Singapore to Rome via bloody Heathrow
Trip Start Oct 18, 2007
24Trip End Nov 20, 2007
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I woke up feeling very relieved as the builder had finally turned up at 6pm last night to sign-off on the bathroom reno we're having done while we're away. Al got up and got stuck into work, yep, on holidays and working. It was ok, I was there to empty the bedroom and get the last bit of packing done. Ha!! I headed off to the light shop to get the extra two lights we'd (I'd) decided we needed for the bathrooms and I was done. Anyway, Al finished up and then his usual pre-holiday panic kicked in but we were organised and ready to go.
That dodgy (well not really but thanks anyway Citibank) Qantas Club membership had it's first test as we by-passed the verrrrrrry long economy class queue and checked in via the business class/Qantas Club line of three. We'd noticed a couple of weeks ago that I'd been allocated 28K for the flight to Singapore and had noticed on the seat plan that it appeared not to have a window even though it was a window seat. On SeatGuru.com 28K got a big red flag as a seat to avoid. We asked and the lovely lady who checked us in and she assured us it definitely was a window seat and a good one too! AOK. We also had to show our cruise documents as we need to show a departure from Italy and had no onward flights. No problems with the 25kg bag (2nd Qantas Club test) and the bags were checked right through to Rome. Down through Immigration and security and up to the Qantas Club. How very civilised (he says with cup of tea in hand and pinky extended). It was nice though. Plenty of seats, nice finger food and an open self-serve bar.
Flight was called so off we went, boarded and surprise, surprise, row 28 has no window. Bizarre. How can the staff not know that? Truly though, what did it really matter? We've flown out of Brisvegas enough that we didn't have anything to see and in any case we flew straight up through cloud and didn't see a thing until we came down in to Singapore by which time it was just lights in any case.
Directions to the transfer desk were a bit garbled so we ended up walking right across Changi to check-in for the British Airways flight at transfer D (or C?) only to find we could have done it back on the side we'd come into the GIANT Changi duty free mall with airport attached. I'd already checked-in online and had managed to grab a pair of the three rows of twos down the back of a 747. Up to the Qantas BA lounge. Very glam and quite huge. Another open bar, nice food. We both had a shower - so that we were refreshed for the long flight ahead and just because we could!
Boarded, seats were great. The back of the plane wasn't full and people were asking to juggle a bit. The couple behind us noticed a row of three a couple of rows in front of us and asked if they could have them. As soon as they got up Al sat in their seats so we had two each. Excellent! Another meal and then they switched the lights off. Some amazing turbulence just as service was finishing. Got maybe three hours sleep and then very broken for the rest of the flight. My video screen jinx struck again. Mine stopped and started which made movie watching bit of a pain. SO I tried what was Al's and it didn't want to work at all. They tried to reset it but nothing happened so I ended up moving back next to Al and watched there.
Poland and then the Netherlands were lit up like nothing we'd ever seen. It was amazing. We finally crossed the English Channel and headed up to London. It was beautiful. As we dropped down into London we were given the most amazing view of the centre of the city. It was spectacular. We could see the London Eye and Tower Bridge and the Millennium Bridge although as I type this I realise I didn't look for St Paul's or Big Ben. There was too much to look at.
We landed tight on time (actually a minute early we found out later), got off and headed for the connection to terminal 2. Boarded the first bus and headed off. Appeared to be plenty of time to make our flight to Rome. Entered the connections area, went through security (that was very slow) and then tried to work out how to get our boarding passes for Rome. No sign of anyone from Alitalia at their desk so we asked a guy from BA who was less than helpful. So we headed for terminal 2. Started into the terminal and then thought we need boarding passes so went back up to the unattended Alitalia desk. There was a note on the counter - if unattended proceed to terminal 2.
Off we went again, found a board and our flight was boarding at gate 15 - the last gate. We weren't dawdling and arrived at the gate, handed our tickets and were told we were too late. It was no later than 6.10 and the plane wasn't due to depart until 6.50 but they wouldn't let us on. "What about our bags, they're checked through?" "They'll take them off, go down to the carousel and they'll come up". But.... "You'll need to go through immigration as you're now arriving in to the UK". ARGHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We were told we needed to go to the Alitalia desk to arrange another flight. So we went down into the immigration hall and there was no-one there. Eventually a lady came out and after we explained what had happened a man came out who we explained it all again to. Looked at our passports, stamped Al's and out we went to baggage claim. He said there mightn't be anyone at customs until 6.30 (gives an idea of what time we'd got to the gate for the flight. Went into baggage, again explained our situation and were told our bags would come up in a little while. Waited about 30 mins and gave up. I was getting angrier by the second. Went out and found the Alitalia desk. The girls were lovely but there was nothing they could do. It's bank holiday weekend and every flight is booked solid. We'll have to be waitlisted. ARGHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! "What about our bags?" She makes a call and our bags will be put on the flight we take, whenever that is! Next flight is 9.35. Al calls Qantas (in Oz) who are sympathetic but there is nothing really that they can do
The gate number comes up and we race to the gate. First in the queue of standby hopefuls. The Alitalia guy eventually comes over and tells us there is one seat and we can have it. I defer and say we travel together or not at all. It ended up not at all. Next flight is 12.05 so we are re-issued with new standby boarding passes. We ask if we can buy business class seats but as flights are over-booked they can't sell them. Al asks about our luggage and if we can get it if we decide to try another airline. The Alitalia guy looks at us with a surprised expression "You have luggage?" "Um no, we just have these carry-ons for five weeks in Europe." He was genuinely surprised I think. He says something that I don't hear but Al does.
We head back to the shop/bar area and go up to a bistro kind of place. We get beer. It's just gone 10. The beer is good, I'm calming down, kind of, although I know Al will read this and say "calm down, shmalm down". Ok, my face was returning to a colour just a tone or two down from beetroot. 11.25 the gate number comes up and I'm in the toilet but Al races off. He's already handed the cards in when we get there but was beaten by a couple of people. Anyway, amazingly our names are called and we have seats! Halelujah!! They hand me the boarding passes and they're 4E and 6E. I say to Al "I think they're in business class". As we go through to board the girl who had given me the boarding cards says "Meester Brown, we have you in beezness class". Grazie seniora. We're on our way. I sit in my seat and there's something wrong with it. Feels like there s sheet of hard cardboard in the back but I don't care.
Flight was great. Smooth, beautiful views, nice food, friendly crew. Plane had certainly seen better days. The airport is out by Ostio I think. Weird airport. Both of us were expecting this overload of Italian style and it was very ordinary. Wait at the carousel and our worst nightmare came true. No bags. Go to the Alitalia desk and we're not the only ones missing luggage. Finally my turn and Al comes racing up and says "I found them". They're in a cage back down the terminal. They've arrived on an earlier flight. The very lovely girl goes and gets a key and hands 'em over. Through immigration, he just looks at mine and waves me through, Al gets another stamp we can't read, no customs check - they don't even look at us - and we're away to the station to catch the Leonardo da Vinci Express in to the city. While we're waiting for the train Al tells me what the Alitalia guy had said - "I'll get you on the next flight" and I notice that the bags have arrived on the 9.35 flight. We surmise that when he found out we had luggage, he checked and found they'd already gone so they needed to get us there to catch up with the bags. All's well that ends well. We were in Rome, with our luggage, ready for the holiday to start.
Found the hotel in quick time. Great location, no more than five minutes walk from the station. Room on the first floor which is just as well as the lift doesn't look like it's working, not that we tried. Lovely room, terrazzo floor, little Philips LCD tele, on a corner so two windows. Small but functional bathroom - with a bidet! Al so wanted to try it but couldn't bring himself to do it. No way I was washing my butt. We both desperately needed a shower and that's what we did. Horribly jet lagged and all, it was time to hit Rome. We needed to try and stay awake as long as we could to try and get our clocks set
All I can say is WOW. We headed down towards the Colosseum (we thought) but we were a little off course. Bought couple of slices of great pizza and then stumbled on to the Forum. In the dark it was just fantastic. We wandered along the paths above it. A huge monument to one of the Italian kings with heaps of owls (?) circling in the light above it. Then the Colosseum was in front of us. Double wow.
Woke up pretty early so decided to get out and see some sites before breakfast. So at 6.30am we were headed for the Trevi fountain.
Trevi done, Spanish Steps next. I had us headed in the wrong direction but we got it right and we were there in ten minutes.
Somehow I still end up taking us off course to the Colosseum but we end up walking through this amazing area of ruins up above it. The tour groups have started arriving. People with walkers getting helped down off buses, people with lots of walking problems, whole groups getting held up so that the physically challenged can keep up. Something we'll get very used to seeing once we board Rotterdam on Monday afternoon.
We get down to the Colosseum and pretty much straight away someone comes up and offers us a 45 minute guided tour and the chance to avoid the queues for 22 euros each. Done. Hang around for a few minutes, get our little speaker thingies and in we go. Like the night before from outside, from inside the Colosseum is simply stupendous. The tour is great. Our tour guide is very funny and we get lots of quirky little bits of information from a female perspective. In the first 100 days after it opened we think she said there were 30,000 gladiators killed "and it was so much fun" (she said with a wry smile). Until you are inside the scale just isn't apparent. Everything is huge.
Time to get back to the hotel and to the station. Al convinces me to take the Metro and it's as easy as. We make a boo boo and get off at Cavour instead of Termini so it's a fifteen minute walk instead of five. Grab our bags and around to Termini. Nowhere to sit but we find a wall to lean against and eat our ?? - ham and cheese flat thing! Look for what platform our train will leave from but it has no platform beside it. Al looks on a departure guide on the wall that says Venezia trains all depart from platform 1. We realise there was no rush and we could have arrived five minutes before departure instead of an hour. Train arrives and we board. I'm a little confused by online ticket and even though it says car 2 I think it doesn't. Anyway we sit in car 1 but Al says I'm sure this isn't right, goes up to car 2 and the same seats are vacant so we move up there. Over head racks are big enough for our giant cases. Amazing. Train left about 15 minutes late. Not long after departure a guy wanders through advising that lunch will be served in the dining car in 10 minutes so we get a reservation. Train is very smooth and very fast. Fantastic. Lunch is really nice. Three courses. We have a couple of beers and then decide to have a half bottle of wine. Have coffee that we get for free because apparently the service had been slow but we thought it was great. Think the bill is wrong - too cheap - but then read the menu more closely and realise bottled water and wine were included. Should have gone crazy. The train is stopped at the station in Firenze while we're finishing lunch.
We pull out going in the opposite direction - which is a little confusing, and head back to our seats to find we've been joined by a couple who got on at Firenze. They are from Philadelphia and have had a week in Florence - eventually Pete realises from the conversation that "we've" just been to Florence (or Firenze to those in the know). We chat the rest of the way to Venice. Very funny as there are 4 Americans in the area with us, all reading their travel guides - we'd made several comments before leaving about Americans never having travel guides. We pass the Fricantiari (sp?) yard on the main yard of Venice where we see Eurodam and a glimpse of the Queen Victoria (yes Margot - we did see her funnel). We realise we're crossing the causeway and the train pulls to a stop. We're arrived in Venezia. It's easy from here - we just have to board the ship.
Where I stayed