Friends, Romans, countrymen

20130226-001948.jpgThe Roman Forum is awesome. I’ve heard so much more enthusiasm and excitement about the Colosseum, and although that was impressive and absolutely important, the Forum made a much bigger impression on me.

20130226-002005.jpgWe went to the Forum today. We had to wander around a bit to find the main entrance (which was surprisingly not well marked) and then followed Rick Steves’ self-guided tour (from the Rick Steves’ Italy book). It was chilly and sprinkled on and off, but we were treated to some amazing history. We marveled at the astounding scope of Roman architecture and walked the ground where Caesar stood . . . and where he was killed. We saw the way that space once set aside for Roman gods was taken over by Christianity. We learned how grateful we all are to not be Vestal Virgins (yikes).

20130226-002029.jpgBut of the whole experience, I had two favorite moments. The first was when I learned that nearly the entirety of the ground we were walking on had been excavated in only the 19th century. I had been shocked to find that many of the massive stones that made up the roads were from ancient times (they don’t make for an easy stroller journey), but when I realized they had all been underground — covered and protected by centuries of sediment — it made a lot more sense. It also drove home to me to feeling of being small and finite and very young in the face of these pieces of stone that have been preserved for so long.

20130226-002110.jpgAnd then, when I saw the massive cuts made in the marble columns of a temple, by would-be thieves who gave up because the stone was too tough to destroy, I felt so much admiration for the pride, effort and craftsmanship of all of the work that went in to building these massive and persistent structures.

20130226-002221.jpgIt was an amazing experience. We stood in the Senate building, we walked the streets of ancient Rome, we chased Benjamin around the ruins. We had a day steeped in history, made tangible by being near the massive monuments left behind. It was fantastic.


Family style

20130225-002123.jpgWe had a fantastic day today in Rome. After a much needed rest, we got out into the city to visit the Colosseum, which was amazing and massive and ancient and wonderful. It is the oldest thing I’ve ever seen, and it’s a little hard to impart the significance of that to a 4 year old and a 2 year old. It’s also hard, we discovered, to explain the purpose of the Colosseum to young kids without traumatizing them with gory details. (B understands that there were lions somehow involved.) They appreciated the steps and the cobblestones and enjoyed wandering around a bit, though.

20130225-002400.jpgAfter exhausting ourselves and the boys’ patience, we had a relatively uninteresting lunch and then discovered what is (most likely) the best pastry shop in Rome. We were looking for gelato for the boys (because they will eat ice cream in any weather — including chilly and drizzly, like today) and stumbled across this perfect little confection shop (called Cristalli di Zucchero, located behind the Forum).

20130225-002418.jpgIt was so lovely. Between us, we had a selection of bite-sized cakes, a few macaroons, a cannoli, a profiterole and a cappuccino. They were all heavenly. It was quite a lucky find.

And then, this evening, we went out and “discovered” (similarly to how Columbus discovered America) our new favorite Roman restaurant (Da Francesco near Piazza Navona). We ate a wonderful assortment of pizza and pasta, all beautifully made, and Benjamin charmed our waiter by ordering a second pistachio tiramisu for dessert.

156We shared everything. When my family goes out to eat, we always do. We contemplate the menu, vote for our favorites, choose a selection, and enjoy them together. We have the best time, and we all debate our favorites. We can basically turn any restaurant meal into a family style affair. I love it. I’d rather eat with my family than with anyone else.

20130225-002550.jpgSo, today, we had a wonderful day. We saw some of ancient Rome, we ate some fantastic food, and we had a great time. So far, Italy is absolutely excellent.


Sleeper train to Rome

So we’re here, on the first part of our Italian adventure. To get here, we took the overnight “sleeper” train yesterday from Vienna to Rome. It was quite an adventure in itself.

20130223-174619.jpgWe had a terrible time getting ourselves and all of our stuff onto the train. (The train was a bit late, it was very cold and windy, and we created a major roadblock getting the stroller on board.) Once we got ourselves all loaded into the compartment, it wasn’t much better. At first, we couldn’t figure out where to put any of our things or how anything was supposed to be set up. But eventually, Jo climbed up to the top of the highest bunk bed and we got most of our things stowed away up top. It was a bit crowded, slightly uncomfortable and a little claustrophobic, but cozy and fun — kind of like camping.

After a few hours of socializing in our tightly packed quarters (through most of which Jo hung out in the top bunk and the boys mostly watched videos and played iPad games), we decided to set up for bed.

20130223-174736.jpgIt took forever. Getting everything arranged, figuring out how to set up all of the beds (and then realizing that there were no options at that point other than laying down or standing up) and getting the boys and ourselves ready for bed all were more complicated and took longer than we expected. By the time we all got in to bed (around 11) we were completely exhausted.

The kids were AMAZING. Through the initial stress of getting situated, plus the hours of confinement, and on through the endless-seeming evening of “getting ready for bed”, they were pleasant, happy and enthusiastic. Then they snuggled down in theirs bunks like experts.

Sleeping was tough. The beds were kind of cozy (if not very big) but the fear of falling out of bed, exacerbated by the sometimes abrupt braking of the train, kept the adults up for a while. B slept soundly, but Liam (who shared a bed with Dan) was restless. We all eventually got some rest though, and I ended up being more comfortable than I expected to be.

20130223-174750.jpgWe truly had no idea what it was going to be like before we set off. It was kind of weird, but it worked out pretty well, really. Of course, it was made a bit more challenging by the fact that we ended up nearly 2 hours behind schedule (and then ended up getting to Rome earlier than we’d been told we would, which created an intense scramble at the end).

Our 16 hour train saga seems to have been well worth it though. We’re here now, in Rome, listening to the rain and the birds and the bells ringing at the Vatican. We had an amazing lunch (the food really is as good as we’d heard) and we’re looking forward to the rest of our visit to Rome. The train journey was just the beginning of this piece of our adventure.

Andiamo a Italia

This time next week, we’ll be in Italy.  We will have taken our overnight train (for better or for worse — I’m a bit concerned that the kids won’t sleep, and therefore, neither will anyone else), arrived in Rome, dropped of our bags and begun our Italian vacation.  It’s kind of amazing.  I love this part of planning the trip.  Between washing dozens of loads of laundry, mastering the spatial relations of various suitcase options, talking with the kids to give them appropriate expectations of the next few weeks, poring over guide books about the different places we’re going to see, confirming hotel reservations, arranging travel connections, and packing (which feels like it takes weeks), I am suddenly hit with the realization that, in a few short days, we’re actually going to BE on our trip, exploring a new place, experiencing new things.  It’s very easy for me to lose sight of that when I’m wading through the details of trip planning (partly because there are so many details).

So, today, I’m really excited.  It’s finally *real* to me that we’re going to be IN ITALY in a week.  We’re going to be eating pizza, pasta, risotto and gelato, drinking hot chocolate and (I’m certain) enjoying many other delightful things.  We’re going to visit Rome, Vatican City, and Venice.  (We’re going to be in Rome, and Vatican City, during the last week of Pope Benedict’s papacy — which is something we couldn’t have expected or planned for, but it’s kind of amazing.)  We’re going to see the Coliseum, the Forum, Trevi fountain and St. Mark’s Square.  We’re going to be amongst thousands of years of history (although, having lived in Vienna for almost 2 years, that’s less shocking and impressive to me than it once would have been).

And, best of all, we’re going to do it, all together as a family and alongside Jo and Mina!  I’m very excited for this next piece of our adventure!  Molto Bene!  Andiamo!

Italia with a side of Mina

Italy is a place I’ve always dreamed of going.  Even back when the thought of travelling outside of the US was scarier to me than it was exciting, Italy was on the (very short) list of places I knew I wanted to go . . . someday.  I think my enthusiasm grew from my interest in the Renaissance and Reformation eras of history and a fascination with the art in and from Italy (even though I really know nothing about art).  That, and pizza.  It seemed like if all that good stuff came from one place, it would be worth checking out.

But, after spending our first summer here in Vienna, I was pretty certain I was not going to venture any further south in the summer months, unless it involved sitting on a beach somewhere.  The European notions of handling summer heat, largely without air conditioning, don’t work very well for me, and I figured that if I couldn’t handle that at a northern latitude, venturing to Italy during warm weather didn’t make a lot of sense.

Our initial plan had been to see Italy this past December, so we could enjoy the festivity of Rome and the Vatican once everything was done up for Christmas.  Though when I sat down to plan that trip, back in the fall, I realized that December is one of my favorite months of the whole year HERE, so why would I want to leave?

But now, we’re really going.  The trip to Italy has been planned.  We’re going in February (cool weather, few crowds).  We started off (as we often do) with an overly ambitious wish list of destinations:  Rome, Florence, Siena, the Cinque Terre, Venice.  From experience, I’ve learned that trying to manage that in a week, with the kids, would be miserable for all of us.  So, we narrowed it down to three, and then decided to limit ourselves to just two, so we can really enjoy them, slow down, relax and have a great time, with no pressure.

So, we’re going to Rome, and then to Venice.  Because I can’t imagine a trip to Italy that didn’t include Rome, and Venice seems so beautiful, and so romantic that I didn’t want to miss it (not to mention we literally have to travel through it to get anywhere else in Italy).  We’re taking the train the entire way — the overnight train (our first) from Vienna to Rome, a train from Rome to Venice and then the overnight home to Vienna.  We have plans to see a lot of the sights in Rome, to ride on a gondola in Venice, and to eat a ton of Italian food.  (Benjamin is overjoyed that we are going to the country that invented pizza.  We’ve promised him pizza and gelato every day.)  I am super excited.

And, we get to bring Jo along with us on this adventure.  And then, to make it all even more exciting, my sister, Amanda (or “Mina”, to the kids) is coming over to join us for our trip.  We are all so excited.  The kids did a happy dance (quite literally) when I told them she was coming.  Seeing Italy is a dream come true, and being able to do it with my family makes it even better.  Looking forward to Italy!