December 26-31, 2016: Roman Holiday with the Family

We have almost 3000 photos from Rome. I can’t even begin to go through all of them and there are lots of good ones. So I’m just going to pick one for the featured image on this post and leave a link for the rest:


I was very excited to see my family for the first time since July, arriving in Rome all the way from New York. To meet them, I took a high-speed Italo train through Tuscany. It was a very pleasant ride with lots of pretty Olive Garden-like scenery, but in real life. But then once I arrived to the main station, I took the Rome metro. And the metro looks like something straight from New York in the 80s. The cars are covered completely in graffiti. The graffiti is really all over the city. There is some art, but it is mostly just tags. Not like our political graffiti in Bologna. What freaked me out was the train started moving before the doors had shut. That’s not normal, right?

The Airbnb we got was at the end of a strange U shaped alley. The bed I shared with Morgan was very uncomfortable. There was just no position of comfort on this bed. You could feel all the springs. We would alternate who slept on the worst side, and we tried orienting ourselves in different directions and using more pillows, and nothing was really helping.

I felt bad that after a long journey, their first meal in Italy was just mediocre. I’ll have to show them better pizza next time. We got free fragolino digestive at the end of our meal, but mom and dad don’t drink. And I couldn’t drink it all. We had this dessert that is like all of the crumbs from the bakery on top of cream puff cream and some chocolate. It was delicious, even if it’s basically bakery scraps.


Our first day, we took the train to Tivoli, just outside of Rome. The train to bus connection was complicated. It’s one of those where you don’t buy the ticket at the ticket counter but at the bar. Then we had to walk from the bus stop to get to Villa Adriana. The Japanese couple walked very fast ahead. They were very in shape and good tourists that didn’t need directions. It also highlighted how out of shape we were. We couldn’t keep up. I wanted to go to Villa d’Este as well, but it was closed that day. Why? Because they were open yesterday on a holiday, so of course, they have to close today. Like that makes sense. All that careful planning out the window, good for nothing. And you wouldn’t know because they don’t say so on the internet, because Italians don’t know how to use the internet. No one has websites. And when they do they are not accurate. I was stressing a lot about planning, if you recall, and what for? My family finally understands that nothing makes sense in Italy. They don’t try to be efficient. There is no reason for anything. It just is.

Hadrian’s Villa is a massive ruin. The grounds are enormous and it is very well preserved. You can touch things here. And actually walk through the ruins. It’s really unreal. We were taking a lot of pictures all over. Even before entering the grounds we spent a long time taking pictures with the trees.

We then had a late lunch in Tivoli. We had a full course meal for 10 euros, a pretty good deal. And we got wine that no one but me drank. I had a liter to myself. It came with our meal. Translating the menu is kind of stressful. Even if I don’t know what everything is, I’m pretty easy. I’ll eat anything. But mom and dad need to know all of the ingredients in everything. And some things I’m just not sure about or translate incorrectly. We had difficulty with a lam-b translation. That’s what I wrote down in my notes, but now I can’t remember what the problem was. Oh well! The hostess gave us some souvenir Tivoli postcards.

We then wandered around Tivoli a bit. We walked into churches and tried to get a glimpse of Villa d’Este. We couldn’t see over the stupid walls. There are lots of nativity scenes everywhere. They’re really into Jesus. We did a lot of walking today. That’s going to be a common theme throughout the trip. And though mom had been preparing for the trip by walking on the treadmill, we were doing a lot more walking than that. Strangely enough, in the second half of the trip, the tides turned and mom ended up doing more walking and it was dad we had to leave behind. We walked pretty far just to find a grocery store. We had tried to go to the one by our Airbnb but it wasn’t open, of course. So we went to this really far one instead.


We started the morning at the Vatican Museum. And we walked right in. We thought we’d have a very long wait, but there was no wait at the time. It was difficult figuring out a path to take so that we get to see everything. We ended up spending 5 hours there instead of taking the Sistine Chapel shortcut. I loved Rafaello’s School of Athens. The Sistine chapel is so crowded. You’re not supposed to take pictures because when Kodak paid for the restoration of the ceiling they bought exclusive rights to images of the Sistine Chapel. They did an excellent job restoring it, but in this day and age you can’t have a monopoly on an image.  People are sneaking pictures anyways. And periodically the guards tell you not to take pictures and to be quiet cause it’s a chapel. There are supposedly 100 can’t miss works but there must be more than 100. We weren’t counting or anything but we tried finding them all and it seemed quite arbitrary. It’s mostly about size and placement. And there are so many dang tours getting in the way. They take the short route though. We saw everything. Also, the Vatican Museum doesn’t sell T-shirts. What kind of museum is that?

We then waited in line for St. Peter’s Basilica for almost an hour. It goes three fourths around the circle/square. There is a Christmas tree and nativity scene., of course, in the middle of the square. We missed the pope, unfortunately. We could’ve gotten tickets, but we didn’t really have time with the museum in the morning. And we couldn’t come back to pick up tickets the previous day. Michelangelo’s Pieta is amazing, a prime example of an early Michelangelo sculpture, smooth, finished and perfect. The Basilica is huge, but it’s actually a little underwhelming after having seen so many churches. It’s not as pretty as I thought. The walls are very imposing, but kind of empty. If not for the size and importance of the Basilica, I think it’d be less impressive.

We walked by Castel St. Angelo and there was a reggae singer outside. Morgan really liked that, she likes street music. We then walked a bridge across the river to Piazza Navona and the Pantheon where Rafaello is buried. It’s not Leonardo’s dome as I had erroneously said, but it is the largest concrete dome. There is seating and it’s free and not crowded and there’s no security and it’s open late. This is secretly low-key the best place.

Doing more walking, we went to the Spanish Steps for the metro station. We were trying to find Morgan a gelateria but it was just an expensive shopping street. So she’ll have to keep waiting for gelato. This guy tried to sell us roses. Silly mom and Morgan were too friendly and touristy. We walked up the steps to take the train when we just had to take elevator back down. The steps are cool though. It was just more unnecessary walking. There is a cool Christmas tree with fireworks lights.


I actually preferred St. Paul Outside the Walls, which was by our airbnb. We went one morning. It was massive too, but the decoration inside was very open. There’s a big pretty courtyard lined with palm trees. And a big clean attended bathroom just no people at the church. There are faces all along the ceiling and walls and columns. It is a very impressive church. It is technically sovereign Vatican extraterritorial land.

We started at the Roman Forum, which was also Palatine Hill, though we didn’t realize. We thought we’d do the Roman Forum and then lunch and then the Hill, but once you leave you’re not readmitted because it’s actually just one very large site. We did the whole Forum but didn’t see the whole Hill. We walked back and forth around the ruins trying to hit everything. I’d say we saw 3/4 of the grounds, all the main parts. The ruins are really cool. It’s like uncovering a whole city. And putting together a puzzle. Some columns are still standing. We missed the closest view of the Colosseum, but we got a good view from the vineyard and it was empty. The grounds are really cool how they found all these columns and buildings and ruins right in the middle of the city. Some questions we have about the Forum: Did they dig it up? Or had they just always built around it? In other words, how do you excavate a city? It’s kind of below the modern street level, but where did all this elevated street come from?

We walked around the area to see ruins not inside the enclosed excavation area. You could see them from above but couldn’t enter. This whole area is just full of ruins. Trajan’s Column with its famous frieze is there and Augustus’s Forum. It seems like they just keep finding stuff. It’s a city with never ending history. We passed by some street performers: guitars and bass, plus a guy just holding CDs for the group not playing any instruments. And an invisible man with head in shirt, and a clown in a stroller as a baby with a big scary head. We went up the enormous Vittorio Emmanuelle monument with innumerable stairs but you get this great view of the city and the monument is this massive gaudy but awesome structure. They’re really into steps. There’s a tomb of the unknown soldier there too. I thought it was the Capitoline Museum, it’s not really labeled from the entrance. We saw the sunset from there. It’s really cold and windy up there. There are birds perched on all the pedestals. And there are tons of gulls for some reason.

Ryanair is a stupid airline that charges you a ridiculous fee to print out your boarding pass. And you are also charged to check in earlier than 3 days in advance. So we were forced to go to a printer to print our boarding passes for 50 cents a page. As non-Europeans, we can’t use the app plus we have to do an extra passport check for no reason.  It was kind of difficult to find a printer, unlike in Bologna, but trusty Google helped us out. It was on our way to the Trevi Fountain, super crowded as you could imagine. There are different levels and only one staircase down the middle. So you kind of have to just jump down each level. We didn’t have small change for Morgan and she was really quite upset about that. It’s not that I didn’t have coins, but I didn’t have small coins. You can actually use Euro coins, they’re worth something. It took a long time before she agreed to just fake it for the picture. We kind of just hung around and people-watched. Everyone has selfie sticks. When did that become OK? There was a guy trying to take Polaroids for money. I don’t know what era he thinks he lives in. Polaroids are expensive for him and I can’t imagine he gets many purchases.

There is a Magnum bar in Rome that wasn’t too crowded. I tried to go to the one in Cannes and it was never open. And the pop-up Magnum bar in New York was notorious for its 2 hour long line. Plus it was only 4.50 euros compared to $7 in New York. I got gold, hazelnut and goji berries on a chocolate bar, covered in dark chocolate with milk chocolate drizzle. It wasn’t as colorful and photogenic as Morgan’s with rose petals, gold and pistachio, dark chocolate over vanilla with a white chocolate drizzle. She just did it for the Instagram. It hardens really fast. It’s not a crunchy shell really, but it is sticky.

For dinner, we had a prix fixe menu at a restaurant with very angry staff. The owner is this mafia-looking guy that doesn’t know how to use any of the machines, even the credit card machine. They do a lot of these relatively cheap prix fixe deals in Rome. It’s less common in Bologna.


We went to the Borghese Gallery in the morning. You have to walk through the whole Villa Borghese Park to get there. There are no signs really and the park is empty. They only allow 300 people in at a time to this gallery and you get 2 hours. It’s a very intimate museum setting. The top floor is paintings, including Raphael, Boticelli, Titian, and Caravaggio. The bottom floor is sculpture, including lots of Bernini. The Berninis are amazing: Apollo and Daphne, David, Kidnapping of Persephone (you even see finger indentations in the sculpture where he has grasped Persephone!). There is a still-life exhibit with some Caravaggios like Boy with Fruit, and Basket of Fruit. The ceilings are all incredible. They generally have a center panel and then four panels at the four sides plus frescoed walls.  You’re not supposed to take pictures but again everyone does with their phone. How could you stop them? I really liked the Borghese Gallery as a unique museum experience.

We went to Piazza del Popolo, which has the oldest obelisk in Rome in Hieroglyphs. And I had an enormous calzone at a restaurant there. There is supposedly a big New Year’s Eve celebration in this square where people on the upper level throw bottles and garbage down onto the lower level, or something like that. I don’t really know.

We went back to the Colosseum, which was honestly s a little underwhelming. It’s all pretty much the same. You have the upper view, walk around, lower view, walk around and it all looks the same. And you can see reconstructions, making it less impressive. There are people working on it, but it’s not clear what they’re doing. I think they might be faking it. You get better pictures from the outside than inside. I think in general, the Colosseum was not as well preserved, but it became symbolic so they restored it and it doesn’t look as authentic anymore. The people selling things outside the Colosseum (mostly selfie sticks) are extra aggressive. They just do not leave you alone.

We had to kill time after the Colosseum closed. Even the gift shops had closed. This is the problem with traveling in Europe. There is this awkward period between when attractions close and when it is acceptable to eat dinner. Restaurants won’t even open for dinner service until a certain time. You could kill time at a bar, but mom and dad don’t drink. Walked around looking for a way into the other ruins, but you have to pay to enter the museum of the Imperial Forum. There are horse sculptures. We looked at their shop instead at the books of before-and-after ruins pictures. They don’t’ even look like that because there is basically nothing left of most of them.


We had a very early train to Naples at 7:30am. It was still dark out. This was the beginning of a very long day.

From Naples, we take the Circumvesuviana (you can see Mt. Vesuvius) to Ercolano. Then it’s a 10 minute walk to the excavation through town except I took a detour through a market and some alley to the outside wall. We walked by a van selling Frozen things playing Let it Go in Italian. There is trash everywhere—the South is less pleasant than the North, granted we were walking down a pretty sketchy alley that Google led us down. We got to the gate and the lady didn’t let us in. This was the back entrance, and Google took us here because it has an actual road for cars. We were actually really close to the main entrance originally and we were given a bad detour. We had to go all the way back around to the entrance and lost about thirty minutes. There was a guy shooting pigeons with a gun on his balcony—tried not to make eye contact. Or was he a mafia guy shooting people? There was about five shots then I saw him on the balcony with a gun. This goes throughout the day, maybe some of them are firecrackers. It’s New Year’s Eve after all, but it’s not a great impression of the South.

The credit card machine isn’t working so I couldn’t pay with credit card. And they couldn’t print out real tickets. The site of Herculaneum is more compact than Pompeii, more manageable. It’s possible to see everything like you’re actually walking through the village. There aren’t as many things in the village, but you see the structures that were homes. And some frescoes, and some columns. And then we had a quick doughy pizza lunch (it’s better doughier) before heading onward to Pompeii.

Toilets don’t have seats in the South (including Rome). Is it because they don’t want you to poop? It’s certainly not at squatting height. It’s literally just like a toilet with no seat. It’s so stupid. I would even say it’s stupider than squat toilets.

Pompeii is simply enormous. It is not possible to see it all. You see some sights here and there, but it is really just impossible without a guide to hit all the sights even. It’s like going through a national park but the whole thing is a big excavation site. We missed the big amphitheater, we saw the smaller one. It is really cool though seeing the fallen statues and remnants of houses. There are more courtyards so there is more to look at. The frescoes are better preserved here It’s incredible –they have depth and perspective. The streets are very high. There are stones to walk across the street so you don’t have to keep climbing up and down. I wonder if those were there in the olden days too. And there are working water fountains at this excavation site. It’s a whole city, not just a village. So it was obviously a lot of walking.

We tried to have dinner in Naples. They supposedly have the best pizza but no restaurants were open for New Year’s Eve. Let alone there be any restaurants. We walked pretty far without seeing restaurants period. We had found a few pizzerias online and walked a long distance to find them closed. Even through the shady alleyways that Google led us through—not a great idea in seedy Naples. There was just one little place open that does pizza and sandwiches and dessert, not even coffee. It was very cheap and good pizza (maybe the best I’ve had in Italy). They fold up your pizza in quarters so you hold it like in a triangle in a sheet of paper. It was almost certainly a mafia front. And then they closed right after us. With nothing open, we just waited in the train station for a long time. You could hear fireworks all over, but we didn’t really see anything happening.

By the time we got back to Rome, I didn’t want to go out for NYE. Mom and I were so tired. It was a really long day. But I did research and didn’t want it to go to waste. I went home with mom while Morgan and dad went to Piazza del Popolo. There was no official new years thing. People kind of just gather in the public squares. You just have to pick one. From the train station, it seemed like Circo Massimo was the popular site. Morgan said it was just kind of rowdy. There weren’t even fireworks in the square. You could just see some from afar. I don’t know if that has anything to do with the mayor of Rome outlawing fireworks (for some reason) knowing that it’d be overturned (as it was). Italian politics doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. On TV, I tried to find some kind of celebration, and there were two channels with lame Italian concerts on. The music and dancing was bad and then at midnight, there was nothing. Rome doesn’t know how to do New Year’s Eve right.


One thought on “December 26-31, 2016: Roman Holiday with the Family

  1. How old are your parents? Like in their 60’s?

    And why don’t they drink? Are they crazy?

    Why was Morgan upset about coins?


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