Travelogue: Siena

This is really less of a travelogue and more of a here’s-some-pictues-of-us-on-our-trip. With only a week in Italy, Siena seemed such a random stop for us, but we wanted to see at least one smaller town in Tuscany. Ultimately it was one of our favorite days.
IMG_7453It was mostly a day to just be. No agenda, just the three of us and Tuscany. We did see the cathedral and the cathedral’s museum that had unexpected gorgeous views. But other than that we walked around the city, ate the best gelato of my life, ate some excellent pizza (maybe Siena was about food for me…), bought a cool olive wood cutting board, saw another church and walked a bit more.IMG_7214Daughter was most excited about the stairs leading up to Siena’s cathedral,IMG_7435but I liked the marble-striped columns and starry sky-ed interior.IMG_7420IMG_7443IMG_7438Seriously love these two. Isn’t her cheesy smile great?IMG_7452Hiking off the pizza… can you tell I’m leaning at almost a 45° angle?IMG_7249IMG_7468Our best meal in Siena was at Osteria la Mossa on the edge of Piazza del Campo. The gelato that was so good was from Brivido Gelateria on the corner of Via del Pellegrini. I don’t remember the name of the flavor, but the pale blue gelato is amazingIMG_7245



Travelogue: Rome

IMG_7367IMG_7237While in Rome we stayed close to the Vatican so we spent our first day (afternoon really) there. We had bought tickets to the Vatican museum and Sistine Chapel in advance – per advice from a friend. Holy cow, best travel advice I’ve ever been given. To get in the museum we had to walk for close to a kilometer past everyone without advance reservations before we showed our ticket and walked in the doors. And that line wasn’t moving. The people at the end of the line had to have been turned away – there’s no way they made it in before the museum closed.Vatican Stairs VaticanDerek really liked the hall of maps (above, right), but I was super excited to see the School of Athens fresco by Raphael.
IMG_7203We both marveled at the Sistine Chapel. And at how many people were in that room at once! Little L liked the stairs which was a problem because the guards were ushering the crowds away from the stairs, plus I didn’t really want her crawling up them with fat unsuspecting tourist feet trodding down. Good thing the guards thought she was cute – they let her crawl up the stairs & played with her while continuting to direct evevone else.
IMG_7241IMG_7101IMG_7362Although we had walked through the massive square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica to get to the Vatican Museum, we went back to really see it. As a bonus the line to get into the basilica was significantly shorter than it had been before we went to the museum. Woot for good timing.  Once we got in everything in that church made me feel small. All of the artwork seemed a little higher up and bigger than in most churches. The floor space was overwhelming, as were the crowds. But I got to see Michaelangelo’s Pieta! Albeit through bulletproof glass.  I realized when in St. Peter’s – while I love Renaissance art and sculpture, it’s not my favorite style for churches. However, the square with all of the Bernini sculptures is impressive.

IMG_7261The next day we hopped on a bus to get closer to central Rome (it was walkable, but we decided it was worth it to save some of our energy). We saw the Pantheon – such an impressive dome! Well done, ancient Romans. Fun fact – the ground inside the church is slightly slopped so the rain water from the oculus has somewhere to go. IMG_7279IMG_7291We also went to Piazza Navona,
IMG_7301threw coins into the Trevi Fountain,
IMG_7133I carried the stroller (with Daughter in it) all the way up the Spanish Steps (I’m a  star),
Spainish Stepsate some excellent food (the restaurant also being a tip from a friend),
IMG_7164and saw the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and The Roman Forum. It was a big day. It was the price we decided to pay for spending only 48 hours in Rome.

We definitely had more enthusiasm at the beginning of the day. We were kind of bummed by the tour we took at the Colosseum – the guide just didn’t give us any new information and didn’t take us around the actual arena.  And we didn’t have much of a clue as to what exactly we were seeing at the Palatine Hill or the Forum. However, at the end of the day some gelato and pasta remedied our exhaustion. : )

The next day we wandered away from the Vatican over towards Piazza Navona again, through the Campo de’ Fiori market and then caught a muggy train (after a missed bus and a quickly-grabbed taxi) to Siena, Tuscany.

Thoughts about visiting Rome:
Ask your friends and family for what they loved and hated. I kind of think we’re the last people to visit Rome! ha. But seriously, use them as a resource. They know you and will have constructive things to say.
Anticipate crowds. Even in October half of Europe was also trying to see the Sistine chapel. Buy your tickets in advance. Or plan to spend a lot of times in lines.
You can’t see everything. Say it to yourself again. You can’t see everything. Unless you have some serious time to spend. However, I would wager the average trip to Rome isn’t much longer than ours. So be reasonable in your expectations. Rome has so much art and thousands of years of history – don’t expect yourself to experience it all in a matter of 24-36 hours.
This is Italy! It’s on the Mediterranean – the weather was much nicer than I expected it to be. Plan for that, but know that you’re not allowed into St. Peter’s with visible knees, midriff, or shoulders.IMG_7399Ciao!

Travel Tip: Whisperings in your Ear

We made it back from Italy! And while it was a little crazy to do two big trips so close to each other, it has also made for some interesting comparisons. But that’ll be another post. Today I wanted to share a fun little tip we discovered while doing research for Florence.
IMG_7533It’s pretty common that Derek and I watch Rick Steves videos in anticipation for trips. It’s nice to get a feel for where you’re going and get a few ideas for places you might want to visit while you’re there. He’s totally our parents’ generation so we kind of laugh at the videos too, but come a new trip, we still check out what Rick has to say. We don’t typically use his guide books, but the free videos on hulu are totally worth 20 minutes of research time.
That’s not my tip. Well it is a tip, but it’s not the one I’m trying tell you about. While we were in Florence we found this page on his site: Audio tours for Rome, Florence, Venice, and Assisi. It was like having your own personal Rick Steves whispering in your ear. Creepy as that may sound. We were pretty excited about the guides, but bummed we hadn’t found it before Rome.
monapodThey’re less dry than most audio guides, even if the dryness is in part eliminated with groan-worthy humor attempts. They’re easy to use (we downloaded the mp3 rather than using the app), and while they don’t cover everything, they’re also short enough to keep your attention. Did I mention they’re free? Take that €8 audio guides! He has some for Austria, Germany, Greece, London, Paris, and Amsterdam. Anyway, check it out!
hr_rick_zagreb IMG_7632First image taken from  GIotto’s Bell Tower of the Duomo in Florence. Last taken from near the Doge’s Palace in Venice.

P.S. Rick Steves has no idea who I am, nor does he care. I’m just sharing this because we were so enthusiastic about it on our trip.