January 22, 2017: Final Day in Rome

DuoLingo Italian Day 66

Sunday and our last day in Rome.  Today is our day of rest because we need to pack up the apartment, get all of our devices charged and get the family off to bed early so that we can get up very early tomorrow morning, get a taxi (we hope) to the train station and catch our very, very long train ride from Rome to Syracuse.  It’s funny because Rome and Syracuse are neighbouring stops on the Amtrak line in New York, but they are about eleven hours apart in Italy!

We all slept in a lot today.   All of the walking yesterday wore everyone out.  Dominica is still in a bit of pain from all of it.

For lunch today no one wanted to go out for food except for Liesl; so she and I went out on our own to find a place to eat. We did some looking around and found a nice place with outdoor seating on Cavour that seemed to have a wide menu and things that she would be interested in.  She ended up getting salmon bruschetta and penne alla salmone, both of which she loved.  She described it as a “boom” of flavour. She has decided that salmon is her favourite fish.  It was a really nice lunch.

I went out a while after getting lunch and did some filming while I had the chance.  I have had so little time to do that since getting to Rome because of our jet lag.

After most everything was packed this evening Dominica decided that she wanted to go out for our only real dinner out in Rome.  We just went to a little place across the street that turned out to be amazing.  We got a traditional cheese and pepper Roman pasta dish that was just fantastic.  Dominica also tried to get dessert and got a rum soaked sponge cake that was so heavy with rum that she could not eat it and got a little tipsy.

We tried hard to get everyone to sleep tonight around one.  Best case scenario is four and a half hours of sleep before we have to be up.  Reality is that we will be lucky to get any.  Everything is packed around ready, though.  And our Uber for the morning is scheduled.  So, in theory, we will be all set.  We want to get to the train station around six thirty, but our train is not until seven thirty.  But with kids and all of this luggage there is just so much to go wrong that we cannot have any less time than that.  If our car does not show up we “think” that I can run the luggage to the train station in that amount of time if Dominica and the kids wait at the station.  But boy would it be hard and risky.

January 21, 2017: Vatican City

Country Count: S&D 32 / L&L 30

DuoLingo Italian Day 65

Saturday in Rome.  Today is our big day for going to see Vatican City which is no little thing to do.  But we did a good job of getting to bed last night and we were up at eight thirty this morning!  I think that we finally beat the jet lag.

Our plan for tomorrow is to take the day “off” from really doing anything and just get rest so that we are ready for our really early and long train travel day on Monday.  It is eleven hours from Rome to Syracuse and then we have to get from Syracuse to Noto.  We are going to be so exhausted by the end of all of that.  And Dominica has to pack us up tomorrow, too.

Dominica and I got up and got ready to go.  Luciana got up more or less with us.  Liesl was the last one to get up.  It took us until ten thirty to have everyone ready to go.  We bought tickets for the Vatican online which costs an extra four Euros per ticket but makes you able to bypass the potentially many hour long line that happens at Vatican City itself, so well worth it.  Tickets for Dominica and I were sixteen Euros each and Liesl was eight Euros and Luciana was free.  Fifty two Euros for a day in Vatican City.  Dominica wanted me to book an earlier time to get in but I pushed us back to one thirty, we were very thankful later that I did this.

We started the day by walking from the apartment past the Colosseum to our local bus stop for the City Sightseeing Tours which we had purchased for 72 hours and which meant that we had access to ride until 12:30 today. It was just after eleven when we got onto the bus.  We knew that this was a one way ride, but that was what mattered.  We had loads of time at the end of the day to figure out how to get home, but we were in a time crunch to get to Vatican City this morning.  Luckily I had walked to it the other night so I knew where things were and how to get to and from, more or less.

The bus dropped us off at stop seven (we started at stop three at the Colosseum) which is near the San Angelo walking bridge over the Tiber (this is my fifth bridge that I have walked over the river now).  We walked over and walked up the main way to Vatican City and Saint Peter’s Basilica.  What an impressive building that is.

We had no coffee by this point and it was maybe twelve thirty, technically we had an hour to go before our reservations, and Dominica was getting desperate.  We looked around for coffee options but there were not very many.  The street leading to Vatican City is full of hawkers, homeless, things like the Hard Rock Cafe gift shop but nothing useful or nice.  There was a side street that we were able to go down to get to a really nice McDonald’s, one of the new ones that is fully automated and has lots of higher end food options.  We decided to duck in there for some quick McCafe as they are the only restaurant that you can find in Italy that understands the idea of take away coffee.  Want coffee on the go?  McDonald’s is it.

The girls ended up wanting food so we got croissants and coffee and ate at McDonald’s quickly before heading out.  This is one of the first totally automated ordering McD’s that I have found.  I’ve seen it before, but normally it is hybrid.  This worked really well.  And so fast.  Insanely fast.  Food is ready as soon as you get to the counter.  They should have eliminated the cashiers decades ago.

McDonald’s in Europe tend to be pretty high end.  They are super clean, expensive, managed incredibly well and the customer service is excellent.  Not that they are bad in the US, they are often very good, but they go another step beyond in Europe most of the time.  And the coffee was very good this time, unlike what we got in Romania at the Bucharesti train station six months ago.

We got into Vatican City and found out rather quickly that we were really far from the ticket office and the museum.  There is nothing labeled anywhere on any map and everything makes it appear that you just go into Vatican City via the main road; there are no signs or guides on anything sending you somewhere else. Well, that’s not where you go.  We were very, very far away from the museum entrance and we needed to hike a long way around the outside of Vatican City to get to the entrance in the wall that takes you into the Vatican Museums.  Crazy.

So instead of being an hour early, we were now racing to get to the museum before our tickets expired.  We made it, but by five minutes.  In all, it took us five minutes short of four hours to get from our apartment to the entrance to the museum at Vatican City.  It’s only like three miles away, if that!  Once we were really, really close there were a few poorly placed signs, but almost nothing.  We were never totally sure that we were or were not going the right way.  Even the entrance itself is not properly marked.  For those wondering, the museum entrance is on the outside of Vatican City’s walls, on the north east corner of the country.

So at one thirty we were in and underway to see the museum.  All of the extra walking hit us hard, we were exhausted and soar before even starting on the museum, which is epically large on its own.  It’s a good thing that we had our Piggyback Rider Explorer or we could not have even gotten to the museum let alone done it all afternoon.

The museum itself was excellent, although with the kids we had to do it in a very cursory way.  The ancient civilizations exhibit was really cool with the best old stone tablet display that I have ever seen.  Luciana really loved looking at ancient Egyptian amulets and after seeing them with me had to take her sister over to see them and tell her all about them.

Liesl loved all of the paintings, especially the ceiling frescos.  She could not stop craning her neck to see all of the artwork that was part of the museum itself!  Liesl could have probably spent all day there, Luciana was not so impressed with the art.  It’s a little tough when the two have such widely different versions of what interests them in a museum.

Unlike the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, the Vatican Museums did not have any obvious activities to keep kids engaged which was a big disappointment, the girls loved doing that in Athens and also at the Edward Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway.  The Vatican Museums are really designed to keep people moving, though, as they are overwhelmed with people and there isn’t possibly time for people to really see things.  It kind of defeats the purpose, though.  You pretty much need to know what you are there to see, go right to it and do your best to get to see it.  There is so much to see and so many people and only a tiny fraction of what they have there is even available for the public to see at all.

We had a good time and Dominica got to see the things that she really wanted to see.  At one point I sat with the girls while Dominica went to figure out where her one painting that was her “must see” was located and the guards would not let her come back to us!  What a pain.  They even stopped her using her phone, but not until after she had managed to tell me where to meet her. So we had to skip a bunch and go see her at the Sistine Chapel.

After doing the chapel, which is pretty much a mob of people crammed elbow to elbow in one room, we were ready to wrap it up.  The kids were tired and we knew that we had a long, long way to go yet to get home.

It probably took another hour to get out of the museum.  We had to wind our way to the exit, go through gift shops (where both girls bought tiny replicas of ancient scarab beetle carvings) and then go to the post office so that the girls could write a postcard to their great grandfather Tocco and send it off from the Vatican City post office (with real Vatican City stamps and post office mark on it!)

Once out of the museum we started our very long hike back to the apartment.  We were nearly back to the Tiber when everyone was too tired and hungry so we stopped at a nice little trattoria for pasta.  They did a pasta with tomato sauce for Dominica and me; and they did pasta with cheese for the girls.  The girls devoured it and wanted more!  That never happens.  We are always throwing their food away or eating it ourselves.  We had great wine, great espresso and since everyone was still hungry we added on some bruschetta as well.  Liesl had a bit of that, too.

After dinner (or lunch, it was really our only meal for the day) we walked on back to the apartment which took more than another hour.  By the time that we were back, just before nine, we had walked twelve kilometers with at least half of that with me having one of the girls riding on my back on our Piggyback Rider Explorer back pack.  Mostly Luciana rides (forty pounds) but sometimes Liesl takes a turn on it to give her feet a break (fifty pounds.)

An hour after we got back, Dominica sent me out running errands.  Getting cash, going to the market and picking up pizza.  That took me forty five minutes and gave me another one and a third kilometers of walking!  Liesl requested that I get her milk and cookies, so I had to find an open store.

We got everyone into bed around midnight.  Luciana was asleep for hours by that point.  Dominica was exhausted and kept saying that she needed to sleep but, as always, it takes hours of her saying that before she will actually go to bed. Liesl and I were wide awake with loads of energy, but we got Liesl into bed at midnight and I was winding down.

I considered going out on my own as this is our last chance to actually go out while in Rome but I really did not feel like going out on my own and decided to just stay in and take it easy.

January 20, 2017: Seeing the Spanish Steps

DuoLingo Italian Day 64

We woke up to an odd banging sound in the apartment and we wondered if there had been an earthquake again.  So I jumped on Twitter and, sure enough, there had just been a very small earthquake near Rome and minutes later there were matching small ones on Crete, Turkey, the Aegean and Sicily.  Very active here right now.  None of these were big enough for anyone to really care and I am amazed that we were woken up by the little one here, we think that it was just enough to cause a door in the apartment to react to it making a lot of noise.  But that it woke us up (and even got me out of bed) and we guessed it was an earthquake and it was the exact moment that there actually was an earthquake, we are sure that that was it.

We had wanted to go to see Vatican City today, but it was so late by the time that everyone was waking up that it was unrealistic for us to even try to make it.  So we took our time getting going since we are all so tired.  I was up at least an hour before Dominica who was at least half an hour before Liesl.  I got showered and everything and did some writing while waiting for everyone so I was not too anxious to get moving as I was getting things done anyway.

We ended up taking the City Sightseeing bus to go to the Spanish Steps and the Piazza di Spagna where there is a cool fountain.  This was a long bus ride and a bit of a hike.  We got a little video footage, but not much as it was dark pretty quickly.

The Spanish Steps are, impressive but just a huge set of steps.  Not much to really see.  The idea is really more to hang out there for a long time.  Really, not many things in Rome make sense when you have little kids, which is probably why we’ve seen absolutely no kids anywhere here; in addition, of course, to the fact that Italians have stopped having kids and it is now an aging nation with few children.  Our Italian children are very needed here.

We walked the steps and then looped around to walk back to our bus stop.  We got the last bus back to the Colosseum so that we could return home.  It was almost seven when we got back.

We had a quiet evening at the house.  We turned off the lights and everyone was nearly asleep all evening.  Dominica actually napped for a while.  Luciana fell asleep early.  Liesl and I were the last ones up, Liesl going to bed around eleven.

At midnight Dominica made me go out to find pizza as she was hungry.  So I walked out and got her zucchini pizza for her and anchovy pizza for me.  That did not take too long.  I did that, we ate and then it was time for bed.

January 19, 2017: Day Two in Rome

Day 63 of DuoLingo Italian Streak!

Jet lag is still kicking our butts and we were struggling hard to get up today.  This is what happened to us in both Spain and Greece last year.  We have decided that the experiment of doing a “vacation” upon arrival in Europe is a failed one and something that we need to avoid.  We need decompression time ahead of trying to do anything.  We would be all far happier if we were in our final apartment, had time to unpack and relax and did Rome as a jaunt or something.  Then we could be traveling lighter and not be dealing with the “getting to Europe” fog of jet lag and have an apartment that we fit in.  We can’t even walk around here it is such a mess with all of the luggage everywhere.

By the time that we finally got everyone up and moving it was super late.  Our one project of the day was to go see the Pantheon which is a decent hike from our apartment near the Colosseum.

Before anything it was a light lunch at a local upscale place where I got a fishburger which was two fish fillets with loads of veggies on a giant toasted black bun. Delicious.  I got it with chips (fries for the Americans) but only ate a few.  My healthy European eating is already kicking in.  We did get coffee, though.  But being this close to major attractions, coffee is six Euro per cup!  Ouch.

We finally got the family underway and talked the kids into doing the whole thing by allowing them to do a Pokewalk on the way and by strapping me up with a backpack that lets me carry one of the girls on my back while we walk.  Ciana just cannot handle long walks at all and we knew that this would go badly if she had to walk all of it.

It took quite a bit to get Ciana comfortably situated on my back but eventually we figured it out and it worked pretty well.  This is good because I can carry Luciana 80% of the time and Liesl 20% of the time and that makes them able to walk with us without getting overly exhausted and gives me more of a workout to even Dominica and I out a bit more as my ability and desire to get out and just walk so dramatically exceeds everyone else’s.  This also gets me a lot more exercise as I am lifting forty to fifty extra pounds with every step and they tend to ride when climbing hills and walk when descending.

We started by walking along the Roman Forum, which starts right at the end of our street, and then to Trajan’s Column.  From there we went to the Altar of the Fatherland and visiting the eternal flame memorial.  Then through the Piazza di Venezia and to the west to the Pantheon, which was amazing.  The Pantheon is definitely one of the most amazing things to see in Rome, or in the world.  Breathtaking and in continuous use for 1,900 years!  It’s insane to think about all of the people who have been in there and what a completely solid, intact structure it is.  And it goes through earthquakes all of the time, too.  And it is open in the center so it rains into it regularly as well.

We spent a bit of time at the Pantheon.  Then the girls demands some gelato because I told them the other day that they could have some.  But it was cold, so they froze as they tried to eat it.  Banana for Ciana and vanilla for Liesl.  On the way back we finally found a grocery store and stopped to get some supplies.

We walked back home in the dark.  We got home and we did some posting of our pictures and stuff then everyone, except for me, climbed into beds and just watched videos.  I set out for an evening walk since no one wanted to hang out as a family any longer.

I did a far, far longer walk tonight than we had done as a family.  We did about six kilometers as a family, I did an additional twelve on my own.  I went back to the Altar of the Fatherland and climbed the hill behind it, which was really neat and gave some incredible views of the Forum.  I walked a lot of the streets to the west and ended up along the Tiber River, which I explored for a very long way.

I was so far west and north that I decided to continue on to Vatican City.  It was after midnight when I made it to the Vatican walls.  Then I came back through the city along a different route than I had taken so I ended up doing a large loop and coming back the way that we had come back from the Pantheon.  It was nearly two when I got back home.

I had some bread and butter back at the house, my only food other than my fish burger today.  Everyone was still awake and stayed awake for hours yet.  I put in a tonne of time working on SGL updates and got caught up almost to December and I have nearly all of January completed already and bits of December.  So progress is very solid at this point.  I did not manage to be totally caught up by the time that we got to Rome, but I managed to get decently close.

It was nearly five when we finally all got to bed.  Jet lag is taking its toll.

January 18, 2017: Exploring Rome on the Bus

Dominica and I were up at nine this morning.  I think that today is Wednesday, I have lost all track of time as usually happens with a move back to Europe.  We spent a bit of time getting ready this morning, then we made an attempt at waking up the girls.  Luciana had been awake until almost five in the morning so was very tired and cranky this morning when we tried to get her up around ten.

Before we left the apartment I felt, very clearly, two strong earthquakes.  The chair that I was sitting in moved like someone had grabbed the back of it and was pulling me side to side .  I could sense the room shifting and the curtains were swaying significantly.  Dominica said that she could not feel it but Liesl could see things moving.  It was strong enough that I instantly looked up and said that it was an earthquake.

Before we made it out the door, there was a second earthquake.  I managed to look it up and see that there had been a precursor quake that we had not felt.  The big one that I felt was a 5.3.  It was big enough that Rome had to close the schools and send the kids home and the subway had to be shut down.  Up in the mountains there was a blizzard and people were struggling to get outside into the snow to avoid houses falling like happened here a few months ago. But it appears that everyone is okay today.

We finally got out of the apartment around eleven.  We decided to do our City Sightseeing Tour today, so we walked around the Colosseum to the far side where we were able to catch the bus. For just 64 Euros we got three day passes for the entire family which will make getting around the city very easy.

We rode around for a while and got to see a lot of the famous bits of Rome.  The girls were not in the mood to be riding the bus, however, and wanted to get off.  It was pretty cold up on the top of the bus.

We got off at the Trevi Fountain stop and walked to see the fountain.  That was pretty cool but overloaded with tourists which really ruins things.  Rome is neat, but it is nothing but tourists and hawkers trying to take advantage of them.  It kind of sucks.  They need to go all Morocco on them and make them go away.  It hurts the city, a lot.

From the fountain we went to a little restaurant nearby.  We knew that it was a tourist place but we had no idea how to find something better without it being a huge undertaking.  I got a smoked salmon penne, Liesl got seafood risotto, Luciana got eggplant Parmesan and Dominica got mushroom risotto.  It was pretty decent.

From there it was back onto the bus.  Both girls fell asleep this time.  They are really exhausted.  So we just rode the bus to the end of the route and walked back to the apartment.  They needed time to just play and relax.

I checked on the earthquake status and found that there had been ten earthquakes in the Rome area today!

January 17, 2017: Day One in Rome

Our first day in Rome, Italy.  We were so tired that we all slept until about three in the afternoon!  A full twelve hours of sleep. Boy were we exhausted.  This is what thirty hours of travel plus seven hours of jet lag will do to you.

We got out the door and walked up the street to see the Colosseum.  It was already getting dark by the time that we were getting there.  It’s winter and Rome is decently far north so the sun was already getting low even though it was not all that late.  Travel in the winter is difficult.

We discovered that even in the cold, off season, in the evening that the streets of Rome are packed full of hawkers trying to sell any junk that they can to you, mostly selfie sticks and phone battery chargers or plastic light up figurines.  It’s awful.  It immediately makes me dislike being out and about in Rome.

We did our walk but the girls were thirsty because they had planned poorly so it was right back to the apartment.  Dominica was very impressed by my ability to navigate around town.

Before getting all of the way back we stopped at a little corner shop just outside of the apartment and picked up a few snacks.  The girls were really hungry and we have nothing at the apartment for them to eat and it is hours until it will be dinner time.

We spent maybe two hours back at the apartment.  The girls had cereal and biscuits.  That held us until it was time for actual dinner.

For dinner we had been recommended to check out Ai Tre Scalini by the girl that rented us the apartment.  That was a good walk to the north a few blocks.  It was chilly but not horrible.  The girls were quite tired of walking by the time that we got there, though.

The restaurant turned out to have rather a large line, we were the six table waiting to get in.  But we had walked a ways and it was evidentally popular so we decided to stick it out.  It was eight when got to the restaurant and it took about forty five minutes before we were able to get seated.

While we were waiting we got to hang out with a nice young couple from San Diego that we had a nice time with.  They were two tables ahead of us.  After they were seated we talked to a group of girls from NYC that are studying in Italy right now.

Dinner was excellent.   Luciana discovered that she adores eggplant parmesan.  It is new her favourite food.  All of the food was excellent.  It was Dominica and me who had ordered eggplant parm, but Luciana stole it from us.

We got some desserts, too.  Luciana and Dominica got Italian cheesecake which is kind of like a cannolo in slice form.  Liesl tried a chocolate salami which was interesting.  I went for the Italian classic of anise biscotti that I dunked in moscato dessert wine – so good.  I used to have that when we were in Italy five years ago; I have missed it.

After dinner we just walked back to the apartment.  We were all very tired and wanted to get to bed on the early side.  It was probably ten when we got back and we did a little but were in bed around midnight.

Not a very intense first day, but we have a lot of jet lag and travel time to overcome.

January 16, 2017: Oslo to Rome

We arrived in Oslo this afternoon.  Our flight last night went well and the crew from HiFly was excellent, probably the best crew that I’ve ever flown with.  They really went out of their way for us.

Going through immigration took forever, it always seems to in Norway.  Our customs agent told us that many European countries have individual immigration deals with the US and that those supersede the Schengen Visa status so if we looked into it and knew what we were doing that we’d be able to potentially stay in Europe for closer to two years.  This requires some research.

We had hours to kill at Oslo airport so we camped out in the food court area for a while, then we moved up to O’Leary’s where we ate two years ago, the last time that we flew through Oslo.  The wait there was pretty long, but we managed to eventually get a shared seat with a woman from northern Norway.  She had a big booth and was all alone.  She, of course, had to ask us about what we thought of Trump.  The “Trump Apology Tour” has officially begun.  We’ve not even left the first airport yet and we are already being asked about it.

Luciana tried her first fish and chips here and liked it.  She did a good job eating it.

From our lunch it was time to head to gate E15 and wait for our flight.  We ended up getting delayed by about an hour and a half because the crew was late.

The flight from Oslo to Rome was just two hours and forty minutes.  Not bad at all.  No movies on this flight, but everyone slept, even I nodded off a little bit.  The flight was actually cold so I had a blanket on me most of the time.

We arrived in Rome later than we had planned but not too bad.  Dominica had arranged with the people renting us the apartment that we would be late so we were all set.  No immigration to deal with as we did that in Norway so this was very fast.  Rome’s airport got our luggage out super fast and the girls had a playground in the luggage area to keep them busy while we waited on the luggage.  What a great airport.

We got a station wagon taxi for seventy five Euros that took us to our apartment.  Dominica was impressed by my ability to talk to the taxi driver in Italian while we drove.  It was only about thirty minutes.

Our apartment is right next to the Colosseum right in the middle of everything.  The taxi ride took us by nearly everything as we came into town.  We saw Vatican City, the Circus Maximus, Palantine Hill, Trajan’s Column, the Colosseum, the forum, the capital and tons more.  Unbelievable.

Our host was waiting for us at the apartment.  It’s a one bedroom, not a studio like advertised so even better, very small but comfortable.

It was midnight when we got into the apartment.  I immediately set out and found pizza to bring back for everyone.  I easily found a place around the corner and brought back half a pizza which Dominica and I loved. Luciana was not very interested, she wanted something with less cheese.  Liesl tried it but did not like it.

And off to sleep.  We are so tired!