Rome: Day 1: Thursday/Friday: Getting There

Jane and I woke up on a Thursday morning and drove our twelve-year-old, Casey, to school.  Casey said she was a bit scared and would miss us, but she was taking it all very well.  This would be her first time away from us for more than a weekend.  In fact, it would be the first time for Jane and I to be away from our kids since we got together 26 years ago.


This trip would finally be the honeymoon we never had.  Back in 1983 when we got married, we left Christian, then about five with my parents and spent one night at the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles.  A year later we had Erin, and ten years after that we had Casey.  So, we always had a little kid at home, which meant short trips, or longer ones with the kids in tow.  This would be an adventure for us.


This would be our third time going to Europe in three years.  A bit excessive, I suppose, but all our other years together had been spent doing domestic travel.  Now that the kids are old enough to take with us or leave behind, we are making up for lost time.


The first two times, we flew with Air Tahiti-Nui, a delightful airline that we really enjoyed both times.  This time they didn’t have any affordable tickets available during the holidays, so we picked SwissAir.


In the past, we had also always gone out around Noon, to arrive in Paris at around 9:00am local time.  This time we would fly out about 7:30pm L.A. time and arrive in Zurich, Switzerland about 4:00pm local time.  We had about a one hour layover, to catch the next SwissAir plane to Rome landing about 7:45pm the next day.


By comparison, I preferred flying earlier.  Starting out at night sounds good, because you imagine sleeping on the plane and arriving all fresh.  That never happens for me.  Plus, you get there the next night, so it’s like you have lost two days!   Going early also has it’s pitfalls because you get to Europe right about when you want to go to bed, but it’s only about 9:00am, so you feel compelled to keep going until night.  The last time we took a nap, but still got to do some things the first day we got there, so we felt like we only missed one day.


SwissAir lacked a few minor amenities that Air Tahiti-Nui had.  For example, a “goodie bag” that had things like ear plugs, stockings for the feet, and eye shades were not provided at all by SwissAir in economy.  They did, however, give you as many little bottles of wine as you wanted each time they would pass by with the cart.  I counted four little bottles for free.  Air Tahiti-Nui would walk buy and pour you a glass of wine out of a big bottle, they also kept a bottle going in the back.   The one place that SwissAir gave something Air Tahiti-nui didn’t was at the end of the flight they passed out hot towels.  I’ve only seen that in first class in the past.  They also handed out little Swiss chocolate candy bars as snacks.


All that said, if I had a choice between the two airlines at a similar price, I’d take Air Tahiti-Nui, and I’d also take leaving prior to Noon.


With a 7:30pm flight, we had to check in by 6:PM.  Everyone who lives near Los Angeles knows that you aren’t getting to LAX at 6:PM.  This meant that in order to avoid gridlock on the 405 we would have to leave very early and plan on sitting around the airport.  We ended up leaving at 3:30pm, and arrived at LAX within an hour.  We parked my Suburban in City Lot B ($8.00 per day) and took the free shuttle to the Tom Bradley International Terminal.


We were able to buy E-Tickets from SwissAir (something Air Tahiti-Nui did not offer).  This allowed us to check in over the internet.  However, since this was an international flight, we still had to go through the line to get our passports checked and to check our luggage in.  The trade off was that since we had used the Internet check-in, we were allowed to go in the shorter Business Class line.


The SwissAir agent checked us in and made boarding passes for our second flight, explaining to us that our luggage was checked through, so we would not need to do anything at Zurich except get on the next plane.


We went upstairs to get something to eat, since we still had hours before boarding.  We found a place similar to Panda Express.  The place was surrounded by Orientals all eating the food, so I thought it was probably a safe bet.  I was wrong.  The food was terrible.  I thought about Italy and how I never have had a bad meal there as long as we avoided the tourist places full of Americans.


After giving up on dinner, we made our way to security.  I passed without incident, but they made Jane take off her sweater.


Once inside the secured area, I noticed that they had added some shops.  The last two times we were here, the area was stark with no services.  If you wanted to buy a bottle of water or a cup of coffee, you had to leave and come back through security to do it.  That, at least, has improved.  I also noticed people using their laptops and wondered if the airport has high-speed wireless Internet available.

Video: Joseph & Jane Waiting at LAX

(Press Play to Start or click HERE if Video doesn't start)


We boarded the flight.  I don’t know if I’m getting bigger, or the seats are getting more cramped.  SwissAir sits 2-4-2 just like Air Tahiti-Nui, but it just didn’t seem like a lot of space.  I tried to get up whenever I could to walk around. 


The food was good for airline food, at least as good as Air Tahiti-Nui.  There were frequent snacks, and we were treated well for an economy flight.  The announcements were first made in Swiss-German, then English and sometimes French.


We landed in Zurich after flying about ten hours.  Our connection was tight with only 55 minutes between landing and check-in time.  We had to take a monorail between two terminals, and then clear security again.  This time they took everything out of my camera bag, and put each individual item in a tray to x-ray.  Then I had to put it all back in again.


Our plane left late, so all the rush was for nothing.  We sat for a while in the terminal.  I pulled out my Swiss Franc coins from two years ago and tried to use them to buy water from a vending machine.  No luck.  It kept my 3 Francs and I didn’t get any water.  Then I sat and watched other travelers do the same thing over and over again.


I was excited about flying over the Swiss Alps, but by the time we got into the air it was night, so there wasn’t anything to see.  It only takes a little over an hour to fly from Zurich to Rome, but it felt like an eternity.  We were getting tired, and the last thing you want to do after ten hours on a plane is get on another one.  But, pretty soon we started our decent, and landed at the Leonardo Da Vinci Airport in Rome.


We found the luggage area and received our bags quickly, then went through customs and got our passports stamped.


Because we suspected we would be worn out by the time we arrived, I used my Hilton Honors points to get a free room at the Rome Airport Hilton.  This hotel is right at the airport attached by a skywalk mostly of moving sidewalks.  It is probably a fifteen minute walk, and I don’t think either of us minded it much after being squished into airplanes all day.


When we arrived, I went up to the front desk and presented my Hilton Honors Gold Card along with my Hilton Honors Platinum American Express that gives me additional point rewards when used at a Hilton property.


It was about 8:30pm at this point.  I received an energetic “Buona Sera!” from the clerk.  “Buona Sera!”, I answered.  “Signore Sheppard”.


“Welcome Mr. Sheppard!”, he answered in English.  He started to type into his computer and informed me that our room might not be ready yet.  I looked at my watch as if to say, “WHAT?”.  I had to remind myself this is Italy, and they are not known for being quick with anything.


He figured out that the room actually was ready and asked to see my passport.  Apparently, there is a law in Italy that whenever foreigners check into a hotel, they have to take information and turn that over to local authorities.  I had to leave the line to go get Jane’s passport.  When I came back, he asked for my reward certificate for the free room.  Again, I left the growing line of fellow exhausted travelers who seemed to be trying not to groan at me.  Finally, I received my keys and was told we were upgraded to the Executive Floor and had full use of the lounge including free drinks and snacks.  I was delighted.


Our 5th floor room was nice and clean, and large by Italian standards.  This means that it was about as big as any normal US hotel room.  There was a king sized bed, a flat screen TV and a bathroom complete with toilet, bathtub and bidet.


We were getting really tired and kind of hysterical at this point as we debated if we should go downstairs and have dinner in the restaurant, or just go to bed.  I tried to calculate how long we had been up.  Both Jane and I had woken up around 4:00am on Thursday in L.A. too excited to sleep.  It was about 9:00pm on Friday Rome time, which is about Midnight Thursday L.A. time.  I think that made it about 20 hours, but it felt much longer.


We finally decided to go down and order some dinner and have a glass of wine.  I was expecting the Hilton restaurant to be terrible, but it was actually pretty good.  I had some kind of pasta that had a tomato sauce with chunks of bacon in it.  Very tasty.  We ordered a second glass of wine, but they never brought it, so I told Jane we should just go up to the Executive Lounge and drink the free wine.


We paid our bill and went upstairs.  The Executive Lounge had a nice assortment of fruits, cookies, cheese and wines.  We had a couple more glasses up there, and then went off to bed.


I woke up about 3:00am and couldn’t sleep.  The alarm was set for 6:00am so I didn’t want to take a sleeping pill, so I got up and wandered around the hotel for a while.  Back home it was about 6:00pm, so I called my Mom and talked for a while.  Then I started to get drowsy again and went back up to lay down.


I fell back asleep, then the wake-up call came in and I almost jumped out of my skin.  It was time to pack up and meet Miss Cristina and take possession of our Apartment!


Next… We arrive in Rome at our home away from home, the Apartment on Princepe Eugenio, near Piazza Vittorio!


But First… A picture of me the night we arrived at the Rome Airport Hilton after flying 6,000 miles: