After finally getting out of Marseille, we waited at the airport for our delayed flight to Rome. Once boarded, the captain came on to let us know why the fight was late, "Our flight is a bit delayed and the reason for that is
we arrived late from our previous flight." Oh, thanks for spelling that out for me, Captain Obvious!
We got to our apartment in Campo Di Fiori around 11pm and the neighborhood was buzzing with energy! The square, lined with restaurants and bars, as full of people walking, eating, yelling, and laughing; a scene that went on long into the weeknight hours. I'd hate to try to go to work after a night like most of them were having, and would love to be a part of it! We were greeted by our host, Marco, and his adorable 18 year old kitty, Saucy (not sure how it's really spelled, but that's what it sounded like). He had to get up early the next morning and gave us a rundown of the most important things - there was wine made by his father in our fridge, food for breakfast, and a fantastic little espresso machine. Although Marco disappeared to go to sleep, Saucy kept us company and "talked" to us until turned off the lights. Saucy had much to say to us during our stay (and Jake found yet another kitty cat that he tolerated!).
We got up the next morning and took an eager stroll to the Trevi Fountain, not because I was dying to see it (it was beautiful, though covered in scaffolding and drained for renovations), but because my best friend and matron of honor Abby, and her adorable baby bump, were waiting for us! Abby lives with her husband, Brendan, in Redondo Beach and expecting their first baby in July! When Jake and I originally started thinking about doing this trip, Abby (half) jokingly said, "If I get pregnant you have to come home when the baby is born!". I'm sad that I'm going to miss the birth of her little one, and I was also sad that I wasn't going to get the chance to feel the baby kick inside her tummy. So, instead of me missing it all, Abby brought what she could to me! She took a "babymoon" to Italy so we could spend time together before the baby came, so I could accost her belly all I wanted, so I could see her kick around in there, and I guess so she could have a little vacation before the baby came. :) What an amazing gift she gave me to get to see her and spend a week with her traveling around Italy! I'm getting ahead of myself, but we truly had the best time! Thank you Abby!!
Ok, so back to the trip. We met Abby at the Trevi Fountain. She approached us with a purse in one hand, a rolly suitcase being pulled by the other, and that adorable baby bump! She had gotten in to Rome 2 nights prior and was going to go see Naples and Pompeii while Jake and I toured the Vatican and saw some other things that she'd seen before. We met for a breakfast of cappuccinos and chocolate croissants before sending her off to the train station to catch her train. Of course, our breakfast ran too long, and she missed her train. (Sorry!) But was able to catch the next one, so no problem.
Jake and I spent the rest of our first full day following Abby's advice. First up - The Vatican! We bought tickets online (the best 4 euros we've spent was to buy them online and skip the horrendous line), and headed there for an afternoon stroll. The museums were quite fascinating. We really had no idea what we were in for, and really only wanted to see the Sistine Chapel, but the museums are set up in such a way that, in order to get to the Sistine Chapel, you have to walk through all of the rest of them. So we took in all of the large statues and mummies and relics from 1300 BC at our own pace before finally entering the chapel. Walking in was an experience in itself - a few hundred people all in the center of the room looking up, and a man at the front of the room shushing everyone. We shuffled into the middle with the rest of them and craned our necks in the same way, right underneath The Creation of Adam. We stole a discrete selfie, despite the signs that say "no pictures", and listened to a quick prayer lead by one of the priests. That being the grand finale, we left the Vatican and turned toward the Villa Borghese gardens.
We spent hours wandering the park - the weather was perfectly warm and people were out all over the place taking in the beautiful spring day, sunning themselves, riding bicycles, and enjoying picnics. Our park stroll ended with a descent down the Spanish Steps, and I have to say, I don't understand what all the fuss is about. What's the deal with the steps? Why does everyone say "you HAVE to see it"? Perhaps it was less spectacular because the bell towers were under scaffolding (a common them we're seeing during off-season travel), we didn't get it. Needless to say, we didn't hang out at the steps for long before heading back for dinner.
We finished the day with dinner at a family-run restaurant off Campo Di Fiori, Hosteria Fornese. The 50 year old restaurant was still run by the same little couple who's son was our server. Lucca brought us homemade tiramisu as his dad sat down at a nearby table, watching his guests enjoy their meals. Now, I've never liked tiramisu. Strange, I know, since I love coffee so much. While I love coffee, I usually hate coffee flavored things, and tiramisu is one of those things. THIS tiramisu, however, was like heaven in a little bowl. This tiramisu was amazing! It was not the standard square piece of cake covered in I don't know what, it was a custard dish with a cake layer on the bottom and a custardy-cream on the top, and chocolate drizzled all over. This thing was ridiculously good! What a great way to end the night! We said goodnight to Saucy (she had much to say to us), and went to bed.
Before Abby returned the next evening, Jake and I had more exploring to do. We found ourselves wandering, with no particular agenda, to the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona, and stumbled across the stunning Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio. We were blown away by the incredible detail of the interior- beautiful brown and white marble, an impressive ceiling scene painted to make it seem as if we were looking up through the pillars of the temple, fascinating stone statues. Every inch of space was covered in purposeful detail. In the background, the soft sound of Georgian chants filled the room with more haunting beauty and reverent ambiance (even if it was just a recording playing on a CD player).
All of our site seeing had made us hungry, so we stopped for some gelato at Grom before meeting Abby for dinner. That night we met Ab at the apartment she had rented (back near the Spanish Steps), and walked across the river for dinner. We were on the hunt for zucchini flowers and were hoping a particular restaurant would have them. While we never found the fried flowers, we did have a lovely pasta dinner before calling it a night. Abby was back and our adventure could begin!
We only had one full day in Rome together before the three of us took off to Tuscany, so we had to make it worth it. The three of us had decided to save the best for last - The Colosseum, The Palatine, and The Forum. We met that morning at Piazza Venezia. As we approached Abby was taking full advantage of the sunny day, catching as many rays as she could as she sat in the middle of the steps. We captured a few snaps of her before she caught us. And with that, we were off! The three of us roamed (or ROMED...haha see what I did there?) the Colosseum (fight on), for hours, fascinated by the structure and the stories. It would have really been something else to see that place flooded for naval battles! Yikes! We slowly made our way through the Palatine, checking out the old baths and palace ruins, and ended our tour with a stroll through the Forum. I only wish that we had downloaded Rick Steve's audioguide of the area on the app we have (seriously, it's a great app!). It would have been great to have more context for what we were looking at, but it was pretty cool just to be there anyway.
After a quick lunch we took some time to show Abby something she'd never seen before - the gorgeous Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio. Since she'd been to Rome a few times, it was really fun to be able to show her something new. She, in turn, showed us the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and its beautiful blue ceiling filled with gold stars. This church is among her favorites because of the gorgeous ceiling. So naturally, we started calling the baby Minerva. I don't care what her name will be when she is born, she will always be Minerva to me!
This brings me to a side story - apparently Italian men adore pregnant women and will take care of them as much as possible - men held doors open for Ab, carried her luggage, put her on the train...it was awesome. Pregnant ladies can also use the ladies room in any building, no questions asked! Since all of the public bathrooms in Italy are only accessible be paying 1 euro, you really have to ask yourself if you need to go. Well, Abby is pregnant and needed to go rather often. One of these times was just outside the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. So we decided to head into the Minerva Hotel to find a bathroom. We asked the doorman, who just about fell over himself to open the door, where the restroom was. Down the stairs he told us, without ever questioning whether or not we were actually guests of the hotel. As we were making our way down the stairs, we noticed a rope closing off the area. As we started to walk around it, we were stopped by another man in a uniform. "Mi scusi! That bathroom is closed! You must go somewhere...oh yes, that one is closed, but for YOU, you can use this other one. Come this way." In the middle of him telling us we needed to leave, Abby turned around, sighing heavily, and rubbing her belly. As soon as he noticed her little pregnant self, he immediately changed his tune. How great! Now we get to use nice clean bathrooms for free! Let's see how much we can use this on the trip!
We needed a snack before dinner, so we went back to Grom for more creamy gelato. The three of us relaxed on the patio of our apartment in Campo Di Fiori, with Saucy of course, before heading back out for dinner at La Foccacia near the Piazza Novona. La Foccacia was recommended by the hosts of a podcast we listen to, Heather and Travis Sherry of Extra Pack of Peanuts - they said this was their favorite pizza in Rome and we have to agree - it was really really good! While we stuffed ourselves with pizza, there's always room for gelato. So we enjoyed gelato # 2 shortly after dinner. Hey, Minerva wanted more ice cream! Who am I to get in her way?
On Day 4 it was time to check out of Rome and head to Tuscany! All we had to do was take the train from Rome to Florence, pick up the rental car, and drive. Sounds like it should have been a pretty easy day. And things started out great - we ate breakfast, walked to Abby's apartment, took the metro to Termini Train Station. We were a bit early for our train and had plenty of time for lunch, so we three decided to head upstairs to the Ciao Cafe and eat. While we had been on the metro and walking through the station, we were vigilant about pickpockets. We had been warned a number of times, "Beware of pickpockets! Keep every bag zipped closed and strapped securely to you!" What we didn't realize, however, it's not just the pickpockets we needed to be aware of, it was the flat out thieves! As we were enjoying our lunch at a table, my large backpack and smaller daypack were on the floor next to me, not tied to anything, and not secured to each other. According to others sitting nearby, two men sat down at the table next to me. One placed his jacket on or near my daypack. Minutes later, they got up and he took his jacket and my daypack with him. I never even noticed them sit down in the first place. Dang, these guys are slick! And just like that, my pack, jewelry (nothing too expensive, but many gifts from over the years), Ipad, Kindle, small keyboard, and scarf were stolen. How irritating is that?! I was furious and sad at the same time. We found a policeman and tried to explain what happened. Noticing our trouble explaining, others got up to tell him what they saw in Italian.
I learned a few things that day: 1) pregnant ladies can use any bathroom they want. 2) always secure your stuff- tie it to the table, hook bags together with a carabiner if you must set them down, do anything you can to make it hard to take. 3) if you see something that might look fishy, like someone isn't paying attention to their belongings and could be at risk of someone else snatching it, say something to the owner - two people told the policeman what they saw, and more had been around, and even though they said they noticed these guys acting funny, the didn't say anything to me. I'm not upset with them, they probably had no idea what they were seeing. But now if I see something that seems a bit off, like someones stuff is about to get stolen, I'll mention it to the owners. These thieves don't want to be noticed, they just want your stuff. And as soon as they are noticed, they'll leave. If only someone else had noticed in time to let me know. Oh well.
So, besides the bummer at Termini Station, our trip to Rome was a great success! We would definitely come back again (and not give my stuff away to strangers)! On to Tuscany!