpa's that he is now wearing).

After dinner, we headed back to the Spanish Steps which I know from the movie Roman Holiday starring one of my favourites - Gregory Peck, also starring in another famous To Kill a Mockingbird).

A stop at La Paloma for a gelato finished off the night before we walked back to the hotel to jam our suitcases and weight them. It's going to be tight for weight.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Italy: Rome - Pantheon, Fountain of Trevi

We left Praiano on the local Praiano/Positano bus at about 8:00am. Our suitcases were very heavy because of all the preserves, balsamic vinegar, wine, candies, olive oil and ceramic containers. With a suitcase with broken wheels, it was quite a job to climb the 69 stairs to the road with suitcases weighing almost 50 pounds each. Fortunately there were platforms on the way up where the steps turned every so often. 

Then it was an effort to take them from the bus stop in Positano to the ferry docks. There are steps everywhere so there is absolutely no avoiding them. I really don't know how someone in a wheelchair would manage living here. 

We boarded the ferry to Salerno with a stop in Amalfi and arrived in plenty of time to get some lunch and wait for the train. While we were waiting, a "nice" gentleman (yes, there are a lot of "Nice gentlemen - and I use the words "nice" and "gentlemen" very facetiously) asked where were going and if we needed help taking our suitcases to the platform. We declined and waited for the board to post the departure platform. After several minutes, he came back and asked again. We declined a second time, knowing full well that he was not asking just to be nice. 

We started moving our suitcases toward to stairs and he grabbed one of them to "help" us to the platform. We kept telling him we didn't need help but he disregarded us and took one of them up. When he arrived on the platform, he demanded 5 Euros for his assistance. I told him No but he raised his voice and walked over to Sunita making the same demands. She also told him No. I argued with him that we DID NOT ask for his assistance, so he would get nothing. He then demanded that we give him our loose change. I told Robin to give him 1 Euro from a little change wallet he had in his pocket. The man got indignant. But after the theft in Malta, I was in no mood for a shakedown. I told him to leave and he left in a huff, muttering something. I didn't really care. 

We arrived at the Roma Termini station and had another shakedown with the taxi driveer but we paid the 30 Euros for the 5 minute ride and got to our destination - Hotel Hiberia - an old but cute hotel with an ancient elevator which has wrought iron doors so that we feel like you are in an old movie.  

We headed off to Piazza De Navona and wandered around for some time just soaking up the history and culture. This is quite amazing to have read about such places and to be standing on the spot. 

Then it was off to the Pantheon. This building has been in use for 2000 years! Hard to believe that we could just walk right in and see people still praying in here. Makes any architecture in Canada look like an infant.  

We walked for quite some time along some of the narrow streets of Rome gazing at the buildings like regular tourists.  

Then it was off to the Fountain of Trevi. I have seen the movie several times over the last few decades. I also remember Dad singing the song when I was a young kid. Now I am standing in front of it waiting my turn to make a wish. In the song, three people threw coins but the fountain would only grant one wish. I am more hopeful now that we'll all have our wish granted. Ronin's wish was granted from a week ago. He wished that he would return to the fountain and here he is! The fountain does grant wishes! 

We stopped at Osteria Oscar which was on a narrow street that looked like the width of an alley in Canada. We ate outside as many restaurants have seating just outside. It's not a patio - just chairs and tables on the road. Everyone does it so we did too. 

Chicken Parmesan

Veggie soup


Eggplant parmesan


Pinocchio Ronin 
We walked back toward the Trevi Fountain on the way back to the hotel. The hotel is in a perfect location to walk to a lot of places nearby. It's about 100 metres to the Prime Minister's residence and the area is supposed to be one of the fastest growing (old) areas. The fountain was quite crowded for an evening but we jostled our way past the hordes of tourists (including us I suppose) and strolled back to the hotel.