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]

  • Have you always wanted to visit @thepioneerwoman lodge in Oklahoma? We’ve got a new blog post today with 12 tips to make your visit spectacular. Our website link is in our bio. And if the lodge is not open for tours when you can come, no worries! There are plenty of great things to see and do when you @visit_the_osage and @pwmercantile I’m Pawhuska. #pawhuska #pioneerwoman #drummondlodge #ranch #postcardjar #reedrummond
  • This is our first spring in Osage County, Oklahoma, and we are in awe of these trees!! It is a red bud and is the state tree of Oklahoma. They are everywhere around here and we love spotting the bright pinkish purple blooms among the green trees. So much beauty in nature. #redbud @visit_the_osage  @travelok
  • Sitting in our hotel room in Venice, we could look out across the busy canal toward St. Mark's cathedral. The fact that it's an island city makes it different from any other city in the world. Water taxis zoomed around, larger vaporettos chugged past, as well. Occaisionally, a cruise ship would glide past our window. Tourists from all over the world came to take in this spectacle, yet to the locals, who drive boats down tight canals with ease, this is what normal life looks like. The world is indeed a large, interesting place. Have you been to Venice? ⁣
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  • Seeing this photo takes us back to the the cooking class we took last summer on the island of Mykonos in Greece. We went to a woman's home, learned about Greek culture and history, and then prepared a meal using fresh ingredients from the garden in her back yard. Suffice it to say, it was one of the most delicious meals we'd ever had. But perhaps even better are the memories of the warm welcome we received as we entered her home and the glimpse into the lives of real people in another part of the world. ⁣
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  • Trust us on this: there is nothing that relaxes more than kicking back in a hammock in the shade on a beach in the Caribbean. Except maybe leaving that relaxing spot and getting back on a cruise ship for cocktails and a gourmet dinner. What do you do to relax on vacation? ⁣
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  • Near Valdobbiadene, in the heart of Italy's Prosecco region, is a bar with no bartender. You simply go inside, take the wine or beer you want from the fridge, and leave your money to pay for it in a box. We weren't sure who the owner of this bar is, or even who keeps it stocked. What we do know from the cards and notes they've left is that people from all over the world have come here and respected the honor system. It's amazing how honest folks will be if you just show a little trust. ⁣
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  • Ahhh...the Piazza del Campo in Siena! We absolutely loved our time here, sitting at a sidewalk cafe, sipping delicious Chianti Clasico wine and savoring the some of the best lasagna and pasta carbonara we'd ever had. While there, we noticed a number of people drinking some kind of orange colored drink. Our waiter explained it was a spritz of some sort. We asked if it were good. She shook her head and said that only the Americans seemed to like it. ⁣
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  • This barn at at @Calamus_Outfitters in @visitnebraska serves as a reminder that this really is a working ranch. The Switzer family has poured their hearts and souls into the land. We think it's pretty neat that they're willing to share this piece of the beautiful Nebraska Sandhills with visitors. Have you been to the Nebraska Sandhills? ⁣
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Making the most of midlife.