This is a mostly stream-of-consciousness log of our recent trip to Italy. It was mostly to coordinate some work projects with BNB, but Erika came along too and we got a couple of days in Rome to explore.
Day 1: 2/23-24. Travel, mostly! MCI > DFW > LHR > FCO! Flights smooth, Erika is a fun travel partner. Got a lot of work done on the plane, and still slept some. Arrived FCO and caught a SITBUS shuttle coach to Rome, which dropped us off a few blocks from our airBNB on Borgo Pio, near the Vatican. The street was shockingly picturesque, and the little apartment was great. Had to get the keys from a few guys hanging out at the restaurant on the ground floor, which as far as I can tell never had any customers in a 2-day stretch.
We realized we could still make the last Vatican Museum entrance if we scurried, so we speedwalked (spedwalked? spedwalk?) around the edge of Vaticano to the entrance, and barely made it in - but with no lines or waiting! The halls got progressively more crowded as you approach the Sistine Chapel, eventually just politely shoving to get thru the hall of tapestries (which are amazing treasures). We longed to be outside in the gardens, which looked beautiful in a light drizzle. Walking past a thousand precious works of art to get to one famous one felt like a travesty, but DARN IT we were going to get to the Sistine! Rounding a corner and seeing the School of Athens was a shock.
After we made it thru the Chapel, we got to wander the rest with the museum pretty much to ourselves, and hung out with incredible sculptures pretty much alone until they chased us away from the Laocoon to close the place. Then walked around the area, found a little Trapezzino outpost that sells little bread-meat pockets. Then wandered around a bit more (Erika found a Tiger, then home to collapse to bed.) My knee started to hurt on the end of the night, which was worrying a bit.
Day 2. 2/25. Woke up later than we planned, but then headed directly to the Vatican, which wasn’t crowded around 10am on a Sunday. We got in line for the Cupola tour first, and after about an hour of waiting got to climb the stairs. The view inside the cupola and then from the outside top was incredible! We saw the crowds building up in the square and wondered what was up. As we were leaving we saw everyone watching one window - and the Pope appeared to give an address! Just dumb lucky timing.
We wandered the neighborhood again and found a good restaurant that had a mix of mostly locals and some tourists, and had cacio y pepe, fried artichoke, and a good caprese. A small favorite moment: we wandered in and the staff tried to guess our nationality to give us the proper language menue. Francais? Deutsch? English? We took the Deutsch, but I was weirdly proud of looking just-slightly-more French than American.
Grabbed our suitcases and took the Metro from Ottaviano to Tiburtina, where we found our FLIXBUS to Pescara. Bus ride was nice, and as the sunset we saw less of the mountains. Arrived in Pescara in the snow, John, Enrique, and Masanori (who was in town a day early to record at the studio) escorted us to the hotel, and then had a big seafood dinner on the row of beachfront restaurants. We had a huge array of antipasti - lots of raw items (crudi) and other prepared items, including some very good oysters. Then a big fish we all split, with potatoes and other veggies. And prosecco with everything. It was delicious.
Day 3. 2/26. Heavy snow when we woke up, and the city was starting to shut down. Watched it come down from the top-floor restaurant where we had breakfast. We couldn’t go to the studio because busses were delayed and a photographer couldn’t get to the studio, so John & Enrique and I met and worked at a nearby restaurant and then hotel lobby. Erika wandered the beach in the snow and took some incredible photos. Apparently it hasn’t snowed in Pescara like that for ~ 5 years. In the afternoon we made it out to the studio via John’s private taxi (aka Massimo), which included 4 people crammed into the back seat and brining along Masa’s four saxophones.
Toured Studio Odradek (aka The Spheres), which is really an incredible transformation from a warehouse, and had further work discussions while erika hung out by herself in the editing room. The breakers kept blowing trying to keep all the electric heating elements running. Massimo drove us back, and we had another big dinner with Pina as well, who was lively and fun. Good pasta, another huge range of antipasti (lots and lots of new meats and cheeses for me), birra, and ended the meal with a grilled lamb shish kebab challenge.
Day 4. 2/27. Slightly later start, but to the studio by city bus and hung out til 5 working thru future plans w J & E. Bussed back to Pescara and met Erika, where we wandered around in the cold for a while and ate dinner at the same place she had lunch - a weirdly-corporate seeming casual restaurant that we joked must be the Chili’s of Italy. Had a restaurant-branded bottle of house wine, which tasted like grape juice. We decided by this day that Italian wine and beer all must have 2% ABV, because we never felt anything. Or maybe it was pairing it with all the food and every meal taking hours and hours…
Pescara is a beach town and we were there in February, so it had a great feeling of the off-season, when locals reclaim their spaces. Everyone spoke italian, we didn’t see almost anyone else that looked like a tourist, but the city is very accommodating to dummies like us who need help navigating our way to a post office.
Day 5. 2/28. Breakfast, running w E on the morning (I stopped partway to baby my knee) in the cold, cold, cold wind. Checked out, bus back to Rome, and found our way from Tiburtina to our airBNB right on Piazza della Rotonda, which is the square of the Pantheon. The apartment was small but nice, but the windows directly onto the square are incredible. I looooovved the view. Ate some pasta and fried eggplant thing while we waited to check in.
Walked around and found our way past the Forum to the Coliseum, which was cool but Erika and I felt really hemmed in by the tourists - after having three days in Pescara, Rome felt just overrun with dumb tourists. At the coliseum on a weekday, many of the the tourists were actually groups of teenagers speaking Italian - or other European languages. I suppose you just get to take school trips to world heritage sites like that. Then we wandered around a bit longer, working our way to Trajan’s Column and the Trevi, and then got some snacks at a little grocery. (Mandatory travel item: weird chip flavors). Erika shopped a bit at Piazza Colonna, while I hung around outside and got THE BEST coffee I had in Italy, which is saying something.
A word about the italian coffee. Yes, there’s a lot to say there about it, but I really loved the speed and ubiquity of coffee there. In the right neighborhoods, every little cafe or shop might have a coffee counter, and you can walk in, order an espresso, get it prepared, drink it, pay your 1 euro or less and walk out all in ninety seconds. And they’re GOOD. The best one I had was here, at the Piazza Colonna, at a little candy / gelato shop that had one little cafe counter. I walked in, three staff people were just chattering away in Italian. I had to interrupt them to put my order in, and the barista never broke his conversational flow with his coworkers, and dang - he churned out an incredible coffee. It blows my mind that a candy shop on an empty square at 8pm in February can be OPEN, and make incredible coffee. Also, it cost EIGHTY CENTS.
Worked our way back to the Pantheon, and Erika went to bed while I stayed up to work. After a couple of hours I went walking again, first to Piazza Navone and around, then south to get a late night kebab (turkey and veal! delicious actually!) and wandered around in the rain - to Octavia’s Portico, Teatro Marcellus, and eventually down by Circo Massimo before going home. I put too many miles in and my knee was hurting when I went to bed.
Day 6. 3/1. Slept til 9, and then breakfast at the nearby restaurant that has deal with our airbnb. Saw the interior of the Pantheon, which is really stunning - and feels ruined by the Church. It’s an incredible building itself, and the dome is obviously the highlight. Walked over to the Forum, and listened to part of an audio tour on the Forum and saw some cool out-of-the-way spots. Paused halfway and entered into the Forum properly, which was really cool; it’s so weird to really see stuff from antiquity and know that it’s the actual, real, honest-to-goodness place where these things happened.
Walked around to la Bocca della Veritas, waited in line for the obligatory photos, and by then my knee was KILLING me and I had to take a rest. Weirdly alarming to have a joint fail that way. E and I split up - she went north to shop Via Corso stores, I wandered over to Trastevere and got a really delicious lunch at an out of the way restaurant with terrible branding but delicious bread, carbonara and little olive/cheese/salami platter.
Got an all-day metro pass (I asked for it and bought it in Italiano!) from a sketchy tabacchi, then took the Tram, Bus, and Metro all within the span of a couple of hours. Took a bus outside the Aurelian walls, then hopped off and got a 90-second espresso while waiting. Then a bus back, wandered around Barberini and Spagna looking for old coin shops (both closed), and then back to meet Erika. We taxi’d to a thrift store in Trastevere and just wandered around, eventually getting good pizza at Dar Poeta, which Jed had recommended. It was good, and PACKED with Americans. Like, ALL AMERICANS. They churned customers thru. Wandered around afterwards, shopped a bit, and ducked into a little place with a cheesy live band playing 90’s hits, while we had two very bad glasses of wine and a tiramisu. It was great. Walked back slowly from Trastevere to Piazza Navone, then Pantheon, and a good nighttime viewing of Trevi. Back home to pack for our return!
Day 7. 3/2. Travel day! Erika took a run to the Spanish steps, which I’m still jealous of, and we headed to the airport! FCO > PHL, but then a big Nor’easter was attacking Philly, and after 2 aborted landing attempts we got re-routed to Charleston NC. We scurried off the plane, and Erka sweet-talked the airport staff to getting us onto the next flight out to MCI. Arrived home around midnight central time, exhausted but so happy to be home with our babies!