A Kid-Free Holiday – Part 1

The arrival of Brett’s parents meant that we could take a much needed holiday SANS children. Brett told me that we could go absolutely anywhere in Europe that I wanted to go – sort of a thank you for uprooting my life and following his career to Scotland. For some people this might be an easy decision but I literally want to go to every. single. place. so it was really difficult to narrow it down. I finally decided on Rome because I figured that would be the place the kids would be the least interested in.

Wow. I’m so glad that we did that without kids. Just checked the activity on my Apple watch and from Monday – Friday we walked 38 miles. If Brooks was there he would’ve been crying and if Mia was there it would have been a constant battle between us wanting her in her stroller and her wanting to break free. The stroller would have been pointless though because there is no accommodation for strollers or wheelchairs nearly anywhere due to the historical significance and preservation importance. I’m sure Brooks would have accidentally knocked over or ruined some important irreplaceable historical artifact or kicked the one thing that’s held the colosseum up for all these years.

Day One

A lot of people have asked me – so if you’re curious – the flight nonstop from here to Rome is just around 4 hours. We had an hour layover in Amsterdam both ways so the journey was just under 5 hours total.

After the flight, we had lunch on the roof of our hotel, we set off on foot to get our bearings. It was so nice to see and feel the sun! Truthfully, we’ve seen the sun plenty in Scotland but haven’t felt the heat from it in a long time! You forget what it does to you too! My makeup has plenty of SPF but other places were slightly pink after a few short afternoon hours.

Obvs we had wine at lunch…when in Rome and all that…

We set off rather aimlessly and by complete accident, we stumbled upon the Altare della Patria or Altar of the Fatherland. Also lovingly referred to by Italians as “The Wedding Cake”.

Altar of the Fatherland

There’s a museum inside that I couldn’t tell you anything about. I’m sure that there were tons of significant pieces but I didn’t have enough schema for Roman history to have them matter. I thought the most impressive thing about this place was the size. It is MASSIVE. It’s the largest national monument in Italy. Look at these pictures – look how small the people are!

This place was no more than a mile from our hotel but it probably took us 2 miles of getting lost and turned around to make it back to it. Every GPS map thing we used led us in circles. Is this just the way it is in Rome?? God forbid we pull out an actual map! (Turns out this is a pretty straight shot from our hotel.) (Also, no. The wine at lunch had nothing to do with it.) We ended up over by the Trevi Fountain of which I have no pictures of because people crowd in front of that thing like it’s the Mona Lisa. I guess this will be my only trip to Rome as I didn’t get to throw money in or drink the water – both of which are supposed to guarantee your healthy return to Rome. The closest we got was probably 5 people deep from the railing!

That evening, we were booked for a Dark Heart of Rome Tour – promising to walk us around and share ghost stories, mysteries and legends. We met at the San Andrea della Valle church

San Andrea della Valle

and headed to Campo di’ Fiori to the statue of Giordano Bruno. Giordano is best known for his theory that the stars were distant suns surrounded by their own planets. He also insisted that the universe was infinite and could have no center. Clearly the Catholic Church wasn’t going to stand for such things in the late 1500s. After being imprisoned and tortured for 7 years while on trial (where he refused to denounce his scientific beliefs) he was burned at the stake on Ash Wednesday in 1600 in the square of Campo di Fiori.

Statue of Giordano Bruno in Campo di Fiori. Our guide said that his downcast eyes glare straight at The Vatican.

Every year on the anniversary of his death, free thinkers visit his statue and leave wreaths in front of it.

When we left the Campo di Fiori, our guide took us through one of my favorite pieces of learning from the trip. All over Rome, in piazzas, in alleys, in dark corners, are pictures of the Virgin Mary, or Madonnelle. According to our guide, these were put up in the 1400s during a time of high crime. The idea was that you wouldn’t commit crimes if you knew that the Virgin Mother was watching you. (You know how the Italians feel about their mamas!) There was usually an oil lamp shedding light on the Madonnelle to honor her but also to brighten up the darkest corners where bad deeds were known to be going on. Apparently it worked! Crime did slow but didn’t disappear. After the middle ages there was a movement to have them removed from the streets and put into churches and basilicas so that Madonnelle wouldn’t be subjected to deeds done in the cover of darkness but citizens fought against it. There are over 2000 images of Mary on the streets of Rome.

Not a great pic but you get the point.

Next up was the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini or Our Lady of the Conception Capuchins. You might notice something a bit odd about this church…

Do you see it?
Yep! Skulls!

In 1631, a bunch of friars were exhumed from the countryside that kept flooding, and moved into a crypt under the church. Between 1500 – 1870, during which time Rome allowed for burials under churches, 4,000 friars were found their final resting place with the church’s walls. Inside there is a plaque that reads, “What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.” These uplifting pieces of art depicting the Angel of Death are outside the church:

There were several more stops and a lot of really good stories that I don’t remember. But one was told on this bridge. lol

Bridge over the Tiber River

And when we ended the tour at Castel Sant’Angelo (click here for the ghost story of Castel Sant’Angelo; the website does a better job telling it than I would) we had a lovely view leading up to St. Peter’s Basilica.

St. Peter’s Basilica

The tour was great but by the time it was over, Brett and I were both super tired. We’d just come off the holiday with his parents and then were up at 3:30AM to finish packing and make our flight. The wine from dinner had worn off long ago. We had approached irritability.

And there were no taxis to be had. You can’t just flag them down there by the way. There are specific taxi queues to get in but there were no damn taxis. Praise all the Roman ghosts for Uber!

Day Two

Tuesday we woke up early to meet our tour group at Termini Station for a day trip to the Amalfi Coast. While there we got in line at a cafe of sorts to get coffees and breakfast. (They all eat sweets for breakfast btw.) We learned then that there are two different prices for something. There’s one price you pay for take away and another that you pay to stand at the little coffee bar to eat and drink. I learned later that if you’re interested in being friends with someone, you ask them to coffee at one of these kinds of places because it is a short interaction – 5-10 mins tops – which also makes it easier to go out on dates with people for coffee because it isn’t a huge time commitment. Unlike in other places where if you have coffee with someone you sit down and it’s at least a 30 minute affair.

We took a high speed train into the city of Naples. The train was so fast that my ears kept popping! It’s about a 2.5 hour car ride but we made it there in an hour and fifteen. We lucked out and were seated across from a wonderful couple traveling from New Orleans so the ride flew by really quickly. We met our new tour guide at the station – Fabian – with a lovely Italian/British accent – and climbed into kind of charter bus – but half sized.

Mount Vesuvius from our bus on the way to the limoncello factory

Our first stop was a limoncello factory where we got tastings of 3 different kinds of limoncello. Delizioso! And a beautiful view of the Bay of Naples.

That is unedited friends. The water really does look like that.

I think Brett needed those shots for our drive to Positano. The roads are narrow and built into the mountains. There’s nothing but a guard rail between you and the sea on many portions and it twists and turns as the mountain does. If you’re in a regular car this isn’t so terrifying but we were sitting up higher in the bus and every curve felt like we were going to topple over straight into the sea. Racing by on the other side are other huge busses and little cars passing us constantly. I have no fear of heights and am generally not prone to car sickness and there were a couple of times I sucked in my breath! Brett was giving it his all to keep it together!

Screen shot from Google Maps so you can get the gist.

He’ll probably site those shots and stress of the driving/roads on the fact that he totally missed the piece of Bruce Springsteen trivia associated with a small town outside of Naples. Another fun fact is that, that town – whose name I can’t remember – was also heavy into the Italian Mafia. Apparently if a mob boss asked you what kind of coffee you liked and he agreed with you then you were in his good graces. If you said that kind of coffee you liked and he said he preferred something else – that was an indication that you were in trouble.

When we arrived in Positano we were given a couple of hours of freedom. Brett and I walked down to the beach from the car park through little streets that zig zagged back and forth and were full of brightly colored and overpriced shops. I was so pumped to put my feet in the Mediterranean Sea. Turns out my geography is up there with my math skills. Instead I put my feet into the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was quite cold!

The only non-beach thing we did in Positano is go into this landmark church. Meh. It was pretty but not extraordinary.

Church of Santa Maria Assunta

After Positano, we headed to Amalfi.

Amalfi was very similar to Positano – only a bit bigger. Two things stand out:

  1. I went into a shop where a woman custom fitted sandals to my feet!

and 2. We went on a kick ass boat ride along the coast! This might have been my favorite part of the whole day. The water alternated between blue and turquoise depending on the cloud cover. It was about 60F. And I was free to take in the view without worrying about any children falling off the boat.

We did other things in Amalfi – like trying the local dessert, visiting the church, etc. but the two things above were the best.

Incredible.

People actually live here. Like this is their normal life – what they see every day when they wake up. That is mind blowing to me. I feel so lucky to have seen these places with my own eyes. Lucky bordering on guilt because I think that everyone should be able to see the natural beauty of this coastline and all I had to do to see it was give up my whole life and move half way across the world. That seems like a lot as I’m writing it but when I was there I felt like I hadn’t done near enough in my life to have earned seeing so much beauty. It made me incredibly grateful to Brett’s company for the our relocation to Scotland, without which we certainly wouldn’t have been able to visit Rome/Amalfi when we did.

After our boat ride, we boarded our little bus again and this time took the narrow winding roads up and over the mountains. I won’t speak to Brett’s state at this point but he started off the day carsick, then was a bit seasick, and then back to carsick. It felt like a looooooooong ride.

Outside of both Positano and Amalfi are these little recreations of the city that the residents use to create nativity scenes during Christmastime.

We finally stopped in Grangnano to watch the mozzarella making process and to taste some truly homemade mozzarella.

Holy. freaking. cow.

Tasting that cheese was an almost an out of body experience. It was warm and perfectly salted (even though I watched the guy make it and he just threw it in; apparently when you’re a mozzarella master you don’t need to follow a recipe) and I’ll never have any better mozzarella in my life. Words of advice from the brothers that run the family business: if you get fresh, homemade mozzarella, do not refrigerate it and eat it within two days.

We boarded the bus again and took off for the train station in Naples. Then crawled on the high speed train back to Rome – hoping that we wouldn’t be seated next to the lovely couple from before because we were both so tired at this point we couldn’t bother to talk to each other, much less other people. (Instead we were seated across from an Italian couple that was definitely talking about us. And laughing. I wish I had a picture of them. The dude was in a completely plaid track suit. Head to toe plaid. With huge, marshmallow-like sneakers.)

Finally, back in Rome, we were in the taxi queue outside the station where a “gentleman” was ushering people into cabs and letting others know when it was their turn. (Unneeded mind you. It was very easy to see when it was your go.) His eyes lit up when he realized that we weren’t Italian and he pulled out coins, indicating in broken English that we were supposed to pay him for his services. There are no shortage of these people in Rome. Quite pushy and I was damn tired of them. Plus, I was hangry after our long day/journey. So, I simply said, “Why would we pay you? You haven’t done anything.” In my head it was as polite as possible but Brett would probably tell you that my eyes turned red and I grew fangs. I didn’t get to see his reaction as Brett promptly pushed me through the open taxi door.

Finally back at our hotel, we had a delirious dinner and fell asleep before our heads hit the pillow. Wednesday was another big day with the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum on the agenda with an early morning wake-up call.

I had to break this into two parts. It would just be too long otherwise. I’m shocked to anyone still reading at this point. Kudos to you!