Venice

Guys, look!  I made it to the final post about our trip to Italy.  I’m pretty proud, because I think it took me months and months to post about our last trip to Europe.  This is progress!  Also, I’m not really sure how to tell you about Venice because I had slightly mixed feelings on it.  On the one hand, it was beautiful and unique and just an experience like no other.  On the other hand, it was cloudy most of the time, it was very confusing to get around and I was maybe just sort of tired by this leg of the trip.  Still, when I think back on it, I feel so lucky to have been there and it really truly grew on me in the end ♥

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First, there are NO roads in Venice.  I thought that was a well-known fact, but every time I told someone that, they were surprised.  It’s true!  So once our train got in, we had to catch the water bus to our hotel.  We thought we lucked out because one of the stops was STEPS from where we were staying, meaning we didn’t have to lug our suitcases around, but it also meant that bus pulled up every 10 minutes and made a bunch of noise that I wasn’t psyched about at 2 AM 😛  Also, we had requested a room with a canal view and when they put us on the ground floor, with a window that was actually lower than the dock, I was so disappointed.  Luckily, we were able to switch rooms to one that actually had a balcony, from which you could definitely still see the canal, but this did not feel like a good start.

We had a so-so dinner at Hostaria Osottoosopra, which I definitely can’t recommend, but still, that nighttime view of the canal will wash away any memories of disappointing rooms and dinners!

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A new day and a fresh start!  We had breakfast at Farini, which was okay (actually Joey liked it a lot), but I was still hoping to find a good stand-at-the-counter spot for us.  Afterward, we made our way to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, which is lovely!  We were not the only ones with that idea so there was a bit of a line but we had nowhere else to be.  Contemporary art can be so weird sometimes — we literally saw a framed piece of white paper?? — but for the most part, it’s all so different and interesting that I usually prefer it over earlier styles that all start to blur together for me.  I know the art was the point, but we thought Peggy’s house was also really cool!

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A few hours later, we walked ourselves to lunch at Osteria Al Squero.  All of the cities we went to in Italy had different food styles and in Venice… CICCHETTI!  The concierge at our hotel explained it as “like tapas,” but it’s more like bruschetta with different toppings, if you ask me.  Gosh, I loved this concept so much!!!  We popped in, pointed at the ones we wanted and took our plate outside to eat by the canal.  I think the caprese was my favorite (that pesto underneath!) but the mortadella was pretty good too.  This is also when I discovered I do NOT like an Aperol Spritz.  Sorry!

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We spent the rest of the day strolling Venice, including St. Mark’s Square and we even met some other Coloradoans on the steps of this church!

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We made dinner reservations at Algiubagio but left our hotel a bit early so we could see St. Mark’s Square at night.  All the restaurants in the area have musicians playing alternately and it was really fun to listen to!  Also, how amazing does the basilica look??  Dinner was amazing!  We shared a sardine, fish dip and polenta chip (!) dish to start, then split a linguine dish that tasted to freshly tomato-y and a fish entree that we devoured.  It was Michelin-rated and we felt very fancy but mostly just happy 😛

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A new day in Venice and we finally found THEE breakfast spot: Marchini Time!  We’d actually walked past this place a few times but the name looked suspiciously American, so I’d wrote it off as a tourist trap.  I’m glad I gave in and went because the cappuccinos were the silkiest and their pastry selection was killer.  After breakfast, we made our way to the water bus to check out some of the nearby islands.  First up, the cemetery!  We were amazed at how almost every grave had fresh flowers!

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After the cemetery, we headed to Murano and… just no.  Murano is known for glass blowing, which sounds cool, but in reality, is just shop after shop after shop selling glass trinkets.  Maybe our interest was dampened by the fact that we had ZERO intentions to buy anything.  We did pop into the glassblowing factory real quick to watch actual glassblowers work, so I guess that part was interesting.

On to Burano, which it must be said, is THE CUTEST!  I felt bad for all the people who actually live there while us tourists just walked around taking pictures of all the brightly painted houses.  But how can you resist??  Al Gatto Nero seeemed like to place to go, so we headed over to see if they could seat us for lunch.  The bad news is they were currently full but the good news is they said we could come back at 2!  So we wandered, admired the water, saw a cute garden and then made our way back over.

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What a treat it was!!!  The place was bustling and we were wildly entertained by the big table of Italians next to us, who racked up an €1800 bill!  We started with the calamari and I talked about how good it was for the rest of the day.  Just so lightly breaded and fried and perfectly salted.  It was amazing!!!  We also split the pappardelle scampi with smoked ricotta and even though we argued about whether that squash blossom was for eating or for garnish, we agreed that this pasta was delicious!  A top meal for sure.

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One last stop after Burano… Torchello!  It was small and I think we were only there for something like 20 minutes but it was so quiet and idyllic.  A man was even playing the accordion along the path into the town.  We did not go up that tower, though I think you can?  But we did walk some dirt path by ourselves till we came to the water and turned back around.

After making it back to Venice, we rested up at the hotel and walked to a late dinner… in the rain!  Weirdly, we had bought some cheap umbrellas that morning because it looked like it might rain and were mad when we made it through the day without even a sprinkling, but then it was all worth it.  Except, I definitely could have done without the rain and was not exactly thrilled when we finally made it to Osteria Bancogiro and the back of my legs were wet and my hair was super wind-tangled.  BUT… then our meal was one of the best we had in Italy and it totally turned my mood.  We started with the most interesting version of a caprese salad that had dehydrated tomatoes, basically a lettuce pesto and a little cube of tomato-flavored gelatin.  Joey was weirded out, but I loved it all!  I had a parchment-steamed fish and potato dish for my main course and it was INSANELY GOOD.  I’ll dream of that flavor-packed dish for the rest of my days.  Obviously had tiramisu for dessert 🙂

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Our last full day in Venice and would you look at that… FULL SUN!  I cannot tell you what this sunshine did for my mood, it was wonderful!  Breakfast at Marchini Time, followed by a walk to St. Mark’s Square again to actually go inside some of the buildings.  We went inside St. Mark’s Basilica, paid extra to see the “treasures” and it was quite lame.  Sorry!  But the rest of the basilica was very beautiful.  After that, we headed to the Museo Correr and wandered through for a bit.

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We broke for lunch afterward and headed to Cantinone Già Schiavi for more cicchetti!  It did not disappoint.  After my Aperol Spriz fail, I tried a Campari Spritz and also hated it, ugh!  This is also when I should mention Venice has A LOT of seagulls and pigeons flying about.  Joey is already freaked out by birds so this was not his favorite thing and he was so distracted by them flying about while we ate this.  I think I probably told him to stop being dramatic but then a gull totally swiped the entire plate from a couple next to us!!!  So I guess they really were out to get us.  Also, that’s me gazing off into the distance while Joey took a picture of me on that bridge before an oblivious man decided to walk up and stand right there.  Men!

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After lunch, we walked back to St. Mark’s Square — did I mention we walked 131 miles on this vacation?? — to visit the Doge’s Palace and I just want to tell you I LOVE the Doge’s Palace!!!  Maybe it’s because it’s beautiful and maybe it’s because I sometimes call my dog a “doge,” who knows!  It really is gorgeous though.  After we gazed at it from the outside, we headed inside and through the “Golden Staircase,” which had a sign explaining that it’s called that because it’s golden and a staircase.  Well okay!  We got a kick out of that clock that had animals instead of numbers?  It’s always crab o’clock for me 😛  Joey was really excited about seeing the prison cells and we got to walk across the Bridge of Sighs.  It was convicts’ last view of Venice before being imprisoned, hence the name.  We each took a picture through the limestone and they focused differently, whoa!

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Okay, post-Doge, we decided to go find one last gelato spot and I knew which one I wanted it to be!  We rode the water bus all the way to the train station, then proceeded to wander around for way too long looking for La Mela Verde, which Yelp had shown to be in the area but we could NOT find it.  Joey ended up turning his roaming on so we could look up the address and it was NOT in the area…  extremely annoying, Yelp.  Um, so we maybe just got gelato at the GROM inside the train station, but whatever because it was actually really good!  We rode the water bus all the way back to our hotel and pretended it was a nice water cruise and it was actually the perfect view ♥

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The sun was just starting to set by the time we got back to our hotel, so we quick grabbed our jackets and headed out to find a gondola, because it was now or never!  Yes, these gondolas exist entirely for tourists to ride around in, but it ended up being so romantic and I’m really glad we did it.  They charge a set amount, so it’s nice knowing you don’t  have to hunt around for the best deal.  It was so peaceful as we drifted through the smaller canal areas basically by ourselves.  All the lights from the surrounding homes and restaurants felt extra twinkly 🙂  Since it was our gondolier’s last trip of the night and he needed to dock near the Rialto Bridge, he took us out onto the Grand Canal and actually under the bridge!  What a magical sunset ride ♥

Later that night, we went out for one last Italian dinner at A Beccafico.  It was just warm enough to site outside in the square.  We each ordered a pasta and couldn’t figure out whose was whose, so we maybe switched halfway through and decided we liked each other’s (or our own??) better. Joey was only too excited about the giant tiramisu and complimentary Limoncello at the end of the meal.

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In the morning, we had one last breakfast at Marchini Time, then took a very fast water taxi to the airport and sadly said goodbye to Italy.  What can I say except that I will remember this vacation forever and treasure it always.  Italy is a truly wonderful country that I hope to explore more one day.  And I am so grateful for the chance to take this trip with my favorite travel companion ♥

Roman Holiday

I am struggling to find the words to relay the magic of our two week trip to Italy.  It was all too good to be true!  (And actually, I’m not struggling to find the words because HI, this is a 3400 word post!)

I guess a natural starting point would be the very beginning, when we decided to stop talking about going to Italy “someday” and just booked the flight.  I’ll be honest and say I still felt some hesitation because a trip that far away for that long sounded like it needed a lot of planning and… I just wasn’t up for it.  I wanted it to feel relaxed.  I didn’t really care about seeing it all or even really knowing what “it all” was.  A small part of me felt bad about this and like I was slacking by not intensely researching or planning but a much bigger part of me felt like this was okay, good even!  And it would all work out in the end.  So, we booked the basics — hotels, trains, a Vatican Museum tour, two dinners and winged the rest.  And I just want to tell you (especially all my exhausted overplanners), that it all worked out PERFECTLY ♥

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After a million hours of travel — including a short layover in Frankfurt, Germany where we saw just so many pretzels! — we made it to Rome and what a dream it was!!!  Guys, when we originally planned our destinations I did not care about seeing Rome AT ALL.  In my mind, it was crowded and dirty and underwhelming but it seemed like the easiest place to fly into and the more I thought about it, the more I felt like we should at least hear Rome out.  Boy am I glad we did, because it ended up being my favorite stop on the trip BY FAR.  First of all, it is gorgeous.  The buildings reminded me so much of my beloved Paris and on top of that, there are some of the most jaw-dropping ruins and monuments and statues just everywhere you look.  I could not get over it!

We stayed at the Hotel Chapter Roma, which was so unassuming on the outside and just beautiful on the inside.  Plus it was right near Roscioli Caffé Pasticceria, where we went every single morning for our cappuccino and pastry 🙂  Even though Rome looks and feels kind of big — and we did definitely use taxis a good number of times — everything is pretty walkable if you’re willing and our hotel seemed like a good location to get almost anywhere.  Highly recommended!

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As soon as we got settled in our hotel — our room had this big window that I popped my head out of every morning to survey the glory of another Roman day — I was like “I’m hungry, where’s pizza??”  So we walked over to Pizzeria Florida and were introduced to the beauty of the grab-n-go slice.  I’m sure there’s a term for these pizza spots that are all over Rome, but the gist is, you go in, point to the pizza you want and they will cut you a strip WITH SCISSORS, then fold it in half, wrap it in parchment and hand it to you, to stroll to Vatican City with.  This particular spot heated ours up for us and JUST WOW.  Welcome to Rome!

Pizza in hand and happiness in our hearts, we took our time walking to Vatican City, wandering into pretty courtyards, crossing over the Tiber River, admiring gorgeous government buildings and then we finally made it to our destination.  There was some sort of ceremony going on inside that they were airing on giant TVs outside, so that was cool!

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We then maybe then accidentally took a really long route to the Vatican Museum but we had a lot of time to kill before our tour and the weather was basically perfect so it wasn’t that bad.  We booked the Friday night tour at 7 PM and I HIGHLY recommend this move.  Friday is the only day they do night tours and we were the first group in so by the time we go to the Sistine Chapel there were maybe 40 people in there??  From the reactions I got when I told people this, that’s pretty amazing.  Also, there was some long line forming outside the museum that we chose not to get in the back of and I’m so glad because they let us right in at 7 and if we had waited in that line, who knows what time it would have been.

The museum is so stunning!  I’m not going to lie, I found all the rooms leading up to the Sistine Chapel more exciting than the actual chapel.  It was smaller than I’d expected, but just imagining how difficult it probably was for Michelangelo to paint that ceiling was surreal.  After we’d wandered through the museum, we took ourselves back out to this courtyard where a brass band was just getting ready to play.  Guys, their opening number was… the Ghostbusters theme song, ha!  This is when we started to get really tired and I maybe considered just going back to the hotel and going to bed but we rallied, took an Uber to Hostaria La Botticella.  In retrospect, this wasn’t one of our best dinners, but as it was out first in Rome and we had nothing to compare it to, it was still really wonderful.  We stared with a caprese salad and that buffalo mozzarella!!!  We’re ruined for cheese after being in Italy.  Also, now is probably a good time to tell you that out of 327 pictures, I have 30, THIRTY, food pictures.  That’s shockingly few!  Turns out, you sometimes just want to eat and enjoy your plate of pasta without snapping a photo and basically raising a flag that says “I’M AN ANNOYING AMERICAN!”  But it also means, I can’t SHOW you how good everything was, I have to TELL you.  And I will tell you this… Italian food is AMAZING.  I had the spaghetti alla carbonara and it was bacon-filled deliciousness and Joey was pretty happy with his gorgonzola gnocchi too!

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This is how every morning started!  With perfect cappuccinos and whatever pastry looked best, standing at the Roscioli Caffé.  Before getting to Italy, I read that Italians quickly drink espresso standing at the bar and I was like “no, I’m not doing that.”  American life is fast-paced enough that true breakfast luxury involves sitting down and taking your time, but then we walked into Roscioli and got drawn into what the locals were doing and ended up loving it!  I’d say it was 10% intimidating and 90% lovely.  The baristas are so professional and patient with us English speakers.  This is also where Joey discovered the Maritozzo, an Italian bun that they’ll fill with whipped cream.  It was really good!

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Our routine for the entire trip was to wake up around 9 AM, go get breakfast, come back to our hotel to make a plan for the day and grab our water bottle — which you can fill up at any of the many fountains all over Italy! — then come back around 7 PM to put our feet up for a bit, shower and get ready for dinner around 9 or 9:30 PM and it was perfect!  I’m a big fan of the late night vacation dinner 🙂  Our plan for the first day was to walk to the Spanish Steps but we got way sidetracked when we stumbled upon the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, aka the Alter of the Fatherland and it was too splendid not to check out.  It’s a monument to the first king of unified Italy, so there was a museum exhibit inside explaining the Unification of Italy.  We also walked up all those stairs to the Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven, where a wedding was going on!  I need to mention how BIG all these Roman sights are.  They are massive and it just makes it that much more impressive and beautiful.

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Afterward, we made it to the Trevi Fountain with ALL OUR FRIENDS.  Yikes, it is so busy over there.  I had to force myself to focus because though the crowd and all those cheesy photos are a real turnoff and my instinct was to get out as quickly as possible, the fountain is actually STUNNING and really worth admiring for a bit.  We passed the Pantheon right after!  There was a big gap in the line going in, so we maybe cut in?  I don’t know but we got in real fast and whoa, you can tell just how old this building is!  That oculus is real cool and we got a kick out of everyone taking selfies from below to get a picture of it.  I definitely caught Joey taking one 😛

Pizza break!  We made our way over to Forno Campo de’ Fiori for a lunchtime slice.  I’m not going to lie, the area immediately surrounding this pizza spot was not clean, so we quickly grabbed our slices and walked over to the Piazza Navona to eat them.  It was much nicer — and had some good people mime watching — over there!  These were not heated up and I think I preferred it that way.  I got a really simple tomato and fresh mozzarella slice but whoa, they perfectly salted it and I was so blown away!  We wandered about for the rest of the day and stopped for a drink at La Buvette and our first gelato at Frigidarium.  There was a short line but it moved fast.  This was perhaps the creamiest gelato we ate but I just wanted a single scoop in a cup and they were kind of pushy about adding extra scoops and cones and whipped cream.

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We took our chances without a reservation as Masto and were lucky enough to grab a little table near the counter, where we enjoyed this amazing cheese board.  I had ravioli for my main course and it maybe wasn’t anything to write home about but Joey’s cannelloni was amazing, plus dessert, grappa and chocolate pieces made me forget about that ravioli.  The woman who owned this place was so so generous by filling then refilling our glasses of grappa on the house ♥  Also, the power went out mid-meal so it was quite the eventful dinner!

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Hey, look who finally made it to the Spanish Steps the next day!  It was a bit busy down at the bottom but thinned out once you made it up to the top and what a view!  The Borghese Gardens are above the steps and we couldn’t wait to see them.  There was a 50K race going on inside!  We sat on a bench across from the finish to watch the racers come in and it was very awe-inspiring.  Afterward, we walked through the gardens and came across a place to rent an electric bike!  Joey did all the work and my steering wheel was actually just for looks but you best believe I used it.  Going downhill was really fun until you realized you had to pedal yourself back up.

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After we had biked up an appetite, we caught a cab to Bonci, where a small crowd had also gathered.  That’s when you know it’s good!  We grabbed a number and anxiously waited for our turn as their closing time approached.  We made it in time and this was definitely our best grab-n-go pizza of the trip!  I even drank an Italian Coke because when in Rome!  We grabbed a couple suppli (just the classic ones, because the carbonara and spaghetti versions felt a bit gimmicky) and I was into it but I don’t know if Joey really was.  We strolled about after and ended up just walking all the way back to our hotel.  I think it was a couple of miles, but what else did we have to be doing anyway?

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We had a 9 PM reservation at Da Cesare that night and WOW.  This was not my favorite restaurant atmosphere (a bit too quiet and while all Italian service is more professional than warm, this felt a bit frigid), but THE FOOD, MY GOD.  I’ve spent a lot of time ranking the meals we ate on this trip and I’ll tell you, this one is definitely very very close to the top.  We started with the fried eggplant and we were blown away!  It is crunchy on the outside but somehow so light and delicate and soft inside.  We also got the fried gnocchi because how could we not?  But I will say I wish we had skipped it because it was pretty heavy and filling as an appetizer before pasta dishes.  I had the rigatoni alla gricia and it was absolutely perfect.  I have zero criticisms.  Joey reported that has cacio e pepe was very peppery, but that gnocchi had a cacio e peppe sauce underneath so he may have just had pepper burnout.  We had the panna cotta for dessert because Katie Parla said we had to and it tasted like ever-so-slightly sweet high quality cream in the most interesting and surprising way.

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The next morning, we had our standard cappuccino at Roscioli but decided to try something different for breakfast and walked over to Boccione l’Antico Forno for their ricotta and sour cherry tart.  It was just a little place and the women inside were busy working but I was able to point at what we wanted and how many pieces and this thing was insane!  I’ll be honest, I could not finish it because that’s a lot of ricotta but I’ll remember how good it was forever.  I read some bad reviews talking about the “rude service” and rolled my eyes.  Heaven forbid someone’s only concern not be to give you attention.

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The Colosseum!  For some reason, the Colosseum was the sight I least cared about seeing and I don’t even know why.  Maybe because I’ve seen a million pictures of it and because it sounded like a whole thing to go see it, but Joey really wanted to and I’m so glad because it was really amazing to see and interesting to learn about.  I felt weird smiling for pictures at the site of so many deaths, but what can you do?  We bought a combo ticket for the Colosseum, the Forum and Palatine Hill.  You just show up at the Colosseum at the time indicated on your ticket and the line wasn’t too long.  There are SO many people outside trying to sell you a tour or a “skip the line” ticket though!  We saw the fluffiest pup in line ♥

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We briefly considered walking through The Forum and Palantine Hill afterward but we were getting hungry and decided to save those two for the next day and walked to Dar Poeta instead.  This was the best pizza of our trip, hands down!  I was really worried it would be packed because this area was kind of happening as we walked through, but I think it’s just far enough off the main drag that people don’t wander into it as easily.  We got a table right away.  We were right near Otaleg, so we walked over for lunch dessert and oh my, it was good!  I got pistachio and it was salty and perfect.  After this, I got pistachio every time we got gelato, but this was the best flavor by far.

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Since we were already in the Trastavere neighborhood, we decided to stick around.  We really dug that area!  Gianicolo Hill had just the most breathtaking view of the city and it felt like quite the reprieve of silence and space after being near the Colosseum.  We tried to make it into the botanic gardens but ended up taking a trail to a dead end instead, oops!  Still a lovely shaded stroll.  After this, we took a cab back to the hotel.  By the way, we discovered the taxi app was the way to go over Uber/Lift.  Faster and more reliable (until it wasn’t, but more on that later).

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Dinner at Roscioli!  A different Roscioli than the one we’d been going to for breakfast (there’s three locations!) and it was wonderfully cozy in there.  I had really really been looking forward to this dinner experience and the food and service did not disappoint!  But I should mention that it was all Americans in there and it made me realize Americans are the worst.  A table of four young people sat next to us and right away they asked the waiter for the wifi password then later I saw them filming him as he brought their food and it was too obnoxious to handle.

Anyway, we ordered the burrata and sundried tomatoes to start and I think this was the best cheese we ate in all of Italy.  I’ve eaten burrata a handful of times here and was always so unimpressed but THIS?  This was amazing!  We also tried the anchovies (which came recommended) and they were SO SALTY and that’s coming from someone who honestly really loves salt.  I got the rigatoni alla amatriciana and Joey got the carbonara and we ate every single bite and left feeling so happy and satisfied.  Definitely one of our best dinners!

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Back to the Forum and Palatine Hill for our last day in Rome!  No disrespect to the Forum, which was sprawling and, I’m sure, impressive in it’s full former glory but we spent something like three hours wandering the grounds and we really had ancient ruin fatigue by the end.  It’s just really big!  Luckily, it wasn’t too hot but I bet walking this area would be painful in the summer heat.  Palatine Hill was also surprisingly bigger than we’d expected, but it’s lovely up there.  After, we had a really lame lunch at Pizzeria Emma that I’m not even going to waste time writing about.

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Made up for lunch by walking to La Romana, which was an actual gelato shop instead of just a tiny space with a counter.  I got, you guessed it, pistachio but Joey won this one with a chocolate-filled cone, some sort of sweet wine-flavored gelato and a wine-flavored whipped cream!  It was so wild.  There happened to be a nice little park across from the shop, so we enjoyed our gelato there and it all felt so good and happy ♥

Okay, now I have to tell you a sad story.  As we finished our gelato, we decided we might just have time to make it over to the catacombs, but we would have to get there quick.  Our cab got us there with minutes to spare, but we must have been out of range because we could not get the app to work and ended up using the last of our cash, knowing they accepted credit cards at the catacomb ticket office.  When we got to the office, there was a sign saying their credit card machine was down for the day and we were told there was no ATM on the premises.  It was honestly so disappointing and just really bad timing and luck.  The grounds were really beautiful, so we just went on a stroll instead, but man, were we sad.

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We regrouped for our final night in Rome by grabbing a pre-dinner drink at Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà, which turned out to be really great!  They had a really solid selection of Italian beers and we both loved what we got.  Give it a go if you’re in Rome!  Dinner was at Tavern Trilussa, which I was sort of worried might feel touristy and maybe it was but we didn’t notice because we were too busy enjoying literal skillets of pasta.  I convinced Joey to get the truffle pasta and it was so good but I got cacio e peppe and love love loved it!  I took a picture and when I looked at it later, it was just a blur, so maybe don’t wine and photograph 😛

If you stuck with my through this beast of a post, you either have a lot of free time or you’re my mother, but either way, I thank you!  If you just scrolled to the bottom, I’ll give it to you in short: Rome is beautiful, safe, clean, extremely interesting and has such amazing food.  I can’t wait to go back some day ♥  Up next, Lake Como!