Venice, April 2023

Dates Visited: April 10-April 15, 2023

Cities Visited: Rome, Naples, Pompeii, Venice


Rome: Stayed 3 nights in this Airbnb. Cost for the first three nights: $1,403. Venice: Stayed 3 nights at Corte Grimani. Cost: $1700.58. Total Accommodations Cost: $3103.

Sites Visited: The Vatican, The Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, The Colosseum, the gondola rides, Trevii Fountain

Italy has so much to offer! It was one of the biggest bucket list places for my sister, Mandi, and there were tons of things she wanted to see here. We had a full itinerary including plans to see the Vatican, Colosseum, Pompeii, gondola rides and more. Initially, we planned on four days in Italy, but the airlines cancelled the original flight we booked and we were left with options to either have only one full day in Italy or go earlier and have a full week. We chose to do the latter. This meant that we left the United States on Easter, April 9, 2023 on Royal Air Maroc, a budget airline I’d never heard of. The initial flight was going to be 8.5 hours with a layover in Casablanca of only an hour and a half and a second flight of 3.5 hours, for a total flight time of nearly 12 hours.

My experience with RAM prior to departure was surprisingly great. The airline has a United States telephone number, which meant I didn’t have to pay for an international telephone call when they cancelled the original flight (originally scheduled for April 12). The customer service department allowed me to switch to the April 9th departure date complimentary, even though this flight should have cost me nearly a thousand dollars more than the April 12th date had. Additionally, they were much more generous with luggage allowance than the other budget airlines we used would be, allowing each passenger two complimentary checked bags and a carry on. In addition to these allowances, the airlines also provided complimentary dinner on board and a travel kit which included an eye mask, pillow and blanket. While it was an unheard of airline, the service created excitement.

The initial flight over was smooth. It was a full flight, and it was hard to be on the flight for so long. The time was broken up with meals and snacks provided by Royal Air Maroc. Dinner was your choice of fish, chicken or pasta. I chose the pasta. I was not impressed with the pasta: it was very spicy, but ate the roll and the desert which was kind of like a pound cake, was delicious. For the record, none of us particularly enjoyed the food, but we were grateful it was offered and did pick at several of the items.

The flight was delayed by about thirty minutes. This meant that, when we landed in Casablanca, we had to scurry off the plane and run. The airport was tiny and we deplaned on the tarmac, shuttled to the entrance of the airport and then navigated to the gate. We barely made the flight, which the airline had held on account of the long haul flight being delayed. By the time we landed in Rome, on April 10, we were all six exhausted. We were excited to finally be in Europe, but we were tired and ready to find our Airbnb.

When we reached the Airbnb, the host greeted us, gave us a tour and showed us around. The lift (elevator) was much like a cage and didn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but we were struck with the area. We were only two streets over from the Vatican! There was a wonderful small restaurant right across the street from our place where we bought breakfast each day; we were a ten minute walk to a few other restaurants. In retrospect, we probably wish we’d stayed closer to the center of Rome. It was either a bus or cab ride from the Airbnb to Rome proper, and we weren’t really close to any of the major attractions, except for the Vatican. The window in the bedroom I shared with the girls opened; Breathe would sit in the window.

Rome was a whirlwind three days. On the first full day, we explored the Vatican for three hours. It was huge! Luckily, we’d purchased tickets ahead of time, which saved us hours. The line for tickets wrapped around the building! Once inside the Vatican, we were amazed by how many rooms there were, and how much to see. There was even an Egyptian exhibition that surprised us all. We asked a worker where the jewels were and they opened up a closed part of the museums to give us a shortcut to them: this meant that we were able to see exhibits that were closed to the public that day!

We saw the crown jewels, an actual mummy, lots of statues and, yes, the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel was a bit of a disappointment, honestly. It was a cattle call: hundreds of people in the same room. When you entered, staff immediately began telling you to either go to the center of the room, squished among hundreds of others, or keep walking. If you kept walking, you were pushed beyond a gate where you could stand. The heavy traffic and constant direction prevented you from being able to really look up and enjoy the ceiling you’ve read so much about. Additionally, the lights were dimmed, so it wasn’t super bright. Still, it was very neat being able to see it at all. Once out of the Sistine Chapel, you still had another fifteen or twenty minute walk through the rest of the halls before finally existing the Vatican. Overall, the experience was fun at the Vatican, and choke full of interesting artifacts, but I’m not sure it was worth the hype.

The next day, we went to the Colosseum — and everyone agreed that the Colosseum was a highlight of Rome. Its massive size, the location in the heart of Rome and the history behind it all made it for an impressive place to see. On the ride over to the Colosseum, though, someone tried to rob Alight! Luckily, she felt them beside her and jerked her purse away. We were surprised this happened in Italy, as we expected it more in Paris.

We also took the time to see St. Peter’s Basilica. The courtyard here was very busy, and we didn’t go inside the church, but the outside was very intricate. We saw griffins on top of some of the buildings. We also loved hearing the church bells ring on the top of every hour.

On the fourth day of the trip, we separated: me and Breathe took an overnight trip to Poland, to visit Auschwitz, while everyone else was going first to Pompeii and then on to Venice. This leg of the trip would be very interesting. The plane ride from Rome to Poland was very early in the morning, so we left the Airbnb before the sun came up. The cab driver was very friendly and we were in good spirits. Breathe commented that it was relaxing riding in the dark. It wasn’t until we got to the airport and couldn’t find our flight on the board that I looked at the tickets again and realized that we were at the wrong airport. The correct airport was twenty minutes away, and our tickets stated that our gate would close in thirty minutes. While I did not think there was any way possible to make this flight, we decided to try.

We ran outside to the line of taxis and asked one to take us to the other airport fast. He got us there in twenty minutes and, luckily, the airport was very small. We were able to breeze through security and the gate for our plane was just beyond security. There was still a line of people at the counter, waiting to board, so we’d made it! The airline made us pay for the carry on bag, and it was very hard having to run to catch it, but I was thankful that we were going to get to go to Auschwitz after all. Since this post is about Italy, I’ve written a separate post about our time in Poland. Meanwhile, the other group finally found their train that was going to take them to Pompeii.

Seeing the casts of those who died in the major volcano eruption was something Mandi had wanted to see for years. Alight loved the city of Pompeii, from the train. She kept saying it looked like a postcard with mountains in the water. She talked about how pretty the train ride was the rest of the trip. They also talked about how big Pompeii was: they saw homes and streets. It was hard to walk on the cobblestones, but seeing Pompeii was a highlight of Italy.

The most memorable part of Italy, though, came this evening after their evening flight landed in Venice. Mandi asked me to send directions to the airbnb from the host to her. The host had sent a wall of texts, and I forwarded that to Mandi, but I didn’t read through it first because Breathe and I were having our own adventure in Poland. Mandi, Alight, Alissia and Mama got off the water taxi and didn’t know where to go. The host wouldn’t come get them, but kept telling me to tell them to go to find the H&M store or the Guess store. Mandi kept saying they couldn’t find that store. When they would ask people around, the people told them they weren’t sure where the Guess or H&M store was. It was nearly very cold outside, rainy and getting dark; they’d been walking for hours and were very lost. I begged the host to call my sister directly so that they could try to figure out where exactly they were in relation to where they needed to be. I started crying because I felt very helpless–and they were looking for a church that might be open to sleep inside of. Soon after the host called Mandi directly, Breathe said a prayer, asking God to help them find their way. We waited for several long minutes before calling to check in on them — and, just in time, they’d found the airbnb. This was one of the scariest things that could have happened because they were truly lost, hadn’t eaten all day, and feared they’d have to sleep outside or in a church. In the end, they hadn’t been very far at all originally but the walking had taken them further away from where they needed to be.

The airbnb we stayed at, Corte Grimani, turned out to be a very nice stay. Breathe and I flew in the following day, and loved how it was on a smaller canal. When we opened the windows, we could hear the Italians playing the accordion and floating in gondolas down the waterways.

One of the most fun things we did was the gondola ride. We’d found a spot near the airbnb where we could catch one and the girls, Mandi and I took loved that we didn’t have to wait in line at all. For $80, the four of us were able to step right on board. The gondola itself was intricately carved. It was black and red, and the gondolier told us about how it could be hard to make a living with it. There’s a school that they attend, but even after attending the school, they are assigned a number and have to wait until their number to take a job. He was more fortunate, he said, in that he’d grown up in the business: his father was a gondolier and so he’d been doing it since he was fourteen. The ride took us through the canal on which our Airbnb sat, and we were able to call Mama and Alissia, so they could look out the window and wave to us.

Venice was beautiful. It has tons of windy alleyways, delicious pastries and friendly people. We loved that the air was filled with music and being on the waterways. On our last night, we splurged and ate at the Hard Rock Cafe, which wasn’t far from the airbnb. We were happy to have American food! From our time in Italy, Venice was a favorite for everyone!

The food was also delicious! Both in Rome and in Venice, we loved what we ate — especially the gelatos! The raspberry was the winning flavor for most of us. One of my favorite experiences for dining was in Rome when we went walking. We didn’t know where to eat, but we kept walking until we found a beautiful small restaurant with outside lights and tables. It made us think of Lady and the Tramp. We decided to eat there. We tried the Italian wine, Alight and I ordered the stuffed ravioli while Breathe tried the fettuccine. We all agreed that it was different than American Italian — and more fresh! We talked about the differences between America and Italy — they don’t think anything should need salt, for instance, and not clearing your plate makes them wonder if you didn’t like the flavor of the dish. They also encourage you to go slow — we waited for our check for over half an hour! We laughed a lot during that dinner and it was a lasting memory I love.

While the first couple of days were hard in Italy — Breathe hurt her knee, I had to work, the lost in Venice night — we all agree that Venice was one of our favorite stops along the grand adventure and would love to go back to explore more of what Italy has! Alight, for instance, would love to go to the Thunder Room in Milan; Mandi would love to see Florence and the vineyards. For me, I’d enjoy a longer stay in Venice. While they were out one day, they saw the Trevii fountain. Tossing a coin into the fountain means you’ll come back — so that’s something to look forward to!