Sunday, September 03, 2017


Final Stop.... Rome!  We spent 4 nights here and was blown away at the history of the city.  Ruins everywhere!  Buildings on top of buildings.  Definitely a reminder that our existence is but a mere speck in time.  We stayed right by the Colosseo in a beautiful traditional Roman apartment.  There was a small annex for josh to have his own space, a 24 hr market across the street, and views of the Colosseo out the window.  Another bonus was a washer so we could clean up some clothes!

Once we got settled, we made did a loop on the hop-on-hop-off bus.  We got a lay of the land and were able to check off some sites.  We saw the Spanish Steps (meh), Trevi Fountain (meh) and some other notable places.  I believe some landmarks you have to see even if they aren't showstoppers and doing it hop-on hop-off style is the way to go for quick viewing.

Next morning, we did a 10 person tour of the Colosseum which was very interesting.  While that was not my favorite tour of Rome, it definitely was the site I was most excited to visit.  Fascinating learning about the history and theatrics that went into the Flavian Amphitheater especially the water shows. The tour also included a walk through the Roman Forum which was mind boggling to wrap your head around the layers of city within the metropolis.  

panorama gone bad

Enjoyed a 5 mile run around the town.... 

Here Josh enjoying some fish and stuffing his face with sides...

Our day trip to Ostia Antica was a highlight.  We hired a private tour guide to meet us at our subway stop and take us out to Ostia.  Once the major port city, it is a living outdoor museum now that is preserved much better than Pompeii.  While we wanted to go to Pompeii, timing didn't permit so this short morning trip with our guide was a great alternative for us.  We were able to go at our own pace and she explained so much about the ancient city.  Definitely consider if you just can't make Pompeii work.  The guide said she prefers Ostia over Pompeii due to the preservation and size of the city.

After the tour, we took the bus a bit more west to put our toes in the tyrrhenian sea and then rode bikes in the Borghese Gardens.  Josh enjoyed the active parts of the trip and kept it fun for all of us. 

Final full day, we went to the Vatican.  While I am not Catholic, am totally intrigued in the history of the Catholic church and couldnt' wait to see the Sistine Chapel (spoiler, it is as tiny as people say). After booking a group tour in haste, I switched the tickets for an early entry small group Sistine Pristine tour. There were only 12 people in our group and we were able to visit the Sistine Chapel with less than 75 people in it.  Once the gates open, we basically powerwalked through many hallways while our guide gave us some quick references here and there with the focus getting to the Sistine Chapel.  The effort was worth it as we would sit on the benches and take it in.  After we finished in the Chapel, we visited the map rooms, galleries and some other highlights.  Our guide said it could take 3 full days just to 'casually' admire all of the work at the Vatican.  CRAZY!!!

After the Vatican, my parents hit up another tour and we spent a few hours in Borghese Gardens again.... This time renting Segways.  Josh was interested when we went the day before and they were cheap (compared to Chicago) and did only 30-60 minute rentals so we went for it.  They had no real rules for age and when we asked what the requirements were they looked at josh and said, "11-12?"  Josh and Scott loved them.  I was the slowest and was convinced I was going to get thrown off when we were going up the hills... not shown, the helmets I was adamant about all of us wearing.  

Trip went fast and it was time to go home Saturday.   We had a few hour layover in Frankfurt and decided to leave the airport.  A country doesn't count unless you step outside the airport, right?  So, we went to a small little village (Kelsterbach) near the airport.  It was quaint and along the Main river.  Walked around for a bit and then made our way back to the airport.

We also made sure we had time for some German food back at the airport... hot dogs, pickles, gummi bears and coke... it was like they made the Lufthansa lounge for me!   We told Josh international travel can only go downhill from here.
It really was an amazing trip.  We had a wonderful time full of lifelong memories with Josh and my parents.  I am already excited that we less than 6 mths from our next 4 country adventure!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Italy- Florence

We took an highspeed train from Venice to Florence.  It was a smooth ride and josh got his own seat with no one facing him! Once we got into town, we were able to walk from the train station to our AirBnB within 10 minutes.  Florence was great because everything was so close.  We passed the Duomo on the way to our apartment and snapped a few pics.

Absolutely LOVED our apartment not only for the balcony overlooking Mercato Nuovo but the styling was amazing.  With google translate and hand gestures, we got along with Lorenzo perfectly and gave us plenty of local recommendations which we visited.

Florence was full of churches, museums, gelato and pizza that was charged per weight.  We indulged in all of them!  We were able to climb the Duomo and visit the baptistery and see the beautiful original doors. Lorenzo also suggested we visit Venchi's gelato which we did like 4 times.

Our favorite excursion was taking eBikes from downtown Florence to Fiesole.  Many of you know, I am scared to death of biking out on the open roads.   In fact, I normally don't bike outside unless during a triathlon.  All of my training is done indoors! So, when I realized all of us were going to bike from downtown Florence out to Fiesole in windy roads with Italian drivers, I freaked out a bit. Our bike tour was just us, one dude for Brazil and our local Florentine Guide. The bikes were awesome and made the incline journey to the outlook point easy.  We stopped along the way and he would discuss which villas were of the Medici's and history of the area.  Once we got to the overlook, we were able to tour an old monastery and look over Florence.  It was peaceful and a gorgeous view.


 In the morning before we left for Rome, we hit the Uffizzi gallery.  Much bigger than Accademia, we decided to go for the cheap U-ticket timed entry while my parents went for the private tour.  We were able to both walk over together and then we did the speed version.  While you could probably spend like 8 hours in there, we zoomed through.  We were originally going to skip it but I couldn't imagine being that close to Botticelli's Birth of Venus and not seeing it.  When we learned about famous painters in 8th grade (only one grade less than Josh), i distinctly remember Botticelli's painting as we learned about the Renaissance.  Making the trip was worth it... it was beautiful and did not disappoint.  I also loved that they have a relief made for those that had low vision.

Another plus of making the trip was seeing the special exhibit of The Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo DiVinci.  While it was never finished, it was beautiful.  
While our trip was quick to the Uffizi, it was still exhausting......
Took another trip over the Ponte Vecchio and then got our stuff from our apartment and snapped a pic of my parents on our cute balcony.

 Next Stop........  ROME

Italy- Venice

We have been wanting to stamp Josh's passport for a while now.  With trips all around the United States it was only a matter of time till he got to stamp his passport.  After some discussion, we settled on Italy.  We went with my parents and AirBnB'ed it through Venice, Florence and Rome.  We went during spring break and had great weather the entire time.  I planned the majority of the trip which is something I enjoy to do and believe everyone had a great time.

 We scored some great flights and had a quick layover in Germany on the way to Venice.  We didn't leave the airport on our way out and met my parents who flew another airline with a connection in London.  We met at Venice airport and took a water taxi to the islands.  I debated about taking public transportation but decided to splurge.  When will be in Venice again?  Who knows... so we had to arrive in style!  We got dropped off right at the end of the street and made our way to our apartment.  All of our places were two bedrooms, two bathrooms with a sleeper sofa for Josh.  This one had a balcony on the water which was divine.

    After we got settled, we went to our Row Venice lesson while our parents got the lay of the land.  We stayed in the Cannaregio district which was away from the tourists and extremely quiet.  Staying in this area is what made Venice my favorite city of the three.

    The next day, I woke up early and left at the same time of my parents while they strolled the streets and I did a run down to San Marco square.  I ran Rialto Bridge and was on the only one on it which was super cool. (Let's ignore the  fact I only realized after I got back home that I didn't need to cross it at all)  Later that morning, we did a private tour through Doges Palace.  With 5 of us, it was only a little bit more to do a private tour over a small group and was very happy we made that decision for many of our tours. In Venice, we ate lots of pizza and pasta, strolled and got lost through the narrow streets and had our first of many gelatos.

     Loved our first city.  It was beautiful and magical..... up next... Florence.