In December 2018, Angela and I were lucky enough to enjoy our third trip to Europe in the past year. We visited Spain and Italy and, as always, created indelible memories that we will cherish for the rest of our lives.
Some of this trip was booked with credit card points, hotel rewards, and airline miles, so I’ll explain how I leveraged those things to keep costs down. I’ll also talk a bit about the airlines and hotels that we flew on and stayed at in case you’re interested in planning a similar trip.
Where did we go and why?
During our journey we made stops in Chicago, Barcelona, Madrid, Venice, Florence, and Rome with two, three, three, three, four, and five nights in each city, respectively. When booking this trip, I wanted to ensure we would have enough time to see the highlights without much downtime while still allowing me to work 3-4 hours a day on most days.
The bookends of the itinerary were primarily driven by the availability of award flights. The locations were chosen with the goal of seeing as much culture as we could during the cold winter season. We’ve found that it doesn’t matter if it is cold outside when you’re inside looking at art and artifacts!
We also recognized that there was no chance we’d see everything there was to see on one trip. The wide-ranging and storied history of both Spain and Italy would require months to fully explore and the winter season isn’t particularly amenable to coastal visits in either country. As such, we confined ourselves to the major metropolises with twin goals:
- See all of the art and churches
- Eat an appropriate amount of delicious regional food
Planning the trip
The first step in booking this trip was to find flights that would work for us. The Christmas season is a particularly popular time for travel so I knew I would need to be flexible and let the trip grow from what was available.
Booking our outbound flight
The first opportunity that I identified was a minor sweet spot on Iberia’s distance-based award chart. In the off-peak season, business class flights up to 4,000 miles cost 34,000 Iberia Plus Avios. Generally this would mean positioning to Boston or New York. Fortunately for us, Iberia slots Chicago into the same band even though it should price at a higher rate. That meant we could position to Chicago to grab an available flight and start our travels in one of my favorite cities in the world.
34,000 Avios would get us to Madrid but I wanted to start our time within Spain in Barcelona. We tacked on a short economy leg from Madrid to Barcelona for an additional 7,000 Avios per person and were able to choose exit row seats. Business class within Europe is almost always just economy with an empty middle seat, so I didn’t think it would be worth paying for it on the short connection.
As soon as I identified an open date I instantly transferred 82,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Iberia Plus Avios and made the booking. The total cash outlay for taxes and fees was $242.76.
Booking the return flight
The return flight was much tougher to find. We’d be flying back to the United States a few days after Christmas and, by the time I started looking, most award availability had been snatched up by other travelers. I kept an eye on various programs over the course of a few weeks until I saw something that would work for us. Air France showed award availability from Rome to San Francisco starting the evening of December 27th with an overnight in Paris before heading to the United States. As it turns out, I got lucky and was able to book the flights before the Flying Blue program switched from a fixed award chart to variable pricing. As such, the whole itinerary cost 125,000 Flying Blue miles, transferred instantly from Chase Ultimate Rewards, and $657.54 in taxes and fees.
As usual, the positioning flight to Chicago was booked with Southwest using our Companion Pass. The Southwest Companion Pass has proved to be the single most valuable domestic award travel trick that I learned about as Angela and I fly domestically for the price of one ticket and Southwest’s routings allow us to easily get to major hubs to start or terminate overseas travel, as is often necessary. The other positioning ticket, from San Francisco to Las Vegas at the end of the trip, was booked using a Companion Fare discount on Alaska for scheduling reasons.
Birthday fun in Chicago
Our flight from Chicago to Madrid was on December 8th, so I decided to fly us to Chicago a few days early so we could celebrate my birthday where we’ve experienced so many other fond memories. I’ll never tire of the combination of small-town politeness and big-city experiences that Chicago offers.
We stayed at Hotel EMC2 on this visit to Chicago. The hotel was in a good location and embodies a unique science theme with instruments, like beakers and Erlenmeyer flasks, adorning the public spaces and guest rooms. The main novelty is the robot butlers on staff who will deliver small items to your room. Unfortunately, we were not lucky enough to have the items we requested delivered by a robot.
I enjoyed our stay at the property; the bed was comfortable, the room was well-appointed, and the breakfast was decent, if limited. That being said, I will likely choose alternative lodging next time we’re in Chicago. There’s so many good options that, as long as the price is reasonable, I’ll keep trying different locations until I find one that we absolutely love.
We visited the Museum of Science and Industry with Angela’s mother, Theresa, to see the Christmas Around the World exhibition. This particular exhibition has a very special meaning to Angela and me because it was the site of our first official date on December 18, 2004!
We enjoyed a 360 degree flight simulator, an excellent overview of Pixar’s movie production process, and a short, but thorough, tour through U-505, a captured German submarine from World War II. The Museum of Science and Industry continues to be one of my favorite places with a broad array of artifacts and a nice balance between interactive and static exhibits.
We ate dinner at The Dearborn, a delightfully hip spot near the theater district. I had a wonderful burger, Korean style ribeye fajitas with kimchi, and a fairly unique in-house soda. Angela started her meal with onion soup and completed it with fish and chips. Theresa ordered the special, a gnocchi dish. Everything was delicious; I highly recommend this restaurant and will likely return in the future.
After dinner, we made our way to the CIBC Theater to see Hamilton for the second time! The production was good and some of the cast members were great. It was an enjoyable experience and made us excited for our upcoming trip to see it on Broadway a second time.
Our overseas adventure begins
We woke up the next morning and had a leisurely breakfast before heading to ORD for our flight to Madrid. We were flying internationally in business class on a oneworld airline so we had access to the wonderful American Flagship lounge. Generally, lounges are just a chill place to hang out for the few hours before your flight after you unexpectedly clear security faster than you thought you would. This place was great, though, and I would recommend arriving at the airport early enough to enjoy it if you have access.
The food was legitimately delicious. I ate some sushi, which is something I wouldn’t have expected to say before visiting, and enjoyed a pound and a half, conservatively, of braised beef short rib. The drinks were free-flowing, which for me means all the sparkling water I could want and enough espresso to caffeinate a medium-sized rhinoceros.
We left the lounge and headed towards a gate at the end of the terminal to board our flight. We were on Iberia’s A333 for our journey to Madrid and I chose the middle “honeymoon” seats for Angela and me. In retrospect, I’d likely book us the private window seats if we were to fly this configuration again. I found it hard to sleep because the footwell in the center seats was so small that my feet wouldn’t fit if I laid on my back and the seats were shaped in a way that made laying on my side a little untenable.
The food was good and the service was friendly. The flight attendants proactively checked on us throughout the journey. Wifi was offered but it was extremely expensive at $40 for 100MB. I grudgingly purchased it because I had a few things I wanted to work on during the overnight.
The bottom line is that it wasn’t the best or the worst business class cabin we’ve flown in but it was a million times better than flying economy. If you can snag availability during the off-peak season and have Iberia Plus Avios available, it is a good value. Otherwise, I’d steer towards other products.
We arrived in Madrid in the early morning and the airport was practically empty. We made the short journey from T4S to T4, including taking a tram and clearing immigration and customs into the Eurozone, in about 12 minutes. The immigration check was so cursory as to be practically meaningless. It was kind of amazing, honestly. I was left wondering “was that it?”
We had access to the Iberia VIP Lounge because we had arrived on a long-haul business class flight and I was happy we were able to hang out there during our four hour layover. Again, there was free flowing water and espresso. The food on offer was very basic – mostly bread and pastries with a smattering of fruit. Luckily, we were still fairly full from the food on our flight so we concentrated on hydrating for the day ahead.
Before long it was time to head to Barcelona. We walked to the gate and waited in an extremely disorganized group before eventually making it onboard. The final flight in our initial journey passed without issue and we arrived safely in Barcelona.
First impressions of Barcelona and the first afternoon
Upon arrival in Barcelona we made our way to the train station for transit into the city center. Upon arriving at the station, we attempted to purchase tickets with several different credit cards before giving up and using the few Euros that we’d brought with us from our last time across the Atlantic.
The train was clean and comfortable, along the lines of any other airport mass transit option. I did appreciate the sizable overhead ledges that allowed us to put both backpacks and roller bags up above us. After detraining, we headed out into the city and walked towards the Renaissance Barcelona. Check-in was pleasant and the manager on duty informed us we’d have access to the restaurant for breakfast due to the lack of a lounge on property. Our room was not ready when we arrived so we dropped our bags, grabbed our camera, and headed out for the day.
The first thing we noticed about Barcelona is that, like most other continental European cities we’ve visited, there are a ton of smokers. I’m always surprised by this and I wonder why the practice is so prevalent. This was a consistent theme throughout our travels.
Our first stop was the Basílica de la Sagrada Família , one of the most iconic structures in Barcelona. Notably, it is still under heavy construction, but what is complete is truly incredible. The building’s exterior is wondrous, with beautiful carvings and statuary and a truly eclectic architectural style.
The interior is even more fantastic with large columns placed carefully so as to show off the immensity of the space.
After our visit to Sagrada Familia, we walked to Casa Mila aka La Pedrera to further our exploration and admiration of the work of architect Antoni Gaudi. Along the way, we passed an exceptional mural on a storefront’s garage door.
Arriving at the residence, you’re immediately struck by the openness of the interior. With the sun shining, it was truly striking.
A model close to the entrance exhibits the architectural style of the house quite well and includes the famous rooftop chimneys.
Of course, the model doesn’t do justice to the guardians of the rooftops, which are quite magnificent.
After leaving the rooftop, you exit through the loft, which is beautifully vaulted.
We caught a view of the sun starting to set before we exited.
We eventually made our way back to the Renaissance and were told our room was ready. Upon entry, we found that the safe was broken, there was a single bottle of water, and a single espresso capsule. I can’t imagine why the property is so stingy with these things when it doesn’t have a lounge. The bed was a bit soft for my liking and it was impossible to regulate water temperature in the sink and shower. The breakfast the next morning was delicious, though, and the location was perfect for what we were doing. Unfortunately, I would not recommend the Renaissance Barcelona for your next trip to the city.
A beautiful array of sculpture and architecture
Our first full day in Barcelona was filled with walking, museums, and delicious treats. After a hearty breakfast, we walked to the Plaça de Catalunya, generally considered to be Barcelona’s city center, and admired the Monument a Francesc Macia, an interesting set of “stairs” placed in the middle of the plaza.
As we walked, we saw some political statements in English, which I was somewhat surprised by.
We grabbed a few photos before walking through an open air market on the way to take in the Catedral de Barcelona.
Unfortunately, the cathedral was closed and we couldn’t enter. As such, we walked immediately to the Palau de la Musica for a guided tour. The venue was beautiful and the tour was informative. I highly recommend a visit if you’re interested in architecture or music.
After our tour, we walked to the Arco de Triunfo, a triumphal arch built as the main access gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair. It is comparable to other famous arches in major cities, but is unique given its distinctive reddish hue.
Our final stop for the day was the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar in the Gothic Quarter where we enjoyed our second guided tour of the day. The basilica is impressive, but not exceptionally beautiful compared to others of a similar style. Some of this certainly stems from the incredible fact that it is so old; the cornerstone was laid in 1329. I believe it is worth a visit for the trip to the rooftops alone as it offers a view of the city that you’re unlikely to get in many other ways.
We left the basilica and returned to our hotel where we dined in and enjoyed a few small plates before heading to bed. After a full day of walking, we were happy to retreat to our room and get some rest for the next day’s activities.
Second full day in Barcelona
After a scrumptious breakfast, we set off for the Museu Picasso. Unfortunately, photos were prohibited within the walls, but we enjoyed the wide array of works on display and laughed heartily at the artistic correspondence between an elderly Picasso and his close friends.
After leaving the museum, we walked to the Museu D’Historia de Barcelona which consists of a number of separate sites to explore the history of Barcelona from the Roman occupation of the Iberian peninsula through the modern day. Given our interests, we were particularly engrossed by the Roman ruins that litter the city, including buried structures.
After a quick workout to stave off the inevitable weight gain from our culinary adventures, we walked out into the brisk evening in search of some delicious churros con chocolate. After finding a local spot, we enjoyed our snack as we walked through streets of Barcelona and enjoyed the sounds of life around us.
A pleasant ride through the Spanish countryside and a treasure trove of art
After checking out, we took public transit to the main rail station and journeyed across Spain to Madrid for the continuation of our Spanish tour. After detraining, we walked to The Westin Palace, Madrid where we’d be staying for the next few nights.
After checking in, we walked to the Museo del Prado to enjoy a wonderful selection of art. As the museum did not allow pictures, you’ll have to make do with the following shot of Angela drinking espresso in the museum’s cafe.
I enjoyed the museum and would recommend any tourist to Madrid to put it on their list of places to visit. There are several true masterpieces located within and I think you’ll be hard pressed to find a better collection of art outside of The Louvre in Paris.
An exquisite rendition of Iberian history
On our first full day in Madrid, we decided to visit the Museo Arqueologico Nacional. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but this might be my favorite museum in the entire world. The range of exhibits is incredible and the quantity and quality of exhibits showcasing the history of the Iberian peninsula is unmatched. The self-guided audio tour was exceptional. In my opinion, you cannot skip this museum if you care about history at all.
The following pictures are only a sampling of some of the exhibits contained therein. The museum is truly wonderful.
We were at the museum from opening to close and I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about this day. I have yet to visit another museum that I can recommend as highly as this one.
An opulent royal residence and more churros
After a delicious breakfast, we set out for the Palacio Real to gain perspective for how the elevated lived. It is always a little odd visiting places like this because you go in with the understanding that the opulence came at the expense of every other member of the state, but even with that knowledge it is hard to not have your breath taken away.
On the walk there, we continued Angela’s long-running series “Nick posing with statues of bears.”
The palace’s edifice is imposing and grand, as you would expect.
The entryway is appropriately spectacular.
We didn’t take many pictures as we toured the palace, but the following few give a taste of what almost every room looked like.
We also visited the armory afterwards, but no pictures were allowed inside of it for the sake of preservation. The suits of armor posed on horseback are definitely worth a look, though, if you want to picture battles from the pre-and-early gunpowder period.
After leaving the palace grounds, we walked to enjoy some of the most famous churros in Madrid at Chocolateria San Gines. They were incredible and I would recommend going out of your way to enjoy them.
Off to Italy and a ride on the canal
The next morning, we ate a leisurely breakfast and set off for the airport. We enjoyed some beverages in the Iberia VIP lounge before embarking on the short flight to Venice. The service on the short-haul flight was good and the two hours passed by quickly.
When we arrived in Venice, we managed to figure out which ticket we had to buy and made our way onto the waterbus without issue. It was definitely an experience toting our suitcases onto the boat and putting them in the luggage hold before squeezing in with all the other tourists. It was bitingly cold when we arrived in Venice, something that wouldn’t change during our stay.
In Venice, we stayed at The Gritti Palace, which is every bit as opulent as it sounds. Our room was incredibly comfortable and the property was top-notch in every respect. We had a view of the Grand Canal from our room, which was pretty awesome.
A dedication to genius
After an absolutely sumptuous breakfast, we set off through Venice, enjoying the winding walkways and plentiful canals.
Our first stop was Ponte di Rialto, the famous bridge over the Grand Canal that every visitor to Venice is obligated to see. While it is certainly covered in tourists, it is also a architectural sight to behold and deserves the renown.
Afterwards, we walked to the Basilica dei Frari. The exterior was beautiful and the interior was impressive, although pictures were not allowed.
We visited the Museo Leonardo da Vinci next and had the opportunity to interact with models of some of the great inventor’s creations. In retrospect, this was a stop that could have been skipped, but it was fun to be a little playful in the middle of so much seriousness.
Our final stop for the day was the Scuola Grande di san Rocco, home to a great number of Tintoretto pieces. Some of the works were absolutely incredible and I’d wholeheartedly recommend a visit. We didn’t take many photos as we were trying to enjoy the art in the moment.
On the way back to the hotel, we saw Burano’s leaning bell tower. As you’re looking across the skyline, it is extremely evident that something is off when you see it rising in the distance.
We returned to our temporary residence and enjoyed a fancy dinner on property. It was fun getting dressed up, even if the food didn’t match the ambience, in my opinion.
An awesome clock, a secret itinerary, and a varied collection of art
Our second day in Venice was even better than the first. We walked to the Piazza San Marco early in the day before the crowds overwhelmed it and enjoyed some truly terric views of the square, the basilica, and the bell tower.
After gawking in wonder at the surroundings, we joined a small group tour at the base of the clock tower.
The tour was extremely informative and the guide was impressed by Angela’s existing knowledge of the clock tower. I enjoyed hearing about the history of the clock tower and seeing the inner workings.
The view from the roof was amazing and worth the price of the tour alone.
After departing the clock tower at the end of the tour, we joined up with a tour of the Palazzo Ducale.
Our guide provided us with an overview of the history of Venice alongside interesting notes about the palace itself. It was quite beautiful and definitely worth a visit, in my opinion.
After leaving the palace, we went inside the basilica and were amazed by the quantity of gold – it covered every surface. While you’re not supposed to take pictures inside, I snapped a quick one from my pocket with my phone.
Our last stop for the day was the Museo Correr, to which we had admission as part of our tour of the clock tower. The museum contains an absolutely incredible collection of art and is a can’t miss, in my mind. There are simply too many pieces to convey the scope of the collection, but here is a sampling of my favorites.
After shutting down the museum, we walked back to the hotel and enjoyed an overpriced drink at the bar.
A relaxed anniversary
We left the frigid cold of Venice for the slightly milder temperatures of Florence on our anniversary and enjoyed a relaxing train journey on the way. The seats were comfortable and the ride was smooth.
Once we arrived in Florence, we walked from the train station to The St. Regis Florence where we’d be staying for the next couple of nights. The property is exquisite and was decked out for the holidays, which made it feel very welcoming. We were upgraded to a large room with a view of the Arno, which we appreciated.
After relaxing for a little bit, we decided to just stay in for the night to celebrate our anniversary. We had been informed that an afternoon tea service was offered and we availed ourselves of it. It was beautiful to look at, but extremely sugar heavy when we took part and I would not recommend it if things haven’t changed. The area that the restaurant occupies, though, is absolutely beautiful.
Art and engineering in all its many forms
Our day started early as we arrived at the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze to view Michaelangelo’s David.
Sometimes, you look forward to seeing something and it doesn’t live up to the hype when you finally see it in person. David is not like that. Viewing the piece up close is incredible; you can clearly appreciate the fine mastery of craft and materials joined as one.
The museum holds many other notable pieces, many owned at some point by members of the Medici family, and it is well worth an extended visit if you can make it work for your schedule.
After taking our leave, we walked to the Basilica di San Lorenzo. The church was, most notably, the parish church for the Medici family and has many notable features designed by multiple architectural masters including Michaelangelo and Brunelleschi. In addition, Donatello’s tomb is located within the grounds.
After leaving the basilica, we walked to the Palazzo Vecchio where we took an exterior photo and enjoyed the pieces in the Piazza della Signoria and Loggia dei Lanza before heading inside.
The interio of the Palazzo Vecchio is incredible and well worth a visit.
We were afforded some amazing views from within.
Our last stop for the day was the Museo Galileo. It was incredible to see so many of the tools used, personally, by Galileo and read the narrative of his life as well as the general narrative of science in Florence and the world.
For a late lunch, we found a pizza place located on the way back to our hotel and enjoyed some truly delicious (and cheap) eats.
When we returned to the room, we were surprised with a special touch from the property’s staff, which is always appreciated.
For dinner, we enjoyed one of the most delicous meals we’ve ever had at Winter Garden by Caino inside of the St. Regis. I’ll never forget the delicious beef tartare that we had, mixed with pickled onions and marrow. It was divine!
An exploration of the duomo complex
If you head to Florence, you know that one of the main attractions is the Piazza del Duomo and its accompanying structures. As such, we spent the whole day exploring the site.
As timed tickets are required for Brunelleschi’s Dome, we opted to visit the dome first and proceed from there. I was very, very excited, as I’m sure you tell.
The climb up through small passageways and eventual exit to the interior is an experience that any serious fan of renaissance architecture should have.
Once you exit to the terrace outside the dome, you are treated to some spectacular views of the city.
Our next stop was a climb up the bell tower, which, as you can see in the following picture, is less of a climb than the top of the dome.
After exploring the campanile, we ventured to the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore which is absolutely stuffed with masterpieces. One of the things I found interesting about the works within is that you can immediately tell which works are by true masters like Donatello and which were done by the second tier of artists.
We stopped at the Bargello National Museum to view even more sculpture. Again, there were so many masterpieces within that it was a little overwhelming to the senses.
Our penultimate stop for the day was the baptistery, a tremendously luxurious building sitting beside the cathedral. It was incredible to look up at the artistry rendered so many centuries ago. I think, even for the irreligious, that it must cause a sense of wonder.
Finally, we ventured inside the cathedral to finish our tour.
For dinner, we made reservations at a restaurant called Acqua Al 2 because we had dined at the sister location in Washington DC and it was fantastic. Unfortunately, the experience in Florence was very disappointing. The steaks were overdone and excessively sauced and the service was poor. Luckily, we went for gelato afterewards and it was delicious.
A day at the gallery
We decided to spend our last day in Florence fully exploring the Uffizi Gallery from early in the morning until late in the afternoon. There’s too much to narrate, so please enjoy these pictures of some of my favorite pieces.
After a long day of appreciating the fine arts, we enjoyed pizza again at a new spot.
In case you can’t tell by this point, Angela really enjoys pizza and would definitely eat it every day if given the opportunity.
A childhood dream fulfilled
We bid adieu to Florence and took the train to Rome where we walked to and checked in at the St. Regis Rome, one of the most luxurious properties we’ve ever stayed at. When we arrived at our room, we were greeted with a heart made of rose petals.
After a small mid-day meal in the lobby, we explored the hotel a little bit, including stumbling upon an elevator from 1894.
We headed out into the city, starting with a visit to the nearby Santa Maria della Vittoria to view the masterful Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.
From there, we walked to the Spanish Steps and eventually to the Trevi Fountain. Even though December is the off-season, both locations were packed with tourists. I can’t even imagine what peak season is like!
We left the fountain and walked to Trajan’s Column to join up with our walking tour culminating in a night visit to the Colosseum. I must say, the night was a dream come true as Angela and I had always wanted to see this great architectural wonder. Like the David, it was even better in person than I thought it would be. The following series of pictures shows our progression toward Trajan’s Column and then from there to the Colosseum.
When we returned to the hotel, two cakes were waiting for us. They were both quite delicious and we were thankful to the St. Regis for providing them.
A day of exploration and more architectural marvels
After an amazing breakfast, with a bonus dachshund guest sitting at the bench across from us, we headed out into the city. First, we viewed the Trevi Fountain in the daytime, a distinct experience from viewing it at night as the impression is completely different.
From there, we passed by the Pantheon with the intention to return later as it wasn’t open for visitors yet.
We continued on to the Piazza Navona where we admired the beautiful fountains and the accompanying statuary.
Afterwards, we visited the San Luigi dei Francesi, a tremendously beautiful church that is the official church of France in Rome.
We walked back to the Pantheon and enjoyed the tremendous architecture. It is unlike any other place we’ve been, I think.
We next stepped at the Museo Capitolini, an absolute treasure trove of artifacts from Roman history. Again, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
As we walked back to the hotel, we passed by the various forums and the accompanying statuary and got to see Trajan’s Column in the daylight.
For dinner, we visited a fabulous pizza place that we enjoyed several other nights during our time in Rome. The burrata and ham appetizer was extremely delicious and the pizza was flavorful. The meal was cheap, a surprise in a tourist friendly place.
A day at the Vatican
We rose early in the morning and traveled to Vatican City to wait for our tour guide. We had mixed feelings about the ostentatious wealth on display and were a little disappointed that so much of St. Peter’s Basilica was covered up in preparation for Christmas Day celebrations. That being said, it was still enchanting to see The School of Athens in person and give witness to the, different than expected but still beautiful, Sistine Chapel.
You’ll notice that the Sistine Chapel photos are somewhat odd because we had to take surreptitiously given the fact that there are guards who enforce a no photo policy. Enjoy the upnose shots.
After fully exploring our Catholic roots, we stopped for some Roman style pizza (there’s a theme on this vacation, if you haven’t noticed).
We walked all the way back to our hotel passing Castel Sant’Angelo on the way.
That night, we had some drinks in the bar and Angela got to participate in the champagne sabreing, a St. Regis tradition.
The next day, Christmas, we relaxed almost the entire day after a brief walk around the city. Again, we opted for afternoon tea which was, thankfully, not incredibly sweet this time.
Our last day in Italy and the long journey home
In order to take advantage of our late flight to France, we decided to spend the day exploring the city. We walked everywhere and visited the Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, viewed the Circus Maximus, various arches, and all the monuments you would expect to see in a whirlwind tour. It was a phenomenal day.
We grabbed a bite at the aforementioned pizza place, and then were off to the airport. After a short flight to Paris, we overnight at the Sheraton Paris Airport Hotel, a very nice place as far as transit properties go, and continued home in the morning.
In sum, this trip was wonderful. We saw things in Spain and Italy that we’ll never forget for the rest of our lives. If I could go back and change something, I would have split this into two trips, but that is only true as we’ve become more comfortable with international travel. Other than that, I wouldn’t have changed anything.