Rome, Day 2

Rome, Day 2

Another day, another train! After an early wake-up and quick breakfast, we were off to the train station under the Spanish Steps to hop the Metro over to the Vatican City for our tour. We met our guides on some stairs by the main entrance to the Vatican with about 30 other people. Thankfully, they divided all of us up into a few groups, so our group was only around 15 people. While we waited for the tour to start, all of these very insistent guys were trying to sell us scarves, selfie sticks, and other doodads – they were everywhere! You have to ignore them and avoid all eye contact so they don’t get one spark of hope that you may be willing to buy something.

Our guides handed out headsets and we were off to enter the Vatican. Because we bought the Rome Combo: Skip the Line Vatican, St. Peter’s Square, and Colosseum walking tour, we got to cut in front of the hundreds of people in line waiting to get in. Our guide said that the line was actually shorter than usual since the Pope was giving Mass and everyone was in St. Peter’s Square. That was hard to fathom given the line that went from the entrance around the entire square!

Our guide was very knowledgeable and funny. She kept making jokes about the status of guys she would have dated if she lived back when they were alive. She talked about the status of the guy she loved most and sighed at how he would never loved her back because he was in love with another. She then dramatically pointed to a statue across the room – of another man! Talk about the drama of it all!

We went into the Pine Cone Square and some people in our group were missing. There were two women in particular that kept losing each other and causing issues with the group. They were pretty clueless as to what was going on so it was comical, especially considering our guide would try and page them over all of our head sets when they went missing. It was like a game of Marco Polo.

We made our way through the Vatican museum, past hundreds of sculptures, each more grand than the other. I was just astonished at the size and scale of these statues. Some of the big toes on the statues were the size of my fist – can you imagine just how big they where?

Everywhere you looked there was another amazement. The Gallery Of Maps  was probably my favorite room with giant maps of each part of the country all down the walls and the most decadent ceiling.

We then went into four rooms painted by Raphel and our guide pointed out fun facts about various features in the most important of the paintings. Eventually, we got to the modern art museum in the Vatican that also houses thousands of pieces of donated work. It was pretty amazing.

At that point, we gave our headsets to the guide and she pointed us to the Sistine Chapel. Since the Pope was speaking, St. Peter’s Basilica was closed until he was finished, so we decided to get some sandwiches for lunch in the café before entering the Chapel and onto the Basilica.

Since it is such a holy place, you are not supposed to take photos or talk in the Chapel. Ryan read one of the signs wrong and was convinced we could’nt even hold hands, but after seeing the same sign, we discovered it was really talking about clothing restrictions, not hand holding! Anyways, we were in awe of the Chapel once we entered. Just the scale of the paintings and how significant they were was inspiring. We spent a good 20 minutes just admiring the various frescos and pointing out the areas our guide mentioned within each painting.

Eventually, we moved down to the Basilica and entered it’s doors. That place is just so shockingly massive that you feel like the size of an ant, it is detailed down to the last paint stroke, stunningly opulent and inspiring how much care was involved over its 120 years of construction. You need all of the adjectives in the book to describe it. We saw quite a few bride and groom couples walking through the Basilica as well. Apparently, over the summer the Pope will bless marriages within 2 months of getting married, so couples come in their wedding attire to Mass to be blessed, and then take pictures all over the city. Considering we were on our honeymoon, I loved seeing all of the happy couples and checking out all of the wedding dresses.

We had about 1.5 hours to make our way over to the Colosseum for our next tour at 3 PM. Being the public transport pros we’ve become this trip, it was back on the Metro to meet our next guide. Quite a few people from our Vatican tour were also on our Colosseum tour as well – it was a long day for all of us.

We got another headset for this tour to listen to our guide. I really liked the headsets because the guide doesn’t have to yell to the group, it makes hearing the guide super easy, and you can go look at something without losing the group and missing out on information.

The Colosseum wasn’t too crowded and we were in under 5 minutes. While this was my second time at the Colosseum, I was still in awe. I am fascinated by the gladiators and have watched all of the shows and movies that come out around the subject. I find ancient Rome, its politics, mythology, and history so interesting.

One of the main themes of both of our tours was the Pope’s influence on things. Over the years,  the Popes destroyed much of the Colosseum to reuse the marble and statues for other buildings like the Vatican. Since they took a lot of the metal frame work within the walls of the Colosseum, there was not enough to support the walls during a large earth quake and much of the northern wall fell as a result. The Colosseum was basically used as a mine to get materials until 1749 when Pope Benedict XIV decided to preserve it. It would have been such a spectacle to see back in 87 AD in its glory days.

Much of the other sites we saw that day had the same story as the Colosseum. They were huge, intricate buildings that were made with opulence and then destroyed for material use. Those buildings that did remain intact were only so because the Church deemed them important and kept them up to date. Thankfully now, all of those ruins are preserved.

We walked up the Palatine Hill and learned about a massive palace that was once there. We walked through it’s gardens and grounds and again, were astonished by the sheer size of it.

There were also some amazing vista points looking over the Forum from the Hill.

We then went down into the Forum and walked the ancient roads of Rome. It was interesting how Rome was built on different levels as people would just build on top of older buildings. Because of the various levels, city planning for Rome is difficult because builder’s never know what they will find once they break ground.

We were pretty exhausted after our tour, but Ryan was still willing to walk over to the Trastevere area where our Biking guide from the day prior said the best restaurants were. We walked for about 20 minutes before happening upon a row of really cute places with great menus. We looked at all of their menus and saw some of the food people were eating, and opted to eat at Ditta Trinchetti. What a great idea that was! The kitchen was right behind us and we could see the chefs making our food. We had some delicious olive bread to start, and then I had the most amazing carbonara of my life. Ryan had a lasagna that was mouth-watering as well and I would have eaten there the rest of the trip if I could.

Right before we tabbed out, the power went out for the entire restaurant! It took them a few minutes to get back up and running, but then the credit card machines didn’t want to connect! Our waitress gave us some delicious lemon cookies to munch on while we waited and, after about 7 attempts to process our card, we finally paid for our meal. We had about a 30 minute walk back to the hotel, so we grabbed some gelato for the way back, and admired the Castel Sant’Angelo and other sites we came across along our moon lit stroll back to the hotel.

Honeymoon to Croatia and Italy

Honeymoon to Croatia and Italy

What a whirlwind the weekend has been! After marrying the love of my life at the Trinity River Audubon Center outside of downtown Dallas on Saturday, my new husband and I set off Sunday afternoon for our honeymoon to Croatia and Italy.

We decided to honeymoon in Croatia after hearing that it was just as beautiful as the Amalfi Coast in Italy, but with fewer tourists and lower costs.  After, seeing photos of Plitvice Lakes National Park online and being avid watchers of the best show ever, aka Game of Thrones, which is partially filmed in Dubrovnik, we set our hearts on Croatia and started looking at flights.

We wanted to book through American Airlines to get points, however, American’s site said the fastest route to Dubrovnik was +$3K with 40+ hours of travel and 3-4 stops! I couldn’t believe that was our only option so I started researching alternatives. I found some reasonably priced, direct American flights to various places in Europe and then researched European airlines that flew from those hubs to Croatia. The cheapest and quickest route was via a 10-hour, direct flight to Rome and then a cheap, 50-minute flight to Dubrovnik on Vueling airlines, for a total travel time of 14 hours and a few hundred dollars in bonus savings. We also decided to utilize our layover destination by tacking on another week to our honeymoon in Italy! When in Rome, right?

I find trip planning to be an essential part of the travel experience because it gives me months to daydream with excitement about all of the fun things planned, however, with all of the wedding planning on top of a busy work load, I gave myself a break from honeymoon planning and went the travel agency route for the Croatia part of our trip. Zicasso tours, a luxury travel site that curates top travel agencies across the world and matches you with the best agencies in the destination you are looking to go to, had some amazing Croatian itineraries. I filled out my travel interests on the site and was introduced to Andrea, a Croatian travel planner living in the US. She put together an amazing itinerary for us. I compared the cost / details of her plan against what I could book myself to make sure we were getting a good deal, and things lined up perfectly so we booked the trip!

When booking through an agent, I always suggest price comparing their recommendations as they can up-charge by hundreds to thousands over the same trip if you booked on your own. The cost of connivence can be expensive! For example, when I looked into offers for the Italy portion of the trip, the proposal was over $2K more than what I could book it for AND I found 5 star hotels within my lower budget when the proposal only had 4. Since I have been to Italy before and knew what I wanted to do that, I decided to save money and plan that leg on my own.

Since we were leaving around noon on the day after our wedding, we had all of our gear packed for our trip beforehand so we could grab our bags and head straight to the airport. With all of the “marrying my best friend” excitement, I literally could not fall asleep and I watched the clock until 6 AM the morning of our trip. Unfortunately for me, my alarm was set for 8 and I was so exhausted. Thank goodness for travel induced adrenaline!

Check-in at the airport was easy and we found some awesome massaging neck pillows to relax us on the plane. Yes, they were 100% worth it and I am ashamed of my previous judgement of neck-pillow enthusiasts.

Best purchase ever- massaging neck pillow

After a quick bite to eat, we were on the plane and ready for take-off. I tried to sleep for al little while but ended up watching 3 movies instead. While the 9 hour flight to Rome went quickly, our 3.5 hour layover in Rome took a while. We didn’t have our gate information so we took the airport tram to a central terminal, went through security, and sat by a coffee shop to wait for our 11:45 AM flight gate to populate. An hour later, we still did not have gate information and were falling asleep, so we decided to walk around. We went the wrong way and took the tram back to our original terminal. We still did not have gate information and we couldn’t find a Vueling counter so we decided to hang by an information screen for a while. There was nothing to do and we were pretty unimpressed by the Rome airport. We twiddled our thumbs there for about 2 hours and, with one hour until takeoff, we were concerned that our flight info was still missing. I went to the restroom and returned to a frantic husband exclaiming that our flight started boarding already at gate E9 while we were at E-61! We had 45 minutes to switch terminals, go through security (again), run to our gate, and check-in for our flight since we could not do so online. Talk about a panic! When we finally ended up in the right terminal, we saw it was filled with awesome shops and restaurants which would have easily made our layover much more entertaining. That was a bummer but at least we got to the gate right in time. We took a shuttle to our Vueling plane and got two aisle seats next to each other. I tried to get some sleep on the 50 minute flight and ended up using my neighbors shoulder as a pillow – oops!

Our walk on the run way in the Dubrovnik airport

The flight went quickly and our plane was literally the only one at the Dubrovnik airport. While all 5 airplane terminals were open, we deplaned on the runway, took a 2 minute shuttle (it honestly would have been quicker to walk) to the security line, and were out of the airport in 15 minutes or so. We had a driver waiting to take us to the Hotel Dubrovnik Palace and were pleasantly surprised when the driver lead us a suped-up Mercedes. Living the lux life, right?!

The view on the drive to the hotel was astonishing and we got a glimpse of Old Town Dubrovnik (aka King’s Landing from GOT). We drove another 10 minutes or so from Old Town and to our hotel which was right on the coast. Boy was it beautiful!

We got upgraded to a junior suite and were flabbergasted by the room. There was champagne waiting for us, we had a living room, 2 bathrooms, and a huge balcony with the most beautiful view. We unpacked and relaxed, finally able to be on our honeymoon officially.

After freshening up and popping our bottle of champagne, we decided to explore the hotel. The hotel had a beautiful spa, quite a few restaurants, a scuba shop, and a pool with a swim up bar right next to the water. The ocean looked a little too choppy for us to take a dip, so we went to the bar by the water for some cocktails before dinner.

Dinner was at the hotel’s Maslina Tavern restaurant that overlooked the ocean. The restaurant was so romantic with live music and an amazing view of the sunset.

Our first dinner on our honeymoon at the Our view from our room at the Dubrovnik Palace Hotel, Croatia

We enjoyed a delicious squid ink seafood risotto, crispy sea bass, and duck with roasted sweet potatoes, plum sauce, and red cabbage. The seafood was caught that day and, boy, it was delicious!

With full stomachs and a little wine in our system, it was time for some much needed sleep at a scandalously late, 8 PM bed time.

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