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Monthly Archives: June 2015
Before we even left for Italy I’d made a long, detailed itinerary for what I wanted us to accomplish in Paris. We would be there for a little over 50 hours, which is a cruelly short amount of time when you get right down to it, which I was still grateful to have at all because Jamal didn’t have to change our flights to include the stay in Paris, but he did, and besides, 50 hours in Paris is better than 0 hours in Paris, non?
Looking back at that itinerary now, I wonder how I thought we could feasibly accomplish everything given that we are not yet blessed with hoverboards nor the ability to Apparate a la Harry Potter. It was ambitious and adorable to expect to cram so much in, when I should have known that the best part about being in Paris is just slowing down and spending way too long over lunch or flâneuring aimlessly in the shade on one of the leafy avenues.
We didn’t get to Le Marais, we didn’t visit le Musée Carnavalet nor the Béroud painting I was so desperately intrigued by. I didn’t get to take Jamal to La Grand Épicerie or Rue Cler, and we didn’t even visit the Eiffel Tower. Quel dommage!
But if you think I’m seeking sympathy for a trip that didn’t live up to my advanced expectations, let me assure you: I’m not. Despite all that we didn’t do (this trip), we still had an unbelievable time. We ate so, so well; at dinner on our second night, at a classic bistro on Rue Caulaincourt, we split a dozen escargots to start, which Jamal declared the best thing he had eaten on the entire trip. Not just in France, but Italy too. Out of the two weeks we swooned around Italy, inhaling everything in our path, eating fresh pasta and pizza every single day, the best thing we ate were escargots in Paris. That should tell you how good they were. Buttery, garlicky, steaming hot, and just out of this world.
I also did a fair bit of shopping this trip, including finally getting my greedy little paws on that Dior “Oui” ring up there. I posted a photo of it on Instagram, but it bears repeating here, too: I have been lusting after that ring for years, going back to my LiveJournal days pre-LWN, even. Shopping at the Dior on Place Vendome made me feel like royalty; we were offered champagne and attended to by white-gloved sales associates. Then there was a stop into Louis Vuitton. And then Colette. And then Mariage Frères. And Maille. Je ne regrette rien! (My credit card regrette tout.)
But after our whirlwind shopping tour, there was lots of ambling around Montmartre, reminding ourselves why we love it so much.
There was also bread. Lots and lots of fresh bread.
Paris, I love you. I’ll see you again soon.
Paris. What is there to say, really, that I haven’t already said before ad nauseam? By now, we’ve established how I feel when I’m there; there’s a deep sense of right and comfort the moment my feet hit the soil, like I’m not so much visiting but coming home. It’s a chemical, almost biological feeling of of solace that’s hard to articulate but so easy to get swept up in. Paris is home for me, in a way that’s matched only by my love of Philadelphia.
We landed mid-day on Thursday and flew out at the same time two days later, giving us a little over 48 hours to soak up every ounce of this city as I could. I did a lot of shopping, and lot of eating. We stayed in Montmartre, bien sûr, and even Jamal made mention of the fact that we just feel so comfortable there. We don’t need maps, we don’t need translations, we don’t even need good weather (but we had it in abundance; someone said last year that Paris really seems to “turn it on” for me whenever I’m there, and I can’t help but agree. This city knows how to woo you, and while it rains more in Paris than in London per year, historically, it seems to always be blue skies and sun for me.) We just need Paris.
We took a sneezy stroll through the Jardin du Luxembourg, since Jamal had never been, and then wound our way back up through Saint-Germain (where I jettisoned my poor husband and ducked into City Pharma to load up on all the beauty products I’ll need until our next visit). We had drinks at a new bar in Montmartre, where they make their own juices and herbal, vegetable infusions for their cocktails, and I realized: my quaint little neighborhood is becoming cool. At some point, just like our gentrifying neighborhood in Philly, we’ll be priced out. Even the neighborhood near Rue des Martyrs, in the 9eme, has its own hip name now: SoPi, or South of Pigalle. An area once known for prostitutes and vagrants is now a trendy hotspot for les hipsters, or however you say it in French.
Speaking of French, a highlight for me this trip was that not one, not two, but three separate Parisians told me I speak excellent French. One even stopped me, as I switched to translating in English for Jamal, and asked, “Vous êtes Américaine? Vraiment?” To be mistaken for French by a Frenchman even for a brief moment, is something I’m going to put on my résumé under the ‘Special Skills’ section. Life goals: realized.
My favorite, and oft-recommended, “perfect Parisian morning” circuit is as follows: breakfast at Le Boulanger des Invalides Jocteur, flowers from Monceau Fleurs across the street, and then a morning at le Musée Rodin around the corner. That was a requirement on our second day there, and everything was as perfect as I remember, except the brioche aux pralines tasted even better than my memory accounted for.
Are you absolutely sick of seeing vacation photos yet? Two weeks is a really long time to be on vacation, but four weeks of vacation photos must be torture. I’m sure I’m the only one enjoying it at this point. I didn’t realize just how many photos I took on this trip; editing them has been a delightful, if not overwhelming, way to re-live our time in Italy.
Since Siena is such a small town, we devoted an entire day to driving away from it and exploring places that you need a car to reach. A coworker of Jamal’s had recommended San Gimignano, a walled medieval hill town about an hour’s drive northeast of Siena, famous for being adorable and being home to Gelateria Dondoli, a gelato shop on the town’s main piazza which won the Ice Cream World Championship twice. (Two things: 1. There’s an Ice Cream World Championship?? and 2. Where are my lactose intolerance pills?) We arrived in San Gimignano early in the morning, the promise of eating the world’s best gelato enough to get me out of bed and on the road at the ungodly hour of 8am. We took a tour of the town’s Duomo (if you’re sensing a theme on this vacation, you’re right), which came with a really informative audio guide that explained every fresco and its correlation to a bible story, ending with a wall that had been damaged during the bombings in WWII. We also learned about the town’s patron saint, Saint Fina, a teenage girl who died of tuberculosis and a bone infection in 1253, and whose remains are still entombed in the church. I was not so much a fan of that part. (Pictures weren’t allowed in the church)
We made a few laps around the town, stopping to take in the view, before indulging in a brunch-hour gelato. I went with blackberry & lavender and pear, while Jamal went with his standby of pistachio and vanilla cream. No photos of this, either, because we were too busy inhaling our cones. Trust me though, if you ever find yourself in Tuscany with a craving for gelato, get thee to San Gimignano.
We set off before lunch to our next destination, the Castello di Brolio, a 12th century castle that is still home to the Baron Ricasoli family, and which is also famous for their wine production. It was an hour or so west of San Gimignano, but we had to head back south towards Siena and then northwest again, but even the boring, two-lane highways were gorgeous, because it’s Tuscany. The weather turned gray on us again (again), but by the time we parked the car and hiked alllll the way up the castle’s steep, winding approach, the clouds had parted enough to soak the entire valley below the moodiest, eeriest light that somehow felt so appropriate being seen from a castle’s ramparts. I could’ve been in a middle-earth fantasy fiction novel, honestly, where my name would’ve been spelled Aerynn and I absolutely would have been a princess.
Jamal’s allergies flared up on him big time the moment we started exploring the castle’s grounds; no exaggerating, he sneezed 11 times in a row (I counted). I think he was ready to throw himself over the wall just to put himself out of his misery. Thankfully, there wasn’t too much to see, as the castle itself is still a private residence (CAN YOU EVEN), so we made our way back down to the bottom of the hill and stopped for a wine tasting at the Ricasoli winery before driving back to Siena for a very late lunch.
The next day, we were up early and on the highway back to Rome, where we had roughly 24 final hours before boarding a plane to Paris.
I should mention that I was not the only one having a tough go of it on this vacation, and that at least my #struggles were contained to a 24 hour period. Jamal, on the other hand, was struck by seasonal allergies that plagued him mercilessly from the moment we landed in Rome until we touched down back in Philly. The poor guy! He was a sneezy, itchy, watery mess in varying degrees from “General Annoyance” to “Cannot See/Stuffing Tissues Up My Nose.” It was pretty brutal, and we ended up pumping him full of Italian Sudafed and generic Claritin with a Benadryl kicker at night when it got too unbearable for him (never all three in the same day; he was miserable, not suicidal). A lot of our trip involved ducking into the nearest pharmacy for more tissues, with all of our sightseeing punctuated with lots of “bless you”s: “So the statue of David used to be outside –bless you– but they moved it in and replaced it with a –bless you– replica. In the 90s, someone attacked –bless you– his foot with a hammer, you can see on his toes –bless you– some of the damage.”
I really shouldn’t complain about a little bird poop, when you come right down to it. He was a champ, though, as always, and didn’t whine at all. (The same cannot be said for someone else on the trip, ahem.)
We had a great time in Siena. I know that sounds trite, but Siena was truly a lovely little town and it was impossible not to enjoy ourselves. We didn’t have any bad weather to compete with, either. And all roads seemed to lead to the Piazza del Campo, the city’s main square (though it was really more of a shell shape) that was first paved in 1349 (!!) and is built on a slant, so that it dips gradually towards the Torre del Mangia. Locals love to hang out and lay on the ground and sunbathe, read, sleep and laze around, or chat with friends over a bottle of wine. The entire Piazza is lined with restaurants and cafés (overpriced and a little touristy, thanks to their location) and the entire square was always packed from sun-up to sundown. What a life.
We took it easy on this portion of the trip, a combination of having done a lot in Rome and Florence and there not being a huge amount to do in Siena. We visited the town’s Duomo, which we liked more than the more famous one in Florence, but that was the extent of our efforts. We mostly wandered, and ate gelato, and wandered some more. It was a welcome change of pace.
On our last night there, Jamal took advantage of the huge kitchen and made dinner for us. We went shopping in town at the pasta shop for fresh made gnocchi, and then Jamal whipped up a San Marzano tomato sauce that was out of this world. We split a caprese salad as an appetizer, with fresh mozzarella from the cheese shop and the most fragrant basil we’ve ever had. We opened the balcony door in the living room while we ate and watched the sun set. The whole meal, with the spectacular view, cost us €9.
Next week: some photos from two side trips into Tuscany, and then it’s off to Paris! Have a great weekend, kiddos.
I think it’s only normal to draw comparisons between new places to cities we’ve already visited; Florence reminded me of Paris, and Siena reminded me of Ghent, Belgium, which we visited in 2012. Meaning: it’s tiny! Adorably small, less touristy than Florence and Rome, certainly, but equally as deserving of a visit. We stayed a ten minute walk from the center of Siena, just outside the walls that fortified it in the 14th century, and the views from our apartment’s balconies (plural. There were three!) were magnificent. The brick buildings and the town’s Duomo caught the sunlight so beautifully, we found ourselves just staring at it in disbelief.
We arrived on Sunday and were scheduled to drive back to Rome for one last day early Wednesday morning, which honestly gave us too much time in Siena. We decided to spend a full day exploring and visiting the main sites, and then on Tuesday, take advantage of having a car and drive to other small towns around Tuscany that were harder to reach. This ended up being the perfect amount of time to really take in everything Siena had to offer. It’s a wonderfully quaint city, and fantastically easy to get lost in, as all the streets seem to run in concentric circles around the main square, the Piazza del Campo. We were blessed with really picture perfect weather the whole time, too.
I was more than ready to let go of what happened earlier in the morning in Vicchio, only it seemed like the universe didn’t feel the same way. We popped into a café in Siena and I ended up getting locked in the bathroom, a tiny, suffocating space at the end of a long, deserted hallway. I’m claustrophobic, so you can only imagine how delightful this experience was. The walls started to narrow-in on me, and despite my initial, normal-volume calls for help, I ended up having to scream bloody murder for someone to come get me out. (Jamal said I’m really, really loud, which naturally I took as a compliment). I recovered, spilling onto the street taking huge gulps of air, only to go to lunch and order lasagna, and have it arrive made entirely of veal. I learned this after eating a few bites and not recognizing the taste or texture of the meat. I don’t eat veal.
I refused to let that series of events ruin the entire day. Sure, I’d faceplanted in the forest and broken my camera. Sure, I’d ruined a pair of pants. Sure, I’d gotten locked in a bathroom. Sure, I’d accidentally eaten veal. But I would not be broken! I was going to have a good day if it killed me, because we were on vacation goddammit. So we went out for a glass of wine before dinner, to prove I couldn’t be broken by a few mildly traumatizing experiences to the point where I was incapable of enjoying the soothing, universal cure-all that is happy hour. Besides, what else could possibly go wrong? Hadn’t I suffered enough that day?
Because as we took a seat at a sweet outdoor table, on a cobblestone street facing a tiny square, with the golden, early-evening sun streaming in over the old stone buildings, and ordered our wine, I got pooped on by a bird. Splaaaaat. All over my hair, my scarf, and my bag. Honestly, all I could do was laugh (and then cry from the depths of my destroyed soul in the phonebooth-sized bathroom as I wiped bird shit off myself). When I came back to the table I power-chugged my entire glass of wine, chuckling at the sheer ridiculousness of my day. Jamal took me a fancy dinner where I ordered a bottle of Prosecco for myself, along with a large pizza and a plate of spaghetti carbonara, because, really, there’s nothing carbs and bubbly can’t fix.
The rain that had dogged us for so much of Florence followed us out of the city on Saturday, as we picked up our rental car and drove into Tuscany. We’d made reservations at an olive oil resort near a small town called Vicchio, about an hour northeast of Florence. The drive alone charmed the pants off of us; every hill we crested afforded us these unbelievable views of the Tuscan countryside, and all the mental images those two words conjure up are spot on or, if possible, better. Even overcast, there’s no denying the beauty of it.
But I’ll level with you: I hate nature. I can’t take it. I need concrete, and skyscrapers, and noisy urban life. The solitude of nature that many find so relaxing, that people seek out for its tranquility makes me so desperately uncomfortable I can barely articulate it. I hate the bugs, I hate the quiet, I hate the knowledge that someone could come murder me and no one would hear me scream. I remember enjoying camping with my dad when I was a kid, but that might have been because he bribed me with a Camping Barbie (she had her own lantern and hot pink hiking boots). But if there was anything that was going to win me over, it was Tuscany.
It had a large job ahead of it. And it knocked it out of the park, despite the way our little country-mouse weekend ended (we’ll get to that).
I’d written about Villa Campestri before we left, and though I’d seen photos and scoured online reviews all singing its praises, I still couldn’t believe anything could be so beautiful. A cluster of stone villas, pale gravel paths lined with tall, pointy Cyprus trees, lemon trees, the works. We were upgraded to a two bedroom, private villa, with a fireplace and full kitchen, immediately making us regret the fact that we were only staying the one night and not, you know, forever.
It rained the rest of the day, so we stayed in the grand living room of the main villa, curled up on the sofa, playing chess and reading. The front desk had given us a cute map of the property, with four different nature walks they recommended, peeling off in different directions and all promising a payoff of things like an ancient stone wall, beautiful babbling stream, or a panoramic view of the area. We smartly decided to wait until the weather was better before attempting any of them, and lazily whiled away the hours sipping tea, having a beer, or just staring out the wide glass doors at the back of the house into the gorgeous, rain-soaked landscape. It felt indulgent, and was a welcome change of pace from all the running around we’d done in Rome and Florence the whole week previously.
We had dinner at the main house that night, and got to have a tasting of their signature olive oil, as well as two others from Spain and northern Italy. They all varied in color from lime green to a deep, golden yellow, and were just as different in consistency and flavor. Forget wine flights, give me an olive oil flight any day. That was a big reason we picked Villa Campestri, being the olive oil fiends that we are, and we’ve already agreed to go back at the end of the harvest season one September or October, to see how they do everything from plucking the olives to bottling it all. We took our unfinished bottle of wine back to our villa, and lit a fire without realizing that the flue was closed for the season, so we ended up smoking ourselves out and nearly dying of smoke inhalation. We hid in the bedroom and turned on the Eurovision Song Contest, which was fascinating. Why can’t we stream that in the states??
The next morning, the sun finally decided to make an appearance. After a delicious breakfast of fresh-squeezed orange juice, soft boiled eggs, fresh yogurt covered in honey the resort produced itself, and way too many mini brioche buns, we picked a path from the map they’d given us, and set off, up through their vineyards on flat, slightly inclining ground. Easy enough, though the further we climbed away from the main house, the more taxing it got. The ground had dried somewhat overnight, thankfully, but was still damp. Undeterred, we pressed on, the leftover dew on the tall grass soaking through our shoes. I was trying to be a good sport about it, because this was Jamal’s vacation too, and it’s a compromise, and that’s what marriage is all about. And honestly, the views were spectacular, so it was easy to suck it up and march on. We caught sight of the heavy fog hanging low over the valley, dark blue hills in the distance and green squares of farmland and vineyards spreading out into the distance. It was breathtaking. Nature isn’t so bad, after all!
Until we get a little deeper into the woods, and the path becomes less of a path and more of, well, straight up forest, dotted occasionally with a signpost confirming that we were still going the right way. The terrain is muckier here, wilder. I send Jamal ahead of me, because I was not going to be the one to walk through the inevitable spider web floating between two trees. We walk on for about fifteen minutes, our voices the only noise we hear aside from happily chirping birds and the soft rustle of the wind. I’m swatting around me like an idiot, just to ward off any creepy crawlies, and then the path turns rocky and dips downward toward a muddy stream, before picking back up on the other side in a steep incline. There’s no way we’re making it. Especially because at the top of the next hill, it’s all wild overgrowth. It doesn’t even look like we’re on the path anymore. Even Jamal agrees we should turn back and satisfy ourselves with the views from the top of the vineyard we passed, rather than trekking further in.
(I want to pause here and point out that I was wearing white jeans, because of course I was, because I have nothing even remotely resembling “Nature Clothes” and even if I did, I didn’t pack them.)
So we’re standing there, surveying our options, Jamal standing below me near the stream bed, and we decide to turn around and hike back. There’s a massive rock on the slope of the path, but I got down it just fine, so going back up shouldn’t be a problem.
It was a problem.
My foot slips on the rock, but I’m already too physically committed to going up that I can’t recover my balance, and then I’m aware that either I am getting closer and closer to the ground, or the rock is somehow moving closer to my face. I let out a wailing, slow motion, “Nooooooooo” and then it all happens at once: my foot goes out from under me with a squeaky slide, and I land hard on my knees and palms on the mossy, muddy rock, and my camera, which is slung over my shoulder by its strap instead of safely in my bag where it ought to have been because OF COURSE IT IS, swings forward, smacking the stone lens-first with a sickening crack.
There’s a pause, a long moment of silence as my brain registers what just happened, and when it does, I explode, literally, into tears. Ugly crying, bubbling snot everywhere, and inarticulately shrieking in pain and panic: “MY CAMERA IS BROKEN,” only it’s coming out closer to “HanfgsgahNAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH.” My hands are filthy, brown with wet mud, and there is dirt caked into my camera in places there should never be dirt. My white jeans are now a nauseating shade of yellow-y brown, with little pieces of grass stuck to the knees for good measure.
Magically fortified by adrenaline and desperate to get back indoors to the safety of NOT NATURE, I take off in a sad, limping sprint, Jamal simultaneously running behind me and ducking in case I whirl around and spray him with snot. I’m covering the messy terrain with ease, likely because I’m stomping like a pissed off giant. He somehow has my camera, I forget how he got it, and he’s handing me tissues over my shoulder at a jog, trying to test the shutter and realizing what I know to be true: that when the delicate little glass lens made contact that motherfucking rock, the motor that controls the autofocus broke immediately.
We make it back to our villa, and I strip off my pants and set to work cleaning my camera. By the grace of whatever higher power had my back that day, the lens still works in manual focus, but takes some serious muscle to adjust properly. The lens is replaceable for about $100. The camera body was $1800, so I was relieved beyond words.
I’m mostly mad that I ruined our weekend by being so stupid. Because really, it was SO STUPID. They tell you not to hike through the woods with your camera out in the open for exactly this reason. Had it been in my bag, I would’ve brushed my hands off on my already-ruined pants, and gotten along with my day. Instead, our glorious weekend trip to Tuscany ended with me disturbing every nature creature within a three mile radius and riding pantsless on the way to Siena. Sorry, Jamal!
You can’t take me anywhere.
Okay, so maybe it didn’t rain the entirety of our stay in Florence, though it certainly felt like it at the time. There was no in-between there with the weather; it was either gray and raining or bright and gloriously sunny. Florence reminded me a lot of Paris in its extreme meteorological pendulum swings, that, while dramatic, charmed you either way. Our itinerary had us in Florence from Wednesday afternoon through Saturday morning, but we both agreed we could’ve spent a lot longer here. It’s not hard to see why, especially once the weather improved.
At check-in, our Airbnb host insisted we visit the Piazzale Michaelangelo, a garden and piazza nestled high in the hills on the southeastern part of the city. The view, he said, would be worth the climb. He was right. We went late one night, after a long and delicious dinner (a common theme) we wound our away across the Arno and up up up to the expanse that overlooked the city. On our next trip back (because yes, there will be a next time) I really want to camp out there for a full day and photograph the city from sunrise to sunset.
We also climbed 414 steps the top of the Campanile, or bell tower, next to the famous Duomo in the center of town. If you’re going to Florence, seeing the Duomo is a must; The Cathedral itself took almost 600 years to complete (from 1296 to 1887), and its famous dome, built by Filippo Brunelleschi, is a marvel of ancient architecture. It’s incredible. But I’d skip climbing it in favor of the Campanile, because that way you can actually see the Duomo from the top. Sorry for another Paris-comparison, but I make the same recommendation when it comes to the Eiffel Tower: skip going to the top, and instead climb the Arc de Triomphe, where you get to see the Eiffel Tower from the top. It’s the best part of the city’s landscape, and you can’t see it if you’re on it. The same logic applies for the Duomo.
And then of course, there’s Michaelangelo’s David. Nothing prepares you for its grandeur the first time you see it in person. It’s massive, and completely breathtaking.
But I think my favorite part of the whole trip was wandering around the Mercato Centrale, a sprawling, two story indoor food market (which we ducked into to avoid yet another flash rain storm, ha) and watching Jamal’s face light up at every vendor and stall we passed. “Look at the fresh octopus!” “Look at the size of those artichokes!” “Real San Marzano tomaotes!” The best: “Wow, imagine if we lived here. I’d be here every Saturday morning buying food for us.” Swoon.
Does anyone remember this old Kodak commercial from the 90s? A couple is looking through photos from their honeymoon in Hawaii, and after everything the wife says (“It was romantic,” and, “It was exotic.”), the husband says, “It rained.” That’s what our time in Florence felt like. It rained! We went to the Uffizi Gallery and saw Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.” It rained. We ate some of the most delicious gelato on the trip. It rained. We had lunch at a teensy prosciutteria (aptly named La Prosciutteria) where they slice cured meats to order; I had prosciutto and herbed ricotta with honey and it was out of this world. And then it rained. We walked to a sprawling indoor market and ate a delicious meal at a little lunch counter run by an old man named Rocco. And oh, yes, it rained.
But even all that rain couldn’t put a damper on how wonderful of a city it is. It’s more quaint than Rome, and just lovely. I think it was my favorite city out of everywhere we visited in Italy, in sort of a Golidlocks way: smaller than Rome, but bigger than Siena. Juuuust right. It’s visually stunning, too, a real treat to wander and explore. And since so much of the city is clustered right against the Arno river, you’re always crossing bridges and being afforded gorgeous vistas. The whole city felt safe and inviting, no matter where we trekked (and we covered quite a bit of ground in the three days we were there).
We did get some sunny patches in between all that rain. You know what else there was a lot of? Bikes! Bicycles everywhere. Old, young, and everyone in between rode a bike. What a life! Perhaps my favorite thing about life in Italy was the daily occurrence of ‘apertivo.’ Usually between the hours of 6-8pm, with some variance, bars offer a generous buffet of cold and hot dishes you are free to stuff your face with for just the purchase of a cocktail. It’s the most magical concept (and one that would never work in the states without contributing to our already raging obesity epidemic) and while you could technically make an entire meal out of just the apertivo offerings, we always followed it up with a full dinner, because it’s Italy, and you don’t pass up dinner. Anyway, apertivo was my favorite, but my second favorite thing was how little reliance there is on automobiles. (This is true for everywhere I’ve been in Europe, adding just one more thing to the column of “Things They Get Right,” along with universal healthcare and an emphasis on quality of life in general.) Buses were always packed, locals walked everywhere even in the rain, and almost everyone owns a bicycle. We’d hear the happy chime of a bike bell with regularity, a noise I will forever associate with the small, crooked alleys of Florence, along with the sound of bike wheels on damp streets, like someone peeling off long strips of tape.
Did I mention it rained?
I would say that Jamal and I are pretty experienced travelers. Jamal more so, because he’s up in the air about two weeks a month on average for work. But for leisure trips, we pretty much know what we’re doing. We do research in advance, scope out a rough itinerary, and haven’t had any major catastrophes sparked by bad planning befall us on any of the trips we’ve taken together. We’ve navigated planes, trains, and the French highway system together, so maybe we were feeling a little bit smug about our combined abilities as Pro Vacationers when we decided, on our second full day in Rome, to head off to The Vatican. Lots of guidebooks and friends who have visited Rome suggested, nay, insisted that advanced reservations were a necessity. Oh, we thought, we’ll be going at 9am when it opens, how bad could the line possibly be?
This is what they call ‘ironic foreshadowing.’
We walked from our apartment in Trastevere up to the Vatican with plenty of time to stop for what would become our routine breakfast throughout the entirety of our time in Italy: two cappuccinos and two brioche buns. We allowed time for some early morning wandering through the adorable, small streets, and even for a quick detour or two. That detour turned into a big one when we ended up east of the Vatican at the river, somehow, and by the time we doubled back and got in line at the Musei Vaticani, it was nearing 10am. Folks, we wouldn’t see the inside of that museum until 12. Noon! TWO FULL HOURS we waited in a line that moved like molasses, with Jamal on the verge of passing out from the lingering effects of the Sudafed he’d taken the night before. Oy. The line just didn’t move, and we were stuck in this awful holding pattern of taking a few sad shuffles forward every 20 minutes. Guys, BOOK TICKETS IN ADVANCE. The museum itself was amazing, full of incredible art and hundreds of rooms of wonders, and was definitely worth it in the end, but that had to be our dumbest travel mistake to date.
But the neatest thing happened right after we left the Sistine Chapel: we pulled off into a small side room to escape the crowds for a bit, and I ended up running into Jennifer, from A Well-Nurtured Life. One of my oldest blog friends, whom I’d never met in person before, just happened to be in the same small side gallery in the same small city-within-a-city in the same country halfway around the world. What are the odds! It was so serendipitous that it blew my mind. Jennifer lives in California and was (still is?) in Italy for her brother’s wedding. The internet is a strange and powerful force, sometimes. I recognized her daughter first, from her adorable photos on Instagram, and then wildly poked at Jamal, saying in a creepy stage-whisper, “Oh my gosh, I think my blog friend is over there.” I’m not subtle.
After the Vatican we crossed the river and went to the Trevi Fountain (closed for construction), climbed the Spanish Steps (too full of people to really see them), and then walked all the way to the Villa Borghese (Jamal had an allergy attack and couldn’t see a thing, poor guy). We took a cab back to our ‘hood, the only taxi we took on the trip that wasn’t to or from an airport or train station (it was a necessary extravagance as, according to my pedometer we logged 26,368 steps that day, for a total of 13.26 miles. !!!).
Wednesday we went to see The Pantheon, an absolute wonder and behemoth of a building, before boarding a train to Florence. We were both sad to say goodbye to Rome, knowing we still had so much more left to see and do. I don’t think either of us were expecting to fall in love with Italy as quickly as we did, but Rome really delivered.
Next week: Florence photos! Have a wonderful weekend, kiddos.
June 5, 2015 / Travel /
We arrived in Rome on a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon. After checking into our Airbnb rental, and in an effort to stave off jetlag and resist the urge for a quick nap, we quickly set out to get a lay of the land. No easy feat, considering we were staying in the Trastevere neighborhood of the city. Full of windy, tucked-away streets, cobblestone piazzas, and endless old-world charm, Trastevere sits on the south bank of the Tiber river and was just far enough off the beaten tourist track to really give us a sense of how the locals live. (We basically found the Montmartre of Rome.) We decided to familiarize ourselves with our new, temporary home, and save all the major sightseeing –including the Colosseum and the Forum– for Monday. We stayed in Rome for three and a half days, and could’ve spend the full two weeks just there. There was so much to see and discover on both sides of the river, and while we mostly stuck to Trastevere when it came to dinner options, we were floored with how good the food was wherever we ate. I know, I know, it’s Italy, they’re kind of known for their food. But my best friend had gone to Venice and Milan in February, and came back sadly underwhelmed and lamenting the quality of the food; maybe it was my lowered expectations, or maybe it’s more of a regional difference in cuisine, a northern Italy vs. southern Italy thing, but MY GOD THE FOOD. That dish of spaghetti carbonara up there? Yeah, it cost a whopping €5 and was some of the most delicious pasta I’ve ever eaten. (I’d go on to have carbonara or cacio e pepe, a simple pasta with tons of pepper and cheese, almost every single day. Give me bacon and melty egg yolk and cheese and carbs any day.) Our first night in Rome, we split an enormous, thin crust pizza with heaps of fresh mozzarella for the absurd price of €3. Three!
And then there were all the sights. The centuries-old ruins Rome is famous for. On Monday we ventured across the river to the Circus Maximus, the Forum, and the Colosseum. The surreal feeling of standing in the Colosseum where gladiators and emperors once stood was one of the highlights of the trip. You read about these things in grade school and they seem so abstract and faraway, and seeing them in person, standing in them, is a beautifully humbling experience. I am so grateful to have been able to see them (and equally as grateful for the delicious gelato we gorged on right after).
This is Rome, part 1. See you on Friday for part 2!