Italy, Part I: Rome Recap

There’s a balance I try to strike on big trips, between living in the moment but also pausing long enough to reflect and document – whether by taking photos, jotting down the name of a restaurant, or writing a paragraph about the magic of a particular moment. I want to be in the best position possible to recapture, or at least recall, all those impactful experiences once I’m home.

I returned on Tuesday from a week (and change) in Italy, and I’m taking time now to sift through my notes, look back on photos, and put all my memories and travel tips together in a coherent story. Already, there are moments I’ve forgotten, but I was careful on this trip not to let a major memory escape my notes.

The basic trip details: I traveled with my sister, Hope, who lives in Germany, and my roommate, Jeanine. The three of us did Munich, Salzburg, and Prague together last year, so we feel good about our travel dynamic. We all flew into Rome on a Monday morning; we stayed there until Thursday morning, when we traveled by train and ferry to Positano on the Amalfi coast. We left Positano on Saturday afternoon for Sorrento, which became our home base until Monday (we took a day trip to Capri on Sunday). On Monday morning, we stopped and toured Pompeii on our way back to Rome (Hope left from Naples, which is reachable from Pompeii by commuter rail, and Jeanine and I caught a train in Naples back to Rome for one more night before our flight Tuesday morning).

If we did the trip over again, we’d skip Sorrento and make Positano our home base for enjoying all of the Amalfi coast. We spoiled ourselves by doing Positano first – it’s the most beautiful place any of us had ever been. Sorrento grew on us, but we enjoyed Positano considerably more, and could have easily stayed there longer and made it our jumping-off point for Capri and Pompeii.

I want to go into detail on each place, and I’m starting with Rome. Yes, it’s long-winded. I’m writing this mostly for myself, trying to preserve every meaningful detail. More to come on Positano, Sorrento, and more.

Rome

Rome is my favorite city in Europe. That might be a big statement, and I haven’t visited that many European cities, but the combination of modern, livable, navigable metropolis + the birthplace of so much of our western tradition made it irresistible. We stayed in the Monti neighborhood, and to be walking through a buzzing square, filled with locals enjoying their after-work cocktails…while spotting the Colosseum out of the corner of your eye, down the road? That’s the kind of old-meets-new feel I loved about London (and that I love even now about New York) – but it’s the Colosseum. The Renaissance is old, but 79 A.D. is a whole different ballgame.

I loved the way that history was woven so seamlessly into the city. Staying in Monti (we had an Airbnb) gave us close access to the Colosseum and Roman Forum, and the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and Pantheon were all walkable in 20-30 minutes. Heading home on our first night, we passed some ruins that I thought at first were part of the Roman Forum. Upon closer inspection…they were just ruins. Some pedestrian walkways had been constructed so we could take a look, and a couple of signs talked about what the structures served as in Ancient Rome, but what shocked me was how recently they’d been excavated – they were uncovered between 2004-2006! And had just been sitting there for 2,000 years prior. That’s what astounded me about Rome – so much of our Western heritage exists there, and they’re still finding more of it. Who knows what could be right underneath your feet.

Jetlag had its way by the end of Monday, but we made the most of our functional hours, seeing the Pantheon and getting to know the heart of the city. We oriented ourself by doing a combination of Rick Steves’ “Dolce Vita Stroll” and his “Heart of Rome” walk, which take you through the central neighborhoods and piazzas. Rick Steves was our honorary fourth travel companion. There’s something to be said for making sure you don’t rely too heavily on his suggestions, but his walks are helpful for understanding a new place, and it’s nice to have a go-to guide tell you were to eat when decision fatigue sets in and you just want something that’s been vetted by another human. Rick (yeah, we’re on a first-name basis) led us to Alle Carrette in Monti for dinner, where we got our first, joyful taste of real Italian pizza. And our first, joyful taste of a good house red.

Tuesday, we tackled the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. They’re a combined site, and you can see both with one entrance fee. The Colosseum is awe-inspiring and 100% worth visiting (I’d do a repeat visit the next time I’m in Rome) but I found the Forum to be more illuminating. It’s worth reading a lot of the Colosseum’s info panels for background. My favorite was titled “Cine-Colosseum.” It highlighted the structure’s place in American and Italian film and television – everything from “Roman Holiday” to “Spectre” and more.

After about an hour or so, we strolled to the Roman Forum, which houses dozens of ancient structures, from temples to the meeting place of the senate. It was an experience with history unlike any I’d ever had. We were there on a gorgeous, warm day, and I consciously took a minute to stand there and let it sink in – I am actually here at this place so foundational to the government of the country I call home, at this place I learned about in Latin class as a kid. Maybe I’m overstating it – I wasn’t near tears or anything – but visiting the Roman Forum was the highlight of the entire trip for me, and it convinced me Rome is a place I want to keep returning to and learning from.

On the sobering side, though, there’s an interesting element to consider when at the Forum (or even at the Colosseum). When all these structures stood in their original glory, the Roman Empire appeared invincible. And look at it all now. We literally call them “ruins.”

We embraced the “siesta” in Rome, and returned to our apartment after touring the Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine Hill (another adjacent site; heading to the top offered a sweeping view of the ancient sights we just saw, and the city beyond) for some foot-resting and wi-fi-using. In the evening, we visited the Borghese Gardens (we didn’t do the Borghese Gallery on this trip, which was probably good for our sanity so we didn’t get lost in a fog of museums, but it’s at the top of my list for a future visit) and then walked toward the heart of town for an incredible dinner near the Spanish Steps. We ate at Antica Enoteca and I had the best carbonara of my life – and some pretty good Cabernet Sauvignon and tiramisu. Later that evening, we had drinks at Salotto42, a nearby spot Jeanine’s coworker recommended. I recommend, as well! Drinks were great, and they had a fabulous playlist (I wrote down what I thought the name was, based on what I could see of their Spotify, but I must have it wrong, because nothing shows up when I search. If anyone knows the name of a band whose sound could be described as “Italian Beach Boys,” please lmk.)

That evening, we saw the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. The steps were gorgeous by sunset, and we got a real treat when a lovely couple started taking their wedding photos near where we sat. There’s something that restores your faith in humanity, just a bit, about dozens of people instinctively knowing to move out of the way for a moment so the photographer can get the perfect shot.

Wednesday was our Vatican day – we had tickets for the Vatican Museums, and went into St. Peter’s Basilica. I am truly grateful to have seen the Vatican, but honestly was overwhelmed by it all. The Museums are vast, and I wasn’t prepared enough for their scale. Besides the Sistine Chapel, my favorite part was the Gallery of Maps, a hall lined with gorgeous paintings of topographical maps of Italy and its islands. The works were impressive both as maps and as paintings – rich greens and blues and gold.

On every vacation, there comes a moment where you’re just hot, tired, and hungry, and even your best-laid plans must go awry. This happened to us at St. Peter’s Basilica, which we toured right after the Vatican Museums. We had a fine visit, but after waiting in a long line to enter, well into lunchtime, we were kind of done, and abandoned a lunch reservation that was a 20-minute walk away in favor of something more convenient near the Vatican. After that, we took a bus to Trastavere, a neighborhood we wanted to check out, but even then, had limited enjoyment due to our conditions. I hate to sound whiny; it wasn’t like any of us were completely miserable, and obviously we could have just sucked it up. But after two full days of sightseeing, combined with a crowded site like the Vatican, and a hot day…we’d reached the point of just needing a rest.

Wednesday was our last official day in Rome, though, so we did want to make something of our evening. After freshening up, we took the night to explore Monti, our Airbnb neighborhood. We revisited a restaurant that caught our eyes on Night 1. There, we took full advantage of what I believe is Italy’s best quality: The aperitif tradition. When you order drinks, you don’t just get the drinks. A whole array of snacks is brought before you – mostly variations on crackers, olives, nuts, and bread. The three of us snacked and split a bottle of red. Moments like these were the ones I cherished most during the trip. They gave us time to relax, get a little something in our stomachs, and reflect on our adventures up to that point. I treasure the time I had to talk freely and openly with two of my closest friends – in the way that you really only can when you’re removed from the realities of everyday life.

We wrapped up with gelato (from a place in Monti that is, I’m sure, just a regular place, but it was one of our favorite gelato spots on the whole trip) and a surprise visit to Blackmarket Hall, a jazz spot down the street from our apartment. We were about to turn in for the night when a sign outside lured us in with the promise of “jazz funk.” For our last night in Rome, we enjoyed (really) delicious cocktails and fabulous jazz; the group played “Moanin’,” one of my favorites, for their first song.

The next morning, we were at Termini Station (also walkable from our apartment – a huge plus) early and en route to the Amalfi coast. More to come!

If you’ve been to Rome and have recommendations (food/drink/museums/places to stay), I’d love to hear them. I will be back.

Advertisements

August Things + Welcoming Fall

There was a post on the Humans of New York Facebook page a few days ago, showing the hands of an older lady as she wrote in her journal. The photo caption read:

“I write in my journal everyday.”
“Why’s that?”
“So much happens in life, I think it’s good to live it again and get some distance from it. Or else everything is in a muddle, like on a merry-go-round.”

That quote made me realize it was time to take a step back from a busy month, to get some distance from all this craziness, and write it out.  So here it goes.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of summer – it’s the humidity, mostly – but this one was (or has been, since it’s technically still summer) really wonderful. August was by far the busiest month of the summer.

It started with a family vacation to Disney World. My little sister, Beth, is the perfect age for Disney – still young enough to think collecting character autographs is cool, but old enough to ride all the best roller coasters. My parents like it because you always know what you’ll get with Disney vacations. There’s something to make everybody happy. Every family is susceptible to the occasional meltdown (Beth gave custom names to each family’s meltdowns, according to the first letters of our names – if I was starting to lose it, I was having a “Peltdown”), but for the most part, you’ll all leave happy.

And we did. Over the course of five days, we made it to all four parks and one water park. There was a nice balance of attacking the parks, checking all the rides and attractions off our list, and relaxing. I abandoned my family for one afternoon and spent it reading poolside, speeding through the excellent “Rules of Civility.” Thanks for the vacay, mom and dad.

About a week after returning from Florida, my sister Hope, who interned at the Wall Street Journal this summer, left NYC and headed back to West Point. I was sad to see her go since we had an awesome summer together, but I’m always comforted by the fact that she’s still only 50 miles away from me. We spent a good deal of time this summer at the movies; neither of us is a movie buff by any means, but we like to see anything with Oscar buzz. Our final movie together this summer was “Fruitvale Station.” Heavy subject matter, no doubt, but a well-acted, well-told, and powerful story. I highly recommend. (Our other summer favorite was “The Way Way Back.”)

In the middle of August, I moved. Let me tell you: Moving in New York City is no joke. Like, seriously stressful. I’m still in Sunnyside, Queens, within walking distance of my old apartment, and I didn’t do myself any favors by gradually moving out of the old and into the new. (My leases overlapped for a couple weeks.) I hired movers to handle the big stuff like my bed and bookshelf, but left some out some smaller items. If you’re ever moving in New York, NEVER do this. Say good riddance to the old place. Just do it all in one fell swoop. I still don’t feel completely moved in to my new place, but I’m so, so glad to be out of the old one. It’s funny how simply walking out a different door in the morning can change your entire outlook; it’s a small but meaningful shift in perspective. Pretty soon, this change of pace will feel like the routine, but it hit me during the moving process that this is my first big change-within-a-change. I’ve been in New York long enough to experience a major transition within the major transition of moving here in the first place. That feels strange, but rewarding, in a way. I never want to be at a place in my life where I’m unwilling to let changes – big and small – reshape my outlook.

Other August things: Everyone at work is back from their summer hiatus! Most of the show’s production staff take a six-ish week summer hiatus, but in publicity, we work year-round. I did enjoy the slow pace of summer, but it feels like the office has returned to normal now that all my loud, collaborative, pop-culture-crazed co-workers have returned. So here’s my plug: Season 8 of Rachael Ray started taping this week and the season premieres Monday, September 16. Check it out.

Also, there is real, live COLLEGE FOOTBALL. I woke up last Saturday, turned on College GameDay, and the first thing I saw was radio host/SEC troll/new GameDay contributor Paul Finebaum saying, “I think Gene Chizik is the worst coach to ever win a National Championship.” Go Ducks.

September is off to a pretty good start: I went to my first Red Sox-Yankees game last night, and a steady stream of family and friends will be in New York for various reasons over the next few weeks. Summer, thanks for the memories. I’m ready for the new season.

Delayed Reaction: Rose Bowl

Yes, I know the Rose Bowl game was practically a week ago. But after a couple days in the car and a couple more organizing my life before winter term begins, this is all I could muster for a recap of my wonderful four-day SoCal stint.

I drove down with two great friends – Lauren and Lindsay – and we made a pit stop in San Francisco to ring in 2012.

Yep, we're those people who hold our arms out to take pictures of ourselves. Please note the cable car in the background - we were DEFINITELY in San Francisco.

We spent our New Year’s Day on I-5, and I feel pretty good about my year knowing that the first lunch I ate in 2012 was an In-N-Out Burger.

Because an Oregonian can't come here and not take a picture of her meal.

It was an incredibly smooth journey that carried us all the way to the Hilton at LAX, the Ducks’ team hotel. There were designated ticket pick-up hours, and a line was already forming when we arrived. As we waited, my usual bout of ticket anxiety kicked in. Did I really get one? Yes, I’ve been receiving the Azumano Travel emails. But did I remember to buy a second one? Yes, I distinctly remember listing my dad as Lauren’s emergency contact so I could submit the form as quickly as possible. Do I have my student ID card? It never hurts to look again. Yes, it’s there.

This always happens to me at Autzen. The student ticket distribution system is so touchy that, even with guaranteed student season tickets, I’d get nervous every time I neared the turnstiles.

But my fears were unfounded, and two gorgeous tickets waited for me in a crisp envelope.

The coolest sporting event ticket I've ever possessed, even if it is a rip-off of the Obama "HOPE" design.

We went from the Hilton back up to Santa Clarita, where we’d be staying with the family of an old housemate (who has since married and moved permanently to Eugene). I’d met Jeff and Anne a couple times before, but we didn’t know them all that well and they were incredibly kind and gracious to us.

Monday came: Gameday. We navigated public transportation to Pasadena, which was surprisingly easy. As we exited the Metrolink train we rode from Santa Clarita to downtown LA, the train operator issued the usual warning to remember your personal belongings but added, “and no offense to anyone, but go Oregon.” We cheered.

There’s really nothing I can say about the game that hasn’t already been said. All I have to add is how excited I am to know that I was there. Even in the excitement of the moment, we acknowledged that this was a game for the ages. When DAT’s 91-yard run is played on the Autzen jumbotron years from now, I can tell my kids, “I was there! I saw that!” That fumble recovery? I was there! Heck, I bet I’ll even drop that line with regards to Montee Ball (who, despite Wisconsin’s loss, is a beast).

If there was any way to experience your final Oregon football game as an actual Oregon student, this was it. BCS redemption. California sunshine. History made on a number of fronts. Geez, it’s fun to be a Duck.

The view of the field from our end zone seats (unfortunately, we didn't have the luxury of depth perception).

The classic Rose Bowl trip photo.

My Converse stand among a post-win sea of confetti and pom-poms.

What a wonderful day.

Just for kicks, a few other fun trip anecdotes:

  • We left early Saturday morning, and it was pretty darn cold. So cold, we couldn’t get the doors of Lauren’s Ford Escape to open. We poured water over the openings and yanked on the trunk door. Then we realized the doors were locked.
  • The concierge at our hotel in San Francisco warned us to layer up before we headed into the city for NYE. “Everyone says it’s freezing,” she said. Knowing that San Francisco can be chilly, we ran back to fetch our coats. Then proceeded to peel off layer after layer as we walked through town – apparently that city is warmer in December than June.
  • Before we left, I called LA’s MTA and mapped out a pretty legit route to the stadium. Jeff, one of our hosts, told us about the faster Metrolink train we could take downtown, but none of us thought about the return trip. When we arrived downtown after the game, we learned that the day’s service to Santa Clarita had ended…meaning we were stranded. Jeff and Anne get a gold star in heaven for driving to North Hollywood and picking up our helpless trio.
  • The hardest part of being a college football fan is enduring the endless Chick-fil-A ads, after it was mercilessly removed from Oregon several years ago. (I love Chick-fil-A, but Lindsay, whose family hails from Georgia, is an even bigger fan.) Thankfully they still exist in LA, so we were able to get our fix.
  • We stayed in Redding on the way home, and as we walked out of the hotel, a CHP officer was walking in. Noticing our Oregon attire, the first thing out of his mouth: “Have fun in Pasadena?” Even the fruit inspection people at the California border asked us if we were headed for the game.

Oh, one final thought. If you’re looking for a classy but not-too-expensive place to dine in LA, head for Bottega Louie. My roommate at the UO is from the area, and she and her mom treated us to a fabulous lunch on Tuesday, complete with mini desserts. Aside from major family meals like Thanksgiving and Christmas, I don’t know the last time I’ve seen so much quality food on one table.

Pastas and pizza galore, fried calamari, caprese, asparagus, some sort of delicious beet dish. Food coma.

CHOCOLATE RASPBERRY TART.

Coffee, of course. And the most beautiful take-out boxes known to mankind.

I have a bunch of other pictures – most notably, of Bottega Louie’s insane macaroon trees – but you get the idea. Amazing restaurant, great company. (And drinking iced coffee in January.) One of the greatest afternoons on record.

A dark, rainy winter is ahead, but I feel lucky to have had four days in the sun with my friends and my Ducks.