The Trip: {Rome}

On to the next adventure:

We said goodbye (for now!) to Hannah, took the tram down the mountain to the train station, and set off for Rome…

…we were tired at this point. Very tired.

So exhausted, in fact, that once we found our seats, we popped in our ear phones and each listened to a book on tape the entire hour-plus ride. Apparently, we didn’t say a word, because an older Australian gentleman next to me almost jumped out of his seat when we arrived at the station and started to converse about how to reach our apartment. “I thought you were deaf mutes!”, he laughed..

No, it was just all of those dang stairs.

Arrival in Rome was a bit hot and hurried. The Husband’s phone was acting up, and we couldn’t get a hold of our apartment manager to let them know we had arrived! In the end, we waited by the door until an American staying in the same building happened to walk by! A quick text, a few more minutes of sitting on suit cases in the middle of the street, and we were in our cozy, cool, lovely room… what a relief!

{More stairs, a terrace, cozy bed, cool doors, amazing views}

We booked this spot using Vacation Rentals by Owner, or VBRO.com (I would highly recommend for the U.S. or European travel). It was perfect! At the top of a historic building, it had a queen sized bed, a lovely balcony, a kitchen, table, bathroom and pull-out couch. The neighborhood was fantastic and lovely, and we were about a 5-10 minute walk from the Colosseum and Forum!

{Yes, that’s “it”!…}

After a quick bus tour our first night, and a good night’s rest, our first full day was packed to the brim with tours and stops at the Colosseum, Palentine Hill, Forum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, the “Mouth of Truth”, the Pantheon and numerous other fountains, squares, shops and sights!

{Our first day of sights – beyond lovely! Trevi was our favorite: Bottom, second from left, but each spot was just as we imagined. I don’t think anything here could disappoint…}

The next day, we woke up bright and early and visited the Catacombs of S. Callisto and the Vatican city, including St. Peter’s, the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. We almost skipped seeing the catacombs, but they ended up being one of my favorite stops in Rome – if you visit, it is worth the extra distance! We used our hop-on-hop-off bus pass to drop us off and pick us up, and it worked out perfectly (Only one company has a route that travels along the Appian Way, so double-check before you purchase).

{Catacombs along the Appian Way were so moving. It was fascinating to learn about the incredible faith of the early church in Rome. Michelangelo’s Pieta at St. Peter’s was incredible to see, and the Vatican at night was totally beautiful – glowing with golden light}

As we checked sights off our list, and did our best to absorb every bit of what we were seeing, we couldn’t help but just sit there in silence at times – nursing sore feet,  with brains that were overwhelmed with facts, and hearts full of the emotion of this place – his how could we comprehend all that we’d witnessed? By the end of the second day, the Husband put it nicely: “Rome won.”

Yes. At certain points during the trip – including an unexpected extra hour-long walk back from the Vatican late at night – we were conquered just as the other thousands of souls this empire has defeated through the ages. Somehow, it almost seemed appropriate… in a small way, we could wrap our minds around this place a little better than when we arrived.

Fortunately for us, we had a breath of refreshing air awaiting us for our final full day in Rome. Hannah and Federico came to visit! Hannah stayed with us, and Federico stayed with relatives in the city. Ahhh… at last, we were blessed with two guides that spoke the language, knew their way around, and made us the best lunch we tasted in Italy the next day. JUST what we needed! That, and a week-long cruise, of course :)

{Walking into each church was like opening a treasure chest. Each one was different, and completely astounding. The care taken to adorn each building amazed us – many took hundreds of years. It was obvious that these perfect works of art were an act of worship in and of themselves}

We spent our last day in this blessed, dangerous, beautiful and brutal city following Hannah and Federico as they took us through some of the most lovely and interesting churches in the city; had an amazing meal; found a cool, sweet park with lots of fresh breezes and glorious views; and then, said goodbye…

{Groceries were purchased, and the most amazing lunch on the planet was created: Pecorino Romano, ripe tomatoes, Pizza Bianco, Salami, strawberries, fresh mozzarella, and garden greens… bliss!}

We were more cultured, awed, and humbled than when we arrived, and we were sad to go…

But, crystal clear blue water, free frozen yogurt cones, and four more fascinating destinations awaited us as we boarded the train once again.

Next: We’re off to sea!

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The Trip: {Venice & Orvieto}

This post should have read, Venice, PISA and Orvieto…

…but that was before the rail workers went on strike, we skyped with friends in two nations to change plans, I almost died of thirst on a train, I gave a lady from South Africa two granola bars, and we walked over ancient cobblestones with our suitcases a mile out of our way after we got lost (for the first time) on our way to the station.

Oh, Europe. We love you.

{Cancellato, Cancellato, Cancellato… and lots of tourists in line for refunds}

During our stay in Florence, we planned a day trip to Venice, and to Pisa. One of those, as you now know, was cancelled due to unavoidable circumstances. However, the other, along with a gondola ride straight out of a book, or a dream, or a Disney theme park (whatever speaks to you) more than made up for it.

Who needs to see an ‘ol lopsided building anyhow.? That’s what I told myself, anyway… It sort of worked.

Venice:

{Made-on-the-spot espresso on the train, the Tuscan countryside, water taxi ride…}

The train ride to Venice was our first rail experience,  and we navigated it wonderfully. Mind you, this was the day before they were on strike, so we were blissfully unaware of the problems we could have faced… thank goodness! The city itself was packed with crowds. There was a boat race that day, so there were several thousand EXTRA tourists and spectators packed on to the narrow bridges and streets – quite a contrast to the relatively easy to navigate (and breath/have elbow room) Florence.

But, Oh…

…it’s so beautiful.

We purchased the Venice Pass (to bring us to the front of the long lines!) and took the vaporetto (water taxi) to St. Mark’s Square from the train station to see the Doge’s Palace and Basilica of St. Mark. The square was full of people, but the sights were beautiful. The “bridge of sighs” that passed between the palace and its prison (where prisoners would sigh as they took one last look at Venice as they crossed) was one of our favorite spots (top right, above!)…

{Narrow water-streets, our gondola, the Grand Canal… and that blue door}

After touring both the palace and the church, we wanted to get into the city to see the lovely little waterways and more of the Grand Canal – too picturesque for words! We ended a rather warm, crowded day with a cool, peaceful, romantic gondola ride (so, so worth it!), and some local cicchetti at al Pesador – a bar nestled right along the Grand Canal and the Rialto bridge… octopus, yum!

{Flavors, guide book review, the husband trying new things, fresh-water fountains}

We really enjoyed walking the streets, browsing the lovely Murano glass and traditional lace – both made on one of the hundreds of islands that make up this amazing, historic city. As we often felt during the trip, we had to leave too soon… but, more adventures awaited us!

Orvieto:

Because Pisa was a no-go, our next day was spent getting a refund at the train station, then spending some extra time in Florence before departing earlier-than-planned to Orvieto. It turns out, this was a blessing in disguise! We adored every moment we had in this tiny city-on-a-hill in the Umbria region with Hannah!

{Views, our suite of rooms and breakfast… oh, to be sitting there again!}

We stayed at B&B La Magnolia, and it was more perfect than I could have imagined. Serene, the owner, also owns the fun cafe & bar downstairs (where our breakfast was served the first day – above middle), and was wonderful to work with. Our suite was at the tippy-top of the historic building in the center of town, and had a fabulous view of of the city and countryside below. It was also just steps from Orvieto’s fabulous duomo, which was one of our favorite churches we visited on the trip… and that’s saying a lot!

The highlight of this portion of the trip, however, was getting the chance to see Hannah “in her element”! Now fluent in Italian (though she would deny it), seeing the place I’ve heard so much about from her over the last few years was amazing. She works with a college program that she attended while in school, and is getting ready to start her Masters in Fine Arts this summer. Orvieto has inspired her work in so many ways – it was easy to see how she fell in love with the views, the culture, the language and the people…

Speaking of the people, we also had the delightful pleasure of meeting Hannah’s talented, amazing friend – Federico. He is a shoemaker and leather craftsman that learned his art in Rome, and lives in Orvieto where he has a shop. We had a blast getting to know him, seeing his beyond-beautiful work, and taking advantage of his tour guide and pizza ordering skills :)

{The evening streets were dream-like, and the sunsets were not to be missed}

While here, we toured the duomo, visited ancient pre-Roman Etruscan ruins, walked down the St. Patrick’s well, climbed the clock tower and ate the most fabulous pasta alla carbonara and affogato known to man at Mezza Luna Trattoria (the restaurant with the amazing flowers hanging over the door, above). The pizza with spicy sausage and Gorgonzola wasn’t too shabby either… or the wine…

…let’s just say it was a good thing we climbed 10,000 stairs while on this trip.

All to quickly, we said goodbye… and were off to Rome!

…more coming soon!

P.S. On another note – Happy third Anniversary to my brave, strong, smart, Godly, devastatingly handsome husband… We always said we would go on adventures together… I’d say we’re off to a good start ;)

The Trip: {Florence}

We’re home!

Actually, we’ve been home for a week, but today is the first day that my brain is functioning normally enough that it doesn’t feel like work should be over at 11:00a.m. (“it’s 5 o clock somewhere” has never been so true), we don’t flinch every time we hear a motor running behind us (pretty sure we were going to be roadkill on those narrow streets… and those mopeds were vicious!), and our laundry situation is mostly under control.

Also, I’m not violently ill like I was most of our first night home… at least it wasn’t on the cruise ship, but let’s say it didn’t help speed up my post-trip recovery.

Darn circulated airplane air…

Enough about the usual after vacation blues – We are still completely basking in the glow of an amazing, amazing journey. The Trip was everything we had hoped for, and so much more. As anticipated, there were lots of surprises…both the good and bad kind. But, nothing that came close to marring our experience as a whole.

{We were so happy to be there! The view was out of this world…}

There are 1,700 beautiful pictures; dozens of stories; hundreds of suggestions, lessons learned and recommendations that I could share with you, so bear with me as I try to whittle them down to the “best of the best” (and know that you can send me a note for more details any time :)

I’m going to break things up a bit over the next few days, and give you just a taste of our experiences (and try my best not to bore you). I hope you enjoy!

Getting There:

We flew out of Toronto, where we were put up for the night by our WONDERFUL “Friends up North”! We were treated to wonderful wine and snacks upon arrival, a delicious asparagus and brie breakfast bake in the morning, and lettuce wraps after a morning run before we left for the airport. It was the perfect kickoff to our vacation, and a great way to wind down a bit after weeks of packing, planning and list-making, and they had some great parting advice for us that helped make our trip the best it could be… (Thanks, guys!).

We saved a lot of money flying out of Canada, and were on an Indian airline for our 10 hr ride to Brussels, where we changed planes for Florence! The curry we had for dinner was the best plane food I’d ever had, and the chocolate we got during the layover was a great “breakfast”… delish!

Florence:

Landing in Florence was so, so exciting. Though we were exhausted, the adrenaline kept us moving… and the beyond lovely sights. It was about 1:30p.m. local time when we arrived, and the first thing we did was check into our Bed & Breakfast: Casa Dei Tintori. It. Was. Perfect. Just like the photos, and in an amazing location, we settled in right away, and then were off in just a few minutes to spend the rest of our day exploring!

We walked right to the heart of the historic city in just a few minutes, and gazed in awe at the Duomo… soaking it all in was impossible! The massive building, with its bast dome, dominates the landscape. We went inside, and were lucky enough to be one of the last tours of the day to climb to its peak!

We couldn’t wrap up our day without some gelato… it was literally on every corner calling my name! This was our first (of many, many, many) amazing Italian food experiences. You can SEE the bliss on our faces :)

We woke up the next morning to a day full of plans for visits to the Uffizi Gallery and Accademia, but first things first: Breakfast! The owners of Casa dei Tintori,, Valeria and Alfredo, lived in the back portion of the historic (800 years old!) building, and Valeria presented us with this wonderful spread. Her coffee was some of the best I tasted while on the trip – espresso served in a tiny pitcher with a cup of frothed milk and a shaker of chocolate. There was yogurt, granola, fruit, cereal and delightful (nutella – which was in EVERYTHING the entire trip…no complaints here! And fruit-filled) pastries. Heaven.

We saw so much over the next three days: Michelangelo’s David, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and many, many sculptures, paintings and architecture from the most famous men of the Renaissance. Its was overwhelming… and wonderful.

Also, as expected, we ate some of the best food I’ve ever taste, and some of our favorite flavors of the trip! The sandwiches from All’antico Vinaio were astounding: Fresh bread and meats were being carted from the bakery and butcher across the street while we waited, and wine was available for two euros a person… just pick a bottle, fill one of the small glasses and sit outside with your (huge!) sandwich!

Funny/not-so-funny story about this place: The first time The Husband ordered here, there was an American girl behind him in line (she’s wearing green in the picture of at the bottom left, above). Well, she ended up passing out while he was ordering, and throwing up on the back of his leg – gross! Apparently she had been drinking the night before (way to represent, U.S.A.), and hadn’t eaten anything yet that day. I, however, was waiting outside and didn’t see this whole drama unfold. So, when the hubby cam out with only ONE sandwich, I was mad! Needless to say, I wasn’t as compassionate to my dear husband as I could have been… but it was a good sandwich ;) We ended up going back (without incident) just a few days later.

We were fortunate enough to be there during the Firenze Gelato Festival. The best gelato makers from around the country were there with special flavors – my favorite was passion fruit dark chocolate… intense and with amazing depth of flavor. We also sampled specialties like meatballs, ravioli, bruschetta, pizza, salads and lasagna (eaten on church steps!) during our stay. Perfection.

In a nutshell:

I adored Florence – probably my favorite leg of our journey because it was busy and bustling with life, but didn’t have the vastness of Rome and the crowds of Venice (pictures and stories from both will be coming soon!).

Note: You will see The Husband’s red shorts very frequently in these shots… because we accidentally only packed him one pair. Oops! He’ll never take clean clothes for granted again ;)