Day 1 – We dropped the dogs off at their fancy Pet Hotel around 1:30pm (I only cried a little). Then we stopped by Matt’s parent’s house to drop off gift cards to pay for the dog boarding, since they would be picking them up, and our itinerary. We later realized that we forgot to drop off the itinerary, so nobody had the contact info for our hotels. Oops! We took the train to Newark airport, and got through check-in and security fairly painlessly. We boarded the plane around 6pm and took off for Europe at 6:30!
We arrived in Milan around 9am, and with just few bumps ended up in our fancy, European Ford Focus rental. After another hiccup figuring out how the GPS worked, we were finally on our way to Tuscany! It was about a 3 hour drive from the airport, since it was so much cheaper flying into Milan, and it gave us a chance to learn Italian driving. We got to our hotel close to 2pm, and with just another slight problem (they didn’t leave the key, so we wandered around a little until we could find the groundskeeper to help us) we got into our room around 3pm.
|The view of Tuscany from our hotel.|
|The building our room was in.|
|Our hotel was on a vineyard.|
|Vineyard at our hotel.|
|Matt at our hotel, with olive trees in the background.|
After a nap, we headed into a local town (San Casciano) for our first real Italian meal. Everything was delicious and fresh. We tried to act like Italians, waiting to eat until 8, and then staying for 1.5 hours. After dinner we stopped at a gelatoria, and got some delicious gelato. We headed back to the hotel and slept.
Day 2 - On our second day in Tuscany, we headed out to Greve in Chianti, a cute little town in the Tuscan hills. We walked around for a bit, did some shopping, and ate lunch in a cute restaurant in the main piazza. After lunch we spent a little more time looking around, and then headed back to the hotel for another nap (damn jet lag!). After our nap we went to a local Coop (grocery store) and bought some cheese, fruit, bread and wine for dinner, which we ate on the gorgeous patio at our hotel, while we watched the sunset. Perfect evening.
|Me in Greve in Chianti.|
|Greve in Chianti main square.|
|Chianti rooster statue - they have a rooster on their flag.|
|Sunset from our patio.|
Day 3 – We had time for a nice breakfast at our hotel, and then we were off to Rome. We returned the car at the Rome Fiumicino airport, and then headed into the city on the train. When we got to the city it was pouring, so we decided to hop a cab instead of trying the bus or metro. We were happy we did because it was quick and ended up costing less than 10€. We checked into our hotel, and then went to meet with our tour group. We met our tour manager, Laura, and the rest of the group, and we were pleasantly surprised to find out there were only going to be 36 people on the trip (the last Contiki I was on there were about 50 people, and fewer is usually nicer). After getting all the information and paperwork out of the way, we headed out for dinner and a night walking tour of Rome.
Luckily it stopped raining before we left the hotel for dinner, and it was the only time it rained during our trip. Dinner was a good sample of local food. They served several appetizers and a delicious pasta dinner, with wine of course. We ended up at a table of couples. There were 8 couples total on the trip, and 5 of them were at our table. I was really relieved that there were other couples on the tour, because there were none the last time I traveled with Contiki, and I was worried that Matt and I would be the only ones.
The walking tour started at Piazza Navona, which is gorgeous at night. All the fountains are lit up, and there are artists all around selling their work. From there we walked to the Pantheon. It was closed, but we were able to see it from the outside and take some night-time photos. Then it was on to the Trevi fountain. Matt and I each threw a coin over our shoulders, to ensure our return to Rome one day (hey, it worked last time I went!).
|Fountain at Piazza Navona.|
|There are a lot of vendors who sell their art in Piazza Navona.|
|Poseidon fountain in Piazza Navona.|
|Pantheon at night.|
|Trevi fountain at night.|
We ended the tour at Piazza de Popolo, where we got to see the twin churches and one of the Roman Obelisks. We went to a local bar with some of the other tour members, but we were tired, so we only stayed for one drink before heading to bed.
|Twin churches at Piazza de Popolo.|
Day 4 – We were up bright and early for breakfast at the hotel before heading out for the day. On the bus Laura played our “day song” for the first time. This is the song that is played every morning when we get on the bus. She chose “Work Hard, Play Hard” because she knew that so many of us had worked to get there, and it was fitting.
We stopped at the Coliseum first, and met up with our Italian tour guide for the day, Pietro. He took us into the Coliseum, which was nice because I didn’t have a guided tour last time, so a lot of the information was new to me. He explained how the stones were stacked without mortar, and just held together by dowels so when there were earthquakes they could shift without falling down. After the Coliseum we walked through the Roman Forum, the ancient city center.
|Matt in front of the Coliseum.|
|Inside the coliseum.|
|Inside the coliseum.|
|Statue from the home of the vestal virgins, Roman forum.|
We took a break for lunch and grabbed a couple of Panini before heading to the Vatican. Pietro also gave us a guided tour of the Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. We got to see all of the artwork, tapestries and of course the incredible Sistine Chapel ceiling. We also got to see the changing of the Swiss guards.
|Inside the Vatican.|
|Hall of tapestries, Vatican.|
|Inside the Vatican.|
|St. Peter's square.|
|St. Peter's Basilica.|
|Swiss guards at the Vatican.|
After the tours, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. We went out to a restaurant near the Vatican where they had opera singers and entertainment. Dinner was fried vegetables, bruschetta, pasta, eggplant (for me, some meat thing for everyone else), and cake for dessert. After dinner we went to a club with the rest of our group, and danced (well, I danced and Matt stood).
Day 5 – We accidentally slept in our last day in Rome, but luckily it was a free day and there wasn’t anything planned. We did a little bit of shopping on our way back to Piazza Navona. We planned to backtrack through what we saw the first night and see everything during the day. We stopped to pick up some food for lunch and I had the best caprese panino of the trip. We followed the same path, seeing Piazza Navona, the Pantheon going inside this time), and Trevi fountain. We made a detour to Piazza Venezia also, and climbed the Altare della Patria, which gave us some amazing views of the Roman Forum, Coliseum and out over the city.
|Piazza Navona in the daytime.|
|Inside the Pantheon.|
|Altare de Patria at Piazza Venezia.|
|View from the top of the Altare de Patria.|
|View of the Coliseum and Roman forum from the Altare de Patria.|
|Trevi fountain during the day.|
From there we headed back towards the Spanish steps, and climbed them so we could walk along the upper street. We went to the Villa Borghese gardens and walked around for a while, before we decided to walk to the zoo. Since it was a weekday there were virtually no other people in the zoo, and it was nice to be able to walk around somewhere without a bunch of other people! After the zoo we headed back to the hotel so we could clean up and get changed for dinner. We had the night to ourselves, and since we enjoyed lunch so much we decided to go to the same place for dinner. By the time dinner was over it was almost 11pm, so we headed back to the hotel for the night.
|View from the top of the Spanish Steps.|
|View overlooking the city of Rome.|
|View overlooking Rome.|
|Ruins in the Villa Borghese.|
We really enjoyed the Tuscany and Rome part of our vacation, and I think we would both love to go back some day!