Monday, May 26, 2014

Italy Trip! (Day One) ROME!

Mark and I decided it would be fun to do a Senior Trip with each of our kids around the time of their Senior year in high school.  It would allow us to spend some one on one time with them while also traveling somewhere we've never been before.  Bryan is our oldest, and he picked...ITALY!  I can't begin to tell you how excited I was that he picked Italy!  That has always been the one place, at the very top of my 'dreams' list, that I have always wanted to see!  Mark teased me saying that I must have been whispering in Bryan's ear at night while he was sleeping, convincing him to choose Italy, but honestly, I never said a word.  I wanted it to be HIS trip.  I honestly thought he would choose France, since he took two years of French in high school.  I was BEYOND excited when he chose Italy.

Bryan is going into his Senior year, but because he will leave on a mission for our church right after graduating, we wanted to do this trip before his senior year instead of after.

We decided to do this trip through 'Adventures By Disney' since Mark's brother and his family had done the same trip the year previous and had an AMAZING time.  We were SO glad we made that decision.  I didn't have to do any planning for this trip beyond packing my bags.  We had two tour guides - one from New York, and one from Italy, both of who have worked for Disney for years.  They were fabulous!  We were in a group of about 30 people, and really enjoyed getting to know everyone over the course of the trip.  We all became great friends!  Disney also put us up in 5 star hotels in each city.  For Bryan, that was a first!  He usually gets the floor and a sleeping bag when we stay in hotels, and when we go as a family, it's usually the Holiday Inn ;).  In each city we also had a local guide who took us to all the sights and told us about them.  Disney usually covered an average of two meals a day with our group, but then gave us free time to kind of wander around and also experience the cities by ourselves.  They would give us a map and ideas of things we could go see and places that would be great to eat at, then we set off on our own. It was really fun to have that combination of being led around by the experts, and also going off to lose ourselves in the city and really experience things by ourselves too!

We left Phoenix on a Sunday morning, leaving our other 3 children in the capable hands of Mark's parents who we were lucky enough to have come watch our kids during our trip.  So blessed to have them!  We flew to Philadelphia, getting there in the late afternoon, and left around 6pm on our flight to Rome.  Amazingly enough I had 2 empty seats next to mine for that red-eye flight, and got to lay down and sleep a good portion of the flight - 5 whole hours!  Not bad!  We arrived in Rome the next morning at 9am.  Our Disney guides picked us up from the airport and brought us to check in at our first hotel - the Gran Melia Rome Hotel.  Here are some pictures of the hotel...

We decided to take a quick shower before heading off on our own for some sight seeing.  It may seem silly, but we were so excited about the shower in our room!  Best shower ever!  One overhead spray, and two body sprayers.  I only wish I had known what I was turning on the first time I stepped in.  I was standing right in front of it when I turned a knob on, only to have freezing cold water shoot straight out at me from the two cross body sprayers.  Yikes!  Only made that mistake once, but it was sure funny to hear from our fellow travelers that I was not the only one to experience that!

These were our Disney Adventure Guides - Cathleen and Marco.  Loved them!
 From the hotel, we headed out to wander around and sight see a little.  We went to an area of Rome called Trastevere.  We were hungry for lunch and searching for some really great pizza.  After wandering some streets (we passed about 20 different pizza and 20 different gelato shops in about 10 minutes - they are EVERYWHERE in Italy), we settled on a place that looked yummy.

 We wandered into this beautiful church while exploring...

After leaving Trestevere, we wandered across the river into central Rome, where the majority of the ruins are.

The ruins in the next picture and described below are where Julius Caesar was assassinated...

 This controversial building shown below is nicknamed "the wedding cake".  It is a more modern building built to honor the first king of unified Italy.  Romans hate it because it was built into and partially destroyed a large area of Capitoline Hill (ancient ruins).  We loved it because you could go up to the roof and have an AMAZING view of the city!

These next few pictures are of the Roman Forum.  This is a rectangular forum (plaza) surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of Rome.  Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, originally a marketplace, as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum...

The next few pictures are what we saw when we reached the top of "the wedding cake" building...

This is the front of the "wedding cake" building.  This guy all dressed up as a Roman soldier posed with us...

We wandered into a piazza where there was a beautiful fountain, but it didn't seem spectacular enough to warrant the crowds of people around the piazza.  It wasn't until we turned around that we realized we were standing next to the Pantheon.  Duh!  That's why there were so many people.  Pretty magnificent building! 

After traipsing around the ruins of Rome, we headed back to the hotel where we would be meeting up with our group for the first time for a special welcome dinner at the hotel.  They had set up beautiful tables in a banquet room surrounded by beautiful windows with views of the grounds of the hotel.  We got to come eat breakfast here every morning too.  At our welcome dinner, our Disney guides introduced themselves and told us about what we would be doing throughout our trip.  It was a really fun evening!

That night Mark, Bryan, and I went for a jog up a hill and through some parks near the hotel and got to witness a beautiful sunset over the city of Rome!  I have to say, I had plans to go jogging every day on our trip, but after that first day, I was so tired and sore from walking up hills and on uneven cobblestones all day that I figured I had probably got in enough exercise to warrant not jogging the rest of the trip.  I'm glad we got to do all that walking.  It let me feel less guilty about eating all the food ;)

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