Boxing Day diversions

Boxing Day saw me leaving the hotel bright and early to get the metro to Colisseo which meant a change at Termini, the only point where the two lines cross. I thought some of the tube interchanges in London involved quite a few steps but it took more than five minutes to get from one platform to the other – maybe there was a shorter route for the locals but Termini reminded me a bit of the subway in Japan where you are tempted from your journey by a plethora of retail opportunities. The tour party assembled just outside the metro station with a clear view of the Colisseum which is absolutely massive and breathtaking – and most of it is missing! Start time 09:45 for a prompt ten o’clock entrance.

Colosseum - Copy
Into the arena
This was my first experience of paying in advance for a ‘skip the line’ tour. By the time we’d all assembled, been equipped with headsets and radios to catch our guide’s wise words we were already fifteen minutes after start time and after struggling through the groups entrance, airport type security and general faff we didn’t actually get into the Colisseum until twenty to eleven. We were a motley group on Americans from Iowa and Florida, an Iranian couple who vanished midway through and of course a family of six Chinese one of whom did her best to interpret for the others who lacked her command of English.

The structure is incredible and one has to remember that it would all have ben clad in marble. The Romans obviously gave us a lot but I couldn’t help relating current coverage of Qatar’s brutal methods of building prestigious stadia for the World Cup and what must have happened as this and other magnificent structures were built. Life is cheap in these circumstances. The rich must be glorified in the manner of their choosing. The other thing that was cheap was wood and as I’m reading Annie Proulx’s fabulous book Barkskins about the deforestation of New England to build British ships, homes for migrants and the displacement of the native Americans, I couldn’t help remarking that lack of respect for both life and natural resources is nothing new.

Colosseum WS - Copy
Showing the underground area where gladiators and animals  and condemned criminals waited to be brought up to the arena by rope-pulled elevators

Social media

We leave for the next part of the trip, the Roman Forum. We wait for fifteen minutes at another security check because we’re two numbers short (the Iranians) and I suspect guide Emilia gets charged for any radios missing at the end as she seemed in a real panic about it.

We admire the Arch of Titus parts of which are well preserved and show him clearly bringing home the loot such as menorah from the sacking of Jerusalem. We had already been staggered by the arch of Constantine which sits between the Colisseum and the Forum across the Via Sacra which was the route for the religious to St Peter’s later on. What surprised me most about the Forum – you get blasé about 2000 year old objects in Rome – was the difference in levels.

Forum - Copy








It’s like a trifle or a layer cake with a difference of some 50 metres between the current excavated floor thought to be around 100 BC to the entrance to the Senate House built in 283 AD, The general explanation is floods and alluvial deposits from the Tiber and demolishing buildings for new edifices and leaving debris behind.

Doors that got awayThese bronze doors – apparently one of only three that weren’t melted down at some stage are high above the level we are now walking at.

The Forum was of course where Romans came to gossip, plot and make the laws – mostly done on Twitter today. Our trip has overrun so we miss the Palatine Hill and I exit up to the Capitoline and down into the Jewish quarter for a refreshing beer in Bar Toto a recommendation from another gift Jo sent with me, a leaflet with hints and tips on unusual things to do in Rome. This was a very relaxed local bar in a great people-watching location.



Gone Galleria

My next port of call was  the Galleria Doria Pamphili which guide books raved about. I found it easily, paid my fee (no discounts for the elderly) and entered this amazing palace. It had a great courtyard, fine staircases and then room after room of overhung galleries. By this I mean large paintings exhibited three high on walls about 5-8 metres tall giving you severe neck ache. The main attraction of two important Caravaggios were absent on loan to Florence and apart from a superb Velazquez portrait of Innocent X next to Bernini’s bust of the same pope there was little to delight the eye. The Bernini-Velasquez juxtaposition was fascinating viewing but the rest I found dull in the extreme – room after room of gloomy Dutch landscapes. It smacked of art acquisition not art appreciation – so what else is new?

Crazy old man and the altar of peace

Bernini ElephantI walked through Piazza Navona passsing more Bernini fountains  – I especially liked his elephant supporting an obelisk on its howdah. – and I pass the church where I have a concert on Thursday night and on up the Tiber to the Ara Pacis museum. This had not been on my original agenda but I’m easily diverted. This is a glass box built recently to house the Altar of Peace of Augustus which was consecrated in 9 BC after Augustus had conquered France and Spain and people and animals had to be sacrificed to celebrate. It was buried under silt until 1939 and is in remarkable condition and a very beautiful structure despite its deadly purpose.

Ara Pacis - Copy IMG_2662

To my delight there was an exhibition of Hokusai woodblock prints in the temporary exhibition space beneath. There were old favourites like Red Fuji and The Great Wave but many that I hadn’t seen before. There was also one room that bore the legend ‘Adults only beyond this point’. It had Hokusai and Eisen shunga, the very filthy erotic works they used to produce to educate brides and grooms – well that’s one story we heard in Tokyo.

Home cooking

I walked back to the Piazza del Populo a massive square with people statues, legionnaires for selfies, bubble blowers and buskers – also a bar, and just beyond a convenient Metro stop on the A line which whisked me back to the hotel.

Church Palace night 1 - Copy
My hotel at night

I went out again and found a very fine local restaurant, Joseph, with a great family atmosphere  and good simple food in my case a succulent veal chop, salad and fries.

Back in Boston’s Back Bay

42 sushi pink  So no more maiku

as we now blog in the States 

no longer Japan

So we set off on the first of July with a 5.30 am arrival of one of south London’s ubiquitous Data Cars booked through their app which is highly efficient. We positively glide through early morning London and thoughts of an extra half hour in bed surge into the head but never mind it’s good to be in good time isn’t it? Terminal 3 seems to have fewer people than Southend with its stags and hens a couple of weeks ago and we breeze through bag drop and security and discover a new delight.For many years Dee has had a bank account that offers airport lounge access as a perk – one we’ve never taken advantage of, partly through our just-in-time scrambled arrival at airports, partly through it being buried away in the small print and needing to be activated. With a couple of hours to spare on this occasion we check it out spurred on by one of Dee’s colleagues who swears by them.

Oh what a difference from grabbing a sandwich in Pret or even a glass in the champagne bar! We check in expecting to have to pay for me as a guest but no one asks for any cash. A brilliant buffet breakfast is available for free and a full English can be purchased. The Number 1 Lounge is part of a chain and well worth signing up to. After breakfasting (or should that really be “after breaking fast”?) we repaired to the lounge area to read complimentary newspapers and magazines. We could have played pool or table football, watched a movie in a ten seater cinema or chosen a spa treatment


What a restful, restorative way to start a journey after what is always, whatever one’s best intentions, a bit of a KBS to get to the damn airport.The screens tell us to proceed to the gate so we leave our cocoon and re-enter the now rather busier terminal. Although billed at a Virgin Atlantic flight it is operated by Delta. Seats were comfortable, flight was very empty and it was utterly unmemorable which I guess is what you need in a flight. The one remarkable aspect was that the attendants seem to have been recruited for their ability to resemble Kathy Bates in Misery or Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb. You thought twice before asking these guys for anything.

Welcome to America! Terminal E at Logan airport is a familiar location – we even filmed there in 1994 – and while a few things have changed like the new electronic visa waiver ESTA programme which everyone without another form of visa has to complete before flying, some things it seems never will. Of the thirty booths where you can have you fingerprints checked and your photo taken only five were in operation so as usual the early arrival time of the flight (30 minutes in this case) are soon eaten up in the immigration hall. We stood in line for 75 minutes before being welcomed to the USA and being allowed to go and collect our lonely baggage. Lonely? Well you see US citizens go through seamlessly and had all long since lit out of the baggage claim area.

We were first in Boston at the time of the Big Dig which caused massive disruptions but now complete does enable you to get in from the airport with commendable speed. The driver dropped us off at the apartment we’d rented in Dartmouth Street, we negotiated the somewhat cryptic instructions for gaining entry only to be told that we could drop our bags but the cleaners were running late and could we go away for an hour or so. Bags and jackets deposited we emerge into a 33 degree Boston boiler, decide to turn right toward Newbury Street and find the Met Bar where in a very pleasant downstairs bar big screens were showing Argentina squeeze past Switzerland. So we settled in with a beer, checked our phones and found an email from our friend Jack Foley – desperate to find out where we were. His wife Robin had to go to New York next day for a few days and this would be our only chance to see her. So Jack told us to stay put and he and Robin would join us to watch the USA game due up next. Well we watched that and then repaired to a table on the street to take dinner and commiserate on the USA team exit. As you can see close friendships were restored after a nine year absence and Dee obviously said something that Robin found hilarious. You can also see that we stayed there until it got dark. So having been told at 1:30 to head out for an hour or so we finally made it back about ten hours later.

Met Bar football IMG_0528 IMG_0545


And so – after showing Jack and Robin our home for the next week and having a last one for the road – to a very comfortable bed in the Back Bay.