Travel to Italy - Part 1: Rome
There are so many things that I have to be thankful for in my life. I have all of the basic necessities - a home, a bed to sleep in, food on the table, clothes on my body, friends and family that love and support me. Never should I look around at my life, take inventory and be dissatisfied. We literally have everything that we need, and I am so blessed (not the “too blessed to be stressed” kinda blessed, because real life, but you get my point). We live a fairly frugal life. We eat simple dinners, we buy the generic shampoo, our TV is old (and was a gift, actually), a good percentage of the boys clothes are hand me down’s or from Goodwill. This is mainly because we pay an arm and a leg for our rent here in Brooklyn (what you’ve heard is true; what we pay for rent is asinine). But it’s also so that we can do things like celebrate our 10 year anniversary by taking a trip to Italy.
Seth and I got married on June 9th 2007, and if you had asked me at that time what our life would look like on our ten year anniversary, there is no way I would have described to you the life that we are currently living. Maybe some big-ticket things would be the same, but the details? No way. The past 2 years in particular have been mighty challenging, and it’s one of the reasons that we committed to getting away sans kids for 2 weeks. We needed to reconnect without distraction, we needed to re-prioritize our relationship and we needed to have fun. We try our best to do these things on the regular, but when you have four boys running around you at all hours of the day, nipping at your ankles, it takes a bit of the romance out of it.
Before moving to Brooklyn, we lived in New Hampshire which is where my parents still are. After about a week of laundry, organizing and packing (not lying - a whole week), we packed the boys and all of their gear into our Dodge Grand Caravan and made the 289 mile journey to drop them off with my amazing, rockstar, superhero parents who watched them, fed them, loved them, played with them, bathed them, read to them and more for the entire two weeks while we were gone. Seriously, ROCKSTARS. SUPERHEROES. AMAZING. They are the absolute best and we could not have taken this trip without their help (Sidenote: I’ve realized that parents REALLY never do stop taking care of their kids. Mine are still taking care of me by taking care of my kids).
We dropped the boys off, and flew out of Boston and into Rome after connecting in Dublin. We were immediately met with a challenge, as we didn’t know where to find an Uber in Rome. We spent a good twenty minutes wandering, exhausted from our trip (we had left Boston at 4pm and it was now 10am in Rome and we hadn’t slept) before we decided to just take a taxi. Our driver didn’t speak much English but swiftly delivered us to MAMAS HOME in Campo de Fiori where we were greeted by the friendly and oh-so-helpful Marzio. We immediately passed out before venturing out to do the “Heart of Rome” tour by Rick Steves. (I had read portions of his book before we left for the trip, and was so grateful that I did once we got there. HIGHLY recommend). We downloaded his podcasts onto our phones, put our earbuds in and wandered around the city, listening to the history and fun facts as we went. I’m sure that doing a tour with a group has its benefits, but for us, doing a pseudo self guided tour was absolutely the way to go. We paused when we wanted to chat and take pictures and could go at our own pace. Not to mention, we learned so much and were therefore better able to appreciate the beauty of what our eyes were capturing on an even deeper level. The “Heart of Rome” tour took us from Campo de Fiori to Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Trevi fountain and ends at the Spanish steps (with other stops along the way).
Day two took us to the Colosseum and The Roman Forum during the day and then an underground, nighttime tour of the colosseum that evening. Walking in the same steps that gladiators walked thousands of years ago was an incredible experience - as we walked around and touched the bricks that hold up this colossal stadium, I couldn’t help but think of who else had touched these same bricks lifetimes ago. I’m not even a history buff, but there was something so incredible about being in a structure that was so ancient and steeped in so much culture. The Forum was equally as fascinating. When I was a teen, and into my twenties I loved finding old abandoned places and exploring, so being amongst the ruins of the Roman Forum was right up my alley. Seeing the places that people used to gather to worship, the marketplace and the homes where royalty resided - once dressed head to toe in splendor - was enlightening. We also saw a few people carrying around the Rick Steves book that we had read, which was pretty hysterical. We threw them the Hunger Games salute and moved on.
On our third day in Rome we wanted to go to the Vatican, but couldn’t get tickets, so we saved that for day four. Instead, we decided to go back to a few places that we had fallen in love with. We returned to Piazza Navona for lunch, went up to Aventine Hill (at the top, there’s a green door, and if you look through it’s keyhole, you can see St Peter’s Basilica perfectly framed within it) and then made our way to the Spanish Steps. It was a bit of a hike from where we stayed at Campo de Fiori, but beautiful (and crowded) nonetheless.
So, day four was Vatican day. Now here’s some real talk: I had a real problem at the Vatican. During our trip I had experienced some unexpected anxiety. I think the unfamiliarity of everything made me somewhat uneasy, and the crowds didn’t help. But here’s the thing: I don’t have anxiety - or at least, I didn’t think I did - but apparently I do. I mean, I don’t have a full fledged anxiety disorder, but I definitely experienced some stress and fear while we were away that exhibited itself in actual physical manifestations the entire time we were gone, but that’s a post for another time. When we arrived at the Vatican, the place was a MADHOUSE. And when I say madhouse, I’m not even slightly exaggerating. It. was. bananas. People lined up all the way around the place, groups congregating, people yelling, aggressive street vendors - even thinking about it makes me feel nauseous. Crazytown, I tell you. Worse than Times Square. Worse than Disneyland. We had signed up to get in with a group so that we didn’t have to wait in the 1,000 person line that wrapped around Vatican City, and as we were herded like cattle through security I couldn’t shake the anxiety. Once we finally got inside, I was feeling so horrible that I couldn’t even do the tour as we had planned. Seth went and got to see copious amounts of artwork and the Sistine Chapel while I sat outside, trying to rest and battle my nausea. When he came back from his tour, his first words were “You would have hated it”. My response? HALLELUJAH. Apparently the tour of the Vatican museum and Sistine Chapel was much like IKEA; long, winding, packed with people AND stuff, only one exit and no shortcuts. Would I have loved to have seen the Sistine Chapel? Absolutely. But am I glad that I didn’t go inside? Hell, yes. I would have rather not gone than have had to have been escorted outside because I vomited all over age-old artwork. The one cool thing that we both did while we were in Vatican City was to send our kids postcards from the Vatican City post office. It’s cool to have a postcard from such a place, and it was nice for our boys to receive something in the mail from us while we were away.
We also went to St Peter’s Basilica that day, and it was stunning. As we were standing within it, I remember continuing to fight remnants of nausea, but being distracted (thankfully) by the beauty that surrounded me. The intricate artwork, the gold details, the stained glass, and the most moving piece: The Pieta. The Pieta is a sculpture created by Michelangelo of Mary holding a lifeless Jesus after he was crucified. The specific features contained within this work of art are absolutely remarkable. Looking at it, it’s hard to believe that it’s made of marble because of the way that Mary’s clothes drape and the detail in Jesus’ ribs and ankles. There are very few times in my life when I’ve been unexpectedly overcome with emotion, and this was one of them (my first visit to the 9/11 memorial was another). Being a mother of four boys, I just couldn’t help but put myself in Mary’s place - looking down upon her son, no longer breathing, without a pulse. What pain she must have experienced in that moment. Describing her emotions as “all encompassing grief” wouldn’t even slightly do justice. This was my most favorite thing that we saw during the trip. Everything was gorgeous; literally everywhere we turned there was something that stood out as beautiful, but this piece was by far the most moving for me personally.
In Rome, we fell in love with the piazzas, the gelato, the water fountains, the rich history, the cobblestone streets, the tiny details and the huge pillars. I’m so glad we spend four days there (and I wouldn’t recommend spending less time than that there if you really want to soak everything in), but I will share about our absolute most favorite place in my next post.
Italia, part 2: Monterosso. Stay tuned.