Roaming Around Rome – Day 1

In only 32 hours!

Not ideal, but since we seem to find ourselves in Europe quite often, we figured it would be a good first taste for Shawn, and I had been once before.

We arrived mid-afternoon after a 3 hour train ride from Milan.  It was HOT.   We schleped our bags the 20 minutes from Termini to our hotel, Residenza Torre Colonna Rome – which just happened to be in a 15th century guard tower! Essentially right next door to the Alter of the Fatherland and the Roman Forum!

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Residenza Torre Colonna Rome

The Residenza Torre Colonna Rome was a delight.  Its a boutique hotel so there are only 5 rooms total, each room is an entire floor of the tower.  And the customer service was out of this world.  I had indicated on our reservation that we were traveling around Europe for Shawn’s 50th, so they had a bottle of prosecco waiting for us!  And suggested we enjoy it on the roof. OVERLOOKING THE FREAKING ALTER OF THE FATHERLAND!

It was really hard to leave this.  We could have spent the next 32 hours just chilling in this hotel.  But, we had things to see.  I decided to give Shawn a world of wind tour of Rome.  As many sites as we could see in 32 hours.  And, I kind of killed it.

First up, obvs, the Alter of the Fatherland, since it was right next door.

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Then a stroll down to Largo di Torre Argentina, where Julius Caesar was murdered all those years ago.

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I think my favourite part about Italy is you’ll be walking down a modern street in a major city and then BOOM, this amazing piece of history is right there.  And then turn another corner and BOOM, more history!

Next up was the Pantheon, my absolute favourite to visit in Rome. IMG_0979

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We made a brief stop in Piazza Navona to try and see the fountains, too many other tourists.  So a quick stop for amazing gelato from Grom (get the pistachio!) and we were back on the move.

Headed over the Ponte Sant’Angelo to get eyes on the Castel Sant’Angelo.  Since I’m an atheist, Castel Sant’Angelo and the Vatican don’t tick a lot of boxes for me.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re gorgeous.   But, not my jam. And this area seems to be swarming with the scam tricksters who are constantly trying to get you to buy something or have you let your guard down for 5 seconds so they can steal all your shit.

So we went, and saw and then escaped as quick as can be, with all our belongings still intact.

And headed down to the Tiber for a stroll towards the Trastevere neighbourhood.

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Come on, how GORGEOUS is this city?!

Keep in mind, we banged all this out in around 2.5 hours.  Rome is so insanely walkable.  Another reason I love this city so much.  We were actually early heading to our dinner reservation in the most southern part of the Trastevere neighbourhood.  So we walked into a bar across the street, enjoyed some spritzes and waited for them to open… only to discover there had been a family emergency and they were closed.

Now what? Well I follow Katie Parla on instagram and used her restaurant suggestions on her website to book this now closed restaurant, so I hoped back on her site and looked for places in the neighbourhood over – Testaccio, a more working class neighbourhood, but one that would be on our way back towards our hotel.

And, like usual, her recommendation did not disappoint! We ended up choosing Piatto Romano, for a more roman dining experience.

That’s local wild greens in an olive oil dressing, rabbit with sauteed broccolini, black garlic pasta and a tiramisu.  We were stuffed! It was fantastic.  We got a carafe of house red, and it turned out to be a very reasonably priced meal.  If you’re in Rome and looking for a delicious meal, head to Piatto Romano!

We continued our walk home by heading back to the Tiber and following it towards the hotel.  We ended up passing by more ruins and the gorgeous Teatro Marcello.  We also learned that the ruins are loved by rats at night.  All of them were swarming with rodents! Bleh!

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We finished our day’s adventure passing by the Alter of the Fatherland, and briefly checking out the Trajan forum from above before crashing into our beds.  In total we did 24,695 steps!

Tirano to Milano – a long day on trains

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When you decided to train your way from Zurich to Sicily, you know its going to take some time and you’ll spend a lot of time on trains, but this day was rough.

We were only 4 days into our trip and already on our 3rd country.  Plus we’d just spent 4 hours on the Bernina Express, so we’d been sitting for half the day.  Which is why we decided to break up the day by spending two hours wandering around Tirano.

The Bernina Express ends in Tirano and you can race across the town square and buy tickets for the regional train to Milan that leaves in 20 minutes.  Or you can wait it out.  We recommend a wait.  Tirano is a lovely town, with loads of restaurants and some beautiful churches and scenery.  Why rush to sit on a train for another 3 hours?

We wandered away from the square surrounding the two train stations, because all the menus were geared toward tourists, and only 2 blocks away found Lo Scrocchiaro for some pizza and wine!

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Back in my happy place

Once fueled up, we walked the main street toward the cathedral we had passed coming in on the train Santuario della Madonna di Tirano.

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This town was a serious feast for our eyes.

After wandering around the church and back to the main square, I grabbed a couple beers for the next long train ride and we settled into our regional train for the journey to Milan.  Its just under 3 hours if the train is running on time… which didn’t happen.  It took us over 3 hours.  But the scenery was gorgeous.

After passing through farmers fields the train suddenly turns along the Lake Como coastline. I spent the next 45 minutes trying to find George Clooney 😉

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George? Where you at?

We finally arrived in Milan, just in time to stand in line again at a Tim Mobile store to get our Italian sim card.  It was another painful 30 minutes before I got out of there, but listen, if you plan on using your mobile phone abroad, I would hiiiighly recommend getting a local sim.  And here’s my “travel hack” –  I bring my old iphone and insert the foreign sim into it, essentially turning it into a wifi hot spot I can carry around.  That way my current phone still has all my phone numbers stored, my friends and family can reach me while I’m abroad, but I can still connect to the internet (and google maps!) without racking up “roam like home” charges.  Plus, the phone plans in Europe are so much better than our Canadian ones.

For 32E I received a plan good for 30 days, unlimited local calling – that’s every country in the EU, not just Italy – and an insane amount of data, like so huge I cannot remember it because I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.  And you can roam in other EU countries with these plans, so my phone worked in Malta and France by the end of the trip.

We used the data on that Italian sim constantly for the remaining 3 weeks of our trip, and we didn’t run out.

Anyways, back to Milan!

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How gorgeous is the Milan train station?!

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It was a brief walk from the beautiful art deco train station to the incredibly chaotic checkin at our hotel.  We stayed at the Hotel ibis Milano Central, as Milan was just a brief stopover for us.  We got a reasonable price and the hotel was clean.  And that’s about all of the positives I’ve got.

Dumped our bags, took showers, and took off to see the sights and EAT. MORE. PIZZA!

This post is getting long, but here’s another story for you.  I’ve been instagram stalking a pizza restaurateur, Gino Sorbillo, for years.  Constantly cursing that for all my trips to Italy (this is #4) I’ve never made it Naples to do a pizza pilgrimage.  Well reader, he has not one, but two!! pizza restaurants in Milan.  So we went to the one right off the Duomo.  And it was as religious of an experience as you can have as an atheist pizza enthusiast.  The pizza was perfect, my spritz was perfect, the waiters were so lovely.  I had the best time, and cannot wait to go try his OG location in Naples… one day… siiiiigh.

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In actual heaven

Still fighting the jetlag we did a quick zoom by the Duomo and then wandered back to the hotel to pass the F out.

 

EuropeanFive0

My lovely, wonderful Shawn turned 50 this October so we (ok me) decided what better way to celebrate than to tour around Europe for 3 weeks. You know, cause I need a reason to visit…

We hashtagged the entire trip on Instagram with #europeanfive0 so feel free to catch up there as well as the accompanying posts.

We covered a fair amount of ground and I answered a lot of questions I had before we left. So maybe this blog can help some other traveller out?

Or it’ll be an everlasting testament to our best 3 week holiday.

This is our itinerary:

Paris – 1 day

Zurich and Chur – 1 day

Tirano and Milan – 1 day

Rome – 1.5 days

Sicily – 4 days

Malta – 10 days

Our goal was to fly into Paris and then train all the way to Sicily, ferry to Malta and then fly Malta-Paris-Home.

We ended up flying Paris to Zurich as the flight was substantially cheaper than the train. We also flew from Catania, Sicily to Malta as the ferries get cancelled if the waves are more than around 6 ft and we didn’t want to take that chance. Turns out we could have ferried as the weather was perfect the day we were to leave, but Ryan Air was really cheap and surprisingly on time.

Day 6 – Trying Not To Barf 

Guess what everyone? I have insanely bad motion sickness.   I had no idea it was this bad.  Before I just used to get a headache.  I would kill for that headache to come back.   Instead I am fighting the barfs.

Another early morning finishing our packing and cleaning up our airbnb. I also got to call for a taxi which was hilarious.  Joy wrote out what to say.   And I screwed it up.  Eventually the lady put someone on who could speak English.

The first bus we took to get from SMA to Queretaro was with ETN.  A super first class bus.   We paid about $20 Canadian for two one way tickets.   The seats were huge, they reclined, and had a foot rest.   I could actually stretch out my legs.    We also had touch screen tvs that had a small choice of movies or tv.  And we got a drink and a snack.



Once the ride startered I discovered my new found motion sickness.   I popped a few homeopathic pills but they did nothing.

But I made it to Queretaro barf free.

We had an hour in Queretaro bus station to kill, so we had some food and I tried to mentally prepare for the 6 hour bus ride ahead.      Pastor Torta

For some reason the second bus wasn’t as bad as the first one.

I managed to stay drug free until we reached the town of Pinal de Amoles.  It was at the beginning of the 3 hours of switch backs.


It seemed like the scenery changed with one turn.  All of sudden there was greenery.   And we started to feel the humidity.

I took my gravol and slept on and off for the next three hours and Mikil enjoyed the scenery.     We arrived in Xilitla a little after 6.  Had a guy approach us the second we were off the bus to offer to take us up to Los Pozas for 80 pesos.  I’ve got his number and we’ll see about calling him.

Our hotel, Guzman, is pretty adorable.  And quite empty.   It seems like it’s just us and the bus drivers that got us here.    We also discovered that the bed platform for our bed is made of concrete.   Mikil is very happy, he loves a hard mattress.
We wandered the town then went and had dinner behind our hotel because it was recommended by the hotel owner.

I had read before hand, and Joy warned us last night, that the food here isn’t great.   And that is the hard truth.

This was probably the worst meal we’ve had so far.   And the waitress hated us.   No smiles, no de nada after our gracias.  But she was nice to the mexican couples seated around us.   Maybe it’s my tattoos.

The view was totally worth the bad food and crap service.   I think the view is spectacular no matter where you are in town.

It’s 33 outside with 60% humidity.  We are sweating like crazy.  Luckily we have air conditioning in our room.

As we headed home after dinner we found a bar next to our hotel called the Jungle.   It’s a rock bar.  The kids running it couldn’t be more than 25 and really dig classic rock.    
Tomorrow we hope to be up earlyish and at Los Pozas for close to when it opens.  I think I am most excited for this adventure!

To Mexico We Go

Three weeks to go before we jet off to Mexico! I’ll be blogging this vacation, for the first time ever.  Usually I keep written journals, but this way everyone can keep up with us!

Our Itinerary

September 5 – September 19, 2015

We’ll spend the first 5 days in the beautiful city of San Miguel de Allende.  Colonial architecture and amazing food.

Then it’s a long day of bus rides into the jungle town of Xilitla.

And I mean long.  1.5 hours to the city of Queretaro and then a 5.5 hour bus ride through the mountains.   I’ve heard it’s 4 hours of switch backs.  But it’ll all be worth it to finally arrive in the town of Xilitla.

It’s not well known inside or outside of Mexico.   The main reason to visit – the magical gardens of Edward James, Las Pozas.  A garden that will never die.   Concrete surrealist sculptures as big as houses.

After a very brief 2 night stay, it’s back to Queretaro for the night.

And then our final stop, Guanajuato, where we’ll spend our last 5 days.  We’ll be there during Independence Day, and lucky us, Guanajuato is in the “Cradle of Independence”, where the fight against Spanish rule began.San_Miguel_de_Allende_sky