Dear Maria Linda,
It's been 25 years since I last saw you. It's hard to believe that time has passed so rapidly. As you know, I have a little bit of Italian blood running through my veins. Thus, it was always my desire to visit Italy - the land of some of my ancestors. Well, I was able to achieve this dream two years ago, when I turned 50 years old. My big birthday gift was a family trip to Europe, precisely Italy, France and Spain.
As part of our 3-weeks European vacation, we spent about 10 days in Italy. As I expected, I fell in love with Italy...it's a spectacular country! We knew that 10 days would not be enough time to visit the whole country, so we visited 4 major cities: Rome (Roma), Naples (Napoli), Venice (Venezia) and Padua (Padova).
Recently, I read a message that you sent two years ago via Facebook regarding the trip. I never had the chance to answer your message. Since I believe that it's never too late to talk with a friend about a fabulous life experience, I decided to write some posts/letters about the time that we spent in Italy.
In this first letter, I like to tell you about the time that we spent in Rome.
RomeThe first Italian city that we visited during our trip was Rome or Roma - personally, I prefer to call it Roma!
We were there for ~4 1/2 days (2 1/2 at the beginning & 2 at the end of the trip). Four days was certainly not enough to see all that Roma has to offer. We opted for visiting the "must see places" - including the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Palatine Hill, the Vatican and all its museums, Piazza di Spagna and the Villa Borghese.
The Colosseum and the Roman Forum - All simply captivating...you really feel that you are transported to the time of the Roman Empire! The Roman Forum and its associated buildings are big, so we actually spent a few hours there. In particular, we enjoyed the Arch of Titus, the Vestal Complex and of course the Palatine.
The Vatican --> a must to see whether you are Catholic or not. I still don't know how we did the tour with the kids (especially Elijah who was only 5 years old at that time), but we managed to have a 4-hour guided tour of the St. Peter's Basilica, the various museums and all of the grounds on a super hot (at least 30 degrees Celsius) and sunny day. The architecture, the paintings and sculptures and the history that characterizes the Vatican is simply unique - so much history; a really unforgettable experience!
Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps --> A very busy place - my son and I loved especially the Fontana della Barcaccia or the boat fountain.
Coffee and Italian Cuisine
Italian coffee is really, really good - especially if you drink it black and without sugar. My husband and I enjoyed very much the coffee shops in Italy. Of course, we had coffee at famous places such as Caffè Sant'Eustachio and Antico Caffè Greco, but the reality is that coffee in Italy was always very good regardless of the place (especially true for coffee places in Rome).
I have always loved Italian food. So, I was particularly excited about the idea of trying Italian cuisine. One of our kids has celiac disease, so we limited ourselves to restaurants that offered gluten free options. Surprisingly, out of the three European countries that we visited during this trip, Italy offered the most, and more delicious, gluten free options. Although Italian cuisine is refined and diverse, we found that Italian food is also simple in terms of the number of ingredients that are used for a given dish. Like any tourist who visits Rome, I had to try "cacio e pepe" - the simplest, but delicious pasta ever!
You know, Nelson Mandela once said:
"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”
In other words, show that you care for the culture you’re in, and the culture you’re in will care for you. These are very powerful words that I always take into consideration when traveling. When visiting Italy, I realize how proud I am of my Italian heritage...more exactly, my "Paganini" heritage. Thus, when visiting Rome, I did not hesitate in using the little Italian that I know. Talking with people in Italian helped me to connect emotionally with the places and the people that we met or saw during our trip.
I enjoyed immensely our time in Rome, everything was so special. I really, really hope that I will have the chance to return once again because 4 days in Rome was not enough.
In my next letter, I will tell you about our visit to the fascinating city of Napoli.