Friday, September 14, 2007

Europe - Day 1 - Arrival in Italy

Disney Theme for the Day: Benvenuto!

Having suffered the horror of watching the taxi meter tick past double the local cash I was carrying during my first trip to London years before, I was determined to have plenty of Euros this time! In spite of knowing that the arrivals area of the airport was probably the worst place to make this transaction, I paid the 11% "service" fee in exchange for the peace of mind that I wouldn't be cash-poor again! Of course, traveling with Disney, my concerns about money were groundless this time.

We were met by our first Disney escort as we waited for our luggage (waiting what seemed like hours for our bags).

Once the last piece of luggage arrived, we were on our way. Almost. Another wait (~10 minutes) was in store as we arrived at the curb. I think our driver had already left without us due to our luggage delay and was returning from dropping off the first gaggle of guests as we finally made our way outside the airport. However, we were reassured by our trusty Disney guide, Davide (dav-i-day), that our transport was on the way. So, we waited patiently. Our Mercedes van arrived at last. They loaded our many bags. And, we were on our way!

Travel through Rome is an adventure all by itself! Scooters and motorcycles lane-split (or filter, as they say in the UK). Speed limits and lanes are only a suggestion. And the traffic is dense. But, we made it into the city center without incident. The Arch of Constantine greeted our arrival, and we circumnavigated a good 120 degrees of the Coliseum in awe: a glimpse nearly 2,000 years back into history! A few more turns and a narrow street or two brought us into the vast plaza, and to the front of our hotel, the Exedra. Beautiful! Five stars, and then some!

We left our luggage behind with no thought of tipping or payment for the trip (all covered as part of the Disney tour) as James (our other Disney guide) greeted us, introduced us to a couple of our fellow adventurers, handed us a room key, and directed us to the elevator while explaining the European custom of numbering the first floor as zero ("0"). We were all amused to see that there was not only a "0" but also a floor "-1". ...must be the influence of all the great Italian mathematicians of bygone centuries. ;-)

Arrival in our Exedra hotel room left everyone in awe: Two floors with hardwood stairs, electronic lighting and drapery controls, a two-story view onto the plaza fountain, and a bathroom to make even the best U.S. hotels proud: vast space, marble tile all around, separate toilet / bidet area, dual vanity, walk-in shower and a large tub. Wow! This is not your typical European hotel! Although it was a local time around noon, we had eaten enough on the plane that the first order of business was to shower and sleep. Just a siesta, as we would join our group of 29 for dinner at 5:30PM.

Waking at 4PM, the few hours had helped us all a bit -- a welcome relief for tired eyes and bodies, after being awake since 7AM the day before..... 23 hours prior to our arrival at the hotel. The bed and pillows, again, set the benchmark for the best of the best. We were all lavishly accommodated in beds we would all have been happy to have at home. Soft but full pillows, and warm duvets covering a soft, firm mattress... like sleeping in a cloud.

We arrived at the VIP lounge dressed for dinner, collar shirt, slacks and dress shoes for me, dresses for the ladies. We were, perhaps, a trifle overdressed, but our introduction to our fellow Disney adventurers and guides was an up-scale affair with red and white wines (both quiet good), fancy and tasty aperitifs, and a range of snacks and drinks for the kids, including bottled water, both sparking and "still."

James led introductions, discussing the outline for our next nine days, and highlighting some of the key events/places we could look forward to. Davide talked about Rome, and led us through the "meet & greet." We began with introductions of each family, provided -- in most cases -- by very precocious children (including our own). But, to further break the ice, James and Davide handed out treasure-hunt-like forms with questions that would soon be answered by our fellow adventurers. I found that I was better at being interviewed than at interviewing, but met a few new people and some of the kids (Junior Adventurers). I was just a bit disappointed that after the effort to gather all that information, that we didn't each share a bit of what we learned about each other with the group... but, dinner called!

With assigned seating and the restaurant to ourselves, the Disney-experience continued. Dinner and drinks were tasty and served in an "home-style" fashion that reminded me of movies of royal dinners. The girls had earlier remarked, as chocolate strawberries were delivered to our room, that they felt like princesses. A very pleasant experience for all!

After dinner, we explored the ruins visible through the glass floors on floor "-1," then strolled around the plaza, marveling at the hotel from a distance. After sitting by the fountain for a bit, we returned to our room, anticipating sinking back into our plush beds for a much-needed night's sleep.

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