Sunday, January 26, 2014

the C O L O S S E U M

The highlight of our trip.

We got up early for our second day of Rome. It was our only full day to see the city. We intended to make the most of it.

Our hotel had a nice buffet breakfast on the roof with a beautiful view of St. Peter's Basilica.

Lemon and orange trees lined the roof-top terrace. Anywhere the lemons and oranges can grow outdoors in January makes me happy. I wanted to sneak outside and pick one, but resisted the urge.

Having booked a Colosseum and Ancient Rome tour, we had studied the Metro system and how to get from our hotel {next to the Vatican} down to the Colosseum.

Looks easy enough, right?
As we were walking out of our hotel, I asked the man at the front desk to point us in the way of the Metro was just to make sure we did not get turned around. He strongly suggested taking the bus instead of the underground subway.

Rather than being in the dark, we could drive above ground and see all that there was along the way. The crazy driving down narrow streets was an added bonus.

It was great advice and we took it.
sights we took in along the bus route
The bus station was around the corner. It was around 8:00am- early for Rome. The big city was still sleepy and peaceful. When restaurants do not open until 7:30pm for dinner, you know they stay up late and sleep in.

We jumped on bus 81 which took us straight to where we needed to go. No transfers, no craziness, no crowds. Rome has a very efficient and user-friendly local transportation system- we were quite impressed and especially happy to not get lost.

Again, we had no idea what we were seeing. There were fountains and monuments and enormous buildings out both sides of the bus. A very kind non-English-speaking priest helped us by pointing out where we would get off for the Colosseum.

It was not hard to spot- the structure is incredible. You can't miss it.
Early for our tour, we stopped in a little CafĂ© for a sweet treat and a little bonus Lionel Richie on the local radio.

Our tour was small {eight others} and the best decision we made to get the most out of our short time in the city. With kids, guided tours can be long and frustrating as our boys are not always patient.

They get bored, we have to shush them {something Caden can't stand} and end up missing all the history.

We can't blame them, so we avoid the frustration all together and rarely spend the money or time on tours.

Today, we were ready for our history lesson. We hung on every word and detail our truly Roman guide Damien offered for the entire three-hour walk through the Colosseum and Ancient Rome.

This fine man of mine even took pictures- something that never happens. I knew we were somewhere grand for him to take charge of a camera.

Monday, January 20, 2014

V A T I C A N city

Living in Europe has taught us a lot.

We were reminded again this week that it seems the more we see and experience, the more we realize how much we do not know. 

As we walked {less than ten minutes} from our hotel to Vatican City, there was a moment that we looked at each other wondering where we were and what was in front of us.

We were completely overwhelmed not knowing whether to turn right or left. It is usually safe to follow the brown historical signs to see the sights. In Rome, the brown signs are on every single corner.

Rome is massive.
Rome is H U G E.
Everything is on a grand scale.
It is not like there is one really incredible building, or fountain or sculpture in the middle of the city.

The entire city is filled with more sculptures, fountains, buildings, churches, museums and history than one can possibly take in even in a lifetime.

We knew we were in Vatican City, but embarrassing to admit- we did not know much more than that about this glorious spot on the map.

We definitely did not do our homework. Instead, our motto was to take as much in as we could and figure out where we were once we returned home.

What we did learn {right} before making this trip is that Vatican City is its own state, ruled by the Pope.

With only about 500 people living in Vatican City, the city has its own post office, banks, currency, judicial system, radio station, shops and daily newspaper.  

As with every other trip we have taken, visiting Rome has only increased our desire to learn more about the ground we walked on, the churches we walked through and the fountains from which we drank.

We arrived on a Wednesday- just after Pope Francis addressed the audience.

Masses with the Pope at the Vatican can be celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica, in St Peter's Square or both together depending on the celebration and the expected number of people attending.

Mass is celebrated in the Church which holds up to 15,000 people or St Peter's Square, which is much larger and can host up to 80,000 people. The chairs were empty as we arrived, and the crowd minimal.

January is the time to visit as we did not wait in a single line.
We picked the right time to visit a place that sees millions of tourists from around the world each year.
As we stepped into view of the square, we saw metal detector lines.
Did we have to pass through them? Could we take pictures? Did we need to pay?

We turned right, only to notice that we could walk around the metal detectors and into the square and the fountain directly in front of us. What fountain? Not sure, but people were taking pictures, so we took one of our own.
Reading the signs, we followed the path and through the front doors of St. Peter's Bascilica- a massive, gorgeous structure. As Catholicism's most important shrine, the marble, gold touches, art and Michelangelo's huge dome are absolutely breathtaking.

The details are intricate.
The monuments and statues are too many to count.
A visit left us with more questions than we had going inside.

Impressive is an understatement.
We are changed from being here.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

wonderful, but not P E R F E C T

We are still trying to wrap our brains around all that we were fortunate enough to experience in Rome.

It was beyond incredible. That does not mean everything was perfect.
Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.

I had that quote up in our home for a while. I forgot how much I loved it- I might have to put it back up somewhere.

For this anniversary trip, we started planning in October. Not crazy itinerary planning, but we found our tickets on RyanAir and committed to making the trip happen.

our incredible view of the Alps en route to Roma
If you are going to live in Europe, it is critical that you know about RyanAir.

RyanAir is a discount airlines. Cheap, cheap, cheap if you watch flights and have an open mind.

They fly out of Frankfurt-Hahn, a small {crummy} airport in the middle of the hills about an hour from our house.

The way they make money is in the fees. If you know this, you can easily avoid paying extra and experience really cheap travel to so many destinations in Europe.

There are also no assigned seats, so people get a little crazy rushing to board each flight. If you know this and go with the flow realizing the whole time it was so cheap- you are fine.

I'm still working on not getting worked up as these pushy Europeans cut in line- makes me CRAZY!

welcome to Roma
For us, we look at the days we want to travel, then see what destinations are cheap.

We had a few places we wanted to visit, Rome happened to be super cheap the week we could travel. Plus, it has been super high on our list.

With our tickets just 10 Euro each way {that's about $14 USD), plus airport fees and taxes we were able to both fly round trip to Rome for a grand total of $100. T O T A L.

Everyone knows if you check a bag, you pay. We pack light and carry it on.
If you want a coke, or bottle of water, you pay. We bring ours with us.

There are no warm washcloths to wash your face or hands.
Pockets in the seats in front of you do not exist.
There definitely are no movies.

For an hour and a half flight and a two-night, three day trip- RyanAir is the way to go.

As we parked in the parking lot and started to unload, we realized we had forgotten our backpack. Seriously? We have never forgotten a whole backpack.

We could live without the Italy book and itinerary I had put together and printed.
We could survive without the snacks we had packed.
our weather was perfect... this was on our return to the airport as the rain started
Our camera has video option, so it was no big deal that the camcorder was in there as well.

But, the one thing we really needed was the envelope that had all of the paperwork to go with our flight including our boarding passes. Yes, re-printing boarding passes is yet another way RyanAir makes money.
Once we realized we still had passports and could actually fly, we had to suck it up and pay for them to print boarding passes.

The grand total for two new pieces of paper to get on the flight: 30 Euro.

That's 15 Euro each, or $40.75 for them both. Boarding passes that cost more than the initial tickets.

I'm pretty sure on any flight we go on for the rest of our lives, we will never forget the backpack.

Kicking ourselves, we tried to move on and were fine until we realized everything else was in that folder including our hotel address, public transportation instructions {how to get from the airport to the bus to the metro line to walk}, and all addresses and phone numbers.

I had spent a lot of time planning this trip out and making sure everything was printed. Now, we were on our own with only our memory to rely on.

Walking a few circles around the underground Metro, we finally figured out which line to take. Fortunately, Rome's Metro is quite simple with just two lines- one red and one blue. It took me longer to recall which stop we were to get off at, but we did it!
Our first impressions of Roma... blue skies and perfect weather.
We bought our tickets and squished out way onto the crazy filthy Metro to our stop: Ottaviano- S. Pietro. How could I forget a name like that?

We got off avoiding all pick-pocketing, walked up the stairs and tried to get our GPS to work. By this point, we realized the hotel address was on Jim's leave paperwork in his wallet. Trouble was, our GPS never got past the searching for satellites screen. Ugh.

We just started walking and lucky for us- ran straight into the road. As we turned on the street, the hotel was right there. What a relief.

Not perfect, but we were ok and on our way- kinda.

Next, the hotel let us know that they did not have water {slight problem} and had rebooked us to another hotel. After several attempts at finding the USO office just around the corner from the hotel, we showed our IDs and were let in the door.

With this super small sticker on the door, I'm not sure how we missed it.
What a blessing the USO is to military members around the world. They are there to help with anything and a cold bottle of water and place to sit down was as welcomed to us as anything at that point.

With free WiFi, we tried to re-print our boarding passes to avoid the fees on our return. Hotmail noticed that we were in an unusual location and would not let us in without the code they emailed to my A Simple Impression email address.

I have not worked or used that email address in 3 1/2 years and could not even remember how to get to the site. At this point, I remember feeling that I was tired of thinking. We were on overload.

We decided to figure out the Internet thing later {Ty came to our rescue} and were on our way by foot to our new hotel. 

Only one or two wrong turns and we made it to Hotel Consoli.

Upgraded from a 3-star to a 4-star hotel at the same price, we checked in, took a deep breath and headed out for our first afternoon in Vatican City. We had sights to see and were on a mission. No rest for the weary on this trip.

Definitely not a perfect start, but a start to a wonderful trip.
Welcome to Roma.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

as much as the M O O N and the S U N {and the stars}

Ten days ago, we had an anniversary.
This week, we celebrated.

In beautiful Rome.

Three days and two nights to experience this magnificent city together.
Thanks to Ty, we were able to make the trip alone.

Few people {especially new friends} know our family story. I like to think of it as our happily ever after.

Up until this anniversary, our little guys did not even know. As we have reached anniversaries, we have added ten years to our actual time married just to simplify things for the them.

Or, maybe it was to simplify things for us.

We knew they would eventually add up the years and the ages of the big guys and put it all together. Instead of having them so confused, this was the year that we broke it to them.

We really haven't been married forever, but instead eleven years.

As Caden and I were waiting for Coleman after school on the day of our anniversary- he asked me how long his dad and I had been married. I asked him in response if he wanted in on a big family secret. Of course, he did.

I kept it simple. I was married before. Justin and Ty were adopted by dad.
Everything was legal and perfect. There were no step-anythings.

He looked at me with his thinker face {if you know our little man, you know what I'm talking about} for a few seconds. Then, he asked if Coleman knew yet. He was excited to be the first to know.

Then, he asked if Justin and Ty knew that they were adopted.
That's it.

As soon as I told them that they knew everything, he was fine.
End of discussion.

Letting Coleman in on our family secret went about the same.
No big deal. No real questions and we went on with what happened that day.

As we returned home from Rome last night, this note folded and tucked perfectly inside of an envelope was waiting.
Our life is our happily ever after. No doubt, we have tough days and tough weeks.
We also have so much good to go with the tough.
My man is the love of my life; our boys are our joy.
So much life. I am one lucky girl.