I often dreamed of all the places I would take Lena and would wake up excited for her to reach an age where she would not only have the stamina to deal with the massive walking, but to enjoy the countries we visit, to walk through neighborhoods and breathe in the atmosphere and be excited to hear accents, languages, and realize that this place has existed for hundreds if not thousands of years. A 6 year old can't fully conceptualize this. But my newly 14 year old can. The look of awe and wonder on her face as we stood in front of the Colosseum, or drank her first real coffee in Rome was worth every penny we spent on this trip. I can not wait to share the world with her. To show her the history of what made the place, and it's influence on the entire world. She LOVES reading books, especially books that have some historical basis. So some of our trips will be like history coming alive to her.
2016 has been one rough year for almost everyone. We have had our ups and downs this year as well. I was feeling down about the lack of Christmas spirit this year, and the lack of Christmas themed presents. So just a few weeks before our trip, I implored my husband to find it in his heart and bank account to let us take this little trip. After hymning and hawing, he gave me the go. Let the adventure begin!
One thing we learned from our last trip, was to pack light and to take a duffel bag for the goodies we returned with. Carry on ONLY became our new rule. So we followed this and it worked beautifully.
We were so excited to find Christmas displays through-out Ben Gurion.
Excited to be on the plane and on our way!
We flew El Al this time as we were disappointed in Alitalia on our last trip. We were pleasantly surprised at the flight, the food however was another issue altogether. Our flight was at 6 am, so we had to get up at 1:30 am, and out the door by 2:30 to be at the airport by 3:30am.
Lena has severe food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and mango. So I was happy to find El Al has a no peanut policy. We ordered the fruit platter just in case. When the carts came around we were more than ready for breakfast. (We always travel with LOTS of snack just in case something like this happens, we just were not quite prepared enough this time.) The fruit platter came with a nice variety of fruit: orange, canaloupe, and pomello. The 4th selection was dates with walnuts. Fortunately walnuts are not one of her nuts she is allergic to, and was seperated from the other fruits, but in the same container. She cautiously ate everything, but was extremely stressed about it and managed to give herself a small anxiety attack over it. When my breakfast came, I gladly passed it onto her. It was a terrible omelet (I am allergic to eggs), a selection of plain yogurts a dinner roll and preserves. After eating her fruit, she scooped the preserves out into the yogurt and decided she would live another day. (I ate the roll)
The sun is rising as we rise above the clouds.
I am determined to teach Lena to be an independent traveler. So every step we took, was a little lesson. How to find your check in counter, your gate, your seat. When you land how to find your way out of the airport, to the trains etc. I have always been able to create maps inside my head by either experiencing it once, or by looking at a map. So I often forget that this doesn't come naturally to everyone. (Especially my husband.)
First stop was the Leonardo Express to Roma Termini. I showed her how to use the self serve ticket terminal, how to validate your ticket (big fine if you don't) and then we hopped on the train and away we went. Even those first few minutes for Lena were filled with so much excitement. She could not believe she was in Italy! As the country side passed by, we took turns pointing things out and quietly giggling in our girlish excitement. I remembered how cool it sounded to my husband and I to be able to reply in Italian in the appropriate phrase, so I made sure to use my 'Grazie' at every turn. Lena turned to me and said, " Mama! Listen to you speaking Italian!"
We arrived at the station, and now reality hit Lena. I swear she went weak in the knees at the sighting of her first old ruin as we entered the station. We fell into the crowd of other travelers and entered the Christmas filled station. Christmas music!!! Christmas Trees!!! Christmas decorations!!! The cold crisp air!!! It was almost enough to bring us to tears! It was everything we have been missing the last 4 years living in Israel. We wandered quickly through the station and into the first Nike store Lena saw. (my little gymnast couldn't resist) Snapped a few pictures and headed outside.
We stopped and viewed the area, pointed out a few key places and walked over to our hotel to see if we could drop our bags until our room was ready. We were starving and the need to explore could not be contained.
We stayed at the Hotel Nord Nuova Roma again and I was glad we did. The staff is very friendly, the breakfast is the best, (6:30-10:30) and our room was perfect. Street facing 2nd floor (really the 3rd as the main floor is 0). It was in the corner end of the hall with a single next to us, so there was no foot traffic in the hall, nice and quiet. The price was very reasonable and at the time of booking, cheaper than any other hotel in the area. We were pleasantly surprised to find our room was ready.
OMG! I am in Rome!
We hopped on the elevator and got to our room dumped our bags and went to find some pizza! Most hotels give you this cool map with the basics on it. It's very helpful, can be folded and shoved in a pocket for easy access.
Jay and I had eaten every evening at a little restaurant around the corner from the hotel. I planned to take Lena there. But alas, as we rounded the corner and approached the building, there were scaffolding and signs stating they were renovating and closed. They moved to a temporary location, which we could not figure out where that was. So our search was on.
On our walk we passed by some huge doors and a church, which Lena found amazing. The church isn't THAT old compared to others, a mere 170 years old.
We ended up at an Irish Pub of all places, The Flann O'Brian. They seated us by a very interesting display of money left by previous travelers, some with personal notes written on them. But all Lena cared about was the PIZZA! On average in Rome, we paid about 25 euro for the entire meal.
Years ago I ordered allergy cards from SelectWisely in several languages. I was happy to have remembered to order Italian. The EU has a rule about food allergies and being knowledgeable about what their food contains. Out of the 6 restaurants we ate at 5 of them were safe. The 6th was on our last night, and they apologized profusely that they could not provide a safe dining experience for Lena. We thanked them and went onto find another place that was safe. No one rolled their eyes, or acted like they had no idea about food allergies in Rome. It was a wonderful experience. We avoided the gelato, and any sweets, but we are used to that anyway.
"I am in Rome! Eating PIZZA!"
I remembered that there is a grocery store in the Roma Termani, and I needed a few things that I couldn't take in my carry on, and to grab a few snacks to keep on hand. One of my favorite stores in Rome is located through-out the city, as well as in the station. The Flying Tiger. It's a variety store, like a mini Target or as the article called it, a mix of Ikea and the dollar store. It's a blast to go in and find little gifts for just a few euro. When we finally found the grocery store, Lena was ecstatic to find blueberries!!! This is a rarity in Israel, often costing at the cheapest $8 for a small handful, WHEN you can find them. I have only found them twice in a store 45 minutes from here. We ended up bringing 3 containers home.
Lena was dying to try some coffee, so we ordered a Latte Macchiato. She was in love!
After the gates were opened and we were allowed to pass, Lena stopped to do a little gymnastics pose.
The sites in Rome always take me by surprise. The city has grown up around them. So you turn a corner and BOOM! There it is! All these people flock here to see it every day of the year. But to people who live here, it's an everyday site.
We pushed our way in and found a nice spot to take some pictures, then pushed our way out. there is a church directly in front of the fountain, so we decided to take a peek. I always feel weird taking pictures inside a church, so no photos. Sorry. Rome was much more crowded than I expected at this time of year. I guess Jay and I lucked out when we came. Walking was really difficult, and to us introverts, overwhelming at times.
We continued on and as we approached the Pantheon, I prepared Lena. It's amazing to turn the corner and there is a building over 2000 years old just sitting there. Unfortunately they closed that day 5pm that day, and we arrived at 5:02. The travel book stated it opened until 7:00. But things change.
Through-out Rome, there are water fountains fed from underground springs. FREE WATER! Tastes great, so we just refilled our water bottles whereever we went.
One of the things I was most excited about was the Christmas craft market at the Piazza Novana. I had read all about it and was looking forward to some fun. We were almost there! Then we entered the square and my heart sank. I was nearly in tears. All there was, was a stupid carnival. The story goes that some Mob family had taken over the booths at the market, so they had to shut it down this year. I am telling you, I was so sad. We wandered around the Piazza 3 times to see if there was a good place to eat, and finally gave up.
We headed out of the Piazza and went to look on the main road for some place to eat. We stopped in another grocery store and passes some shops with Christmas display's in the windows. Then we hit the motherload. So excited. We found a Christmas shop with a lot of fun stuff and the prices were great! Not touristy at all! I grabbed a small snowglobe for 4 euro! (Carry-on sized) Some other ornaments and some Christmas bags for gifts. Finally starting to feel Christmasy. We were starving by this time and seriously had to find food. We came upon a restaurant called Doveralu Cafe. Delicious! They were very friendly and exceptional in regards to Lena's allergy. We were so hungry and tired that we forgot to get pictures of the food. But it was good! After we ate, we lethargically headed back to the hotel and crawled into bed. We had a big day in the morning. Tickets to the Colosseum!