Sunday, November 11, 2012

From Chocolate and Waffles to Pizza and Pasta...Off to Rome

With literally just one day to unpack, do laundry, do work, go grocery shopping, repack, etc etc etc, I'm back on the road, this time with my girlfriends.  It's been a while since I've had a girls road trip so I'm super excited!  This time it's with new friends that I haven't travelled with before which added to the excitement of the trip.  And while it's a place that I've been already (amazing that I'm now starting to do Europe 2.0 in some cases), it's a place I loved and have no problem revisiting (especially to the tune of 40 euros for the roundtrip flight) - Rome!

Flying the ever economically friendly Ryan Air meant flight times that aren't always the most convenient, but at 40 euros roundtrip, I don't dare to complain.  As my friend Stephanie said on this trip, "I've had meals at Chili's that cost more than my flight to Rome".  Point well made.  And so we met at the airport at the incredibly early hour of 4:45AM.  By the time we took off at 6AM, it felt like we'd been up for days and in reality, my family was still home asleep for another 1/2 hour before having to get up for school and I was already in the air.

It's a quick flight from Barcelona to Rome, just an hour and a half and so by 7:30AM we were on the ground and looking for the bus to take us into the center of the city.  I'm so glad we opted for the bus option as we sat in traffic for a good hour - I can't even imagine what the charges would have been had we taken a cab!  However, after having been up at 3:30AM, going to the airport, flying, etc - an hour in the bus was downright nauseating and by the time we got to the bus station, I had a migraine and a half.

But headache aside, we hit the ground running.  We checked into our hotel and immediately went in search of Roman ruins which were plentiful.   Before I even start going into the details I need to give a shout out to Stephanie who took about 90% of the pictures you're about to see - her camera battery died and I gave her mine and she just shot away - it was actually a nice break for me not to feel I had to take pictures of everything!!  So first up, the Colosseum  One of my favorite Roman sites, we went in and did the audio / video tour.  Changes since the last time we were there - tours via itouch!  Ahhh technology!

View of the Colosseum from our hotel - not too bad!

View of the back of the Colosseum as we approached from our hotel

Um, even gladiators have to eat, right??  Though despite the sandwich in his hand, he still tried (with no luck) to convince us that we should take a picture with him... No thanks!!

Inside the Colosseum

Side view

Stephanie on her first visit to the Colosseum

View outside one of the windows of the Colosseum

This is where the gladiators and animals were before the games - and when the Colosseum was in its original form, this area was covered so no one could see it...

After the Colosseum, we went in search of lunch.  While we attempted to get off the beaten path to find some more authentic, less touristy place to eat, by now it's pushing 3PM and we are starving.  And so touristy it was, but it was still delicious and my pizza to die for.  Not the best I've had in Rome but pretty close.  But exhausted and hungry, we ate where we could.  And given how hungry we were, I'll be honest, I was surprised that none of us were being snappy with each other - I know at least for me, when I'm hungry, I'm usually not the best person to be around... but during this time and the whole trip, we were just so low key and chill - lots of laughs, lots of great conversation and we were all willing to bend to each others needs when necessary.  We definitely travelled well together (and are already talking about the next trip!).

Chris as we make our way through some touristy areas on our way to lunch

On the way to lunch we saw the Trevi Fountain, packed as always.  Then the more we meandered, the we ran into the Pantheon.  I'm still in awe about the Pantheon even though it was my second visit to see it.  It's just sitting in the middle of a piazza - and a small piazza at that.  This time I got to see it without scaffolding which was nice, just a much better effect than the last time.  So before lunch we've managed to see the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon...not bad for day 1!!

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain
Pantheon without scaffolding

Closer up shot of the detail on the Pantheon

Side view of the Pantheon

My favorite food for the trip was after lunch - Giolitti's.  The have hands down, the BEST gelato in the city.  No competition.  It reminds me a bit of Mike's Pastries in the North End with the setup and the lines (which this time of year were not bad, but when Josh and I had gone in May, they were out the door).  With no icy taste, intense flavors and homemade whipped cream to go on top, it was divine.  And we went more than once.

Chocolate fondant (tasted like brownie batter), cinnamon and a dollop of fresh whipped cream... BEST GELATO EVER!!!

After lunch we did a little more roaming (no pun intended!) heading up the Spanish Steps and looking at vistas from way up above them - seeing the city from so high up really put in perspective just how huge this city is.
View as we walked up the Spanish Steps

Chris and I contemplating life from the top of the Spanish Steps

A row of cute little trucks - no idea of their function but you can see just how tiny they are when you compare with the moto next to it.

View from park area above the Spanish Steps

Another angle

Close up

Eventually we swung back to the hotel to just check in at home.  Shortly after it was time to stop for a glass of wine overlooking the Colosseum.  In one day we had hit the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and the Spanish Steps.  Not a shabby life, we've decided.  And it's not.

With dinner in Trastevere, a small neighborhood on the other side of the river from most tourist attractions, it's supposedly where many of the locals live and hang out, though given it's in all the tourists guides I've ever seen, it still has a slightly touristy flavor with menus still having the English translation.  However, that being said, we did find an amazing restaurant that night where we had our best meal in Rome.  Believe it or not, we made it til after 11, not bad given we'd been up at 3PM.  We walked for more than 8 hours and saw so much on our first day and with 2 left to go, we figured we'd call it a night and hit the ground running first thing on Wednesday morning.

Over the last few years I've learned to better pace myself.  By this I mean, that I no longer feel we need to be out the door by 8AM or else we will miss everything or stand in really long lines.  I think that this is due to 2 reasons.  One is that the pace of life in Spain is much slower, we just don't rush around and there is really no need.  The other is that the boys are now at an age where we don't have to adhere to naps or meal schedules or even at times, bedtime.   And because they sleep past 5:30AM now (which is when they would get up back when we first moved) that has only made our ability to take things a little slower and easier.

I feel like I've been able to apply this to other travel now too - I don't feel the pressure to see everything.  We see what we can see and whatever we don't can be saved for another trip.  We don't need to rush around - let's visit the spots we want to visit and take our time even if it means not getting to see all that we want that day.  And let's make sure to take the time to enjoy each other's company as we are doing the touristy thing - that's a chunk of the reason we are here, not just to see the sites, but also to spend quality adult time with each other.

And so when we met for breakfast at the hotel on Wednesday morning, it felt really good to just take our time over breakfast and talk about the events of the previous day or even just to get to know each other better.  After all, we've really only known each other since January which in the scheme of life, is not all that long an given that most of the time we usually have with each other is in short spurts, it was nice to have conversations that could go on for ages and in different tangents.

Our plan for Wednesday was to hit Vatican City - including St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museum including the Sistine Chapel.  We walked from our hotel which was on the backside of the Colosseum to the Vatican, probably about a 45 minute trek but worth it as most of it took us along the river.
While it's not a Roman ruin, I think this is one of my favorite pictures of the trip with the perfect reflection of the bridge and surrounding grounds along with St. Peters in the background.  Love it!

Only in Europe can Smart cars park like this... I find it hysterical!

Castel Sant'Angelo

As we entered the area of St. Peter's Basilica, my heart initially sank - it was around 11 and just absolutely jam packed.  There was no way we were getting in.  Then we realized why it was packed.  Turns out on Wednesdays there is a Papal Audience and so there was the Pope - giving his weekly speech to the masses.  And while we saw him best from the TV, you could actually see him out in front of the Basilica surrounded by Swiss Guards.  Now, none of us is Catholic, but still, how often do you get to say you saw the Pope?

St. Peter's Basilica

The Pope on TV

And here he is, surrounded by Swiss Guards (camera is zoomed pretty far to get this shot)

Steph and the Papal audience

Cardinals going up to the Pope after the speech

St. Peters as we walk away towards the Vatican Museum

We weren't able to get into the Basilica after the speech was done, probably for security reasons, until 1PM.  Since it was only 11ish we decided to head over to the Vatican Museum so we could check out the Sistine Chapel.  Now the last time I did the Vatican Museum it reminded me of both IKEA and of Jordan's Furniture at home - in order to get to the end you must walk through the ENTIRE museum.  It took us several hours of shuffling through extremely tight crowds two years ago to do this.  And I'll admit, I wasn't thrilled about the idea of doing it again though I climbed on board ready to attack this portion of the day.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is no longer the case. I'm not sure if it is because of the season and while there are a lot of tourists, it's not nearly as crowded as it was in May, but regardless we were able to choose which rooms we entered and to do them at our leisure and move on to the next one that we chose.  We probably spent about an hour looking at artifacts from Egyptian times, Roman times and more.  It was a MUCH better experience this time and did not feel nearly as much like a cattle call.

Egyptian Mummy sarcophaguses 


Where all the organs are located... I have no idea if these actually still have organs in them or not, my hope is they don't...ew!

An actual mummy

An unwrapped mummy... totally creeped me out

And not just creeped me out but creeped me out big time!

Beautiful statue at the Vatican museum

This was going down the stairs at the Vatican Museum... it wasn't just a sign but a flashing sign.  You know, in case you missed the stairs that you were already walking down????

However, similar to last time, I was a bit let down by the Sistine Chapel.  It's considered to be a holy place and while I've been in a million churches in the last few years, not a single one actually tells you you must be silent while you are in there because its holy.  Yes, you use a lower voice out of respect and you are not allowed in during services, but never have I been somewhere where we can't speak at all.  And the fact that they kept yelling this out to everyone really took some of the "spirituality" out of the chapel if you ask me... not to mention there are no pews for people to sit and pay their respects.  It truly does feel like a cattle call - everyone herded into the room, told to be quiet and then move along.  I'm not saying that the paintings aren't amazing because they are, just that the situation takes something from the experience.

Starving we headed for lunch.  We took a long meandering walk thru Trastervere again in hopes of going to the place we'd been to dinner the night before.  No such luck as apparently they are only open for dinner, as was the entire street!!!  We finally settled down to a place around 4 for a very late lunch!  Once again, having walked the entire day, we were wiped!  We headed back to the hotel for a little bit of a break before heading out to wander around town.

Walking through Trastevere

Since we ate lunch so late, we ended up at a local wine place for "dinner" which essentially was a cheese and salami platter with a bottle of wine.  We enjoyed just relaxing and chatting while snacking for a bit before heading back to the hotel to prep for our last day in Rome.


Once again on Thursday we took our time getting out the door.  Since we had already seen so much we didn't have the pressure of trying to get to a ton of places on our last day.  However, that being said, our flight also wasn't til 9PM so we had a lot of time to kill.  We went over to the Roman Forum and it turns out that I hadn't actually seen most of it the last time I was there with Josh.  Turns out there is a whole paid area I had no idea even existed!!  In hindsight I wish we had done the audio tour as the Forum was not well labeled - often times we had no idea what we were looking at.  But we enjoyed the peacefulness and the feeling as though we were outside the city when in actuality nothing could be further from the truth.

The view of the Roman Forum from the Colosseum

I'm as rebellious as they come - standing on an ancient Roman stone... I know, it's not a huge rebellion, but if you know me, this was pretty daring ;)

Some kind of flooring - we saw a lot of this.  Surprised it's not being more protected but it's still pretty cool.

Steph at the Forum

Chris at the Forum

On the right side under rules there is a line where you are not allowed to wear any kind of costume inside the Forum.  I'm just curious... who wears a costume to the Roman Forum?  Is there something we are missing?  It's a good thing I left mine back at the hotel that day!

Colosseum from the Forum

Colosseum from the Forum

I actually felt a little homesick for the States while we were at the Forum.  I know, that's probably weird, huh?  But being around grass and the smell of fallen pine needles and at one point we smelled a fire burning somewhere.  It just was a rush of scents that were reminiscent of home.  I got over it but it was a weird feeling.

We walked around after the Forum and at this point we realized we made our flight too late in the day - we had a few hours to kill but were too tired to really do much more than we already had.  We sat down for a long lunch (that actually wasn't that great we all agreed) and then back to the hotel to grab our bags before heading to get the bus and then to the airport.

In typical Ryan Air fashion, it was a circus.  Since there is no assigned seating, people start to line up the moment they get there.  We were there well over an hour before our boarding time and there were easily 30 people in front of us... 30 really pissed off people when the gate was changed 15 mins before boarding and all the people at the end of the line actually ended up in the front.  Oh and then we were bussed to the plane so really it didn't matter where you were in line because you had to get on the bus anyways and then board the plane.  But it made for some good entertainment as we got ready to head back home to reality.

It was a great 3 days - wonderful company, fantastic conversation that spanned so many interesting topics, a gorgeous city and beautiful weather.  Really, we couldn't ask for more.  And we are already in the talks of where the next trip will be.


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