I'm honored that my wife asked me to share some travel/cruise stories and pictures with you. However don't expect much Stampin' Up! talk here; so if you are wanting to see all Steph's SU goodies from the trip, or discussion of thinlets or punches, etc etc you will have to wait on her. I'm just here to share my sometimes quirky viewpoint of the trip and hopefully make you smile and share some pictures of all the different things we did on this trip.
When we made travel details for this trip, we asked to leave one day early so we would have a day to see Rome other than just from airport to the port to catch the cruise. We left GR Friday afternoon to Chicago, with an overnight flight to Rome so we would arrive in Rome Saturday morning with the 6 hour time change. The flight time to Rome was scheduled for 9 hours, but a random summer thunderstorm shut down O'Hare airport for a half hour, making our departure about 1 1/2 hours late.
Upon arrival in Rome, it was time to complete the airport process and get moving with our day. Shock alert all the directions once you are off the airplane are in Italian! So we just followed the crowd and boarded a train. The train stopped so of course we followed the pack and got off. I just love that feeling of being a first timer in a foreign country and faking the "oh ya this is definitely the right way to go".
We get thru Customs and find our bags on the carousel. (Steph was very nervous about this). Now time to find the hotel shuttle. Again all signs are in Italian (duh). Steph calls the hotel and they tell her to wait in lane 29. OK great, except when we get outside everything is marked for lanes 1-23, and hotel shuttles are listed in lanes 1-4. After much searching and not much help from the locals, secret lane 29 is found.
There are a total of 16 people in lane 29 all for the same hotel. Steph had confirmed with the hotel that the bus/vehicle could handle that many. So five minutes before shuttle arrival time, a Chrysler mini-van shows up. Ah I don't think we're all gonna fit in that. Good natured jokes are shared such as "how many clowns can you fit into a Volkswagon?" and me wondering if I could exit the van at the hotel ala Spicoli in Fast Times. Fortunately a real size hotel shuttle shows up minutes later for the rest who didn't fit in the van.
We arrive at the hotel around 1:00 and there is a huge line to check in. We are scheduled to meet our group at 2:00 for our 2:30 tour. I see a shower and nap becoming only a dream. We get room key and are told "you're on the ground floor". Awesome and we're off with ALL our bags in search of our room. Again I am confronted with the reality that all the signs in this hotel in Rome Italy are in Italian (duh). We find many things, such as conference rooms and the kitchen, but nothing resembling guest rooms. Then we find out that we were SUPPOSED to take the elevator to the first floor because we were on ground zero.
On the way we pass the bathrooms and Stephanie says she needs to stop. Now as a husband in full "search and conquer" mode I would like this pit stop to last 60 seconds or less as the time to meet our group continues to approach. However my hopes are dashed as Stephanie gets her first experience with a bidet. We finally find the room with enough time to get out of Friday's clothes (I mean it is Saturday after all) and a quick tooth brushing and we're off for adventure in Rome.
We meet our group in the lobby and we need to get a ride to where the tour begins. Of course there are no Chrysler mini-vans in sight, so the 7 of us have to split up in 2 taxis. Steph shows the driver on her phone where we need to go and he nods and speaks with the other taxi driver in Italian (duh) and they seem to be in agreement on how to get us there. There is a part of me that worries that they have made an alternate plan to drive the Americans to some remote location but after a 20 minute ride we arrive at the park.
I need to step back before I share our Rome experiences. Quite possibly in early 2019 when you were having your scheduled SU club or class I was upstairs reading travel books or watching YouTube videos of Rome and Greece. What I found out is there is SO much to see and do that it is a bit overwhelming. Whatever plans we made in Rome were on us, as technically it was not part of the cruise and we were less than a week out and we had made no plans for Rome.
Stephanie was part of a Facebook SU group of demonstrators going on the cruise. Many nights she would share a nugget or two of things she had learned. It was there we learned of the 7 person golf cart tour of Rome and that is was highly recommended. We made plans with one of our good SU friends we made last year on the Alaska cruise and she did the leg work getting prices and information. Plans were finalized and we were scheduled for this 3 hour tour (wait, wasn't Gilligan also scheduled for a three hour tour? Uh oh).
Within mere minutes we were at our first stop in a park overlooking the city of Rome. Suddenly the flavor of the city popped in a way that it hadn't in the taxi ride from the hotel. Also it meant it was time to take pictures, which as my wife says "is totally my element". Our tour guide Valerio was awesome. As a native Roman, he knew the best spots to get pictures and always parked in the shade (extremely important on a hot humid day). He would first explain the details and history of what we were seeing before letting us loose to take some pictures.
It also can not be overemphasized how great taking a tour like this is on a hot humid Rome day with a covered golf cart. The city is jammed with thousands of other tourists seeing the same sights on foot. All we had to do is jump back on and buzz off to the next spot. Stephanie and I were on the back seat of the cart facing backwards and we saw many people pointing and probably saying something like " we should have done that!" as they were pounding the hard Roman pavement.
Here's a few other little nuggets we learned or observed on the tour and then I will try to wrap this up. (I apologize if I am too "wordy" as I don't think future posts will be this long). First most cars in Rome are small economical models, as gas prices are equivalent to $10 a gallon US (can you say ouch?). Also bikes and motor scooters are popular for that same reason.
Parking on the narrow streets is crazy. Every available inch is used. Many times we saw cars parked longways AND sideways in between.
Driving in the city of Rome is not for the faint of heart. One of the things I clearly remember in my travel studying was this recommendation, "if you are thinking about renting a car and driving yourself, just don't". There are not always lane markings and if they are there they're merely suggestions. I think each driver does what they feel like doing and if that is a problem for someone else, too bad. Being on the back seat of the golf cart Steph and I saw a few interesting interactions.
Graffiti is everywhere, but our guide Valerio says that unlike the US it is not gang related, but just kids expressing themselves. He said they are "respectful", which I guess means that they leave the ruins and other city tourist sites alone and everything else is fair game.
Finally the tour was done. Valerio asked if we were hungry. Especially for Steph and I that was a simple yes as we had flown all night and were given a cup of yogurt and one Fig Newton cookie for breakfast from the airline and had skipped lunch because of the busyness. First we stopped at a gelato shop and that was heavenly. Then he took us to a little Italian cafe where he knew the person in charge. If you have a vision in your mind about what a little Italian cafe would look like, this was it. Maybe 20 seats inside and another 20 seats on the sidewalk outside.
Both the food and service were incredible. I had homemade fettuccine with tomato sauce and meatballs. Super simple and super delicious. Cost was probably the same or less than eating at Olive Garden or any other US Italian chain restaurant. Quite simply the perfect end to a perfect tour of Rome.
After the meal was done, we again jumped into 2 taxis and went back to the hotel. I think we were back in our room at 7:30 and Steph and I were out cold by 8:00. Although it was long, this will be a day that I will always treasure. Sometimes the unexpected and spontaneous plans end up being the most memorable, and this was no exception.
To close, here's a few pics of the day. Some of you may have seen some of these of my Facebook post, so I apologize for the duplication. Again I apologize that I didn't warn you that you might have to stop reading this post in the middle for a light snack and to stretch your legs!
View from the park overlooking Rome. Top right is St John's Bascilica and The Vatican.
I forgot what this was called….
The Spanish steps.
The Roman Colosseum.
Panoramic view of Trevi Fountain. Thanks to Chuck in our group for this one!
These are all over the city. It is drinkable water that is somewhat cold.
The city square. Our restaurant was near here.
My supper. Again I will say super simple and super delicious.
The restaurant gave us free shots of lemoncello for dessert. I don't think I have ever seen my wife do a shot before.
Our hosts at the restaurant. A dining experience I will always treasure.
Note: Less than 1% of all demonstrators earn the incentive trip each year.