I'll start this off by telling you that we officially took 1,096 pictures whilst in Italy. I will not be subjecting you to all 1,096 of them. But be forewarned, there will be many, many pictures. :) I'm going to split this up into three separate posts, one for each city that we visited. It was a whirlwind of a week, and Steven and I both agree that we're still digesting everything we saw and experienced. I'm also still getting over the jet lag (it feels 6 hours later than it is), so if I sound slightly bleary, that's why.
It actually began in Madrid, where we landed at 6:05 AM D.C. time, 11-something AM local Madrid time. I managed to speak a little Spanish to the security check-in folks, and I was mighty proud of myself for it. When we had to ask the Information Desk for our flight's gate number, I tried asking in Spanish, and got as far as "Que puerta...?" before he launched into a string of Spanish and lost me entirely. I shook my head and he said, "En Ingles?" and then proceeded to speak to us in perfect English, with barely an accent, to let us know that our flight wouldn't be assigned a gate until about an hour before takeoff. The guy's flawless switch in languages knocked Steven's socks right off.
After a chat with the info services guy, we hunted down a coffee shop, and I successfully managed to order us two "caffe con leche."
We drank them right down.
And as much as my hoarding heart wanted to start collecting souvenirs right then and there, I refrained and left the napkin on the table.
After one more brief (2 hour) flight, we landed at Fiumicino Airport in Rome, and somehow managed to buy tickets for the "Leonardo Express" (yes, its really called that), which is a train that takes you straight to Roma Termini Station in the heart of Rome.
(And this is the part where I delve briefly into the horror that was the exchange rate from the US Dollar to the Euro. Suffice to say, it wasn't pretty. Everything was basically twice the cost that it is here. Ouch.)
When the Leonardo Express stopped at Roma Termini station, we had to go find a Tabacchi (tobacco) store, so we could buy a ticket to ride Rome's Metro to our hotel. We navigated the Metro to the Flaminio stop (or "Flamingo" as Steven called it), and somehow got all of our suitcases and bags and ourselves all the way to our hotel.
We dumped our luggage and took showers, and feeling slightly revived, we hit the town to find somewhere to eat dinner. We asked the first restaurant we came to whether they served pizza, and they pointed us to a place called Fraschetteria Brunetti.
Turns out they didn't have pizza, they had some sort of weird antipasti dish, that was basically an assortment of cured meats, with olives, ricotta cheese, and bread.
We were starving so we ate it right up. It felt very authentic, very Rome. And then our waiter came over and gave us directions to a gelato place, and while he was pointing at the map, Steven asked him what we'd just eaten. "Sausage!" he responded. Steven asked what kind, and we believe he may have said "Intestines and lungs!" but we still aren't quite sure. Oh dear.
After we hunted down the gelato place (and I'm still not sure we found the right one -- there's a gelato stand on every corner there), we walked back to our hotel and crashed.
The next morning, we got up and had Our First Italian Cappuccino:
It was every bit as good as I'd imagined it would be. And dining al fresco was pretty much awesome. The hotel had free breakfast each morning, but with bizarre things like ham, canned peaches, formaggio cheese in a tiny little aluminum wrapper, and croissants with jam. Okay, so it wasn't bizarre, it was delicious, but Steven was pleased to see that they still had a platter of scrambled eggs and bacon. :)
Oh, and they had Blood Orange Juice for breakfast too! So cool....
Here's the courtyard where we ate breakfast:
And here's Steven saying "Enough with the pictures already, dear."
Here's the street our hotel was on:
Our hotel was a block from the Piazza del Popolo, where Steven stood and held up the spire in the middle of the Piazza.
We asked the front desk how we could get a taxi to the Colosseum, and the reception girl said (rather smugly, I might add), "Why would you need a taxi? Just walk!" Steven and I looked at each other and shrugged. Okay then. We would walk.
So we walked through this beautiful iron gate....
... right out of the Piazza del Popolo...
...and we walked down the streets of Rome and we chatted, and it started to get less and less populated.... and when we'd walked for about 20 minutes, Steven said, "Where's that map again?"
And, as it turns out, we'd walked in the exact wrong direction, thanks to Yours Truly. Pretty much everything was in the other direction.
After I had my brief hissy fit, we turned around and walked down to the Piazza Venezia.
Whereupon Steven spotted the Roman Centurions, and just HAD to have his picture taken.
Twenty euros later, we had several hilarious tourist-y pictures and much lighter wallets. Steven says it was worth every penny. Or whatever pennies are in euros.
So then we headed to the main attraction: The Colosseum.
One of the coolest parts was not only seeing the Colosseum, but getting to touch it.
We saw the Arch of Constantine, too.
And Steven chased pigeons.
One of the weirdest thing was the actors on the side of the road, pretending to be statues, and then moving right when you least expected it. This guy had the best costume.
Other times, we saw things that were beautiful, but that we couldn't identify. Its taken coming back to the US and googling to realize what we actually saw was a famous "trompe l'œil" ceiling at the Church of Saint Ignatius, painted to give a perspective of being much taller than it really was.
And then we saw the Pantheon.
I expected the inside to also be very old and in ruins, much like the Colosseum. To my surprise, it was newer-looking and very gaudy, like the insides of the rest of the churches. For some reason, that was disappointing to discover. :)
But it was still, admittedly, very cool to be inside the Pantheon.
We were hungry for lunch then, so we started scouting out menus, which involved translations like this:
We picked pizza, since we'd tried for it the night before and ended up with Intestines Sausage instead (ew).
It was a good choice.
After lunch, it started raining, but we headed over to the Trevi Fountain anyway, determined to fit it all in.
It was surprisingly crowded there.
Around the corner from Trevi Fountain is a gelato place that's gotten acclaim from the New York Times: San Crispino Gelato. So of course we had to try it.
Steven got chocolate and tiramisu. I got hazelnut and pistachio. It was absolutely excellent.
Revived by our gelato, we traversed over to the Spanish Steps (Piazza della Spagna).
We climbed all the way to the top, but at this point the rain was starting to wear on us, so we headed back to the hotel for a nap.
Dinner meant dining al fresco again, which I loved.
I had ravioli with buffalo cheese:
And Steven discovered that he loves spaghetti alla carbonara. He proceeded to have it three more times during the course of our trip.
Our hotel has been used as the set for movies:
It had an old-timey (kinda scary) elevator that still used the cage-and-doors method.
And all of the keys at each hotel had these tremendously heavy keychains attached to them. I guess so you don't lose the key, but man that was annoying to have to carry around the city!
And I suppose that concludes the first bit of our trip. Tomorrow I'll tell you all about how we sprinted through the Vatican and then took the train to Florence!