Rome, Day 1

Rome, Day 1

Today was “explore Rome via bike” day! After such an amazing breakfast spread in Split, the breakfast was pretty underwhelming the Spagna Royal Suites, though it was good to eat lightly after such a big meal in the night prior. We had some coffee to pick us up and were off to the bus stop to ride our way over to the Coliseum. Taxis are very expensive in Rome and the public transit in is amazing so we decided to give the bus a go. Our hotel actually gave us a phone with free calling, wi-fi, and location services to help us get around without using our data and that basically saved our lives. We were easily able to find our way to the bus, the right station, and then over to the TopBike Rental & Tours shop.

Check-in for the bike tour was quick and they had a wide variety of bikes. We had electric assist motors on ours just in case the 4-hour trek got difficult, but I ended up turning that off for the majority of the ride (maybe all of those cycle classes were paying off?). Our guide, Muana, was from the Netherlands, and we had a New Zealander, two Australians, and an American guy in TopBike training also accompanying us.

Muana guided us out of the shop and to the Coliseum first for a quick recap of its history. We had a detailed tour of the Coliseum scheduled for the next day, so her quick overview was perfect and a nice rest before biking over to the “Wedding Cake” building, aka the Altare della Patria, nicknamed after its opulence and resemblance to a massive, tiered cake.

We then rode over to one of the most famous fountains in the world, the Trevi Fountain, for another pit stop. The fountain is massive and the sculptures are breathtaking. So much talent and effort went into its creation.

We then biked down to the Pantheon and got to go inside. If you have never been, it has a huge dome with an open center. I can’t even begin to describe how large it is and how astonishing the architecture to stabilize such a dome is.

We then rode across the Tiber river to Piazza Navona, which used to be a horse racing stadium. It is now a massive square surrounded with shops and restaurants and has another gorgeous fountain of Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi).

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After some gelato in the square, we ride around the Roman Forum and to the Coliseum. Overall, we had 4 hours of scenic views, interesting factoids, and perfect biking weather. If you are heading to Rome for the first time, TopBike is a great way to see the city and get the lay of the land before doing other sections in-depth.

Our tour was over around 1 PM and we were famished! The area around the Coliseum has pretty expensive restaurants, so we took Muana’s suggestions and walked deeper into the city. Ryan was in the mood for pizza and we were starving, so we stopped at the first place with pizza we came across – Urban 47. It was cute outside and ended up being quite large and cool inside with a very modern kitchen and appetizer room. I had some delicious ravioli with shrimp scampi and Ryan had another perfectly delicious pizza.

After lunch, we wandered through the streets back to the hotel, took a quick nap, and reemerged to find a place for Ryan to do laundry. After 1.5 weeks in a suit case, it was time for some freshening up! The nearest laundry mat was right by the Spanish Steps in the most expensive shopping area of Rome with stores like Gucci, Channel, Louis Vuitton, and tons of other glorious designers that make closet sing and my wallet weep.

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We strolled down the shopping mecca until finally coming to the laundry place where a really nice Canadian couple taught us how to use the machines. Ryan decided to risk his laundry so we could take a walk to the North entrance of Rome. We walked to and around the square, and up to a look out point with an amazing view and some live music courtesy to the street musicians. The path at the top lead back to the top of the Spanish Steps, so we walked to that and back down – boy was it packed! When doing tours, I always recommend going to sites early in the morning because the crowds just keep growing as the day goes on.

Thankfully, Ryan’s laundry was still there 30 minutes later and we swapped it over to the drier, took another walk around the town, visited some shops, and returned to great smelling, clean clothes! We dropped those off at the hotel and set out to find a spot for dinner.

After walking 10 miles already today, Ryan was not wanting to go on a journey to find the perfect restaurant, so we walked up to the first one we saw. The restaurant’s “hype-man” out front was in top-convincing-mode. He walked us through the menu, showed us where they were making the fresh pasta, and offered us free champagne, so we were fully enticed into dining there.

We were the only patrons so far, so the host sat us right in the window so other passers-by could see the restaurant had people in it – talk about strategy! Within a span of 5 minutes, the entire restaurant was full. Ryan ordered fettuccine alfredo and I got a mushroom sausage dish with thick pasta noodles.

The dishes were as they looked… OK. They did not have a ton of flavor but they weren’t bad. I probably should have stuck with my traditional favorites and not branched out to try something new but. .. when in Rome right?

We got our fill pretty quickly, especially after I accidentally poured out ½ of the bottle of balsamic vinegar on my bread plate and tried to cover it up by eating a ton of balsamic soaked bread.

After dinner, it was a quick walk back to the hotel and early night for our big walking day tomorrow.

Continue reading this adventure…

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Playa Del Carmen – Day 2

Playa Del Carmen – Day 2

Two years ago, we went to Cancun and booked all our excursions thorough the ME Cancun. While we had an amazing time with those tours, they were with lots of other people and we paid a lot more than if we had booked online. This time around, we researched tours on TripAdvisor before we left and booked a Snorkel & Sea Turtle Adventure with Edventure Tours which had a 5-star rating and over a 1.4K reviews! With that amount of reviews, it had to be good and the price was just right.

Our shuttle for the tour picked us up at 7 AM so it was another early morning. The bus was very clean and comfortable and our driver was very friendly. We picked up another couple along the 50-minute drive to Tulum and arrived around 8 AM. The took us to Edventure Tour’s HQ, a little shop on the outskirts of the Tulum Ruins park, and we met Eddy the owner. He was so nice and gave us free passes to the Tulum Ruins since the four-other people who were joining us on our snorkel and sea turtle adventure were rock climbing first. He also gave us a free bottle of organic sun screen to use instead of the stuff we brought that had chemicals harmful to the sea life. Super nice!

It was quite sunny out and Ryan didn’t have a hat so we stopped at one of the shops on the way to the Tulum Ruins.  He tried on all sorts of fedoras, cowboy hats, bonnets, and finally settled on a giant straw one. It was super goofy but, after rocking his Peruvian “adventure hat” for so long, we had to make sure he had a worthy replacement!

Adventure hats are the best hats! Tulum, Mexico

A guide walked us to the entrance of the Tulum Ruins, gave us our free tickets, and said we had about an hour to gallivant around. Since it was so early, there were not a ton of people there, so we had free reign of the Ruins. While they were not quite as impressive as Chichen Itza, the view from the cliffs, combined with the 1,300-year-old ruins, were very impressive.

There were even iguanas running around everywhere. The only downside was that my flip-flops meant for our day at the beach gave me a huge blister. Word to the wise, wear walking sandals on all excursions just in case!

The ruins in Tulum, Mexico

The ruins took about 30 minutes to go through and, while it was only about 75 degrees, it was humid so we were ready for refreshment. We wandered through the market shops outside of the ruins and found a little restaurant to grab a michelada, or what they call Rojo Ojo. It was so good! We walked back to the Edventures area and our guide, George, packed our snorkel gear and gave us some snacks for the bus ride to Eddy’s private property.

Eddy has 10 hectares (24 acres) of forest that had cenotes, a zip line park, and rock climbing on it. Once we got there, George had us hop in a camouflage ATV and we drove fast over 4 miles of rocky path through the forest to get to the cenotes! Cenotes are flooded underground caves with stalagmites and stalactites. There are three different kinds, once that are completely under grounds, ones that have caved in and are partially exposed, and then ones that are totally open. Our first stop was the underground variety.

We walked down this 5-foot-wide hole in the group to an underground paradise. It was completely dark so we were given flashlights to see in the water as we swam. The water was so blue and the perfect temperature. We could see perfectly way down to the bottom and there were little fish swimming around us. It was so cool to swim through the cave and see the bats hanging from the ceiling crevasse. I loved every second of it!

After the cave cenote, we walked to the open air one. It have to say, it was quite nice only having 6 people and two guides to our group. It made for a very exclusive feel without overcrowding. Anyway, this cave had a jumping platform where we could jump into the deep water.

There were also tons of cool structures in the depths of the water and ominous dark caves to go scuba diving in.

Exploring the waters of a cenote in Tulum, Mexico

We swam around and explored the cenote for about 45 minutes before heading to a Palapa for a lunch of pork and chicken tacos. Lunch was pretty good and, after we filled up, Ryan was given the keys to our ATV and drove us back to the van area. He loved every second of it (and we made it back without crashing – always a plus!)

We met the other 4 in our group, hopped in a van, and drove 15 minutes to Akumal Bay where the sea turtles are! Apparently over the past year or so, sea turtle tours were banned by the government due to huge tour groups disrupting the turtles. Two weeks before our vacation, 30 tour groups were re-granted permits out of the 300 or so that had permits the year before. Edventure tours had been working with the turtles and very involved in the environmental protection of the area for 30+ years and were grated a tour, so we were able to go!

The beach was totally packed with people and we were given special wristbands to snorkel out to the turtles. As we got further from the beach, the water got much clearer and you could see green seaweed growing from the sand. Apparently, this was the sea turtle’s favorite food and, within 4-5 minutes of being out there, we saw our first turtle!

We all floated around it and, eventually it had to come up to air. It spun around while rising and came within one foot of my face (see below)! The turtle was so huge and cute and I was in awe that I was so close to such a magical creature! It is amazing how encounters with such majestic animals can make for some of the coolest moments of our lives.

Getting up close and personal with a sea turtle in Mexico

We saw a bit further and I spotted another turtle with two huge fish on it! They were sucker fish and were eating the stuff on the turtle’s shell. So cool! We watched that turtle for a while and then were off to explore the reef.

The reef had tons of beautiful fish, much better than our snorkeling in Thailand, and we even saw a king fish! King fish are one of the deadliest fish we can encounter in reefs, but they are so cool looking!

A school of purple fish in the reefs in Mexico

We snorkeled for another 30 minutes or so throughout the reef and ended up back on the beach. We hopped back in the van and drove about 10 minutes down the road to a lagoon to do some more snorkeling. The lagoon was in a nature park with cool sculptures everywhere and we had to walk through a forest path to get to the lagoon. It was beautiful and full of amazing fish that flourished in the nutrient rich stream water hitting that of the sea.

Lounging by the lagoon in Mexico

We snorkeled there for about an hour. The top two feet of the water was hard to see through as the salt and sea water mixed, but visibility got much better with a quick dive down.

Snorkeling in a lagoon in Mexico

Eventually, all the activities of the day and early morning got to us, and we hopped out of the lagoon to relax on the rocky edges until the group was gathered and we took the hour-long ride home to get ready for our extravagant dinner at the Passion restaurant.