Christmas '16

Mere weeks after swearing off both Delta and Europe I’m back in the saddle. So far, both of my flights have been delayed, but not by much. I haven’t missed any connections, and I haven’t had to deal with any customer “service” agents- no complaints. You may recall that last year I took the family to NYC for Christmas. That was a great trip and it’s hard to find fault with it, but I think all of us felt a bit let down by not being at home for Christmas Eve and Christmas day. This year, we learned from our experience and decided to travel just before the holiday to return in time to enjoy being in Chattanooga- sleeping in our own beds, and walking downstairs to Christmas morning.

Destination: Rome. Yes, I decided to go back to Rome…again. While, part of me was keen to pick a city I haven’t been too before so I can continue to check buildings off of the architecture bucket list, I had a more compelling reason to return to the Eternal City. After the last time I visited, I told the big one that I would take him there some day. I never forgot that pledge, and Lord knows the boy has a memory for such things. One of my deepest fears was that I would die before I could make good on my promise, and that for the rest of his life he would be haunted by a trip we never got to take. It was in my power to prevent that, so, Rome it is. I was set to arrive at our destination a day before the family joined me, and while we fly out on the same day, they headed directly home while I took a brief detour.

Bramante's jewel. Worth risking he hospital for.

After landing I hopped on the train at FCO and hopped off at the Trastevere station. The original plan was to avoid any unnecessary walking to preserve my energy, but rather than take the tram to get closer to the hotel, I decided to get out and walk the rest of the way…then I decided to take on the massive hill that leads to San Pietro in Montorio. I almost died, and I had been in town for less than 2 hours. My reward was a one on one session with the Tempietto. Not a tourist or worshiper to be found, just me and Bramante’s jewel- it was a special time for me (especially considering that the other times I’ve been here, the gates to the inner courtyard were locked). After fawning, I schlepped two more kilometers to my hotel, where I had a nap before hitting the town for a totally forgettable dinner (more about that later).

Whew! The Pantheon has managed to remain
"as is" for almost 2,000 years. It also managed
to survive the C.Rushing progeny this year.

The next day the family arrived and I checked us in to a new hotel. I booked with rewards points, and it turned out that we got upgraded to a killer space in a fourteenth century building that has been owned continuously by the proprietor’s family. It just so happens that he is an architect- and I suspect a good one, given the quality of redesign of the interior we were in (which was almost as big as my house). While waiting for the room to be readied, we dropped our bags with reception and headed for a quick roll through the Parthenon and Piazza Navona before heading west. We took on the Vatican Museum, (which the boys seemed to enjoy), St. Peter’s Square, where I introduced them to the rivalry between Bernini and Borromini (which the boys could not care less about), and St. Peter’s Basilica, which was breathtaking for everyone (even those of us who have already experienced it). My wife, God bless her, acquiesced to the boy’s pleading to climb Michelangelo’s dome. To my shame, I stayed below and accidentally fell asleep in a pew in one of the side chapels. Afterwards, we limped our way home (we should’ve taken a cab). After fawning over the rooms and unpacking, we headed off for dinner– another unspectacular, if not downright poor, dinner (at least for me). The exhausted Rushing crew capped off the day with a gelato and an early bed.

Think they were impressed that Michelangelo designed
the Swiss Guard uniforms? (I was too heartbroken and
crestfallen to tell them that this is actually a myth.)

We all had problems with the time change and had a hell of a time getting out of bed the next day. This was exacerbated by the fact that I booked a 6:30 departure on a train headed for Florence. We managed to make it, but Dad was seriously hurting. I managed to miss taking some medicine and as a consequence was extremely unwell. We managed to make our way through the Uffizi and take the short walk to Piazza del Duomo. We started with the baptistery. I tried to interest the boys in the Brunelleschi v. Ghiberti rivalry and got a slightly better response than Bernini v. Borromini. We then popped into Santa Maria del Fiori to see Brunelleschi’s dome. It is truly amazing. But that was all I had in me. It’s a shame that we got all the way to Florence, and didn’t take advantage of everything the city had to offer, but I was simply in no condition to continue. So, it was back to the train, back to Rome, and back to sleep. I woke in time to take the boys to see the standards- Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and Piazza della Rotonda, before sitting down for another awful dinner (see the pattern here?)

With the Arch of Septimius Severus.
Or what will hereafter be known as
the Arch of Severus Snape.

Our special treat for the weekend came in the form of a visit by our favorite English. The Joneses graciously put their holiday lives on hold to come spend the weekend with us. For the last several years, they’ve caught up with us on our travels through Europe. This was the first trip, however, where we both brought all of our little ones. It was a special and super fun reunion, although I hope my two little heathens didn’t influence their sweet daughter. Our merry band caught some of the normal sights as well as the Forum and Coloseum. It just so happened that on Saturday night a certain Birmingham City Football Club had a game on Sky Sports. It was my duty to expose my boys to a poly-cultural experience- Americans with English friends, at an Irish pub, in Italy, ordering (bad) Indian food. Very worldly.

Just playing in the street after too much gelato.
As with all good things, this had to come to an end. We went out for one last (poor) dinner as a crew, made our way back to the hotel, and shared hugs and kisses. I was up at 4 the next morning, gave all of my sleeping beauties a kiss goodbye, and went downstairs for my car to the airport. D and the boys had a slightly later flight, and made it home safe and sound later that day. As for me, I’m still on my journey- more on that in a day or two…

Oh yeah, about the food. In the lead up to this trip, I didn’t have as much time as I usually do to research where to eat. They say it’s hard to find a bad meal in Rome, so I figured that Trip Advisor would steer me clear. Social media as a food tool let me down this time. For example, the #8 (of 1500+) restaurant in Rome (according to TA) served a pasta carbonara that consisted of raw (not al dente, raw) pasta with what were essentially scrambled eggs laced throughout. This is a classic Roman dish that any self-respecting Roman has mastered. And things got worse from there. The only decent food I had was a desperate turn to random walk-away pizza spots on the street. This was a very disappointing and vexing aspect of the trip. Anyway, hang on, I'll finish the story shortly. Merry Christmas, Love y'all!

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