Dear Friends and Readers,
I’m just back from my cruise on the Crystal Serenity–and suffering from serious "re-entry" into "real life." But first let me tell you about Rome. We arrived early Sunday morning - which meant no traffic in the Eternal City, and a smooth limo ride to the hotel, passing the Coliseum, and the Victor Emmanuel Monument, with the Dome of St Peter's rising above empty squares shaded from the early sun by towering plane trees.
The only sight that marred this vision was the terrible amount of graffiti tagged across almost every wall, though at least the monuments were still clean. A sad reminder of our times and the mindlessness of youth, destroying their own beautiful environment.

The Hotel Intercontinental at the top of the Spanish Steps was a haven of tranquility. This used to be the Hotel de la Ville, but has now been spruced up. It's rambling and old fashioned in a charming way, with good bathrooms. Our room opened onto a private patio overlooking the leafy courtyard where breakfast (delicious) was served, including the best coffee I've ever tasted.

How is it I can drink caffeine with impunity in Italy and France while at home it has me so wired I'm doomed to decaf? It's the same with the wine: no ill effects at all in France and Italy. Perhaps it's the long lazy dinners and lunches, plus the fact that we probably match every bottle of wine with a bottle of water.

Fuelled by caffeine and pleasure at being in Rome, as soon as we had checked in and showered we ran out to wander around, especially the via Condotti (the main shopping street - and about twice as expensive as the last time I was there.)

Back at the hotel we found some of our friends had arrived and were already drinking champagne. Some had visited Paris first, some had been in Rome for a few days, and others drove in from the South of France. It's somehow so surprising to see people you know well (these were our local 'family' of dear friends) in a far-flung location: surprising and romantic and fun.

Dinner that night was at a famous trattoria, Da Fortunato, (near the Pantheon) once the haunt of Fellini and Visconti, and still popular with artists and movie people and writers as well as with locals who know a good thing when they see it, and they've seen this one for a lot of years. You'll be reading about Da Fortunato in my novel THE HOUSE IN AMALFI, which I completed just a week before I left on this trip (to be published by St. Martin's Press in June 2005).

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