I am on the adventure of a lifetime. We left the USA on the 16th and arrived in Rome on the 17th. The flight was uneventful. I watched two movies and took copious amounts of sleep meds and still slept very little. I decided side sleepers just don’t sleep on planes because after a Xanax and two doses of melatonin, I woke up every 15 or 20 minutes. Annoying. I am super jealous of the folks in first class with their little tiny beds. But it was nice to catch up with my Aunt and read my book. Our flight was slightly delayed and finding our driver in the airport felt nearly impossible with hundreds of drivers standing in a crowd with small white signs with last names printed in pen held chest high. But there he was, Daniel, the owner of our AirBnb and our driver for our trip to the center of Rome. It was a short 35-minute drive and Daniel spoke excellent English so we got lots of good information as we drove. As we neared the apartment, he explained that we needed to find a parking space. 20 minutes later we were still circling the area and no parking spot appeared even though most of the cars in Rome are half the size of an American car. I thought parking in San Francisco was bad…hah. I really needed to pee so Daniel finally parked in a bus zone, swearing he wouldn’t be ticketed because “parking is a really big problem in Rome”. After walking a short way to the apartment, we arrived in the little alley entrance to 84 via della Madonna dei Monti. Cute little apartment in a building that was built in 1620. Lots of charm, too few pillows. I noticed that right away and made a mental note that I really like lots of fluffy pillows and I should add that fact to my Airbnb search criteria…must have pillows. Daniel pulled out a map and proceeded to give us about 20 minutes of sight seeing advice. As is often the case with me, I stopped listening after 10 minutes and began thinking that I wished he would leave so I could freshen my stinky, sleep deprived body a bit. We took off for sight seeing adventures almost immediately after saying goodbye to Daniel.
And so began three straight days of being lost all the time.
Yep. We got lost. And then we got lost again. When we found our way, we got lost again. I had forgotten how difficult navigating in a strange city can be and I made another mental note to read less about things to do in a city before I arrive and more about how to navigate the darned city. I have to say that being lost is a great way to see things and we had investigated at least seven of the major tourist attractions in the period of 7 hours of wandering around Rome, simply by walking by them by accident. We also ate some amazing food. The last hour of being lost was the most frustrating because I was exhausted from lack of sleep. We had made a goal of staying awake until 8PM Italy time and we arrived back at the apartment just before 9PM. I fell asleep almost immediately and slept until 7:30 the next day.
AH, sleep. So good. So satisfying.
The next morning, I went on a quest for food and coffee because I had no idea how to use the weird little coffee pot thing in our room. Italians are not big fans of morning protein or to go coffee so I returned with two chocolate croissants and coffee in plastic cups covered by aluminum foil. We had a 10AM tour of the Coliseum so there wasn’t much time to do anything but shower and head out. Not shower, bathe. There was no shower. Just a bath and a handheld shower thing.
As a side note, bathrooms in Rome are quite different than bathrooms at home. In my first day I spent quite a bit of time standing and looking at the toilet trying to figure out how to flush it. It’s a button, usually on the wall, but not always and not always directly above the toilet. You also have to pump the sink with a pedal on the floor in order to wash your hands. It would have made a good “stupid American” video with me trying to use the bathroom as I stood looking at the toilet for five minutes before finding the flush button and then waving my hands around the sink for another five before finally discovering the floor foot pump. Fun times. I have seen more bathrooms than anything else since arriving in Italy. It’s ridiculous how much I pee.
The coliseum is a giant stadium like ancient building in the center of Rome and probably the most visited tourist attraction. Our walking tour met and we had an adorable tour guide in her 20’s. We had to wear ear buds to hear her. Ear buds never stay in my ears. What the fuck is wrong with my ears anyway? Off we went to explore the ancient building. I won’t go on and on about what we saw. It was very cool and it’s a must see and we had the best tour which showed us all the most inaccessible places kept behind lock and key to the average tourists. Once again, I had to pee right away. Peeing is a major travel issue for me. I really struggle with having to pee all the time. I nearly lost the tour entirely at one point because I ran off to pee. I spent more time wondering why no one else had to pee like I did than actually listening to our tour guide. It’s impossible that I peed twice before a single other person on our tour had to pee. What are these people, camels? Anyway, the tour was quite good. About three hours into it I was done and found I was no longer listening at all to our sweet little guide. I felt bad ignoring her so I decided to study her accent in case I ever need to play an Italian on stage. My god that accent is amazing. Every single word goes up at the end. EveryAH SingleAH WordAH GoesAH UpAH atAH theAH EndAH. It’s exhausting to copy that accent but I had a lovely time repeating every word the guide said in my head and taking photos of trees. Yes, trees. I love them. Not that I don’t history. I do. But really, it was a four-hour tour. How much history can you learn? Especially with all those amazing Roman trees to distract me. When the tour ended I couldn’t wait to get rid of the ear buds that didn’t stay in my ears and have some freedom from “the history of ancient Rome” lesson.
Tonia immediately told me that she felt like the tour should have ended at 2.5 hours and that she had to pee the entire time too. Whew, what a relief that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way and perhaps my ADHD isn’t as bad as it seems.
We also decided that their needs to be an app called Where’s the Potty for people like me. It’s a good idea and we should totally do it. Rome needs more bathrooms.
Side note: there are a fuck ton of McDonald’s in Rome. Where you can also pee. YAY McDonald’s. Or McCafe…where you can get a cappuccino and a chocolate croissant (and pee). Yep. I don’t know what to say about that other than Where’s the Potty could simply be Where’s the McDonalds because you can always pee there. I wanted to buy some McDonalds to thank them for their bathrooms. But I didn’t.
This is Italy. I am not eating McDonalds. (Two days later, we ate McDonald’s. I needed those French fries, bad. No shame. The fries are so good.)
Food, glorious food. SO much good food. Meal highlights were Pasta Carbanara (which I had twice in two different places and both times it was fucking delicious) and the most amazing Calzone stuffed with mushrooms and prosciutto and cheese that I can still taste in my mind. OMG the crust. So good. And the bread…all the bread. I am pretty sure I gained five pounds already.
After the longest walking tour in world history, we took the train to the Vatican. I learned that you should never walk away from the platform to go back and look at the map again because you will have to buy another ticket. Oops. $3 lesson. We arrived near the Vatican ready to eat and found a little cafe that seemed decent. It was. But my fish had eyes and I realized I really before my food with the eyes removed. After lunch, it was after 3PM and we didn’t think we had time to see both the Vatican museums and St. Peter’s Cathedral which both closed at 6PM. We had read that the lines were long in both places but that the St. Peters line moved quickly so we made our way toward the square where we found two very long lines that did not move quickly at all. I pulled out my book (so glad I brought it) and switched between chatting with my Aunt, reading my book, and analyzing the speed of our line vs. the line beside us. My analysis confirmed that the line next to us was moving twice as fast as I watched people who had entered the line at the same time as us disappear inside. I had to go full zen goddess to keep from freaking out about it. I mean, it’s a place of worship, not Disney World. It turned out the other line fed into two security checks while our line fed into one and frankly, I am notorious for picking the slowest line. I don’t why. I just do. It’s a gift really. (for the record, Disney World would have never allowed two uneven flowing lines.)
Ah…St. Peter’s. So beautiful. I just can’t describe it. We waited an hour and forty-five minutes to get inside and it was worth the slow, crappy line to see it’s majestic beauty. I can’t believe how beautiful it was. I was mesmerized. My Aunt ran through it trying to get to the gift shop before it closed because her husband asked for one thing from her travels, a Rosary from the Vatican, but I took my time. After an hour of wandering and starring in awe at the ceiling and praying, I finally texted Tonia to ask where she was. I could sense something was wrong in the tone of the texts and she told me all the gift shops were closed and she wouldn’t be able to get her husband the one thing he wanted. I looked up and realized I was basically standing next to a tiny gift shop that sold about 75 different kinds of rosaries and told her to get her ass here NOW as they were about to close. I looked to the sky and said “come on mom and grandma, if you have any power to get Tonia into this tiny corridor I wandered down, help her find it quick”…and it worked. She was the last customer to enter that shop and the last customer to make a purchase. THANKS GHOSTS OF THE HALL WOMEN. (We did end up passing another gift shop outside the exit where Tonia purchased another Rosary, but that’s not the point.)
I was quite charmed by the genuine sadness Tonia felt at not making the love of her life’s wish come true and I said a silent, Thank you God prayer that Tonia had found such a good man to love.
So the Vatican experience ended and we took the train back to our hood in search of dinner. Both Tonia and I got super hungry, too much standing, grouchy HANGRY at that point. When we finally sat down and ordered dinner, we both had orgasms while we ate it. No really. We had actual food orgasms. So good.
The next morning I really needed to run so I got up and headed out early. I really enjoy running in a strange city and I had my bearings well enough to not get too lost. I did almost five miles. The streets are a little uneven and that’s difficult and you have to step carefully. The crowds aren’t easy to navigate but I really loved seeing the people and the neighborhoods and just zipping along and feeling the energy of the city. We then had plans to have a slow, easy day. We wanted to hit some of the boutiques we had passed nearby and I had a neighborhood I wanted to visit off the beaten “tourist track”. Shopping was lots of fun and both of us found cute things. Feeling confident after our trip to the Vatican by train, we headed toward the Metro thinking we knew exactly what we were doing. We didn’t. We went to the wrong stop, got off, wandering around at the street level, looking for the bus. Asked several people for help. Got no help. Went back down into the Metro to ask the station attendant for help. Not only was he a total DICK. (I hate him. I have plans to build a voodoo doll of that guy so I can stick pins in it someday.) He also said “maybe I don’t understand where you want to go because you aren’t saying it correctly in Italian.” Yeah, probably not…jerkface. So back on the train, to a new station, then a giant bus station where I finally discovered something absolutely wonderful: GOOGLE FUCKING MAPS will tell you exactly what to do. It told me what bus number to take and exactly what time that bus would arrive and exactly what stop to get off at and then it tracked our asses so we knew we were in the right place. Now this neighborhood called Travestere was the most fun we had in Rome. I was disappointed that we didn’t make it until so late in the day, but we nestled into a yummy looking restaurant and got wine and food into our bodies and the frustrating journey was immediately forgotten. After dinner, we walked the beautiful corridors and alleyways and visited several spots for more drinks and people watching. I was searching for gay bars and we hit every one that was advertised as such. I didn’t see any gay women in the bars, as always. I guess the lesbians stay hidden in Italy in the same way they do at home. We ended up in a very expensive Uber on the way home. Both of us were a bit sloshed. For some reason, we decided to finish off the evening with a big glass of Sake in a sushi place. Hmmm…that hurt the next morning.
The next morning we both had hangovers and I needed something besides chocolate for breakfast so I went to the store and bought eggs and made breakfast. That helped the headaches a little. We packed up and got ready for our train to Florence. Seriously, I brought too much crap and I really regret it.
My suitcases are too big, too heavy and I do not need all this shit I brought. Ah well, live and learn. It’s been 15 years since my last (and only) big travel adventure so I forgot how unimportant clothing is compared to travel ease. And all of our AirBnb’s have a washing machine. Next time I won’t pack so much. I was really proud of our ability to navigate our way to the metro station but we did get a little lost finding our Florence train. It’s really about experience and now that we’ve done it once I suspect it won’t be so hard in the future. The language barrier is an issue and I have found Italians aren’t super helpful. I think really studying the transit systems is a must for travelling. And learning a few phrases in the native tongue so you don’t come off as an asshole who doesn’t care about at least trying to say things correctly.
Watching the countryside go by on the train was lovely. I love the rhythm of a train. It was one of my favorite hours of the journey so far.
We took a taxi to our Airbnb in Florence and It was terrifying watching our driver speed through the narrow streets and barely missing the people crossing the roads. I am shocked that this system or driving in Florence works. There are people everywhere, cars trying to get past them and scooters zipping around both. It’s really like nothing I have ever seen before and I am grateful not to be driving here. The new apartment is three flights up a narrow staircase and our hosts husband carried our suitcases up. He is a wonderful GOD of a man and I am not looking forward to getting those bags back downstairs. Dammit, why did I pack so much?
Florence is incredible. It’s hard to describe it but it makes Rome look very dirty and congested. Not that it’s less crowded here. It’s very crowded. Considering this is not a touristy time of year, I am really surprised by how crowded it is. Our first day we waited in line for the “best sandwich in the world” at All’Antico Vinaio. It really was the best sandwich I have ever had and I ate every single bite of mine. We then toured the Galileo Museum which is steps from our front door. Very cool. Sort of the history of science and technology…more accurately, the history of the study of science and technology. We both needed some veg time so we returned to our room for some rest which turned into naps for both of us. After a few hours of rest, we walked to a local eatery called Trattoria Nella that had been recommended to us. I am starting to get Trattoria fatigue but we each had a delicious salad and pasta. I think my aunt could have pasta for every meal but I need something different soon. The food is incredible but every menu is identical and I am ready for some sushi or something else. We had a nice after dinner walk and made our first trip past some of the most popular tourist sights in Florence.
Yesterday was my favorite day so far. I woke up early and went for a five mile run down the river near our apartment and then through the side streets of Florence. It really is the best way to see a city. After showering, we went in search of an American style breakfast which includes eggs and found something next to the Duomo. I don’t really know how Italians survive without morning protein. It’s a must have for me. We spent the next several hours walking and shopping and just being tourists. I found some beautiful gifts for my kids and something for my house to remember Florence by. We then headed toward our 2PM tour. When we arrived, it turned out our tour was for the following day. It’s become difficult to keep track of what day it is which means this vacation just got REAL It’s also a 7-8 time difference to my kids at home which makes communication way too difficult and I am beginning to miss them HARD.
There is a church on the outskirts of Florence that was on my list so we headed that way via the bus since the afternoon was suddenly free. OMG so glad we made it there. San Miniato is by far the most beautiful place we have seen. We walked through, prayed inside, lit candles for our moms and spent over an hour just walking through the incredible cemetery that surrounds the grounds. Wow. And the view of Florence below is really fantastic.
Afterwards, we successfully took the bus back to the center of Florence. Thank you GOOGLE MAPS, you rock my world. We found a very trendy food spot called Fishing Lab. It was one of my favorite meals of the trip with some raw Tuna to start and delicious steamed Sea Bass for the main course. Tonia wasn’t a fan but she can have pasta for every meal. I needed a change of pace so I was grateful for the different style of food. It was very light and healthy.
Our room was noisy last night because we have a bar in the alley under our apartment. I wasn’t too bothered by it but Tonia had a hard time sleeping. I decided I needed a break this morning from sightseeing so I am alone in our room listening to the sound of the city below and typing my memories here so they aren’t lost or faded when I return.
Today, I feel incredibly grateful for this trip. I feel like I miss my babies so much. I am overwhelmed by the desire to share this experience with them. Especially my teenagers because I know they would really understand and appreciate it. I spent a lot of time imagining bringing my daughter to Florence when she graduates from college. I would like to take her to Paris and Florence. I would like to take her to the beach during the summer here. I haven’t been to a European beach yet, but I know she would love it.
Something weird happened night before last, I dreamt a very powerful dream about forgiveness. In the dream, I was at an event in the coliseum in Rome, but it wasn’t ancient, it was like a concert hall. It was clearly the coliseum but there were chairs like a sport stadium or theatre. I was walking to my seat when I spotted someone from my past that I have struggled to forgive. I turned back, as I usually do in real life when I see her. I went to the restroom, where I often go during crowded events, because I ALWAYS HAVE TO PEE and because bathrooms are convenient hiding places for introverts like me. I came out of my stall and this person was standing at the sink and I thought, “FUCK” because there was no place to hide. Our eyes met and we stood there and then we walked toward each other and embraced. We stood holding each other and saying we were sorry and it was very heartfelt and honest and beautiful. And then I looked up into the mirror and I was holding my own self, I was embracing myself. I woke up crying and lay in the room looking at the ceiling for quite a while and feeling a sense of peace I haven’t felt in a long time.
Because that’s it, isn’t it?
Forgiving myself is what is holding me back. I know it. I can’t fix it by magic.
Or pressure. Or demands.
It takes time.
As long as it takes.It takes as long as it takes.
And maybe you have to go halfway around the world to get there.
But it’s good and Italy is a wonderful place for that.