Thoughts on Italy

186After every trip we go on, I come back and talk all about how much I loved it.  And I worry, a bit, that I’m writing too much about something that’s now in the past, but, at the same time, I recognize that the only way I’m ever going to capture what I really felt about a place is while it’s still fresh in my mind.

In other words, bear with me, because I’m going to write some more about our recent trip to Italy, and try to summarize some of what we learned about travelling there (specifically with small kids).

202First of all, we loved Italy.  Although I don’t think it would get the award for “most favorite destination so far” (which would go to Northern Ireland), it would definitely be in a heated three-way battle for second place (with the Newlands Valley in England and Normandy).  We really, truly, loved Italy.

Why was it so great?  Lots of reasons.  The food was amazing.  (Our favorite restaurant in Rome was “Da Francesco” near Piazza Navona and we “discovered” a great gelato place in Venice.)  We got to experience some astounding and ancient monuments that pictures can’t capture and stories don’t describe in enough detail.  And the people were wonderful. More than anywhere else we’ve travelled, the Italian people really wanted to 206communicate and connect.  They weren’t bothered by our complete lack of Italian (outside of “per favore”, “grazie”, “prego” and “il conto”) and were enthusiastic about, rather than frustrated by, our attempts to communicate in a melange of Spanish, German, French and English.  They really do talk with their hands, and spoken Italian always sounds either seductive (most of the time) or very angry.  And then, we had a Roman cab driver come back to look for us when he discovered my sister’s phone in his cab, even though it was out of his way and it had been almost an hour since he’d dropped us off.  I don’t think we were unsuccessful at communicating a single time in Italy, even when we didn’t have a common language, and I don’t think there was a single person we talked to for more than a moment who didn’t end up feeling like a new friend.  It was fantastic to feel that kind of warmth from so many people, especially as a clueless tourist.

227But, aside from falling in love with Italy (which is a cliché I was happy to have come true), we did learn a lot on our trip.  From the perspective of travelling with little ones, Rome was more kid friendly and stroller friendly than I expected.  I anticipated issues with getting the stroller around the ancient sites, but it honestly wasn’t (too) much of a problem.  There were some stairs, and lots of hills, and trying to get the stroller through/across the massive paving stones at the Forum was frustrating at times.  But, in general, getting around in Rome was pretty easy with the stroller, and the kids were warmly welcomed everywhere.  (Because of our hotel location, we didn’t use public transportation — we got around by walking and in cabs — so I can’t speak to the ease of using a stroller on Rome’s Metro or bus system.)

282By contrast, Vatican City was NOT particularly stroller friendly.  Although I was glad that we had the stroller for the tour of the Vatican museum, because B slept through a lot of it, it was really difficult to manage the MANY stairs along the route.  There are elevators, but the security guards will stop some stroller-pushers from using them while allowing others through.  Early in the museum, we got access to all of the elevators, and later on, we were denied.  It really seemed to depend on who was standing there (they are all guarded) when we arrived.  If I had it to do over again, I’d skip the stroller and just hit the high notes of the museum (my favorite part was the Raphael rooms, just before the Sistine Chapel).

271Rome has a reputation (much like Paris) for being “crimey” — being infested with pickpockets and purse snatchers.  And maybe it is, but we didn’t see it.  We felt comfortable walking through the touristy areas of Rome during the day and at night, and never got into a situation that made us uncomfortable.  (We were much more aware of the criminal element in Paris than in Rome.)  However, there are some very persistent trinket vendors at the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps who were annoying (and, as they worked in large groups, may have had ulterior motives).  We were very firm in our dismissal, and 20130313-141932.jpgthey kept their distance.  (They were actually much more of a nuisance at San Marco in Venice.)  The only place I saw anything that made me uncomfortable from a crime sense was at the Roma Termini station while we were waiting for our train to Venice.  There was a group of young women standing around watching the passers-by a little too intently.  They would meet up, talk amongst themselves and then split up to wander around among the passengers and reconvene elsewhere a few minutes later.  They had no luggage, and didn’t seem to be waiting for anyone.  There was a group of young men around who seemed to be operating in a similar fashion.  I didn’t see anything untoward happening, but the combination of the looks they were giving the crowd, plus their actions, ensured that I kept an eye on them the whole time.  But really, we didn’t have any trouble.  (Actually, on our entire trip, the place I got the worst vibe in terms of crime was San Marco square at night.  During the warmer months, I know this area is popular with dancers and diners, but in early March, the cafes close up early and the only people left seem to be a few wandering tourists and quite a few others watching them from the shadows of the columns.  We didn’t stay long.)

20130313-142019.jpgWe really loved Rome.  But I’m glad we went there first, because I truly fell in love with Venice.  Venice was just amazing.  I wasn’t able to truly appreciate the way it would feel to be in a city without cars whose streets are canals and winding alleyways.  Venice is beautiful and romantic.  While Rome feels like visiting the world’s largest open-air museum, Venice is like actually stepping back in time.  And . . . I know that’s what EVERYONE says about Venice and you still probably won’t really get it until you go.  It’s just something that has to be experienced.

In Venice, the public transportation was excellent.  We used the water bus, but didn’t use any taxi service in Venice.  The water bus is quite expensive per trip, but very functional, and you get a lovely (unguided) tour, too.  It was a little confusing, in terms of where to put the stroller, but we figured it out and had a couple of very nice trips.

20130313-142100.jpgOther than the water buses, though, Venice is NOT very stroller friendly.  At all.  The streets are really very narrow, and all deliveries done to shops and restaurants are done by guys pushing big hand trucks.  They know where they’re going and how to get there and you have to get out of their way — and the stroller causes a traffic jam which makes everything harder for everyone.  On top of that, each canal crossing is a bridge, and nearly all of the bridges have stone steps up one side and down the other.  Not impossible with the stroller, but it makes it more like a litter than a stroller, much of the time.  I was a little disappointed about not 20130313-142133.jpgbeing able to use the stroller more, because I’d been having nightmares about the kids falling into the canals, and I was hoping to strap them into the stroller for security.  I didn’t really need to be overly worried.  Although it certainly would have been possible for the kids to jump in a canal if they’d wanted to, unbarriered openings to the water were less common than I’d expected, and enforcing a “you have to hold hands” rule worked just fine.  Although we barely used the stroller, we really didn’t miss it much.

20130313-142240.jpgIn Venice, we stayed right in the heart of the city (about 3 minutes walk, at Liam speed, from St. Mark’s square).  Venice is so much just about BEING there, rather than about doing anything in particular, that if I had it to do over again, I would stay in the same place.  Venice changes throughout the day — bustling in the morning, relaxed in the afternoon, and seemingly deserted at night — that it’s nice to be able to experience it all.  Besides, all of our favorite Venetian food stops (including Gelato Fantasy and the tasty chain pasta place we found) were centrally located, too.  One of the things that made the trip work really well was letting the boys run for a while, each morning, at San Marco.  It 20130313-142311.jpgwas a great, big, open area, with puddles to jump in and pigeons to chase, and having some time to run and be free put them in a much better state to put up with our wanderings for the rest of the day.  Being at San Marco and walking to the top of the Rialto Bridge to enjoy the amazing view were my favorite activities in Venice, and I’m also really glad we did the gondola ride.  It was classic and romantic, and was also a beautiful way to see the city.

20130313-142336.jpgIn fact, just about the only thing I didn’t like about our trip was the overnight train ride home from Venice to Vienna.  It was just too much for Liam, at the end of a long day and the end of a busy week, and we all suffered for it.

It was an amazing trip, and another great chapter in our adventure.  We fell in love with Italy.  And, as with all of our favorite destinations, I’m already fantasizing about our next visit.





Playing catch up

We left for our vacation in Italy on Friday, February 22 around 6 in the evening.  We took the overnight train, arrived in Rome on Saturday morning, left for Venice on Wednesday afternoon, left Venice late in the evening on Saturday the 2nd of March and arrived back in Vienna the following morning.  We were on vacation for about 8 1/2 days, which was time well spent.  We’ve been back for about 5 days, and I’m just now starting to catch up.

I’m just *starting* to catch up.  Meaning that I’ve opened the mail we accrued when we left, washed a few loads of laundry (although the pile is still large enough that it tipped over and covered half the bathroom floor this morning), almost caught up posting blogs and emailing and backing up pictures, and, today, for the first time since we’ve been back, I was fairly certain I knew what day it was, all day long.  By Monday, we’ll probably be pretty much back on a normal schedule, and life will get back to business as usual.

Considering that I also started doing laundry and packing 2 entire weeks before we left on our trip, at this point I’ve devoted much more time to executing the details of the trip and organizing everything afterwards than we actually spent on vacation.  (And that doesn’t include the time it took to actually plan the trip, find the hotels, buy the train tickets, etc.)

I’m sharing this, not to complain, but to acknowledge that travelling (and even more so with kids) is a ton of work.  I think it’s easy to get caught up in the fun, and forget to mention how much work goes into making a family vacation happen.  I think it’s one of those things that we (all, collectively) think should be easier than it is.  And it just isn’t.  It’s a lot of work.  And there isn’t a way around that (at least, not that I’ve found).  And I just want to put that out there, along with the highlight reel of idyllic pictures of cruising the Grand Canal in a gondola, and the stories of how great the food was and how well the kids behaved.  Even though we travel (a lot) and I think we’ve gotten pretty good at making the whole thing work, from reservations to packing to scheduling to actually enjoying the trip, there is just so much effort that goes into doing it.  And I don’t want to paint an overly rosy picture and give the impression that, when it’s hard, something is wrong.

As a parent (especially one that stays home with the kids), vacation is just doing your normal job, off of your schedule and without all of your stuff.  Dan usually says that after a vacation, he goes back to work to recuperate from the intensity of our trip.  It’s a completely different concept of “vacation” than we once had.  Now that I’m used to it, and that’s what I expect, it’s really wonderful, but it isn’t the same as sitting on the beach sipping margaritas (which, now that I think about it, I’m not sure I’ve ever did while I had the chance).

It is hard.  I’m exhausted.  I need a vacation to recover from our vacation.  It was totally, completely, 100% worth it, but it’ll still be a few days before we really get back to normal around here.

The food in Italy

Italy is like France, in that its reputation for food seems unrealistically good. But, like so many other things I’ve encountered (especially when traveling) I wondered, in both cases, whether it would be possible for the locales to live up to the hype.

20130307-151358.jpgThey do. The food in Italy was fantastic. It was fresh, simple and amazing. I was left wondering, on several occasions, how it is possible to make a meal out of a handful of basic ingredients and elevate it to something decadent. I mean, how many times have I eaten spaghetti and tomato sauce?!? Apparently only once that really counts.

The pasta was beyond any I’d ever had before. The cappuccino has nearly ruined me for all other coffee. The gelato was the best I’ve ever had. I think I might have a certified tiramisu addiction at this point. (And then we found the place with the tiramisu gelato . . . )

20130307-151453.jpgWe had a marvelous time in Italy, and the food made it even better. We had some remarkable meals. As we found when we went to Normandy, more money doesn’t always equal better food, and some of the things we’ll remember best were some of the simplest. It lived up to the hype. It actually managed to exceed my expectations. The only problem is that my culinary bar may now be set entirely too high. I’m not sure dried pasta and sauce from a jar will ever be satisfying again. If that’s the price I pay, though, it was totally worth it.

Winter to spring to winter

038When we left Vienna for our trip to Italy last week, it was definitely winter.  We’d gotten a little snow earlier in the week, and then we were surprised with some more the morning of our departure.  There was even more, fairly significant, snow forecast here in Vienna for our first few days in Italy.  We were really cold the night we got on the train and headed for Rome.  Our train was delayed by about 20 minutes, but they didn’t announce that until we were already arranged on the platform, in sub-freezing temperatures with snow and wind.  We weren’t quite dressed warmly enough, because we didn’t want to over pack for Italy, so we stood, waiting for the train and shivering.

258We woke up on the train to a northern Italian landscape covered in snow (it was so snowy we shared a moment of worry that we were in the wrong place).  And then we arrived in Rome, and although it wasn’t as warm as we’d expected, it didn’t feel like winter.  The plants were green, the rain was rain, not snow, and none of the puddles were icy in the mornings.  I think I probably enjoy winter more than the average person, but even I was won over by our visit to spring.

And then, completely contrary to our expectations, Venice was warm (and even dry).  It was so lovely.  We were sometimes a little chilly in the shade, but a few moments in the sun warmed us right up.  The boys ventured out a few times in fleeces instead of parkas, and I didn’t put my hat or gloves on once (not even on our evening gondola ride).  Liam did get a little cold once when we stopped for gelato, but otherwise, Venice was truly a taste of spring.

And then we arrived home in Vienna to 38 degrees and a strong breeze.  Brr.  But, even here, spring snuck in while we were away.  The days are suddenly and noticeably longer.  There are flowers peeking out from window boxes and beneath bushes in the park.  We still need to bundle up, but the thaw has definitely begun.  It’s a good thing, because as much as I love winter, Italy spoiled me with spring, and I’m ready for it now.

Don’t take the night train with a 2 year old

If you know me personally, or have read more than a few of my blog posts, you probably know that I’m an advocate of traveling with kids, even little ones (mine are currently 2 and 4, and we’ve been a lot of places).  I generally scoff at the idea that “my kid can’t handle a long flight”, I roll my eyes at people who think children should be left at Grandma’s for vacation time (especially if the reason is something like “they won’t remember it anyway“), and I kindly cajole my friends, family and readers to push aside their notions of what life (and travel) with little ones can be and to shift expectations, soften schedules and get out there and see the world, with kids in tow.

That said, many years will pass before I attempt another overnight train ride with my kids.

Benjamin (4) did great.  In fact, I think he was the most comfortable and got the most sleep of any of us, adults included.  The cramped conditions had significantly less effect on him (think cozy, rather than claustrophobic) than they did on us larger folks.

Liam (2) did not fare so well, and we all suffered as a consequence.  The first trip, on the overnight train from Vienna to Rome, actually went ok.  We had a tough time getting in and organized, and then, once we were settled, it was a bit of a lengthy and challenging process to get us all snuggled into bed.  But, once we were all tucked in, we each got a reasonable night’s sleep.

20130305-221730.jpgWe weren’t so lucky on the return trip (Venice to Vienna).  Since we’d already done one overnight trip, we kind of knew what we were doing, and it was a shorter trip, we thought we’d be fine and we’d probably handle it like pros.  And, we pretty much did, at first.  We got ourselves on and sorted out quickly and comfortably (relatively), and since we didn’t board until almost 9:00, we didn’t waste any time getting the kids (and ourselves) ready for bed.  An hour after departure, we were all in bed, ready for sleep.  It actually was one of our earlier bedtimes on our entire trip.

The problems began a few hours later, during a very long, post-midnight stop.  All trains stop, of course, but an overnight train stop can be particularly frustrating and uncomfortable.  When the train stops, sometimes for an inexplicably long time, you lose the comforting movement of the train as well as the sound barrier (for yourselves and others) that the train’s movement provides.

In our case, during this particular stop, Liam woke up.  And cried.  And screamed.  And couldn’t be consoled.  And it was 1:00 in the morning and there was nothing we could do.  The sound travelled throughout the car (during other periods when the train was stopped, we could hear someone coughing several compartments away).  We were all awake, we were all unhappy, we were probably being cursed at (in various languages) from the other compartments, but we couldn’t make him happy and we couldn’t make him be quiet.  We couldn’t walk up and down the aisle with him like we might have on a plane trip, or rely on any kind of ambient engine noise to limit the damage to those sitting closest to us.  We had no options.

All we could do was try.  We offered water, a snack, more covers, less covers, a back rub, a snuggle, different toys, a new diaper, the iPad . . . nothing worked.  He was miserable, he was crying and we were stuck.  He’s too little to be reasoned out of it and too little to just “tough it out” if he’s uncomfortable.  2 year olds just react to their environment (if they can’t adjust it to make themselves comfortable) and he did not like his situation.

He finally asked for me (he’d been sharing a berth with Dan) and I snuggled with him.  That helped.  But as an incredibly light sleeper with a bad back, I’d been hoping to get to sleep on my own.  I intended to cuddle with him until he fell asleep and then switch with Dan.  No luck — he was on to me and woke up crying as soon as I tried to move.  So, I took one for the team and curled up with Liam.  I didn’t sleep, but everyone else did (and we weren’t pelted with fruit when we disembarked, so I guess our fellow travelers were at least a little grateful).

B did great.  Even in Liam’s most upset moments, he only woke for a bit.  He was comfy and happy and enjoyed the experience.  And if he had been unable to sleep, he probably would have enjoyed an all-night party of Angry Birds on the iPad and been quite happy.  That’s the difference between 2 and 4.  I think Liam is just too little.  Until he’s 4 or so, I think we’ll be sticking to flights and daytime trains.

Gondola ride

We were on the fence about taking a gondola ride in Venice.  It sounds lovely, and romantic, but it also sounded pretty expensive (€80 for 40 minutes) and my paranoid mommy mind kept imagining the boys (who don’t swim) trying to jump overboard.

But, I thought, did I really want to come home from Venice without having taken such an iconic ride?  Would it haunt me the way that Dan was bothered (for decades) about not visiting the Eiffel Tower the first time he visited Paris?

560So, we went for it.  We wanted the experience of an evening ride (with well rested boys) without the added expense of going out too late (after 7:00 adds another €20 to the price), so we sought out a gondolier just after nap time.  (We also got an unintentional and unexpected moment on the Bridge of Sighs when we got turned around on the way.)  We were lucky in our timing — I guess gondola rides aren’t popular on winter evenings, so we barely caught one of the last opportunities of the night.

Once we were settled in our gondola (without incident) our journey began.  It was as beautiful, romantic and captivating as I could have hoped.  The sky was a gorgeous dark blue that deepened as our cruise went on (which Liam commented on several times).  The stars twinkled in the sky and we were so fortunate to have perfectly pleasant and relatively warm weather for an early March ride on the canals.

564We cruised past the places where Casanova, Marco Polo and Mozart once lived, and we had an excellent historical tour from our charming gondolier.

The streets and canals of Venice are so narrow and winding that within moments of passing another boat, or gliding past pedestrians waving down from a bridge overhead, you’re alone once again.  It creates a feeling of romance and solitude, even in such a busy and well-populated place.  At each junction between paths in the water, our gondolier called ahead, alerting oncoming boats (which were very few) to our presence.

569Although I knew it was coming, I gasped, out loud and involuntarily, at the sight of the Rialto Bridge when we turned onto the Grand Canal.  It was stunning to glide up to and then past it, and then to float down the Grand Canal, past the docks full of moored gondolas and the water buses and taxis making their way, more quickly, to their destinations.

570The boys spent the ride snuggled up with Dan & I, and Mina and Jo sat toward the front and took plenty of great pictures.  It was money and time well spent.  (Even better since no one jumped in.)  We thoroughly loved the experience, and we’re all so glad we went.  I just don’t think it would have been a complete trip to Venice without it.


Ignis the sharing dragon

We went back to participate in Benjamin and Liam’s favorite Venetian activity today — splashing in puddles and chasing pigeons at St. Mark’s square.  (This even outranks gelato consumption, so that’s pretty significant.)  We’ve often found, in our travels, that the key to the kids enjoying a city correlates with the amount of time they get to spend running freely, so it’s a priority (especially because we didn’t get enough of that time in Rome.)

After a bit of running wild and tormenting pigeons, Liam requested a drink of water, which, of course, I’d forgotten at the hotel.  He was insistent on his very own sippy cup, so he and I ventured back to pick it up.

532We had a nice walk (a stroll hand in hand with a two year old can be pretty great) and upon our return, we found Benjamin, Dan, Jo and Mina, still playing in the square.  With a dragon.

While we were away, Benjamin had apparently charmed some folks out of a darling stuffed dragon named Ignis.  (He’s the mascot for their company.)  He is super cute, and they assured Dan that, if we’d like to give Ignis a good home and take him on our international travels, that it was fine for us to adopt him.  B was in love.  So he got Ignis.

537Liam fell instantly in love with Ignis, too, and there was just one Ignis.  So we quickly started calling him “Ignis the sharing dragon.”  He was shared by his owners with us, and now the boys had to continue to share him.

Ignis the sharing dragon has been a major hit.  The boys traded him back and forth all day, a few minutes at a time.  He joined us for gelato, pizza for dinner and even our gondola ride (he’s now sporting his very own gondolier hat).

He’ll return to Vienna with us and join us on our future adventures.  (Does a dragon need a passport?)  What a lovely and special souvenir from our trip to Venice, and what a kind thing for Ignis’ people to have done, to share him with us.





In the city known as Venice

We left Rome yesterday for Venice.  We were very sad to say goodbye to Rome, but we’re very happy to be visiting Venice.

399Venice is so cool.  It’s romantic and beautiful and I love it.  When we first arrived in Venice, we stepped out of Santa Lucia train station, looking to catch the bus.  We *knew* we were looking for a water bus, but it was still a bit of a shock to realize the bus stop was a dock and the bus is a boat.

403We are just loving Venice.  The Grand Canal is bustling with boat traffic.  The locals seem genuinely interested in communicating and connecting — there aren’t the rolled eyes or exasperated sighs at our terrible attempts at the local language that we’ve had some places (although that was true in Rome, too, so maybe that’s Italy in general).411

The sound of spoken Italian seems to have two settings — seductive or angry (we saw more angry in Rome and see more seductive in Venice) although I don’t think the sound has a correlation to the actual demeanor of the speaker.  Everyone speaks with their hands, even when driving or on the phone.

438We’ve been to San Marco to chase pigeons and splash in puddles.  We’ve strolled to the Rialto bridge, gazed down at the boats on the water and done some great shopping.  We’ve discovered delicious pasta and amazing sandwiches (found by popping into the lunch bar that was most crammed with Italian speakers).  We’ve discovered the best gelato we’ve had since we’ve been in Italy (Gelato Fantasy near San Marco).  We’ve enjoyed walking along the winding alleys and climbing the bridges over the canals.  Venice is busy during the day and stunningly romantic at night.  (Benjamin declared, “It’s spooky!”, but in a completely complimentary way.)  It is so lovely.452

We loved Rome, but we are in love with Venice.


The best art in Italy

Yesterday, we went to visit the Vatican City. I was surprised at how excited I was to be there and about how it affected me. I was raised Catholic, but I haven’t been even a remotely practicing member of any religion for about 20 years.

But from even before we arrived, I felt a connection to that part of my life, and even more strongly to the people in my life for whom Catholicism has been important. I couldn’t help but think a lot about how excited my grandmother, who passed away over 10 years ago, would be about us visiting Vatican City.

My feeling of connection and nostalgia was so strong that I actually bought myself a Rosary at the museum gift shop. (I’m as surprised as anyone about that, but it seemed like the thing to do.) In some ways, that connection to my personal history was one of my favorite things about my visit to Vatican City.

20130301-152500.jpgAnother of my favorite things was my kids’ reactions. They loved it. Within the first few minutes of exploring the museum, both of the boys were running around on an outdoor patio shouting, “I love Varican City!” I’m not sure exactly what they loved so much, but they were really enthusiastic about it.

20130301-152529.jpgAnd then, we started in on the museum, and got to see so much amazing art. I loved the detail of the map room, from the ornate ceiling to the beautiful, incredibly detailed maps of Italy from the 16th century. I was captivated by Rapheal’s “School of Athens” and the signifance of its placement in the Vatican. And then we got to the Sistine Chapel, which was the part I was most looking forward to. The scope and the detail were awesome, and it was incredibly special to be in such a magnificent space. (As a note, although we loved the Vatican Museum, we wish we hadn’t brought the stroller, because there were so many stairs, and the elevators were only for wheelchairs.)

20130301-152657.jpgBut of all the art we saw, my favorite was yet to come. At dinner, Benjamin and Liam decorated their placemats with drawings of fire trucks and happy stick figures. Benjamin is at the point where his drawings are starting to really look like what he imagines — I’m not sure when he got so good, maybe he was inspired by Michelangelo and Raphael — and it is wonderful to see his placemat collection of smiling family members and friends. Of all the art we’ve seen, it’s definitely my favorite.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Vatican

One of the places I was most excited to go in Rome actually isn’t in Rome at all. I was really looking forward to visiting Vatican City, seeing the Sistine Chapel and walking in St. Peter’s square. I think part of my fascination has to do with the historical significance, part has to do with my own family history of Catholicism, and it’s all heightened by being there during the final days of Pope Benedict’s papacy — something we couldn’t have planned for or anticipated when we were organizing our trip.

I’m a planner, and since I’d heard that the lines for entry into the Vatican Museum (which culminates in the Sistine Chapel) can be long and frustrating, I decided to splurge for the extra €4/adult to reserve an entry time. Our appointment was at 9:00. I knew it might be tough to make that, with 6 people to get up, fed and ready, but I wanted to get through the museum (and all the way to the Sistine Chapel) before the kids couldn’t take any more.

This morning, we were on our way, but we were running a bit late. I had planned a bit of extra time in to our schedule, but we had pretty much eaten all of that up with breakfast and getting out the door. I was a little stressed. We had to catch a cab, get to the museum, and find where we needed to be, with just over 20 minutes to go. I didn’t know if the ticket times were strict, so I wanted to be on time, or even a little early. Luckily, we hailed a cab quickly, and got to the gate of the Vatican museum in 10 minutes. We pulled up, got out, and got the stroller set up while Amanda was paying the cab driver, and I glanced at the time — about 10 minutes to go. Perfect! Whew!

And then Amanda realized that she didn’t have her phone, and the cab had already pulled away.

Minor panic ensued. She wasn’t entirely sure that she’d had it when we left the hotel. We started by flagging down the next cab from the same company that came by. We were hoping that maybe they had some way to call each other between cabs. No luck.

We called our hotel. We asked them to call the cab company. Then we called back and asked them to check our room. (It wasn’t there.) Then we called back and tried to get their help finding the U.S. customer service number for AT&T Wireless. We were having a really hard time making any progress. Amanda was pretty despondent and getting progressively more worried. (She didn’t want someone to find the phone and make expensive calls.)

She was pretty sure she wouldn’t get her phone back. I was thinking that if we had found it, we would have worked hard to return it, so I didn’t want to give up hope.

We waited right at the same spot where the cab dropped us off, just in case. Our hotel hadn’t had any luck — since we’d hailed our cab, instead of calling, the company didn’t have a record of the trip. And, the hotel couldn’t find the right number for the phone company. So, we went to try and find some Wi-Fi so we could try to shut the phone off ourselves.

We found some, looked up the number of the phone company, and started through the automatic phone universe of AT&T. As we stood there, pressing 1, or 2, or 7, as appropriate, we thought we saw the cab drive by — the one that dropped us off.

We hopped out the cafe door and started running (up hill, of course). We didn’t know if he was stopping, if he was picking someone up or dropping them off, or if he just happened to be driving up the street.

Yay!!! He was there! He had come back, just to bring the phone. The hotel had called the cab company back, and they had tracked down the right cab. The driver, of his own accord, on the chance that we’d still be there, even though 40 minutes had passed, drove back to the Vatican. And there we were. And we had the phone back.

We were so excited and so happy. Amanda was crying. I gave the cab driver €20 (he tried to say no, but I insisted). A newspaper seller on the corner saw the whole exchange happen, and said, “This is Italia! You don’t need to cry — everything is good here!”

And even though we were almost 45 minutes late for our appointment, we had no problem getting in to the museum. All was well.

Viva Italia! Viva Rome! We love it here.