The first stop on our European adventure was Rome. Since we were arriving mid-morning after a 10-hour flight, and because we weren’t sure how Ann would be feeling due to her illness, we pre-booked a private car tour to give us an overview of the city until we were able to check into our hotel room.

This turned out to be a fantastic way to tour Rome that didn’t involve extensive walking or a lot of time in the heat. And, our driver was a local who gave us some insight on what it was we were seeing. In addition, I didn’t even want to attempt to drive there myself.

Cars “parked” in Rome. Double parking is common here. We’re weren’t sure how anyone ever backs out.

If you have not been to Rome, you need to understand that traffic there is CRAZY! It’s a city built over the past two and a half millennia, originally laid out for horses and carts long before there were motorized vehicles. Today, some 4.5 million cars and 1.5 million motor bikes take to the streets every day, and go (and park) wherever they can. There are no lanes marked on the streets. There are only cars pushing into and out of traffic at every turn. The word “chaos” doesn’t adequately describe the sheer disorganized free-for-all that is traffic in Rome. And, we happened to arrive during a public transportation workers’ strike! Suffice it to say we were glad we weren’t driving.

This same chaotic traffic pattern of go where you want, when you want, is what made our car tour convenient. After driving past the Vatican, one of our first stops was a plaza designed by Bernini.

The driver gave us some background information as we drove up and then just kind of stopped and parked outside a pizza place in what looked like a crosswalk. He warned us to watch for motor bikes before we crossed, as they rarely stop for anyone. We carefully crossed the street and strolled the half block to the plaza. After snapping some photos and exploring for a few minutes, we found our driver. He suggested we grab a slice at the pizza joint. We did, and enjoyed some of the best pizza we’d ever had as we hopped back in the car.

Our next stop was the Pantheon.

The Pantheon, as completed by the Emporer Hadrian. It was built on the site of a temple originally commissioned by Marcus Agrippa.

Completed nearly 2,000 years ago by the emperor Hadrian to honor all Roman gods, (and re-dedicated as a Catholic church in the 7th century), it is one of Rome’s most popular tourist destinations. We were able to park right next to it and walk right in as our driver waited outside with the car. We stood, in awe, looking up 142 ft. at what is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, admiring a stream of sunshine coming in through the oculus at the very top. When done looking, we meandered back out,  jumped back in the car, and were off to our next stop.

We spent several hours doing this, hearing about a spot, stopping right next to it, getting out, and exploring. We rolled up to stops with a great views of the Forum, Colosseum, and Circus Maximus.

We stopped at the top of the Spanish Steps. We visited the plaza where Rome’s City Hall is located. Every time we’d stop, we had only to walk a few steps to be standing right in the middle of the place we were visiting. It felt very first class, and made for a very “doable” tour for both of us.

One of our favorite stops was something our driver called, “The Hole of Rome.”  We headed up a hill where our driver told us there were a lot of embassies. Right outside the Maltese Embassy, there was a short line of people, waiting to peek through a tiny hole in the door. We asked what it was, but our driver wouldn’t tell us — he said we just had to look.

We waited a couple of minutes in line for our turn, and then took a peek. Through the hole, we saw a path lined by trees. In the distance we saw the city, and, perfectly framed, the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. It was something we’d have never found on our own, but was worth taking a few minutes to see and enjoy.

We returned to our hotel and knew we’d had a far more complete, and fun tour than we would have had if we’d tried to go on our own. We didn’t have to drive in sheer chaos, hop on and off a crowded bus, or “help” each other navigate the streets. Even better, we saw things we wouldn’t have known existed, which made for a most memorable day of roaming Rome.

[well]This blog post is part of a series about the “20 Things We’ll Remember Most About Our Summer Vacation.” Up next: A look inside one of the world’s most beautiful churches — St. Peter’s Basilica. [/well]

  • Perched high on a hill in Tuscany is the medieval village of Montepulciano. In the center of town is the piazza grande paved with bricks laid in a herringbone pattern in the 14th century. ⁣
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Standing in the piazza, looking at the bricks, we were filled with a sense of awe at the history these bricks have seen. They've been there for 700 years so have seen times of war and peace, celebration and sorrow. Generation after generation of townsfolk were born, lived and died, and all have walked on these bricks. ⁣
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This is one of the things we love most about traveling. It gives us an authentic feel for history, one we wouldn't have if we just stayed at home.
  • We were so tickled when @thechefandthedish reached out and asked us if we'd like to take a complimentary cooking class with them. They offer private cooking classes with chefs from all over the world that you can take right in your own kitchen. ⁣
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For this class, we Skyped with chef Paola who taught us to make strawberry risotto, traditional bruschetta, and a delicious poached pear dessert that blew our minds. ⁣
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Risotto always seemed like a difficult dish to make, but Chef Paola explained it so well that it wound up being pretty easy. We spent a great afternoon with friends, learned something new, and enjoyed a great meal after. A class with The Chef & The Dish is a great gift idea, as well. Follow the link in our bio, and you can read more about our class on our blog.
  • The world is a big place, and there's so much to discover. Go places, and see things. It doesn't matter if you don't have a detailed itinerary, either. Sometimes, it's more about the journey and what you see and experience along the way, than it is about the destination.
  • During our trip in Tuscany with @italyunfiltered, we stopped at a small family winery. After learning about the organic methods they use to produce high quality Chianti Clasico wines, we had a tasting. ⁣
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Wine tastings in Italy are nothing like those in the US. They are glorious affairs complete with delicious foods paired with the incredible wines. This particular winery brought us samples of homemade, organic jams made from fruits grown in the family's garden. We dabbed these on locally produced pecorino cheese. Yum!⁣
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We're so glad that we had a local driver and guide. Stopping here was a highlight of our Italian adventure, and we never would have found it on our own.
  • The village of Marsaxlokk, Malta, is famous for these brightly painted fishing boats. The design is rather ancient, possibly dating back to Phoenician times, though it's still used today because it is very strong and holds up well in rough weather. One feature of each boat's decorations, are eyes painted on the bow of the boat. These eyes are said to protect the people fishing while they are at sea.
  • The blue cobblestones of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, are actually part of a recycling project which started 500 years ago. Iron foundries in Spain produced huge piles of waste, called slag. Rather than throw these piles away, the slag was made into blocks which was placed into ships as ballast. The ballast was offloaded in Puerto Rico when they loaded products bound for Spain. The blocks were then used to pave the streets. ⁣
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Pretty good idea, and 500 years later, they are holding up well!
  • The Overseas Highway connects Key West and the Florida Keys to the mainland U.S. While the entire road is a marvel of engineering, the centerpiece is the Seven Mile Bridge, which runs over water for, well, seven miles.⁣
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The next time you're driving, reset your trip odometer and wait until it gets to seven miles. You'll see that's a pretty long distance. And then think about the fact that people built a bridge over water with no land to support them for that distance. Pretty incredible-especially since the first one was built in 1912.
  • We'd never heard of cannonball rocks before we drove past them at North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and asked each other, "did you see that?" We'd never seen anything quite like these natural "concretions" created when water leaked into pockets of minerals in the ground. Now, as a hill erodes, these formations are exposed.⁣
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Seeing these rocks was such a cool experience because it reminded us of why we travel. We never know when we'll find something new, something that we never knew existed. We got along fine not knowing about cannonball rocks, yet now that we've seen them, our lives are a little richer. ⁣
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The world is a pretty cool place. Check it out.⁣
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@ndlegendary

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