The Aroma of Roma…(and Florence)

As we disembarked from of our last 10+ hour plane journey, we were thrilled to arrive in a country where we may know a bit more of the customs and culture. Italy is a country I have been to, so I was thrilled to be back and have a considerable amount of time in the two cities I loved after I first visited. This journey with my husband has been vastly different than any other travel. First and foremost, I am not travelling alone and I am also not guided by a tour group. My partner in crime and I have to plan every step, read every map and (try to) learn every language in a short amount of time in order just to eat and drink! We are grateful for our teamwork coming into this travel, and knew it would present new challenges but we weren’t concerned.

We spent three nights and four days enjoying the lovely sights, sounds and wonder that is Roma. We stopped and stared at the historical structures with what seemed like every turn. We had very specific plans in Rome including seeing a champions league soccer match (Nick will be posting later about his dream story regarding our Champions League game), tour the Coliseum, visit the Trevi Fountain, and of course see the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. All of which we accomplished with both of our dreams becoming reality. For me, the Coliseum and the history around the building was a piece of our visit for which I couldn’t wait. This was a major factor in my wanting to return to this city and it really didn’t disappoint. I was also thrilled to make time to tour the Trevi Fountain not only in daylight, but again at night. Many of you know that my personal passion is photography and I have a particular eye for night photography. Thankfully, I have married someone who is interested in watching me pursue my passions, so our second visit to the fountain at night was exactly what my photographers’ heart needed. I feel so much more passion when something is lit at night. I feel as though certain objects are best served when photographed at night – it gives the viewer a better understanding of its strength, depth and it offers more emotion than daylight.

Nick and I have always loved getting in a car to take a drive. We love to view our surroundings by wheels so when it was time to plan our travels, Nick was insistent on renting a car in Italy. We chose to rent our car leaving Rome headed North to Florence and drive the countryside to hopefully visit a winery….or four. We requested an Alfa Romeo, and couldn’t wait to drive an Italian car in Italy. To our dismay, when we arrived at the rental car company we saw a bright orange Jeep Renegade waiting for us. Seriously?! If this was the car, couldn’t we just drive our real SUV back at home? We sucked it up and realized we were happy to have our own transportation for the first time in weeks and were ready to jump on the road.  Now, some of you may be thinking, renting a car in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language or understand ANY of the road signs, are you crazy? The answer is yes, yes we are. However, we are also very strong minded and knew that we could make it happen. Now this is where the teamwork comes back into play: Nick in the driver’s seat and of course me as his co-pi (co-pilot for those of you unfamiliar). We had the pleasure of discovering one of the most picturesque towns in Italy, Cortona, by accident. I wanted to visit a Tuscan winery on our way to Florence and heard about this town where there could be a winery we could drop into. We placed the City Center on our GPS and headed that way. On the drive out, we had not realized the town we were photographing out in the distance, was in fact the town of Cortona. It was as if we landed ourselves on a movie set. We only had a little bit of time in town as we were headed to Florence and were meeting with our AirB&B host. But, it was such a pleasure discovering a gorgeous place with no intentions prior to plugging it into our GPS.

On to Florence. As mentioned, Renegade was outfitted with a GPS, but it of course did not know the intricacies of the Historical District, which was the neighborhood we were to stay. So, I had the paper map in-hand to direct Nick’s every move as he tried to not hit the tourists, other cars, or the lovely mopeds who didn’t play by the rules of the road. It was extremely stressful leaving and returning to our apartment, but we came out every time safe and high-fived one another for not killing one another, or someone on the street.

We had a few day trips out of Florence (hence the car rental) to Cinque Terre and Modena. I had heard countless times that Cinque Terre was a beautiful grouping of coastal villages not to be missed and my tour book had also suggested a hike between the five villages. We didn’t realize until we arrived that two-thirds of the hike was closed and the rest of the hike was rather poorly marked. We were quite surprised with the lack of information available to tourists, given it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. Even in the face of some unhelpful locals and the poorly marked signage, we still enjoyed our cliff drive through three of the villages and had an ocean-side picnic lunch. It couldn’t have been deemed a bad day with those two pieces, just a different day than anticipated. Modena was our next day trip, just north of Florence; the car buffs probably already know why we headed here but for those who don’t, this is where Ferrari and Maserati were born. Nick’s favorite car manufacture since childhood has been Ferrari, so this was a no-brainer when planning our Italian adventure.  Having this part of the trip was to be another one of Nick’s dreams coming true. He will be posting later about this.

We rented our first AirB&B apartment and really tried to use all of it. Even the 2×2′ kitchen provided! We really made ourselves at home, grocery shopping, eating in and enjoying our open windows and hanging out. It was nice to make a place feel like a home. We were in desperate need of some normalcy and I think we found it during our five night stay in Florence.

Given that Nick and I have a love for cooking, I knew that while traveling through these countries rich in food traditions, we needed to jump at the chance to learn the authentic ways. So, what better way than to sign up for a pasta making class! We had a great time, learning how to make three different pastas and three different sauces.  Our chef was a young gentleman who did a great job of explaining and giving us hidden tips throughout our evening. Nick was slightly disappointed that the company we chose, Mama Florence, didn’t in fact have Mama Florence as our teacher – whom he had imagined as an old timer who had been in the kitchen all her life \, showing us her home town traditions… and maybe even a little sassy to boot. Regardless of age or gender, the chef left us excited to make pasta, so long as we can import that to-die-for Italian Chianti Classico. Who would like an invite to our next Italian party?

Some are probably wondering of our post title:
Of my short time visiting Italy in 2009, I really thought this could be a place I could see myself living. After this most recent trip, realizing that every other breath from an Italian must include a pull off a cigarette, there is no possible way we could live there. It was an awful smell and very confusing to see such a developed country with blatant disregard for their own personal health, let alone other people or even their very own children standing next to them. We come from such a progressive area in the U.S. with tobacco laws in place which are in stark contrast to our experience in Italy. However, everyone smokes, so it really shouldn’t bother anyone, right?! It’s only everyone’s health…no big deal.

Enjoy the pics, we finally have some decent wi-fi and know that we haven’t been posting as much as we would like! Hopefully this fills your travel dreams.

DSC_0322 DSC_0309 DSC_0295 DSC_0325 DSC_0339

Palatine Hill Royal Gardens
Palatine Hill Royal Gardens
Roman Forum
Roman Forum
Vatican Museums, Hall of Geography
Vatican Museums, Hall of Geography
The Vatican!
The Vatican!
The Vatican!
The Vatican!

DSC_0281 DSC_0284  DSC_0276

Trevi love
Trevi love
Making dream reality!
Making dream reality!

DSC_0368 DSC_0371

Cortona, in the hills
Cortona, in the hills
Cortona movie scene #1
Cortona movie scene #1
Cortona movie scene #2
Cortona movie scene #2
Cortona movie scene #3
Cortona movie scene #3
View from Cortona
View from Cortona
Rules? No, not for Italians.
Rules? No, not for Italians.
My man cooking me an Italian dinner, in Italy!
My man cooking me an Italian dinner, in Italy!

DSC_0002

Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre

DSC_0005

True passion to wine making on these hills
True passion to wine making on these hills

DSC_0016

ocean-side lunch
ocean-side lunch
We be learnin'
We be learnin’
We be stuffin'
We be stuffin’
We be drinkin'
We be drinkin’

DSC_0232

Our apartment Street
Our apartment Street

DSC_0095

The Pope was in Florence for the first time since the 60s visiting this basilica on the morning of this shot, we watched him zoom through the streets in his Pope Mobile.
The Pope was in Florence for the first time since the 60s visiting this basilica on the morning of this shot, we watched him zoom through the streets in his Pope Mobile.

DSC_0256 DSC_0252

Santa María del Fiore Bell Tower
Santa María del Fiore Bell Tower
Santa María del Fiore, at night of course.
Santa María del Fiore, at night of course.

Opportunity Seized

About three years ago, dreams of travel to lands far away began to flood my mind as I listened to my future wife talk of her time abroad. I had a few ideas in mind, namely a visit to the land(s) of my heritage – I am a standard American-European mutt afterall. As dreams from the depths of my mind came to surface during long night’s sleep, other visions slowly became more clear. Eventually, the persistence of planning and the saving of money paid off and we were in fact able to set in stone an itinerary which would see us travel the world.

The beautiful game, A.K.A. soccer, is something that holds a special place in my heart. I played my first game as a youngster with my Dad as Coach. Since the age of five, the game has been a continued interest of mine. While continuing to dream of our travel, I felt as though I could not miss an opportunity to see the game played on the biggest stage so that I might experience the passion shared by the world over. Luckily enough, I was able to find a competition in the famed Champions League, an annually held tournament of the top teams throughout Europe, occuring during the calendar months we had planned to travel.

Of nearly equal passion to the sport of soccer, anything with wheels and an engine have always stirred my soul. In fact, some years ago a good friend of mine and I went so far as to purchase and begin making modifications to a late model Japanese car we had planned to race in the Hertz Hornets league near Marysville, Washington state. Our vision failed utterly and sadly we never competed. Thankfully, we are still good friends to this day as this pie-in-the-sky plan didn’t quite pan out and we ended up junking the car. I digress.

Naturally, very near the top of my list of desired destinations was Italy given their passion for both automobili and futbol. Morever, Tarin had never stopped talking about her love of the country – the food, wine, and people, not to mention the beauty of the architecture and land. Perfect, let’s add this destination to our list, I thought. The day-to-day itinerary would most certainly consist of food, wine and the typical sightseeing. The Vatican, the myriad museums and hopefully some of the countryside were to be included. An absolute for me was a visit to the land of Enzo Ferrari, the creator of the artistic and engineering magnificence bearing his last name. The sight and sound of these creations evoked such curiosity that I actually wrote a paper on Enzo in my very short lived college life. Surely I would have to visit the museum and perhaps I might have the opportunity to sit behind the wheel of one of these simply sublime creations.

Enter Rome, a massive city wrought with history, filled with people and the everpresent stench of cigarettes. We had planned a fairly typical trip including the aforementioned Vatican but I was most excited for an opportunity to see a Champions League game played between Serie A (top professional soccer league in Italy) team Roma and Bundesliga (Germany’s top professional soccer league) giant Bayer Leverkusen. The game was to be played at the famed Stadio Olimpico, home to the world’s first Olympiad. We arrived early to find a stadium of rather modern appearance, which was a bit surprising. True, these were the same grounds once used to showcase the very first Olympic games, but I had expected a much, much older building. My initial disappointment at the grounds quickly faded as the fans filtered in and the Roma team song began. None of the seats were used as every single Roma fan stood and proudly held their team’s scarf high whilst belting out the lyrics. The passion was palpable and I was instantly glued to the pitch and the players. The game’s first goal came at the two minute mark from a breakneck Roma counterattack via a throughball to the dynamic midfielder Mohammed Salah – he slotted the ball past the outstretched appendages of the Leverkusen keeper and the stadium simply erupted. Mind you, I’ve not been a lifelong fan of Roma but I, along with the true fans, exploded in a fit of cheers, so much so that I nearly lost my voice for the remainder of the match. The game ended with a Roma win as a result of a penalty kick awarded in the closing minutes of the match.

I was happy the team walked away with the win as I don’t think the Roma fans would be terribly happy, or civil, without!

Fast forward to our final day in Italy, spent in the northern regions of Modena and Maranello, land of the automobile for Italy. Of particular importance for me was a visit to the two Ferrari museums. The first museum we visited detailed the life of Enzo and his love of the automobile. I am certainly no expert of museums, but Tarin and I both agreed that this was a very well executed exhibit which included physical representations of his life’s work in the form of some of the most infamous models of Ferraris as well as an immersive audio/video presentation completed by a total of 19 video projectors and a surround sound system. The visuals of Enzo’s childhood and his prolific racing career were accompanied by the operatic sounds of Luciano Pavarotti, the world famous Modena-born tenor; Enzo and Luciano shared a friendship and admiration for one another in their adulthood as they were both hailed as the best of their craft and also grew up in the same region. This production playing out amongst the presence of the most beautiful cars to grace this earth moved me immensely, and left a feeling as though I had visited a world-class museum.

Enzo Ferrari Museo. The car in the foreground is the 1984 Testarossa - the one that started my fascination.
Enzo Ferrari Museo. The car in the foreground is the 1984 Testarossa – the one that started my fascination.

We then made our way to Maranello, home of the Ferrari factory and the official F1 Ferrari museum where I was delighted to find several third-party companies offering the chance to drive one of these works of art. I snapped up the chance and hopped behind the wheel of a 2009 Ferrari California, the “Family Car” produced by the Maranello-based design house. The experience didn’t disappoint and I had a couple of opportunities to open up the engine, even passing a slow-going sedan in the vineyard covered hills of Northern Italy. All the while, I had my best friend and wife in the back seat to enjoy this once in a lifetime experience.

Behind the Wheel of the 2009 Ferrari California
Behind the Wheel of the 2009 Ferrari California

Throughout my time in Italy, I often thought of my Uncle Joe who had recently been battling cancer. He underwent a significant surgery to remove the cancer earlier this year and was healthy enough to attend my wedding, which was very special for me as he was one of two uncles who was always present in my life. Unfortunately, after the intense surgery and recovery to remove the cancer, he fell out of remission and passed away just a few days ago. He had recently retired from a physically demanding and long tenured career and I can only imagine that he had plans to live out some dreams of his own. On two occasions in as many weeks, I had a chance to live out dreams of mine. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to do so and if not for my own personal enjoyment, I also lived these moments in remembrance and in honor of my family and my Uncle Joe. These experiences only solidified the need to truly live in the moment and take the opportunities life affords oneself.