We’ve just come home from our last big European family trip for the foreseeable future. We visited Rome, Florence, and Venice over the course of a week. It wasn’t enough time in any one place to do it justice, but it was enough to visit the belly of the Roman Empire, the heart of Renaissance Italy, and that canal city that the eldest child has been dying to visit ever since she saw an episode of Wonder Pets about Venice when she was four.
My travels over the last five years have taken me to a number of the big European capitals. Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, Dublin, and of course London. Rome, I dare say, outshines them all. It is a city built by emperors to impress the barbarians. The emperors succeeded, and the Italians that followed them have added to the grandeur. You cannot turn a corner without running into a temple, a cathedral, or a statue-limned fountain. It is not hard for me to imagine the kings of England and France sitting in their squalid barbarian villages out there on the edge of what was once a mighty empire and gazing towards Rome with hearts full of envy. They have tried to build their own imperial monuments, but they were merely children wearing their father’s clothes. And I say that as someone who has loved my years in London.
The Vatican tour was worth doing if you’re ever in the area. The guided tour was okay. The best part was probably seeing the Sistine Chapel, which I found to be more impressive than I expected. It’s a chapel, not a cathedral, but it’s still a pretty big chapel. The guided tour also had the benefit of giving us a shortcut from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter’s Basilica. St. Pete’s was impressive in scale and grandeur, and seeing Michaelangelo’s Pieta in person was a highlight.
Trevi Fountain, the Spanish steps, and Piazza Navona were fine. Complete tourist traps, and we strolled through them, took photos, and moved on. I don’t regret seeing them, but I’m in no hurry to see them again. The Foro Romano, on the other hand, I’d love to revisit and spend a few hours.
Food in Rome is like food in most European capitals. You can hit a homerun with one meal (that’s like hitting a six, cricket fans) and strike out the next. We had some wonderful meals at Da Enzo al 29 and Pasta E Vino in the Trastevere area. If I were to return to Rome, I’d look to stay in Trastevere for the sheer quantity of amazing food within a five minute walk. We also had some amazing gelato at Otaleg in Trastevere and at Fatamorgana in Centro. While I loved the gelato, I honestly think Midwestern frozen custard compares well. The dish that really impressed me was the tiramisu. The four of us split a tiramisu at pretty much every dinner. They were all good, though the presentation at Pasta E Vino won for having a birthday sparkler in it.
We took the train from Rome to Florence. My fellow Americans, you don’t know what you’re missing out on when it comes to high speed rail. The train was running at 150 miles an hour, and it took us from city center to city center in about two hours. We walked to the hotel in Florence and immediately went exploring. We only had prebooked tickets for one museum, which in retrospect was a mistake. I wish we had been able to see the Uffizi Gallery in addition to the Firenze Museum. I booked the Firenze Museum mostly to see David. The statue of David was, like much of the rest of Italy, huge and impressive. Those Italians really understood how to impress barbarians.
We had dinner at Osteria Vecchio. It was superlative. The restaurant was a 15 minute walk from the middle of Florence, but I think that worked in its favor. My new hypothesis is that if your restaurant or food truck is within view of a queue at a major attraction, it’s probably an over-priced tourist trap. Going a few blocks away from the Colosseum or Trevi Fountain or–in the case of Florence–the Duomo can make a huge difference in quality and/or price.
One night in Florence was not remotely enough. I’d love to spend a few days and go out to some of the surrounding countryside, too.
Venice itself is surreal. Being there felt like being in a city from a fantasy novel. They really don’t have cars. They really do get around with boats. There are so many little islands (and so many little bridges).
Dinner was at La Colombina, which is seafood-oriented, but has some non-seafood dishes, too. It was another homerun. Every dish was excellent, but I’ll give a particular shoutout to the six piece appetizer selection for having a variety of vegetable and seafood-forward things whose names I don’t remember, but were all delicious. Carissa wants to give a special shoutout to the scallops, too.
Months ago I asked the girls what they wanted to do on this trip. There was one clear and obvious winner: gondola ride. We did one. It was good. I’d do it again, especially if it wasn’t cold and rainy.
It was a wonderful trip. My only regret is that I would have liked to do a few more things. When we moved to London, it was with trips like this in mind. We managed three big European adventures to Paris, Santorini, and Italy during our five years. We’ve also had some smaller adventures to Dublin, Inverness, and a few cities in the UK. This trip marked the turning of a page in the Baldwin family story. Tomorrow morning we fly back to the United States for good to start a new chapter in our lives. We’re sad to be leaving London, the United Kingdom, and Europe, but we’re excited about seeing more of our family back home and the opportunities in the States.