Category Archives: Italy

Matters of the heart

They say time flies when you’re having fun.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder.

And they also say you should probably create your wedding video prior to the eve of your first anniversary.

Well I say two out of three ain’t bad.

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since our wedding day. On the one hand it feels like just yesterday we were finalizing details and using all the big-ticket grandparent prayers we could for what turned out to be a beautifully sunny and warm spring day. On the other hand it seems like so much has happened over the past 365 days:

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Dinner and a view. 🌅

A post shared by Sarah Zalewski (@slmurphy) on

  • We enjoyed some romantic meals and date nights
  • And we had a lot of visitors

So since I’m sure my husband is already celebrating our anniversary across the world right now in Goa, India (barring another record heat-induced power outage), I thought I’d share my better late than never look back on the day that I was blessed with the opportunity to walk through life holding this guy’s hand.
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Sarah + Matt

(photos courtesy of the oh-so-talented Wright Photographs)

Are you ready for some ruins?!

It’s Day two in Rome and you’ve got a date with a Gladiator in the Colosseum.

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There are several career paths you’re now husband has mentioned over the years that fit his personality type and high tolerance for pain. Firefighter. Police Officer. Top secret member of the U.S. Army Special Forces or Navy Seal. But a Gladiator? Weren’t they all unfortunate criminals or prisoners of war with no citizenship? Sure, some of the attributes line up: brute strength, athleticism, courage and enough craziness to fight to the death, but who would choose that path? Well, if you measure it in giddiness and chatter during our tour of the Colosseum, he would.

And apparently he wouldn’t be the only one. Even free men opted to enter the ring in search of glory and prize money. Confident in your abilities, my dear, but happy it’s no longer an option for you.

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Having a hard time picturing what all this rock is about? Let’s revisit a classic scene to put us in the Gladiator spirit.

That’s better.

It’s really hard to believe this building still stands after thousands of years, earthquakes, floods and fires, but it does. There are parts of the massive arena that still showcase the original marble flooring as well as a reconstructed area that simulates what it looked like in its prime.

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You try not to compare it to familiar places like Soldier Field, but it’s hard not to when so many of today’s mega-stadiums resemble the same framework the Colosseum originated so many years ago. roma, rome, honeymoon in italy, colosseum, gladiator, ruins, roman forum, vacation, honeymoon,

Now uncovered, the area below the main floor housed two levels of compartments and included trap doors that could spring the animal up onto the main stage to excite the audience and challenge the gladiator. Kind of reminded me of the bushes behind my old Montessori school where I used to run an imaginary zoo. Much friendlier animals in my care, of course.
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Thanks to high-end designers like Tod’s and Fendi, historic sites like the Colosseum and Trevi fountain are getting the funding for much-needed restorations that they otherwise couldn’t afford. Check out this recent 60 Minutes episode to learn more. It’s really fascinating.  roma, rome, honeymoon in italy, colosseum, gladiator, ruins, roman forum, vacation, honeymoon,  roma, rome, honeymoon in italy, colosseum, gladiator, ruins, roman forum, vacation, honeymoon,  roma, rome, honeymoon in italy, colosseum, gladiator, ruins, roman forum, vacation, honeymoon,

 

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We wrapped the Colosseum tour and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to find our way out of the fiery maze that was the Roman Forum. Fortunately we had learned a lot about it the day before so the main focus became trying not to suffer heat stroke and keep our minds clear. The fresh water fountains helped.

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One of my favorite parts of the forum and surrounding hills were the contrast of bright poppies and fresh water against the red and brown rubble.
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Remember popular 90’s game Labyrinth? Yeah it was kind of like that. roma, rome, honeymoon in italy, colosseum, gladiator, ruins, roman forum, vacation, honeymoon,  roma, rome, honeymoon in italy, colosseum, gladiator, ruins, roman forum, vacation, honeymoon,  roma, rome, honeymoon in italy, colosseum, gladiator, ruins, roman forum, vacation, honeymoon,  roma, rome, honeymoon in italy, colosseum, gladiator, ruins, roman forum, vacation, honeymoon,  roma, rome, honeymoon in italy, colosseum, gladiator, ruins, roman forum, vacation, honeymoon,  roma, rome, honeymoon in italy, colosseum, gladiator, ruins, roman forum, vacation, honeymoon,  roma, rome, honeymoon in italy, colosseum, gladiator, ruins, roman forum, vacation, honeymoon,

That saying, all roads lead to Rome? Thanks to Augustus, technically all roads lead to this rock.  roma, rome, honeymoon in italy, colosseum, gladiator, ruins, roman forum, vacation, honeymoon,  roma, rome, honeymoon in italy, colosseum, gladiator, ruins, roman forum, vacation, honeymoon,

After the forum, we headed back towards the hotel to try what our guide John said to be the most authentic and homemade gelato in the city. And with a line out the door 100 or so flavor offerings, I’d say he was right.

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We wrapped day two with an evening aperitivo on the rooftop followed by a heaping plate of carbonara. IMG_0423_2 IMG_0425

When in Rome!

Rome: It’s like Chicago but older

Today we land in Rome and I must admit this city far exceeded my expectations in the three days we explored it. I was excited for Rome because I knew Matt would be really excited for Rome. Why do you ask? In the short six years we’ve known each other, I’ve come to learn that my new husband is a bit of a history buff. Falling slightly behind any shows that involve ultimate survival and fast and loud car restorations, chances are if he’s watching television, he’s tuned to the History Channel.

So I knew Rome would live up to Matt’s expectations and for that I was pleased. And while I did really enjoy Mr. Peterson’s World History class, I must admit I went into Rome a little rusty on my ruin knowledge. Fortunately for Matt, my parents gifted us with a private tour from a family friend who lives in Rome and just so happened to have a Masters in philosophy, a PHD in theology and a rich knowledge of local gelatology. The amount of knowledge our guide, John poured into our carb-and-wine-filled brains was enough to fill a semester-long course, but it set a foundation (no Roman pun intended) that we were able to use for the rest of our trip and for that we are very grateful. If you plan on going to Rome, check out John and his wife Ashley’s web site and be sure to meet up with them. You’ll be glad you did.

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I’ll tell you a little more about the forum when we go back for a closer look on Day 2 but just imagine the above photos some 2000 years ago. And if you still can’t picture it, this may help.

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We were privileged to learn that John also served as a consultant in restorations to the local Catholic churches in the area so we got an in-depth lesson in Art History and more Catholic facts to supplement our recent marriage prep workshops.

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dome is not in fact a dome but painted. Take that Rationalists.

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John also set us up for a dinner reservation that evening, stopping by the restaurant towards the end of our tour and putting in a good word for us with the chef. A tour guide and a concierge!

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We wrapped Day one sharing a good bottle of shiraz, mussels and linguine with black truffle.

Next up, a tour of the Coliseum.

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Florence: Day 1: A ridiculous amount of renaissance art

Today we kick off a two-day tour of Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, home to Michaelangelo’s “David” and checking the box on everything I expected Tuscany to be.

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In just an hour or so on a high-speed train we arrived in Florence (Firenze) and made our way from the train station across the Ponte Vecchio bridge to Hotel La Scaletta.

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After brunch and a cappuccino at a nearby cafe, we spent most of the morning browsing what’s said to be a ridiculous amount of renaissance art inside the Pitti Palace.

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Home to the Medici family as early as 1549, it took us hours to get through all of the residences of the family and their assistants. I was pleasantly surprised that Matt and I shared similar taste and tolerance for renaissance art, perhaps one of the few things our pre-marital questionnaire did not reveal ahead of the wedding. Crazy to think that it took us until the modern wing of the museum to see anything American.

That afternoon we ventured around the central part of the city towards the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Duomo. Even with photos, it’s hard to explain how beautiful this gothic-style cathedral really is but perhaps mentioning that every green, pink and white detail you see is made of polychrome marble.

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We stopped for an aperitivo at local sweet spot Gilli and enjoyed the people watching in the Piazza de Republica. It reminded us both of Chicago, both the high-end shops and the group of twenty-something girls from Chicago drinking Champagne at the table next to us.

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That evening we had a dinner reservation on the roof of our hotel. I was expecting nice views, but the meal was one of the best we had the entire trip. The waiter was wonderful, the wine perfect and well the sunset, I’ll let you be the judge of that.

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Next time I’ll introduce you to my guy David and tell you more about how much I didn’t want to leave this pretty city.

In search of bolognese

Today we venture south to Bologna, a medieval looking city with a center that’s more Chicago State Street than Little Italy.

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Bologna is referred to in a number of ways. La Grassa (the fat one) celebrates the first bolognese sauce that originated in the city. La Dotta (the learned one) refers to the university that was founded in 1088. And La Rossa (the red one) illustrates the red terracotta medieval buildings with their miles of porticoes and apparently some left-wing politics as well. (source)

We arrived by train and after checking out our very modern accommodations at Hotel Metropolitan, ventured out to check out the open markets.

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We quickly realized there were far less tourists in Bologna than Venice and after an hour or so roaming the streets surrounding the main piazza, far more American retail stores.

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We stopped for lunch at an outdoor cafe near the museum and had our first really memorable meal of the trip. Perhaps not as much as this kid who enjoyed a foccacia sandwich larger than his entire torso. Bon Appetito!

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Matt enjoyed a tagliatelle with bolognese and I had a salad with poached egg, asparagus and peccorino cheese with a side of bread and wine, naturally.

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That afternoon, we boarded the San Luca Express for a ride along the portico that led up to the Basilica Santuario della Madonna di San Luca overlooking the city. We had originally planned on walking the trip but after hearing it would take two hours to walk the world’s longest portico, we both decided riding was the best decision of the day.

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If the views from the top of the city weren’t breathtaking enough, a walk inside the basilica will do it.

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It was at the top of San Luca that we had our first aperitivo on the trip. Partially pictured: the tiny round teeter-totter that was the seat at this quaint pizzeria.

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Our stop in Bologna was quick, but we were grateful to experience the University town before heading down to Florence for the next few days and falling even more in love with this beautiful country.

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Ciao!

Visiting Venice: Day 2

It’s day 2 in Venice and by now you’ve established that a day well spent begins with a cappuccino and a chocolate croissant.

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To give you a little history on Venice. Years ago, ok centuries, the Venetians decided that a big old swamp with a few islands looked suitable for establishment of a city. So the barbarians may have had something to do with it, but after surviving a few plagues and purchasing a lot of flood insurance, Venice became one of the most beautiful, and rapidly sinking, cities in the world.

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After breakfast, you hop on a water taxi, or vaparetto, and take a ride out and around the island to San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square. Today, you’re sort of reversing your steps from the airport yesterday, every tiny little step you lugged that brand new but fully-loaded luggage over to get to the hotel.

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You determine the ferries are very similar to the CTA and minus the language barrier, feel fairly confident navigating them with little to no conversational Italian speaking skills yet established.

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You arrive at San Marco and suddenly realize your hotel is in a much quieter part of town.

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It’s a good thing you take way too many photos of gondolas, gondoliers and gondola riders, because you will save yourself 100 Euro when you run out of time to take a ride later that afternoon.

The basilica at San Marco is a must so you climb a steep and narrow staircase to the museum on the upper level where for a small fee they allow you to go out on the marble-tiled roof for a great view of the square. Your legs will tingle the whole time as your new husband leans and stretches himself way too close to the edge.  You make a mental note to adjust your life insurance policy when you return to the states.

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View between the Doge palace (Palazzo Ducale) and prison, along the Bridge of Sighs.

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Grand Council Chamber in Doge Palace, said to be the largest room in Europe.

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By now you’re starving so you wander the winding streets surrounding San Marco until you settle on a trattoria, or rather, you get tired of getting heckled to try said trattorias so you choose the one where they seem to need you the least.

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You wrap up your trip in Venice with dinner at another local spot and a quick stop for gelato. Your next few days would determine that the best evenings are ended with gelato and the best food in Italy is not in Venice.

Next up, Bologna!

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Visiting Venice: Day 1

Today you’re off to Venice. Get excited!

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Wait. Not yet. First you have to get to Chicago. And then Toronto, dontchaknow.

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Add in a brief stop for Fruhstuck (thanks 4 years of German class) in Frankfurt and you’ve made it.

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But you’ll get there eventually. And you’ll be pleasantly surprised by both the quality (very good) and cost (free!) of the wine Air Canada will serve you on the way.

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Merci. Danke and Grazie.

You’ll attempt to follow your new husband’s directions and try to pretend the sunrise over the atlantic is actually a sunset to prepare yourself for the 7-hour time difference, but considering it’s your first time ever crossing the Atlantic, you’re just thankful to focus on the free movies instead of the potential water landing.

venice, italy, honeymoon in italy, venezia, travel, wedding, canal, bridgeYou take a bus from the airport and arrive to the island mid-morning. It’s just a short walk to the hotel and as soon as you step foot inside to be greeted by the friendly staff, it starts pouring outside. A beautiful and perfectly-timed rain shower.

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You get a caffeine fix from the staff while you wait for your room to be ready. A cappuccino for her and an espresso for him before heading out to explore in an effort to avoid complete jet lag.

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Obviously bright-eyed, you spend the afternoon exploring the narrow streets lined by canals and the cutest little boats you’ve ever seen.

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The rain lasts just long enough for you to still think it’s pretty. It’s the last sign of clouds or precipitation you’ll experience for the next 10 days.

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You make it to dinner and based on a recommendation from the concierge where the menu is in Italian and the waitress doesn’t speak English. A perfect end to a very long day and the beginning of a wonderful honeymoon.

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