Days 7-9: All Roads Lead to Rome

Full disclosure, I was bursting at the seams with expectations for Rome – since I fell vicariously in love with it in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Eat Pray Love. Anne Lamott says “expectations are disappointments in waiting” – but what does she know, anyway?Rome did not disappoint. It didn’t even come close to disappointing, didn’t even flirt with the distant twice-removed cousin of disappointment. 

In fact, it wildly exceeded every unfair expectation I had of it.

If Paris seemed just out of my reach, it felt like Rome welcomed me with open arms. And it did, in fact – we heard the word “prego” more often than any other… and all my memories of Rome are filled with smiling, open-armed people. 

***Taylor even mistakenly hugged a waiter that welcomed us in to the restaurant, thinking he was asking for a hug ***

The whole city just oozed homeyness. Out of every upper-story balcony you could see fresh laundry billowing in the breeze, and at almost every street corner stood a heavyset woman – exasperated, shouting at her husband, or greasy-haired son, or kids squirming out from under the legs of a crowd. I felt like an adopted American daughter here – Welcome, come in, sit down, eat something.

And you guys… the food.

I was warned of this. It’s not like I wasn’t expecting it. Here’s how I was told to prepare for Italy: “Just imagine the best meal you’ve ever eaten in your whole life. Now imagine eating the best meal of your life for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” I was told! And yet nothing could possibly have prepared me.

You guys… the food.

It’s taking 100% of my willpower right now not to detail to you every bite of every meal we ate in the last three days… but I have neither the time nor the necessary culinary vocabulary, so I’ll leave that to the food bloggers. But what I WILL tell you is, we’ve been doing it all wrong.

… The whole food thing, I mean. All of it. It’s all wrong. I don’t even know exactly WHAT we’re doing wrong, but I know this: I swear to you I had not actually TASTED a tomato until this trip. I’ve eaten maybe hundreds of thousands of tomatoes in my lifetime, before now I might have even counted them among my favorite salad ingredients… but I tell you, I DID NOT KNOW WHAT THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO TASTE LIKE. 

Looking back, the tomatoes of my past seem like bland carbon copies of real tomatoes. A sham, a mere imposter. I was living in a fool’s paradise – frolicking through life all tra-la-la thinking I knew my way around a tomato as well as I knew my own belly button. But boy, was I wrong. Hopelessly and desperately wrong.

I didn’t know that something as simple as a tomato could be a delicacy, all by its little self. I grew up around vegetables you had to slather in something else to make edible – but these crisp, fresh, delightful little buggers could’ve kept me sustained for the whole trip.

Luckily, they didn’t have to. They were accompanied by mozzarella (good god, the mozzarella), and pizza (please don’t get me started on the pizza) and pasta and garlic bread and gelato and a dozen other meals that made me want to kiss my fingertips in gratitude for such entirely unmatched flavor.

All I’m saying is, American food, you better step yo game up.

But even aside from the food, aside from the city’s grinning and well-fed inhabitants – Rome left me positively breathless. Its ancient, crumbling structures juxtaposed against the backdrop of modern, colorful apartments was a sight I never could have gleaned from Elizabeth Gilbert, however powerful a writer she is. 

Sitting in a sunny cafe eating stracciatella and looking out at Europe’s most timeless skyline, or walking shamelessly into other tourists as I stared straight up in awe at the Sistine Chapel, or returning to the same restaurant twice in three days because it was amazing and darnit we’re on vacation and we do what we want… these are the things I’ll never forget about Rome.

It’s with a heavy heart (and sad tummies) that we say goodbye… but can’t wait to see what London has in store.

***Taylor’s Recap***

Title: Rome – when in Rome, do as the Romans do, unless you want to live long. 

4.13.16-4.15.16 Ok, so last time I wrote I mentioned that I left Paris a better man. Well folks, I left Rome a fatter man. Pizza, pasta, gelato, and wine. Nonstop! Don’t leave, don’t even expect the waiter to deliver a check unless you’re plate is clean. I won’t fight this however, the food was some of the best I’ve ever consumed. Be it the best pizza in the world in Naples or the made from scratch pasta near the hotel in Rome. 

Let’s get to Rome; it’s quite the city. It’s a rather ancient place with many of the monuments we visited ranging from 80AD-150AD. My favorite spot was the Coliseum – from the outside it’s epic, from the inside it’s eerily real. My imagination quickly took over as I imagined being all of the different parts that played a role in a day at the coliseum. I wondered, if I was rich where would I sit, and how would my view be. If I was a slave, I thought my fear of heights would probably kick in, and of course if I was a gladiator, I imagined the rumble of the crowds when my name was announced, but also the fear of death. It was a sad life for many. 

It was remarkable how this ancient stadium still plays a part in now we construct how stadiums today. 

Between the Trevi fountain, Pantheon, Roman Forum, and Vatican, Rome was a picturesque journey of crumbling buildings soaking in history, it made me a little regretful that I didn’t study up before partaking on this journey.

1 small tip for Roman Travel: If you don’t like smelling the smoke of cigarettes, I’d recommend you stay far, far away from Rome. They’re everywhere friends! 

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Days 3-6: Paris, Mon Amour

Have you ever been somewhere so absurdly beautiful that it almost made you sad? F. Scott Fitzgerald once said “I remember riding in a taxi one afternoon between very tall buildings under a mauve and rosy sky; I began to bawl because I had everything I wanted and knew I would never be so happy again.” 

Paris was like that for me – so pretty it made my eyes hurt, so magnificent that it rendered me prematurely nostalgic (even with two feet on French soil).

Everywhere we went I was struck dumb by unrelenting beauty, and simultaneously filled with an unprecedented sense of longing. My heart twanged like a rubber band.

There are no imperfections to take comfort in here – no ugly plot of dirt upon which to rest your eyes. From the exquisitely manicured landscapes, to the breathtaking architecture, to the priceless masterpieces dropped like pebbles at every street corner, every inch of the city is beautiful – almost confrontationally so. 

The people are also good examples of this. Never have I come across more poise and polish than I have in Paris. The men have a graceful but somewhat bored look about them, as if they demand your attention but also don’t have the slightest patience for it. The women are so flawless – their outfits carefully put together, not a strand of hair out of place – that it makes you want to stand and applaud when they walk by. 

There’s an unattainablity to it, the whole city just out of your reach.

But my god – if you can grasp it like we did for a few fleeting days, what an experience.

Here was our first day: 

We hailed a cab from the airport, and our driver was a very amiable Haitian man. The ride was pleasant enough (if you don’t count going 90 miles per hour on the freeway) until we got into the city. That’s where, apparently, all driving rules become guidelines and all common courtesy goes out the window. ***there must be 10-15 car accidents on each street daily***The streets of Paris are built in such a way that it’s almost like the city planners were aiming for the most accidents possible. The lanes are so narrow that I don’t think I exhaled the entire ride, and the cab driver shouted at every third car or pedestrian, “With CAUTION, my god…” while blaring his horn. We would come to learn during our time in Paris that this was not at all uncommon – we had similar experiences in every taxi.

Even still though, we arrived at our hotel in La Ville de L’amour in one piece, and with enough daylight to still do some exploring. 

The concierge recommended an “after work” (which we think means “happy hour”) cafe within a couple blocks from the hotel, so we set off in the light rain. At the cafe we ordered a cheese board and red wine (two foods I would have much more of in the days to come).

The rest of the evening can be best characterized by the word “yes.”

We passed a back alley bar with no name and no patrons – did we want to go in? Yes. The proprietor gestured to us in incomprehensible French – would we like to sit down? Yes. The special cocktail of the night was served out of a ladle from a big glass punchbowl on the counter. Do we dare to try it? Yes.

We moseyed our way to the next venue for dinner – a classy joint with that quintessentially French script font. Taylor shocked and impressed our waiter by ordering the special reserve vintage bottle of wine from the top of the menu.
After dinner, risotto leftovers in-hand, we passed a man on a petty cab – who asked, “Do you want a ride to the Eiffel Tower?”

Yes, yes we do.

He blasted his French pop music and toured us over every bridge for the views on the way – Taylor and I squealing and giggling in the back like overexcited toddlers. *** even after discovering the ride was 3 times what he quoted is initially and needed near an ATM for his convenience. Who cares right?***

We got to the Eiffel Tower just past sunset, when it began its famed light show. We stared up at it for a good few minutes, mouthes agape.

Then we were asked if we wanted to purchase Eiffel Tower souvenirs. Yes, in fact, we did.

Did we also want a selfie stick? Yes.

Did we want a bottle of champagne to drink on the grass? Yes.

(But paying full price for anything is against Taylor’s personal religion, so at least we got all of it for a deal)

We sat on French grass, drinking champagne and watching the Eiffel Tower light up, and I felt fully immersed into the magic of this city. No WONDER this is the subject of so many romance novels and blockbusters. No wonder it makes my heart ache. No wonder, as the Casablanca line goes, “We’ll always have Paris.” 

… And this was all in the first five hours of stepping off the plane.

The next two days had me weak at the knees for this incredible town – we paid Tribute to Napoleon’s tomb and his famous Arc de Triomphe, and laid eyes on some of the world’s masterpieces at the Louvre and Musée de l’Orangerie. 

We ate dinner at apparently the only restaurant in all of Paris open on Sundays, 400 square feet and housing approximately 50 people. We knocked elbows with the people on either side of us, and I ate quite possibly the butteriest, flakiest, most delicious fish I’ve ever had in my whole life.

We locked our love at le Pont Des Arts Bridge, and (like the cheese balls we are) threw the keys in the river. And on our last night, I made Taylor try escargot.

Paris, I have trouble believing that any city could compare to you – but I’m willing to give Rome a fighting chance.

***Taylor’s Recap***

Title: Paris so special— it can’t be broken down daily. 

4.10.16-4.12.16 When I first booked this trip, I knew Paris was a must-see. I knew Susie had always wanted to see it and that if I didn’t add it to the list, it would spell trouble. Little did I know, when I left I would have completely changed my opinion for Paris and France. 

In short, I always thought Paris was a wonderfully historic place, with people using this fancy language with incredible historic museums and landmarks.

However, what I didn’t understand was just how amazing I would feel while experiencing all of these things. 

Look I like to consider myself a true blue American, not the kind that believes we need to make america great again, or that the 2nd amendment is our most special right to freedom. But instead someone that is so proud of where I come from and the culture I’ve grown up with. This might even make it more hard to enjoy the culture of other countries… However Paris found away to break that shell and show me something wonderful. 

Favorites: 

* Napoleon tomb and war museum. I loved it, always a fan of the history of Napoleons reign in France, this was on the must see list for me. It did not disappoint. 

* Bistro and cafe meals – be it an afternoon coffee or beer, or an actual dinner I loved eating out in Paris. 

* The Museum de Orangerie. Cinderella story I know – in comparison to the Louvre. However, the quality of art was exception and totally over delivered and my expectations for this little museum. 

Underwhelming check-in: the Mona Lisa? So you walk, and walk and walk searching for the room that has the Mona Lisa painting. Then when you find it, the room is full of hundreds of people all staring and looking to take a pic of a relatively small painting. Obvs, it’s a historically famous piece of work – I just think the build up to see it was too much. 

Whether it be art, history, beauty or genuine kindness from the people Paris was second to none. In my entire life, I’ve never stood in front of a piece of art and just stared at it looking for the meaning. I found myself becoming a better version of myself, intrigued by the unfamiliar and astonished as to why my mind had never been open to seeing this before. 

I leave Paris a better man, I leave Paris a less ignorant person and I thank Paris for showing me a time that I will always remember.

Travel Notes while in Paris: 

Edinburgh to Paris CDG via easyJet Airlines. Taxi to Marriott Ambassador Opera. Public metro throughout Paris. 

Day Two – Ye Olde Edinburgh Golf

Taylor and I have been on a melatonin regimen for three days to ward off jetlag… and yet, our eyelids snapped open at 2:40am this morning like they were spring-loaded. Which makes this the second day in a row with just plain too many waking hours.
But that was handy in a way, because we needed to depart our London hotel early – since this is the day we head to a brief overnight stay in Edinburgh. I bought Taylor a round of golf at St. Andrews for Christmas (which makes me the second-best gift giver in our relationship, right after him gifting this WHOLE DAMN TRIP to me).This bit of traveling was relatively easy compared to yesterday – our taxi driver was waiting for us outside the hotel (sitting on the wrong side of the car, of course)… and the drive to the airport was short and sweet. We should’ve been suspicious there, it was wayyy too good to be true.

We got to the airport, reached the ticketing line, and swiped our boarding passes through the handy self-serve machine. An ominous red X appeared on the screen, with the message “See Attendant.” 

We warily approached the friendly, cogney-accented man. He swiped our boarding pass himself, and again a definitive burgundy X flooded the screen. He seemed as baffled as we were, squinting at our tickets for some error. “Oi!” he called his other ticketing colleague over, “What’s today’s date, mate?” The man responded, with impressive certainty, “the 8th.”

The cogney man returned our tickets to us and said matter-of-factly, “these were for yesterday.”

I’d booked the wrong date – it was impossible. How many times had we gone over this itinerary together? How many excel spreadsheets had we built detailing every flight, hotel, and minute of this trip? And what’s worse – 99.9% of this planning was Taylor. He entrusted me with only two things – our park and fly reservation in Seattle, and this flight. I was 1 for 2.

We made our way back to the ticketing counter and received good news and bad news – the good, there was an identical flight today with two seats available. The bad? It was going to cost us £80 to change… roughly the cost of the tickets to begin with.

We chalked it up to “it could be a LOT worse,” and added a tally to our number of unfortunate traveling woes so far.

We landed in Edinburgh safely, and went about renting our first and only car this trip. (Note: on our way to Alamo, we found a discarded luggage trolley to relieve our aching backs – the first sign of our luck turning around!)

You guys, driving on the wrong side of the car AND the wrong side of the road was a trip and a half… and I wasn’t even behind the wheel. Without fail I tried to get in on the driver’s side every. single time. And even as a passenger, I felt like a daredevil being able to flail my arms and legs without a wheel and pedals in front of me. We drove about 20 below the speed limit, me gripping my seat and constantly cautioning Taylor “you’re about to hit that curb! That sign! That parked car!” through clenched teeth… but eventually made it to the golf course.

Oh my gawd, was it ever beautiful. Just green, rolling hills as far as the eye could see… except when your view was obstructed by a massive stone castle. I played with Taylor for most of it, although at times my attention span drifted (this is reflected in the scorecard – “What’d you get on that hole, Tay? A par? Okay great, you win, I got a heart smileyface.”)

Overall a truly lovely (short) trip. Scotland will definitely be on my list the next time we’re not trying to cram four cities into 12 days.

And now, bonjour a París!

***Taylor’s Recap***

Title: Home of Golf – well worth the extra commute. 

4.8.16 Word to the wise: there’s no correct amount of preparation that you can put into a vacation to Europe. Things will inevitably go wrong. Therefore, instead prepare for how you’re going to deal with the adversity when it arrives. Day 1 was a nightmare and I didn’t react well, and thus probably didn’t enjoy it like a first day of a vacation should have been enjoyed. However, day 2 started equally bad, but I changed my reaction and the result was a much more pleasant day overall! 

Unbelievable! That’s the one word I’m using to define golfing at St Andrews. It was an experience that I won’t soon forget. We’ll get back to that. I can’t believe how much more difficult it is the drive on the other side of the road. It totally changes the depth perception being on the other side of the car and as an American, I just wanted to hug the outside line to avoid a head on collision with the other lane. All things considered o only hit one curb and the enterprise lady said “returned in perfect condition”. Good thing, because you can bet the minute I set out of the journey of driving to St. Andrews, I was regretting declining the insurance. 

Back to golf; the home of golf and birthplace of golf did not disappoint. From the minute we walked in and were greeted by James to the 18th where we seen off by Marc, the service at the Home of Golf was second-to-none. The folks at St Andrews are like long time friends that just want to ensure that you have a memorable experience. We sure did: Imagine looking out at a links golf course seeing clear skies, open water, pristine greens and your best friend and maybe even #1 fan next to you. That was my day in the nutshell version (no pun intended). It was amazing, and my golf game was even on point. It was as if I was possessed by the Scottish golf ghost and every decision was the right one. I would say to Sooz “I’m gonna hit a bump and run here” and then I hit one on the green within 6 feet. Moreover, I’ve never putted as well in my life. That was the front 9 though. We won’t talk about the back 9 in the journal. 

Daily Travel Notes:

Taxi to London City Airport, Flybe Air to Edinburgh. Rental car in EDI, Mazda 6. Drive Mazda to St Andrews, 1.5 hours away. Drive car back to Marriott. 

Annnnnd we’re off!

Remember that Europe trip Taylor bought me for my birthday? Six months later and we’re on it! I’ll be using the Nutshell Version to provide periodic (albeit brief) updates along the way. As a special Nutshell Version edition, Taylor will also be contributing – you’ll see his additions notated with ***. 🙂

We just arrived last night and a vast majority of our time so far has been spent traveling, so I don’t have a whole lot to report… except that the last 24 hours has been the most incredible comedy of errors, and it just needs to be documented.
I’m laughing as I type this, though, because there is no possible way I could encapsulate the absurdity of our trip so far in a blog post. But I’ll try:

Here’s what was supposed to happen:

Susie and Taylor arrive at London Heathrow and pick up their handy traveling wifi hotspot to use on the trip.

They take the brief 30-minute trolley ride to their hotel, check in, and live happily ever after.

Here’s what did happen:

Unfortunately we and our wifi hotspot arrived in opposite terminals. In any other airport, this might have meant a quick jaunt on a moving sidewalk… but since London Heathrow is roughly the square mileage of some African countries, getting there brought about a navigational adventure for which we were wholly unprepared.

Also of note, before I go on: We are lost, gullible souls and let our friend Will talk us into buying the end-all be-all European carryon for this trip – allegedly perfectly shaped and sized for any airline, and conveniently convertible from backpack to handbag to duffle. Not so convenient, however, is the fact that it doesn’t have wheels… and so we trekked our way through London Heathrow with these weighty monstrosities on our backs, looking for all the world like big bulky turtles. (I’d like to issue a formal apology to the dozens of innocent passerbys whose elbows and faces fell victim to this pitiless beast of a bag.)

***wheels in Europe = happiness*** 

All this to say, here we were coming off a 10-hour flight and 2 hours in customs, in a foreign airport and with only a very foggy idea of where we might find this hypothetical wifi hotspot in the distant mythical land of Terminal 4… and to top it all off, we’re both hobbling along like ankle-cuffed prisoners under the weight of 12 days’ worth of clothes and belongings.

***14 kgs or 29 lbs***

Suffice it to say, spirits weren’t high.

40 minutes and a crowded train ride later, we did in fact arrive at Terminal 4. And – aha! – there was the pickup location of our golden wifi hotspot. Things were looking up… until we received the device and realized it didn’t work. We realized this when it failed to provide directions to our hotel.

Exhausted, grumpy, and hunchbacked, we decided we would figure it out later… and instead used the spotty airport wifi to search for the hotel address. That’s when we learned that in traveling 40 minutes to our technology meeting point, we had put ourselves 40 minutes farther away from a bed. 

We spent the next hour and a half becoming intimately familiar with the London Underground, accompanied by what appeared to be the entire population of England on the train. “Sardines” isn’t even an adequate comparison, since at least sardines don’t have armpits or hacking coughs. We caught brief, shining glimpses of the city through the train windows… but ultimately 5 hours in, had yet to step foot on British soil.

And then, like a lighthouse’s shining beacon to sea-worn sailors… we reached our stop. We staggered out of the platform, weary and disheveled, and began the search for our hotel.

…Except that, oh yeah, we didn’t have internet. And that the train station was in the middle of a corporate office park – no friendly cafes to ask for directions. We cobbled together our meager bearings and began walking in what we thought was the right direction – with 30 pounds of baggage each.

***based on earlier review of maps, it was a 10 minute walk****

A mile and a half later, there was still no sign of the hotel – nor any of the landmarks we knew to look for. Our backs and feet ached. I threw my hands up in defeat and decided it was worth it to use international roaming data to figure out where the heck we were. We checked the map, and to our horror learned that we had walked a mile and a half in the wrong direction.

Despair settled over us like an X-Ray blanket.

We kept it to just one foot-stomping scream sesh before trudging, reluctantly, back the opposite way. 

By the end of it, my shoulders were screaming in agony. My feet had formed a union and were threatening to go on strike. I’d been awake for 21 straight hours – and while during that time I didn’t come across a single mirror, I felt qualified to guess at my current physical state. 

Finally, finally, we saw it – a friendly Marriott logo looming on the horizon. A tiny spring of hope began to blossom in my chest, we’d made it! Three miles of walking, half of which was in the wrong direction, and here we were at the hotel at last.

But wait, those steps looked awfully familiar. And I could’ve sworn we’d seen that JP Morgan building before. And isn’t that the same plaza we walked through when we first got off the train?

We almost collapsed with our mighty backpacks under the weight of this realization – we’d spent over an hour walking in needless circles when our hotel was steps away from the train station.

Just like we’d spent 40 minutes moving infinitely farther from our hotel on the train, for a wifi hotspot that didn’t work.

There were some good parts, though… like the flight attendant who stole some *** (a bottles worth)****champagne from first class for us to make mimosas, and whispered conspiratorially that it was Winston Churchill’s favorite brand (he reportedly drank a bottle every day). Or the fact that when we finally did get settled and had dinner, Creedence Clearwater Revival was playing in the restaurant. Or that even through the nightmarish underground train ride, we were at least entertained by the festive trolley line names (our connections were Piccadilly and Jubilee).

So now, we sit in our hotel room, treat ourselves to some overpriced room service, and toast the highlights of a comically bad day. Here’s to an outstanding trip ahead!

***Taylor’s Recap***

Title: Travel is a devastatingly challenging to make perfect.  

4.7.16 Whoa! You’ve heard of planes, trains and automobiles right? Well today we did all of the above plus 15k steps with a bag on the shoulders weighing 10kgs. Ouch! Plus I never really realized how dependent I’ve become on the Internet. Literally felt worthless without it. Sleep? Naw. Fall asleep at 10:30 wake up at 2:30. Stayed up thru the night. Jet lag is real folks. Melatonin regimen? Please. No matter what things you do to ensure perfection, ease and comfort, it just might not be fully achievable. 

Daily Travel notes:

Delta airlines to Heathrow, Piccadily Line to Green Park- Transfer to Jubille line – to West India Quay Marriott.