Sunday, July 2, 2017

Art Teacher Travels: Rome

If y'all follow me on Insta, then you know I recently returned from a 9 day adventure to Italy with my mama. Before leaving, I shared my Top Five Tips for the Traveling Art Teacher. And since I've been back, I posted my needle felted postcards inspired by my trip (more to come!). Now I thought I'd share my trip with y'all! 
While in Italy, mom and I hit Rome, Florence and Venice. Many folks have asked me how I went about planning such a trip: what online travel services we used, hotels we stayed in and city tours we took. I tell you, planning a trip like this can be super stressful and expensive. There were times I honestly wanted to throw in the towel. But once I found the online travel service that worked best for us, everything else fell into place. So I thought I'd not only share my adventures in these three amazing cities with you but also my recommendations. Please feel free to share yours as well, we can all learn about traveling to this beautiful country together!
After doing some serious online shopping for flights, hotels and more, I felt overwhelmed. It was then I started investigating online travel agencies. Having read the reviews of many (and calling them to make sure I could actually talk to a human...which didn't happen often), I settled on Costco Travel. YES, that Costco. You do have to become a member to book your trip. With Costco Travel, I booked our roundtrip tickets from Nashville, our hotels (there are a dozen to choose from depending on what is important to you: location, cost and/or fanciness. I always booked the ones with the best location), our train tickets from city to city and a car service to and from the airport. When I did the side-by-side financial comparison between what I could book versus Costco, it was no contest. Not to mention that Costco was continuously getting me the best rate. At one point, when they were able to get my train tickets cheaper, they refunded my credit card nearly $200. Needless to say, I was thrilled with this travel service and cannot recommend them enough.
Rome, Day 1: When we arrived in Rome, it was 8am. We did our very best to sleep on the plane so we could hit the ground running. It is super important to get yourself acclimated to the timezone you are in to avoid jet lag. Our driver was waiting for us at baggage claim and took us on a wild ride into the old city of Rome. Word to the wise: do NOT rent a car in Rome. Romans drive crazy! Our funny driver told us that stop signs and red lights are just a suggestion and pedestrians stand a very good chance of being run over by a car, motorcycle, Vespa or bike if they are not careful. An hour later, we were in the center of Rome at Hotel delle Nazioni which is just a half a block from Trevi Fountain and a short walk from the Spanish Steps. We couldn't have asked for a better location. 
Our room was not glamorous by any means but it was nice. I was impressed that we were allowed to check in right away. This gave us a hot minute to unload our stuff, glance at the map and take in our living quarters for the next three nights. We had comfy-ish beds, free breakfast and air conditioning...which came in super handy as the temps soared. We were surprised to find a bidet in every hotel (I just assumed that was a French thing). After freshening up, we were read to explore Rome!
It was so incredible to have Trevi Fountain just down the block from our hotel. What an incredible sight to see right away! I had previously been to Italy when I traveled abroad in college (I did my student teaching in Ireland and traveled a bit afterward) but I had never been in Rome. And my mom had never been out of the country! So you can imagine just how thrilled we were to be there. Doesn't the fountain look amazing? Here's what they don't show you on the postcards of Rome:
The herds of people! When mom and I arrived in mid-June, we were at the front end of tourist season. Apparently July and August are the real tourist times...so if you can go at a different time, not only will you be able to travel cheaper but you also won't have to deal with such crowds. 
Before leaving on our trip, I poured over my Rick Steves travel book. Laugh if you wanna but I have been a fan of Rick Steves for a long time. I remember watching his travels on PBS and being fascinated. From him, I learned that the best way to see the history of Rome is to learn from a local. There are a ton of tour groups and guides (almost all are Italian) to choose from. So, how did I pick? I hopped on over to TripAdvisor. I decided what I wanted to see with the time that I had and knew that a tour of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum were in order. Before booking, read the reviews! This will help you decide if a tour is the right one for you.
I booked a tour for mom and myself at 1:30pm. This gave us plenty of time to hop off the plane, get to our hotel, unload and walk our way down to the Colosseum. Another reason to love the location of our hotel: we were able to walk to everything! This also made for guilt-free gelato consumption...which we gobbled up daily. 
Mama soakin' up the sun and history of Rome. A benefit to booking a tour: you are able to get to jump the lines. We were able to scoot right into the Colosseum and learn all about the rich history during out hour and a half tour. Here's a one minute video I created of the Colosseum...
From that tour, we explored Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. I knew so little about this rich history...I was thrilled to learn about it from a local guide. 
Now at this point, the moms and I were getting mighty hot and starting to fade. One thing that really helped us was to stay hydrated. Rome made this easy for us: there are fountains and water spigots everywhere! The water is cold and delicious. What a gift. 
I have neck issues that only start to drive me bonkers when I carry a purse on my shoulder. Knowing that, I always carried a lightweight cross body purse. In that, I had my phone, our passports and my cash. I wore my camera around my neck in true tourist fashion. Thankfully, mom does not have these issues so she carried a bigger bag with our water bottles. 
We wrapped up our day with an amazing dinner and a million of our friends on the Spanish Steps. Speaking of dinner, let's talk food, shall we? You absolutely CAN go wrong with food in Italy, despite what everyone says. Some tips we learned from a local: don't eat at places that have photos of the food posted outside the restaurant as they are catering to tourists who are easily fooled; skip the joints that have menus out front in every language on the planet or ones that have a fast-talkin' dude standing outside. Don't let his cute looks, accent and slicked-back hair fool you, keep walking. Instead, get off the beaten path and hit up those quiet places. That is where the locals go...and the food will be amazing. 
Rome, Day 2: Before leaving the states, I found out about Kelly Medford's Sketching Rome. I was so excited about the idea to actually sit and draw (something I rarely do) in ROME of all places that I immediately signed up. You can follow Kelly and her tours here for more inspiration. I cannot even tell you how much fun it was to spend time with folks of all walks of artistic life and draw this beautiful city. 
I must admit: whenever I go to workshops, classes or professional development, I suffer from performance anxiety. I know I'm not alone in this. But I feel that one way to work through something like that is to keep on pushing yourself which is another reason I signed on for the class. 

With Kelly's guidance, we explored blind contour, contour, shading, crosshatching, watercolor and more...in just two hours. 
 Not only that, but she provided us with hand bound sketchbooks (that she created!) and all the supplies we would need. 
These are the sweet folks I got to sketch with. I was thrilled to then have the supplies to sketch for the rest of my trip!
My sketching class was in the Borghese Gardens. When it was over, mom and I grabbed some gelato and made our way to the Vatican for our tour of the Vatican Museums, St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel. 
 Lemme just restate: booking a tour not only gives you inside info but also gets you to the front of the line. Folks in line were looking at a two hour wait in the hot Roman sun while we skipped right ahead. Our tour began with a walk through the Vatican Museums which is equal parts insanely crowded and beautiful. You aren't allowed to stop for more than a moment to grab a quick photo. You honestly feel like a herd of cattle moving in front of priceless masterpieces. 
 And it was in the Vatican Museums that we promptly lost my mom. She paused for just a moment too long to snap a photo while our group moved ahead...and she vanished. Of course, I had no cell service. Thankfully, a sweet Irish couple lent me their phone to text her. It wasn't until hours later, when our tour was near it's end, that a woman in our group spotted her in St. Peter's Square. 

But let me back track to the Sistine Chapel. There are no photos of that amazingness as you are not allowed to take any. The Chapel itself, despite it's soaring ceiling, is actually very small. It's strange to think that Michelangelo spent 9 years of his life in that chapel: 4 painting the ceiling and 5 painting the second coming on the wall. It is absolutely INCREDIBLE to stand in the Sistine Chapel. I cried. The history, the beauty, the skill of such an artist. Despite popular belief, Michelangelo did not lay down on his back to paint the ceiling, he stood on scaffolding with his neck bent backward. Can you imagine? He must has suffered so much pain throughout the course of his life from that experience. What an incredible gift that chapel is. 
And then there's St. Peter's Bascilica. There is absolutely nothing like it that I have ever seen. Compared to the Sistine Chapel, it is a mammoth. Mom and I toured the Bascilica twice. Little known fact: you can get into the Bascilica for free, just like all churches in Rome. Just approach the Vatican from St. Peter's Square and you are in. It's worth it just to see the Pieta. 
This has always been one of my favorite sculptures by Michelangelo. Sadly, it is incased behind a sheet of thick glass. Several years ago, a man claiming to be Jesus attacked the sculpture with a hammer and did some damage before being stopped by guards. Since then, the Pieta has been protected by glass. 
 I believe I took one million trillion photos of the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's Bascilica...I'll spare you all of those. Trust me when I tell you, it was a breathtaking sight. 
 Rome, Day 3: On our final day in Rome, I made a point not to have any tours planned. I wanted us to have time to go back and revisit any places we had seen and to explore those we'd missed. I also just wanted us to ditch the map and get lost. I will say, out of the three cities we visited, Rome was the easiest to navigate. The roads were (kinda) well marked and the map I purchased from a street vendor for a couple of euro did me alright. 
We are also two ladies who love to shop! So it was fun to pop in and out of any stores that caught our eye and not have to worry about keeping a schedule. The Pinocchio store was my absolute fave. 
 In addition to my lightweight purse and camera as must-haves when traveling, I also packed one pair of sandals (Chacos were my shoes of choice ) and sneakers for our bike adventure (more to come about that!). I only took 5 dresses on my trip, a hat and a pair of sunglasses. I packed surprisingly light...knowing that I might have to fit a Pinocchio in my suitcase!
We also took in the Pantheon (one of the oldest pieces of architecture from ancient times), the Fonte Acqua Paola as well as the fun surrounding area of Trastevere. 
 And, of course, gelato. Had to squeeze in that daily gelato. 
 One important thing we had to figure out everyday while in Italy: where are we going to see the sunset? The sun sets around 9pm. On our final day in Rome, we decided to see it from the top of the Altar of the Fatherland. For a handful of euro, you can go to the top and catch this view of the city:
Another thing we always did was make sure we caught a view of the cities from above. It really put Rome in perspective. 
Mom absolutely loved Rome. I think it would have been her favorite city if Venice hadn't won her over by being on the water. Me, I liked Rome a lot...but it was not my favorite spot out of the three we visited. It had just a little too much of a big city vibe for me. Don't get me wrong, I LOVED Rome...but Florence and Venice truly have my heart. You'll have to tell me what you think. I'll be sharing them in up coming blog posts, so stay tuned. 
Until then, I'll leave you with our final view of Trevi Fountain on our last night's stay. This time, I'll leave out the crowd of tourists! 
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18 comments:

  1. Thank you, Cassie! I just retired from teaching art here in Ohio, and am planning a 2 -week visit to Italy in September 2018. Your posts are very helpful and exciting!

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    1. You will have the very best time! One thing I wish I had done: learn just a little bit of the language. I kept slipping into Spanish. I know you will love every minute!

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  2. So amazing! Maybe I will go some day...Thanks for sharing your trip.

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    1. You will! And you won't wanna come back...except for maybe free refills and air conditioning ;)

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  3. My husband and I are planning a trip to Italy soon. Your tips are invaluable. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Awesome! I'll be sharing more tips on traveling to Florence and Venice soon so stay tuned!

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  4. Wow, Cassie, seeing all this beauty through your descriptions in words and photos is a travel lovers dream. I traveled to Rome I the 80's and dream to go back. Thanks for all of you generosity in sharing.

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    1. You def have to go back! To go back to Venice and Florence after nearly 20 years was so fun...being a different person and seeing everything with different eyes made a huge difference!

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  5. This is on my list of things to do. Looks like I will attempt to plan an early June trip for lighter crowds. Yikes!

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    1. During the 9 days we were there, it seemed to get more and more crowded...mostly with large tour groups of high school kids from the states. LOTS of selfie sticks...you get the idea. Summer is peak season (and hot!) but going early June would be your best bet. Seriously tho, getting off the beaten path was the best thing we did. The food, shopping and environment was so much better!

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  6. I visited all 3 cities during Spring Break! The Trevi fountain was just as packed as your photo shows! Loved Rome, but Florence was my favorite! Sadly, my friends and I missed out on visiting St. Peter's Basilica because the Pope was having mass there lol. Thanks for sharing! Your post is bringing back wonderful memories!!

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    1. Yes, Florence was my fave but Venice was a super close second. The thing that kept me from loving Rome even more were the cars! I loved some of the car-free streets in Florence. You'll have to go back for the Basilica. Silly Pope messing up your plans! Who does he think he is?! ;)

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  7. Oh my goodness, I was just in Rome, Florence, and Venice as well!! Crazy! It was so fun to read your post and remind myself of all the fun things we did just over a week ago! I loved Rome, but I agree with you ... it definitely has more of the big city vibe, and is a little overwhelming, and in that way I preferred Venice and Florence (and the Amalfi Coast!) over Rome. I also found Rome really really dirty which took away some of the charm for me. Still, as an artist/art teacher/art history major it was pretty amazing to finally get to see so many treasures!! I wish I had known about that sketching class -- what a cool idea!! I'm excited to see your posts on Venice and Florence!

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    1. How funny, we were probably having gelato at the same places! What broke my heart about Rome was all the graffiti...EVERYWHERE. Such a bummer. But, like you said, the history! AHHH! I wanna go back!

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  8. What beautiful imagery! Your photos and illustrations make for a truly vivid travelogue. And it's so nice that you went with your mom. Sounds like you guys had a blast!

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    1. We really did! Already thinking of our next adventure!

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  9. I LOVE going to Italy. My biggest tip for European travel: go in May or October. Flights are cheaper and tourists are few. (For super cheap flights look at Aer Lingus to Dublin and then a flight from Dublin to anywhere)

    For your next trip to Italy, go see Ravenna, Bologna, and Sienna. They'll knock your socks off!

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  10. My husband's and I just got back from Rome!! We actually stayed at the same hotel and we loved it! I also had my Rick Steves book with me at all times. Glad you had a great time!

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Thank you so much for your comments. I appreciate each and every one :)