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Rome. The Colosseum, the Carbonara, and Covid?!

You might have noticed a bit of a delay in getting this post published. We arrived home, two weeks ago (on January 5), which now seems like an eternity ago. However, I am only now crawling out of my COVID fog, to write.

I had an initial draft of this post (without photos) started, that I had worked on in the Rome airport while waiting for our flight home. However, upon reading it, much seems outdated, now viewing our last week of the trip through a Covid lens. So it's back to the drawing board.

Garin became ill during our time in Rome. He had to sit out about a day and a half of sightseeing, which was a logistical challenge for us, given where our Airbnb was located and my not wanting to leave him for too long, given he was unwell. Not to mention his enormous disappointment at missing sights and experiences that he was looking forward to seeing. We tested him early on for COVID (I always carry an entire stocked pharmacy with us when we travel) but he tested negative. We didn't retest because I didn't think there was much of a point, given the circumstances. Also, he rebounded fairly quickly, so I wasn't overly concerned. He felt mostly better for our last day of sightseeing in Rome, much to our delight, and almost fully better to fly home, thank goodness.

Fast forward to Friday, January 5, the day we flew home. Granted it was a very long journey, but upon landing, I felt a bit off. I attributed it to the long flight and cramped coach seats, which can make anyone feel off. However, I quickly began to feel more unwell as the weekend progressed. By Monday I knew that I was not going to conquer whatever illness was trying to take me down, no matter how hard I willed it to be so and how much vitamin C I consumed. I decided to take a Covid test and that was that. Nearly two weeks later, having experienced every unpleasant symptom a person could endure and eventually succumbing to a round of antibiotics, I am finally starting to feel somewhat normal, for which I am so grateful.

Now that I have that out of the way, let's move on to marvelous Rome!

Rome, a still much larger city than Florence, was yet another adjustment for us, as was our move from Venice to Florence. We arrived on New Year's Eve in the afternoon. We had intended to go out and do a bit of roaming around after we got settled, but since our Airbnb was a bit out of the way (in Trastevere) and were feeling a bit tired, we decided to stay in, enjoy our apartment, and cook dinner, rather than negotiate the crowds and chaos of New Year's Eve.

We were staying in a lovely, quiet, but more residential part of town, so it took some work to learn the transportation system, which would get us where we needed to go. Given that we are a group of five (and traveling on a budget) taxis are not an option for us. We always rely on public transportation (or better yet walking, if possible), wherever we travel, that is if we don't have a car. In Venice and Florence, this was not a problem, as we walked nearly everywhere. However, in Rome, this was more of an issue, again due to where we were staying and also the size of the city. Fortunately, Garin is an expert at this sort of thing, so he got us situated right away, with only one small snafu on an incorrect bus, which took us back to the train station we had arrived at from Florence, the day before. Still, taking buses (which is the only option in Rome), is not the easiest, nor quickest mode of transportation. But when in Rome, as they we did like the Romans and rode the buses (with masks on, I might add, due to the crowds).

As I mentioned, Garin fell ill a few days into our time in Rome, so he had to remain home. That left four of us to figure things out without him, which always makes me uneasy. Luckily Graham, who is also excellent with this sort of thing, despite his tender age of 11, took over and got us everywhere we needed to go. God bless you, Graham!

We had pre-planned our time in Rome well, so we could see most of the main sights that one would expect to see in Rome. Our days were long and tiring, but we enjoyed the city immensely. I think what we loved most was coming upon the ruins, at every turn, seemingly. It was fascinating to walk along in a bustling and at least somewhat modern city and then suddenly come upon ancient ruins, out of nowhere. I found this mesmerizing.

Foodwise, Rome did not disappoint. Graham and I were on a pasta carbonara quest, given that we had been told Rome was the place to find it. We sampled a few, but on our last night, we had the best carbonara I have ever had. We also had some of the best pizzas ever!

Speaking of food, the only upside of getting sick when I arrived home was that I managed to quickly shed any extra weight I had put on during our two-week pasta, pizza, bread, cheese, and gelato-eating fest through Italy. Oh, how I (we) miss that food!

I have already been online researching recipes to try to duplicate the carbonara. When I get it right, I'll let you know.

Without further ado, here is Rome...

We were sad to pack up and leave Florence behind, but excited to see what Rome had in store. The trains in Italy were fabulous and a nice break for me (after driving 2700 miles in Ireland and Scotland last summer) not to have to get behind the wheel on this trip.

Our Airbnb, although in a lovely area, was not as centrally located as the apartment we had in Florence. That said, it was newly remodeled, spacious (with plenty of beds and two bathrooms), and immaculate as could be. Other than the "commute," we couldn't have asked for a more ideal spot to stay. We loved it so much that we stayed in on New Year's Eve and cooked more fresh pasta, with fresh pesto sauce, that we had picked up at Mercado Central in Florence earlier that morning before we departed.

We even celebrated with some Prosecco that our Airbnb host (in Venice) had gifted to us for the holidays. And yes, everyone only had a sip!

On New Year's Day, we had to be a bit strategic in our planning, given that it was a major holiday and many attractions (especially those that were ticketed) were closed. We canvased the city, seeing a lot of interesting sights. We made the long uphill trek and waited in the rather long and unpleasant line to see the Aventine Keyhole, which offers one of Rome's most picturesque and perfectly manicured views of St Peter's Basilica. We also visited the Jewish Ghetto, which has a fascinating history in the city. When we came up to the temple (Tempio Maggiore) we saw the photos of all the Israeli hostages posted. Because it was unexpected, it was a little jarring and sobering. We stopped for lunch at one of the many bustling restaurants in the ghetto area, most of which serve a fascinating combination of Italian and Jewish food.

In the late afternoon, we attended a cooking class we had signed up for, in the Piazza Navona section of Rome. It was great fun! We made two kinds of pasta and tiramisu. We then had the chance to eat what we made and to dine with our classmates from all over the world, which was almost as fun as cooking the food. On our very crowded bus ride home (it was New Year's Day after all, so everyone in Rome was out), Miles didn't even have to hold on to anything for stability because he was like a tightly packed sardine in a can, as were we all, unable to move.

Sadly, the next day was the day that we had to leave Garin behind at the apartment because he wasn't feeling well. I had pre-purchased tickets for us to join a tour of the crypts and catacombs, so I felt obliged to go. Not to mention I thought it better that we leave Garin in peace. Garin slept most of the day while we were viewing 3800 Franciscan monk skeletons and a massive burial site for people long gone, in Rome. It was a bit macabre, but mostly interesting and we learned a lot since I opted to join a tour, rather than go it alone. We were not allowed to take any photos, out of respect for the dead, so the photos that appear above are from the internet.

Viewing thousands of skeletons leaves one surprisingly famished. We enjoyed our lunch in the trendy Monti section of Rome. We spent the rest of the afternoon on a self-guided tour (thank Graham for getting us where we needed to go), of some of the more spectacular churches and saw lots of great ceilings. We headed back to Trastevere in the late afternoon to check on Garin and spend some time with him before heading out for a quick dinner close to our apartment.

Garin was back in business the next day, at least for half the day. I was so relieved since I had booked us to join a tour of the Colosseum, the Forum, and Palatine Hill, in addition to a few other attractions in the area. I was so glad we had booked a tour because it greatly enhanced our experience of these incredible places. Our tour guide was affable and knowledgeable, and she taught us a lot. Although the famous cats no longer reside at the Colosseum (much to my disappointment), as they did the last time I visited, in the Dark Ages, we did find a resident seagull who let us snap his photo.

After a divine lunch at a place called Emma, which our tour guide recommended, we took Garin back (on the bus) to Trastavere so he could rest for the remainder of the day and evening. The four of us turned right back around, got back on the bus, and took the trip back to central Rome to do some more sightseeing (including the Spanish Steps), do some shopping, and have dinner (pasta carbonara for Graham and me, of course as we continued on our quest for the perfect carbonara).

Our last full day in Rome was long but glorious. Garin was feeling well enough to join us for our twelve-hour outing, which was miraculous. I am sure he was feeling tired, but he didn't let it show and was a great sport as was packed in everything we had left to do (for this trip at least). We began the day by getting up at 5 to make the somewhat long commute (2 buses and over an hour in the dark, since it didn't get light until nearly 8 AM) to the Vatican. We had to be there by 7:30 to be ready for the tour we had signed up for.

The Vatican was over the top. I am not sure what else to say. I was left with a lot of conflicted feelings after our time there, but am still glad that we visited. We went in with our tour group two hours before it opened to the public and it was still packed, with other tour groups similar to our own. There was so much to take in. Between listening to our tour guide (with a charming heavy Italian accent), who was both funny and knowledgable, and trying to take in the vastness of it, I can certainly see why people return multiple times to get it all. You might notice Miles reaching into the brightly colored yellow mailbox to mail our Vatican postcards, which felt very retro and fun!

After the Vatican, we looked for a place to grab a quick bite, for what felt like forever, before settling on something that turned out to be rather unmemorable. My experience is that when you are in a rush, famished, and desperate, you rarely get a memorable meal. After lunch, we headed to the Castel Sant’Angelo, not far from the Vatican, where we enjoyed exquisite views of the city of Rome as well as Vatican City.

Later in the afternoon, we visited the Pantheon, followed by the ever-famous Trevi Fountain (which, judging by the crowds, felt like every other person in Rome had the same idea).

We ended the day with a fabulous dinner (and the best carbonara we had eaten in Rome), another trip to the Spanish Steps since Garin had missed it the evening before, and our final serving of Italian gelato before finally catching the bus back to our apartment. We went out with a bang and had one of the best days of the trip.

On the day we departed, we had to be up again at 5 AM again, to catch a tram, to a train that would take us to the airport. Catherine left her backpack on the tram and didn't realize it until it was pulling away. Bye, bye, backpack and everything that was in it. That was a low moment of our return home. The fact that all our flights were on time (from Rome to London and then London to Los Angeles) was a high point, given our horrendous experience flying out.

As I reflect on our trip, I ask myself if I would do it again, as I told the kids that traveling abroad this Christmas was an experiment, of sorts. The answer is a resounding yes! Despite the outbound travel nightmare, excruciating jetlag on both ends, two cases of COVID, and one lost backpack. The experiences we had (even the bad ones) and the memories we made will stay with us for a lifetime, which to me, is invaluable. For Garin, who is currently taking AP European history, this journey could not have been more timely or relevant to what he is studying in school. He saw his textbook come to life which was a marvel to experience. That said, I have already warned the kids that we might either stay put next Christmas or perhaps not wander quite so far from home. Traveling during the holidays is a blood sport.

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