Wednesday 17th October 2001

Julie had lay awake for a good half an hour before the TV alarm clock beeped feebly at us. Her face showed a fear that could not be more afraid if she were awaiting her execution.

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Even if we had known that the pilot was a certain Mr.Grim Reaper, of Death Airlines, flying to destination Hell, I couldn't imagine a more desperate figure waiting for the inevitable.We caught the shuttle bus from our hotel at 6:30am to the North Terminal at Gatwick. The check-in area was fairly quiet, and within 45 minutes we had off loaded our luggage, security scanned, and sat down in the corner of a café enjoying a full English breakfast. Or I should say a half English for me as I went without the bacon, sausages, greasy fried bread and the foul black pudding! Sometimes being a vegetarian has its benefits!

We had time to browse around the shops and I bought myself a small rucksack made by a Swiss company called Hummel, which made us titter as it's the same surname as my wife's boss, Paul Hummel, the owner of Seiont Nurseries. Julie teased me by suggesting that the bag made me look very gay! I countered by explaining that the 'across the shoulder' strap is very European and so fashionable these days. Julie highlighted that that was a very gay thing to say!

As we were waiting in the departure lounge, a wave of anxiety filled Julie's mouth, so she had to go running to the nearest toilet. She confessed to almost stopping at the first bin she came across, but clinging on to some dignity she managed to make it into the privacy of a cubicle before chucking up. Whilst Julie was revisiting her breakfast I was being befriended by a gentleman. Perhaps it was my fashionable European rucksack! He said that had been stuck in the departure lounge for over 13 hours. He was en route from Saudi Arabia, on his way to New York. How depressing would that be?

Our gate number appeared, 45, and we walked down towards the gate. Our boarding passes were checked, and then we were transferred by bus towards the plane which was parked on the tarmac some distance away. We were kept on board the bus for quite sometime as we watched engineers fiddling with wires and things on the undercarriage. This really didn't give Julie much confidence in the aeroplane! Panic was starting to settle on her. We stepped off the bus and had to walk up steps onto the plane. Julie's legs weren't working properly, they had turned to jelly and could hardly carry her up, but she amazingly made it to her seat. The original departure time was meant to be 9:00am, but as we had only sat down in our seats at 8:55am we weren't going to make that time slot. The captain explained that the next available slot would be 10:00am, if we were lucky, or the next following slot would be 10:45am. Thankfully we were lucky! We only had to endure an hour delay.

This was torturous for Julie. The anxiety of waiting was almost unbearable for her. When the waiting was over and we took off, there was no release from her nightmare, because now the fear and anxiety of waiting for the plane to "plummet from the sky like a flaming dart" took over! Sitting next to Julie was another nervous flyer. He was going to Rome on business, and flew often with his work, but hated every minute of it. What a downer! The diazepam had certainly made no difference to Julie whatsoever. She was a bag of nerves, uncontrollably shaking. She was far too upset to appreciate the glimpse of the Alps as we flew into Italy. Earlier the pilot apologised for the delay and promised to make up some time, and my God he must have put his foot down on the accelerator because it only took us 2 hours to reach Rome! To bring a wonderful experience for Julie to a fabulous end the descent into Rome airport was incredibly bumpy. It was akin to a rollercoaster ride, and in fact several children behind us had their arms in the air, as they do whilst riding white knuckle rides! We touched down with a hop, a skip, and a jump, then a loud screech. This time it was a wave of relief that filled Julie's mouth. Fortunately a sick bag was at the ready.

We were met eventually by a Cresta rep in the arrivals lounge. We had paid for a private transfer into Rome so she took us to our very own mini bus whereas the other eight Cresta/Magic Holidays customers piled into another mini bus. We had booked with Cresta because we had saved up loyalty points on our Tesco Clubcard, and had them converted into holiday vouchers. We managed save £500 off this holiday, which was fantastic. This is why we splashed out on a private transfer! Bonus! Off we went, totally unprepared for what was to be the scariest part of the journey! We went hurtling down the autostrada at break neck speed, screeching around hair pin bends, lifting onto two wheels on one occasion. We were quite relieved when we got off the motorway and into Roman suburbia. At least his speed was reduced to such a velocity from which we could probably survive an accident!

I began to get excited as we past the Piramide, and then some other recognisable sights, such as Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Piazza Campodiglio, Piazza Venezia, and in the distance the mighty Coliseum.

Within no time we had turned onto Via Quattro Fontane, but for some obscure reason he dropped us off at the wrong hotel. It was called Hotel Anglo Americano.

Fortunately I knew exactly where our hotel was meant to be, so I didn't say anything.

We just picked up our luggage and walked uphill a little to the gates of Palazzo Barberini, then crossed the road where directly opposite was our hotel, namely Hotel Quattro Fontane.

We checked-in, despite the reluctant Ann Robinson (host of The Weakest Link), look-alike and behave-alike behind reception. She just didn't seem interested, as if we were disturbing her. She took our passports off us to register us. We were told to come back for them later.

The room was excellent. It was an interesting open plan two storey design, with the bedroom situated above the bathroom, with a balcony over-looking the 'dressing area', with a sofa beneath the staircase.

The view from the window was of an alleyway that skirted the back of the Palazzo Quirinale. It appeared to have booths every 20 yards where a policeman stood guard.

Julie thanked me for being determined to get here and almost forcing her come to Rome. Now the ordeal of the flight was over, she was in Rome, the most enchanting city in the world, and she was determined to enjoy every moment!

It was now around 3pm. so we left the hotel and went for a walk. Getting our priorities right we headed straight for some food! I wanted to find the Hard Rock Café so I could buy some merchandise for my father and because it wasn't very far away we decided to go there. It was located up the famous Via Veneto. As we entered, we had our bags searched, a reminder that we were entering a potential terrorist target, an establishment of the infidels!

The menu had the usual Hard Rock Café favourites and Julie went for the club sandwich. I went all local and had Pasta Piedmont which was gorgeous. With spaghetti served with garlic, mushrooms, artichoke, snow peas, sliced tomatoes and sliced black olives, how could it not be tasteful?

On second thoughts I suppose everyone has their own tastes. I for one detest celery; I can't abide it. It's like dog shit on a stick!

Anyway, after filling up we attempted to phone home but we couldn't get our mobile phone to work. We were quite disappointed. We wanted to let everyone know that we had arrived safely!

We headed towards the Spanish Steps.

It wasn't far, just back down Via Veneto to Piazza Bernini, then right up via Sistina. We could actually see the top of the Spanish Steps from the front of our hotel, so it wasn't at all far.

At the top, opposite the Church, there was a gathering of artists for the tourists, and a few stalls selling nasty souvenirs.

I saw a nun reading a guide book, looking in awe towards the Vatican. She was obviously here on a pilgrimage. Ah, Bless!

We walked down, and sat on the steps for a while watching people as they go by. We weren't the only ones, in fact there was hardly any space left on the steps to sit!

After a while we moved on and sat by the fountain at the foot of the Spanish Steps.

This was very relaxing, listening to the water gurgling, and watch the locals fill empty bottles with the water. Many came up and drank from the fountain; and I took a photograph of one young girl.

We could have stayed here all afternoon but decided to find a telephone kiosk. We found a booth that sold Telephone cards, so we bought the equivalent of 180 minutes of talk time.

Then came the challenge of finding a payphone!

Just off Piazza Spagna we found a telephone kiosk and after three or four frustrating failed attempts we eventually got through to Julie's mother. Julie was most relieved to have finally spoken to her mum.

We decided to nip down via Maguita in search of a veggie restaurant listed in the Lonely Planet. We found it, but it appeared to be very expensive.

We ended up walking into the vast Piazza Popolo, and once again sat down, and people watched, by the lion statues. It was a beautiful warm day, pleasant enough for walking without getting too hot. From here walked down via Corsa, passing several designer stores including Gucci. I said that perhaps they should have a baby clothes range called "Gucci Gucci Coo". Julie groaned at my joke, but I found it funny!

Just off via Corsa, hidden down a narrow alley was one of the most beautiful sights in Rome. Nothing can prepare you for the joy of seeing the Trevi fountain for the first time. Photographs do not do it justice. I think it's the way it reveals itself, how the anticipation builds; the excitement heightens when you hear the water splashing and the chatter of people. Then slowly teasing you with just a glimpse as you turn the corner into the Piazza, and then the whole beauty consumes you as you gaze at every inch of this amazing fountain.

It was quite an experience, believe me!

We sat down for quite some time, entertained by some more people watching, relaxing once again with the sound of the water.

This time however it was thundering down more than merely gurgling politely. We threw in our coins to ensure our return to this stunning place.

A troop of rose sellers did start to harass us, which we didn't mind too much, but then came the "stretchy toy thing" seller, then the "selection of wrist watches" seller, and finally the "build-yourself-what-looks-like-a-mini-silencer-pistol" kit seller tried his luck.

We bought nothing, and ultimately decided to move on as they were getting tiresome.

We walked towards Piazza Quirnale and passed a small grocery store which had a good selection of wine.

We bought two bottles and a corkscrew; but as we didn't know what corkscrew was in Italian, I mimed the action of uncorking a bottle.

The old lady behind the counter looked puzzled, but the younger man standing next to her said "You want a corkscrew?" We laughed out loud to hide our embarrassment, bought the corkscrew and left!

The steps up to Piazza Quirnale were quite steep, and we needed to sit down for a breather when we reached the top.

We could see from here the Vatican rising above the terracotta tiled roof tops.

This truly is a remarkable city.

On our way back towards via Quattro Fontane we passed a church designed by Bernini. Looking in the guide book, it showed photographs of the interior and it looked very pretty; which is why we decided to walk in. As we opened the large wooden creaking doors, we noticed that there were other people in the church, kneeling down receiving Holy Communion. We sat down in the back row for the briefest of moments, then left.

It was almost 6:20pm by the time we returned to our hotel. We put our feet up for a while as we were feeling a little tired. I phoned my parents and Hannah and exchanged Hello's and Goodbye's. Shortly after 7pm we decided to go out for something to eat, and headed towards via Veneto. We reached a bar on the corner with Piazza Bernini, and sat outside on the pavement. When I say "sat on the pavement" I mean sitting at a table, with chairs, watching the world go by, drinking large jugs of ice cold beers. When we came to pay the bill we were utterly gob smacked! It cost 32000 liras, which was over £10 for two beers! Incredible price, but we did get a bowl of peanuts for free! But hey, we were sitting on the chic via Veneto.

Wanting something more substantial to eat than just a bowl of nuts we walked down to via Sistina to a small 'ristorante' we past earlier in the day. It looked very cosy and smelt fabulous. As we walked in we were shown to our table in the back room which wasn't as cosy and inviting as the entrance. The menu was fine, and we shared a mozzarella and tomato salad to start, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Then to follow I had a delicious Aubergine bake called Parmiggiano del Melazzanne.

I had to forgo my veggie values as it probably contained parmesan cheese which is not suitable for a vegetarian diet as the cheese-making process contains the use of animal rennet, or to put it more bluntly, the lining of cow's stomachs! I also had no guarantee about the suitability of the house red wine which may or may not have used isinglass, (now that's fish bladders!), to clarify the wine. But what the heck, life's too short to be worrying about every little detail. My ethos is to be a strict vegetarian where conveniently possible! What I mean is that I'll never eat meat again, nor will I buy products that could potentially contain bits of dead animals unless they were labelled as not having bits of dead animals and therefore suitable for vegetarians; but when it comes to dining out one simply must relax in the bliss of ignorance, otherwise you will only make a nuisance of yourself, and they'll spit in your food whilst preparing it!

One thing for sure, fish bladders or not, the Vino Rosso della Cassa certainly contained a high percentage of vinegar! It was exceptionally sharp on the pallet! Did it say Balsamic on the label? Julie's lasagne was a bit of a let down also because the amount of mince meat in the dish was negligible. She felt short changed. It wasn't Julie's type of meal either; she's not overly keen on pasta dishes. The bonus was that it was reasonably cheap. The waiter asked if we would like desert, but we declined and asked for "just the bill, please". To this he turned to his colleague and mimicked my "just the bill". They found it hilarious! We laughed and smiled along with them, but it felt as if they were laughing at us. (We won't be coming back here tomorrow!)

As we walked back towards our hotel we saw Planet Hollywood and I remembered that they were advertising Champions League football on a big screen TV. Well, the night was still young so we decided to go and have a look. At first we couldn't find the screen, but it was situated upstairs. Alongside the staircase there were promotional posters of all the Oscars Best Picture winners which were quite interesting. Godfather and Godfather II stuck out for some reason? The room was fantastic, all decked out in zebra print! They also had a display of the film "Roman Holiday" complete with a cardboard cut out of Audrey Hepburn! It was very quiet up there, with only three or four other people. We sat down, shared a bottle or Cabernet, which was much better than the battery acid we drank earlier; and watched Juventus beat Rosenburg 1-0. It was a terribly dull game, and the TV coverage was peppered with ten second adverts whilst the ball was in play. They'd never allow that in the UK.

Once the game was over, and the dismal TV coverage finished without even showing the results from other games, we went straight to the Easy Jet internet cafe. I was desperate to know how United got on against Deportivo, from Spain. Logging onto I was very disappointed to see that they had lost 3-2, but also that two goals were conceded after some terrible goalkeeping errors by Barthez. Aaargh!! I was gutted!

Because we had paid for two hours online, and only used five minutes to check the football score, we browsed the internet for a while, looking at my Thailand journal, "From Bangor to Bangkok". We then both e-mailed our work, how sad was that?

At 11:30pm we left, giving up over an hour of our pre-paid online time. Never mind, we both could hardly stay awake another ten minutes let alone another hour. Thankfully the hotel was only around the corner. We crashed onto the bed, with the news on in the background, followed by a programme about the affect September 11th will have on tourism in Thailand.

Thursday 18th October >>

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