Saturday, August 20, 2011

Tales from the TRIP - Day 4

Why would anyone name their airline "WhizzAir"? Do they suppose the image of a plane whizzing through the air overpowers the image of a fellow standing on the tarmac with a rubber band on the propeller? Because it doesn't.

Day 4 started with a taxi ride to the airport (which cost less than the one FROM the airport, hmmmm). We found the purple and hot pink WhizzAir counter with plenty of time to spare and caught a quick bite to eat since check-in didn't begin for 30 minutes. When they opened up two lines, we picked the line with the gentleman who was either new or learning disabled. In the time it took the gal beside him to process fifteen people, he checked in one family of three. Fortunately, we had paid extra for "Priority Boarding"; unfortunately, we had NOT paid extra for "handicapped assistance". Apparently, if you break your leg on the way to the airport, you are out of luck, because you can only get a wheelchair if you order it (and pay for it) online - in advance. Well, I guess that isn't entirely fair. They did say we could walk down to the area where they have the wheelchairs and try to request one, but there was no guarantee they would have one and it was located at the far end of the terminal at the opposite end from where you had to go through security. We decided to take our chances...

We made it through security with a minimum invasion of our personal space and followed the signs to gate C21...all the way to the very end, thankful for the moving sidewalk. But when we got there, there were only Gates 9 and 10. We looked everywhere and finally went into one of the shops and asked - we were pointed back the way we had come and told we would need to go down a level and then back out to the end of the terminal on the ground level. Of course, the moving sidewalk did not go in that direction AND when we got downstairs, there was no moving sidewalk on that floor. So we ended up having to walk three times as far as necessary. I'm not sure what the lesson here is, except maybe to keep looking for signs even when you think you know where you're headed.

At this point, the message boards in the airport had not yet posted the gate assignment. Although C21 was listed on our boarding pass, we were told that it was subject to change and wouldn't be posted until 30 minutes before boarding - I had visions of them changing it to the other end of the airport and us having to sprint to make the flight! Thankfully, that was not the case and we made it to the gate with plenty of time.

Uncertain exactly what "Priority Boarding" meant, I studied our boarding passes. Apparently, WhizzAir tickets are simply 'a ticket to ride' - no guaranteed seat assignment. I hovered near the desk wanting to be sure that we were among the first, since there was no way to know how many passengers had paid the extra $20 for the privilege of being at the front of the stampede. This was probably the best $20 spent on the trip. Instead of being stuffed like sardines into the bus - that's right, we had to get on a bus to go out to the taxiway where the plane awaited us - we were in the front section and only slightly crowded. More importantly, we were #3 and #4 getting on the plane and consequently were able to pick bulkhead seats at the front of the plane. This ended up being a mixed blessing in that we had plenty of leg room, but I could see the insulation of the plane in the crack around the divider between the cabin and the galley. What is the accepted etiquette for notifying the flight attendant that the plane looks like it's falling apart?

The flight itself was pretty uneventful - the attendants provided the usual safety instructions with a little more dramatic flair than most airlines. And I think they not only use planes from the 1960's but probably have the same employment guidelines as were used at that time. While our other flights featured attendants that were male, female, young, old, slim, and plump - all these gals were straight off the pages of "Coffee, Tea, or Me." The only really disturbing thing was that the entire airplane erupted in thunderous applause when we touched down in Rome...did they know something we didn't?

The tour we were joining was supposed to include airport transfers, but since we booked our own flight and arrived a day early, they wanted to charge us $75 to take us to the hotel - that's $75 EACH. Mom wisely contacted the USO before we left the US and arranged transport for us for $50 total. We were so thrilled when both of our bags showed up and we saw the gentleman with a sign that read "Bowen". (Did I mention that my bag didn't make it to Prague until about five hours after I did and had to be delivered to us at the hostel? And was damaged so we had to find a shop in Prague that sold superglue - couldn't find any duct tape - to hold it together? No?) Security at the airport in Rome seemed very slack - until we saw the soldiers with machine guns and bomb-sniffing dogs. No need to pat you down with all that!

Anyway, back to the USO driver. He was a man of very few words and even more limited driving skills. Or maybe he had really good driving skills since we avoided being in an accident. I don't think there is any way to adequately describe traffic in Italy so I'll leave it with one word - terrifying. It didn't help when I saw a couple of soldiers on a jeep guarding the entrance to a villa with machine guns. When I asked the driver who lived there or what was that - all he could say was "No problem." Where I come from, when you see soldiers with machine guns, it means there's a big problem.

The hotel was much nicer on the inside that it appeared on the outside and we persuaded them to give us a non-smoking room minus the view of the St. Peter's Basilica rather than a smoking room with a view - definitely a good deal in my book. The Starhotel Michaelangelo was situated literally across the street a block from the Vatican.

The front desk gave us a recommendation for dinner and we ventured out after a short rest. Forgetting that Europeans idea of 'just down the street' is a mile, we were unable to find the recommended restaurant, but discovered one that seemed perfect just a few blocks from the hotel. It sat on the corner of a street facing the wall of Vatican City and was called Papa Rex's. Complete with a costumed Centurion and live music, this was another highlight of the trip. The music was beautiful and subtle, providing a backdrop to conversation instead of overwhelming it. Occasionally, the handsome couple would serenade us while we enjoyed lasagne and tiramisu. The food was delicious and reasonably priced and the atmosphere was lovely.

Stick with me - tomorrow we visit some of the sights of Rome and meet our tour group!

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