Tuesday, March 14, 2006


My sister had been looking for a grand way to celebrate her 50th birthday, and when the NWA offer arrived in her mailbox in February, she knew she’d found the spot! Although her lifelong dream is to visit Africa, that trip will have to wait until she can take enough time off to do it justice. For now, a quick popover to London would be just the thing to make this birthday one to remember. She also told me that it had long been her dream to see London with me, and invited Art and me to join her.

A quick internet search revealed that both EasyJet and Ryan Air fly from Rome’s small Ciampino airport directly to London. The EasyJet flight turned out to have the best times, the best prices, and best of all, it flew into the same airport (Gatwick) where my sister would land!  Terri’s airfare was $388 roundtrip from Louisville to Rome, flying via NWA’s hub, Detroit. Their late departure allowed her to work most of the day on Tuesday, and would set her down in London just an hour or so before we arrived…long enough to get her luggage, clear customs, hit the ATM and relax for a few minutes.  Our flight on EasyJet cost us $137….for BOTH of us, roundtrip! I guess that breaks down to about $37 per leg, and most of that is probably in taxes. Now the challenge was on to find a good, cheap AND conveniently located hotel!

I checked several sites while searching, and found a lot a variation. I used several London sightseeing sites that had hotel links, I clicked the links on the EasyJet and Ryan Air sites, and I also tried the Venere.com site. Once I had gathered my information from these sites, I contacted the hotels directly to see if they would give me a better deal. For me the answer was no…I always got the best deal using a bargain site, and in the end we booked out hotel through lastminute.com.

Most of the guide books I had were outdated, so I was on my own to determine which places were really bargains and which were dives. It can be a fine line, and it can vary from individual to individual, and also due to various circumstances. You can be very happy in a hotel when your room is located on the quiet side of the building, yet find it unbelievably noisy if you happen to get a room on the street side.

From past experience I prefer the area around Victoria Station, located in the southwestern part of London. When arriving at Gatwick airport, the Gatwick Express drops you off at Victoria station after a thirty minute ride. Coming into Heathrow can be a bit more challenging, especially for the economy minded. It’s possible to take the tube from Heathrow into the city, but hauling luggage through the underground isn’t my idea of fun. Luckily for us, we were arriving at Gatwick, and had used the EasyJet site to book discount tickets on the Gatwick Express. All we’d have to do is show our printed proof of purchase on the train. Good…one less thing to worry about!

I never could find a hotel/bed and breakfast that I liked around the Victoria Station area. Without any recent information I had to rely on reviews posted on Venere or other sites, and often the same hotel would get good reviews on one site yet bad reviews on another. As I said, it’s a very subjective thing.  We had considered the possibility of getting a triple room to save money, but I was determined to see if I could find something that would give all of us not only some privacy, but also two separate bathrooms in the morning! In fact, although many places still call themselves bed and breakfasts, ensuite bathrooms are becoming more and more common.

Eventually I found a nice place, or what looked like a nice place in the Bayswater area of London, just north of Kensington Park. The street looked nice, and from what I could tell from the map, it wasn’t a major thoroughfare. The nearest tube station, Bayswater, was just a short walk away. The hotel was the Pembridge Palace Hotel on Princes’ Square.  The prices were certainly reasonable. Friday and Saturday nights were slightly more expensive, but for our six nights our room, a double with a private bath (with a tub and a blow dryer) was £253 (about $443) or an average of $74 per night. My sister’s single room averaged about $60 per night. Now all we had to do was hope for the best!

Our drive to Ciampino was simple, and we took Giacomo’s advice to leave at 5:30 instead of 6:00 to ensure that we’d avoid the beginning of rush hour traffic IN Rome. We did take a wrong turn, but luckily got ourselves quickly back on track and found the free parking lot just outside the airport. Now all we’d have to do was to hope that the car would be there when we got back!

Check-in was quick and we waited to board in a lounge area. We were bussed out to the plane where it was every person for him/her self as far as seating went. Both the front and rear doors were used to board the plane, so the combination of the two made it a very quick boarding.  In less than two hours we arrived in London! Wow…that was certainly a new experience! Our luggage came quickly so we were ready to start looking for my sister. As we headed towards the signs for the Gatwick Express we heard her call to us….the area around the train was too cold for waiting. So she had just come to our gate instead.

None of us had much luggage; after all, it would only be a short trip. One of the disadvantages of flying on a budget carrier like EasyJet or Ryan Air is the lower weight luggage restrictions. EasyJet’s aren’t quite as limited, and one sign even said that as long as a bag could fit into the template, it could be carried on, regardless of weight.  Art and I had each brought one backpack-style bag and we had one carry-on. My sister had two bags but neither was large, and both rolled. The only time we’d need to move all the luggage would be to and from the airport and hotel.

As luck would have it the next Gatwick Express was leaving in about five minutes, so as soon as we were settled in the journey began. The trains run every fifteen minutes during the main business hours, and the ride is pleasant but not remarkably scenic except for the views of the rooftops and chimney pots as you get closer to the city….you can almost imagine Mary Poppins floating overhead!  Once we had arrived at Victoria Station I went into the information office to buy our multi-day tube passes. We had determined beforehand that the seven day “Oyster” pass was actually the better buy, even though we’d only be there for 6 days and my sister for five.

The information guy gave me a bunch of brochures and maps, and now we were ready to head off to the hotel. Knowing that riding in a London taxi is an experience in itself, Art suggested that this would be the perfect opportunity to get to the hotel with a minimum of fuss and maximum comfort. Deal!  Although I’ve read about how thoroughly trained the London cabbies are, our driver was very glad to take advantage of the map I’d printed out from the hotel website. We were able to point out a few sites to my sister as we rode through town, but mostly we saw the perimeter of Hyde and Kensington Parks.

The Pembridge Palace Hotel looked nice, both from the outside and once we were in the lobby. A bar area was off to one side with easy chairs and small tables. Coffee and tea were available here 24 hours a day, but there were no facilities in the room. Our check-in went quickly and smoothly, but when we looked at the room numbers we saw that we had been placed on separate floors. I had specifically requested that the two rooms be as near to one another as possible, and once I pointed this out, the desk clerk quickly made the adjustment. The rooms were now on the same floor, but not exactly close to each other. It’s these sorts of details that separate, at least to me, an average hotel from a really great one. Oh well, at these prices, if this was the worst that happened, we’d be very happy.

The hotel had two elevators, both large enough to hold several (up to six!) people, maybe four people with luggage. After staying in hotels were the elevator was too small for ONE person with luggage, this was quite a treat!  Both rooms were adequate, although my sister did have to make another trip back to the desk to get a room with the double bed she’d requested instead of just a twin. The rooms were clean and light, and the tiled bathrooms had large tubs….a definite bonus as far as Terri and I were concerned.

There was a nightstand by the bed, a desk with a small television on top, and a closet set into the wall. Although the two of us managed okay, the room really needed more drawer space. One of the desk drawers was taken up with the blow-drier, which was permanently mounted inside.  There was a shelf above the hanging rack in the closet, way too high for me, but Art was able to stash some of his clothes up there. Unfortunately, out of sight still means out of mind, and Art forgot about most of the stuff he’d put up there!

After getting settled we decided to head out for our first look at London. We walked the short distance to Bayswater Rd and were quite surprised to find it bustling with all sorts of shops and restaurants. We found a pub featuring fish and chips and decided that we’d take a chance. London has instituted a smoking ban for all restaurants, but unfortunately it won’t take effect until next summer. This means that our time in pubs would be severely limited. Although neither Terri nor I drink beer, we still wanted the “pub” experience.  The food at the Rat and Parrot turned out to be quite tasty, and the advantage of eating after the lunch rush was that not only was the place relatively empty, meaning “smoke-free” but our food was also freshly prepared.

We headed off to the Westminster Abbey/Big Ben area on the tube, using the new tube cards that just have to be tapped as you enter and leave the station, rather than being fed through like the “old fashioned” paper tickets. We still had a bit of daylight, so I thought my sister should at least get to see some of the famous sites. We walked out on the bridge to get a view of the Houses of Parliament, only to find out that barriers for work on the bridge itself blocked a clear view.  We did get to see the London Eye, the huge ferris wheel that was initially erected as a temporary attraction for the year 2000 celebrations. Apparently it was so successful that it’s now become a permanent fixture. And, as luck would have it, as we stood there we got to hear Ben chime the hour!

It was pretty cold being right down on the Thames, so we headed to Piccadilly Circus, hoping to do a bit of shopping while staying warm inside the Trocadero shopping center. We had somehow gotten the idea that the movie theater at the Trocadero was also the IMAX theater, but that turned out to be incorrect. We did a little shopping then started to run out of steam.  A quick tube ride took us back to Bayswater and we stopped in a cute bakery for an evening snack before heading to bed. We agreed to meet for breakfast the next morning…it would be Terri’s birthday!


The three of us met in the downstairs breakfast room the next morning around eight. I had a few gifts for Terri, and then we enjoyed a nice meal. The selection was nice: hard boiled eggs, cheese, four varieties of dry cereal, white, brown and French bread, butter, jams, juices, milk, coffee and tea. There was also a toaster available.

Our plan was to visit the Tower of London first, then walk over to the Dickens Inn at St Katherine’s Docks for lunch. Once again we used our tube passes and arrived at the Tower. Unfortunately the AAA discount was no longer being honored. We followed Rick Steves advice and went straight to the Crown Jewels….a good idea. We had the jewels to ourselves and I was able to talk with the guards about various aspects of the monarchy and the jewels.

Once we’d been adequately impressed by the glitz, we headed back to the entrance gate to wait for the next Beefeater tour. These tours are included in the cost of admission, and take place at regular intervals. It’s always nice to hear some interesting history and funny stories while trying to take in all the wonders of this medieval gem.

I asked where the ravens were…the legend is that when the ravens are gone from the Tower the crown will fall. I didn’t see any ravens on the grounds, and our guide didn’t mention them during the tour. Not surprisingly, we were told that the ravens were being inoculated for bird flu and would return to public view soon.

After the tour ended we visited the White Tower as well as others, and it’s possible to spend lots and lots of time here, at least it would be for me. Today however, we were doing our highlights of London tour, and time demanded that we move on.

We walked under the Tower Bridge over to ST Katherine’s Docks, marveling at the old fashioned masted ships as well as the sleek modern ones. Without the overflowing flower boxes on the front, the Dickens Inn wasn’t quite as striking as it in during the summer, but inside it was warm and cozy, and we decided to eat in the downstairs pub area.

I went for fish’n’chips again, while Terri got crazy and tried Shepherds’ pie and Art had a chicken and mushroom dish. All the food was good, and we enjoyed a quiet lunch. We bundled up for the trip back outside, then headed towards the tube station, stopping for a picture of an ancient Roman wall that still stands quite near the Tower.

Because it was her birthday, I thought Terri might want to do some shopping, so we went to Oxford Street. We started at Tottenham Court Rd and walked westwards towards Oxford Circus. Unfortunately most of the shops we saw weren’t what we were looking for, although we did see Starbucks after Starbucks.

I thought we might get luckier at Covent Garden, and although we had a nice time browsing through the many shops and carts, we really didn’t find anything worth mentioning!  Our next stop was back to Piccadilly Circus to the Trocadero shopping center where we bought a few souvenirs and decided to go to Planet Hollywood for dinner. Art and I had been there once before, and I remembered that they’d had Dorothy’s dress from the Wizard of Oz, and also C3PO. Unfortunately both these items were long gone, and honestly, there really wasn’t that much of interest. Although the food tasted okay, we all thought it was a bit pricey, and I don’t think I’d ever bother going back.

On Friday we started our day at Victoria Station where we took the Big Bus Tour…one of those hop on-hop off tours that covers the major sites. I thought this would be a good way to give Terri and overview of the city and a frame of reference for the places we’d seen.

While on the South Bank we saw the IMAX theater, just past the Waterloo station, and decided to check back later…..Terri said she’d never seen a 3D movie, and a movie about African wildlife was playing…wouldn’t that be a perfect fit!

As we’d read about in one of our guide books, we got off the bus at Buckingham Palace just in time to see the changing of the guards. Although not the most exciting event, it’s one of those touristy things most people want to do.

Because we were in the neighborhood, and because it was a pretty day, we decided to walk the short distance to the Hard Rock Café for lunch. We found the food to be excellent, as usual, and the prices were much more reasonable than at Planet Hollywood.

After a stop at the gift shop we walked to the tube station and went to St Paul’s Cathedral. We were too late for a tour, so we wandered around, trying to take in all the beauty and details. We found a few things in the gift shop there, then checked at the London tourist information office across the street for information on the IMAX theater.

Unfortunately the African safari movie wasn’t playing, but we decided that the Undersea movie would be worth checking out, so we once again hopped on the tube. I really liked the new passes that just have to by scanned, and every time we zipped past a line of people waiting to buy tickets I knew we’d made the right decision by getting a pass.

Once we were at the IMAX theater, we discovered a few differences between the US movie experience and the British movie experience. The person at the counter where we bought popcorn asked us “Salty or sweet?” HUH? Sweet? For popcorn?

We asked what exactly they used, and were told that they just sprinkle sugar on the popcorn instead of salt. Okay…..at least it wouldn’t make you as thirsty as salted popcorn!

Traditionalists that we are we decided to stick with the salty popcorn, then were surprised to discover that they don’t offer butter! Damn… this was going to be almost healthy! We really enjoyed the IMAX and the 3D effects of the movie, and after the movie we took the tube back to “our” neighborhood.

We were looking for someplace to grab a quick bite before calling it a night. The Rat and Parrot was full of people and full of smoke. Our other options on Bayswater Rd included other pubs, several American chains (McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC and Burger King) as well as various ethnic restaurants…Italian, Oriental and Middle Eastern.

The Whitely Center, a large, modern, multi-level shopping mall enclosed within an old building sat on the corner, and we decided to check it out. It was filled with the normal variety of mall-type stores…clothing stores, boutique type stores, and up on the third level, a food court. The fourth level also held a movie theater.

The restaurants here weren’t too busy, so we took a look around and decided on a Mexican one, Oscar's. Our other choices were English, Spanish, Italian, French, McDonald’s, Starbucks or a fruit smoothie bar. We were given a table in the bar area that looked out into the mall so smoke wouldn’t be a problem. The menu looked nice and Art and I both ordered Margaritas…what a treat! We enjoyed nibbling on chips with salsa while we waited for our food. I had a chicken quesadilla that was wonderful and Art had….well. neither of us can remember now, but he says he enjoyed it!

Our plan for Saturday was to check out the market on Portobello Road. It sounded like something that my sister would really enjoy, and held the possibility for her to find her perfect souvenir/birthday gift. We also wanted to visit/tour Westminster Abbey, and we decided at breakfast that we’d better do that first because of their limited opening hours.

It was really strange for Terri to see churches where people are buried inside, and quite often, literally underfoot. Because we were taught that it was disrespectful to walk on graves, walking over the various memorial stones can be a little disconcerting if you’ve never seen them before.

There are over 3000 people buried in Westminster Abbey, many of them famous, many of them nobility. Just reading the inscriptions was interesting, even if we had no idea who the person was.

The Abbey is quite large, and parts of it date back to the eleventh century. We took our time wandering, marveling, and enjoying. By the time we were ready to leave, it was close to lunchtime, and we knew where we wanted to go.

We took the tube to the High Kensington St. tube stop and walked a few blocks to a restaurant that was listed in the AAA discount list. That was one reason we wanted to check it out, and the other was because it was Bill Wyman’s restaurant, Sticky Fingers. We’d read that the ribs were fantastic, and the menu sounded similar to the Hard Rock Café.

We arrived at the restaurant before the lunch rush started, and ordered ribs and hamburgers. The service was good, the food was good, and the ribs didn’t disappoint. Then we asked for the bill……and of course we presented our AAA card, explaining that it was the US equivalent of the Automobile Club, and that we were supposed to receive a 20% discount.  Our server returned and told us that the discount wasn’t valid. At this point, we hadn’t had much luck with the AAA discounts, and decided to ask for the manager.

The manager was very nice, and double-checked the listing of valid discounts and offers currently in effect. We explained once again that the only reason we even knew about Sticky Fingers was from the AAA listing, but of course we’d left the printout in the hotel room. The manager told us that she’d gladly honor the discount, saying that it was obvious we really did have reason to believe our AAA would be honored. How nice to be treated so well by someone!

On our way back towards the Portobello Rd market, we passed a chocolate shop that drew me in. It was called the Hotel Chocolat and offered a variety of beautiful chocolate confections. I bought a bag of hot chocolate mix as well as a sampling of several other chocolates. Now we were ready to find the market.

Our walk turned out to be a little further than we had anticipated. We were now into day four of our vacation, and the pace was starting to wear us all down. I had originally thought that the market would be right up my sister’s alley, but by the time we got there, we were all just too tired to care. The market was huge….it went on for block and blocks and blocks, and in the end it all just looked like a bunch of junk to me. What would we possibly want to buy? And then if we did buy something we’d have to carry it around.

We stopped in a busy café and had something to drink, rested a few minutes, then decided to call it a day. After several false starts, mainly die to trying to figure out which bus to catch and where, we finally decided to take the tube, and located a station that wasn’t too far away.

We went back to the Westminster stop and took a boat cruise to The Tower. Unfortunately we were losing the sun fast, and it was COLD on the water! At least it was warm inside the boat, and we had a huge window across the front to enjoy the view. Once we arrived at The Tower, we took the tube back to our neighborhood because we wanted to check out an Austrian restaurant that was just around the corner from our restaurant.

I’d read about the Tiroler restaurant on one of the London tourist sites. Although London is best know for its Indian/Pakistani/Thai restaurants, none of us know anything about these cuisines. At least we could take advantage of the other nationalities….like Mexican, American and now, Austrian.

We were lucky we got to the restaurant early….apparently it’s very popular. We didn’t have reservations, but promised that we’d be gone before nine, when the reservations would begin arriving. Although there’s no dancing allowed because no permit had been paid for, there was typical Tyrolean music played every night. I wouldn’t have minded being there for the music had we not all been dead tired, but under the circumstances it wasn’t even tempting.

We ordered bratwurst and spaetzle, and while we waited for our food to arrive we enjoyed the basket of bread that had been brought to the table. My sister was happy to have bread with BUTTER, and I was in heaven with the delicious rye bread.

Although the bratwurst was good, the spaetzle was just plain…..no butter, no cheese, no oil…just plain! Ugh! At least butter, salt and pepper were available, but had I known how this spaetzle would be served I wouldn’t have ordered it.

We were finished..…both with the meal and for the day….well before nine, and after a hot soak we fell into bed. Terri would ask us the next morning if we’d heard the police chasing someone through the streets, blowing their shrill whistles, but neither one of us heard a peep, even though our room was on the street side. If I were to stay at this hotel again I’d ask for a room on the private garden side, just to ensure a quiet night.

On Sunday we planned to visit the British Museum since it now opens early even on Sunday morning. The museum has undergone quite a few changes since the last time we were there, the most dramatic change being the enclosure of the interior courtyard. We were all very impressed with this new space, and with the blending of the old and the new.

The first room we headed to was located just off the courtyard….full of treasures from ancient Egypt. Unfortunately all the mummies are upstairs, which proved to be quite a long walk. I’m sure there must be some method to this arrangement, but I’d like to know what it is.

There are several places to get a quick bite or a drink, so we were able to wander then stop for a drink and a rest as often as we wanted. The prices weren’t any crazier than they are anyplace else, and we were glad for the opportunity to rest. Art was able to rest while Terri and I checked out the gift shops, but unfortunately neither of us found anything that called out to us.

After the museum we wondered what to do next, and decided that we’d hop in a cab and head to Piccadilly Circus. For a quick ride, a cab is often not only the most convenient option, but when divided among three or more people it can be downright cheap. Yes, we had tube passes, but it was several blocks back to the station, and we decided to treat ourselves. There were more shops open on Sunday than we had anticipated, but once again we just didn’t find the right stuff.

We decided to see a movie, and although the theater located inside the Trocadero didn’t have anything we were interested in, we were told that there was another theater just down the street. We took a look at what was playing and decided that “Brokeback Mountain” would be a great way to relax and enjoy our evening.

The price for a movie ticket in central London was staggering…..just over US$15 EACH! Add to that some sweet or salty popcorn and a drink and you’ve got a pretty expensive evening! Good thing we were all in our vacation mode and ready for a few splurges. We all enjoyed “Brokeback Mountain” and were glad to finally see for ourselves what all the Oscar buzz was about. What a moving story….and one treated with respect.

My sister is a Disney fanatic, and we knew there had to be a Disney store somewhere in London. We asked around and discovered that it was on Oxford St., just past where we had gone underground to take the tube. I searched and searched but in the end didn’t make a purchase. Terri didn’t have any luck either……I don’t know if it was us or them, but you’d think that two grandmothers, one a Disney fan herself, could have found SOMETHING in a two level Disney store.

On Monday morning we decided to return to the small restaurant that was across the street from the Royal Mews. We treated ourselves to a cab snce we had Terri’s’ luggage with us, and since London cabs are such a treat, at least for us. Of course we couldn’t remember the name of the restaurant, but all I had to do was tell the cabbie that it was directly across the street from the Royal Mews and we were in business.

While eating we were treated to several beautiful antique carriages going down the street, being pulled by beautifully groomed horses. Back in 1987 when I’d brought my kids to England, we’d toured the Mews, and as I recall, the carriages were all quite impressive….lots of carving, lots of gold, lots of detail.

We then walked the short distance to Victoria Station and waved goodbye to my sister. Where had the time gone? It was hard to believe that we’d met her six days earlier at the airport……we’d done so much but still had so much more to see and do! I guess we’ll all be watching for future airfare specials, and I know that Terri would feel comfortable coming alone or with different friends. The tube is easy to figure out, and the city of London itself is so full of every sort of diversion that anyone would be able to find something to enjoy.

Art and I had two things on our agenda for our last day in London. The first, and most important, was to buy some cheddar cheese to take back to Italy. Friends on the Slow Travel message board had recommended Waitrose’s over Sainsburys, and we found one right next to a tube stop on the line that went to our hotel. That would be our final stop for the day….first we would head to the London Eye to get a spectacular view of the city!

The London Eye, a huge Ferris wheel, was erected to celebrate the millennium. Originally it was going to be taken down, but for whatever reason, they’ve decided to keep it as a permanent attraction. Although the Ferris wheel itself may be any eyesore, the views from the top are incredible. Supposedly on a clear day you can see over 25 miles.

We were lucky that it was a clear morning, but as we approached the entrance it became clear that something was wrong. Guess what?....the dreaded “mechanical difficulties”. Grrrrrr….what does that mean? Will it be fixed in ten minutes or in ten hours? After asking several employees, one finally told us that we should stick around for about thirty minutes and keep our eyes open.

We found a table and sat outside, waiting. Sure enough, slowly but surely we saw signs that the Ferris wheel would be opening soon. Moveable carts used to take tickets, sell pictures, whatever, were being rolled past us, and it soon became evident that we should get in line. Each car can hold 25 people, but on a relatively quiet day like today, each car would be loaded with far fewer.

Once we reached the ticket taker, he told us that what we had was just a voucher and that we’d have to exchange it for a regular ticket. Of course by this time the ticket line was quite long, and we were aggravated that no one had told us to exchange the voucher! We’d bought the tickets from the Big Bus stand near Victoria Station, reeled in with the promise of a discount. As it turned out, the discount was only 50 pence per ticket. Of course the person selling us the ticket never mentioned that we’d need to exchange the ticket……

While I went inside to exchange the vouchers, Art told one of the employees what had happened, emphasizing that we’d been there for about forty minutes, which would have been plenty of time to get the “real” tickets, ahead we only known. The guy felt sorry for our delay, and once I returned he allowed us to by-pas the now much longer line and to enter through the VIP entrance, which let us get on the next car.  The London Eye takes thirty minutes for a complete round trip which allows you plenty of time to take pictures and also plenty of time to just enjoy the views. We were so lucky that it wasn’t cloudy!

We hopped on the tube and stopped at the Waitrose grocery store for some cheddar cheese, and I also found some oats, conveniently packaged in a plastic bag…..making them soooo easy to pack. We had a pub lunch then took our goodies back to the hotel.

We decided to go to the movies one last time, and at this point were just too exhausted to make much of an effort. Additionally we had a very early flight, so we knew we’d need to get to bed early. We walked the block or so to the Whitely Center and saw the Judi Dench film “Mrs. Henderson”, which was entertaining, but not quite as good as I would expect for a Judi Dench film.

An early morning cab dropped us at Victoria Station and we hopped on a waiting Gatwick Express train for the thirty minute ride to the airport. Check-in went smoothly, and now all we had to worry about was whether our car would still be waiting for us at Ciampino! The “cheap” lot wouldn’t be such a bargain if the car had been towed, stolen or damaged!

Because we had so much luggage, I waited anxiously at the terminal while Art went to get the car. I waited, and waited……and waited some more.  Things weren’t looking good! Then finally I saw Art….AND he was in our car! Seems he’d dropped the keys in a muddy puddle and had a hard time fishing them out! Whew! What a relief! I’m sure this free lot will eventually be paved and turned into a paying one, but at least we’d saved a bundle for this trip!

We took a slightly different route home, avoiding much of the Rome traffic in the process. Hopefully we’ll be able to take advantage of everything we’ve learned for another trip….unless of course the Perugia airport’s long promised (and long awaited) transformation into an international airport actually happens. When and if this occurs, we’ll only have to drive a short distance, or have someone drop us off. Now all we have to do is pray that the dollar doesn’t decline any further than it already has……our vacation money is always the first to be hit!



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