Rome: The Eternal City

A view from inside the Colosseum.

A view from inside the Colosseum.

Chances are, when you think of Rome, the first image that pops into your head is the Colosseum. The giant, ancient, 50,000 seat stadium where that has witnessed everything from wild animal hunts to gladiator fights to mock sea battles. Seeing this picture I think to myself…

“What kind of society took pleasure in watching men fight to the death?”

“How did they build this without the use of modern technologies and tower cranes?”

“Who’s heads are those…and how many random pictures across the world am I in?”

The master plan...page 1.

The master plan...page 1.

Ok, pause. I am getting waaaaaaaay ahead of myself. I mean, that was day 2 for crying out loud! I’m not going to short change you any of our Italian experience. So get comfy, and let me back-track a little bit.

As you found out yesterday, Missy and I finally took our honeymoon; destination Italy. Now, before we left, we weighed all our options for making this trip happen…from tour groups, to cruises, to even hiring a travel agency to plan out the whole thing. In the end, however, we decided to just do it ourselves. Well…Missy actually left it up to yours truly to make this trip happen. So I did…I bought the plane tickets, picked our destinations, e-mailed hotels to find the best deals, made sure there were trains to get us from place to place. It was pretty empowering. Ok, so Missy had a lot of input too, and I also had a little help from my new friend Rick Steves!

The master plan...page 2.

The master plan...page 2.

And I may or may not have created a spreadsheet scheduling out every detail to the last Euro….

But in the end, I’m glad we decided to do this trip on our own. Nothing against tour groups and cruises, but it was good to go off of our own schedule, see things that we wanted to see…and if we want to spend extra time somewhere…we had the freedom to do so. Like I said…empowering.

So our plane to Rome left Des Moines (via Detroit) on Wednesday, July first. The plane ride to Detroit was a brief two hour puddle-jump, but the international flight to Italy was a long, dark, 9-hour haul. Now, I don’t do well on planes…meaning, I don’t sleep a wink, no matter how long or how far or how tired I get. So by the time we touched down at Leonardo da Vinci – Fiumicino Airport in Rome, I was wiped. Missy does a little better than me, but even though it was only 11:00 AM local time…all we wanted was a nap. The airport is a 40 minute train ride to the center of the old city, so after we collected our bags, our first Italian train experience wasn’t far behind.

We bought our tickets (but failed to validate them…first lesson learned) and hopped aboard the train to the city. It was a quick ride, and we soon found ourselves in the middle of chaos known as Roma Termini. As we de-trained (??) I immediately led Missy and I down the platform and out the closest (and most wrong) exit. We were out on the hot, noisy street, three pieces of luggage each, and lost. Well…I knew we were in Rome, and that our hotel was not far away…so at least we had that going for us. I pulled out a trusty map from my trusty money belt, and as I did so, all visions of trying not to look too touristy instantly left me. We rolled our gear up a hill following the station, until we finally reached the actual exit, where we should have come out in the first place. Sweet…I thought. I’m pretty sure at this point Missy was starting to panic and wonder what the heck I got her into.

The Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps

Never fear. I had the spreadsheet, remember? Anyway…after a slightly longer than expected walk, we found our hotel, checked in…and crashed. Yep…we were in Rome, and if we were going to do anything worthwhile on day one, we needed our rest. So, after we napped, we finally set out to explore. Our first evening walk took us all over the old city…the Campo de’Fiori (where we dodged a thunder storm and grabbed our first Italian thin-crust pizza…deee-lish!), the Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. Quite the first day if you ask me. We covered a lot of ground and got our first real taste of Italy.

Day two began bright and early…too early actually, as we both started to suffer from jet-lag and were restless most of the night. Anyway, day 2 was our day to see the archeological wonders of Rome…the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Circus Maximus…all the stuff you read about in your World History books. We were within walking distance to all the major sites, so after a nice breakfast at the hotel (Hotel Cortina), we headed out.

We spent the entire day exploring the ruins, with (once again) help from Rick Steves! Before we left on our trip, we downloaded free podcast audio tours that helped us understand what that 2,000 year old heap of rubble we were looking at used to be. I definitely recommend this if you are planning a trip to Rome in the near future. Anyway, what a day it was. It was so hard to wrap our minds around what we were seeing and standing on (Julius Caesar might have stood right here!).

Missy approaches the Colosseum.

Missy approaches the Colosseum.

Another view...this time from inside the Roman Forum.

Another view...this time from inside the Roman Forum.

On top of Palatine Hill with great views of the city and the ruins.

On top of Palatine Hill with great views of the city and the ruins.

Day two was probably had the hottest temps that we experienced the entire trip. We were exhausted and sweaty, so by 5:00 we called it a day and grabbed a bus back to the hotel. After another (shorter) nap, we went out for dinner, walked around a bit more (at night, Rome turns into an entirely different city), and then found our way back to the hotel and slept.

Day four (yes, I can count, but day three was spent in Vatican City…which I will cover in the next blog) was another hot one, but we did not have any major sites left on our list to see, so it was our designated shopping day. We did climb the monument to Victor Emmanuel II (fondly referred to by locals as the giant Wedding Cake) at the heart of Rome to take in some more views, but with nothing planned, we spent the day wondering the city and shopping. I would be remiss if I did not mention however that on this night we ate supper at the very best and most authentic restaurant we visited in all of Rome, the Pizzeria la Montecarlo. Recommended by a co-worker of mine before we left, Missy and I feasted on mind-blowing plates of pasta and consumed delicious wine by the glass-full, all while being the only Americans inside and outside the restaurant. Simply amazing. The best part (besides the food) was the big burly, sweaty, hairy Italian owner who would stop by to make sure we were getting enough to eat and drink…and if we weren’t quickly shout to a waiter to bring us more. And you KNOW it was good, because by the time we left, there was not a table to be had anywhere, and a line stretching down the alley.

Proof that we found the restaurant!

Proof that we found the restaurant!

It got busy once the locals found out some hot looking Americans were inside!

It got busy once the locals found out some hot looking Americans were inside!

So that was Rome. Loud, hot, chaotic, ancient, mind-blowing…awesome. Cliffs-notes style, anyway. I have plenty more stories to share…please get in touch if you’d like to hear more! Also, plenty of pictures are live on Missy and I’s Facebook pages…check them out if you have the means.

Stay tuned, plenty more to come! Up next: Vatican City!

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About Tom Hardinge

Loving husband to my wife Missy, loving father to my four daughters Sienna, Rowan, Jovie, and Lola. I'm a chronic over-packer who loves good coffee, good music, running, waffle tee's, fleece pants, and Jesus Christ!

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