Monday, June 3, 2019


This morning we got up early (once again) and checked out of our hotel (which was gaudy in a retro kind of way, check out this "modern" bedside control panel):

With features like, messaging, radio and TV control, everything but the light switch was obsolete, but it provided a fun glimpse into the past.

We were able to check out and walk back to the train station along the optimal route since the roads were all cleared of bike race blockages.

We took the train to Bologna. The early morning sunlight in this little glass vestibule in the train station was lovely:

The train was generally on time and we made it to Bologna in about an hour. After a brief bit of confusion about where to purchase bus tickets from the train station to the airport, we caught the airport bus to the airport with little fuss. It was a normal Monday morning in Bologna. It was refreshing in a way, no tourists, no major historical landmarks, just regular Italians trying to get to work.

We made it to the airport with plenty of time. Cleared security and headed to our gate. The airport in Bologna is not very well appointed. There are very few places to sit, so we just stood near our gate until boarding commenced.

We flew the discount airline, RyanAir, for the first time ever. I don't think we'll use it again. The staff aren't well trained, the boarding is disorganized, the flight was like a two and a half hour infomercial where the poor flight attendants pitched all kinds of random products at their captive audience. The final straw was landing in Sevilla and deplaning on the tarmac and walking a half a klick to the terminal. I guess not paying for a jetway or a tarmac shuttle bus is yet another way to cut costs. Regardless, Laura and I are off RyanAir. I'm sure it works for some people, but not for us.

The airport bus back home ran on time as usual, but it was fairly packed with travelers.

The flat was in one piece when we got home, but a bit stuffy from being closed up in the heat for 3 days.

Laura went back out for class and I went to the gym. Back to the routine.

Giro d'Italia

For Laura's birthday, we got up early and took the train to Verona, way up north, to see the final stage of the 3-week Giro d'Italia bicycle race.

The train trip was about 3 hrs. It's amazing how many rail tunnels we passed through on the way up there. It seemed like a significant amount of the trip was underground!

On arrival, we walked from the train station to our hotel to drop our bags. It was a bit challenging to get there since a lot of strategic roads were blocked because of the bike race. We ended up walking about twice as far as we would have if there were no bike race closures. Eventually we got there and registered and left our bags.

Feeling a bit tired, we recharged with some gelato:

We walked around Verona to pass the time waiting for the bike race to start. Here's a statue of Dante:

We also bought some race gear:

The race, the final stage of the three-week Giro d'Italia, was a time trial, where each rider rides individually (not in a great pack) on a 17km course around Verona. They're fast and bikes are pretty specialized:

It's televised throughout most of Europe. Helicopters give overhead shots:

Towards the end of the race, we rested our feet a bit and got away from the crush in this park while waiting for the final riders:

This is Richard Carapaz, wearing the leader's pink jersey as he finishes the last few meters of the time trial and clinching the victory:

Carapaz is the first Ecuadorean to win any of the 3 major grand tours (Giro d'Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a Espana). There were a lot of Ecuadorean fans in the crowd cheering his success. As a nationalistic side bonus, American Chad Haga actually won this stage, completing the 17km time trial faster than any of the other 140+ riders. I'd like to say we saw him and cheered him on, but we didn't see a single glimpse of him. We were likely away from the course during his roughly 22 minute ride.

The closing ceremonies occurred in Verona's own ancient coliseum. We couldn't get inside, but there were video screens outside to show us the goings on:

After the race, we wandered into another random restaurant and I had one of the best pizzas I've ever tasted--pepperoni, onion and a bit of gorgonzola--sooooo gooood! I've said it before, but there are no bad restaurants in Italy.

Wandering Rome

To make it to the Vatican in time for our 8am tour, we left the hotel at around 6:45am. Turns out, unbeknownst to us, this is the peak tourist season for Rome and the Vatican. According to our guide, 30,000 people would go through the museum today. It was crowded, but if you went in with the right attitude, it was fine:

I took a lot of the usual photos, but most of them didn't make it into this post. Here's a painting that is an ode to the main forms of academic learning, philosophy, theology, law, and poetry/music. It's called The School of Athens:

I guess it should surprise no one that this was one of my favorite paintings.

I don't have a photo, but my other favorite was Michelangelo's The Last Judgment. The story goes that Michelangelo was drafted into service to do this piece late in his life. He grudgingly did the work.  It took a long time and painting was not his favorite thing to do. To express his dissatisfaction, his signature image is "Saint Bartholomew below Peter, holding the attribute of his martyrdom, his own skin. The face on this is usually recognized as being a self-portrait of Michelangelo." I love that Michelangelo expressed his displeasure at being coopted into the project in this way, through his art. Also, the statement that St. Bartholomew (figuratively the Church) skinned him (Michelangelo) by drafting him into this project.

It's hard to get a sense of scale of the canopy over the altar in St. Peter's Basilica situated over the tomb of St. Peter. It's huge. The letters visible in the strip high up on the wall behind it are 7 feet tall:

This altar is situated directly below the dome of the basilica:

Here's our guide and a father and son that were in our group as the guide describes the features of the altar:

Vatican City is actually a sovereign nation with its own police/army. They wear very unusual uniforms:

The square in front of the Basilica is huge:

There is an ancient wall that completely encircles Vatican City:

After the Vatican, we hit a few other sites in Rome. The Trevi Fountain had an interesting style:

We had to check the Coliseum off the list:

Obligatory selfie:

I always imagined that the Coliseum was in the urban center of Rome, but there's actually a pleasant amount of green space around the site. We enjoyed walking around there.

All that walking made us hungry. As we headed back to our hotel, we stopped here for dinner:

The best thing about Italy is there are no bad restaurants. This place was great. I have no idea what it was called.

Sevilla -> Rome

A generally productive day. Did some laundry, some academic reading, worked on some machine learning with the STEM data set and continued to develop my calc three course for the fall.


This evening, I caught the bus at Plaza de Armas and headed out to the airport for a flight to Rome. Laura, as has almost become our habit, met me on the bus at the Santa Justa stop where she'd walked after her class.

The flight was on time, but it was quite late when we landed in Rome (around midnight):

These two wall posters in the Rome airport are literally the only photos I have from Friday.

We met our van driver in the arrivals area. Turns out we were sharing a ride with another couple. As late as it was, the second couple didn't arrive for another half-hour or so. Once there, we hot-footed it to the van and the drive took us into the center of Rome (about a 40 min trip). The roads are very rough in Rome! Seemed like we bumped and rattled most of the way there. The other couple got dropped off first, then we wormed our way deeper into the city to our lodging, the Hotel Garda.

The Hotel Garda is a low-key affair occupying the 4th floor of a large apartment building. We rolled up there at about 1am and worried about getting in. We rang the bell for the Hotel Garda and after a mildly alarming wait, were buzzed into the building. We followed our noses and hit a second locked gate with a second intercom panel. We rang the bell and were buzzed in again to a small vestibule with a single elevator shaft. In whats was seeming to be some kind of video game adventure, we pressed the elevator button and guessed the floor number (4) and headed up. Stepping off the elevator, we were relieved to see a hotel reception area and a clerk (achievement unlocked). The clerk registered us and we headed to our room around 1:30am.

The real challenge with this arrival time was that our Vatican tour started at 8am the next morning. We hustled through our evening ablutions and hit the sack.