For the first time last Saturday, we traveled to a country new to all of us: Italy. We knew Italy was some place we wanted to visit and there are so many cities and locations in Italy to visit. But we needed to start with Rome, the granddaddy of Italian locations. Plus, we don’t know if we’ll have time to return to Italy while we’re here so the city of Rome rose to the top of the list.
After traveling to London the week before, Rome really got the shaft when it came to planning and research. I had made a deposit on an apartment a long time ago so that was settled, but as far as doing any sort of reading about Rome and organizing of things to see…well, that all happened within the 48 hours of us actually arriving. We traveled with no guide books and no maps. Just a print out of a few tidbits I gathered from the internet as a basic guide to our adventure.
We traveled on Ryanair which is story in and of itself. Ryanair is a European discount airline which many use here. It’s one, like Allegiant Air in the States, where you are going to pay extra for everything: checked bags, reserved seat, priority boarding. So the key to the low fair is booking a ticket and leaving it at that. So when your family of five is limited to luggage that is smaller than 55cm x 40cm x 20cm, one bag per person, you’re going to travel with three backpacks, one shoulder bag and Elizabeth’s hot pink suitcase, the only suitcase that met the size requirements. No reserved seats also means a bit of a cattle call when it comes to boarding. Tom was our strategy man: “Okay, so the key is sitting near the door of the bus so you’re the first one out and then head to the rear entrance of the plane. BREAK!” The size and weight of our bags were never questioned and we obtained seats all together. These kids are the best travelers in the world, I’m telling you.
So, Rome. I say that we did no research but I need to be honest that we had a bit of an angel on our side. My first cousin-once-removed, Char, gave me a few contacts in Rome whom she said could be a great resource for us. So we met the wonderful Stephanina when we arrived and her help continued throughout the trip. She (and her nephew) met us at the airport and drove us to our apartment. She gave us a set of bus tickets to use during our stay. She gave us Vatican Museum tickets and brought us through the exit so we didn’t have to wait in the long line that snaked along the Vatican Wall. She took us out to her childhood pizza place and drove us around Rome at night pointing out familiar sites with a different look in the evening and new sites we wouldn’t have discovered on or own (who knew there was an actual pyramid in Rome!?!?). Finally, she connected us with someone at the Vatican that gave us second row tickets to the Papal Audience one morning. Regardless of your religious beliefs and ideologies, when someone addresses (not just a ‘hello’ but an actual speech) a crowd in at least nine languages (that we could count), it’s quite impressive. Some day Elizabeth can share her personal experience with how much Polish women love the Pope!
In order not to bore you, I’ll share some highlights of our five-day Roma holiday:
Dar Poeta (the poet) pizza. Hands down the best pizza we have ever had thanks, in part, to the incredible “not thin, not thick” crust. We ate there four times in less than five days. A tiny find in the cobble-stoned streets of Trastevere. My favorite? Pesto, mozzerella, potato, and cherry tomatoes. Seriously, I’m going to start putting thin slices of baked potato on my pizzas. Scrumptious.
Gelato. Sarah told us the first night that we needed to get different flavors every time we had gelato. She, of course, was the first one to break this vow because her kiwi flavor was so delicious she had to get it again. Since you can’t order less than two scoops at a time, the flavors we had over the course of five days were pretty extensive. Tops on the list were kiwi, hazelnut, strawberry, apple, pineapple, black cherry, dark-dark chocolate, strawberry yogurt, french vanilla, coconut, strastiacelle, caramel, white chocolate mousse. And we did more than eat.
The Vatican Museum was incredibly impressive. Particularly interesting was the Egyptian collection, some sarcophagus’ dating back 8000 years and, of course, the Sistine Chapel.
Sarah and I loved the Pantheon at night. The whole area felt almost fictional. A 2000-year-old structure that has never required remodeling is quite impressive.
The Colisseum is such a great part of history. We rotated the audio guide between us so we could teach one another different facts.
We had a favorite bead and glass store that we admired throughout our stay. On the final day we went to make our purchases and he was so kind to us he made the three girls a free necklace and Julian a free bracelet. Lots of fun treasures!
Climbing to the top of the cupola of St. Peter’s Cathedral. The sun was out, lots of people writing postcards on the rooftop before the final ascent and the view of the Vatican gardens were very pretty.
Watching the kids play ninja on many, many street corners.
Surprise views of the city from a walk that was just supposed to be a shortcut.
Piazza after piazza filled with cafes and street performers (The kids loved watchng the spray painting guy even though I kept reminding them they do that on State Street in Madison, too).
If I were to be in the service, I would choose the Swiss Guard. They have the best uniforms, all billowy and ribbony and colorful.
Discovering, too late, that we were supposed to throw our coins over our shoulders at the Trevi Fountain to insure a return trip to Rome. One of the results of doing no research prior to visiting.
We took in as much as we could in those five days. It seems like one year is a lot of time to visit much of Europe. But time is moving quickly and there are so many places on our list, many of which won’t make the cut let alone allow for a return trip. It’s like trying to see all 50 states in one year while traveling around work and school schedules. It just can’t be done. So every new experience, every new city, every new country is a bonus and we’ll try not to focus on what we can’t do, but what we can.
The holiday continues…remember, we have to celebrate a couple birthdays before this holiday ends.