“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Day 8: The Pig and the Cow

The verdict is in. Rome wins with the pig. They know how to cure pork. From pancetta, to porchetta, to bacon, and prosciutto. I could have cured meats on everything, all day. The bacon was unlike anything I've ever had in the US. The best bacon was in a carbonara dish we had on the first day in a tiny place called Cacio e Pepe. I wanted pork on everything: bacon on my eggplant pie, prosciutto on a sandwich, on pizza, over veal.

Paris knows all things cow. The milk is fresh, dense, and rich. The cheese is creamy. The beef carpaccio is refreshing and tender. I've had lovely meals in both countries but I believe my favorite food was in Rome. I'm a salty and savory gal so Rome's food was perfect for me. However, I really need to return to Paris so I can still eat cassoulet, escargot, duck l'orange, and somewhere on this continent I will eventually have horse meat. I haven't found it yet and was looking forward to tasting it. The rumors are true about Paris: the croissants are out of this world. Since this is just about the only pastry I like, this is a happy fit.

After downing some croissants, cheese, and salami for breakfast, we visited the Musee d'Orsay mid-morning. For a Saturday the crowd wasn't bad at all. We may have only spent an hour in the museum, but I was pleased to see the famed works of Cezanne, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Toulousse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, and Degas. The museum itself is a beautiful piece of architecture occupying a former train station, and from the top floor we could see across the Siene to Montmarte and Sacre Couer. We didn't have enough time visit this area, it's on the list for next time. There is a lot we missed (and that I didn't eat) so coming back in the beautiful springtime would be a proper forgiveness for this cold weather. The last stop before returning to the hotel was at the Arc de Triumph. It is a massive monument, including the tomb of the unknown soldier which was installed at the end of WWI.

Per tradition, we had a spectacular final meal. This time we were fortunate to get reservations (made well in advance) at the #19 restaurant in the world, 2 Michelin star L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. The restaurant is set up more like a sushi bar where diners sit on bar-height chairs along a counter that wraps around the open kitchen. From behind the bar the wait and bus staff work together for dinner service. Diners side side-by-side. We could see the chefs in the kitchen working with speed and efficiency. Between the bar and the kitchen is an open counter on which was a large Iberico ham leg, hoof and all. I ordered this jambon and it was practically paper thin. Salty, flavorful, naturally greased, and served with a side of crostini with diced tomato, olive oil, and herbs. I walked to grab the ham leg, tuck it under my arm, and make a beeline for the front door, figuring out later how to stuff it in my suitcase.

For dinner I opted for the special, the Dover sole with butter and parsley, and a side of the world-famous mashed potatoes. Honestly, I chose the sole "solely" because they came with the potatoes. I heard about these and couldn't leave without tasting them. Carrie wanted the spaghetti with black truffles, but when they told her it was €100 she asked them for another suggestion, which was the ribeye, rare. I had a piece of this and it was beyond perfect. As for my Dover sole, it was a full large fish which they filleted at the bar for me, served with a half of a lemon that had to the brightest yellow and juiciest lemon I have ever set eyes on. The fish lay in a lovely light butter with a mildly crispy topping and melted in my mouth. It was a lot of fish, but I ate is slowly just to savor it. Carrie also ordered the fois gras, which was good, but I far more enjoyed my Iberico ham.

About the mashed potatoes... It was as if they were filled with as much butter and cream as one could squeeze from one cow, then whipped into submission. Dense yet soft, rich, succulent. There has been no equal. After I cleaned my plate completely, and finished the potatoes, the waiter asked if I wanted more potatoes. Well, my fish was gone, but okay, sure! He brought 2 more bowls. Now Carrie isn't into potatoes. I ate my second bowl. Then I ate hers. Forget dessert, I didn't need it. Remember what I said about not having a sweet tooth? I considered the THIRD bowl of mashed potatoes my dessert. Don't judge, just be jealous.

A few other Americans, a Spaniard, and another French tourist were in there and at least half the crowd was taking pictures of each dish, including Carrie. I've never been into photographing my meals. I feel cheesy whipping out a camera in restaurant. I topped off dinner with a small espresso-like coffee. I was full, satisfied, pleased, yet not overstuffed.

I am ready to go home now. I am ready to BE home. A much as we did, it was still a very hard week between my illness and the frigid weather. I am tired of juggling bags, cameras, coats, gloves, hats, scarves, and maps. I am tired of being outside. I am tired of walking. I want to come back and relax and eat, maybe stroll, when it's warmer. But right now, I miss friends back home and I miss my cat Jude. Can't wait to just be home, order a pizza, some Coke, and watch Sunday night TV with the cat curled up next to me then my very large, warm, comfortable bed and Ambien for the jet lag. Realizing I have to work immediately the next day might be a little rough, but I miss my home and my life across the pond.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Day 7: Versailles, Notre Dame, Sparkling Eiffel

Versailles was as sprawling, opulent, and awe-inspiring as I had heard. Although the gardens and Trianon were closed due to the snow coverage, I was kind of happy just to stay inside the palace and not feel like I had to see everything. I had come prepared with a Rick Steves' walking tour podcast on my iPad so I donned my headphones and explored. Conveniently, this was also paced the same as the official audio tour that Carrie had, so we progressed together through the palace. I was shooting with a different lens today so I can't wait to get home and upload these pictures for you. Rooms were recovered in silk wall coverings. Floor-to-ceiling windows. Gold gilt everywhere. Hundreds of rooms. Larger than life artwork. And the approach to the palace took our breath away with a gold-covered gate that shone like the sun for a half mile at least. I would love to return in warmer weather to take a Segway tour of the grounds.

We had a lovely lunch in the village of Versailles, in which I had sausage wrapped in puff pastry, and beef carpaccio with olive oil, Parmesan, and red onions. Once again I ordered in French, and the waiter complimented me on my pronunciation and asked if I was also French. Mon dieu, non! But it certainly made my day, especially since build-up to this trip I was obsessed with learning as much as possible since I am intimidated by the language and heard that they're picky about pronouncing things properly. But I find people are very friendly and accepting if you try.

We left Versailles early enough to make a visit to Notre Dame. Now I feel like I've seen the three grand cathedrals of Europe: Canterbury, St Peter's, and Notre Dame. It's gorgeous, and 850 years old next year. A no idea it was so old. Yet so beautiful in its gothic architecture. I was happy to see the flying buttresses, which was - I believe - the first use of buttresses on a gothic building. We also heard the famous bells ringing.

Across the river we found the bookshop Shakespeare & Company. It's a tiny shop filled with new and old books in a cramped space, with reading rooms on the higher floors and an unofficial home away from home for many famous writers. On the second floor in a small room was a piano where a girl sat playing, and I leaned against a bookshelf full of delightfully smelly old books and listened to her play for a bit. I also found Bebelman's "Madeleine" book and flipped through it for nostalgia's sake. Afterward we walked through the Latin Quarter which was cute with its small winding streets and ethnic foods, but I found it a bit more of a tourist trap with high-pressure sales pitches to try to beckon us into restaurants. I longed for being back in our residential neighborhood where our hotel is.

Soon it was dusk so we hopped back on the Metro to the Eiffel Tower to see it lit up and night, and found a perfect vantage point on some steps at the opposite end of the park where we could get full shots of the tower. Within minutes of sitting, the tower began to sparkle with light. Breathtaking. Spectacular. Quintessential Paris. And this also meant we didn't have to wait in the cold very long, so we went back to the hotel, dropped our bags, and headed out for a light dinner of mussels, fries, wine, and creme brûlée. My theory is that fries are merely a delivery mechanism for mayonnaise. Ketchup is old news.

I don't know where the stereotype of rude French comes from as we've encountered nothing but friendly and helpful people, including wait staff. When we were looking momentarily confused on the Metro, an old lady stopped to offer her help and made sure we headed the right direction. I also discovered a lovely Parisian fashion that is also wildly practical in the winter. Wearing a shawl OVER and around a winter coat. This didn't make sense to me at first until I tried it. Viola! It cuts the wind from blowing into our coat, and is equally adorable. And I love accessories, so now I'm hooked. So practical. I used to say that there's no such thing as fashion in Chicago during the winter, but Parisians can pull it off, so there's no excuse anymore not to look put together and warm.

I haven't yet eaten cassoulet. I found it at one restaurant, but we had just eaten lunch and were still full. It's more difficult to locate than I had thought. Tomorrow night our final meal is at Joel Robuchon's L'Atelier so there will plenty to be written about that, as well as an overdue reason to dress up.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Day 6: Classic Paris and Charcuterie

Pont de l'Alma
Today we essentially checked of a slew of sights in a marathon of Metro-hopping and quality footwork. The Eiffel Tower was lovely to visit in the morning since there weren't a lot of people around and the sun was shining brightly. We didn't need to go up it for the view, because then we'd be seeing all of Paris except the Tower in our view. Best to save this for another vantage point. We strolled through the adjoining park, making our way to the Pont de l'Alma. First, there is a gold metal flame which was the model for the Statue of Liberty. It is also the unofficial memorial for Princess Diana where she and Dodi al Fayed crashed in the tunnel below.

We walked along the Siene past the Grand Palais, which reminded me of where Chanel had one of their most stunning runway shows a few years back. Across the street was the Pont des Invalides, which is a stunningly ornately decorated bridge. Heading a bit north, we approached the Place Concorde which was significant for two reasons. This was where Marie Antoinette was beheaded. Unfortunately we were unable to find plaque marking the exact spot, but we were close. Also, the plaza hosts the obelisk that was "liberated" from the Luxor Temple in Egypt. I mentioned in an earlier post that I had visited that temple and have a picture of where that obelisk once stood. My international treasure hunt was complete now that I have found the twin obelisk in Paris.

Running northwest from the Place de Concorde is the Champs-Élysées. We strolled about halfway up when hunger got the better of us and we ducked into a bistro on a side street. Our waiter was sweet but spoke next to no English. We managed with my basic French, and a combination of English and hand gestures. I'm loving the idea of constantly having a plate of cured meats and terrine before my entree and a cheese course for dessert. I could live like this. Afterward we ducked into yet another pharmacy to get me some cough medicine. I got both a suppressant for night and expectorant for day, but after getting an Internet connection tonight and looking up the suppressant ingredients, I can't take it because it contains a relative of codeine, which I had an allergic reaction to just days before this trip. Damn, 5 euros wasted and I don't have a receipt. Anyone need a cough suppressant? It'll be another long night if I can't get this under control.

We hopped the Metro again to the Rue Cambon, I had to make a pilgrimage to the atelier of Chanel and fortunately was able to see through a set of glass doors and take a picture of her famed white and mirrored staircase on which she used to sit to watch her models promenade on the runway below. We're getting really good with the Metro and Chicago could take some tips from Paris. We never wait more than 2 minutes for a train, it's quiet, gentle, and goes EVERYWHERE. The cars seem wider and longer, have more doors, and seem to hold a lot more people.

Walking down Rue Saint-Honore was like a mix between Michigan Ave and Oak Street. We also stumbled upon Place Vendome, home of the Ritz Hotel, Hemingway Bar, and the kitchen of Auguste Escoffier. We found ourselves back near the Louvre where there was some interesting architecture of Metro entrances. Another loop back along the Jardin des Tuileries and we rested in Angelina, which is a fancy tea room, complete with pastries, sweets, and drinks. I hit my wall at this point and quickly tired of the walking, lugging a bag, and dressing and undressing coats, gloves, hats, and scarves. Still full from lunch, I settled for just a hot cocoa while Carrie indulged in a vanilla eclair and white hot cocoa.

One thing we will never have a problem with: when Carrie orders pastries or sweets, she is guaranteed to have them all to herself with no question if my fork will be probing her plate for a taste. There is absolutely nothing that piques my interest in a patisserie. I already had a croissant for breakfast and that's where my sweet tooth ends. The tea room Angelina has allegedly the best hot cocoa on record, so I was pleased with this. That was my dinner. I am loving this idea of gentle breakfasts, large lunches, and a nosh for dinner.

I am also getting the hang of some basic French and am not shy about trying it out. I used to be very shy about using my Spanish. But now that I've been thrust into a language, I find it fun and a challenge to see if I'm understood. Although we found that our accent easily gives us away as Americans. C'est la vie.

Tonight we rest at the hotel, watch CNN, and plan for tomorrow. We're heading to Versailles, which I'm quite excited about. I keep forgetting to carry my other camera lens, so I may shoot with the fixed lens tomorrow for more creativity. We may try to revisit the Eiffel Tower at sunset and see it sparkle when it's dark. And to find some cassoulet.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Day 4 & 5: The Vatican, Rome in Review, and the Louvre

St Peter's Dome
We started Tuesday with a tour of the Vatican Scavi, which is the necropolis below St Peter's. Loved this part, especially as we walked the original ancient street that ran the length of the site. It was our first official tour of the trip. We saw Saint Peter's tomb, his alleged bones, the shrine above it, and a full history of how the  basilica came to be. Interestingly, as we explored the Vatican we began to piece together such things as why the Vatican "logo" has two keys (learned from a painting in the Sistine that Jesus handed Peter and another apostle the keys to his church), and what the inscription around the dome meant ("You are Peter and upon this rock I build my church", upon Peter's tomb).

The Rough Guide Rome had an incredibly detailed map and description of every panel painting in the Sistine Chapel so we spent some quality time in there as well, practically laying on the floor to look up. I had to make my share of "Life of Brian" and Mel Brooks references. The rest of the Vatican was impressive as you may imagine, but I still felt uncomfortable with the degree of opulence and pomp devoted to worship.

Stairs at Vatican Museum exit
After lunch we returned to the hotel for a nap. Well, I needed to nap. I hit my wall around lunch and as much as my brain wanted to continue sightseeing, my body was screaming in resistance. A quick doze later and we were headed out to our final dinner in Rome. On the way, a couple of Italian tourists stopped to ask me directions to the Spanish Steps, in Italian. Oddly, 1) they took me for a local (I credit the new coat for this), and 2), I knew where to direct them, and the fact that I understood their Italian. The city was surprisingly easy to navigate, but we also had good maps. Despite all I heard about the insane traffic, it wasn't bad and drivers actually stop for pedestrians on crosswalks.

Vatican City
We had our final dinner at a restaurant called Al Duello which came highly recommended on TripAdvisor.  I thought it was delicious, that is, as much as I could taste it since I lost most of my sense of taste except for acidic and salty. This is fine considering I love red sauce and wine, so I fared okay. The eggplant pie with crispy bacon hit the spot.  When I sampled a portion of Carrie's tiramisu, I could have just as easily eaten a rice cake. My taste for sweet is gone during this cold, but since I don't have a sweet tooth, no major loss.  We decided to take a taxi to the airport instead of the 1.5 hour transit by train or bus, since it would have been much earlier to wake up, and me lugging our bags and not at 100% would be misery.  It was expensive but worth it.  The nap on the flight to Paris made me feel much better and I arrived to the City of Lights in much better condition. I think I need a Rome redo. The snow and my cold just took a toll and I'd love to come back in warmer weather to experience other parts of the city. This was by no means a bad trip, but I could use a reset. I appreciated what we still managed to do. And Carrie for being a trooper. Today in Paris my cold is drying up and I only fear a cough, but am trying to keep it at bay with liquids... Tea, water, and hey, wine.

It took us a few to get our bearings on the Metro, but once we figured out the system we were moving quickly. On the train, an older gentleman boarded with an accordion and started playing. Classic. We checked into our hotel, changed clothes, headed back out, and found a small tea cafe outside the Louvre. where I finally caught my second wind and was more myself today than I have been in days.  It's as though I finally "woke up" after hibernating for a long winter. We decided to see the museum at night (open until 10pm) when the crowds were thinner. Immediately we headed to the Mona Lisa and there was a small crowd but no line, and we got perfect pictures. We decided to hit some basic hot spots: Venus di Milo, Liberty Leading the People, Winged Victory, the Wedding Feast at Canaa, Consecretion of Napoleon, and a few others. To know we were in the world's most famous museum, I admit I almost choked up a bit to see all this famous art in person. Next, we decided to head to the Egyptian wing. Aaaaand...  Evacuate.

Inside the Louvre
An announcement played repeatedly in a few languages. And kept playing. Head for the nearest exits, collect your belongings later once the situation has been cleared. We tried to ignore it and soldier on since the curators weren't shuffling anyone to the doors. Except some of those doors started closing. We got into the beginning of the Egyptian wing when we reached a dead end. People really did start heading for the exits. We were confused. Did we really have to evacuate? What was going on? Nerd that I am, I really didn't want to leave without seeing Hammurabi's Code. That was in the other wing. Egypt could wait, I've been there, I could miss it. We just started to laugh. Arrived in Rome during an historic snowstorm, I got sick in Pompeii, now this?

 As we followed the crowd out, we ducked down a side stairwell and found ourselves eventually in the Medieval basement where there used to be a moat. We started passing through galleries with no one in them. We made it discreetly into another wing and there was silence.  No announcements.  No people. But nothing stopping us. So we stayed. We found our way to the Mesopotamian galleries and spotted Hammurabi's Code. Mission accomplished. While we were on that side, and it was still quiet with just a few lingering people, we made our way into Napoleon's Apartments. This is when Carrie best described it as "it's good to be the king."

Napoleon's Apartments
 We took a later dinner at a bistro down the street and topped off a long day with wine, cheese, cured meats, onion soup, and frog legs. We have not yet experienced the French stereotype of the locals being rude. Far from it, the staff at both cafes were very nice, especially the waiter at the bistro. A stranger talked to us on the Metro. The hotel staff is pleasant. No issues at all. Is it because we greet those we meet with a "bonjour/bonsoir" and "merci"? We're trying. So far I like Paris, but I have to reserve judgment for the equal time that we gave to Rome. They are so different cities.  Tomorrow we sleep in for the first time, then hit a few more sights, perhaps statring with the Eiffel Tower, which we saw lit up tonight. For now, I rest. Bonsoir.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Day 3: Pompeii and Misery

Pompeii and Vesuvius
One day I'll look back on today and smile. But right now I'm resisting the urge to plow my face straight into a wall, mercifully. Ever since we arrived at the hotel, I've been having sneezing fits whenever we're in the room. Once I'm out I'm fine. I figure it's allergies. I awoke congested and figured it would pass once we left the hotel. We headed to Termini station for our two hour train ride to Naples, and inside found a bar serving breakfast baked goods and coffee. Like every other Italian, I stepped up to the bar and ordered a cappuccino and cornetto. Stirred in two sugars and quickly drank my cup standing up at the bar, scooping out the foam at the end. Perfecto.

We boarded for the two hour journey but by time I got off the train, I was miserable. These sneezes just might turn into something. This was no allergy. We transferred to another train 30 minutes south to Pompeii and began to walk the site.

Alone in Pompeii
We practically had the place to ourselves. It was a cold grey day but at least there was no rain or snow. But oh, the wind. Between my congestion which by now had turned into a full-blown cold, and my eyes tearing up from the wind, I couldn't get back inside to warmth fast enough. I had one Benadryl on me that worked for a while, but wore off before we completed Pompeii. I was stumbling, tripping over my own feel with ill confusion. I couldn't stop sneezing, nor could make any decisions. We forgot to pick up a site map. I'm sure we missed some highlights of Pompeii, but we did manage to sneak our way into some closed off sections and get some great shots. It wasn't all bad and I'm still glad we saw this site. A snow-topped Vesuvius loomed overhead with dark green cypress tress framing it. Gorgeous. But I was done. We spent maybe under 2 hours in there before I was calling "uncle".

Misery had befallen me. I wasn't going to buy any medicine in a foreign country and try to wait until we were back at the hotel for more Benadryl, but I was in the throes of this cold. On the subway ride back to Naples, our train broke down for a half hour. We stood in the cold waiting for another train. At this point on the platform I nearly lost it. No medicine, no remedy, shivering, exhausted, and sneezing. When we FINALLY arrived in Naples, there was no room on the next train so we decided to take the one that departed the next hour. I ran to a pharmacy and explained my ailments. After reading the ingredients as best I could in Italian on the box the pharmacist recommended ("okay for ah-choo??") and seeing that it contained paracetamol (which meant it wasn't ibuprofen, yay!) I washed it down and waited for our train. And waited. And waited. It was delayed for an undetermined time.

Carrie was kind enough to not tell me that she noticed other trains were also delayed, which helped keep me calm. Mostly because I was in no mood for funny business. Although I wanted to throw an epic tantrum at feeling so miserable and consistently cold it wouldn't be fair to her, nor should I create my own drama in the train station. Luckily, there was other drama that pleasantly distracted me for a bit. A customer and train service person in a shouting match, red faces and hand gestures included. It was spectacular. So Italian. I would be nice if I could express myself that way at work and it be perfectly acceptable.

I still had no common sense. Struggled to exit the bathroom stall, or find a toilet in the first place, to make change, and I probably would have forgotten my name if someone had asked. An hour and 30 minutes later we're finally under way to Rome, if this train is headed in the correct direction. What is important is that it's warm in here and I can finally unbutton my coat for the first time in 12 hours. Carrie is seated a few rows up and maybe it's for the better that she get a break from my sneezing, dripping self. Carrie said I was wheezing in my sleep and this isn't a good sign. I can't set foot in that hotel room again without a face mask and we have two more nights to go. I asked the front desk to keep it allergen-free, but perhaps I'm allergic to something foreign in there and there isn't a thing to be done about it. Here's to hoping that the hotel in Paris treats me better.

What seems like a millennia later we have found our way back to the hotel. I picked up a couple face masks at a pharmacy and will sleep with one on. Oy. We popped into a pizzeria for dinner and devoured a few slices with the ferocity of a Roman orgy. I don't know what they do to the pork in this city, but the cured ham is out of this world. Last night I had the best damn hot cocoa ever, thick and chocolaty with extra sugar and whipped cream. Tonight we're finishing with a cheese platter and hot tea. Tomorrow, the Vatican. I hope to spend most of it indoors.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Day 2: Nothing Funny Happened on the Way to the Forum

The recent snowfall made things treacherous in Rome. Since they don't have snow removal equipment or salt, everything was slippery, so the monuments were closed. We didn't mind too much since we were able to walk around the peripheral of the Coliseum. It as closed due to the snow but it made for some fantastic pictures through the arches. And we just saved ourselves e12. The Via Sacra around the Forum was open up to Palatine Hill so we climbed that.... It was rather like scaling an ice mountain. Again, this city knows nothing of salting or sanding pavement, so today I made my second fall on ice of the trip, but the camera and iPad are safe. It was a slow journey up and down as everyone was carefully navigating the icy cobblestone. We saw a few falls and one head injury.

The Via Imperiali was closed to traffic as usual on a Sunday so as pedestrians we were able to stroll alongside the Forum, since the Forum was also closed due the weather. Apparently marble and ice do not a pleasant mix make. At then end of the Via Imperiali was the Vittorino monument with the tomb of the unknown soldier and honor guards. We were on our way toward the Pantheon at this point when we passed a small garment shop with a coat on a form outside the door. It stopped me in my tracks so I went in. After browsing, we left. I took a picture of the coat. Thirty seconds later I turned around, announced the I was going back to try on the coat and walked back in. As the saleswoman slipped it on me, it was like slipping into a custom glove. A leather wrap belt was tied around the waist and I fell in love. Italy has sale seasons only twice a year. Right now is one of those times. Every store is having a sale. Killer sales. Tax either included or not even paid. I love that sale prices are posted in the windows! It makes window shopping so much easier. At any rate, the coat's sale price was a steal and I couldn't leave without it. Spring, winter, or fall, this coat would get plenty of use. It was pure love. I needn't buy anything else in Rome, I was set.

Palatine Hill
Happy, we left and moved on to the Pantheon, which was also closed due to the snow, but we were able to peek through the door crack. Our day of sightseeing was essentially complete, so we stopped for a late lunch at a little restaurant and must have spent at least a couple hours there. Hey, we ordered a liter of wine, no one was going anywhere until it was gone. What I've come to love about Rome is that servers don't bother us. We're not interrupted by their inquiries. We order enough wine, enough water, and just raise our hand when we need something. It is so nice to sit in leisure and not be rushed to turn a table over or handed our check when we don't need it. Everyone is friendly and we even took a stab at ordering in Italian a few times, successfully. At the Piazza Navona we popped into an enoteca and sampled some limoncello. We haven't purchased any yet, but are sure to before we leave Rome. None of it was as good as the stuff we had last night at the restaurant. I just may compare every limoncello to that one.

The daytime sun seemed to have melted a good portion of snow on the sidewalks for walking was much easier today. More traffic was on the streets and there was far less slush to navigate. We returned to the hotel before the sidewalks iced up. On the way back from dinner, we crossed a bridge by our hotel and saw the dome of a magnificent basilica in the distance. Could it be? Maybe? Possibly? For certain, it was St. Peter's in the Vatican, with the sun setting behind it, and from where we were standing on the bridge, was reflecting on the Tiber River. It was too picturesque not to stop for pictures, which other people had the same idea.

As we rounded Piazza Cavour near our hotel, we scouted a couple cafes to ensure we could stop for some cappuccino and cornetto on Tuesday morning on the way to the Vatican. Right now, we're sitting in the lounge of our hotel about to order some cheese and maybe tea and cocoa to finish the evening, as tomorrow we have to catch a 6:38am train to Naples for Pompeii. I'm miserably allergic to something in our hotel room, and despite talking to the desk about a hypoallergenic room, I don't think that came to fruition. Someone should put me in a lab experiment because I sneeze entire time we're in there. Luckily Carrie is being a champ and camping out in the lobby with me. I already hit the Benadryl and will crash fairly soon.

Day 1: Turning Lemons into Limoncello

It began easily enough with two uneventful plane trips and a stopover in Philly. It was an overnight flight to Rome from there. We chatted away for half of the flight until we decided it may be a good idea to get some shut-eye. That is, as much as you can on a plane. There was enough space to spread out a bit across our rows and I caught a few Zs, although not very soundly. When I wake about an hour before landing, I looked outside to see daybreak and... The snow-covered Alps. We must have been over France at this point.

We heard it snowed in Tuscany, and the area around the airport was dusted with snow. Little did we realize that by the time we got into central Rome, there were a few inches on the ground. It must have just fallen the night before because the locals were in the parks building snowmen and having snowball fights. We heard this was the first snow Rome has seen in 15 years, and the most in 26 years. We passed the Forum and Coliseum, with it's arches and surrounding cypress trees dusted in snow. I've never seen this in pictures and thought that we were really lucky to be here to see something that is so very rare. Our pictures will be fabulous. So despite the weather, when given lemons, make limoncello.
Spanish Steps

Given that, nothing was plowed or shoveled. Unfortunately our express bus from the airport wasn't making the stop by our hotel so we were dumped at frantic Termini station. With suitcases in hand, we hopped on the Metro across town. At street level no sidewalks were shoveled, so we dragged our luggage through snow and slush. At this point we just laughed. It was the day of an historic snowfall in Rome and we arrived just in time. We were famished and exhausted so after dropping our luggage off and freshening up, we headed north in search of a little restaurant called Cacio e Pepe. We found it easily enough and were seated. When the waiter came to take our order I asked if he spoke English. "No. Espanol?" Yes! So he recited the menu in Spanish, I ordered for the both of us, and the food was fabulous. Who knew I'd be using Spanish as a backup here. Carrie had the carbonara and I the cacio e pepe. The bacon was out of this world. Can I bring home and entire cured baby pig in my suitcase??

Trevi Fountain
We returned to the hotel for a much-needed disco nap. Rested, we set out in the evening to find some dinner and maybe try to find the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. Success! The Via del Corso was close for pedestrian promenade and overhung with red, green, and white lights for as far as you could see in either direction. Couples were walking arm-in-arm on the streets and shopping. The Spanish Steps were lovely, and since covered with snow, no one was sitting on them. This way we got some excellent photos without lots of people in our view. Next we found our way down to Trevi Fountain. It was evening, so the fountain was illuminated with beautiful lighting and covered in snow. Gorgeous. We're realizing that one of the advantages of being here in the dead of winter is that we've only run into a scattering of tourists. Everyone else is Italian. And there was barely a crowd at the fountain. We had plenty of pictures with no one in our views.

Roman Forum in the snow
Finally we settled in to a very warm and cozy trattoria near the fountain with some chianti, pizza, prosciutto, and bruschetta. Heaven. With our check they brought us complimentary limoncello. As I had been saying all day, when given lemons, make limoncello. And here it is! Nectar from the gods. Not a drop remained. We decided to walk back to the hotel since navigating the streets proved easier than expected. Back past the Trevi and Spanish Steps and by 10pm, no one was there. We took a few more pictures since we had the advantage of no one being in the streets and headed back to the hotel. We're settling down for the evening about to watch Bridesmaids on the iPad, and get ready for tomorrow. The plan is to visit the Coliseum, Forum, and Pantheon.

For not really sleeping in the plane, for the exhaustion, for the non-stop headaches, we have fared quite well our first day. We went into this knowing we would be pushing ourselves, but with some rest, food, and wine, we'll be fine. Just make sure there's limoncello at the end of each day.