When we first started planning our Europe trip, life was crazy. I was working on a puzzle of Vernazza, and all I could think about was how I wanted to sit on the shore, listen to the waves crash, and just enjoy a simpler life for awhile. Cinque Terre became my obsession because it represented something far more simple than what I was currently experiencing. When I finally made the decision that we needed to stay a few days in the villages (more on that soon!), I started looking into things to do. Outside of hiking, I found a couple of cooking classes, but none of them were scheduled during the time that we would be there. Making pesto in Cinque Terre also became an obsession, and I was so excited when I found this class* on Viator!
Though Levanto isn’t exactly one of the Cinque Terre villages, it was a short 20-minute train ride from our hotel in Manarola. It took us about 15 minutes to walk from the train station to La Nicchia, but it was a pretty straight shot. We were the only ones scheduled that day and they had prepared an elaborate spread of olives, olive oil (so smooth!), bread, pesto, and wine. The instructor started out by explaining via demonstration how pesto is made using the traditional marble and wood tools and how to take the center veins out of garlic to prevent it from making your food taste bitter. Once she was finished, she spread it onto toasted bread for us to try. It was SO good. We had eaten pesto the night before in Manarola and thought it was good, but it didn’t even begin to compare to the fresh stuff!
After that tasting, she let us make our own. The recipe is really straightforward – basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, with a little bit of olive oil. All fresh, all tasty. Our pesto had a little more parmesan than hers, just the way my husband likes it. We were amazed at how bright green it turned once it was almost ready…. and then we proceeded to eat all of it and try more of the store’s products. I really loved the pasta that you could cook, roll out, and stamp with your own personal pasta logo… but who has a pasta logo besides a pasta house?!
One thing that I was really surprised about was how much I liked the cioccolatini sciacchetrà! These chocolates are filled with a local sweet wine, and I definitely brought a bag of them back for my mom! I knew I didn’t want to haul a marble bowl around Europe for the next two weeks so we didn’t buy the materials to make pesto at home… but I did send a whole box of pasta, sauces and other goodies back to the States. It arrived a couple days after we did (almost 2 weeks after we bought them) and everything was perfectly packed. I can’t wait to enjoy all of it… and pretend like I’m back in Cinque Terre… minus the sea breeze and the view, of course.
Making pesto in Cinque Terre was definitely one of my most favorite activities (and number 1 on my Top 10 list!) on this trip. If you can’t make it to a class (but you should – it’s only an hour!), make the trip to the store and pick up some of their products. The La Nicchia staff was warm, friendly, and excited to share their goodies. They definitely make some of the best pesto around, but I found a restaurant in Vernazza that wasn’t too bad! More on that when I tell you all about Cinque Terre and why it needs to be on your travel bucket list.
We’re headed to A&M today to watch my brother-in-law receive his Ph.D!! It’s just a quick up and back trip, so I’m just going to throw these things out there this week… I confess that…
…the behavior of one Junior League member made me think about quitting this week… and I am so hurt that I could spit nails. The lack of professionalism, the lack of compassion, and the lack of being willing to work out a solution to a real life, sincere problem – particularly when I put myself out there and owned up to my mistakes (and my freaking life for the past six months) was so astounding to me. But then I thought about it… and I realized that I’m actually just disappointed in the behavior of ONE person… so I’m going to try and figure things out. But… let me tell you, it’s hard to be a JL member this week. It’s exactly what everyone thinks of when they think of Junior League. And that makes me REALLY sad…. particularly since I’ve sponsored girls every year I’ve been in the League… and this definitely made me second guess it.
…that I have a table runner addiction. I was hanging them all up in the coat closet… and they take up half of it. BUT! It’s such an easy way to change the look of a room.
…that I finally went and got a massage last night. I’ve needed one since before we went to Europe… but I haven’t made it a priority. I need to do better at self-care.
…that I haven’t even started reading the 70-page paper I’m supposed to read for Monday. And I’m in complete denial that I’m boarding a plane for DC on Monday morning for a conference with the leaders in higher education.
…that when I’m totally overwhelmed (which is basically all the time these days), I imagine being back in this city with my husband. Seriously. Florence is my happy place.
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten path Rome Travel Guide, this isn’t the post for you. It’s more designed for the first-time traveler to Rome. The person who wants to see as much as possible in a short time frame and know some tips and tricks about how to make the most of your time. Basically, I’m not a Rome expert. I am, however, someone who is in love with how ancient Rome peeks around every corner of the city and I want to know more about how the juxtaposition of modern and ancient can come together in such a complementary way.
Leonardo Express (from FCO) – This beats taking a taxi all day every day. It’s a little bit of a walk from baggage claim, but it’s totally worth it. You can buy a ticket from the automated machines on the concourse or you can buy them from the Tabacchi shops on the concourse (no surcharge!). It’s 14 euro per person and the journey is about 30 minutes, but we spent two hours sitting in traffic on a Sunday evening last year AND it cost about 50 euro!!
Metro – Admittedly, in light of the recent terrorist attacks, we didn’t take the metro as much as we planned to, but when we did, it was quick, efficient and safe. The stations were quite crowded and the lines at the kiosks were LONG so we bought tickets from the Tabacchi shops (are you sensing a theme here?).
Taxis – We took a few taxis… and let me give you this advice – do not get in a taxi if the meter isn’t running. After talking to a couple of taxi drivers about the best restaurant for Cacio e Pepe, they suggested a restaurant in Trastevere. We got in the cab and were so excited about our luck that we didn’t notice that they didn’t flip on the meter. A 7 euro cab ride ended up costing us 22 euro. Lesson learned. Learn from our mistakes. (Also… the restaurant they took us to wasn’t even open… so we ended up wandering around to find somewhere else. Sigh.)
Your own two feet – Truthfully, there’s no better way to see Rome than walking. So much of Rome can’t be experienced in a cab, on the metro, or on a bus. You need to be able to peer in the foundations of buildings to see an ancient civilization, crane your neck up in awe at the gigantic structures, and appreciate the cobblestone steps that were used for horses. You need to roam (Rome?) the small side streets to find tiny, delicious restaurants, cinnamon gelato, and ancient treasures. There are so many places taxis can’t go, and there are few places in ancient Rome that the metros do go. Wander, get lost, and don’t forget to look above and beneath you.
Boscolo Exedra Rome – We stayed here last year and the location really can’t be beat. We actually walked over to the hotel from Termini (since our luggage didn’t show up for three days)… and it was so easy that we ended up walking back to Termini when we caught our train to Cinque Terre. There’s a metro station just a few steps from the front door, a taxi stand right across from the hotel, a supermarket a couple blocks away on Via Nazionale, and it’s a (relatively) short walk from almost all of the major tourist sites. For those reasons (and more), we decided to return this year. There are definitely more beautiful neighborhoods to stay in that would have a more authentic feel, but as far as a location that is convenient to sightseeing in the Centro Storico, the Boscolo is a great option!
It’s a beautiful hotel, and since it’s a part of Marriott, I thought I could put my platinum status to good use. Unfortunately, there seems to be a disconnect between Marriott and Boscolo systems, and I actually had to give them my Marriott number to receive my platinum benefits (and I’m still trying to get my points credited – Marriott has really failed me over the last year but that’s another post)… but they sent up a bottle of wine and some snacks as our platinum arrival gift. Our superior room had no view, but it was extremely large (especially compared to our classic room last year) with an awesome bathroom. The water pressure is always great, the beds are comfortable after long flights, and if I’m being TOTALLY honest, the best part of the Boscolo (aside from the location) is the ETRO Relent toiletries. I’m straight up obsessed with the bath salts. I’m sad that they don’t seem to be available for private purchase!
Rome Travel Guide – Where to Eat
Best (easy) meal after a transatlantic flight – La Montecarlo (Vicolo Savelli, 13) – sit outside on the cobblestones, enjoy the boisterous Italians around you, order the pizza (or the Cacio e Pepe if you must), enjoy the house wine, the fried meat-stuffed olives, and savor the fact that you’re in Rome! If you’re feeling up to it, you’re a stone’s throw from any of the beautiful monuments. On our last two trips this has been our first stop…. and we always make the walk from the Boscolo – both ways – to get over our jet lag and stretch our legs!
Best Pizza – Da Remo (Piazza Santa Maria Liberatrice 44) – After we got ripped off by the cabbie for the restaurant that did not exist, we found ourselves wandering around Testaccio in search of food. Most places were completely reserved, but Remo welcomed us like we were old friends. The pizza was crisp and tasty, the wine was cheap, and the servers were friendly. We were the only people speaking English in the joint, and it filled up fast. I’m glad we got there early!
Best Place to Find Something for Everyone – Il Pomodorino (Via Campania 45/e) – Don’t be fooled by the extensive menu in 5 languages or the large size of the restaurant. This place is worth a look. From the black olive pate bruschetta, to the proscuitto, to the pizza, to the pasta bolognese, I’m not sure we encountered anything we didn’t devour. The service was really good, too.
I’ve mentioned before that my husband is a tour junkie. After this last trip, he might have gotten me hooked on them too. We had some amazing tours, but here are my favorites in Rome (affiliate links used and denoted by an asterisk).
Skip the Line Colloseum and Ancient Rome Tour* – Ask for Igor. Igor is quite possibly the most knowledgable guide I’ve ever had in Rome. His stories about ancient Rome flow beautifully with the tour, and there wasn’t a single question that appeared to stump him. He was excited, enthusiastic, funny, but most importantly, knowledgable. The tour starts at the Colosseum and ends at the Forum. You’ll see the various levels of the Colosseum before ending on the floor of it, finding out which of the urban legends are true and which are false! You’ll understand (and marvel) how the ancient Romans were actually engineering geniuses and figure out who exactly is responsible for the European trend of paying for access to restrooms. (“Money doesn’t stink.”) I had originally booked this tour to satisfy my husband who keeps insisting that he’s going to name our children Vespasian, Hadrian, Leonides, and Thmysticales (sp?)… but I actually really enjoyed it, so ask for Igor!
Early Access: Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel* – Disclaimer – we did this tour last year and I included it on my Best Tours of Rome post, but in case you missed that, I’m offering another review of it here. When I was a poor college student, I was enamored with the idea of seeing the Vatican museums… and that excitement quickly turned to frustration when I was being herded through the museums (and subsequently the Sistine Chapel) with hundreds of other tourists. ENTER THIS TOUR. Yes, it starts early in the morning – I believe our meet time was 7:00am but it is 100% worth it!!! We were divided up into smaller groups of less than 20, ushered through security, and given an escorted tour through the museum… One of my favorite moments was sitting in the (empty) Vatican courtyard as the sun peeked over the buildings. and then when we made it to the Sistine Chapel… there were less than 50 people in there. I was able to sit in every single corner of that beautiful chapel and appreciate it from every vantage point instead of being packed in like sardines. Since it was the last stop on our tour, we were able to stay in there as long as we wanted. It was one of those amazing once-in-a-lifetime type of experiences that I think everyone should take advantage of!
Day Trip to Tivoli and Hadrian’s Villa* – I’ve been to Rome four times and this was the first time I’ve felt like I had seen enough previously to make the trip to Villa D’Este and Hadrian’s Villa. I had done a ton of research, and I ultimately decided that this tour was the most straightforward way to make this happen. Our tour guide was pretty difficult to understand, but the villas themselves were absolutely incredible. If you have any interest in engineering, architecture or design (the mosaic tile work was incredible!), this tour will leave your mind reeling. The bus ride from Rome was quick and easy, and we were deposited at Hadrian’s Villa for a few hours before moving on to Tivoli and Villa D’Este. We had a little less than an hour for lunch which was just enough time to warm up (it was cool and drizzly that afternoon) before heading to Villa D’Este. Villa D’Este was absolutely beautiful despite the rain, and I could just imagine how incredible it must have been to live there and wander the gardens. I quite think I would enjoy that… particularly on a pleasant, warm day.
Rome Night Walking Tour* – Again, we did this tour last year and it was a great introduction of the city. In fact, I would argue that you should do this in your first day or two… but we really like to get a sense of what is important to a city so we can come up with what to focus on over the next few days! My husband really enjoyed this tour. We went from Piazza Navona to the Pantheon to the newly-opened (!!) Trevi Fountain to the “Wedding Cake” to the Palatine Hill to the Forum and ended at the Colosseum. I enjoyed the tour because I was able to photograph the changing light of evening… which was absolutely gorgeous. You must see the monuments all lit up – it’s one of the most beautiful parts of Rome!
Well, after 9 (long) months, our renovation that was supposed to take 6-8 weeks (and “up to 12 weeks if something seriously went wrong”) is finally properly permitted, inspected, green tagged, and complete. It only took 9 months, a lot of tears, litigation, negotiation, the de-permitting of our single biggest investment ever, a lot more than we bargained for, and probably years off my life… but it’s DONE… and if you follow me on snapchat (@journeyofdoing), you have probably seen sneak peeks of my elation of finally beginning to move stuff in. We’re not settled into the house yet due to my mom’s surgery last week… but suffice it to say, I’ll be home soon. I just need to find our linens, our silverware, and a few other essential things… but it feels good to know that our life will finally be going back to some semblance of normal. I realized this week that I have spent the entire school year outside of my home. THE ENTIRE SCHOOL YEAR.
The absolute chaos and uncertainly across the board in my life for these past 9 months have definitely given away to my less than stellar personality flaws. I haven’t been the boss or leader I wanted to be when we started this school year. I’ve had a shorter fuse than usual, particularly with my sweet husband who really does everything he can to try and make me happy. I have, at least, contained my frustration to those in my closest circle (inexcusable all the same) except for the occasional outburst on a customer service rep when I have to call to get help and they don’t understand what I’m saying or what I’m asking for (not my proudest moments… but really… get rid of voice recognition prompts). I am, however, proud to say that I only lost my patience with our original contractor once or twice (and oh boy buddy did he deserve more of my wrath). I keep trying to tell my staff that I’m a better boss when my life isn’t falling apart – but I don’t expect them to take me at my word…. they’ve yet to see a time this year when my life doesn’t seem like I’m a better boss. Not at any of them have said that I’m a bad boss – but I do feel like I’ve failed them to some degree… I remain in awe of everything they have accomplished this year. Simply put, they are amazing and I want to be them.
I mention all of this because I will caution you – renovating isn’t for the faint of heart. Even if you hire a (good) GC, it seems like you still have to be on top of them (lest you get screwed like we did). I wouldn’t expect anyone to care as much as you do, and by all means, know the laws in your state because Texas is NOT homeowner friendly when things do go wrong. The laws are very clearly written by the contractor lobby. (Sigh. Politics.)
All that being said, I look forward to sharing more about our renovation as we settle into our house. And I do have to say this… it sure is beautiful. I can’t believe how well everything came out with me playing interior decorator. It makes all those hours we spent driving all over Dallas worth it.
Before we left for Europe, my mom got a phone call from her doctor asking her to go get another mammogram. They saw something small and they just wanted her to get it checked out. When we returned from Europe, my mom broke the news to us that she does indeed have breast cancer. She found out while she was on vacation with her friends. She kept it from us because she didn’t want to ruin our trip. In the interim, my cousin took her to the doctor and they put a treatment plan in place. They scheduled an MRI for when I got back to make sure it’s not in both breasts and surgery was scheduled for this past Monday. She came through that like a champ according to her surgeon, but we’re anxiously awaiting results from pathology. Soon, she’ll have radiation five days a week for six weeks. She has been very calm and very matter of fact – but she also said she had already had her screaming, rage-y fit before we got home.
I, on the other hand, can’t even process this right now. The only thing I know is that I’m getting by with a little (a lot) of help from my friends. I told one of my staff members last Friday because we were supposed to have a meeting with a community organization on Monday… and he asked to pray with me on the phone. I bawled as he spoke words of healing over us. I don’t know what will happen next, but I do know that this Mother’s Day… I just need to be with my mom. We were originally scheduled to go to Los Angeles for a baby shower, but that didn’t end up panning out… so we’ll be here… which admittedly is probably a good thing. But it also kind of sucks.
At the risk of being preachy, don’t forget to celebrate your mom this week. Appreciate her, love on her, do whatever it is that will let her know that you care. And if you’re a mom already, love on your babies. Make sure they know how much you love them.
And by all means… please don’t stop following me because I seem to constantly be the bearer of bad news these days… I promise that I have all sorts of fun stuff coming up – including (but not limited to) baby shower goodness, our house, and of course, our 2016 European adventure. 😉