Europe Highlights: Rome

11 Oct

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Two weeks before we arrived in Rome, we’d emailed the final hostel where we were going to stay to let them know that we needed to have a very late check in. We were interested in purchasing a ticket on a flight via SleazyJet in order to save some money, and it had an arrival time in Rome at just before 11PM. We received a response back from the hostel, saying that was absolutely fine and that they were excited for us to be there.

Flash forward to our last evening in Venice, and our first in Rome. Zack had been getting random calls from a Roman phone number throughout the afternoon, and we had a bad feeling it might be our hostel, but we knew if he took it, he’d be charged a bunch, and there wasn’t anything we could really do about it all in Venice anyway, we thought. So, we decided to ignore it, just try to make it through our flight without SleazyJet trying to force Zack to pay an extra 250 Euro to change his name on his ticket to “Zachary” (we avoided it this time, but I ended up paying 150 Euro for our bags) and get to Rome in one piece*. When we arrived, our flight had made us late by almost an hour, and we were 30 minutes away from the hostel, so we rode in silence in the taxi, with fingers crossed that we’d have a place to be when we got to our destination. We grabbed our bags, paid the cabbie, and he drove off as we realized…nobody was answering the doorbell to the hostel. We rang it at least 10 times, and there was absolutely no response. I think it’s fair to say the blood drained out of both of our faces. We were in Rome, it was past midnight, we had all of our baggage with us — and we were stranded. When in Rome … try not to panic. 

*I’d been getting sicker and sicker throughout the day and nothing makes one feel better than being hassled at the airport, having a flight be delayed and then the act of flying itself. It’s practically a warm bowl of chicken soup. 

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We went into survival mode at this point, deciding that we’d walk to the nearest hotel we saw and see if they had any open rooms at all so we could spend one night there, and decide whether we wanted to stay or change our flight to get back to Austin earlier the next morning. We* seriously considered the latter, but I insisted that we at least stay the night since we’d just gotten off of a late flight and were terribly exhausted. The first hotel we visited was all booked up**, but the front desk fellow showed us where two other hotels were on a map. The first one was also booked, but had another friendly desk guy who gave us four more options. After walking to three of those four, dragging our heavy bags along behind us, we realized they were all so booked that nobody was even working the desk for them anymore. At that point we hailed a taxi, and Zack managed to communicate in Spanish***, of all languages, that we needed to find a hotel with a free room. The cabbie drove us from hotel to hotel, each one seemingly more expensive than the last, and they were all booked. Zack had tried to call back the number that had called him before at this point, hoping it was the hostel, and hadn’t gotten through. Suddenly, that number was calling him again, so he answered, and it was Francesca, the owner of what turned out to be the B&B where we were staying. She’d been waiting for us all day, she said, and was at a bar nearby and could meet us at the Ape Latina in 5 minutes. We both sighed a HUGE sigh of relief, if not a little perturbation, as we instructed the cabbie to take us back from whence we came. Francesca met us outside, totally hammered, and we all pet her friend’s dog Maggie before heading inside of the building, pictured above. Francesca wasn’t exactly apologetic for forgetting our email correspondence****, but rather simply assured us we were safe and would thoroughly enjoy our stay from this moment forward. She showed us where we could pick through breakfast items the next morning, gave us our room key, showed us how to work the television, and wished us a very good night. We passed out, hard, in utter exhaustion from what was the most frightening faux-pas of the entire trip. We were safe.

*This is usually a Caitlin type of suggestion, but I was the one saying “Is it crazy that I just want to go back to the airport and go home?” I was really feeling crummy. 

**And would have cost us 270 Euro a night!

***Hotel abierto? 

****”You sent an e-mail? I never got an e-mail? When did you send it? Two weeks ago (Look of recognition mixed with feigned ignorance) ohh. Umm. Two weeks ago. Are you sure?” In other words, she totally forgot about that e-mail. 

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It only went uphill from there. The next morning, we slept in VERY late, and Francesca actually didn’t even bother us to clean our room — she left and came back later, just as we were about to head out. She showed us on a map where some of the best Roman sites were, as well as some of the best food (“NOT the tourist food — it’s no good,” she assured us). We decided since we were (literally, for only 80 Euro a night) a five minute walk from the Colosseum, that was a great place to start. We made our way in that direction, through a park, stopping for a fantastic photo op. I want to sleep in late in Rome every day and walk to the Colosseum. It rules. 

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I had Zack do a Beatles jump, which he’d perfected by this point. It’s no match for Caitlin’s leap coming up next.

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I continued to do my “I used to be on pep squad” side jump, and actually got some good air this time…or maybe it was just that I finally explained to Zack that he should hold down the button* before I jumped so the shutter would go faster. In any event, one of my best jumps, to be sure. We explored the Colosseum, which  we will describe in detail later, but I can say now it was incredible, overwhelming, historic and grand, and I really enjoyed wandering its various halls and imagining the ancestors of the human race battling it out in there. As we said in our top 10 of Europe post, this was the most impressive thing we saw all trip. The colosseum is all that it’s cracked up to be and then some. 

*This helped, plus the fact that I knelt down to make it look like she got more air. 

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The first time we saw this dude, we were really, really impressed. I mean, look at him! It looks like he’s floating! We looked all around him and couldn’t figure out how it was happening. I’m still not sure for this dude, but some of his counterparts definitely looked like they were sitting on some secret support system hidden under their robes. I still think that might be what is happening here. They set up under a black sheet, so you have to think something is fishy. In any event, it was cool for a little while, as we walked past ruins upon ruins through Rome. Yeah, even if he’s on some support beam going from the pole under his robe it’s still damn good balance. I don’t regret giving him a Euro.

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It’s truly staggering that there are structures from thousands of years ago everywhere you turn. It’s breathtaking, impressive, and, quite frankly, made me feel both proud of humanity’s accomplishments, but also a little surprised that, while we’ve made some staggering advancements throughout the years, we still do a lot of things kinda of the same way (if not LESS meticulously). The ruins are all over and always cool to check out. 

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You can let your imagination run wild in Rome, painting in your own mind the finished products of the buildings that are now just bits and pieces. I wish I could have an edit of “Gladiator” that took out all the violence to show Caitlin. She’d love it. 

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The statues were all just a little bit creepy, since none of their eyes had pupils and yet you could feel these past leaders staring into your soul. Yikes. Caitlin legit got intimidated by this one of Caesar.

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As we rounded a corner, we came upon the Roman capital building. It, much like the Colosseum, had some tourist-trap guys dressed as gladiators standing around, but you just don’t even need that mess when you look at the building itself. I mean, look at this thing!! White House, maybe you should step up your game a little. (JK White House you cool too.) We crossed this place a lot and it was just as stunning every time. 

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For lunch, I was worried. We’d slept in so late in the day that we were starving, so we decided to go for a place that seemed to have all the trappings of a “tourist” location — expensive Cola, directly across from the Roman capital. However, we were very, very pleasantly surprised. Zack had a plate of meat that put a smile on his face. I forgot that Italian cold cuts are so well regarded until we got to Rome. Had to have some. 

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I opted for cream sauce gnocchi, which was (thankfully) quite good, far better than any tourist crap I’d eaten in Venice. Rome was already making me fall in love with it. ROME! ROME! ROME!

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Shortly after lunch, we arrived at Piazza Navona, after grabbing some Italian meds for Zack’s increasingly stuffy face. It was a grand and beautiful square, with myriad street performers (we stopped briefly for a magician/clown hybrid), and lots of little quaint shops. We popped into a toy store that was supposed to be magnificent and filled with giant stuffed animals. It was only OK, and though they had some pretty big stuffed animals, none were all that cute. However, our next stop did not disappoint. The square was still really cool. After rounding the corner from this Obelisk, I was ready to stuff some gelato into my face, pronto. It was ice cream o’clock.

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We had heard that Tre Scalini had this chocolate mousse bomb with cherries in the center, so that was where I wanted to be. However — Romans were not above trying to trick tourists into doing stuff. There were not one, not two, but THREE Tre Scalini’s (which, given the name, I suppose makes sense), however only one of them was the original place that we wanted to dine at. Zack started to sit down after one fellow started ushering us into his Tre Scalini, but I asked, “Wait — are you a part of that one, there, at 71 Piazza Navona? The guy didn’t say yes, didn’t say no, simply said, “We have ice cream here!” I wasn’t convinced. I told Zack we needed to head next door, so next door we went, and we were not disappointed. It was ice cream thirty.

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Zack ordered the Tartufo chocolate bomb on the right, and I picked out three different flavors of gelato from the bar inside, which they gussied up for me. I think we both agreed that while the Tartufo was, indeed, chocolatey and impressive, my gelato won the day. The Tartufo was very well presented and had some delicious chocolate moments, but was frozen and hard to dig into and the gelato was world class. 

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Side view of the chocolate monster. From this view, you have to think it’s the best thing ever. Worth getting, but not mind blowing.

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We meandered around the Piazza Navona square for just a bit longer, before deciding to make our way to the next site on our list:  the Trevi Fountain. I decided to take us a roundabout way so we could see more sights in the process. I do love imitating statues and fountains. When in doubt: take the long way in Rome, not in Paris. 

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We ended up just across the water from Trastevere, but decided not to head over for pizza because we’d just eaten, and because it was the wrong direction. We knew we could save that trip for the next day, so we simply admired the water and moved on. No swimming.

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We them came upon ruins that have turned into a cat sanctuary, just in the middle of a square. I tried to take photos of some of the felines but the light was dimming so it didn’t really work out. I had no idea about this at the time, despite trying to skim-read what exactly these ruins were that I was looking at, but after some Googling just now — this is totally where Caesar was murdered!! Y’all, the cats have such a different meaning for me now. The whole thing. I want to go back right this second. See what we mean? You don’t even know the crazy histories of all the places you’re passing, but their histories are *magnificent.* WHOA! I didn’t even know that. Et Tu, Brutus? I bet one of these cats is named Brutus now. 

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This, my dear friends, is the Pantheon at night. We didn’t even know we’d run into it like this. We had just popped into a little candy shop where I mistakenly purchased some nasty fruit cookie things (seriously, just don’t bother with Italian pastries. I wasn’t even trying this time — I thought they were giant candies!!) Suddenly, the Pantheon. Oh, Rome. I was wayyy more impressed with the Pantheon than Caitlin. It’s a beast! It just feels so powerful. 

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The Pantheon earns its name, to be sure. It just feels as momentous as the name sounds. UNGH. PANTHEON. 

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I snapped this shot nearby because I loved that they had horse-and-carriage crossing signs. Caitlin still says I owe her a horse and carriage ride, which is totally true. 

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After snapping a few more photos of the Pantheon, we continued our journey toward the Trevi Fountain.

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We saw a few other impressively massive and column-lined buildings on the way that were probably really important but at this point we were just Trevi-focused.

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And there it was! The Trevi was absolutely SWARMING with people, probably because they’d all followed the signs that the considerate, history-conscious people of McDonald’s put up everywhere (I’m not even kidding, there were McDonald’s-sponsored signs pointing you to the Trevi, as well as a few other monuments around Rome. Oy vey.) Still, we were able to find a corner and throw some coins in that water. Thus, we will absolutely be back to Rome. We threw enough coins in to ensure we’ll be back a dozen times. 

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We were, once again, starving — but luckily I’d found a place in my guidebook that was supposed to be nearby and delicious, and oh, it was. Zack and I enjoyed our noodles so much that we almost decided we’d go back again the next night. The Cola was only 2 Euro, which we knew straight away was a good sign. Favorite restaurant of the entire trip. 

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As we sat and enjoyed our meal, suddenly there was an outburst of applause and laughter that caused us to look up. A table of Roman dudebros was being brought out wurst…shaped in the form of a penis and testicles. Yep, that happened. It was hilarious and we all clapped because, when in Rome, right Zack? My. Favorite. Place. 

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Penis schnitzel! Penis Schnitzel! ROME! DSCN0978

Afterward, it was time to head to the famed Giolitti, where (we were told) “Obama goes to get his gelato when he’s in Rome.” It was absolutely massive, and a feast for the eyes — there were so many ice cream-based desserts everywhere that you actually had to go buy your ticket for how many scoops you wanted before you went to order the scoops! I tried one that had the word “Caramell” in it, but was disappointed when I remembered that to the Italians, this does not mean the Caramel that you and I are familiar with. This means fruit stuff, which just isn’t all that great. In fact, since we’re being honest here — Giolitti was not at all my favorite gelato place. My favorite was yet to come. Still, it was enjoyable to feast on the ice creams where all of the celebrities do (even though one of the wait staff came and kicked us out of our table since we didn’t order the fancier ice cream. Go figure.) Very good, but not the best. Fancy inside though. 

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We wandered back to our B&B without much trouble at all, given that Rome is incredibly easy to navigate. We took a few photos of the same breathtaking sights we’d seen earlier in the day, all looking hauntingly gorgeous. I miss Rome the most. While hate watching this terrible season of HIMYM I get jealous of Marshall and Lilly and the year in Rome they won’t spend. 

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When we made it back, we watched a little bit of Italian TV, which I realize we haven’t talked nearly enough about, given how much we indulged in it. We watched shows about triathletes, we watched an English interview with Cher on the Letterman show which was somewhat uncomfortable but also kind of amazing, we watched this incredible show called “The Taste” wherein average people compete to be on world-famous chefs’ cooking teams in an overall competition. It was fabulous. Perhaps the favorite show we got sucked into was the very last one we watched, the night before we had to leave back to the states. I can’t remember the name, but it was some program where competitors had to prove themselves by doing the most random menial tasks, timed. It was absolutely addicting to watch! They had to stack cups, headbang a certain number of times, flip x amount of pennies into a cup. It was nuts. The host looked kind of like Sean Penn when he wears a mustache, and one of the competitors looked like a bald Andy Samberg. Amazing. We need to do an entire post on Italian TV. It’s really something special. 

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The next morning, we headed deep into south Rome, to Trastevere, to try and locate Gioncolo, which was supposed to have sweeping, gorgeous views of the city. We weren’t exactly sure where it was, so we got just a teensy bit lost, but a very sweet Italian woman walking her dog helped point us in the right direction…up a huge hill and more stairs. Zack was excited (this is where he ran up past me, came back down, and ran up again). I got to work off some of the gelato, at least. When we got to the top, it was totally worth it, though. The city lay at our feet. Just a perfect view. 

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Zack was holding Rome in the palm of his hand. When in Rome…

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There were not too many tourists standing around with us at Gioncolo — perhaps the very steep walk intimidated the rest of them — so it was nice and open and a great, quiet place to take in the town. It’s actually nicknamed “Lover’s Lane Point,” or something like that. Understandably named. We shared a kiss or two. 

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We rested our tired feet on these psuedo-benches by the fountain across the street from the view. Rome’s streets are not the most foot-friendly! Then, it was time to try to find some amazing pizza. Fountains on fountains on fountains. 

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Francesca, our B&B owner, told us about two amazing pizza places in Trastevere, one serving delicious thin-crust pizza, and the other serving deep-dish Napolean-style goodness. We really wanted to try the latter, but unfortunately I had somehow mixed up which was which, and we ended up dining at the thin-crust-making Pizza Regine. Still, the Cola was under 2 Euro and they had friend mozzarella, so we weren’t all that bummed out about it. I have zero regrets about this awesome fried mozz or the awesome ‘za. 

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We split the namesake Regine pizza, which had fresh, juicy tomatoes, Buffalo cheese maybe? or some other kind of ooey gooey goodness, and some basil. It was definitely a treat. We’ll just have to go back for the deep-dish. Buffalo cheese: Great for pizza, bad for mac and cheese. 

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We headed back to the Pantheon, surprisingly at Zack’s request. He was curious about the inside of this colossal church, so before going to snag the best ice cream we had in all of ever, we popped inside to see what the fuss was all about. PANTHEON FOREVER

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This is an obelisk/fountain in the Pantheon square. I just thought it looked cool. One of these crazy things was a gift from Cleopatra to some boyfran of hers but I never did figure out which one it was.

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Inside, it was quite Jesus-y. It was definitely cool and humongous and impressive, but I guess, having been raised Catholic, I have just explored so many churches at this point that this one just did not top my list. I prefer the ornate decor of the churches in Germany, like the one in Cologne that you can climb up (stairs, Zack! More stairs!) Pshh I don’t get her reservations. Jesus-y or not, this place is gorgeous. 

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Not sure what’s going on with this giant/midget situation. At first I thought it was her kid but this just looks like some Hobbit is hanging out with some Orc or something. (I watched the first Lord of the Rings movie on the flight home.)

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OK, marble, you’re pretty cool looking. You too, Eagle thing. There we go. She’s coming around. 

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I felt badly about disturbing the actual church-goers, but it was adorable to me how much Zack was floored by the Pantheon so I definitely think it was a worthwhile visit.

After the Pantheon, we were really close to a gelato shop that I desperately wanted to try, so we headed there. There are no photos of our Gelateria Della Palma trip, because it was SO DAMN DELICIOUS that we just gobbled up our treats too quickly to bother with photos. While TripAdvisor calls the place the “Baskin Robbins” of Rome, I think that is blasphemy. While they do have over 100 flavors (another shop where you have to buy a ticket before you order flavors), their gelato has such the perfect texture and flavor that it takes you on this amazing mouth journey that you never want to stop. I will return to you one day, my dear Dellla Palma. I promise. Hard to take pics of ice cream, what with the dripping and everything. 

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Then it was back to the Trevi to enjoy the fountain during the day. It really is a magnificent structure— I certainly can’t think of a fountain more impressive that I’ve seen personally. It was still crazy crowded, which is the only downside to it, because typically when I’m enjoying a good fountain, I like to sit by it quietly and just listen to the water. It would be nice to see this thing not packed with tourists, but I guess that’s impossible. 

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I had a huge bag of small Euros I’d collected from my last time abroad, so we brought that with us and threw handfuls into the waters, making wishes and ensuring our return to Rome even more. Luckily, despite the photo, Zack did not fall in. I kinda wish I had. Could have crossed swimming off the list. 

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Tossin’ in the coins. 

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Majestic fountain posing! This became my go-to pose when I wasn’t jumping. 

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Next, we headed to the famous Spanish steps, and pulled off some impressive stop motion video work.

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We also engaged in more “Where’s Waldo?”-esque hidden Zack photos. See if you can find him! Easiest Where’s Waldo ever. 

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This one’s pretty easy. He’s king of the steps! OK, I lied. This one’s easiest. 

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It was tough to get a really good photo of this fountain by the Steps, but it’s super cool — it’s in the shape of a sinking ship, so there’s the inner fountain part inside of the ship, and then THAT part is sitting in a bunch of water. We also popped into Babington’s Tea Rooms while we were in the square, which I had really been looking forward to, but which was very disappointing. The tea itself smelled amazing and the descriptions sounded great, but we were very much ignored by the wait staff. They helped out the woman who had come in before us, and then actually let the girl who came in after me cut in front. I still ended up scoring some delicious-sounding tea as a gift for my mom and her husband, but I won’t be back (unless mom says the tea is delicious…then I might brave it again.)

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We were still shocked at all of the palm trees we saw everywhere. This looks like we’re on a beach, but we’re actually just in Pincio park! Venice Beach more like, amiright? 

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The views were incredible again, and the accordion music just to the left of this photo really set the scene. We were so tired at this point in the day and had almost skipped Pincio altogether, but I’m so glad we dug deep and made it happen. It was a great last “hurrah!” before heading back toward home. Always go to the high points of great cities. Always. 

On the way back to our B&B, we did a little bit more shopping, but even though I was able to find a perfume shop I’d been really interested in exploring, nothing quite struck the right nasal note, so I skipped on that and any more clothes. Zack, however, got an amazing Puma shirt* that has the Colosseum on it. I *almost* indulged in some amazing Puma shoes**, but decided to hold off so I could get them more cheaply in the states. For dinner, Francesca had recommended a place nearby our hostel, but we had forgotten to make reservations so they were all booked up. We wandered until we came to a nearby restaurant that had cheap Cola — a great sign, as we had learned.

*And boxers. Both were need purchases more than want. 

**Such a meticulous shopper.

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Dinner was absolutely decadent. I had some gnocchi again, and this time, it was some of the best I’d ever had.

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Zack went for a buffet, which he also seemed to really enjoy. We ate until our bellies were satisfied, and grabbed one more gelato treat from a place right next door to the restaurant. Then we showered, packed up, and watched that crazy game show with fake Andy Samberg before falling asleep shortly before our 5AM wake-up call. We were exhausted on the long flight back, but full of unforgettable memories. It was a trip well done, and despite its very rocky beginning, Rome turned out to be our favorite city (not counting Paris). When in Rome! ROME FOREVER!

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