"Pope, Paella, and Poofs Tour II "
"Rome and Spain? In July? Are you insane?" was Chris' initial reaction to Kevin's idea of taking a trip to see Chris' sister in Barcelona, and of course a stop in London onto the end of Kevin's business trip to Rome. Then again, Chris had never been to Rome, and wanted to see Rome, and his sister and nieces.
So despite the heat (low 100's in Rome, low 90's in Spain -- and wouldn't you know it -- high 80s in London, off they went...
FRI 23 JUL - IN TRANSIT
My adventure started out Friday in Boston at 11:20, where I had to fly to Rome via Chicago. (And as much as I hear Kevin explaining it to teacher groups, and I do understand the whole concept of a hub-based airline system, it <I>is<?I> awfully dumb to fly west to go east. The flight from Chicago to Rome was on a crappy American Airlines 767 no seat back screens and a truly nasty dinner. (Note to self: Stick with British Airlines, which is always decent, even if it's more expensive!).
SAT 24 JUL - ROME
I get into Rome about 6am Rome time, after lots of flying, and little sleep. Kevin met me at airport which was very sweet. We took the Da Vinci express train (not all that fast!) into town and our hotel very near the main train station.
Nevertheless, the hotel was comfortable, and had a lovely rooftop terrace to have breakfast on.
Kevin took me on the first of what he called “Death Marches” (having has no sleep in many hours, and the temperature being well over 90, I had to agree with him.) We went to see coliseum, the forum, and the Pantheon . The Pantheon was amazing, especially how they built it inside of a box, so the outside of structure hides the dome, making it all the more stunning when you enter. We rested in the Piazza Navona before we walked across Tiber river to to St Peter's.
At this point I'm kind of awestruck at how old everything is. As Kevin points out, this wall here has been here, oh, 2,500 years. I'm also struck by how old Rome is in general. I has expected some modern pockets, maybe some modern buildings. As someone noted on my return “they call it the Eternal City ‘cause nothing ever changes!”
Of course, I'd forgotten to put on any sun block, so at this point I was tired, hot and sun burnt, better yet, sunburn with a farmer tan which Kevin noted later looked like “I was wearing a bra.” (Great!)
We finally too the graffiti-riddled Rome Metro back to hotel, lunch at Ristorante Smeraldo across from our hotel. Like many others, the restaurant has outside dining on platform built in what in most other cities is the parking lane. This one has a little platform. Some had fairly elaborate “rooms” built out into the street. Some are just some tables and chair set in the street. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: "All of us are eating in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." Nevertheless, the food was good - we both had pizza.
Some first-timer, first-day observations: about Rome: There are lots of poor and lots of scams artists. I kept my wallet and phone in my front pocket, because the pickpockets are notorious there. I've never seen more tourists in one place (especially all around the Forum -- and keep in mind I live in a touristy city. The Rome Metro subway is small (since it's so hard to tunnel without wrecking this or that historic site) and ridiculously graffiti-laden. Also it's only sort-off air-conditioned. They also play mostly bad pop music in the stations. Rome has a ton of scooters, which look fun to drive, but would look awfully silly in Boston.
Took well-needed nap then went and wrote some postcards in another hotel while K. szhmoozed NETC teachers. We then walked to the Spanish steps and then over to throw the obligatory coin in the incredibly impressive Trevi fountain (it was literally crawling with people.) I think the Trevi fountain is probably the single most impressive thing I saw in Rome. (No water sports jokes, please!) We ate at Osteria Del Sostegno, which was in an alley near the Pantheon, and looked like one of those places you hear about that's “off the beaten path, down an alley, and very good”. It was indeed very good with ample, fresh ingredients in a charming though hot setting. The black pepper pasta was to die for! Then we repeated one of Kevin's favorite parts of any trip to Rome, and had a tartuffo nero at Tre Scaini in Piazza Navona (Oh. My. God!) It was fun watching people enjoying hanging out outside a the Spanish steps & Piazza Navonna. Wish American culture was more like this. We then took the day's 2 nd death march 2 back to hotel, where I fell into a coma.
SUN 25 JUL - ROME
We got up very early to meet an NETC group going over to Vatican Museum on a thankfully rainy morning. We waited in line for about 90 minutes, which was kinda of fun, especially the umbrella hawkers, who would seemingly spring from no where when the raindrops started yelling “Umbrella” in several languages. The Vatican museum was very interesting, but as Kevin said makes you have no sympathy for the problems of the Catholic church, especially in Boston where they are closing parishes left and right. The Sistine Chapel was somehow less impressive than expected especially since it's really dim. The long room leading to it, however (the one with all the maps) was very very cool. We had lunch near our hotel. and a nap & shower. We watched the end of Tour de France (Yay Lance!). We headed down to the collesium in fruitless restaurant search, and finally settled on Ristorante Borgia. Our pleasantly ditzy waitress (Think an Italian version of Ursula from “Mad About You”) almost electrocuted herself fixing power on outside lights when the blew a circuit. The food there was OK, not extraordinary. Kevin, by this time, was sick of Italian food (yes, it IS possible!) We chatted a bit with an American couple sitting next to us -- the man was very cute!. I had been searching for two foodstuffs in Rome: Paninni sandwiches, and liimoncello. I never found either. Though it was on the Borgia's menu, they were out. Instead, after saying I hated grappa, ditsy waitress comped us a nasty bitter digestive which I think was Armangac. Ack.
MON 26 JUL - BARCELONA
Got up very early (4AM) for a surprisingly quick cab ride to tiny ciampino airport for an equally quick flight in a much-too-yellow-for-that-early Ryanair plane to the also tiny Girona Airport. Girona, Costa Brava, Spain, and at least that day smelled like manure. We took an hour bus to Barcelona and finally subway to Kymm's in the late morning. We visited a little bit with my niece Zaida. We then left her to do a little sightseeing, taking the much bigger, much cleaner Barcelona Metro to see the outside of La Sagrada Famiilia (Chris had been up it the year before, and it was much to hot to do the climb again.) We then explored the Gothic Quarter, which has great shopping, in addition to being very very interesting for it's small winding streets and architecture. Kevin bought t shirt at Zara, which of course featured something about bears.
Back home saw Kymm and had lunch then a siesta. Late afternoon we drove up went to Parc Guell with Kymm and the girls and walked around what is an amazingly cool, fun place that I can't imagine ever getting built anywhere but Barcelona. Truly one of the highlights of the trip, and of course the family time together is great too! We had dinner at home, followed by a long, well-lubricated with alcohol chat about family, death, and other such cheery subjects.
TUE 27 JUL - BARCELONA
Kevin and I got up and took the Metro to the Arc d'Triopmf , where we walked from there, thru Parc de la Cuitadella to Barceloneta, with Kevin feeling none to happy about the prospect (“It's not so much the hanging in space way high up, it's the long, long, long fall that bothers me” -- Chris replies, “at lest some of it's over water, you could live.”) we took telefèric (cablecar) from the beach over to Montjuic, which is a small mountain (or is it a big hill? where there are a lot of attractions, including the '92 Olympic complex, the Spanish Village, a couple museums, etc. We saw the '92 Olympic pool (the ones with the dramatic shots of Barcelona behind as people dove, remember?) then too another cable car to Castell de Monjuic, where there are cool views of Barcelona sprawling out. We then took the cable car back down, and had snack and checked out the shop at the Joan Miro museum, and I remembered I like Miro's sculpture a lot more than his art. We then took about our 4 th mode of transport that day, the Funicular down the mountain, and subway back to Kymm's. When we got there, we went and picked up Julia, went to McD's. There was a sort of funny incident, where we tried to make Julia eat her ice cream cone, as it was starting to drip, but it turns out she was just holding Zaida's ice cream as Z. went to the bathroom.) Continuing the Miro theme, we went to visit Parc Joan Miro (it looked better in guidebook, it was very barren) and had a long rambling walk home via a big shopping st. We had dinner up st from Kymm's. They had good sangria and I had shish kabbaab presented on skewer hanging vertically over plate like the sword of Damocles. V. Dramatic. Got to an bed early that night.
WED 28 JUL - BARCELONA
We went down to “downtown” Barcelona (around the Gothic Quarter) and spent the late morning shopping with Zaida near the gothic quarter - in FNAC, and lots of boutique shops. Zaida bought some clothes her mother would not approve of really (she is 14 after all) and we has a pretty good time just hanging out and bonding. Kevin spent a lot of time just standing out side of stores, shopping being a gay gene he does not have. We met Kymm for lunch @ El Mussol (The Owl) a small chain where she had her first real date with her 2 nd husband, Pep (who passed away in 2003.) I had yummy lamb w/ fire grilled artichokes. Kevin and I left the girls and walked to take a look at Gaudi's La Padrera then went home where we were verbally assaulted by a Catalan woman waiting for Kymm. She was demanding to know what we were doing there. I tried my best to explain in my High-school-level Spanish, but of course, she pretended to only speak Catalan. We ran away around the block, by which time they'd come home. It turns out not to be the only time she's assaulted a friend of my sister. Is there a female equivalent to “Hijo de Puta?” I guess she was just a “puta.” We had nice dinner at home, with (surprise!) lots of alcohol and more deep talks about death, family, relationships. Again, not cheery, but a nice change to reconnect and give my sis some adult interaction.
THU 29 JUL - BARCELONA
We got up early and Kymm took us to Barcelona airport in the way to drop Julia off at school. I have to say, they have great shopping and food here, being kinda of a connoisseur of airport shopping (especially Heathrow Terminal 4 -- can you say “duty free” anyone?) So while waiting for our flight, we saw a couple of very very cute British bears behind us in line. Turns out that they found me on gaydar.co.uk several weeks later and emailed “Hey, weren't you in line in front of us at BCN.” That was both flattering and a little “this world is too small” at the same time. While at BCN, I also jotted down some thoughts on Barcelonans: they are quite brusque and have have no sense of personal space (tho' that's most Europeans.) I don't think a single person say excuse me. They roundly ignore no smoking signs - at restaurants, airport, and Metro. But all in all the city has a good vibe, not at all stuffy, quite cutting edge (unlike Rome where they can't seem to integrate modern and ancient at all.) I'd gladly come back again and again, even if my sister did not live there.
THU 29 JUL - LONDON
I consciously picked Luton airport over the other London-area airports we could have flown into since I'd done them all (except for London City), and figured why not. OK, note to self: Luton blows.What a crappy little airstrip that is! Anuyway, we took the Thameslink to London and got to our hotel, the Citadine on Northumberland Street, just below Trafalgar Square. It's a really nice, cheap place with a Fab location. All the Citidines rooms have a pullout sofa (comfortable!) and a small kitchen. They are highly recommended! We did our traditional “first meal in London” -- always at Burger King: a chicken royale for me, and bean burger for Kevin. We then took a shopping stroll down Charing Cross Road and Oxford street, and made our mental inventories (Tho' I did get a new signed Christopher Fowler short story book then and there.) Later on I met John Hambleton for a pint at Compton's, ending a multi-year quest spend chating on line to finally actually meet. John was exactly what I thought, charming and quite sexy. Compton's in the summer had a heaving street scene (one of the best things about Britain is being able to drink outside). Kevin met us, and then Kevin and I went out for dinner to Sirtai balti house in 7 Dials, which was excellent. Aftwards, Back to Compton's, then to on to Barcode (with had a sadly attended bear nite downstairs). Bloated by balti ‘n' beer, Kevin headed off to the hotel, but I stayed on for a while, and had a good time chatting up James , a Labour party functionary from West Hampstead. James opening line was “Now theres a butch man!” How can you resist that. His second question, after he heard my accent, was “What do you think of Bush.”
FRI 30 JUL - LONDON
We had our breakfast at Starbucks, where they have actually quite good paninni breakfast sandwiches. We took an amble down to to Victoria, and then over to the V&A museum , where we “experienced” a great sound installation through the museum. It consisted of MP3 audio guides with Infra-red triggers in certain galleries, which triggered sound varying from crowd noises, to songs by David Byrne, Faultline, and Liz Fraser, to a child explaining her favorite things in the Asian galleries. We had a Pizza Hut lunch (Sluggo sure does love the Pizza Hut unlimited pizza, pasta and salad!!) then we caught a train to Eltham to tour the Art Deco Eltham Palace , which was amazing. We met with our old mates Mo & Paul and Paul's best mate Michael at the King's Arms. During Mo's periodic update about his life, he explained casually that his bosses wife was Rozalla (Chris: "THE Rozalla?!?!" Mo: "Oh yes the 'everbody's FREEEEEEEEEEE' Rozalla.”) Only Mo's could casually announce over pints with bears he knew a minor pop star! We then headed down to Chunk @ South central (formerly Duke's) and drank copious amounts, including flaming Sambuca shots, which Chris spit on Kevin (after blowing it out), and Michael tipped over, briefly setting the bar on fire. We all met David, a totally adorable scouse ex-royal marine who seems to have mumbled the same drunken declarations of everlasting love in each ofour ears. Hey I even ended up dancing and snogging w/ my partner on the dance floor! Lots of funnnnnn.
SAT 31 JUL - LONDON
In the morning, we went to the National Portrait Gallery, the went our separate ways for the “Kevin does music shopping, Chris does culture” on your own day. While Kevin ran up the charges, Chris visited the Saatchi Gallery. Highlights here included the amazing oil installation, Damien Hirst's aminals, the creepy-cool blood head. After the modern art jag, I went over to Carnaby street (the new Kingly Court mini-mall is very cute) and had lunch at pret, then shopped on Oxford St, and Covent Garden, getting some Fred Perry shirts, and some stuff at Next. We had dinner at Zizzi on the strand, followed by a pint @ Compton's. We then headed over to Mo & Paul's in Old street for champagne with them & Micheal. Chris even got a taste of Absinthe (packs quite an afterburn! I did not see any little green Kylie Minogue faeries like in Moulin Rougue, tho.) We all piled in a black cab, and met up with Chris' newly tiny (he lost 50 pounds!) friend Jonathan at XXL, which is always a great time, but this night seeme to be low on quality men, despite being packed.
SUN 1 AUG - LONDON
After breakfast, we took walk thru Hyde Park to see the newly opened Diana Princess of Wales Memorial fountain was now closed "due to slippage." Kevin calls it the “Diana Drainage Ditch,” and it is truly awful and boring especially compared to the nearby Albert memorial. When we got back to the Hotel to rest, Jonathan called and invited us to party literally next door to hotel in Northumberland St. It turned out to be in an amazing flat , where we met some friendly Brit bears, and ended up going en mass to Soho Pride , which was that day. We met Mo & Paul in Soho and had some pints with them and Micheal, where Chris developed and insta-crush on Micheal's friend Rob(in red in the pic). We took off afer a bit of crowd surfing, eating dinner at Chiquito in Leicester Sq. We got back the hotel and watched BBC for a bit before turning in early.
MON 2 AUG - LONDON
Another Starbucks breakfast, and shopping for gifts. We had a pub lunch at the Princess Louise in the City and then hung outin Soho sq listen to reggae being played by a DJ. There was a gaggle of news vans over at the FA headquarters over an affair Sven Erricson had had. Such drama over so little . Kevin and I ended up departing on separate airlines, from seperate terminals, and only saw each other 8 hours later when we both got home to a very, very, VERY happy puppy!