Friday, March 20, 2015

Rome, Italy ~ March 2015

Passport - Check
Monopoly Money (aka Euro) - Check
Funky Sunglasses - Check
Almost ready!
~all roads lead to ROME!~ 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Wednesday was travel day.  I left Phoenix at 9 a.m. Wednesday and arrived in Rome at 8 a.m. Thursday.  That included a two hour layover in Philly and an eight hour time change. 
Vaso and Paolo were waiting to whisk us off to the hotel.  I rode with Paolo and two gentlemen who were already in the back seat.  The rest of the group went with Giancarlo in a huge multi-passenger vehicle.  I introduced myself to the two men and as we were chatting one of them said they aren’t used to running in the rain.  It’s supposed to rain here on Sunday during the Marathon.  I said “oh, where are you from?”  One of them said “we’re from Scottsdale, Arizona”.  I said “No way!  I’m from Phoenix”.  Small world, aye?  Turns out they both live fairly close to where I live. 
We arrived at Grand Hotel del Gianicolo and checked in. Same hotel as last year. The weather was perfect, about 65° and clear.  I freshened up/changed clothes then Jay, Vaso and I went to my favorite coffee bar, Bar Gianicolo for the best espresso ever!  

We stayed there a little while and then Vaso had to leave.  Jay twisted my arm into having another espresso (not a difficult twist) and then we hit the streets.  We stopped for gelato at Fatamorgana (yum) on our way to the Castel Sant’ Angelo.  “…was originally built by Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum and housed the remains of Hadrian and his successors up to Caracalla”.  Last year we had walked past it but we did not go inside.  
It was incredible.  We walked up, up, up (I don’t know how many stories it would be, but it was good climb).  We went up to the top (where the Angel statue is on top of the building in the above photo) and took a few pictures of the amazing views of the city.

I had read a review of Castel Sant’ Angelo that said “where else can you sip prosecco while enjoying the sunset over the Vatican. So, when in Rome.  They have a little café where we ordered prosecco, which arrived with a couple of triangles of bread, olives and chips.  Even the chips were heart shaped! 

^The Welcoming Committee^
We had a table with a view but we moved shortly after ordering because it was very windy.  It was still very enjoyable. 
^Typical streets of Rome^
We walked back to the hotel where it was almost time for the RunITALY’s Meet and Greet with Jeff Galloway. Jay was not part of the group this year so we parted ways. The weather was still fantastic.  We had (more) prosecco, wine, juice, hot and cold appetizers.  Vaso started self-introductions and there was quite the Arizona connection.  Besides the two men I rode with from the airport, there was another woman from Scottsdale and couple from Tempe.  What are the odds?!?!
When we were finished it was starting to get a little chilly so everyone moved inside to the bar area. The Meet and Greet ended just in time to meet Bruce.
Jay’s friend Bruce was supposed to arrive around 8 p.m. from Germany.  He was just a tiny bit late.  After he settled in we walked down to Ristorante Carpe Diem Al Gianicolo.  For those of you who read my Travel Blog last year, you might recognize the name Marcello!  Jay had already been there and said Marcello wasn’t there but the young guy (Victoro) recognized him from last year.  When we walked in Victoro immediately said “I remember you”.  I asked him if Marcello was there and he said he’s in Milano.  Later he told us Marcello’s mother is ill and he won’t be back for about three months.  Dinner was great.  I had pizza!  Finally, real Roman pizza! Super thin crust, think cheese crisp.  I do believe vino russo was also involved.  I only ate half of the pizza and had him box the rest.  Then, of course, I had tiramisu (wet boozy cake).  It was as delicious as I remembered.  And of course, an after dinner limoncello. Ya know, for Rotimi (friend we met last year on this trip), cuz he asked me to! I swear they have the best limoncello, I’m sure they make their own.  We were finished eating when Vaso came in.  I handed her my pizza box and said “here, I saved you some pizza!” Then I handed her the rest of my wine and said “And some wine”.  When we left there we walked back to the hotel and sat in the bar for a little with some others in the RunITALY group. 
When I got back to the room it was already after mid-night so I figured I should probably try to get some sleep.  BTW, I roomed with Vaso this trip.
Buona notte.  

Friday, March 20, 2015

I started my morning with the breakfast buffet.  They have a nice variety of pastry, juices, meats and cheese, bacon and eggs.  I had a croissant, some prosciutto and salami, the sweetest cherry tomatoes and mozzarella and some delicious energy juice they call ACE. There may have been a sliver of a tart. :wink: Then it was time to meet for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel tour.  If you read along last year you’ll remember our tour guide was Laila.  “Follow Laila.”  This year she was scheduled for our group however she had a family emergency and wasn’t available.  Back-up plan was Deborah and she was amazing.  When we arrived at the Vatican Museum and the lines were wrapped around the building.  Deborah said those people probably had a three hour wait. She said sometimes people wait for hours and when they get to the front of the line it’s closing time and they turn them away.  Could you imagine? Anyhow, we moved right past the line into the priority line which moved pretty quickly.  Deborah was very knowledgeable with a sense of humor.  Prior to entering the Museum she told us stories about Michelangelo.  He didn’t like the Pope so he incorporated a few things into the paintings since the Pope could not observe his paintings until the walls and ceiling were completed.  For example, he painted the naked “butt of God” directly above where the Pope would kneel to pray!   He was sassy!  Speaking of sassy:
Getting sassy at the Vatican Museum overlooking St. Peter's Dome in the background.
I really enjoyed going back through the sculptured ceilings, painted ceilings and wall tapestries. 


Then we went into the Sistine Chapel and this time instead of being disappointed in what it wasn’t, I appreciated it for what it is.  It was an entirely different experience for me. Sorry, no photos allowed. 
We left there and continued on to the Vatican.  It’s so amazing.  I think I could go there every year and see something different every time.  You can’t possibly soak it all in. 

We went back to the hotel for a late lunch where Vaso handed out race bibs and goodies (rain ponchos, goo, wafers, bandaids, etc.).  Jeff Galloway gave some tips about running in the rain like “lace your shoes tight to avoid friction when they get wet; take an extra pair of socks to change into”. One of the other men in the group said not to toss your rain poncho.  Wad it up so you can use it again since there may be scattered showers. 

The people in this group are really nice and very friendly. 

We didn’t really have a dinner plan except that we were going to have dinner.  Vaso was going with Jeff and Barbara Galloway to a place Vaso had found earlier in the week.  She asked if I wanted to go with them and then thought she should probably check with them first in case they wanted to discuss business over dinner.  I told her if Jay and Bruce were going to go back to Carpe Diem I’d rather go with her, Jeff and Barb because I wanted to try someplace different.  I love Carpe Diem but still, wanted to try someplace else. I said “call Jeff and ask him if it’s okay if I tag along”.  Jeff said “she wouldn’t be tagging along; she’s more than welcome to join us”.  When I went to meet Jay and Bruce they had decided to try the new place too so I went with them. But of course I did!  We took a taxi down to Da Bruno Ai Quattro Venti which was very good.  I had grilled lamb and it was delicious.  I also had a side veggie.  I have no idea what it was.  The server said it was Italian vegetable (chicory) that’s crunchy with an olive oil/sardine sauce.  When in Rome.  It was actually really good.  It was like strands of long crisp greens but not like a green bean, more like a, well, I can’t even find the words to describe it!  I had something completely delicious for dessert and I don’t know what that was so you’ll have to ask Jay. ;)  It was chocolate gelato with vanilla in the center and a cocoa powder on top.  Oh, there was also lots of vino russo.  If I lived in Italy I’d be a wino for sure. 

While we were eating Vaso and the Galloways arrived.  When they were ready to leave I walked back with them since Jay and Bruce were going to take a taxi back.  It was such a beautiful night for an after dinner walk *up* the streets of Rome. 

*Everything here is uphill :wink:

Jay and Bruce arrived shortly after we did so we sat in the bar area for a while before turning in.

Have I mentioned yet that I’m having a fantastic time?!?!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The RunITALY group left for the Colosseum and Forum tour followed by free time for shopping and lunch on their own.  Then they met and went to the Expo where Jeff Galloway was the guest speaker and talked about Run-Walk-Run and how it conserves energy and improves your time.  People have a hard time grasping the idea of walking improving time but it’s a tried and true method of conserving energy (according to JG).  After that they had their “Carb Load Pasta Dinner” back at the hotel.
Meanwhile, I had pre-planned to bow out of the group Saturday for the Cooking Class. Cooking Classes of Rome with Chef Andrea.
Jay, Bruce and I had an incredible time.  We took a taxi down however it was within walking distance from the hotel.  Jay and I had walked by there on Thursday during our walk-about.
We were the first ones there and greeted by Chef Andrea.  The dining area was beautiful. We waited a little while for the rest of the group.
^with Bruce^
A table for 12 set down center; a lot of Italian memorabilia on the walls; tables with his house made jams, jellies and “limoncello” for sale, plus a few other items like logo aprons and kitchen tools.  
The other nine “students” arrived and they were all one family.  The dad, five of his seven adult children and three teenage grandchildren.  They were really fun family so I think we lucked out!  Chef Andrea had put out some morning snacks and told us to help ourselves as it would be a very long time until we ate our creations.  There was toast with jam and little folded sweets which were like cookie dough with jam in the center.  There was also tiramisu which I wish I would have tried. 

He explained that he uses all fresh and local ingredients.  We ventured into the kitchen and finally revealed the menu.
He started off demonstrating each task and then asking for a volunteer or just assigning the task to someone.  We were picking mint off stems, chopping garlic, slicing mushrooms, removing broccoli from stalks, blanching then cutting tomatoes.  The kitchen was buzzing with activity.  Then he pulled aside the 16 year old Molly (he dubbed her Queen for the Day) and had her make the cookie crust dough for the dessert.  Once the dough was kneaded he stopped everyone to gather around and showed us how finish the crust and the filling.  Then he demonstrated how to clean the artichokes. 
Backing up a little, I had already decided that in a month or so I’m going to have a dinner party and make all the dishes from the class.
Fast forward again, as he was cleaning the artichoke I whispered to Jay “this will not be happening in my kitchen!”  Once we each grabbed an artichoke and started working on it, it was actually not as difficult as it looked.  Chef Andrea came over and repositioned my knife and then it was fairly easy-schmeasy.  Okay.  Maybe this WILL be happening in my kitchen after all. They were stuffed with mint and garlic; seared; steamed. 
Then we made pasta and finished the tomato sauce; sautéed the mushrooms in one pan and broccoli in another; floured and browned the meat; cooked the pasta.  


Chef Andrea excused us to the dining table while he platted and served the meal, each course paired with a fantastic wine.  Oh*Happy*Taste*Buds!  Everything was so delicious.  The artichokes literally melted in my mouth.  The pasta and sauce were good, it was amazing they were made with such simple ingredients.  The broccoli was the best I’ve ever had.  The scaloppini was tender and the mushrooms were delicious.  The sour cherry pie was incredible.  

^with Beth^
^Chef Andrea, me, Jay, Bruce^
When we finished Jay said he’s been to Rome five times and this was the best meal he ever had there.  Pretty good testimonial if you ask me.  He’s somewhat of a foodie!  BTW, Chef Andrea emailed all the recipes so at some point in time (as I make them) I will put them in my Food Porn Blog.  [ETA - recipes and pictures are posted]
Back to the hotel and later to Bar Gianicolo for espresso.  Jay and Bruce had some mini pizza snacks.  I wasn’t hungry but sampled half of a folded and meat stuffed thing which was about two bites and very good.  There may or may not have been beer involved. :wink:

Sunday March 22, 2015

Marathon Day and it is raining.  But of course it is.  We’ve had beautiful weather since we arrived.  The RunITALY group had a quick early breakfast then all aboard the magic bus.  We were dropped off and it was still rainy so everyone got out their rain ponchos.  Vaso had hired Victoria as a helper and she was awesome.  She’s Italian, born in American and moved back to Italy when she was 18 to go to college. Her English and Italian language skills are very good.  Everyone slowly disappeared to the starting line.  Vaso took out some wafers and Victoria took a bite and said how much she missed American snack food.  I asked her what she missed most and she said peanut butter.  I just so happened to have brought a few Jif-to-Go pods with me but they were at the hotel.  Vaso and I were going to make our way to the half marathon spot to catch the few runners in the group who were doing the half.  Most of the streets were closed.  Victoria was hired to stay with the group’s “stuff” at the meeting place (snacks and backpacks).  Victoria wrote out directions to the intersection where the half was marked and also drew a map.  While she was drawing I said “If I don’t get lost, my peanut butter at the hotel is yours”.  Her eyes lit up and we laughed.  Well, needless to say we got lost!  We made it down the street and got to the first place where we were supposed to “go around Circus Maximus”.  We looked at each other and said “what’s the Circus Maximus?”  We didn’t know if it was a building or a road or the park!  The Roma 5k people had packed the street.  It was a circus to the maximus but I don’t think that’s what she meant.  Vaso called Victoria and said we were already lost!  I said “tell her we can still see her from here"!  Pathetic, I know.  I told Vaso that as much as I wanted to go with her to find the runners and take photos I thought that for the good of the cause I should stay with our stuff and Victoria should go with her.  Smart choice because they got lost too.  The Marathon organizers MOVED THE ROUTE during the night for security reasons.  They adjusted the half way spot and the finish line.  Those little sneaks!  Anyhow, Germana showed up (she was also the helper last year).  When Vaso and Victoria got back, Victoria stayed at our meeting spot while Germana gathered people to the shuttles as they came in.  Vaso and I went to the finish line.  I was taking pictures for the RunITALY Tours blog while waiting for Jay.  Jay had said he was hoping to cross at the 5:30 point but more realistically it would probably be 6:00.  Vaso and I got to the finish line around 5:20.  OMG it was so incredibly emotional.  Some people crossed like they could barely make it two more steps to finish.  Some were so invigorated it looked they could go a few more kilometers. Some knelt down and kissed the ground. Many were crying. The man pushing the wheelchair surrounded by other runners in his group had Vaso and I both in tears. It was so touching.   

^Jeff and Barb Galloway at the finish line.^  The man is going to be 70 this summer and plans to run his 200th marathon on his Birthday.
Jay told me would be wearing a red shirt.  From 5:15 til 6:45 I checked out every red shirt that went past me. Too tall; hair’s too long, etc. as they came into view.  At 6:35 our last two runners crossed.  At 6:45 Vaso asked if I had seen Jay.  I told her I might have missed him but his Befana had a gut feeling he didn’t run.  His Befana was right.  He decided not to run because of the rain plus his knee was bothering him on his last training run.  Germana took Vaso, Victoria and me back to the hotel.  I asked if they were coming up and they said no.  I said to Victoria “don’t you want your peanut butter?”  Well yeah!  She was so excited when I gave her a couple of pods and said she couldn’t wait to eat it.  Ah, the simple things in life we take for granted.  American Peanut Butter. Who knew you can't get good PB in Italy?
In the evening was the Gala for the group which was really nice. 
After dinner Vaso thanked everyone for being there.  Jeff Galloway gave a nice speech and congratulated everyone on their accomplishments.  His motto “finish, standing up and wanting to do it again”.  He gave the statistics of the low percentages of people who run marathons (including 5k, 10k and halfs) and said everyone was elite.  Vaso presented gifts to everyone; Barb Galloway gave everyone olive branch head wreaths (I call them Roman Tiaras) and I took photos of everyone with Jeff and Barbara. 
Earlier Jay and Bruce had said they were going to Carpe Diem for dinner.  I told them if they were still out when the Gala was over I’d join them.  They weren’t in the hotel bar and didn’t answer their phones in their rooms so I walked down the street and around the corner.  Shhhh, don’t tell anyone I walked the streets at night by myself.  They were still there and the only ones in the restaurant.  I ordered a limoncello and a few minutes later Layna, Julia and Lisa (from the group) came in.  They sat with us and ordered drinks.  A short time later Vaso came in.  We had a blast; drank too much; stayed too late.  Victoro gave us a “15 more minutes” request since it was long past closing time.  Layna and Vaso had already left.  The rest of us finished up and walked back to the hotel.  When we got to the entrance the gate was closed and locked. The wrought iron gate was, I don’t know, 10-12-14 feet tall maybe. Lisa looked at me and said “I think I can climb the gate”. I said “Oh, I think I could climb the gate too”. She laced her fingers together and said “here, I’ll give you a boost”.  Jay said “let’s ring the bell first and see what happens”. Leave to Jay to use common sense!  Low and behold the gate magically opened. Imagine that! The night manager came out, scowl on his face, arms crossed over his chest with that disapproving look like we were kids out past curfew. We went into the lobby and I said “I don’t suppose the bar is open”. He frowned (still had his arms crossed over his chest) and shook his head no and then he laughed and gave me a big hug. It was actually the first time I had seen Mr. Serious crack a smile! Two trips, same night manager, never a smile. Jay invited us all to share the limoncello that he had bought from Chef Andrea.  It was a very late night, or shall I say, a very early morning.  

Monday, March 23, 2015

Our last full day in Roma.  Most of the people in the group had decided to stick together and do their own tour of the Spanish Steps and lunch at Piazza Novana.
Vaso and I had planned on going shopping at the Mercatino (like a flea market).  She had a lot of work to do in the morning so we didn’t leave until around 1. I checked in with Jay and he was pretty much out of it.  The Bank of Jay exchanged some of my unused euro back to dollars.  We had reserved a Rome by Night tour with Paolo for 8 p.m.  Vaso came by and said we had to push the night tour from 8 to either 9, 10 or 11.  She was originally told the Olive Oil class would be 1.5 hours but it was actually 3.  I told her to make it 9 because 10 or 11 would end too late and I had to get up so early.  She said “you can do one more all-nighter.  You’re in Roma!”  We made it for 9.  Jay confirmed he wasn’t going to go.  Too much grappa; too little sleep, not enough interest.  I invited Vaso to go with us (me and Bruce).
We walked through Trastevere and had to hop on a Vespa for a photo.  Mandatory!  When in Rome. 

The Mercatino was crazy fun.  We had a blast.  I bought a beautiful old crystal covered butter dish for €3.90. (~$4) What?  We got back with little time before we had to leave for the Olive Oil class. Vaso was downstairs and I was in the room downloading pictures when Vaso called and said “get down here right now and bring your camera, Stephano is here!”  Stephano was one of our drivers last year.  Paolo had said he didn't think he'd be working with him this year.  OMG, We were on the 3rd floor and when I got to the elevator I pushed the button and said to myself ‘if it’s not already here, I’m *RUNNING* downstairs'.  I got to the lobby and Stephano was standing by the limo.  :swoon:  He gave me hug; double cheek kisses; we took a picture and off he went. ~sigh
So, the Olive Oil class.  The class was an add-on, or as Vaso called it “ala carte”.  She arranged it for the group for an additional fee.  

There was in “in-depth” presentations on everything there is to know (and then some) about olive oil.  The biggest tips were: A) never buy olive oil in a can; B) never buy olive oil in a clear bottle; C) good olive oil is picked, pressed and bottled within six hours.  If it says “bottled in Italy” it should also say “grown in Italy” because it could be grown in Greece (or anywhere) and shipped to Italy to be pressed and bottled and all that cannot happen within six hours.  The "grown in" and the "bottled in" should be the same; D) use within 18 months of opening the bottle.  So there’s that.  Finally some appetizers came out.  It was getting late and I kept thinking “I still have a three hour tour after this”.  Oy.  We had bruschetta (so good), stuffed zucchini blossoms (de-lish) and rice balls which are rice, tomato, cheese, breaded and fried (meh).  

Then they brought out soup, which I skipped.  Just when I thought they were almost done they passed out menus to order pizza. Pass. It was 8:45 p.m.  Momma Mia (as Chef Andrea would say).  I asked Vaso if someone could call the hotel and let Bruce know were running late.  Paolo said he had a surprise for me.  Oh*How*I*Love*A*Surprise! He had gotten Stephano to do the night tour for us!!!  He said Stephano was going to pick up Bruce at the hotel and bring him to the restaurant.  We would leave from there.  Okey dokey then.  Bruce came in and was waiting patiently until we were done.  There may have been wine involved while he waited! They presented everyone with a beautiful gift box with three bottles of olive oil.  It weighed seven pounds so there was no way my checked bag wouldn't have been overweight. I gave it to Bruce.  He was taking the train back to Germany and they don't have limits on their luggage. We left and started our Night Tour.  I thought it was incredible.  They typically do all the most significant tourist attractions.  Stephano asked what we wanted to see and I said “My life is in your hands”.  He laughed.  We told him whatever he thought, he was the boss.  He said “the most importanto”. Si, si.  Stephano’s English has vastly improved since last year. Last year he spoke about as much English as I do Italian and I can only order wine, say good morning, good night and excuse me.  That’s about it.  When Paolo said Stephano was going to take us Vaso asked who the interpreter was going to be!  We did fine. It was a little struggle but we could pretty much understand each other. He took us everywhere.  Arch of Constantine, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, Castel Sant’ Angelo, Piazza del Campidoglio, Piazza Novana, Campo de’ Fiori, Trevi Fountain, St. Peter’s Square, Basilica de Santa Maria where the statue is where you put your hand in the mouth of the statue and, as legend has it, it will bite your hand off if you are not a good person. Good thing it was closed for the night, aye? OMG, I don’t even know where else. Places I had never even heard of.
^Bruce, me, Vaso @ Arch of Constantine^
Piazza Navona
Espresso stop.
St. Peter's Square
The most significant to me was the Spanish Steps.  Last year Jennie and I were not impressed.  The entire top was covered in scaffolding and the steps leading to the top were so crowded you could barely squeeze through. The street vendors were very pushy. I couldn’t understand why everyone raves over it.  My friend Jenn had been the year before last on her Honeymoon and said you have to go to the Spanish Steps at night.  They had done a night tour and she said it was incredible and nobody was there.  This year the scaffolding is gone.  It’s not crowded at nighttime.  Stephano parked at the top and Vaso and I walked down in ah/awe.  It was just breathtaking. We were mesmerized.  We stood there for a while just soaking it all in.  It sounds corny but you could almost feel the history in your soul.  There was a street vendor bugging Vaso so I hooked my arm in her elbow and said “lets run back up”. She said okay…and we did… I think we were carried by the Roman Gods because it wasn’t even a tiny bit of a struggle.  I mean I don’t run stairs so I should have been out of breath by step 10 or 12 with calves burning, but no.  I must add, Vaso was in stilettos!  When we got to the top and took a couple of deep breaths and it was invigorating.  It was definitely one of the many highlights of this trip.  It was so late when we got back but worth every tired moment.  By the time I got in bed it was 2 a.m. and I had a 5:15 wake up call.
Sleep is highly overrated.  Who has time to sleep in Rome? 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

All good things must come to an end.
Up, showered, dressed, packed, three bites of food and in the lobby for my shuttle to the airport by 7:10.  Paolo dropped us off and it was much easier this time. I’m going to document this for future reference since the processes was foggy from last year and I didn’t blog about it.
First stop was boarding pass and passport check station with the typical questions “did you pack your own bag, did anyone ask you to bring anything for them”, etc.  Then to baggage drop off and then passport check again and carry-on security scan, then to the gate.  The time went pretty quickly.  As the gate attendant scanned my passport and boarding pass she asked me to step aside for security check.  I’m so glad I got the man not the woman who were doing checking.  The lady was searching every nook and cranny of the woman’s carry-on bags followed by a body pat-down.  I man called me up, looked at my documents, wrote down some numbers on his sheet and waved me through.  TYJ. I didn't have anything to hide but still.  We boarded and took off on time but something slowed us down along the way because our flight was going to be 30 minutes late.  That only left me 1.5 hours to get through immigration and customs and to my gate.  That’s cutting it too close for comfort.  I asked the flight attendant if that was enough time and she told me to watch the video on the seat back monitor that explains the process.  She said what slows it down is people not knowing where to go and what to do.  I watched and it looked pretty self-explanatory. 
First stop is immigration.  Wait in line to scan your passport at a kiosk where it takes your photo with no notice.  Not so pretty.  Wait in a line for an agent to ask questions.  Questions included what food was I bringing into the country and what do I do for a living.  He stamped my passport and put an X on my photo page.  Move on.
Second stop is to pick up your luggage.
Third stop is to wait in line for customs.  Pray they don’t want to check your bags because there’s no time for that.  Documents checked and waved through.  TYJ ~ again.  Then to another line to check your passport AGAIN and check in your luggage and then through security AGAIN for your carry ons.  Now is the mad dash for the gates.  People running because of course I wasn’t the only one late.  Good thing I checked the monitors because my boarding pass said concourse B and the gate had been changed to concourse A.  I got to the gate 10 minutes prior to boarding.  Whew.  Made a quick call to my sister and my husband to let them know I was back on American soil.
It was a very bumpy ride home but we landed on time and headed to baggage claim where my SISTER was waiting for me! SO GOOD TO SEE HER.  After a pretty long wait at baggage claim my luggage arrived and then Home-Sweet-Home. 

Last year was incredible.
This year was epic (as Vaso says). I think I made the most of every moment.
Vaso says “Rome will change your life”. 
I must agree.

The cooking class was definitely a highlight. It was phenomenal. 
My two disappointments last year turned into highlights this year.
Last year I was disappointed in the Sistine Chapel because it wasn’t the "Chapel" I was expecting.  This time I was able to appreciate for what it is and it was pretty amazing.  I thank our tour guide for that.  She really pointed out a lot before we went in.
The Spanish Steps which were a big letdown last year took my breath away this year. 
The Rome by Night tour.  AmaZing.
Vaso was a fabulous roomie.  She works so hard to make sure everything and everybody is taken care of.  We had “BIG FUN”.
It was great to meet Jay’s friend Bruce.  He’s way cool and we had tons of fun too.
As always, I enjoy spending time with Jay.  We can always find something to talk about, something to laugh about, something to be serious about and something to do.  Of course there is also our mutual attraction to Italian espresso and gelato.  ummm, maybe wine.  Ya, that too. 

Overall there were late nights followed by early mornings followed by busy days and late nights.  I do need to pout a little because I didn’t get enough gelato!  OTOH I made up for that with espresso and vino.  I feel so fortunate and blessed to have been able to take this trip.

Food in Rome. 
I didn’t eat a lot but what I ate was good. 
They have a nice breakfast buffet at the hotel. My favorite Roma breakfast is a croissant, salami, prosciutto, cheese and tomato/mozzarella, followed by a small slice of the tart of the day. And ACE (energy) juice. I only had that the first morning. The rest of the week I just wasn’t hungry for breakfast. What’s up with that? I ALWAYS eat breakfast. Maybe the late nights, too much vino, early mornings and not enough sleep meant my stomach wasn’t awake yet. Dunno. The most I could muster was a slice of tart, a mini tangerine and a little ACE juice every morning for the rest of the week. The morning I left  for home I had only had a few hour “nap” so I couldn’t eat at all but grabbed a croissant to eat on the plane. 
Pizza at Carpe Diem and Grilled Lamb at Bruno’s were my only meals out, except the cooking class of course. That meal was fantastic! There was the meal at the Olive Oil Class but I only had the appetizers. I skipped the soup, pizza and dessert. The food at the hotel was actually better this year than it was last year although with exception of the breakfast bar, I had the appetizers at the Meet and Greet, the buffet lunch after the Vatican Day and the formal meal at the Gala. I was pretty hungry by the time we ate at the Gala since it was Marathon Day and I had only had a mini breakfast and no lunch. I had a wafer and a banana during the day.
Low on calories and high on walking, it’s no wonder I left 3.5 pounds of weight in Rome!