There has been no place on this earth that has fascinated me like Italy. I have longed to see this country for as long as I can remember. It doesn’t help that I am a hopeless romantic AND a history teacher! Two of my closest friends are Italian and I like to pretend I am Italian too when I am with them…an honorary Italian. So, for my 50th birthday, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore and just had to go to Italy. To be honest, I don’t think I started to plan this earlier because it just seemed really scary. I have only ever traveled to Mexico and that is just so different, and so close to home. When my good friend Yolanda decided she wanted to go too in order to celebrate her 20th anniversary, it made it so much easier and fun to do all the planning with a friend. I also felt like I made a friend in Rick Steves as well. Wow, we read his guidebook and watched all of his videos and he was spot on! We spent MANY hours planning our two-week, Spring trip and I must say, everything went pretty much perfectly!
We began our trip by flying into Rome. I figured, start big! I actually didn’t think I was going to really like Rome. It’s a big city and I prefer the countryside. However, I fell in LOVE with Rome! Maybe it was because it was the first place we went in Italy, maybe it was the history, or the FOOD, or the language…I don’t know, but it was absolutely amazing! I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire time.
We flew into Rome at night on a non-stop flight and there was a driver from the hotel waiting for us. I highly recommend this since we were exhausted and it was so comforting to know that here we were in a foreign country and had absolutely no idea how to find our hotel. The airport is actually quite a way away from the city of Rome, so this worked out really well. We LOVED our hotel room in Rome! It was huge and old and beautiful! The Hotel Quirinale was fabulous. Great service, lovely accommodations, delicious breakfast. The only thing that was a little of a bummer is that it was a bit of a walk from the sights. However, we love to walk and the taxis were quite an adventure!
The first night we didn’t do much except explore around the hotel and of course, we had to have our first taste of real gelato!
Our first full day didn’t start at the crack of dawn. Don’t do this to yourself. Give yourself a little sleep because man, you walk A LOT! We had breakfast downstairs on the patio and it was so interesting. They offer salad, cheese and crackers and other odd things for breakfast! Of course they have wonderful things too but I just thought maybe they think this is what American’s want for breakfast. We had the hotel call a taxi for us and it was there almost immediately. Now, I have taken taxis in Tijuana and they were pretty scary, but that was NOTHING compared to a taxi ride in Rome! They drive so fast and there are scooters zipping in and out and everyone is honking. Oh my goodness! Needless to say, it didn’t take long to get to the Colosseum. Since we were a little early, we decided to walk around a bit and explore. Everywhere you turned there was something fascinating! Sometimes it was ancient, sometimes it was modern but it was an explorer’s feast!
We met our guide Giovanna Terzulli out front and she was just fantastic! We found her from Rick Steve’s travel guide of course. I absolutely did not want to walk around with a group of other tourists with earbuds in and I am so glad we made the choice to have a private guide. I learned so much about the history but I loved asking her questions about other aspects of Italy as well. I wanted to immerse myself!
I really thought I knew about Roman history but boy was I wrong! Giovanna was phenomenal as she guided us through the details of the history of the colosseum.
Giovanna then walked us through Palentine Hill and Capitoline Hill. I had no idea these places were right next to the Colosseum. Having a private guide really got us “behind the scenes” and enabled us to experience things I would never have been able to on my own. She walked us through the ruins, explaining the archeological digs and the lifestyle of the people who had inhabited these areas. So much of the history was so well preserved it was amazing.
After we left our guide we headed for the Pantheon. I think this was my favorite part of Rome. If I go back to Rome, I am going to find a hotel right next to this area. I would say it’s the heart of what I consider Rome.
At this point we really hadn’t eaten much. We were so afraid to eat someplace “touristy” and wanted to find something authentic. However, I just couldn’t take it anymore and had to eat something, so we plopped down at a little outdoor cafe(super touristy) across from the Pantheon and ordered bruschetta and a glass of wine. I could have sat there forever. It didn’t feel real. I turned to Zack and told him I felt like we were in Las Vegas at the Venician because it just didn’t seem possible that we were there. So, either that says Vegas did a really great job or it says Italy is turning into an amusement park. Hmmmm….
When you go into the Pantheon you can barely speak for want of words. It was so beautiful and elaborate. The ceiling (as with most of the buildings in Rome) was my favorite. How did they construct this thing? The arch?!
We were very ambitious, so after a short rest at the hotel, we headed out again and walked to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. We were such tourists…but then so was EVERYONE else. I really didn’t expect that Italy would be so full of people from all over the world. I think the languages I heard the most were English (from the U.S., Australia, and the U.K.), Russian, German, and Chinese. What you see in the movies is really true when it comes to this place. Magical. We strolled, we stopped to eat, we threw a coin in the fountain and we marveled. Then we dropped into bed exhausted!
Our second full day in Rome started about like the first…breakfast, taxi and Giovanna! However, this time we met her at the Vatican. Now, beware when you pull up to the Vatican because there are men all over the place trying to trick you into buying things that are “necessary” to get in. They told me my dress was too short and I need a scarf to cover my legs. Posh. Giovanna took perfect care of us and prepared us just perfectly. They only let a certain amount of people through parts of the museum and the grounds at a time, so as we waited we filled up with water and lots of history! Another thing that really impressed me about Rome was that there was so much water! They have fountains everywhere and the water runs freely. Coming from San Diego, this was shocking because we are always in a drought! At first I was afraid to drink it because I have so many stomach issues, but eventually I gave in and it was so clean and fresh!
The Museums at the Vatican were unreal. They went on and on and on. I thought Zack was going to blow a gasket but he did OK! Statues, mosaics, tapestries, paintings, and the CEILINGS! I would have had no idea what in the world I was looking at had it not been for Gi0vanna. She walked us right to the important pieces, which was great because if we were to have looked at everything it would have taken days.
Then it was time for the main event…St. Peter’s Basilica. Words can’t even express what this looks like. Pictures don’t do it justice. It was immaculate. Every inch of the building has something outstandingly beautiful and intricate. Opulent details. We walked through the Sistine Chapel as well. Man, I would hate to have the job of the guard in there. All-day long yelling, “Silencio!” and taking people’s cameras away from them. That would get old quick but it would be worth it to just take one glance upward.
Even when we exited the Basilica and go out into the piazza, the history continued! It was amazing to stand and look out at all the open space and imagine what it would look like filled with thousands of people waiting to glimpse the Pope. I also kept thinking of the book/movie “Angels and Demons” the whole time.
I couldn’t bear to go back to the hotel so our expedition continued as we wondered around Rome. We followed some locals to a great restaurant and watched what they ordered for lunch. They drink wine all day! Well…in Rome…hee hee. I also had my first pizza later in the day. Americans don’t know what real pizza is.
I had to see the Piazza Navona because my friend Kim had talked about it so much. Piazzas are just wonderful. A common area for people to gather, to eat, to socialize, to shop, to relax…and to be entertained! We had a comedian starting a show, so we stopped to watch. He picked me out of the crowd and took me into the center of the circle. This was probably because of my large camera which he used as part of his skit. Of course this made me a little nervous when he took it from me but he was harmless. He took another tourist from the crowd and led him over to me and made him put his arm around me. Then he took a stroller with a toddler in it from another family, put it in front of is and took our picture. It was actually hilarious!
We crossed over the bridge and went into Trastevere to wander about. This is the older, less touristy part of Rome and it was magnificent. The gelato was great too!
That night Zack just had to cross something off his bucket list. He had found out about a “secret bar” in a different part of town. He is much more adventurous than I am and I was actually a little afraid, but I agreed to go. We took a taxi into a rather shady part of town and went into the restaurant with the locals. I don’t think there were any tourists here. We really stood out. He had to ask about the bar but once he did, the guy we asked went to a door and made a phone call. Someone came down and opened the door into this little wonderland. It was so cool! Several stories of an outside patio with a great atmosphere were revealed. Not shady at all! You would have never known it was there!
On our last day we walked down to what the Italians call the “Wedding Cake,” which is actually the Victor Emmanuel Monument. I found this soooo beautiful, but since it’s not ancient, it is not something Italians are particularly proud of and they sort of roll their eyes when you talk about it. Still, I loved exploring it. The best part about it was going to the roof! Thanks for the tip Rick Steves!
This was our last image in Rome. We walked over to the train station and headed off to meet our friends in Florence. I think since I started my Italian journey in Rome, it was extra special to me. Hot, but very special.