The Vacation (Rome) Recap Already! (now shut up)

So….yeah, I know it’s been almost two months since returning from our vacation but life happens people, as you’ve read in the past entries that upon our return, we’ve gone non-stop. It’s been enough to throw me into another downward spiral into mental issues hell.

But perhaps, the vacation itself was the impetus for this little downward spiral. Ever thought of that?

No?

Well, I’ve come to realize that it probably was that.

Minus the whole Rome trip of course. Beautiful BEAUTIFUL Rome.

I mean of course it wasn’t the most horrible vacation I’ve ever gone on (that would be the whole family vacation in 98 on which I’ve posted before but one that also got mysteriously deleted right along with all my other entries before September of 2004, god. damn it!)

There was plenty of shopping, and plenty of eating out, and it was wonderful to see my family. My memaw and I got to spend a lot of time just talking to each other. She is amazingly insightful. I don’t give her near enough credit. We even talked about *gasp* sex! She knocked me over with her wisdom on that subject. We plowed through a whole pot of coffee, and I don’t really drink coffee anymore.

There were naps. Glorious GLORIOUS naps. And running into old friends at Wal-Mart, because where I come from? Wal-Mart is the hub. Afraid of not seeing everyone you want to see while you’re back in your hometown? Go to your local Wal-Mart and if any of your friends live within a 20 mile radius? You’re bound to run into them.

But the stress, oh the stress of my family. For once, I would like to have them all in a room together without someone getting their feelings hurt, or someone starting a stupid argument with someone else, and somebody leaving mad. God damn it, can’t we just pretend for two fucking hours?

Thank God, Howard’s family is sane. Say something off the wall to them? They all just laugh because chances are they’re just as nuts as you are, but instead of fighting it, they embrace it. All my friends fall madly in love with this family of Jews, Catholics, Gays, Hispanics, and god knows what else, because they love their differences. They are damn proud of them. Walk in with two heads and five eyeballs? You’re bound to be hugged and given whatever mixed drink we’re serving up at the time. That’s my kind of family. Thank you God, for compelling this man to propose to me, and save me from my “perfect on the outside, chaotic on the inside” family.

That sums up the vacation except for the Rome part.

Oh my Dog. Rome. It still overwhelms me.

After patting myself on the back for not picking United Express to fly to JFK, because last year, there was a barrage of mechanical delays that caused us to miss our connecting flight to Argentina and we didn’t get out of DC until 24 hours later, missing an entire day of our trip. Guess what?

Com-Air by Delta was just as bad. Except the gate attendant went ahead and found us seats on a partner airline that got into Rome only three hours later. Thank God. I sat beside a young man from Pakistan, who while reading his magazine, was verbally attacked by some drunk redneck pulling for the Seattle Seahawks, who was denied boarding because surprise! He was drunk and belligerant. At first we thought it was funny, we just eyeballed each other, put our magazines in front of our faces and laughed behind them. Then we realized he was calling our friend “A God damn Terrorist!” I hate people like that. The young man was going to his sister’s wedding in Paris. His whole family was there. Howard yelled over to a security guard to do something about the drunken man. The young Pakistani thanked him, then we all three sat and giggled about what an idiot the man was.

The flight to Rome was..well…to be honest, I don’t remember it. I took an Ambien as soon as we boarded, and about an hour into the 8 and a half hour flight, I fell asleep. Slept through the entire flight and didn’t wake up until I heard the captain announce that we were making our final descent and told the flight attendants to do a cabin cross check and prepare for landing. It was perfect. You would know the one time I got to sleep easily was on a damn airplane. We went to get our baggage and saw Bob Costas! He’d been on the same flight as us. He looked like shit just like the rest of us too, hee! I just wanted to put that out there. Make-up and good lighting really do make a difference.

Our hotel was nice, the room was bigger than we thought it would be, for European standards. We ate a lot of Italian food, but mostly Roman food. Romans are very proud of having their own unique fare of Italian cuisine. Lots of meat, mainly fish and lots of pasta.

Our first day, we rested up, and went to the Colisseum. Representatives from a tour group kept approaching us, asking if we’d like to sign up for the tour. We could bypass the lines, blah blah blah. At first, I didn’t want to do it. We’re just not that into guided tours but we also realized that our Italian was very VERY minimal, so it might not be a bad idea. So we signed up. We didn’t regret it. Our tour guide very knowledgeable and animated. He made it worthwhile. And afterwards, they left us to explore on our own, and left us brochures for their other tours at other places in the city. We decided to sign up for every tour they had for the rest of the week.

Wednesday, we went to the Vatican. We had passes for the Papal service but there was heavy traffic and try as he might, our taxi driver just couldn’t get us there on time. We missed getting in by like 5 minutes. We were really bummed. We had to settle for standing in St. Peter’s Square and watching his service on one of the giant tv screens, and waiting for our tour group to meet up again at 11:30. It was amazing to see the square though, we took pictures, stood around a lot with our mouths agape. Howard went into the Vatican post office while I went in search of a bathroom and when I joined him there later, he was having an animated conversation with a tiny little nun. (None of the workers are paid at the Vatican. They all work and live there. Except for the Swiss Army.) Her name was Ann and she and Howard were talking about children with Autism. Howard worked with Autistic children when we lived back in NC. Howard never meets a stranger. They were really taken with each other. Howard introduced us and I fell in love with her too, she spoke English beautifully, her soft, wrinkled hands enveloped mine and I wanted to hug her and ask her to bake me some cookies. I wanted to take her home with me and call her “mom.” She was a very calming presence. She works with a home in Lousiana, that permanently houses the mentally handicapped so when she probed Howard about himself, this interested her very much. She ended up giving us passes to the private papal service at St. Paul’s Basilica later that afternoon. We thanked her and made our way to meet our group. I have to say one of the best parts of traveling is the people we meet on our journey.

I posted about the Vatican while we were in Rome. There is so much to say about it. While I’m not Catholic, I was every bit as moved by the entire experience. The Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, seeing Pope John Paul’s grave, when he was buried only a year ago. Seeing the tombs of other popes. Touching the feet of the famous St. Peter statue. Did ya’ll know that St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world? Well it is. Another big highlight was climbing 400 steps to the Cupola of the church. FOUR HUNDRED STEPS. In a narrow stairway. It was one way only too. If you decided to climb up, the only way to get down is to climb to the very top first. We could see the entire Vatican City and the entire city of Rome. Again, I was humbled to be there. I was so damn lucky.
However, the walk and the emotional day left us drained. We decided to forego the papal service, (Sorry Sister Ann!) and caught a taxi back to our hotel. Dinner was subdued that night, probably partly from the jetlag and partly because what could we say? We’d just spent the day at the Vatican. THE VATICAN! But the food was amazing, and after tucking away a bottle of wine, we crashed for 12 straight hours.

The next day we decided to take a break from all the touristy stuff and just enjoy the hotel amenities. We booked massages. And oh the massage. First of all, it was a bit awkward in the beginning because I kept forgetting it was Europe and how modesty is almost a non-issue. The girl left me alone to undress for like 15 seconds. They gave me a paper thong. Yes. A PAPER THONG. It was hilarious. The therapist returned before I even had a chance to jump on the table and cover myself. Just walked right in while I stood there clad in a paper thong. She was very professional. No nonsense. And soon enough, the fact that I was nearly naked without so much as a sheet for my ass, meant nothing. This woman was giving quite possibly the BEST massage EVER! Bare ass be damned. I actually fell asleep! Which I never do during a massage. I usually try to stay awake and enjoy the whole thing. She quietly woke me and told me to roll over. Again, here in America, my therapist always holds the sheet over me so I can turn over without baring myself. Nope. I just rolled over and bared it all to her. But I was blissfully groggy and she said “You like?”…I sleepily replied “Si”. She laughed and massaged everything but my non-mentionables. It was just what I needed. I felt like a wet noodle. I really thought I couldn’t be comfortable, all laid out like that but I kept remembering she sees this all the time, she could care less what my boobs look like. Howard had his after I had mine and was all “JESUS that woman was good!” I replied with a simple “Si”.

We had a late lunch and decided to go ahead and do the Catacombs tour since it was late in the day. That too, was amazing. We had to take the “oldest road in the world”, the Appian Way, to get there. We got to see part of the Countryside which was lush green even in January. The tour was nice but wasn’t as creepy as I thought it would be. All the bodies were removed to another part of the Catacombs because apparantly people were stealing bones and artifacts. (who are you sick people?) The part that is open for tourists is just empty tombs, but the impact is nearly the same. The rest of the tour took us to the Hercules Temple, past Circus Maximus, the Jewish Ghetto, and the temple where Julius Caesar was assassinated. Ya’ll know I loved that because of how into ROME, I was/am. I didn’t realize he was killed in a temple, I thought he was killed in the senate building. But it turns out, a lot of the important meetings were held in the temples. Huh. Who’da thunk it? It was amazing seeing where he fell to his death. It really saddened me because he was a damn good emperor. He was benevolent. Even when Brutus turned his back and joined Pompey Magnus during their battle. He loved Rome and wanted only the best for his then country.

The next day was the Roman Forum. We saw the temple of Venus (which is one of the great wonders of the world), and amazingly intact ruins of the forum. The temples were everywhere, we could even see the marks on the cobble stones, made by chariots. You’d have to see it to believe it too. Most importantly during that day, we saw the site of Julius Caesar’s cremation. It is covered, and the stone that held his body, is still there. I have to say, they have done a fantastic job preserving their history. People still leave flowers for Julius Caesar.

On our way back to our hotel, we decided to get some dinner, but couldn’t decide where. Howard had to pee so bad that he said “The next place we come to, we’re eating in.” The “next place” ended up being a tiny bistro named “Mario’s”. Upon walking in the door, we were treated like royalty. The men, dressed in bowties and cumberbunds, took our jackets and seated us…well seated me, Howard was anxious to get to the restroom. They brought us free champagne, and when Howard returned, they asked if we wanted appetizers, we couldn’t decide on what we wanted so they decided for us. They brought an entire plate plate of smoked salmon, calamari, and tiny shrimp on a bed of fresh spinach! We tucked in while they brought out a big bowl of mussels. “On ze house”, said the waiter. We thanked him. We also realized we were the only people in the restaurant. Probably because it was early and because we were there in the off-season. The chef kept bringing us food, wine, champagne. They were just so happy they had people to serve. After washing down our amazing meal with lemon liquor, the restaurant manager explained to us that this was their slowest time. The Christmas rush had just ended, and things wouldn’t pick up until Valentine’s Day. We were really lucky! Our check was amazingly inexpensive considering all the food and beverages we consumed and as I reached for my jacket, the host ran over, shook his head, took my jacket from me and insisted on help me into it. Could not have asked for better service. By the time we left, the restaurant was filling up. If you’re ever in Rome, go to Mario’s. They’re right behind the temple of Augustus Caesar.

Our last night, we were really tired and wanted something pretty close to the hotel so we asked for a recommendation from the concierge. We arrived at a tiny restaurant, bustling with Friday night activity. It is very common to seat people at the same table, if you’re a party of two, mainly because of the space. It was a bit awkward at first but after sharing our wine and bread, we conversed with our dining companions and got to know them. Delia and her mother Margaret were from Wales and were in Rome for the weekend to celebrate Margaret’s birthday. Delia is a film producer, who does a lot of work in Asia, Margaret breeds Apricot Poodles. The restaurant staff didn’t count us all getting along like we did. We could have talked to them all night, but do you know what they did? They told us we had to leave because there was a reserved party coming in ten minutes. I could go on about their good food, but I won’t because you just don’t treat your customers like that. And it was way overpriced. Should have gone back to Mario’s! But the company was good and we exchanged email addresses and promised to stay in touch.

The next morning, we headed to the airport early. However, there was snow in Milan and they’d just re-routed all of those passengers to Leonardo Di Vinci in Rome and we happened to arrive just after they did. Long story short? After standing line for two hours, we missed our flight. The only other flight? Was the same time the NEXT DAY. I was exhausted by this time and asked if there was a hotel nearby. I was NOT about to spend the night in the airport. Just. No. Not 24 hours. We ended up getting sold on a “quaint little bed and breakfast only ten minutes from the airport, with a free shuttle” Only 100 Euro. Which is good considering most hotels don’t offer a free shuttle and if you get anything for less than 100 Euro, you’re probably going to sharing a bathroom. I like my private bathrooms. I’m not 18 and staying in youth hostels anymore, thank you.

However, after waiting for twenty minutes for our shuttle, we were hurried into a tiny minivan and rushed away because the driver didn’t want to get a parking ticket. “ten minutes?” turned into 30 minutes. We ended up in the middle of the Roman Countryside. With nothing but our hotel, a sandwich shop up the street and a grocery store, about a mile after that. Oddly enough, there was a car dealership right beside our hotel. (I know) The room was adequate but looked nothing like the brochure and dinner? Well the kitchen was closed for remodeling. After getting settled, we decided to head to the sandwich shop to each lunch and walked to the grocery store to get something for dinner. The hotel had a microwave and dining area. The sandwich shop was just as we expected but the trip to the grocery store was an entirely different experience altogether. First of all? NO ONE spoke English, not even conversational English. Everyone was loud and scary, something that is normal in Italy but for us hillbillies? Just downright terrifying. People knock your cart out of the way, if they need to get by. No one gets offended, it’s just how it’s done. We were google-eyed at the ENTIRE AISLES of pasta and olive oil. Oh my God, no wonder Italians are stereo-typed. We ended up settling for some pre-cooked stuffed pork that the meat manager was hawking, some bagged salad, we passed on the dressing (we were getting a little sick of oil and vinegar), and some cookies for dessert. We bought some mineral water (sin gas), and were on our way. We called our families and told them we wouldn’t be arriving until the next day and laid down to take a long nap. Later we awoke and ate dinner. We decided to go back to the sandwich shop to grab some pop and just get out of the hotel for a while. That’s when we met Bernard and Anita. They’d seen us eating our food in the dining room and assumed the kitchen was open for business. They were sorely mistaken and Howard and I felt really bad for them. When we saw them again in the sandwich shop, Howard told them which sandwiches were the best, and they exclaimed “YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?!?!?!?” They were from Australia and missed their flight for the same reason. Long story short, we closed the sandwich shop down, walked together back to the hotel, sat down in the dining room and talked the entire evening away. It was as if we’d known each other forever. We couldn’t stop talking to them! Anita is a striking beauty. Her mother is Italian and her father is Indian. Bernard could be in GQ magazine. He is Italian and Middle Eastern. Both with their dark features and warm personalities had us smitten. They were in the room next to ours and because we couldn’t get a wake up call the next morning, (yes I know) they said they’d knock on the wall early, and we’d all get up and have breakfast together. The next morning, we met in the dining room, all hugs and “good morning!” like we’d been old friends for years. We all got on the first shuttle bus to the airport and promised to write to each other. The four of us talked about how our whole travel fiasco was fate. We were meant to meet and become friends. They really want us to come to Perth next year. We’re going to try our best.

Upon our return to the states, nothing had changed, the family drama was going on and I was grateful about seeing Julie. Julie is my girl. If we were lesbians, we’d totally be married to each other. She and I spent the afternoon shopping and laughing and enjoying our time together. She’s a wonderful mom and wife. She’s been through so much and is still smiling. I adore her.

So that’s about it in a nutshell. Holy shit, this could possibly be the longest post yet! Amazing trip to Rome, family drama, and good friends. Again, the highlight of our travels are the people we meet along the way. Even with all the dysfunction, I wouldn’t change a thing. Well I would change some things but even for me, those things are just too private to mention here.

Geez, I’m tired. You’d better leave me some good comments after that post. I’m going to go make out with Gwen for a while, ya’ll be good.

4 Responses

  1. Colorado Jen Says:

    Great recap darling. Sounds like an overall fabulous trip.
    Will you be my tour guide if Zach and I ever make it to Rome?

  2. Chris Says:

    In the words of Napolean Dynamite..
    “HECKYES!” Thank you sweetie.

  3. Amy Says:

    Isn’t it funny how relaxing naps are on vacation? I seem unable to nap at home…but put me in a hotel and I am out!

    Sounds like a lot of fun :D

  4. Ben Says:

    This Jewish ghetto you speak of…any available women over there for me? “Leo Epstein, I want you to meet a real mensch…Chuck Schwartz”. Tell Howard I said hey. Tell him Crissy. I gotta go to bed you sumbitches. Heck no I won’t go out with you..god!

    Ben, wait does it already say that?

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