We decided to get up early and take another walk through Hyde Park. We had wanted to see the Memorial Fountain for Diana that was so famously dedicated a few years back when we walked through earlier in the week but didn't make it quite the far. Hyde Park at 7 AM BST is popular with the morning exercise crowd (bikers and runners) but apparently not the fountain viewing, er, crowd. The fountain looked neat, though it was locked behind a fence and turned off, so we left mildly disappointed.
We went back to the hotel, packed up, checked out and prepped to make the most out of our morning in London before setting off for Rome.
We sweet-talked the Big Bus ticket kid into letting us ride along from our hotel to Trafalgar Square so we can do their "Royals" walking tour that featured St. James Palace, the horse guard, the new guard, the old guard, the changing of the guard (where old meets new), Buckingham Palace and 1 biz-illion tourists.
We arrived about 5 minutes late and had to run down the street (with our suitcases in tow) to catch the group who had already set off. We caught up with them a couple blocks later as the boisterous guide was explaining what we was about to happen(1). He took one look at us and said with overplayed annoyance "you've got cases!?!". We were then informed that we'd better keep up and that he stops for no man, woman, or (I s'pose) case.
He did a good job, putting the group of 50 or so in prime locations to witness the "changing of the guard" from several locations and angles - all in time with the events that were unfolding. It was a struggle to keep up, many times all we had to go by was the top of his bald head and the closed umbrella he held in the air.
We ditched the tour after Buckingham Palace to spend some quality time at Westminster Abbey. Of course we had to traverse about half of the city along Victoria Street to get there. We made it and decided to pop down to the Westminster Tube station to put our suitcases in the lockers that the tour guide had told us about. We crossed four different streets and Britain's longest protest, went downstairs only to find out that we there were no such lockers. We asked a woman in a little booth selling open top bus tour(2) tickets if she knew if we could take the bags into the Abbey and she said no way(3). However, she said she could babysit them for a few hours. We declined her generous (and slightly creepy) offer and decided to to just head out to the airport. We bought out subway tickets and headed down the escalator to catch the Circle Line. Of course, the Circle Line was experiencing "Severe Delays" and no trains were coming. We were the only ones waiting for about 10 or 15 minutes before we realized that "Severe Delays" is really Londonese for "take a different train".
We found a different way to the Liverpool Street station and decided to grab some pub food before settling down on the Stansted Express. We asked the bartender where the nearest RBS was located and he said a couple blocks away. About 8 blocks later (4) we were about to give up when I saw the familiar logo down the street. We had a nice conversation with a teller who basically told us that the Indiana bank folks had no idea what they were doing and that there was absolutely no way to take out Euros(5) from them. I finally capitulated, took out pounds, and was directed to a money exchange.
As you've probably picked up by now this was not going to be the most stress free vacation day.
We took the train out to Stansted and prepped for our first inter-European flight. We had bought very cheap tickets on RyanAir which appeared to be Europe's version of Southwest Airlines. Unfortunately, RyanAir has nothing on Southwest. The plane was so big that we boarded through two seperate doors, the seats packed in so tight that didn't have tray tables or tilt! To top it off, we had to sit on the tarmac for over an hour before we were finally cleared to fly.
Our arrival at Ciampino airport in Rome wasn't bad. However, we were surprised that all 6, er, 800 of us flyers had to pack into one bus to get to actual terminal facility. We cruised through customs (7) and bought a charter bus ticket to Termini (8). At Termini we were told to buy a bus ticket from a machine that was broken and only took euro coins (and us with our silly notes). It was well after dark so we decided to risk a taxi. We were walking to the cab stand when a greasy Italian fellow said "you need taxi?". We asked how much, he said 25 euro, and we said fine. He then grabbed Hope's bag and walked the opposite way of the taxi stand. We looked at each other quizically and followed. About 30 seconds later Hope caught my attention and shook her head. I grabbed the bag from the man, said "no thanks" and we made a bee line for the cab stand. Our greasy friend yelled something to his comrade, about 20 feet away, in Italian which I can only assume was "Get them, Giuseppe!". He tried to intercept us but we were almost to cab stand and we got one of the licensed drivers attention. We told him our hotel, he said 14 euro and we took it, fast (less money and no fear of kidnapping - deal!).
After the most death-defying automobile ride of my life, we made it safely to the Hotel Albani and walked into a very nice, swank hotel room (9). We were impressed and got a recommendation on a restaurant - a nice pizza place in the neighborhood "I Butteri". We had pizza, of course, and Italian beer and conversed awkwardly with our somewhat English speaking waitress.
As we were eating, a young server came out and asked if we were British. He had noted our English and said that he, too, knew some English. We told him we were American and he asked where we were from. Ignoring the fact we live in a city of 1.5 million, I said "near Chicago" thinking that surely and even those in glorious nation of Khazikistan were aware of that town. He said everything he knew about the US geography came from watching NBA basketball. Oh, I said that we're actually from Indianapolis and we have the Pacers. He said, "yes, the Pacers - Chris Webber!". I said, "no...Reggie Miller?" and he said, "Yes, Reggie Miller!". We talked a little longer and he told us his name was Julian and he was actually a Frenchman who had fallen in love with an Italian coworker in Paris who had decided to move home to Rome. He decided to follow her and had been in Rome six months - not knowing a lick of Italian before he moved there. He said he had learned so much that time that he actually thinks in Italian, now. He was very thankfully to talk some Anglais(10).
We had heard that tips were included in Italy but weren't really sure how to not tip (it's against my pizza delivery driver instincts). We noticed the menu said "servizio inclusivo" and thought that must mean we don't have to tip. In order to not offend our former-fascist host we pointed at the words and asked our server what they meant. She said, "ah, tip not included". Oh, good thing we asked.
After dinner we walked back to the hotel and took out the guidebook to check out what to do on our first full day in Rome. On the second or so page I saw a note that said "Most meals include tips in Italy, just look for the words "servizio inclusivo" on the menu to know for sure".
As you can tell, Day 5 was not the most stress free vacation day that one can have. To summarize: we hoofed it around Hyde Park searching for a fountain that was turned off and locked up, had to run to find a walking tour where we were scolded, tugged two "cases" behind a man carrying an umbrella over his head over several blocks filled with irratable tourists, traversed a large section of London (still with cases) on foot to find out we couldn't stow our cases or get into the attraction, had a Tube line we needed close down on us, were delayed on the tarmac for an hour, were almost abducted by a shady cab driver, and finally tricked into leaving a tip.
Quite a day!
1. He had strict rules, expected to be called 'sir', and a healthy love for the Queen. 2. Not "The Big Bus Company. 3. Terror concerns. 4. I will go to extreme lengths to avoid ATM fees 5. Realizing there were no RBS ATM's in Italy. 6. The fare was only 10 pounds, though taxes and fees were an additional 70! 7. The dedicated civil servant at the passport desk to declined to actually check any passports - it makes the TSA look organized and passionate! 8. Italian for Terminal (we assumed). 9. Which we forgot to take pictures of. 10. Two years of high school French and that's about the extent of my recall.