Monday, November 26, 2012

"When In Rome, do as the Romans do poop in the Vatican"

November national break came and went in a blink of an eye! Figures.  We thought long and hard of where we wanted to go on a little mini break...well not that hard, Rome was pretty much at the top of the list, living in Italy and all! Once we found out our good friends, Evan and Jillian Cheverie were planning the same trip at the same time with their son Landon (6 months), we had to make it work.  I know what alot of you may be thinking, "Are you crazy, bringing a baby to Rome!?"...well maybe.  But then I ask you, living in MN, when would you ever have the chance to travel and see Rome for under $1,000?  Now was the only time for us. 

We weren't sure of the exact dates Gino would have off, but we knew what week it would be, so I started researching how we were going to get there and where to stay.  We started off thinking it would be easiest to fly but after figuring in the drive time it takes to get to the Venice airport (closest airport to us)  and then the bus, taxi, or train to our hotel in Rome...it would be about the same amount of time to take the train all the way there or drive ourselves.  After weighing all the options,  we decided to pack up the car and drive.  We didn't find out the actual break dates until...THE DAY BEFORE.  Planning a trip like this, with a baby in mind is tough enough but then not to know your dates until 24 hours, well actually more like 16 hours, beforehand was tough.  Once he found out, we booked the hotel, packed up and left the next morning.  The drive was going to take us 6 1/2 hours and we figured an extra hour of having to stop to feed Lily.  It was a very easy drive, all highway and beautiful driving though Tuscany.  Lily was actually pretty amazing considering she's 4 months old.  She slept a good chunk of the way and the rest of the time she "talked" to herself.  When she got fussy, I felt no shame in using the Ipad as a distraction.  Before we left, Gino uploaded a few kiddie videos and they came in handy not only in the car, but to keep both Landon and Lily occupied throughout the entire trip! 

If you can see through the finger smudges, "Pocoyo" is playing.
 
I'll mention this quickly, only because we were so shook up over it!  After driving past Florence, we were about 3 hours or so outside of Rome and witnessed the most horrific car crash we had ever seen.  The car in front of us took a turn too tight and cranked his wheel right into the side of a mountain.  I saw him going into the mountain and said, "He's going to crash!"  I didn't realize how fast we were all going and thought he may just hit the rock head on and it would stop his car...No.  He ended up rolling 3 times.  It was like watching a movie.  Tires were flying off, glass shattering etc.  When they came to a stop, we were right behind them and all I could see was the passengers face full of blood.  It was so horrible...Gino pulled off to the side so that cars screeching around the corner wouldn't hit us.  By the time we pulled over, there were about a dozen people stopped trying to help them out of the car.  All we wanted to do was help but we couldn't speak the language or knew of an emergency number...which now we know!  So we got out of the car, checked out our own car to make sure there was no damage, took a deep breath and drove away.  Lily slept through the entire thing, me screaming and all.  I couldn't help think, "What if we would have hit them, or a tire would have hit our windshield."  From that point on, we said that we didn't care what time we got to Rome, as long as we made it there safe.  SLOW DOWN PEOPLE!

Onto happier times. We arrived in Rome at about 6pm and if it wasn't for the GPS Gino borrowed from a friend, we would have never found our hotel.  If you're not familiar, European streets don't really have noticable street names/signs.  They're usually plastered on the side of a building mixed in with the brick so they're very hard to see.  Hence, why the GPS was a lifesaver.  We got into the city and to our hotel pretty easily. I had researched where to park our car since the hotel parking was 30 Euro a night ( a little high).  The parking lot I found online was only a few blocks away and was half the price.  Once we got there, the parking attendent told us we were wrong and that the price was actually 28 Euro a night ( random number if you ask me).  At that point I just wanted to be at the stinkin hotel already so we decided to pay the 30 Euro and park there.  After Gino got us checked in, we had to drive around the block to the other side of the building where the parking was.  Sounds easy right?  NOT AT ALL!  We must have drove around the block a dozen times. At this point we were irritated, hungry, tired and embarrassed.  The bell boys outside of our hotel were practically laughing everytime we drove by, in the car that has Ginos name plastered across it. We went around one more time and I saw this tiny little gate no bigger than a very small Fiat and no parking sign what so ever.  Duh, we should have noticed that! (Not)  Anyways, that was a long story.  But we found the hotel, got to Rome safely and managed to park our car.  Success.

That night we got ahold of Evan and Jillian and had a nice dinner to catch up. It was so amazing to see them and finally meet baby Landon!  They were in Lillehammer with us the last 2 seasons and Jillian and I were pregnant together all of last year.  She was about 7 weeks ahead of me.  After putting the babies to bed, us momma's went down to the hotel bar for a few drinks.  It turned into a really nice evening. 

The next day we woke up early, and had an hour or so free before we met the Cheveries for a city bus tour.  We took a stroll down the street to the Basillica of St. Mary where we were recommended to go.  It's where the supposed remnants of Jesus's manger are held.  Who wouldn't want to see that!?  The church itself from the outside was very large and of course old. The inside was spectacular.  We've been in our fare share of impressive churches during our time spent in  Europe (Notre Dame Paris, Sacre Coeur Paris, Basillica St. Marco Venice, Church of Our Lady Before Tyn Prague, St. Vitus Cathedral Prague, etc) but this was by far, one of the most beautiful. An incredible amount of detail in the mosaics, lots of gold and color. It was built in the 4th century! Definitely a highlight of the trip, which I wasn't expecting. Amazing...


The crypt under the alter where the manger is held



Wood from the manger
 

The weather was great the whole trip, in the high 60's low 70's. So, we decided to sit in the seats at the top of the bus where it's open air.  You actually see a TON on the bus tour and they gave us headsets to listen as we drove by different sites.  Of course, we weren't able to listen to much while holding Lily...watching our bags...and shielding her from the light breeze.  (Everytime air blows in her face, she holds her breath, its cute, until she starts crying)  As we were walking towards towards the Vatican enterance, we were stopped by a tour company offering Vatican tours.  I was told by my parents, who were just in Rome a few weeks earlier, that it was cheaper to buy the tours off the street. So we did!  It was about 40 Euro a person (babies free) for a 2 1/2 hour guided tour.  We paid, changed and fed the kids, got our headsets for the tour and were all set!
 
As you can imagine, the Vatican/Vatican City are huge.  The Vatican itself reminded us alot of the Louvre in Paris, but larger. We were told by the tour guide that the Vatican museums have over 1,400 rooms and that only counts the MUSEUM rooms.  The Louvre has a little over 400.  If it would take you 24 hours a day for a month to see every single artifact in the Louvre I can't imagine how long it would take to see everything in the Vatican...years.  So, our dinky 2.5 hour tour only showed us the big name sites....
Emperor Nero's Bathtub from 50 AD
The dome of St. Peters Basillica.  Didn't actually make it in...ill explain below.
The Pieta, by Michaelangelo
 
Peek of the Vatican Gardens

And last but certainly the most famous, The Sistine Chapel. We weren't allowed to take photos so I grabbed a few online so you could get an idea of what we saw. It was spectacular. A check off the old bucket list for this lady. Below are photos of God Creating Adam and The Last Judgement. It was all so breathtaking.  The tour guide said that it took Michaelangelo 4 years to paint 5,000 square feet of frescos. He practically lost his eyesight from years of paint and bristles falling into his eyes. 









The Sistine Chapel was the last stop on the tour. Side note:  I have to admit that most of the photos in the Vatican were taken by Gino.  I on the other hand, along with Jillian, was back and forth to the bathroom cleaning up poop explosions.  I would say about 20 min into the tour the babies were doing great. Until we walked out to the Vatican courtyard and the tour guide started rambling on and on while it started raining on us.  Lily was sleeping in the stroller and I started hearing little grunts, actually they were loud grunts and I was afraid everyone around us could hear!  It definitely got Gino's attention and both of us couldn't stop laughing.  WHY DOES THIS ALWAYS HAPPEN?  IS IT NORMAL TO HAPPEN IN THE ABSOLUTE WORST PLACES!?  Then of course the smell started to drift from the stroller and I knew I had to get her out of there.  Jillian brought Landon with because he needed a diaper change as well. We went on the search for the closest bathroom.  Which should be easy right?  well, it took us about 20 min to find a bathroom and get through the crowds of people.  After they were changed and clean it took us another 20 to find the guys again and catch up with the tour group.  By the time we found them, Landon was starting to get fussy and we soon realized when either of them cry, the other one soon follows.  So Lily joined in and we had two cranky babies.  I'm sure the other people in the tour HATED US.  We can't go to Rome and not see the Vatican, sorry!  The poor tour guide told us she would give us another tour for free the next day but we politely declined.  Wasn't about to try it again.  Once we went out to St. Peters Square in front of the Basillica the line to get in was outrageous so we opted to avoid that as well.  We'll just have to make another trip someday!

Jillian, Landon, Lily and I- St. Peters Square, Vatican City.
 
 
Love
 
 
After we left the Vatican we went straight to the Trevi Fountain (actually alot cooler than I had anticipated) It was started by Bernini and finished by Nicola Salvi in the 1700's.  The legend of the fountain says that if you throw 3 coins in, you will be guaranteed a return trip to Rome. Although there are a few other legends associated with the fountain as well... I like that one.
 
 
 
 
 
 We stopped at the Spanish Steps after the Trevi Fountain.  Sort of a waste of a stop... but we took a quick photo and then headed back to the hotel to get ready for a sushi dinner with the Cheveries and another couple from Gino's team, that were in Rome. 
 
 
 
On our last full day we had to hit up the Pantheon, Colosseum and Forum. We took the bus to the government building  and walked to the Pantheon from there.  The Government building itself is a pretty spectacular structure.  It was huge! We remembered seeing it on the bus tour and thinking that it had to be something important and old.  haha.  I really don't know much more about it than that.  I think it was built in the 1800's so not nearly as old as everything else in Rome.
 
 
 
 
 The Pantheon was the first stop. We walked along side streets and alleys and all of a sudden came across the Pantheon.  I was expecting to see it out in the open somewhere but it was literally smack dab in a neighborhood it seemed. 
 
 
It was originally built as a temple for the Gods in 27BC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  and has the largest free standing  concrete dome in the world.  How did the Romans build this without modern machines.  It is really incredible to think about.  Raphael's tomb is also inside. 
 
View from the side


video
 
 

 We were pretty hungry after the morning we had and decided to walk on over to Piazza Navona for a quick lunch.  The sun was shinning and the square was packed with artists selling paintings, a full blown market, and lots of asian tourists. ( you can see one of the tour groups taking pics of the fountain behind us)
 



 
 
 
 So, I'm sure most of you are aware, but food/drink prices in Rome are crazy compared to the rest of the country.  Jillian and I paid 8 Euro/person for a Spritz at the hotel which you can get for under 3 Euro basically outside of the city.  I thought we left Norway!!!?  We looked around at a few menus at restaurants in the square and the prices were of course, outrageous.  One, because its Rome, and two, because we were in a well known Piazza.  We walked out of the square a bit and found a cute pizzeria which had a 3 course meal for 10 Euro.  BINGO!  We originally came to Rome, telling ourselves we were going to try and eat Chinese, Sushi, Mexican, American...anything but Italian! (Thats basically all you can find at restaurants and grocery stores in Alleghe)  But we couldn't resist the deal and of course had to give the Cheveries a good Italian meal:)  It was really tasty!
 
 
 

After lunch, we intended on walking towards the Roman Forum and Colosseum, while making a few stops at smaller sites (Mouth of Truth, Roman Chariot Race Track, etc)  We walked along the Tiber River for a good 45 min/hour. Finally found the mouth of truth...
 


The line to put your hand in the mouth and grab a photo was really long! and we were on a little bit of a time crunch, so Gino just took a picture through the fence while the guards weren't looking. 
 
We thought at this point that we were close to the Forum and Colosseum...not so much.  Turns out we sort of walked in a circle and were another 20 min walk from our destination.  UGH.  Once we finally arrived at the Forum, the gates were closed and we found that it shut down for the day at 3:30pm.
 
We walked around the corner and found out that the Colosseum had also shut down.  SO, we snapped a few  photos and planned on returning the next morning (our last morning) to see both before checking out of the hotel and heading home. 
 



 
 
 Since it was getting a little late and we had gone out with the babies for a later sushi dinner the night before.  We decided on settling for McDonalds and letting the babies go to sleep.  On the walk back to the hotel we stopped for some wine and beer to bring back with us.  We gave Lily a bath in the hotel room sink and while I was putting her to bed, Gino and Evan ran to get food.  When Gino got back, Lily was asleep in the pack n play so we quietly ate McDonalds in the bathroom.  As we sat there eating, we had to laugh at the situation.  In Rome..Lily sleeping in the bedroom...mom and dad eating McDonalds for dinner...in the bathroom so that Lily could sleep...I'm sitting on the bath tub ledge and Gino on the toliet.  We are officially parents!
 
After "dinner" we left Lily in the room and went to Evan and Jillians for some drinks.  They were staying in a room a few doors down. We checked on Lily every 20 min or so and it worked out great!  Landon was fast asleep with his little sound machine in the bathroom.  It was nice to have some adult time at last! and great to catch up without a crying baby to distract us.  My have times changed since our years in Lillehammer. 
 
I know this is getting long but I'm almost done!  The last day we woke up early, met the Cheveries in the lobby and walked straight to the Colosseum.  Gino had uploaded a Rick Steves Colosseum tour on the Ipad so we tried to listen to that as we walked through.  What we didn't realize is that it was actually white in color during its time.   It also happens to be one of the "New" 7 Wonders of the World.  The Colosseum was spectacular!  It's cool that its positioned right in the heart of the city surrounded by busy streets etc.  Not where you would imagine it to be. 


The rooms underneath the Colosseum floor where the gladiators and animals were held.

Even though you won't remember any of these, here's proof you were really in Rome!


Next up was the Roman Forum, which was also the last stop before leaving Rome.  We had been told that strollers were nearly impossible to push through the Forum.  It's basically the ruins of a small city of government buildings and houses of government officials.  We popped Lily in the baby bjorn and went exploring. 


The remains of an ancient ballroom floor.






The rest of the time we walked through an orange grove and relaxed in the sun before hiking back to the hotel.  Gino and I both said that we have to make another trip back to Rome.  The 3 days just wasn't enough!  and of course another Vatican tour without the distraction of a 4 month old would be great.  It was an awesome trip and I'm so thankful it worked out to meet up with the Cheveries.  We miss them alot and feel very fortunate to have been able to spend a few days traveling with them.  It was an emotional goodbye for Jillian and I but I know we'll see them again! 
 
I'll mention some hockey news in the next blog.  Gino is now back to playing after his injury and the team is still in 2nd place.  They're doing great! 
November flew by and after a filling Thanksgiving feast with our Alleghe family last week, we now have Gino's parents visit to look forward too!  They arrive this Friday.  Our plans for their trip are a visit to Venice, and tour around to a few Christmas markets in northern Italy and perhaps Austria. (they open on the 30th)
 Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and you were surrounded by lots of family! 
 
If anyone wants Rome travel advice, I would be happy to help. 
 
Ciao!