Ciao, friends! The ten days I just spent in Italy flew by…but isn’t that how it always goes? Months of planning and anticipation, then poof, you’re back home! This is why I live my life vacation countdown to vacation countdown. 😉
I’ll be breaking this trip report into three posts with each one focusing on a city/region we visited. We started off with three days in Rome, arriving mid-day on Thursday, November 3 and leaving for Tuscany on Sunday, November 6. One more day would’ve been great, but overall I was satisfied with that amount of time, since I already knew that we couldn’t do it all in our first trip. Also, a quick intro for the couple we traveled with – Dave and Kristine! Dave has been our friend since he and Brett met in the Marine Corps ten years ago. Dave then met and married Kristine…I actually planned their destination wedding last year in Jamaica! The four of us have been talking about going to Italy for three years now, but I couldn’t seem to figure out how to stop having babies. 🙂 This trip was highly anticipated and I think – no, I know – they would agree that it was worth the wait!
Day 1: We arrived in Rome on KLM via Amsterdam around noon on Thursday. Our driver met us as we exited the arrivals hall and we were at the hotel within an hour. We stayed at the Marcella Royal Hotel, a solid 3.5 star property that I’ve been sending my clients to for years now. It’s a lovely hotel with the best rooftop bar (which, by the way, their pizza ranked #1 on our pizza tour of Italy!), friendly staff, and an excellent, quiet location. My only caveat is that once November hits, they turn off the air conditioning and it was warm even at night, also do not fight me when I put you in a superior room, mmmkay? Size does matter in hotel rooms!
When staying here, you absolutely must get to Gelateria La Romana (a quick two-minute walk away)…which is apparently a chain, but was the best gelato we had in Rome. The ladies who worked there were so sweet about deciphering our not-even-close-to Italian-English as we tried to guess flavors!
Our first night, we made the ultimate mistake and went to bed at 5:30PM, so of course I was wide awake at 10:30PM and couldn’t fall back to sleep until 2:30AM…ughhh. Fortunately, coffee makes just about everything better!
Day 2: Our guide, Dominico, met us in the lobby at 9AM to begin our half-day private tour of “Ancient Rome”, as we refer to it…a.k.a. the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. It’s always mindblowing to me when I visit Europe and see things that are thousands of years old, versus our hundreds here in the States!
It was a bit warmer than I had anticipated, in the mid- to high 70s, so we were grateful for the sparse crowds that were at all the major historical sights. I really loved hearing more about what went on at the Colosseum…like learning that the gladiators were the highest ‘class’ of slave, and that they kept the animals underneath with over 60 trap doors to bring them up so there was always an element of surprise! As we walked from the Colosseum to the Roman Forum, I continued to obsess over these fascinating “umbrella pine trees” that are everywhere in Rome. I’m assuming that is not their technical name, but it made sense to me!
One of my (many) favorite things about having a private guide is that you have time to just take everything in at your own pace – and without 25 other people…just your own group. It makes the time there so much more memorable. That afternoon, we continued our pizza tour of Italy and ate lunch in Piazza Navona, then walked the 30 minutes back to our hotel with a stop (once again) at our favorite gelateria!
We had dinner reservations that evening at Armando al Pantheon, a recommendation by my dear friend and travel blogger, Denise. Reservations are a must, and it was perfectly simple and delicious Italian cuisine in the cutest little restaurant tucked away right by the Pantheon (as the name suggests!). We were so pleasantly surprised throughout our trip at just how affordable our meals were in all the cities we visited. We rarely spent over 150 Euros (at the highest) on dinner for four with multiple drinks and multiple courses…and keep in mind, you have to buy water when dining – several bottles of water. Kristine and I both loved having sparkling or frizzante water instead of still and not paying extra for that…#itsthesmallthings. We spent our evenings on the rooftop bar listening to the boys not love Italian draft beers, drinking prosecco (#allthebubbles) and typically ordering pizza to share…#neverenoughpizza #wheninrome, right?!
Day 3: After figuring out we could have delicious foamy, full fat milk cappucinos with breakfast, we met our guide, Dominico, once again at 9AM for a half-day guided tour of Vatican City.
YOU GUYS – the lines were absurd! We (of course) flew right past them in the “ticket” line. I was completely baffled that people would not pre-purchase tickets, but willingly stood in long lines to get in instead. This didn’t top the Colosseum for me personally, but was completely fascinating and beautiful in its own right. I really enjoyed just seeing what Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica looked like in person and, as an added bonus, I was able to get some rosaries blessed by the Pope himself for our sweet friends’ new babies!
We meandered down some streets on our way to the Castel Sant’Angelo and came upon a fabulous little restaurant, that – bad travel advisor that I am – didn’t even note the name…maybe I can dig up the correct receipt for it! This pizza became #2 in our pizza tour and I had the most perfect glass of white wine (can we talk about how you can just say “glass of white” and you get a 3 Euro glass of deliciousness?!) to go with it – delizioso!
After toodling around the grounds of the Castle (which wasn’t really a castle, and would be a fun place to bring kids), we crossed back over the Tiber River and cabbed it back to our hotel for a nap followed by our happy hour meet up on the rooftop. The men wanted steak…but you know how if there isn’t a lot of steak to be found on menus, you probably shouldn’t order it? Well, we ended up at a chain restaurant, The Roadhouse (think Texas Roadhouse, but not) and Dave and Brett did end up liking what they ordered, but Kristine and I survived on french fries and Lambrusco…and gelato afterward, of course! I discovered I have a real fondness for all things hazlenut including gelato and these yummy wafers with nutella in between them, kind of like the disgusting strawberry ones we used to eat as kids – remember those? Had it not been for waking up in the middle of the night on night one, I would’ve known found these! We bought at least two large packs during the ten days…whoops!
Day 4: Coming up in my next post: #HCTClients take on Tuscany and avoid tornadoes…to be continued!!
HCTC Tip: Rome has hundreds of public fountains with fresh, clean water that you can fill up a bottle or drink straight from the spigot!
Side note: I used my partners at Europe Express to plan and execute 90% of this trip – the car was reserved via Auto Europe (my go to) and the Florence component of Walks In Instanbul.