We're home, safe and sound. After ten days in a foreign country, that is a wonderful thing!
I'll have to write about our experiences over several posts. The idea of getting it all down in one, digestible essay is too daunting a task when I have hundreds of unread emails and everything else that backs up over ten days (think four doctors appointments in four days) to deal with at the same time. For today, I'll just give you an overview.
The trip was incredible. We experienced the unique energy of Rome - the city of old and new, then spent a relaxing night being pampered and well-fed in an eleventh century castle, passed quickly through Volterra - the medieval fortress-city in the clouds, and ended up in Florence, where the Medicis once spent their disposable income funding great art, and where Western tourists now spend their disposable income appreciating it. And no, I don't find that ironic, but beautifully appropriate.
When planning the trip, part of the reason I decided to go to Rome first was that it was the chronological thing to do. Given a choice, it just makes sense to see ancient Rome and the Vatican before the birthplace of the Renaissance. But I didn't realize how the road trip would be the perfect bridge between the two - a real tour of medieval times. But I also imagined the road trip as a relaxing break in between the two highlight cities, and that was a mistake. Getting the rental car, navigating the Byzantine streets of towns born in the Dark Ages, and staying in different hotels four nights in a row was a struggle. But still, the road trip was entirely worth the effort.
I'm surprised to say that Rome was my favorite part of the trip. I thought I'd like Florence the most. But Rome is an amazing place. You'll see why I think so when I get into the details later.
There were a couple of things that dampened my enjoyment of the trip. First, it was not easy being pregnant. I feel like I spent the whole trip in desperate need of a bathroom or a restaurant. Mostly, it was the eating that was difficult. If you can live on bread and cheese, it's easy to eat well and cheaply in Italy, but if you need meat, and you need it every few hours, you're in for a challenge. Getting real meat meant that we had to eat at formal, sit-down restaurants for every meal, and that meant that each meal cost about $100 and took about an hour and a half! The food was great, but there was no way to get it fast and cheap.
For the most part, I did stick to my "we must nap" rule, but we didn't seem to be able to get Sam to bed any earlier than 10pm (and sometimes it was midnight), so it didn't do much good. Sam got progressively more tired as the trip wore on, becoming more and more difficult to manage. She did very well on both the plane trips, as always. We just could not get her enough sleep during the trip. Even when we were on the road and she slept almost the entire time in the car, this was not enough sleep. So she was no fun to be around at all by the time we got to Florence, and she took out most of her anger on Adam, yelling at him constantly. We muddled through, and we had some great moments in Florence, but most of our time there was not enjoyable. Maybe that is partially why I liked Rome better.
On the other hand, a lot of things went well. We had almost perfect weather. It was sunny and in the 70's for most of the trip, with just a bit of rain here and there which did not affect our plans. All of our reservations were honored and we didn't have any big hassles getting our hotels or other technicalities. Things went as smoothly as can be expected when you're roaming about in a foreign country. We only missed two big things on my agenda: St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and the Duomo in Florence. We chose to skip both because there was no way to get around the long lines, and I can't regret those decisions. Waiting in lines was out of the question. But otherwise, we saw everything and did everything we wanted to, including quite a few unexpected gems.
And it was immensely gratifying to see that, despite her exhaustion, Sammy loved the trip. She was very sad to come home, and is already planning what she'll do when she returns. Having her with us made the whole experience richer for us as well. And I think, when you read my detailed reports, you'll enjoy seeing Italy from her perspective as well.