This year's holiday didn't get off to the best of starts when, a couple of days after booking, I received an email from British Airways inviting me to check that we had the right tickets for our baggage requirements. Well, as it turns out, no we didn't. Expedia had sold us tickets for hand baggage only. I never expected flying with BA to incur hidden extras, but we pre-paid the baggage charges.
Probably one of the things you really don't want to see on arriving home from work on a Friday when you are due to get up at ridiculous-o'clock the following morning is an email titled "Cancelled: Your Flight". But so it was, due to an Italian air traffic control strike. After an impenetrable battle with BA's website and a couple of incoherent phone calls it turned out we had been rebooked onto the evening flight, which meant we would arrive after midnight. Hardly ideal, and an extra €30 or so for the privilege of travelling by taxi from the airport rather than train, but all things considered not such a terrible outcome.
Then I tried to check-in online, at which point BA claimed I had no checked baggage allowance. Ho hum, I thought, I'm sure we'll be able to sort this out at the airport (as indeed we did, possibly through some handwaving). I had printed off the receipt for pre-paid baggage and had the foresight to take my credit card statement showing the payment. On the plus side, we got to eat at Carluccio's - a rather tasty liver dish.
Once we'd arrived and got our bearings, we had a fairly good time. By chance we went to the Colosseum and the Palatine on the first Sunday of the month, which was free entry. Sadly (and I'm sure there is a good explanation for this in the minds of the academics who dreamt it up) the celebration of the Augustus bimillennium was a cause to shut the museum.
I suppose I was surprised by just how many buildings remained, as more than just outlines on or slightly above the ground. Later in the week we saw the Pantheon, the Baths of Caracalla, the Pyramid of Caius Cestius, the Ara Pacis, the Castel Sant'Angelo, Trajan's Markets and the Appian Way (which one assumes to have been just as traffic-laden, polluted and hazardous for pedestrians 2000 years ago).
We also visited the Vatican. The early morning queue for St Peter's wasn't too bad; the early morning queue for the Vatican museum took well over an hour. We have a general principle of travelling light when it comes to walking around, so I didn't have a backpack and all my metallic valuables disappeared into the X-ray machine rollers at security; fortunately I was reunited with them without too much trouble. We liked the Etruscan sections of the museum in particular; I also liked the map room, but although beautiful I'm afraid the Sistine Chapel wasn't overwhelming.
The problem with food was familiarity. The hotel recommended a trattoria just around the corner, and despite scepticism it turned out to be quite good and we ate there a couple of times in the week, as well as a couple of other places very close by. Venturing further afield we experienced an interesting Bourguinonne fondue and a fairly awful Peruvian beef stew. On one evening I had squid with leeks and honey as a starter, which sounds quite Apician to me, though I couldn't readily find it in my copy. On the final evening we discovered a restaurant serving mostly game - I went for the rabbit with peaches in wine (which, it turns out, had cumin in the sauce and quite closely matches the Apician Patina de persicis) and Mrs Q went for the boar. The trick seemed to be, if you didn't have a reservation, to turn up just around opening time.
On the final day, we returned to the airport by train. It took over an hour to check-in and involved three queues and some quite strident arguing, because BA once again denied that I had pre-paid the baggage charges. At this point I was quite relieved I had brought my credit card statement because the system clearly didn't work, the staff hadn't been trained on it and in any case couldn't do arithmetic, insisting that we had only paid for baggage one way (despite BA's email saying one bag per person each way). BA are once again on my own personal "no-fly" list.
I'm not often tempted by the amusingly shaped bottles of the local tipple, but having read some of James Hamilton-Paterson's books I felt I had to collect a bottle of Fernet Branca as we went throught the wonderful retail experience called flying. Having tried the stuff I think I will have to look through his recipes again, but probably not the one involving cat.