Immersing Ourselves in Rome

Written By: Kim - Aug• 02•11

On our second day in Rome, we missed breakfast time at our hotel. This was the best thing that could have happened. We ventured back by the gelato place, which really was a combination deli and pastry shop.

Breakfast at our favorite cafe. ©Mike Howard

Breakfast was to be here and they offered omelets, fresh fruit and toast. An espresso was on the menu for Mike as well. No “American coffee”  even though they listed it for tourists. This looked like a family-owned business and the sister of the owner took to my 13-year-old son despite the language barrier. She encouraged him to eat more than he normally does for breakfast and offered him a panini with tomatoes, which he does not like. He gladly ate the whole thing.

The electric mini-bus 116 was our first foray into Italian public transportation.  Unfortunately, the street stop names do not coincide with the tourist attractions nor villas which landmark major areas. Clearly, this system was not designed by an editor. So, after an hour of riding, with two stops where the driver literally walked away from his bus for some kind of break, we got off.

The Pantheon's ceiling. ©Mike Howard

Once we got our land feet, we made our way to the Pantheon, the Palatine and the Colosseum.

The Colosseum ©Mike Howard

We walked by many pastry and food shops carrying truffle oil, cheese, meat and rainbow-colored pasta. I could not wait to cook in Praiano in the Almalfi Coast.

We really crammed too much in the first day, but all of these sites are somewhat close to each other. But five hours and our hotel room later, I remembered the advice of my friend Sabine: There are no public restrooms in Rome.

Fulfilling Two Dreams

Written By: Kim - Jul• 31•11

I am not sure if it was sleep deprivation or emotional overload, but when we landed in Rome, Italy, I got teary. This was my dream vacation. I had wanted to travel to Italy ever since I read “Under the Tuscan Sun” almost 15 year ago. Coupled with my Mother’s never-to-be-fulfiilled dream of touring her parent’s homeland, I just could not contain the emotion of the moment.

After the shock of exchanging US dollars for Euros, we were quickly on our way via a cab. Our Roman driver was excellent and definitely showed us how Italian drivers pretty much mark up their own road rules. Moped and motorcycle drivers who see an opening do not hesitate to take it. Because many European cars are so small….as in tiny compared to American cars, they too do not hesitate to insert themselves in between anything. And oh the parking.

This is common in Rome. Drivers park where they can. © Kim Howard

He gave us a quick tour and advice: the Coloseum overcharges for tours. What you see on the outside is pretty much what you see on the inside. Save your money. The sidewalk restaurants enclosed in glass are for tourists. If you want authentic experiences, eat where the locals do. So we followed his advice.

Because of vacation ownership, we were lucky enough to convert our points to stay at one of Rome’s best hotels — The Westin Excelsior. Although our overnight flight arrived an hour late, we were still too early for check in. Do not sweat it. There are plenty of other tourists who arrive on red eyes who are in the same boat. We are all sleep deprived, napping on the hotel lobby couches.

Our first lunch in Rome showed us that American pizza creators are too obsessed with the amount of bread they use in crust. Their sauces offer too much salt, not enough flavor and they cram too many options on top of their dough. While the bottled water in Italy is overpriced, many places will give you tap water for free. But by the second day, we were ordering bottled water, gas (bubbles) and no gas (still).

Despite our overeagerness to explore the city, we all quickly fell asleep once we were in our rooms. When my 13-year-old son woke up at 5 pm, he thought it was Tuesday. We ventured out for dinner and were not disappointed although we were the only ones in Le Frick 7 pm. Dinner in Italy doesn’t really rev up until about 9 pm.

As you would imagine, there is no shortage of gelato offerings and our hotel recommended an excellent place only two blocks away. We had the most divine lemon creme gelato man ever created. We saw an extremely passionate couple kissing in the piazza embracing tightly. Trust me American teenagers: You know nothing about it. I think my kids were more shocked than we were.

Even though we had napped and despite the six hour ahead time difference, we all were asleep by 10:30 pm Rome time. And then proceed to sleep away our first morning in Rome by not getting up until 10 am.