ICYMI: Where did 2015 go, ya’ll?

Have you started to feel like every day for the whole rest of the year is planned?  Seriously, where did it all go??  And how do I already feel behind on Christmas shopping???

Chase pigeons every day

Chase pigeons every day

On the Blog:

I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that we are having adventures faster than I can write about them.  I’ve been updating Travel Resources with more info to give you travel ideas, even if there aren’t links to full posts.  Looking for your next day trip or weekend getaway?  Check it out here.

One adventure I did cover was our jam-packed day trip to Turin.  If you have a chance, I’d spend more than a day here.

I also talked about my love/hate relationship with crowds and our trips to Nemi and Orte.

As well as gettin’ deep about last meals at Castel Sant’ Angelo.

And 3 tips to make your travel awesome.

Huh, I guess there are still some travel posts going up around here.  I feel like things have definitely gone off the rails lately.  #sorrynotsorry

Fall is here!  I still haven’t ordered my OTK boots, but I’m sure everyone here would like me to just do it or shut up about it.  What’s on your fall fashion wish list?

Heh, million dollar baby.  LITERALLY.  And then my other recent attempt at humor where I talk resumes and giving booze to horses.

The one where I get kind of preachy about judging other people.  I swear, I’ve put the soap box away.  For now at least.

My baby is 3!!  Still says hilarious things.  (And like my kid, I’m very food-oriented.   Treat yo self.)

On the Internets:

For my hipster peeps, have you tried switchel?  I really want to try this apple cider vinegar drink, but I’m having a hard time on the ginger juice.  I can’t find it in juice form, and I don’t have the capability to juice fresh ginger.

This video had me cry laughing.  If you want to kill your morning, delve into Break Womb’s other stuff.  Ah, it’s funny because it’s true.

How not to say the wrong thing

If you looking for some fall pieces of your own, Ann Taylor is 50% off through Sunday.

I’m very intrigued by this stroller.  Any urbanites tried this one?

That’s all I got.  Happy weekend everyone!

That time we *almost* went to mass at St. Peter’s and *almost* saw the Pope

We did it!  We publicly transited!  I actually have two tram trips under my belt now, but this is a post about our first.  (No bus or metro yet.)  After we purchased our tickets, I went with a “go big or go home” approach and suggested to James that we go to church.  At St. Peter’s.  After consulting the tram schedule, this was not as crazy as it originally sounded.  We could pick up a tram  a few blocks from our house that would take us right there.  After much less cajoling than expected, James was convinced.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  Hey, lady with the two small kids – you know St. Peter’s is pretty crowded, right?  ESPECIALLY on a Sunday.  And that is fair.  Being a Sunday morning did actually help us on the public transit front though.  Fewer cars on the road meant our travel time was faster.  It definitely cut against us because I forgot it was the last Sunday of the month, which means museums are free and therefore crowded.  We decided to go for it, taking the attitude that it’s not that far away.  If we want to see more, we’ll go back.

T – 60 minutes to mass

After consulting mass times, we decided to aim for the 10:30 am.  The tram rolled up after waiting just a few minutes.  The tram wasn’t packed, but people were leaping out of their seats to make room for the kiddos.  (This happened again the next day.)  This was nice and comforting for when I venture out with the kids on my own.  In DC I could usually get a seat, but not always, and people weren’t falling over themselves to make room.

Henry loved everything.  He loved looking out the window.  He loved holding onto the bar.  It was a hit.  (Mac slept through most of the ride.)

11.4_Vatican 1

Once we got there, we remembered about the free-museums-last-Sunday, but we weren’t trying to go into the museum–just St. Peter’s.  So we set off for the Square.  How bad could it be?

T – 30 minutes to mass

11.4_Vatican 7

It was pretty packed.  The line snaked all the way around the square.  I decided to wait in it for a bit.  It was a gorgeous day.

While Mac and I waited in line, Henry treated St. Peter’s Square like his own personal playground.  I love that.  Even though he won’t remember this, I’m looking forward to telling him, “Hey kid, we used to live in Rome, and you ran around the Vatican like it was your own personal playground.”

11.4_Vatican 6

James got to chase Henry around.  He said Henry got a lot of “aww” looks and some “who does this child belong to” looks.  At one point I saw a woman go up to Henry, but I figured James is right there, everything must be fine.  Apparently, she came up and said Henry was so beautiful she wanted to kiss him.  And then actually kissed him.

11.4_Vatican 8

T + 10 minutes to mass

The line took about 35 minutes.  We went through metal detectors.  We made it!

11.4_Vatican 3

Inside, it was very packed.  We were about ten minutes late to mass, but that’s practically on time around here.  A few minutes after we arrived, however, they started announcing communion instructions.  “Either that is the fasted mass ever or we messed up the times,” I told James.  It seems we messed up the times.  We were roped off from the legit worshipers who were more in the know on mass schedules, but we decided to look around where we could.

11.4_Vatican 5 11.4_Vatican 4

T + 30 minutes to mass

So we left sans mass.  We found a bathroom, but no changing tables.  (#stpeterssquare #placesmysonsjunkhasbeen)

T + 55 minutes to mass

At this point, we could probably leave and get home in time for lunch and actual naps without any serious meltdowns.  But James realized the Pope would be addressing the crowd at noon.  That meant if we could make it another half hour, we could be a part of that crowd.  They were no longer letting people into the church, and we realized that the exit point was a pretty great spot to see, should we want to wait.  The weather was on our side.  Should we go for it?

11.4_Vatican 2

I looked at the gathering crowd.  Hundreds.  Thousands.  I’m bad at estimating, but it was a lot of people.  After dithering for a few more minutes, I decided that waiting half an hour could be tolerable, but exiting when everyone else was would not be.  So we bailed.

Instead of calling the trip a failure, I’m calling it a win.  We successfully navigated public transportation.  Even if we didn’t mass, we got to see inside St. Peter’s.  Even if we didn’t see the Pope, we know a good strategy for viewing next time.  And that’s the beauty of living here.  We can come back whenever we want.

I’ve talked to Henry some about that time he went to the biggest church in the whole world.  “You know, St. Peter’s.”  Henry is all, “Mr. MacGregor’s garden.”  What, kid?  Oh, right, Peter Rabbit.  Different Peter, but at least something is rubbing off.

We did the monster mash

Bomarzo’s hottest site is Parco dei Mostri (Park of the Monsters).  Also known as the Sacro Bosco, this place–created during the 16th century–is a collaboration between promoter Pier Francesco Orsini and architect Pirro Ligorio.  This place has everything: dragons, elephants, leaning houses, and mystery tour surprises.  What are mystery tour surprises?  It’s that thing where your toddler takes you off the labeled route.

10.29_monster 4

One of Henry's favorites . . . at least judging by how much he talks about it

One of Henry’s favorites . . . at least judging by how much he talks about it

Stefon-ing aside, this was our most recent Saturday adventure destination.  Selected because my mom raved about this park, it was a convenient distance away (about an hour), and we needed to rev the car to make sure it is ready for our Veteran’s Day excursion to Tuscany (!).  Hopefully this jaunt did the trick.  James is now concerned about the gas being old.  Me: “Gas doesn’t go bad.”  James: “Stay away from the car.”

10.29_monster 6 10.29_monster 7

It was a gorgeous day.  We went stroller-free.  This was smart because the park is not huge, but has lots of elevation change.

10.29_monster 10

After learning my lesson at Hadrian’s Villa, we took the picnic with us this time.  Which we enjoyed technically out of the picnic area.  This is pretty scandalous, rule-breaking stuff for me.  Sadly, I am not being facetious.

10.29_monster 2 10.29_monster 3

The park was nice, but it must have been truly ridiculous back in the 1500s.  A DRAGON?  WHAT??

Henry was a good sport for much of the trip.  But he also enjoyed jumping from things and playing in the leaves.  You know, the usual.

10.29_monster 9

10.29_monster 8

Since naptime was already good and hosed, we enjoyed some more of the weather at the playground on the way out.  Henry tried to befriend a little boy named Giorgio as his trusted seesawing companion.

10.29_monster 5

As we pulled out of the parking lot, both kids were totally and completely over everything.  There was much screaming until the magic of the car running finally put them to sleep.  James navigated the autostrade like a pro.  All in all, a pretty successful outing.

That time we accidentally crashed a movie set

We did it!  We finally went on an outing in the car.  After my indecision and the dead car battery kept us from any exotic long weekend plans, we decided to do a day trip on Columbus Day to Tivoli.  Villa D’Est is closed on Mondays, but we could still hit Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriana).  Armed with the freshly-recharged car battery, a haphazard picnic, the umbrella stroller, and the lillebaby, we set off around 9:30 am.  Adventure ho!

Have I mentioned our car before?  It’s a 2003 Audi station wagon.  Very low mileage because it used to be the Irish Ambassador’s to the Vatican.  (Or something like that.)  Instead of shipping a car, we bought it here right before we came.  This one is already “lightly Romanized.”  No need to put that many dinks and scratches on our beloved Passat we decided.

Even though it is a station wagon, the car is definitely not huge.  Poor Henry doesn’t have quite the foot room he deserves sitting behind James.  He’s stuck there though because Mac’s rear-facing car seat only has a chance of fitting behind me.

James insisted on purchasing a European GPS before we embarked on any journeys.  He didn’t want our hands in the fate of sketchy data coverage on the Google maps.  Fine by me.  I’m not sure I plan on driving ever so whatever you need to make this happen, Little Mister, is ok with me.

The GPS said it would take us about 30 minutes.  It was about an hour.  Traffic reaffirmed my desire never to drive here ever.  And it wasn’t just the other drivers.  There really aren’t lanes.  It isn’t even a question of whether there are two or three lanes, but also not knowing where the center dividing line is.  Fun!

After navigating the roads out of town and the Autostrade, the GPS tried to lead us astray.  Thankfully, following the Italian road signs actually worked out.  After some maneuvering, we found the parking lot.  We noticed some white tents to the side of the parking lot.  I think I said something like “oh, cool, a market, we’ll have to check that out later.”  (Foreshadowing: not a market.)

Tickets were a little pricey.  11 euro for adults plus 3 more for parking, but at least kids were free.  We made it up what felt like a never ending hill and then there we were.  You could see the wall.  Of course, we did a quick diaper change before heading in.  #placesmysonsjunkhasbeen

10.16_hadrian 1

Apparently Villa Adriana is the OG Versailles.  Warning: liberal paraphrasing ahead.  It seems that Hadrian decided Rome was too stinky and gross so he built his own place outside town and then just posted up there permanently.  And it is quite the place.  400 acres.  We barely scratched the surface, and that is only of what has already been excavated.

It's only a model

It’s only a model

One of the better preserved areas we saw was the Canopus.  Apparently Hadrian put a bunch of copies of things he’d seen on his travels and conquests.



Yup - that's a crocodile statue

Yup – that’s a crocodile statue

I spent a good bit of time just trying to picture what it must have been like back in the day.  Orchards in bloom, people clustered around doing whatever they did, servants scurrying.  I’m pretty bad at picturing, but you could tell it was an impressive place.  I did note that it was pretty much 85 in mid-October.  So everyone I pictured was pretty sweaty.

10.16_hadrian 3 10.16_hadrian 8

We struggled mightily with the how much to push question.  I paid my 25 euros.  I came all the way here.  I wanted to see things, darnit!  Henry, however, wanted to roll his car in the dirt.  And slide down a hill on pine needles.  And the lizards that were EVERYWHERE.  After lugging the stroller up too many stairs and wishing we had more food, we were stick-a-fork-in-it done.  The kids both passed out on the way to the car.  I was looking forward to checking out that market and the picnic in the car.

Spaz included for scale

Spaz included for scale

10.16_hadrian 6

On the long walk back to the car, we noticed that an area was closed off for “cinema” something or other.  There were an awful lot of vehicles over that way.  Then we saw dudes on horses.  In full Roman soldier regalia.  And we heard a director yelling something in English.

10.16_hadrian 10

So that “market” we saw was the makeshift production village.  They had trailers and people with costumes.  People eating in a shaded mess area and generally taunting our stomachs.  Animals such as donkeys and goats; location of PETA representative unknown.  We just sort of wandered through.  Nobody told us to get out.  Or really seemed to notice us at all for that matter.

These people could be famous!

These people could be famous!

Sadly, I can’t tell you what was filming.  I really wish I could.  It’s not because we were sworn to secrecy.  I just don’t know!  I’ve tried my hardest (read: light Googling), but I can’t find anything.  It could be a local Italian TV show or the next summer blockbuster.  I should have spent more time looking for names on trailer doors!  Stay tuned for more adventures by car that are mandatory to keep the battery charged.

Balancing Act

On Saturday, we visited Villa Torlonia.  It has a rich history, but I was mostly intrigued because this was Mussolini’s pad from 1925 – 1943.  He rented it from the Torlonia family for one lire per year.

10.7_balancing_two cool dudes

This was the backup plan.  I originally concocted grandiose plans of taking various forms of public transportation down to the Colosseum.  But after I constructed a plan, I realized it sounded miserable and scrapped it for a walkable destination.

So, you want to see Mussolini’s house?  BAM.


You want to see the back of the house?  BAM.

10.7_balancing_back house

The villa, which is basically a park, had a lot more to offer.  For example, the Casina delle Civette (House of Owls) is a random building that served as a “respite from the main property.”

10.7_balancing_owl house

10.7_balancing_owl house closer

It’s folly-rific.  Called house of owls because of the random owl stained glass and other decorations.

See random owl

See random owl

We didn’t go inside the House of Owls.  Or Mussolini’s house.  I wanted to, but someone had other plans.

Who me?

Who me?

Basically, tickets cost money and would have covered both houses.  We probably could have managed to tour one without meltdown, but I didn’t want to pay for both houses and then only make it through one.  If we pushed, we could have done both, but would have ended up with cranky, hungry people at the end.  (Not just the toddler.)

And Henry was having such a lovely time with the palm trees.  After he initially didn’t want to go into the palm grove because it was “too dark,” he found some giant palm fronds and conscripted his father into service.

10.7_balancing_palm frond

So this is the dilemma.  This is always the dilemma.  On the one hand, we saw something new and were having a lovely day at the park.  On the other hand, it would have been nice to see more.  We were already there.  The tours might have been fine.  Or they might have turned an otherwise fun outing into a disaster.

The question is always when to push.  When to go for it.  And when to just enjoy a nice day.

This time we opted to relax.  Which worked for me.  At least that day.  I just need to remind myself to go for it sometimes.  When it makes sense.  When we really want to.  It will always be easier to do less.  But sometimes we need to do more.

Family ruins selfie

Family ruins selfie

So this is modern dating?

The first I ever heard about texting was over ten years ago in Germany.  I didn’t have a cell phone, but all the kids were SMS schicken.

Now, everybody texts.  I’m not great at it.  1) I tend to forget to keep my cell phone on me.  2) I like to make definite plans.  If I hear things like, we’ll text you when we’re heading out, my head might explode.  3)  I don’t like being character restricted.  This is why I do like email.  I guess I could just send ridiculously long texts, or multiple texts, but I probably wouldn’t get the type of responses I wanted and would frustrate everyone.

But now I’m back in Europe.  I have a cell phone this time.  I’m trying to make new friends.  And this seems to mean texting.

I met a really nice girl at a BBQ.  We exchanged numbers.  Her family came to Henry’s birthday party.  I meant to text her later to say thank you, but she beat me to it.  I wasn’t playing coy; I swear, I’m just really bad at this.  I agonized over how to respond.  I wanted to be witty and likeable.  I wanted to suggest making plans, but I didn’t want to crowd the text.  I may have ended up using a highly embarrassing word such as “holler.”  I immediately texted back to apologize for using the word “holler.”  You could call this a rookie mistake, but at least it felt more like me.  Doing something and then over-thinking it is pretty classic Melissa.  It worked!  She laughed.  Or at least her text said she did.  We had a nice conversation.  This reminds me, I probably need to text her again . . .

Another new friend texted out of the blue to say she had a song stuck in her head.  This made me feel nice.  Someone is thinking about me!  I then spent way too much time agonizing over a response.  The takeaway: texting is not just for making plans.  I should reach out more just because I feel like it.

This weekend continued the “dating” adventures.  Saturday was supposed to be a group date at the zoo.  But the other people couldn’t make it.  It would have been the perfect setup in a romcom, but in reality, it was just more screaming toddlers.  I think it went well.  We may get to go out again sometime.  Henry had fun.  The zoo was pretty cool.  (And you know I changed diapers on a bench. #placesmysonsjunkhasbeen)  You can get very close to an exhibit with more than 40 monkeys.  I could have watched them all day.

Ready to see some animals

Ready to see some animals

The awesome monkey island

The awesome monkey island

More monkeys

More monkeys

Henry, new friend, & creepy photobomber

Henry, new friend, & creepy photobomber

Sunday was the speed dating.  Really more like a mixer, I guess.  The Ladybirds English-speaking playgroup had a kickoff lollipop hunt at Villa Borghese.  I came with a friend, but we were determined to mingle.  It was a tough room.  Picture about 50 kids running around with parents running after them.

Intimidating, right?

Intimidating, right?

But I did meet a few nice people.  No numbers exchanged, but we talked about connecting on facebook and I’ll hopefully see them at the weekly playgroup.

Henry quickly grasped the hunt concept

Henry quickly grasped the hunt concept

Always sweet to be the mom of the "kid in the fedora"

Always sweet to be the mom of the “kid in the fedora”

Where's my lollipops?

Where my lollipops?

In sum, I will work more diligently on this modern thing known as texting.  But I’m glad I met James before it took off.


Places my sons’ junk has been

I used to joke that I should start a tumblr with “places my son’s junk has been.”  Not with actual pictures of junk.  That would be all kinds of messed up.  But just the locations.  Stateside, I had a policy that if your (chain, family-oriented) restaurant did not have a changing table, we’d do a change in the restaurant.  On a bench if possible.  Always on a changing pad.  I’m looking at you Bojangles and Waffle House.  But Henry got to enjoy plenty of other al fresco changing venues.  Parks, rest areas, the National Mall.

I guess my tumblr would now be “places my sons’ junk has been.”  The trend is definitely continuing in Rome.  We’ve been hearing from people, guidebooks, the internets, etc. that Rome is not the most kid-friendly.  This doesn’t just mean a lack of sights for kids.  I’ve mentioned before that the double stroller is a challenge.  Whenever we get around to attempting public transit, that will be a challenge.  And I haven’t been able to find a restroom for me most places, much less a changing table.  (Just realized we will have to be WAY more strategic whenever Operation Potty Train commences.  Although I did see a kid drop trou at the Villa Borghese playground.  #OPTIONS.)

So this week’s “places my sons’ junk has been” is brought to you by Piazza della Repubblica.  Last weekend we went on another epic walkabout around the city.  Unlike last time, we ditched the double stroller at home.  I loaded Mac into the Lillebaby.  Thankfully, James is still able to wrangle Henry in the Deuter hiking pack.  And Henry did an impressive amount of walking.  Which would you choose: carrying a 16 lb child all the time or a 30 lb child half the time?  I’m stuck with the smaller one because I couldn’t even wear Henry in the Deuter 10 lbs ago.

Adventure ho!

Adventure ho!

It was glorious!  We could walk anywhere!!  Up church steps, in between cars, around tourists!  The city was our oyster; we were limited only by our aching backs.  The weather was also gorgeous.  I think around 70 degrees when we set out and creeping up during the day.

Although I was eager to get to proper sightseeing, I was also eager to have my first cappuccino in Italy.  Only took three weeks.  We stopped at a Bar, where I made James order.  I still do a double take on the signs sometimes, but Bars are the casual places with pastries and sandwiches that are open early.  Loved the cappuccino.  Henry loved the pastries even more.

They sprinkled chocolate on top!

They sprinkled chocolate on top!

Mmmm...nutella croissant

Mmmm…nutella croissant

Our first stop was Santa Maria della Vittoria Church.  We went for Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa, which was on my radar from Angels and Demons (on sale for kindle!)–classy, I know–but were really impressed with the church itself.  [Angels and Demons is now a movie?  From 2009?? How did I miss this?  This was pre-kids.  I have no excuse.]  It was on the smaller side, but every inch was covered with marble, paintings, mosaics, and other precious objects.  I’d love to go back for mass; you just know it would be an intimate affair.  Hopefully without Nic Cage-haired Tom Hanks crashing in to catch a maniac.

Outside of Santa Maria della Vittoria and Moses Fountain

Outside of Santa Maria della Vittoria and Moses Fountain

9.13_vittorio ceiling 9.13_vittorio

Bernini’s statue was very impressive.  The literature said he made the marble look like wax, which really is a good description.  So fluid.  So much movement.  I think I like Bernini even more than Michelangelo.  TV Show Idea:  Italian Sculptor Wars.  No?


The Church of Santa Susanna is across the street.  There has been construction so we ogled the outside but didn’t go in.  This is home of the American Catholic Church in Rome so I’m sure we’ll be back.  Santa Susanna’s exterior boasts “a highly influential early Baroque design” and some pretty amazing FAQs on its website.

1. What is the Pope’s email address?

Everyone wants to talk directly to the pope. Unfortunately the population of the world is now over 6 billion people and the Holy Father is not capable of speaking to each person privately.Though Pope Benedict had an email address, so far Pope Francis has not listed his.

Santa Susanna

Santa Susanna

We headed down to Piazza della Repubblica, close to Termini train station.

Junk exposure took place over my left shoulder

Junk exposure took place over my left shoulder

But before the titular diaper change, we went to the Baths of Diocletian.  The baths were built between 298 and 306They have many other uses now–Michelangelo designed a church inside–but you can still see the exterior and infrastructure.  At the tallest point, they are seven stories high.

According to Wikipedia, the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History building was partially based on design elements from the Baths of Diocletian

According to Wikipedia, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History building was partially based on design elements from the Baths of Diocletian.  I can see it.

Typical state of affairs around here

Typical state of affairs around here

Google auto-awesomed this one.  I kind of love it.

Google auto-awesomed this one. I kind of love it.

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Lots of trompe l'oeil in here.  Can you tell the bit to the left is just painted on?

Lots of trompe l’oeil in here. Can you tell the bit to the left (green columns) is just painted on?

We got to enjoy a few minutes of an organ concert inside the church.  Henry was enthralled.

I counted more than 70 stops on this bad boy.

I counted more than 70 stops on this bad boy.

After the diaper change, we picked up takeout pizza from Alice (Ah-lee-che), a delicious pizza chain here.  We enjoyed it in the Villa Borghese Park to the sound of a dude playing the mandolin.

Alice selfie

Alice selfie

Both kids crashed before we could make it back for official nap time, but it was a pretty nice day.

Ball so hard

Ball so hard

James put together this map ex post facto of our route.  I think it was only around three miles, but it felt longer.  I blame the toddler stop and go.  It isn’t just “mas running,” but you have to frequently reline up at the starting line.

Will try to update this when I find a way to make it look better

Will try to update this when I find a way to make it look better.  Blogger fail.