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.

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Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik, Croatia

After 11.5 hours of much-needed sleep, we woke up at 8 AM to get ready for our Dubrovnik city tour. We had a delicious breakfast at the hotel and then hopped on the bus for a 15 minute ride to the Pile Gate to meet our guide, Tomislava. She grew up in Croatia and was born in 1991 during the Croatian War of Independence  against Yugoslavia. She told us all about the war and its effects on the city. Apparently, a good portion of Old Town was destroyed in the war by grenades, but UNESCO donated money after the war to restore and protect all of the old buildings. You can still see the shrapnel damage on quite a few of the buildings and the effect the war had on the people there 25 years later. Hearing Tomislava’s stories and seeing the war’s impact on the walls in front of us was so surreal and hard to comprehend considering how sheltered we are in the US.

Tomislava guided us into and through the streets of Old Town, telling us interesting factoids or historical tidbits as we walked. For example, many of the arched doorways are shaped like a “P” so that the owner could lock one side of the door and sell goods outside of the waist-high ledge of the other door. A lot of the merchants we saw sold jewelry specific to their region out of these doors. It is tradition that mothers give their daughters earrings in the style of their region so that the bride can proudly indicate where she is from by wearing the earrings.

We also got to see some areas where Game of Thrones was filmed, including the Red Keep, Tyrion Lannister’s secret entrance to Kings Landing,  and the “Shame” scene path.

We toured with our guide for a little over an hour before she said “Chow” and we were on our own to explore. We opted to buy a City Pass so we could walk the wall along the border of the city and gain access to the various little museums. It took us a while to find one of the four entrances to the wall, but once we were up, we had an awesome view!

We walked about 1/4th of the wall before we opted to stop for lunch at this cute sea food place that our guide recommended. Ryan tried an octopus burger, which was so legit as the octopus was only caught a few hours beforehand, and I had tempura shrimp and oysters (yum!). We even marked our visit with a personalized “we were here” fork declaration for the wall.

After lunch, we took a water taxi to Island Lokrum. The waters were quite wavy, but we got to the island quickly and without any seasickness (thank goodness). Apparently, the island was cursed by monks centuries ago. After years of living there, the monks were kicked off of the island. Before they left, the monks circled the island three times with candles facing down and dripped wax on the ground, placing a curse on the island for anyone who decided to live there until all of the wax eroded from the island. Because of that curse, no one lives on the island and everyone leaves it before night fall.

During the day, the island is a beautiful place! There are wild bunnies and peacocks running around everywhere. I definitely had, as Ryan put it, my “Disney princess moment” while petting some of the wild bunnies.

We walked up to the cliffs and were blown away by the view and the insane wind!

It even started to rain on us and, since we didn’t have an umbrella, we had to follow the peacocks under a tree to shield ourselves from the rain. Fortunately for us, the rain only lasted about 5 minutes, so we were quickly back on our way to hike the island. We walked up one of the steepest hills I’ve ever come across and up to the top of the fort in the middle of the island to see an amazing view of Old Town…

The view of Old Town on the Island of Lokrum, Croatia

After taking in the view for a while, we headed back to the water taxi and across the bay to attempt the monorail up to the top of a near by mountain for another spectacular view of Dubrovnik. Unfortunately for us, the tram was closed because of the wind, so we opted for some cookies and cream gelato instead. The gelato was black and made for some messy faces after eating!

We decided to walk the streets for some window shopping before dinner and took a quick Rosé break at a little wine room down one of the many alleyways. Finally, hunger took us over and we browsed about 15 different restaurants before settling on Spaghetteria Toni. The restaurants in Old Town are pretty expensive and tourist oriented. While I wanted to get something “Croatian”, Ryan was in the mood for pizza, so Spaghetteria Toni had the best of both worlds. Ryan got a giant pizza loaded with everything you could ask for, and I got a Mediterranean gnocchi – pesto gnocchi with tuna and shrimp in a creamy white wine sauce. It was probably the best gnocchi I’ve ever eaten!

After dinner, we hit a grocery store for some take-home Rosé and candy, and hopped back on the bus back to the hotel for a relaxing evening with another amazing view.

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