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2024 Ledgers


January

JANUARY

Happy New Year, fine friends! Since my 2023 recap was so comprehensive, this email can solely be about the 8 days I just spent in Italy! I had a great solo trip, and I highly recommend Italy for the sights, the food, and the concerts.

As usual, it took an awful lot of time to get the 1,277 photos on the Facebook and to caption them, so please go look at those.

DAY 1: WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 3rd: ROME

The less said about the journey to and fro JFK, the better. I arrived in Italy a little before 10AM, and was at my AirBnB by 11:30AM, which is a testament to how efficiently the FCO airport is run. I took the 32 minute, 14 Euro train from the airport to Roma Termini, which was a 15 minute walk from where I staying. I found a great room in an apartment for only $53/night. It was small, but had its own bathroom and fast Wi-Fi. My host, who met met outside, was nice enough to let me drop off my bags early, so I was ready to explore and out the door before noon.

I had gotten a folding Rome paper map on eBay and circled everywhere I wanted to get to. Using that and GoogleMaps at home, I created an itinerary to see things by their vicinity. However, I had figured I wouldn’t start out till closer to 1 or 2, so I ended up squeezing in a bunch of things on Wednesday that were on later days because, as I always say: why put off till tomorrow what you can do today?

Rome does have a subway and bus system, but I never used them since I was centrally located — an hour walk from everything I wanted to see at most. I won’t bury the lede — according to my iPhone, I walked on average 29,839 steps a day! No wonder my feet hurt so much!

I mostly had a plan of attack, but I also went on tangents following different roads when I saw architecture I wanted to get a photo of. A lot of the piazzas ran together, but I’m glad I saw as many as I did. Here’s where I went to on Wednesday:

Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi — I was passing a free museum, and I can never pass those up! I believe this is one of those “rich people decided to donate their collection so people could see it after they die” type places, and there was an exhibit called “Fifties in Rome” featuring the fashion of the day, amongst other interesting art pieces.

Spanish Steps — I ended up coming out at the top of the steps, and went into the big church there. Then I walked down, and there was a really big Xmas tree (from Dior), ala 30 Rock, and when I returned to the steps a few days later, it was all gone, so it’s good I managed to see it all before. In general, the first few days were a bit crowded. I imagine that it would’ve been worse in the summer, but apparently Italy schools were off the first week of the year, so there were a lot of domestic tourists in the major areas.

Barcaccia Gelateria — I had different gelato flavors every day starting with Milk Chocolate and Pistachio. I didn’t have bad gelato all trip, and it was always incredibly (and ridiculously) cheap. Definitely one of the perks of Italy!

Pedro Sandoval Art Exhibit — Another free stop — some interesting musical instrument sculptures — it was a very small gallery.

Piazza del Popolo — This was my favorite piazzas because it was so wide open and had cool things to see on all four sides. There was an obelisk in the center and some interesting sculptures. I rested for a bit on some steps listening to some live music because I was a bit tired having stayed up so long.

Piazza Colonna — There was a tall structure in this piazza too, but there wasn’t anywhere to just chill.

Largo Argentina — At this really cool ruin, there is a cat sanctuary where they currently have 86 cats they are taking care of! They let you go in, and it’s basically a free cat cafe.

Campo de Fiori — This wide open space had a lot of vendors on Wednesday selling things, ala a flea market, and a statue in the middle.

Piazza Navona — Another huge area of town, on the day I was there, there was a carnival type thing happening – a carousel and so throngs of people, but when I passed through the next week, it was much calmer. Very trendy area for restaurants.

Really, I passed so many different places and interesting buildings including many churches, and will have to refer you to my own photos for the complete (pun intended) picture. I highly recommend them because I’m biased and I took them, but to give you more incentive, I continued my “Seth takes a selfie with a statue and tries to recreate it” series, which my friend Ilene says is not to be missed! (I’m paraphrasing.)

Trevi Fountain — This is the most iconic Rome location, and it was so crowded in the afternoon that I could barely get a photo. Absolutely gorgeous though!

Porta Pia — This is a giant arch, which was right by my AirBnB.

Pizzeria Al Forno della Soffitta — For my first dinner, I ate across the street from where I was staying for convenience. I started with a fried bread, piazza appetizer then had traditional Italian eggplant parmesan, and I’m drooling just going through the pictures.

I was incredibly tired, having stayed up over 24 hours, and I went to bed around 8PM because I couldn’t stay up any longer.

DAY 2: THURSDAY, JANUARY 4th: ROME

Thursday said that it might rain, but since I brought my umbrella along with me, it turned into the most beautiful day ever.

I started by having a quick breakfast at Mammarella Cafe Bistrot which was next door to my place. I had eggs, toast and bacon with delicious fresh squeezed OJ because I woke up famished, and I figured it would good to have a big breakfast given how much walking I would do that day (and I was right). I went to a lot of places on Thursday:

Trevi Fountain — In the morning it was way calmer and I was able to throw a coin into the fountain!

Pantheon — I was told to get all my tickets in advanced to skip-the-line, and this was the right decision. Some of these lines were out of control! The Pantheon ticket was for 11am, but they still let me in at 10, which is different from every other place I tried to enter early. The Pantheon is a really big church type thing, and was definitely worth seeing. I won’t bother going into historical things, because I didn’t really pay attention to those, especially since I was so jet lagged the first few days. If you’d like more information on some of these places, I highly recommended Google.

Piazza della Minerva — I took a really cute photo with an elephant statue!

Piazza Venezia — This was a huge intersection.

Vittorio Emanuele II Monument — I climbed up the stairs all the way, and got a great view. This monument was pretty, apologies, monumental. You had to pay to go all the way up in an elevator and to see an exhibit about the statue, but if you don’t care about views (which I don’t ever pay for on principle) or history (which I could really do without), then you can totally walk around everywhere else up there.

Capitoline Hill — I walked up the hill, saw the Capitoline Wolf statue (which I got a mini-version of for 2 Euro for my piano), got a picture with the outside of the Roman Forum and headed to the Colosseum. On my way, these men kept trying to talk to me — saying I had “nice shoes” which was the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard b/c they were falling-apart sneakers! This was the only time I actually saw crime trying to happen, though I’m not sure what their game plan was trying to ask people where they were from, etc… I had been warned about pickpockets, but I didn’t see anything close to that happening, and felt completely safe the whole trip — besides being a bit faclempt in the most crowded tourist areas, where I did make sure to hold onto my phone and cover my wallet very tightly.

Arch of Constantine — Anyway, the colosseum would not let me in early, so I ended up with an hour to kill. Oops! I took a picture with this arch, then I walked down the street to Circus Massimo and sat for a bit.

Colosseum — This is a gorgeous place! I highly recommend getting the skip-the-line tickets in advance, even if it means you are stuck waiting outside for an hour. I did the basic areas — my cousin had recommended the basement, but that was a separate, more expensive tour. But I did try to take pictures of it from the first level. I marveled in this marvel!

Roman Forum & Palatine Hill — The ticket for the Colosseum includes these must see places. I walked around them for hours, and it was really cool thinking about how long those structures have been around. In the Roman Forum, I saw where the Vestal Virgins lived, and also saw where Julius Caesar’s ashes are buried!

Gelateria Artigianale di Eccellenza — I was starving, so I decided to eat dessert first, and today’s flavors were Chocolate Chip, Mango and Cheesecake (which might’ve been my favorite flavor of the week!)

Santa Maria in Aracoeli — I went up a lot of stairs to see the inside of yet another church…

Capitoline Museum — This museum was pretty good. It was one of those — you can only go up and down in certain areas, so it took a bit to make sure I had visited every section. The actual Capitoline Wolf was in here, a gold statue of David, and they had a special exhibit on the hundreds of Jews who were taken from Rome in 1943 to the concentration camps, and the 2 who survived.

Taverna Boccaccio — I decided to walk away from the touristy areas, and was exploring the tiny little streets off the main roads, and found this cute restaurant that was a Trip Advisor pic. I had the most amazing Fettuccini Alfredo.

Piazza della Repubblica — I walked home past all the lights in this piazza, which I would actually end up walking through a lot when I started going to the concerts at St. Paul’s nightly.

DAY 3: FRIDAY, JANUARY 5th: FLORENCE

On Friday, I woke up and went straight to Roma Termini where I got on a high speed train to Florence. Italy has a great high speed train system, and by buying the tickets a few months in advance, I got pretty decent fares. I did find it really exhausting trying to figure out all the timing for the day so far removed from the trip, but I’m happy to say I mostly succeeded in my guesstimations! Roma Termini is pretty huge, and I was warned of people stealing bags, so I was extra cautious. There was a big board and using the train number on my ticket, I was easily able to figure out which track to go to. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the train had decent Wi-Fi and they gave out snacks and water, but I mostly spent the ride reading.

Florence is adorable, and very easy to navigate since all roads either lead to the Duomo or the river, and it’s also helpful the landmarks are super tall and often visible. The phone said it was going to rain in the afternoon and night, so I wisely decided to run around like a madman seeing all the outside stuff before the precipitation.

So, I went and took photos of Santa Maria Novella, the Duomo AKA Florence Cathedral, Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze, and Palazzo Vecchio. I didn’t go inside anything because there were such long queues, and I really wanted to get to the Synagogue/Jewish museum by 3PM before it closed for Shabbat.

Before I got to the museum, I was a bit hungry, so I grabbed a quick cheese sandwich at Caffe Pasticceria.

The Florence Synagogue is absolutely beautiful. It has a moorish design with an Italian dome. A guy called David Levi bequeathed most of his inheritance to its creation in 1874. The first Rabbi in the 1880s was Samuel Hirsch Margulies — so maybe he was a distant cousin. The museum is in the synagogue itself, and only had a few rooms. But just going into the synagogue itself was worth the tiny admission fee. Absolutely beautiful!

After I stopped by my AirBnB to meet my host for the night and her friendly cat.

Then I headed to the Galleria Dell’Accademia Di Firenze to see Michelangelo’s statue David. This was one of the only places I hadn’t pre-bought the ticket, and I deeply regret it. I stood in the freezing rain on the non-reservation line for about an hour, which is longer than I spent in the museum itself! If I had realized that the queue would be decimated closer to closing time (7PM), I would’ve shown up later. Seeing David in person was cool, though. There wasn’t much else of note in the museum, though there was a tiny musical instruments section.

I went to dinner at Buca Niccolini because they advertised a 20 Euro Florentine Steak, which seemed like something I should try while in Florence. It was delicious! Unfortunately, the restaurant had Wi-Fi that made you verify your phone number or social media or email, and since I didn’t have Wi-Fi I couldn’t access any of those. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. If you have access to data on your phone, you do not need Wi-Fi! Anyway, I ended up talking to 2 really nice sisters from America who were sitting at the adjacent for awhile till I was kicked out since they had reservations to fulfill. It was nice to meet some Americans, though neither added me on social media… ah, well…

I went to Amorino right off the main square for my daily gelato, which was organic lemon sorbet, organic chocolate and wild berries.

Thankfully, it stopped raining, so I was able to stroll around in this charming city after dark. I came across a warthog that people were putting money in for luck, but it was a long queue and I didn’t feel like wasting more coins. I crossed the river and went to a classical opera concert at the church of Santa Monica. It said it was an Italian Opera concert, bu they featured some non-Italian composers like Mozart. The concert consisted of a soprano and a baritone doing mostly arias, plus a pianist who also played 2 solos (Schubert and Chopin — also not Italian!). I was happy there was one Puccini.

Afterwards, I walked home, and it was totally alive and happening! I was so tired that I fell asleep very quickly.

DAY 4: SATURDAY, JANUARY 6th: PISA

When you are taking a local train, you have to check your ticket in after midnight. While doing this, I realized I could move my train back, and since I wanted to sleep in, and also at this point realized that I wouldn’t be able to get into places earlier than my ticket said, but could get there a bit late without any issues, I happily decided to not set an alarm and move my train to Pisa to 12:28 from 11.

This also gave me enough time to go to the Piazzale Michelangelo, which was also on the other side of the river. First I briefly stopped by the Giardino dell Rose, but it was raining, so I didn’t linger and kept going towards the Piazzale. It was definitely worth it to go for the view but neither Google nor the signs pointing out where to go made it clear just how far up it is. Of course, it makes sense it would be high since it was billed as the best view of Florence, but it was quite a hike up, up, and more up.

After taking some picturesque pictures, I hustled to the train station to make my train to Pisa. There was an old car festival going on by the Basicalia de Maria Novella, which is funny because I seem to run into these sorts of things often around the world, the last time being in Madison, WI.

Pisa is pretty dull. I’m not going to lie! And it was raining still, so that put a damper on the day. I followed signs to the Tower of Pisa, which was about a half hour from the train. The entire town was pretty much closed, which could be because it was a Saturday. When I got to the Tower, I realized that I had to check my bag, so I ended up even later for my time slot, but they didn’t care. The Tower has 296 steps, and I walked up them glad to not slip because they were super wet since it was raining. I spent some time at the top taking photos, trying to make the photos make it clear there was a slant.

When I came down I did my social media lauded photoshoot with the Tower of Pisa. Thankfully, the rain ebbed a bit, and I was able to have fun for about 15 minutes trying to come up with interesting and funny shots! I admit I had a really great time doing this, and even though Pisa has nothing else going for it, I’ve heard about this leaning tower my entire life, and I was super happy to be there.

I went into the Cathedral, which wasn’t that exciting and sat for a bit out of the rain, and then I found Wi-Fi at the visitor’s center. Given my train back wasn’t till 7, I had a bunch of time to kill anyway, so I figured I should get my photoshoot up before people in the USA were awake, so they had something fun to wake up to.

There were no restaurants open on my walk, so I figured I had better eat right in the area of the tower. I found a TripAdvisor approved restaurant called Ristoro Pecorino where I had minestrone soup and the best lasagna ever.

Finally, after dinner I went to get gelato from a small cafe that was still open. The flavors of the day for me were melon and cookies.

Unfortunately, my train was delayed by 45 minutes, so I had to sit in the icky Pisa train station for almost 2 hours since I had gotten there early. So I didn’t get home till 11PM. The only good news with the train being delayed so much is that I’m getting a 25% refund since it was over a half hour late. Traveling in Europe is much nicer than traveling in America sometimes! (Most times…)

DAY 5: SUNDAY, JANUARY 7th: POMPEII, NAPLES

I woke up early on Sunday to take my 9AM train to Pompei/Pompeii. Pompei is the city; Pompeii is the lost civilization that was buried in lava. Unfortunately, my good weather luck disappeared on Sunday, and it was pouring for most of the day.

The good news is that most places in Italy are free on the first Sunday of the month, so at least I didn’t have to pay to enter.

Pompeii is pretty spread out, as it was a full city. I usually try to meticulously check off where I’ve been when I go somewhere, but unfortunately, my paper map was decimated by the rain. In fact, everything I brought that day ended up soaked, including myself. Luckily, I had an umbrella, but there’s only so much one can do.

Anyway, I’m not going to be able to give you a huge detailed recap of Pompeii, which is fine, b/c you can always google it. I did walk around, and I saw many houses. A lot of them had exits that came out somewhere else, so that made it even harder to navigate in the rain. There were also puddles and lots of roped off corridors due to the inclement weather. They had rocks that were in the roads, so you could step on those instead of stepping into the puddles. It kind of was like that game my nephew and niece play — “The Floor is Lava” — although it was water, not lava — even though, ironically, lava was once where the water was.

Often there would be signs that the original tapestries or whatever were in the Naples Archaeological Museum, which was probably because of weather issues.

In addition to many casas that we could visit, there was a forum, and some theaters, and a mini-colloseum where Pink Floyd played, and there was a few people encased in lava in the Garden of Fugitives.

After the rain let up, I met a few stray cats, including a tuxedo one that was incredibly vocal. We had a long conversation in meow, and I was happy to get to know them.

My original plan was to try to get to a second archaeologically preserved city Herculaneum which had been recommended by 2 friends. It was also free on that Sunday, so it would’ve been lovely to squeeze it in. Unfortunately, with the rain, I kept having to take refuges wherever I could, and since I couldn’t optimize what I was seeing, kept slipping on the cobblestones, and had to worry about keeping track of my phone and umbrella when I was taking photos, etc, I just lost about an hour. I also didn’t realize until I left the park that there was a subway type train that connects Pompei to Naples that stopped right in Erculaneum! Had I known that, I might’ve tried harder, but as it was, I went at a leisurely pace and then retraced everything, and each time I did, I noticed something I had completely missed the first time. If I had a TARDIS, I would consider telling myself a more efficient way to get through Pompeii, but I don’t, so it is what it is.

Regardless, I happily stumbled upon the mini-train station and realized I could go directly to Naples on that train for only 3.50 Euros!

Naples was chaotic and loud. It felt exactly like I was in “My Brilliant Friend” and the drivers reminded me of Boston. I got off at the final stop, but I should’ve gotten off at Garibaldi which is the main station. Thankfully, I was able to walk there pretty quickly. It took me awhile to finally realize that Napoli Centrale was in yet a different building. It was like having the LIRR, subway, Amtrak, and NJ Transit all very close, but not in the same exact area.

Once I figured out where my train home was leaving from I embarked to get the best pizza in the world! Celia had recommended L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, which is where Julia Roberts eats in “Eat, Pray, Love” and it was the best pizza I have ever had, hands down. And the cheapest! I’m salivating just looking at my photo of it.

After dinner, I stopped by a gelato place that was on the 10 minute walk back to the train station, Il Gelagao Mennella, and my flavors for the night were Cookies and Cream, Almond and Orange, and Stracciatella.

Again I had overestimated how much time I would need, so I waited an hour in the chaotic station, finally boarded my on time train, and then got home.

DAY 6: MONDAY, JANUARY 8th: ROME

I slept in Monday because I was very tired. I finally left around 11 and started my walk towards the Jewish Quarter. Thankfully for the rest of my trip I had beautiful weather after Sunday’s massive storms.

On the way, I passed the glorious Piazza del Quirinale and passed by the area with the Colosseum again. This time, it was far less crowded so I was able to take more photos of the opposite side of the street with Foro di Traiano.

First up in the Jewish Quarters were the remains of the Teatro di Marcello and Il Portico di Ottavia.
Next I went to the free Fondazione Museo Della Shoah Roma AKA the Rome Holocaust Museum. It was pretty small, and honestly, having been to the concentration camps they were talking about, I didn’t feel the need to linger too long.

I was told that there would be a Rome Synagogue tour at 1:15PM through the Jewish Museum, so I took some time to walk around a bit in the Jewish Ghetto seeing the Kosher restaurants and the Hebrew school. I’m not sure what a Kosher pizza parlor would imply besides the fact there wouldn’t be any meat since pizza is heavily dairy, but I didn’t feel the need to find out…

The Rome synagogue was not as beautiful as the Florence one and looked far more like a church than a temple. It did have a square dome, which is unusual. This synagogue was built in the Jewish ghetto when Jews were all forced to live in this one area of town. They had to combine 5 synagogues into this one. The Jewish Ghetto existed from 1555 to 1870, and then all of Rome’s Jews were taken to be murdered in 1943, and only 2 survived. In 1986, Palestinians attacked the temple, murdering a 2 year old, so nowadays the whole area has police guard 24/7. In 1986, the Pope came to speak at the temple and called the Jewish people “Elder Brothers” to Catholics, which makes him a mensch!

Today there are 35K Jews in Italy. There was an influx in the 1400s as Jews were kicked out of Spain, and then again in the 1960s when they were kicked out of Libya.

The museum itself was pretty comprehensive about Jews in Italy, which is something I didn’t really know about. It also had a lot of antique Jewish tapestries and artifacts, as well as an exhibit of modern Israeli painters.

Afterwards, I walked down passed Circus Massimo again, which is a huge strip of a park where they’ve shot some major films. I went to see the Baths of Caracella, but they were closed on Monday so I could only get a few exterior photos. Next, I went on a winding path to try to find the Lavernale Door. As I was going to give up, I noticed a queue with a musician strumming and realized that was exactly what I was looking for. It is literally a door, and you peep through the keyhole, and the Vatican is framed between 2 bushes. It’s really quite cool, and I’m glad that I managed to find it!

I had heard that the Trastevere neighborhood had some trendy restaurants, so I crossed over the Tiber River to find some grub. I ended up at this great restaurant Rione 13 where I had breaded veal and delicious cheesy zucchini flowers (“Fiori di zucca”).

I crossed back for my concert and stopped off at The Gelatist for my daily gelato; this time I had Kinder Cereali and Snickers as my flavors.

I ended the night at St. Paul’s Within the Walls, which is a church that rents out its space to weekly concerts. Every Monday a string quartet plays some Bach and Vivaldi’s The 4 Seasons. They sounded exquisite, and the acoustics in the church were great. What a fantastic way to end a day!

DAY 7: TUESDAY, JANUARY 9th: VATICAN CITY

Tuesday I tried to get up and go, and had moderate success. I walked an hour to Vatican City. The first thing I did was to mark my 31st country in the Been app! Woohoo!

I took a few pictures of the Castel Sant’Angelo then headed over to St. Peter’s Square and St. Peter’s Basilica. Thankfully this was an off-peak season, so there wasn’t much of a queue through security for the basilica. It was crowded, but not mobbed, so I was able to see Michelangelo’s Pieta pretty easily and then was able to walk around and admire the huge structure and fancy designs. I also went down to the basement to see the former Popes’ crypts, though I opted not to go to to the top of the dome since it cost money (and as I’ve said, I have a principle against paying for views).

After I made sure to see every nook and cranny, I left and headed over to the Vatican Museums, which included the Sistine Chapel. I didn’t realize that the chapel was actually inside the museum, but it makes sense b/c the tickets were a combined ticket. I was told to get Skip-the-Line tickets, so I did. My time was 12:30PM, but I was there around noon, and they wouldn’t let me in early so I mulled about for a half hour. This is the problem with having to time things out, but I was going to get an earlier time and they were taken, so it quite worked out. I don’t think there’s any way I would’ve made it much earlier by that point of the trip. You can notice how my days get progressively later as the week goes on and I adjusted to the time zone…

The Vatican museums are absolutely gigantic. I was trying to figure out the most efficient route to the Sistine Chapel, but I needn’t have bothered because that section is completely cordoned off with ropes, such that you can only go one way. And if you skip anything, you’d have to go back to the beginning, so I decided to practice this virtue I rarely use called patience, and I went through all the galleries along the route.

I’m quite glad I did because I stumbled upon a Van Gogh painting in one of the rooms (one of his Pieta)! Indeed, I found a whole contemporary art section, though they defined contemporary as after 1900… but they had some Gaughin and Chagall and even a few Dali! Besides those rooms, it was a lot of sculpted statues and tapestries.

The Sistine Chapel was way larger than I had thought. They do not let you take photos in there, so if you want to see it, you will have to make the trip yourself. The entire room from walls to ceiling is plastered with intricate drawings and I spent 20 minutes or so moving around to different spots to sit and stare. (I also really needed to sit at this point in the trip because my feet were killing me.)
When I got done with that section of the museum, I realized there were a few other sections! In one I found Lapidario Ebraico which were Jewish epigraphs from tombstones in the 3rd and 4th centuries shortly after all Jews were expel from Israel. It was crazy to see etched menorahs on these ancient headstones.

There was also an Italian stamp room, and a section of around the world art, much like you find in lots of museums. I also found a room of paintings which had one by Leonardo da Vinci.

Anyway, once I was 100% sure I had seen every single room (this time my map wasn’t rained on), I departed the museum for the Old Bridge Gelateria, which was listed as one of the best gelato in the world. It was good, but I didn’t think it was any better or worse than the rest of the gelato I had all trip! Anyway, this time I had Profumo di Sicilia, Zuppa, and Blueberry.

I headed over to the Piazza Cavour, which was a really cute little park, and I just sat for a bit watching the sun go down because I was sick of walking and not in a hurry since my concert that night wasn’t till 8:30PM.

I decided to go back around Piazza Navona where the trendy restaurants are and I ended up choosing Cybo which was a hip wine bar and restaurant. I had amazing rigatoni with artichokes and then some broccoli on the side which I mushed into my meal. Yum!

Finally, since I was a bit early, I took a detour before going to the concert to see the actual opera house, Teatro Dell’Opera Di Roma. Sadly, they were still off for winter break, but my concert that night was Verdi’s opera La Traviata again at St. Paul’s within the Walls. The concert was really bare bones, but the singers, especially the lead were top notch. It was kind of hard to see, and weird to see opera without subtitles, but since I already knew the story, I could follow it well enough. The small orchestra sounded amazing, and it was great to see an Italian opera in Italy!

DAY 8: WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 10th: ROME

On my final day of vacation, I slept as late as possible because I knew I would have to acclimate back to NYC time soon. My agenda was very light because I have learned to not plan too much on the final day of a trip.

I went to Villa Borghese, which is basically Central Park with lots of trees, grass, benches, and musicians playing. I was going to start with the Borghese Gallery and Museum but it was filled till 1PM. However, that was fine because it allowed me to see the park first while it was sunny and warm, taking photos of the fountains, statues and the Globe Theater. I also got a quick slice of pizza by Piazza del Popolo, which I was glad to revisit one more time.

The galleries in the museum were fine. Lots of old stuff by people like Peter Paul Rubens, Caravaggio and Rafaello. I was out within an hour because it was pretty small. I thought their system for bag check was cool — they scanned your ticket, and then this conveyer belt brought the bag around to be picked up.

By the way, in case you missed it, I saw art by Michelangelo, Leonardo and Rafaello… meaning the only ninja turtle I missed was Donatello! Cowabunga!

After the museum, I sat in the park and read/wrote till I got cold. Then, I actually took an hour to go home and just kind of chill because I found I had finished my itinerary completely!

I found a restaurant on my way back to St. Paul’s for my final concert — Forno A Legna — it was very inexpensive (and they only charged 1 Euro for water instead of 2 or 3) so I was able to get spaghettini as an appetizer and then gnocchi for my final meal.

My final concert was The Three Tenors, and it was a first act of arias and a second act of Neapolitan songs. I was very happy that there were 2 Puccini arias including my favorite Nessun Dorma, plus some Donizetti, Leoncavallo, Verdi and Massenet. They also sang “Time to Say Goodbye” and ended with “O Sole Mio” which to Americans is “It’s Now or Never” (which incidentally was the encore for the first concert I saw in Florence, so the entire trip came full circle).

On my way home, I finally tried the Gelateria La Romana, which was on my corner. My final flavors were Arancia Rossa (Blood Orange), Croccante Della Nonna, and Pesto di Pistachio (going back to pistachio, again brings the trip full circle). It was delicious.

At the end of this night, I only had 1 Euro and 30 cents left, which is really good guesstimating on my part! I had taken out 400 Euros at the start of the trip, which is 50/day, and I was spot on with my estimate. It definitely helped that all my train travel and a lot of my activities were pre-paid. Given that I get a foreign transaction fee every time I use my credit card in another country, I figured cash would be better, and it was. There was a 3% fee and a $3 non-TD Bank ATM fee, but I think that $16 was much less than the credit card fees would’ve been. It also helps that I can do math, so by the last 2 days, I was very cognizant about which meals to order and whether or not they were going to charge me for water (which all restaurants but one did). However, by the end of the trip, I had stopped tipping because I was told that locals do not do that, especially when there are other fees that have been added to the bill. Anyway, that whole paragraph is a huge humble brag, though, maybe it’s not that humble.

Regardless, I went to bed, and then I flew out the next day on Thursday, January 11th, and had no problem getting to my flight on time, zooming through security and immigration. Again, nothing good can be said about JFK, so I will say I eventually made it home and Joni was so thrilled to see that I was back!

VACATION BOOK and PODCAST

I managed to read a book on vacation with all the trains I took, especially since not all of them had Wi-Fi. The book I picked for vacation was:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine — We have a place in our lounge where people can leave books they are done with, and this one was there, and it was a Reese Witherspoon pick, so I thought it’d be cute for a trip, and I was right. Quirky and charming, with a few twists, I enjoyed this book and it was nice light fare for vacation.

While walking I caught up on some episodes of “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” including Patrick Stewart, Harrison Ford, Clare Danes, and the wonderful President Joe Biden.

MOVIES ON THE PLANE

I watched 4 movies on the way to Rome, and 5 on the way back:

Barbie — This was a cute movie, though I don’t really quite get the hype. I prefer green to pink!

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 — While not as funny as the first one, it was still pretty funny.The Persian Version — I saw a preview for this movie, and was happy to check it out. I quite enjoyed this movie about an Iranian lesbian who accidentally gets knocked up on the one night she has sex with a male drag queen, which is based on the director/writer’s own life! Highly recommended!

You Hurt My Feelings — I thought this movie starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus was really quite good, as well.Joy Ride — This movie about an Asian roadtrip to China was pretty raunchy, which is my kind of humor, so I very much enjoyed it!

Past Lives — This movie was half in Korean and was touching, though a bit slow.

Real Women Have Curves — This was an HBO movie from 2002 starring America Ferrara which I’d never seen, also based on the director/writer’s true live story.

Incidentally, these 7 movies all have one thing in common — they were all written and directed by women, most of them both written and directed by the same one!

Blackberry — This movie about the history and scandal of the making of the blackberries was pretty good, but I’m very happy to never have owned one.

Labyrinth — I mean, you can’t go wrong with Jim Henson! With less than 2 hours to go, I squeezed this movie in, and it finished right as we landed — I knew to account for losing minutes due to plane announcements both in English and then Italian…

CONCLUSIONS

I loved this trip! I feel like there’s still more to see in Rome, but I’ve done a good chunk of the main area now. I would love to get to Venice at some point, and perhaps Sicily (which are of course on opposite sides of the country), but for now, I feel really great having taken a week off the grid away from the world’s chaos. I’m refreshed, which is good, because as y’all will remember from my last email, it’s going to be a busy 2024.

Oh, one more announcement for those who actually make it to the ends of my emails — the Love Quirks college debut is almost confirmed — if you missed the show, and would like to see a college production of it this April, please ask me for details, which will be announced shortly on LQ’s social media!

I hope your years have gotten off to a great start, and, as always, please respond to let me know what you are up to!

Always,
Seth