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I Left My Kids and Indulged in a Week of Pizza and Polizia: A Trip Report to Rome and Florence

I Left My Kids and Indulged in a Week of Pizza and Polizia: A Trip Report to Rome and Florence

Old Aug 19th, 2008, 04:11 PM
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meme,

I just started reading your wonderful trip report today - I've had Olympic fever for the past week and haven't had the time to come and visit fodorland.

I love how honest you are about your feelings while traveling alone...and how brave you were for not giving into how sad you were in the beginning of your trip.

This doesn't really count as a solo trip, but on my first trip to europe with my DS, I had finally arrived in Paris after months, and months and planning only to be...terrified. Scared of the big international city, and like you, I really felt like crying the beginning, especially since it wasn't the type of experience everyone else seemed to have. It's good for new ones to hear that traveling can be scary sometimes, but you'll always get over it and enjoy yourself immensely.

Can't wait for your next post
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Old Aug 19th, 2008, 04:16 PM
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mebe:

Okay, just read your report.

Wow. It brought back so many memories of Rome. Though I was traveling with my mom, we had our share of getting lost and turned around on those streets in the via Corso area, so I totally feel your pain!

Can't wait to read more...and what did "uno etto" turn out to be?
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Old Aug 19th, 2008, 05:53 PM
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Enjoying your adventure and writing style. I too took my older daughter and left the husband home with a barely 7 month old baby. As heart-breaking as it might have been it allowed me to wake up at 3 in the morning for the next 6 months. The bond with my daughter got better and stronger as we moved from Rome to Paris to Bruges.

Uno etto is 125 grams or 1/4 lb.
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Old Aug 19th, 2008, 09:33 PM
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Un etto is 100 g.
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Old Aug 20th, 2008, 10:54 AM
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Hi Mebe,
I loved your trip report a couple years ago and this one is (amazingly!) even more beautifully written. You have some serious writing talent, my dear! Thank you for bringing Rome into my dreary office... reading your report made me feel as if I were there.
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Old Aug 20th, 2008, 02:47 PM
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Hey Texas -- I've read a few of your trip reports (and really enjoyed them) so thank you for the compliment.

Anna -- whether I'm alone or with hubby, I also freak out once I get to my destination. I'm intimidated by new cities, new cultures,so when I travel those first few moments I panic and think "what was in your head when you decided to come here," lol. But I never regret the adventure.

Shelley - thanks as well!

About the uno etto -- I think the problem was that they weren't used to people ordering only one etto of pizza. The next pizza I ate, I ordered two, and no strange look.
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Old Aug 20th, 2008, 03:21 PM
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One etto = 100 grams, which is about 4 ounces
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Old Aug 21st, 2008, 03:57 AM
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Mebe: At least you knew the right words to say. When I went to order some pizza on my first day, in the Campo, I just sort of held up my hands about six inches apart and said, "Pizza?"

PS: I also screwed up every time by getting my food first, and then paying for it. Duh!
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 06:18 AM
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So this morning I got to say to one boy "Don't eat the starfish! Spit it out!" And I believe that is a first

And if those crazy symbols show up, I apologize. My Fodor's is acting up...

Back to the trip...

Via Corso Vittorio Emanuele is a traffic congested exhaust haven. I began my day with a blue sky and a lovely stroll down this main artery of central Rome. And I’m exhausted. My feet ache, my head aches and my eyes are swollen. I almost stayed in the hotel just to stare out of my window. I was annoyed with walking. I hated maps because I can’t read them. Me, a daughter of a map maker and granddaughter of a navigator who worked for NASA, and I can’t read a map to save my life. Eventually I pulled myself from my pessimistic, dreary mood (today is a new day!) and headed for St. Peters for my 9:15 Scavi tour.

The piazza at St. Peters was empty except for a few other early-risers and I flew through security without a wait and into the cathedral. St. Peters is the grandest of all cathedrals and took my breath away for a second time. Goosebumps erupted all over my arms. The air filled with singing from a small service in a small chapel on the left. I wandered over and immediately began to weep. Great, hear I go again…but I looked over and another woman had also been drawn into the moment and tears stained her face, so at least I wasn’t the only one.

Another service began in the center chapel and again St. Peters flooded with sound. A gentle hymn sung only by women, echoed through the elaborate marble. A few late nuns ran as respectfully as possible, head bowed, black skirts whipping behind them, to join the other ladies. The organ and the singing, the beams of light cutting through the air: it was tranquil and extraordinary. I was actually tempted to skip my Scavi tour! It was that intoxicating. But thankfully, I pulled my head out of those spiritual clouds and went to start my tour.

I showed my email reservation to the cutest Swiss Guard, who flattered me, married mother of three who needs an ego boost once in awhile, with some shameless flirting. If you could take him out of those horrendous strips and put him into an Armani polizia uniform….I might not have come home. Just kidding, really…I’d never leave my husband – or kids! I swear

Luanna, our guide was Italian perfection. She was petite with thick brown curls tumbling down her back, a little black tank top and jeans with an ideal fit to for her ideal butt. And, she wore black strappy high heels. That is impressive, I thought.

We entered the crypt where she gave us a brief history lesson, then trekked us across the crypt, through the stream of tourists leaving St. Peters, to a black iron gate and a narrow staircase leading down. I felt so special getting to go down that staircase! I’ve been dying to go down sneaky staircases ever since Mont St. Michel in France. Other tourists jumped the stream and tried to follow us, but Luanna rejected them. It was great. I felt very special and childish, thinking a sing-song “nah-nah!”

A sliding glass door sealed us into a dimly lit underground world of brick walls and tombs. Luanna instructed us to not touch anything and don’t lean against the brick. But people in the group still had to do it. Luanna told us to follow her and one woman just had to peak around the opposite corner. Luanna yelled out, don’t go that way or you will fall into a hole! Yeah, I thought, you need to listen to Luanna! She led us along the earthen path, up the original hill of the old cemetery, giving us turns to peek into the arched tombs to look at mosaics or tombstones.

About halfway through the tour, as our walkway became narrower and smaller, I sensed the weight of that massive cathedral looming over me. The musty smell of dirt and brick and death seeped in and I needed fresh, alive air. Being a California girl, I stopped listening to Luanna and worried about earthquakes. St. Peters would crumble, crushing me in marble rubble with strangers, burying me with these tombs…

With a few deep breaths and determination to not flip out, I stuffed my claustrophobia and focused on Luanna and her rendition of the story of St. Peter. I saw his supposed bones, but the mosaics from the other less famous tombs were my highlight.
The tour ended back in the crypt, with its marble encased bodies, which are lackluster after you spent an hour in an underground cemetery with real dirt and actual bones, suffocated by air that I’m certain, carries particles of dead people.

My goal was to leave and head straight up the stairs to climb the dome. But I was distracted by a little ogling at the guard …one last time…and I missed the steps and couldn’t go back in. Oh well, I’ll just walk around and go through security again. Hey, where did all these people come from? Oh. My. God. Is this the line for St. Peters? The line looped around the circumference of the piazza and was several people wide. I was stunned into stopping. If these people arrived here two hours earlier, they would have walked right in, and now they will stand in the sun for the afternoon. Unbelievable – I finally understood why people complained about the lines in Rome.

After berating myself for not completing the “climb St. Peter’s Dome” goal, I found a tacky tourist shop (which I love and are everywhere) and bought a shot glass to replace the one I bought on my honeymoon in Amsterdam, which my lovely daughter shattered earlier this year. I satisfied my hunger by ordering “due etto” of zucchini pizza at a shop near the Vatican. No funny looks! But then the guy started talking to me in rapid Italian – huh? I said, with a perplexed eyebrow raise. And he did it again, long, rapid, slightly annoyed sentences. Non capsico, I answered, I don’t understand. “You want it hot?” he replied again, very annoyed this time. Si, I said, equally annoyed that he was annoyed. I obviously don’t speak Italian, why the complicated sentences? A simple “caldo?” or “hot?” would work.

While crossing the Bridge of Angels I noticed – no street vendors. No blankets covered in fake purses or guys pushing cheap trinkets in your face. It was same at the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. I also noticed polizia – everywhere. And I assume there is a correlation. Therefore, crossing the bridge was actually enjoyable. I could enjoy the view up the Tiber, study the statues, and bask in the blue sky…

I gave a couple “directions” to the Pantheon. First they asked if I spoke English.
Yes, I said. The woman looked so relieved, there was hope! But she didn’t know who she was relying on. Do you know where the Pantheon is? I looked at their map, saw the circle shape and said, “it’s right here on your map” (I was feeling like such a smart ass) “But honestly, I don’t know where we are, so I’m not sure I can help you. I can’t read maps, I’m perpetually lost. But I’m walking that way (and pointed in a general direction) hoping to run into Piazza Navona. Good luck!

I‘d come to peace (temporarily, at least) with my lack of map reading skills and went with the flow of Rome, going where the streets wanted to take me. I bought a wooden puzzle of Europe for my daughter, hoping to instill in her my curiosity of the world. I noticed window boxes, brilliant pink bougainvillea cascading down brilliant orange stucco. My new, relaxed “what ever, I’m in Rome” attitude leads me home.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 06:35 AM
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Buying train tickets for Florence was the next task for the day. Not that big of a deal, but I tend to become an anxious mess when it comes to schedules and official travel business. Traveling solo meant I couldn’t shove the buying tickets responsibly onto my hubby.

The American Express office is near the Spanish Steps. By the way, at this point of the trip, the anxious, pessimistic me, has taken over and driving the “it will work” me, insane. Anxious me worried about every aspect of leaving tomorrow on the train to Florence. And my mental conversation went something like this:

What if I can’t find Amex? What if they are closed? What if they won’t sell me tickets? What if I have to go to train station for tickets, and wait in the wrong line for hours, and then have my purse stolen and lose all my CC’s and passport and then I have to go the Embassy, and Aaron will have to call them to verify my identity, and he won’t be home –
Okay. Shut up already. Let’s begin with finding the Amex and then see what happens - Okay?
(Deep breath). Okay. But I know I’ll waste hours being lost, because I’m ALWAYS LOST, and then if I do find Amex, they will be closed, I’ll wasted precious time in Rome and won’t make it to Trastevere this afternoon and…

Get the picture? Can you believe my husband willingly travels with me? I didn’t realize how obnoxious my nervous-nature is, until I became trapped with me.

But I did make it, because of my Rick Steve’s Guide Book. Now, I’m a fan of his, but I will not be seen in public with his book. That turquoise and yellow cover stands out horribly. So, I had my daughter paint a water-color masterpiece, as only a four year old can, and used it as a book cover. I cruised through the streets with my guidebook disguised as a modern art book. I proudly carried it, always rechecking street names, while other people stared thinking “what is she looking at?” I felt so sneaky.

Instead of walking the same worn path from my hotel to the Spanish Steps, I went a bit north-west and cut over. This area of Rome was quieter, almost tourist free, with real Romans living their daily lives: drinking at cafes, carrying bags of groceries, bringing their children home from school. It was a wonderful change from the almost Disneyland atmosphere of Piazza Navona/Panthon/Spanish Steps area.

And I made it, without getting lost, once. YAHOO!! And I found the American Express office (hard to miss with gigantic neon sign that says AMERICAN EXPRESS) – another YAHOO!! And it was open. Take that, you pessimistic nervous- wreck self! But alas, the reservation computers were down. Of course they were. And they will be back up in an hour - Is that a 60 minute hour or an Italian hour?

Fed up with fighting sweaty crowds, I headed towards the Borghese Gardens. Up those bright, hot Spanish Steps, people sprawled across them, looking exhausted, bored and overheated. If they’d kept climbing, within minutes they would have experienced a fresh breeze flipping through tree branches, lush grass and breathtaking views of Rome; a mini oasis.

Memories of my last visit here floated through my mind: walking hand in hand with my hubby, having a romantic moment down a shady lane, while our little girl skipped ahead. I saw other couples entangled in each other on the same lane and it was too much. Weepiness was seeping in.

A helicopter circled several times, a lower altitude with each pass. When it was low enough to read POLIZIA written across the side, a few of us exchanged raised eyebrows, bugged eyes and then glanced back up to see the helicopter circle once again, whipping up the trees. Hmmm…I wonder if someone is hiding out in the bushes. I glanced in the foliage as I headed out, expecting to see beady little eyes glaring back.

Along the road near the gardens, more polizia blocked the roads. What is going on, I thought. Dark cars zipped very suave, darkly dressed men up and down via Corso and more of the side streets that lead to Augustus’s Mausoleum (poor Augustus, his mausoleum is in such ruin, and right next to a bus station. Hey – I was lost here last night!). I expected something huge to happen with each step I took, but nothing.

I wasted the rest of my hour walking to Piazza de Popolo. Then back to the Amex and bought my tickets. She asked what time I wanted to leave tomorrow, and I wanted 7:30 am. Are you sure, she asked, like I was nuts, like NOBODY took the train that early. Yes, I answered. And nervous-nellie me immediately fretted about my decision and the inner battle raged all the way to my favorite pizza place for dinner.

Tonight’s entrée was a creamy potato, arugula and tomato pizza, due etto, and another Fanta. It was fantastic, and everyone walking by, all hot and hungry, stared at my outdoor meal with envy.

I finished the night with a visit to St. Ignatius Cathedral and with its eye-popping 3-D Baroque ceiling. I stared up forever, absolutely sure they had a few mannequins suspended from the ceiling; no way that was all paint. But it was. Incredible.

And with a double scoop of gelato (tiramisu and mint) I walked back to my room, packed and nervously waited for my adventure in Florence to begin.

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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 06:53 AM
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Wonderful, mebe! We have Scavi tickets for November after trying for the past 4 trips and I am so excited!
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 07:26 AM
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Congrats Texas!

You'll love it.

~Mebe
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 09:20 AM
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dear Mebe,

I forgot you were going to Florence.

I've not been yet but my kids have. We are having a girls weekend there this fall. My neighbor (she speaks Italian and goes often) and the 3 of us.

Can't wait to hear what you did.

Isn't starfish an expensive sushi delicacy somewhere in the world?

gruezi
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 12:19 PM
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Lol, Gruezi! Thankfully, this starfish was very dead.

About Florence -- I think fall is a great time to visit. In May, it was CROWDED. If I ever return, it will be in the off-season.

~mebe
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 06:52 PM
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mebe,

I about died laughing reading the conversation you had with yourself as your were trying to get to Amex - I'm pretty sure we are related(I have a hard time with maps too)...every sentence that came out of your mouth would be the exact thing to cross my mind if I was traveling alone.

My DS sort of is my sounding board for all my anxieties about traveling, and it was only after reading your post today that I realized I really, really need to thank her for slapping me back to reality on our Europe trips - and yes, sometimes the slapping is literal
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 10:03 PM
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Oh mebe, I am laughing and almost crying reading today's post. Your style of writing is fantastic, so don't worry about not being able to read maps. Maps I can read and understand but I would trade that talent for your writing skills. The thoughts going through your head regarding AMEX and the train tickets, too precious! And the Swiss Guard, hmmm, I understand. And your husband, yeah, yeah..so you got lost but he is dealing with the three little ones..as though you don't every day. LOL, I love your trip report!
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Old Aug 24th, 2008, 03:14 PM
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Thanks Anna and Love ~

I'm glad you enjoy my honesty -- I sometimes I wonder if I say too much

~mebe
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Old Aug 24th, 2008, 09:55 PM
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Hi mebe,

I too am enjoying your report very much.

I will never forget my first overseas business trip several years ago, where I left my DH and 3 kids for 2 weeks whilst I went to Milan, Paris and London. I had been so excited about the prospect of going on this "glamourous" trip that I forgot about missing my loved ones. That is until I arrived at my destination. After 24 hours travelling from Sydney to Milan I arrived very tired and emotional. I walked into my hotel room and literally balled my eyes out. A few minutes later a cleaner came in and told me it was a beautiful day and I should go out and enjoy myself. Thanks to her I did and Milan has always been a special place to me because I realised that I could just do whatever I felt like and not have to think about anyone else- a feeling I had not really had for my 12 years of being a mother.

My kids BTW are pretty well adjusted and have no visible scars from being left. Mind you a few expensive presents helped. They couldn't wait unitl I went again (and I did).



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Old Aug 25th, 2008, 05:12 AM
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mebe, thanks for following up with a trip report! It is always fabulous to close the loop.

I remember posting on your original thread about things to do... and the debate about what is overkill. When you get through with the travel details, I would like to know: how much did you do ?

- did you leave notes? food? everything in writing?
- did anyone go to the ER while you were gone ?
- were they mad at you? or did they pick right up ?
- did the other adults survive ? do they now think you are an angel ?

As a sahm, I understand the angst about it all. It does get easier, I promise.

more importantly: Are you authorized to go again?????
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Old Aug 25th, 2008, 05:37 AM
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aussie - what a great story.

I never expected to spend my first few moments in Italy crying in my hotel room -- especially after dreaming about a quiet moment for years! It is nice to know I'm not the only one.

surfmom - lol.

-No visits to the ER.
-No notes, no wrapped presents. But I did buy her (more like DH!) some new DVD's as a surprise.
-I talked to her once on the phone and she called me a "poo-poo head"
-And all three kids greated me with open arms and sticky hands. I have a hilarious picture, I'll have to figure out how to post it.

And yes, sometime in my future, I will go solo again.

My kids are waking up and my few moments of quiet have ended...hopefully no starfish this morning.

~mebe

p.s. I will make sure to talk about the kids/hubbys experience in length in the future.


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