ITALY - October 2013
(pictures will be added later)

October 1-2
After coming to the Hacienda Hotel the night before, we got to LAX by 6:15 am for an international flight on United. Arriving at the gate we were told that the flight was delayed at least one hour due to Mechanical issues the staff booked us onto a Lufthansa flight directly to Frankfort and then on to Rome instead of a three stop flight originally scheduled with UA. The attendant. Insisted that our bag s would follow us. And be on the same Lufthansa flights. We had to hike over to the international terminal to check in with Lufthansa. But the desk did not open until eleven. Bradley terminal had been in renovation but we did not see any change as we sat over coffee and danish waiting.  We checked in and went into the terminal. It is beautiful with many up- market shops, but not one of the new restaurants were open. Our flight was now at 3::30 pm so we had to kill time having "munchies" for lunch. At the gate we were surprised, we had been upgraded to Business Class which made for a much easier trips Ross the country and the North Atlantic Ocean on a 747-8... One big plane.

We arrived in Frankfurt (it was now Oct 2) and changed planes to Rome arriving at 2:30 in the afternoon.  We looked for our luggage at the baggage claim of Terminal 1 where we arrived it was not there - panic! We were directed to Terminal 3 where there was a Lufthansa desk so we hustled over and met a young man who worked at the terminal. He spoke English and told us that the luggage was most probably in Terminal 3 and he found a woman who jelled us through the olive and back into the baggage area of Term o3 and there were our two bags. Then to the train station and rode the train to the Trastevere Station. A 4 block walk to the B&B Hotel Trastavere. The sidewalks were broken and unsaved in places with trash everywhere. The Italians, it appears, do not pay attention to details such as trash- the carousels in the airport we're very dirty too.

Checked in at the hotel and were assigned a room. We were very tired having been up for most of 30 hours (not too much sleep on the plane despite the seats converting into beds) but resolved to stay awake until at least dinner time. So we went for a walk up the Via di Trastevere until we found a small restaurant. So- some so food and a walk back to the hotel. The room faced the streets and the traffic noise came through the closed window throughout the night.

Oct. 3
Breakfast at the hotel and Jon requested that our room be changed to inside room.  We repacked our bags and left them to be transferred during the day then took the Tram north over the Tiber River (really rather small) and exited at the Plaza Correlli. The plaza has a roman ruin in its center- it was the City of Rome's water department. A short walk of a few blocks brought us to the Capitoline Hill with its monuments. We climbed "the stairs and wandered about the top, then walked towards the back side of the hill. We stopped in a small snack shop (where several citizens were eating sandwiches and having converts faints- we needed a drink and a quick pastry) and then continued walking. From its top we could look down into the historic Roman Forum, an amazing sight. 2000 years of history laid out before our eyes. Incredible ruins with people wandering through them... All the stories about Ancient Rome came rushing back. We walked around the perimeter of the historic area, passing street buskers along the Via del Fori Imperiali, a wide road that Mussolini built right through the ancient site.

We walked up a size street looking for a place to have lunch and came across an Argentine restaurant and enjoyed a very nice meal accompanied by Argentine music being played through the speaker system. As we were living and Linda entered into conversions with the waiters, they warned USA about the pickpockets that plied their trade all along the ancient sites. We showed then Linda's pocketbook and Jon's waist pack that are pickpocket proof (steel bands in the straps and wire mesh inside the side. Fabric) and they were quite impressed.

We continued walking down the main road and came to the Coliseum. Although much of the outside is covered by scaffolding it is a very impressive edifice. We stood in line for about 20 minutes and purchased tickets- then wandered various levels looking and reading. The place is huge- it could hold 50,000 people!  Inaugurated in 80 AD it was originally covered in travertine and marble and was host to all sorts of spectacles- wild animal hunts, gladiator fights, naval battles (the floor was able to be flooded). There are extensive underground passages and rooms where the animals and people were kept and raised to the level of the arena on moveable platforms (lifts). Several hours of wandering inside the edifice later we left and walked back to the tram that would take us back to Trastevere. After a ride on a packed tram (rush hour) we walked to a nearby restaurant, The Station.  As we enjoyed a nice meal a guide brought in over 50 people for dinner, and he had not made a prior booking! Back to the hotel- two blocks away- and the new room... quiet, and a good night's rest.

Oct 4
Woke up at 9 am to have breakfast and prepared to head to the Roman Forum when we suddenly realized that we had Vatican tickets at 9 am! We had lost a day in our orientation. So after breakfast we called the tour office and were able to move the tour to the following morning.

We took the tram back up to the "historic district” and began walking towards the Pantheon. Seeing a sign pointing to the Trevi Fountain we headed in that direction. It is a big fountain, the largest in Rome, and is still fed by spring water through the Aqua Virgo, a 2000 year old aqueduct built by the Romans to a water source 19 miles away. Built in 1762 it attracts quite a crowd.  Designed by Nicola Salvi the fountain shows the Neptune and Tritons holding their Hosea horses-one wild and the other tame, just like the moods of the oceans. Off to the fountain's right is a strange construction known as the "Ace of Cups." Salvi put it there to block the view of a nosey barber across the street who complained about the statue as it was being constructed.

The fountain is surrounded by medieval streets and we walked them on our way to the Pantheon. Many small stores, although we did stop into a modern Galleria as we wandered through this part of Rome. The Pantheon is another 2000 year old edifice and is exceptionally well preserved. It's pretty well worn on the outside but inside it is awesome. The portico still shows the inscription put there by Marcus Agrippa although the existing building dates from the time of Hadrian, 120 AD. The building is now a consecrated church but the inside is still Roman. It has the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world with an opening (an oculus) in the center that allows  light to fall into the central room as well as rain-  the floor has small holes placed into it that allow the rain to drain away into underground sewers. The interior is marble-clad and the light from the oculus provides plenty of illumination. The painter Raphael is buried in the Pantheon.

We stopped for lunch -pizza- near the Pantheon and met a young lady from Australia (Kyera). As we were talking suddenly we found ourselves splattered with bird poop- a bird on the roof had "let go" and we were collateral damage! Then a walk back the Roman Forum and we strolled about the interior of the forum for quite a while. Exiting we took the tram back to the hotel, rested, and then went out for an evening walk in the neighborhood. As we exited the hotel we saw and heard a procession led by priests followed by many people holding candles, then a brass band and ending with a number of men carrying an edifice of Christ on the cross. Most unusual, especially with the busses and trams and cars scooting by them he whole time. We then found a nice outdoor restaurant for dinner. We have found the Italians to be very friendly and willing to use what little English they have as we use our little Italian. Back at the hotel we set the alarm for 6am- we didn’t want to miss the Vatican tour again!

Oct 5
Up early and had a quick breakfast.  Made a quick trip outside to check on the weather, it was supposed to rain, but it had not begun. We collected our stuff and took our raincoats and, just as we stepped outside it began to rain... and did it pour! We rode the #8 tram to the Tiber River and transferred to a bus that would take us to Vatican City. We went into a local coffee-bar to escape the rain. And then walked to the Vatican where one of the locals who were soliciting people for tours directed us to the place we were to meet our tour, half way around the Vatican walls. We had to force our way through hordes of people, most of whom were on various tours. Many bus tours with 40-50 people.

We met Elizabetta at the entrance to the Vatican Museums. She was a diminutive girl with a degree in archaeology. There were 10 people in our group and each received a small electronic receiver that hung around the neck with an earpiece so we could hear our guide. We were able to use reserved entrances because of the tour arrangements but it was still a struggle to get through the crowds; because it was raining everyone was attempting to get into the Vatican as soon as possible. The tour was three hours and we were treated to some astounding and amazing art- rooms decorated by Raphael, sculptures, floor mosaics, tapestries and, of course, the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo's ceiling and Last Judgment wall.

When we emerged the rain had pretty well stopped and we began to walk towards the Tiber because we decided to go to the Spanish Steps. We ate lunch in what appeared to be, from the street, a small restaurant but, upon entering we found a well-appointed cave-like restaurant. A good meal except Linda's meal of spaghetti and shrimp were actually prawns and they were looking at her- Jon had to open them up and remove the meat before turning them upside down on the plate.

After lunch we walked on, stopping into a local church as we passed. The churches are all so richly ornamented with paintings everywhere and gilt layered onto wood. We crossed over the Tiber River and walked to the Piazza del Popolo (where public executions took place). From there we took the Metro one stop south to Spagna, where the Spanish Steps are located. Lots of people on the steps and around the area- so much so that we found it really unimpressive so we window shopped- it is a very up- market shopping district. After a beer and snack in a small cafe we wandered small and narrow lanes until we reached the #8 tram back to the hotel. Dinner at the Station Restaurant once again (nice food and people) and then to bed.

Oct. 6
After breakfast we walked to a ‘Tobac’ store to purchase Metro tickets for the day. As we headed back towards the tram stop we noticed that there was an outdoor market on the next street down from the B&B so we walked to it. It was quite a large market selling everything you can think of- from kitchenware to clothing to books and artwork, jewelry, cloth, etc. We enjoyed wandering and purchased some baseball caps saying "Italia". Then we waited for bus “H” which would take us to Termini, the main train and bus station. No sooner did we get on then the traffic backed up and we spent 10-15 minutes standing in place. Finally reaching the Termini we decided to take one of the get-on-and-off open bus tours around Rome.

For some reason the organization of the bus company reflected of our impression of Rome- disorganized. The line to embark contained ticket holders (like us) and others who were paying for their ticket as they embarked- it made for a long wait before getting on. Being in the upper, open level of the bus gave us a different view of the landmarks we had wandered among and the recorded commentary provided a few extra tidbits of information.

We had decided to try to find the restaurant Giggetto al Portico D'Ottavia- it had been recommended to us by the owner-operator of Sicily by Gino in Ventura. As we rode the bus we decided to get off at a stop by some interesting Roman ruins. We wandered through the site and exited out on the other side and found ourselves at the edge of the Jewish Ghetto area... and there was the restaurant! What a wonderful lunch, everything (including the Buffalo Mozzarella) was made on-premises. The place was packed and we had to wait for a while for a table- outside, as usual- a great way to eat and watch the "street scene." After lunch we wandered the area for a bit, looked at the outside of huge Jewish museum and the medieval writings, walked across the Tiber to the smallest inhabited island in Rome and visited the church of St Bartholomew, different because it has numerous side chapels commemorating the Jews and priests who were taken in the Holocaust and those priests who were killed by communists and in the South American struggles. Then back to the bus and rode around the city only getting off by the Vatican for some gelato before riding the bus back to the Piazza Venetzia where we picked up the tram back to the hotel.

Oct 7
After breakfast we took a taxi with our luggage to the Termini, we were scheduled to take the 9:55 train to Naples. We found our way to platform 10 and waited for the train to arrive. We were assigned to carriage 4 and had to walk quite a way down the station platform to the space indicated, it was a high-speed train and had many cars. We were in business class and settled into seats facing each other that reclined and had a table set between. The train even had Wi-Fi. We were served drinks and crackers and zipped to Naples at about 160 mph. Lisa, our guide, was waiting for us at the station standing there with a sign saying "Lambert." She put us into a taxi and we had to take a circuitous route to the Hotel Rex by the waterfront due to construction in the city. Lots of traffic!

Reaching the hotel they stored our luggage and Lisa proceeded to take us on a walking tour of the old city. Old is right, the streets of this part of Naples are laid out on top of the Roman streets which are on top of the Greek streets from about 260 BC. We were struck by the amount of graffiti everywhere, on walls, on churches, on rocks as well as the amount of garbage in the streets. The streets are very narrow and full of people. Lisa pointed out the many ancient buildings that remain in use and the small shops, each selling one particular thing. This is not true in the newer shopping district but it is directly adjacent to, and surrounded by the old streets. We looked into cloisters, walked along a convent wall and visited a fascinating archaeological display where we walked through a 17th century building and climbed down into a Roman market that had been covered by an ancient mud slide and recently excavated. We then climbed further down to the Greek city that the Romans had built upon. What an exciting thing to walk where the ancients walked and go inside their shops of 2000 years ago. Lisa took us into the new metro that is being built. The station was amazing- beautiful decorations and imaginative use of colors.

We stopped for lunch at a most unusual restaurant where the waiters were constantly shouting at each other and, occasionally, customers. During our walk we also stopped across from the music conservatory for a rest and a drink. Before returning to the hotel we stopped for a “sfigliadella”- in a bakery that has been in operation since 1875- scrumptious. After a brief rest we strolled along the waterfront as the sun went down and the sky darkened, enjoying a sight of the crescent moon and Venus hanging over the New Castle (called that because it was built in the 13th century on top of the Norman one from the 1100's). We enjoyed a meal at a restaurant along the waterfront watching the parade of people enjoying the mild evening.
Then to the hotel with a 9 am pickup to go to Pompeii and Herculaneum before heading to Positano where we will be based for the next several days. Our impression is that Neapolitans are brash, pushy and loud.

Oct 8
It was raining when we woke up, and in a most unusual way- looking out the front door of the hotel it was retaining on the seaport side and not raining on the city side. We we're picked up by Guiseppi and he drove us to Pompeii where Liberata was waiting. She was a wonderful guide and a fun person and SO knowledgeable about both Pompeii and Herculaneum. We wandered... in the rain… first through Herculaneum and then Pompeii (Libbey told us that was the best way to see the two sites. Herculaneum was better preserved and was a wealthy seaside town while Pompeii was a full-fledged market city).

Herculaneum provided a fascinating glimpse into the inner life of the people. The bones of those who attempted to escape in boats and were caught in the underground boat houses were clearly viable. The well-preserved remains of the villas and homes complete with the panted interior and exterior walls and the second stories (with charred original timbers) was remarkable. Walking the Roman streets paved with large stones while the rain came down lent a surreal feeling to the scene, especially as we looked up the 35-40 feet of volcanic ash and mud that had to be removed during excavation to the new city surrounding the site.

The complexity of Pompeii showed the extent of a full sized town complete with shops, residences, brothels, gymnasiums, amphitheaters and paved streets. The paved streets were running with water so the Roman stepping stones were being used. Anyone with a sense of history and an imagination can 'see and feel’ the hustle and bustle of the city... with Vesuvius lurking in the background. We stayed so long at the archaeological sites that it was nearly two in the afternoon that we finally left to head for Positano on the Amalfi coast.

We drove along the coast (it's the only road, nothing across the precipitous mountains) stopping in Sorrento for lunch. A nice pizza and salad at the Red Lion and the waiters were very friendly and playful. When “il conto” (the bill) was presented (and you can sit as long as you want, they do not bother you- you have to ask for the bill) it was for 1,000 euros ($1400)! Then the waiter gave us the correct bill along with a plate on which he had written "vive la California."

The road to Positano was extremely picturesque and twisting. It hugs the coastline with amazing drops into the sea on one side and the mountain on the other. At Positano the city road is a one-way, narrow road that has auto, bus, truck, motorcycles, scooters and pedestrian traffic… and no parking. The city is built on the mountainsides and the houses are, literally, built one top of each other. We had heard it said that there only two directions in Positano- up and down… and it is true!

 We were dropped off at the side of the road with apologies because Giuseppe could not park, so we had to move the luggage down six or seven flights of stairs to the Hotel Teresa. A charming room with a small balcony looking out into the ravine (with houses built all along and in it) that leads Down to the water. To reach the door leading into the hotel we had to climb up a narrow stairway and to reach the terrace where we would eat breakfast we had to climb down a series of stairs.

We walked up to the road and strolled for a short while before enjoying a thick vegetable soup for dinner. Back at the hotel we could log on to the internet with the iPad (but only on the terrace) so we were able to enjoy a Skype with Anne and our son Eric (he was at work but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk with us in Italy). It rained on and off all night (thunder and lightning included).

Oct 8
Up to wet ground and an overcast day. Breakfast, normally served on the open air terrace, was inside the glassed in portion of the patio. Positano is a charming town of houses built everywhere. At night it glitters like jewels sprinkled on a mountainside and in daylight it is astounding to see the jumble of homes stretching from the sea to the cliffs above. When we arrived at the hotel, the only person there was the elderly owner and Linda held a conversation with him that really worked! Linda's Italian grew each day as she engaged the proprietor of the hotel in conversation.

We walked with Lisa down to the ferry to go to Capri- the roads are so narrow and there is really only one road linking the coastal towns that regular ferries run along the coast.  On the way, we stopped to get Linda some anti-sea sickness meds.  The ferry ride over was uneventful and we enjoyed the scenery along the way.  One of the things we passed was a set of three islands just off the coast. They are part of Homer's Odyssey- the Sirens that lured Odysseus and crew. In modern times the islands were owned by Rudolph Nureyev. We also saw 15th century watch towers built by the Spaniards along the coast; they were built to defend the area from Turkish raiders. Each one was in line-of-sight from the next so warning pyres could be lit and word of the pirates coming could swiftly be made known.

On Capri we began our hike up to Tiberius' castle which is located on the very top of one of the highest hills, facing the bay of Naples. We walked along narrow lanes that divided and divided, each just as narrow as the next. The town itself is one big tourist shopping area with some very expensive shops. Once we were out of town we began to see larger houses with gardens and shrubbery and with lanes leading from the "street"' shaded with grape arbors as well as pine and palm trees. We had to step out of the way of electric cats that plied the lanes delivering materials and, occasionally, carrying people. We stopped at a park with wonderful views out over the Mediterranean Sea just before reaching the villa.

It is said that Tiberius had a very bad skin condition and built this place to escape from Rome.  He was also able to entertain himself with the ladies of his choice in total privacy (unfortunately, it seems that when he fancied a woman she ‘disappeared’ to his hideaway).  We wandered quickly through his villa because it was officially closed (there were no signs along the way saying it closed at 1 pm and as we descended we met many people and groups on their way up). We came across a place by the palace where those who were not to his liking or who disagreed with him were pushed off the edge into the sea below.

We then descended and stopped along the way for a bite to eat- ham, fior Di latte cheese and tomato sandwich on a real hard roll-which we ate sitting in a lovely public garden.  Once down from the top we stopped for a coffee and a gelato.  After wandering the city for a bit, we caught the funicular down to the port area and were soon on our way back to Positano, arriving just in time to be able to walk home in a downpour! 

We dried off as best we could, took in all of the laundry we had placed on the terrace, and was probably dry before the rain, and rested for a while.  Then off to dinner- more uphill walking- to Il Fornillo.  Jon had gnocchi and Linda, spinach ravioli.  A very nice meal.  We started a conversation with a couple of Americans and then headed home -exhausted.  Time for bed, Buona notte!

Oct 9
Woke up to the usual day- blue skies with grey clouds. We took a ferry to Amalfi and then a bus up a winding, narrow, hair-raising road to Ravello. Getting onto the bus was a trick- there were so many people trying to get on. Lisa, well accustomed to the way the busses work, just forced her way into the line pulling us after her. The sights over the sea and down the ravines and the drop into the ocean from the road were breathtaking. The bus, apparently, had or insisted on the right-of-way because other cars and the small trucks pulled over to the side so the bus could get by, most times with only inches between vehicles.

Ravello is the home of an international music festival as well as being perched on the top of a ridge, so it gets masses of tourists. The land drops sharply off on each side of the town so the views are wonderful. We walked to the end of the ridge where it overlooks the sea. It's also where an Englishman, Lord Beckett, built a "folly" in the late 1800’s- a home that looks like a 13th century castle complete with terraces planted with roses, trees and gardens.  The town has an authentic 11th century church that was built over a Roman shrine and now has a medieval structure. There is, also, the remains of a 13th century mansion that is the home of the music festival.

Back to Amalfi by the bus, this driver was a bit of a cowboy so it was either a nerve wracking or adventurous ride. Amalfi was the center of maritime trade in the 14th Century and also became a center for paper making, one of the first in Europe. We visited the local museum where we were given a tour complete with a demonstration of how the paper was made and how the process evolved over time. All of the machinery, with exception of the most modern one, ran by water power and each was demonstrated. The earliest pounding machine (to break up the cloth so it could be dissolved in urine) was deafening. At one point the museum guide asked for someone to help in the paper making so, of course, Jon volunteered.

Lisa thought that we had a 5 pm boat back to Positano so we hurried out of the museum and down to the quay. No boat- she had looked at an old schedule so we settled down to relax and wait when- down came the rain. So we sat underneath a covered area with a cup of tea. The rain let up just in time for us to board the boat but began again while on the journey. Another wet slog uphill to the hotel. Lisa had made reservations for dinner at a well-known restaurant, La Taglitia, which is located high above Positano.  The drive to the restaurant was incredible, especially in the rain. They served a four course meal of local specialties. We met a couple with whom we had talked two nights before.

Oct 10
Up to the usual blue and grey sky. Linda also awoke with a sore throat. A combination of the wet trails- the top of the mountains were completely in cloud- and Linda's aching feet made the plan for the day a trip by bus to Sorrento, which was fine because we both had tired Legs from the mountain climbing we were doing just walking up and down in the towns.

We stopped at a ‘Farmicia’ and picked up some lozenges for Linda and then went down further into Positano to get the bus. While waiting Linda visited a clothing shop we had noticed on our walks through town. They specialize in locally made items and Linda purchased a sweater-coat. Then to the bus to Sorrento.

We walked up to the main road (in Positano the road is a one-way circular road) to the bus stop for the intercity bus. They run on a posted schedule but we waited and waited. When it did come it was full and, as soon as some passengers got off, we made a rush and managed to get seats. Another hair-raising bus ride- turns that you would think the bus could not make, two way traffic, other busses and lorries... we actually reached Sorrento feeling somewhat queasy. Magnificent views, though.

It was after one when we disembarked so we decided to have lunch and found that we were very close to the Leone Russo (Red Lion) where we had eaten on our way to Positano. Mariano, the waiter, actually remembered us and as we were there Liberata came by so we had a mini-reunion. Then we just wandered Around Sorrento with Lisa.

The city is of Roman origin and is built on a flat plain. As a result it is fairly large and easy to walk. Narrow streets, many shops (Sorrento is known for its wood inlay work) and grand hotels located on bluffs overlooking the sea. We walked and looked in shops and enjoyed a gelato before heading back to the bus stop. The ride home was even worse than the ride over because the bus was full and we had to stand, being thrown from side to side and forward and backward as the bus navigated the turns and traffic.

Reaching Positano we walked down several stairs to reach the hotel. A bit of a rest then we and Lisa went to the Mediterraneo Ristorante for dinner. While we ate a musician was singing accompanying himself on a guitar. Very personable and a good performer, so we bought one of his CD's.

Oct 11
During breakfast it began to rain, again... most annoying since we were to leave for Naples and the suitcases had to be transported up to the main road -not by us, by a Positano porter. A private vehicle was waiting; Alberto was the driver, a nice man who enjoyed talking to us, and we enjoyed a relatively smooth ride over the peninsula around Sorrento, past Pompeii and into Naples. We checked into a different hotel, one located next to the administrative headquarters of the Naples region - Lisa said that during the weekdays there are a lot of demonstrations in front of the building.

The hotel La Ciliegina was located through a doorway and down a short alley into a square in the middle of tall buildings. All we could see was an elevator. Alberto had told us that we had to go up to the third floor to register so we loaded our suitcases in and turned around to get the hand luggage when the doors closed and the elevator began to ascend with us in the square and the luggage all by themselves. So we pushed the button and waited. Sure enough the suitcases came back down... accompanied by two young men and their luggage. So up we went and checked in at about noon. Beautiful hotel, marble floors and modern bathroom.

We went out for a stroll and to find a little lunch and, of course, it began to rain. This time we stopped at a street vendor and bought two small umbrellas for €2 each- all of the ones we saw in Positano were €5 each. We ate lunch in a little deli with prepared foods or a sandwich that they would make on the spot. Continuing our walk we peered into a number of small stores and outdoor market stands selling vegetables, fish, tripe and lots of doodads.

Stopping for a pastry and coffee latte we wandered into a 19th century galleria (we had actually passed through it with Lisa earlier in the week) and we figured out that we were just off a main shopping street that we had been on when we first came to Naples.

Back to the hotel and a nap. Then a quick Skype with Dorjee and Dolkar who we noticed were on-line, some time to reorganize our suitcases for the next day’s flight and then a rest before heading out to dinner.

Oct 13
A taxi picked up us at 7:30 and headed to the airport. No traffic on Sunday morning so we bounced over the cobblestone streets and the driver (very aggressive) made it in less than 10 minutes! An easy check in at Easy Jet and into the airport. The plane left just a little late and we flew over the Mediterranean Sea, over Corsica and Sardinia, and the over France covered by clouds. Caught a glimpse of the Alps and Paris before landing at Gatwick in England.

Ray Humby was there waiting for us and we drove to Orpington in rain showers. We settled in and visited throughout the late afternoon and evening. Ray and Val are friends we met while on our China trip in 2002. They subsequently were members of the do-it-yourself riverboat excursion we did on the River Avon in 2003. Orpington is located on the edge of the GLC (Greater London Council) area towards Kent in the southeast. We talked with our friend Barry (a friend of many decades- since Jon lived in London in the mid 1970’s) and set up a meeting at Trafalgar Square on Wed. After enjoying a meal prepared by Val we relaxed and to bed.

Oct 14
We decided to visit Eltham Palace, a building that dates from 1087 but is mostly 1930's construction. It was an enjoyable outing and we walked around with electronic speakers that informed us about all of the rooms. The house was entered in the Domesday Book in which William the Conqueror inventoried England after his conquest in 1066 and parts of it remain, while the majority reflects the Art Deco style.  Back to the house and a nap. We set our plans to go into London by British Rail and visit Hampton Court the next day.

Oct 15
We took the train from Orpington to Charring Cross and then the Underground to Hampton Court. The palace lies along the Thames River 29 miles upstream from London. It was the home and principal residence of English kings for over 500 years, although it is best known as Henry VIII's palace. We picked up audio guides as we entered and the wandered four of the five designated tours.

It is an amazing palace. Not much remains from the Tudor period because each sovereign would add on and/or renovate but the building is huge (1,300 rooms) with not only the richly carved and decorated ceilings but tapestries, paintings, sculptures and furnishings of centuries of use. And the grounds are extensive and beautifully maintained. We spent from 11:30 am until nearly 5:15 pm there, eating lunch in a small coffee shop that was once part of Henry VIII’s kitchens.

We took the Tube back into London to Tottenham Court. When we emerged we did not recognize the place, there was massive construction going on for a new Underground line. We walked to Soho Square, a matter of a few blocks, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at one of our favorite restaurants- The Gay Hussar, a Hungarian eatery that has been in place since the 1960's. Then back to Orpington via Tube and train.

Oct 16
We took the train into Charring Cross station where we entered street level by Trafalgar Square. It is a square in downtown London flanked by Admiralty House, The National Gallery (art), the church of St. Martin in the Fields and "the Strand" (the theater section of London). It was raining lightly while we walked around the square waiting for Barry Kester. It was a delight to see him again after several years. It's been a hard time for him because his wife, Greta, had been very ill for the past three years; she had died just a few months earlier and we wanted to see Barry.

The three of us went into "the Crypt" of St. Martin in the Fields for lunch. It really is an eating place in the crypt of the church- we walked over the marked graves of former parishioners as we obtained our food and sat talking at the table. What an interesting place for a meal. We chatted for quite a while, catching up and trading grandchildren pictures. We changed venues and enjoyed a coffee at a nearby coffee shop where Barry's youngest son, Ross, came and joined us.

Barry and Ross left to pick up Ross' kids and we wandered about a bit finding ourselves in the Embankment Gardens by the Thames. Then back onto the train and out to Orpington. The Humby's are such gracious hosts and we enjoyed being able to spend these few days with them.

Oct. 17
Up quite early (6am) to catch the 7:14 train into London and then the Tube to Heathrow Airport. Ray insisted on coming with us and guided us through the intricacies of the underground passages while helping with the luggage- two suitcases and two roll-ons. It took about 1:45 minutes to reach Heathrow where we said goodbye to Ray and headed in through security. The airport is bright with many shops. We ate breakfast, looked in several shops and then headed out to the gate- a very long walk.

Italy was fascinating. Rome because of the history that faces you at almost every turning and the grand edifices of the past that we grew up seeing in pictures, Naples because of the looming presence of Vesuvius and the fact that you walk on streets trod by Greeks and Romans, Pompeii and Herculaneum because of the observable daily life of 2000 years ago, and the Amalfi Coast because of its sheer beauty. We found the larger cities dirty with trash and graffiti everywhere and the coast exhausting because of the constant need to climb or descend.

London is a pretty city and having several sets of friends living there is a bonus. We enjoyed our excursions to some of the ancient sites (although not as ancient as the ones in Italy!) and visiting friends. All-in-all and interesting trip.