Is seven months into a relationship a good time to plan a week-long vacation together? I was certainly hoping for yes but had no guarantees when John and I planned our first trip, to Italy. I was a little worried, since, as my mother likes to point out "I'm hard to live with." So, even though this was only 8 full days together, it was the most time we've spent together, continuously.
I'm happy to report the trip was fabulous, and even better, John still wanted to speak to me upon our return to the U.S. In fact, when I asked him to help me with a list of our favorite places, he started his email by saying "Favorite was spending the week with you." That is either an "Awwww" or "Ugh" depending on how romantic you are (or aren't).
Saturdays were travel days, so we spent 6 full days and nights in Rome, with 2 day trips, one north to Florence and one south to the Amalfi Coast. We loved our hotel in Campo De Fiori, a nice location in the old center from which to roam. We could watch the sun set behind St. Peter's from our balcony or head up one flight to the rooftop terrace for a 360 degree view of the city. Breathtaking.
Here are the highlights (and one lowlight):
Best Tip from an American: Before the trip, John's Uncle, Norm Dahm, gave us great packing advice. Plan to wear clothes more than once (so you can pack lighter) and take Febreze. Genius!
Best Tip from an Italian: Hilde, our tour guide for the Colosseum & Roman Forum, showed us a trick for fountains, found throughout the city. If you stop up the bottom with your thumb, water squirts out the top, creating an instant drinking fountain.
Best Tour Guide: The guy who showed us around Pompeii was the Soup Nazi of tour guides. He did not like questions - and one couple on this 6-person tour was a husband and wife question tag team. He shut them down, hard. "No questions for you!" If you wanted a photo, you had to get it while he talked. When he stopped talking, we were on the move! He did take our photo at the end of the tour and said "The Gladiator and his American girlfriend." Um, John's American too!
Best Sculpture: Michelangelo's David in Florence. We took the high speed train (hour and a half each way) up to Florence just to see it. Totally worth it. Honorable mention: Michelangelo's Pieta at St. Peter's Basilica.
Favorite Tour in Rome: Roman Forum and Colosseum. I knew John would like the Colosseum (we watched Gladiator before the trip), but I loved it too (it was built in A.D. 80!) And the history of the Roman Forum was amazing - Julius Caesar walked here the day he was assassinated (and was told "Beware the Ides of March"). His body was burned here, where a mound of dirt still has fresh flowers.
Best Tour outside Rome: Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. Also known as the longest tour you'll ever love (about 14 hours). The city was founded in 600 B.C. and is preserved thanks to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. It would have been a great city to live in - complete with spas, wine bars and bakeries! (oh, and a brothel, the busiest spot on the tour).
Favorite Plaza: Piazza Navona. We walked through there every day on our way to or from a tour, a walk or dinner. It was originally used for chariot races and the basic course layout is still visible. It is also home to one of our favorite fountains, the Four Rivers Fountain. We loved this place, despite the worst vacation food ever - don't eat on the piazzas! - the pasta on the plane was better.
Best Self Guided Tour: Night Walk across Rome, as recommended by Rick Steves. We wandered around a few dark alleys, along with other lost tourists, to find the Spanish Steps then meander back to Trevi Fountain. But it was a beautiful night and Trevi is much less crowded at night than during the day.
Celebrity Sighting: And speaking of Rick Steves, we were headed out for his recommended afternoon "Dolce Vita Stroll" on Thursday when we met him at a crosswalk. He's taller in person than he appears on TV. We said "hi" and he was very friendly and said "hello" to us. But, we didn't turn around and catch up to him for a photo - you can bet it would be on this page if we had!
Worst Tour: Angel Tours. DO NOT hire this company! We're pretty sure the guy who gave us a tour of Vatican City was filling in for his cousin who was sick. I'm not sure he had ever been in the Vatican before. He literally would say "Walk around this area for 10 minutes and I'll meet you over there."
Best Ceiling (in the world): Sistine Chapel. Entering the room brought tears to my eyes. Honorable Mention: The map room in Vatican City is a stunning ceiling as well (and very long).
Locals were nice and gave us suggestions on where to eat. We didn't have problems with pick pockets but John is 6'5" (and the tallest person we saw in 6 days). Bring your own Kleenex (theirs is like Bounty) and toilet seat (unless you like cold porcelain).
It was a gamble, but the trip actually brought us closer together. And, despite my mom's travel warnings to John, he still thinks I'm sweet.
Awwww. Or Ugh.