Here we go again...
Despite Delta's precarious financial situation, we have no problems at all, getting to Rome. Too bad our connections were so tight, though: The San Diego - Atlanta leg was overbooked, and they were offering a $500 voucher and a first class (later) flight to volunteers. Shucks.
The Atlanta - Paris leg was on a Boeing 777, just like on our previous trip to Europe. Nice aircraft, but transatlantic travel on a just two engines still seems slightly questionable to me. On the other hand, you get better control over your entertainment, as everyone gets their own display and control.
They give away headsets on this flight. These Delta headsets are pretty comfortable (they're ear-clip types), but the quality truly sucks. However, you can take their twin-mono-to-stereo adapter off the freebie headsets and use it to interface to your own headset.
Airline food? SAN-ATL offered only free soft drinks and for-pay sandwiches/salads/etc. We toughed it out. Instead, we shared a lunch from a "bistro" at Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport (1/2 bistro chicken, 1/2 honey-mustard chicken, rice, marinated veggies, $8). On the ATL-CDG flight, we had our choice of chicken or beef. The chicken was pretty good, and was served with a risotto (barely recognizable as such) and veggies. Brigid's beef was really salty! On the CDG-ROM flight, we were offered a ham sandwich with a soft cheese spread (Brig suspects it was a mild goat cheese -- and she hates goat cheese!).
The train from the airport to Rome's Termini station was very fast and convenient. It's a long, sweaty, crowded walk from Termini to the Metro station. 6 stops on the "A" train, and we find the hotel (despite an error in the ETBD instructions, which says to turn RIGHT on Via della Consiglione to get to the hotel -- which would have you trying to stay at St. Peter's!!).
As we arrive at the hotel, there's Dianna, and then Carl, Denise, & Mike. Then Connie and Lora show up. (Confused? These are the folks we met on our 1998 Best of Europe tour, who have become friends and periodic travel companions.) They head out to lunch while we settle in our room (and I take a shower, to recover from the sweaty subway ride).
Hotel Columbus is nice enough. No A/C, but it doesn't really need it. Separate beds. Hmmph. In fact, we could have separate ROOMS if we want -- we've ended up with a "suite", i.e., 2 bedrooms that share one bathroom.
And I had forgotten about Italian showers. They don't believe in shower curtains or enclosures! You take a bath or you very carefully spray yourself down. I get water all over the place!
Next, we meet our guides (Robin and Paula) and most of the rest of the tour group. There's Lois and Connie, and as we hit the street on a tour of St. Peter's, there's Brenda, sneaking up on us from behind.
St. Peters? It hasn't changed since 1998. After 90 minutes of wandering around, we return to the hotel, stopping only to savor the gelato for sale at the gelateria right next door. Pistachio and lemon, please. €2.50. The pistachio isn't anywhere close to what we remember from previous trips to Italy. The lemon, however, is perfect! Intensely tart and refreshing.
It's time for our tour orientation/introduction and then dinner!
At the orientation, we meet our guides for this tour, Robin and Paola. Robin has just finished her first run of this tour (this is the first year that ETBD has offered it)..
Our friends from the 1998 tour comprise 10 of the 26 members. We learn that three tour members are fellow San Diegans (Dorothy, Lola, and Mary Jane). We've started to learn some new names. Victoria has travelled with some of our 1998 friends. Brigid's bus-buddy (a cross-check tool) is Jane, whose husband is Chris. At this rate, we should know everyones' names by Saturday!
Dinner is included (with the house red wine and mineral water) at a nearby, family-run restaurant, Hostaria dei Bastioni. The antipasto course consists of a meat-stuffed green olive that's been dipped in a corn-meal batter and deep-fried (excellent), a zucchini flower stuffed with a white cheese filling and deep-fried (mezzo-mezzo), and a very basic bruschetta.
The pasta course is the house specialty: penne in an orange-cream sauce with a hint of tomato. No, it's not at all sweet. Perhaps it's mostly flavored with orange zest -- the aroma is certainly there, but it's more of a cream and cheese sauce that's been flavored with orange. It works beautifully.
The rustica-style bread comes in handy to wipe up the remaining sauce. The bread itself is nothing special. Neither are the pencil-thick breadsticks, which are very light and crisp.
The main course is a quarter roast rosemary chicken and rosemary potatoes. I get a breast quarter. It's very tasty, but on the dry side. And I don't like the wine well enough (very little tannin, too much acid, not much flavor) to help get the chicken down. Then again, the chicken can't have been too bad -- I finished my quarter. Actually, the rosemary roast potatoes where the best part of this plate. Just the right degree of salt, and a strong flavor of rosemary.
And the best comes last, for dessert, we have a rather large slice of fresh-from-scratch tira misu. I'll admit it -- this was as good a tira misu as I've ever had: The lady fingers are well coated with espresso-flavored rum. They're held together with a moscarpone cheese filling, and topped with cocoa powder. Molto bene!
Well, we've been travelling since 4 AM PDT, and it's now 1:15 PM the following day -- 33 hours since we started. It's time for some sleep. We need to get up at 7AM tomorrow, for a heavy tour day.