Adventures in Rome – Day Trippin’ in Tivoli

“Mi scusi! How do you get to Tivoli?”

Renowned for its deep river gorges, and cascading waterfalls, we decided to take a day trip to the nearby city of Tivoli.

Key words: DAY TRIP.

This alleged half-hour jaunt took us all day to get there. Why you may ask?

Well…it’s complicated. Let’s just say that despite our incredible cost savings by staying in an apartment (advantage!), there’s something to be said for having a front desk staff and concierge to answer questions and book excursions (disadvantage!).

We actually started out all right. Sure we didn’t have a guide book or a map of Tivoli, but my hubby, Chris, and I both remembered reading that we could take the train to Tivoli from nearby Termini Station. So we hailed a cab and were promptly deposited at the station entrance. We walked into the bustling building, and the kids and I went to stand in the exceptionally long ticket line. But…

Chris didn’t want to wait.
So he went over to a machine and managed to purchase tickets for four to Tivoli for a mere $9.20 Euros instead of the $48 Euros the cab driver had told us it would probably cost. Hmmm…curious.

It took us another half hour of wandering around the station attempting to communicate in halting/broken Italian/English to figure out the tickets he’d purchased were actually leaving from a different train station. So we hustled back outside and hailed another cab to take us to the new train station, Tiburtina.

Once there, we eventually discovered where we needed to be and boarded the train with several other people. It took off, only to come to a complete stop a few minutes later. We sat there for several seconds. Some people got on. Some people got off. Then the train started again. This happened several times and we realized that although it was called a “train” it was actually more like an above-ground subway (perhaps the rampant graffiti should have tipped us off), stopping at different cities along the way to our destination.

“How will we know when to get off?” Ashleigh asked anxiously, while Chris dozed contentedly beside me.

“Well, I can see different signs out the window every time we stop,” I replied with pretend confidence. “As soon as we see a sign that says ‘Tivoli,’ we’ll know to get off.”

After about half an hour, we came to a stop. I read a sign that said: “Bagna di Tivoli.”

Everybody we had boarded the train with in Rome got up and waited expectantly for the doors to open.

“This must be it!” I said, and we all hopped off the train. It jetted off down the track, while we stood blinking in the bright sunlight, getting accustomed to our surroundings.

The sun shone down hotly on a lone bench. A slight breeze ruffled the grass of the empty fields across from of us. Everybody from the train quickly disbursed, and we found ourselves alone. There was an empty café beside the empty train station. An Italian tumbleweed rolled past. (Okay, not really, but you get the idea.)

As we’d experienced several times since coming to Rome, there just weren’t any people around for question-answering.

I walked into the station, which was actually a small room with a couple of ticket machines and no people, of course. I found a map of the train route and figured out that—surprise, surprise—we were actually NOT in Tivoli. Nope. It appeared that Tivoli was another three stops and several miles up the track. Studying the train schedule, we figured out that another train would pass through the station in approximately 40 minutes.

“Let’s just sit here on this nice bench and wait for the next train,” I suggested. But…

Chris didn’t want to wait.
So we hoofed it up the vacant road and onto the main street. This was obviously a small town. No taxis to be seen anywhere. Unlike the crowded streets of Rome, we stood out like Pizza Margherita in a gelataria. People openly stared as we made our way up the street. You could practically hear them thinking, “You ain’t from here.” (Except in Italian, of course.)

“I guess Bagna di Tivoli doesn’t get a lot of tourist traffic,” I commented, nodding politely to wide-eyed passersby.

Suddenly, we noticed a bus drive past with “Tivoli” lit up across its front banner. Several moments later another one came by. We spotted a newspaper stand up ahead and Chris asked the clerk if she knew where we might get a bus ticket to Tivoli. And guess what? For $1 Euro each, we got tickets!

Eventually, a third bus came up the road, and we clambered on board. The bus took off. However, just like the train, it stopped periodically to let people on and off. Ashleigh shot me a look.

Once again, I wondered how we’d know when we were in Tivoli. As we peered out the windows, I noticed we were climbing higher and higher up a steep, winding road. I recalled that Tivoli was described as a hilltop city. So once we hit the town at the top, I suggested we get off the bus. We disembarked and finally—3-1/2 hours, two taxis, one train and a bus ride later—we found ourselves in the center square of the hilly town of Tivoli.

We intended to tour several villas and a nature park in the city, but it was now 3:00 p.m. and we were starving. So we stopped to eat. When we’d finished, Chris caved and asked the restaurant manager for directions to a couple of the sites we wanted to see. (In case he ever tries to deny he stopped to ask directions, I have evidence!)

We chose to start with Villa Gregoriana Park, and hiked uphill about a mile or so to get there. The park is named for Pope Gregory XVI, who saved Tivoli from river damage by diverting the river through a tunnel, weakening its flow, and creating the Grande Cascade waterfall.

The park was very lush and green.

It had a raw, natural beauty that was in complete contrast to big-city Rome. I didn’t realize how much I was missing fresh air, flowers and just being in nature until be started hiking around the Villa Gregoriana.

As promised, it was full of beautiful gorges, refreshing waterfalls, and ancient castle remains.

Here is a ruin of an ancient Temple of Vesta from the Villa’s trail.

Okay, maybe it was worth it. By the time we left the park, it was after 5:00 p.m. Chris wanted to stay in town and do more exploring. But…

Holly didn’t want to wait.
I figured it might be best if we used our remaining time to figure out where the train station was, and when the last train left Tivoli since it was Good Friday. From the park’s ticket counter, we were directed to hike further up the steep hill where we found the train station. Another one-room deal offering no actual humans, only machines. My hubby once again purchased tickets. This time the cost for all four of us was $24.50 Euros to get back to Rome. Hmmm…curious.

Our trip back home was much quicker and less eventful. A quick stop for gelato…

And we finally made it back to the apartment around 7:30 p.m.

We all flopped down, ready to call it a night. Or so I thought. But Chris was still up for adventure. “Let’s head downtown to see the Pope lead the 9:00 p.m. Good Friday procession to the Colosseum,” he suggested.

While massaging my tired tootsies, I cleared my throat to be certain my whine was in full throttle. “Awwww, hon’. Let’s not. It’ll be super crowded and I’m soooo tired now. Plus it’s getting late. I don’t want to be lost in downtown Rome in the dark.”

(Okay, I’m seriously NOT making this next part up.)

The minute the word “dark” was out of my mouth, BAM! All the power in the apartment building went out. We all sat very still. Blinking in the now total darkness.

Chris walked to the window and looked out. “Yup. It’s just our building. Everybody else still has power.”

Unbelievable. I sighed. (A sign?)

“Well kids, we may as well put our shoes back on and go. It’s better than sitting here bored in the dark.

We headed downtown; the streets were flooded with people. Like salmon swimming upstream, everybody was flowing towards the Colosseum, hoping for a glimpse of the Pope. After talking with a police officer, we discovered that unfortunately, we wouldn’t be able to see any of the procession from the street, but we saw lots of interesting people.

More priest and nun sightings.

We got back late and tumbled into bed. The power was back on. Yeah!

Stay tuned for one more post, Adventures in Rome: The Final Episode.
Gelato image by Samuraijohnny

Quote of the Month

"The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure."

~ Joseph Campbell ~ 

Image by: Trekking Rinjani

Quote of the Month

"We read five words on the first page of a really good novel and we begin to forget that we are reading printed words on a page;
we begin to see images."
~ John Gardner ~

Image by: Ruifernandes

How Safe Is Your Heart From Attack? (Part III)

The food came and I dug into my cheesy, yummy nachos.

Chris ignored his cedar plank salmon steak and immediately went for the stuff arranged around the edges of his plate.

“What are you doing?” I asked, between gooey mouthfuls.

“Eating the vegetables before they get cold,” he said, scooping up piles of green and red stuff and putting them into his mouth.

My own mouth fell open. “Are you kidding me?! I always thought that stuff was just for decoration!”

True story.

That was a scene from one of my first dates with Chris, and a perfect example of how different we were as far as food choices went. It amazed me that anyone would willingly eat their veggies without a threat from mom about no dessert, or privileges being revoked.

Fast forward a quarter of a century. As I previously posted, the situation with our friend Noah inspired Chris and me to begin following the heart-smart South Beach Diet (SBD). It’s basically a low glycemic-index diet, which is a fancy way of saying “low sugar.”

The diet is organized into three phases. PHASE 1 lasts two weeks and has the greatest number of restrictions because it’s in that phase that your body learns to eliminate sugar cravings. PHASE 2 allows you to slowly add fruits and whole grains back into your diet (while still losing weight if you need to lose it). And PHASE 3 is never ending. But the author claims by that final phase it will be no big deal, and you’ll have simply adapted to the new way of eating.

As a self-confessed Sugar Monster, I was doubtful that this diet would really alter my life-long love affair with sugar. I mean, I love pastries, cakes, cookies, chocolate, you name it. I literally had a sweet treat every single day!

In PHASE 1, my biggest hurdle to overcome was my treasured morning Caramel Macchiato (twenty-two grams of sugar). I’m talking SUH-WEEEET, people!

In my attempts to create a replacement, I came up with some pretty horrid combinations of cocoa powder, fat-free cream, stevia, low-fat milk, unsweetened vanilla soy milk, powdered creamer, vanilla extract, almond extract, raspberry extract, …Aaarrrghh!

Nothing made me happy until I discovered this cool website: They sell all kinds of flavored stevia in liquid form. I finally engineered an adequate alternative combining flavored coffee beans, sugar-free vanilla caramel Coffee-Mate® and multiple drops of vanilla and toffee stevia. Yum!

Well, Chris and I have now completed 90 days of the SBD and the results are in. I have to say, I’m impressed!

First of all, Chris dropped about 25 pounds. And for me, it’s the weirdest thing! I look at sweet treats I normally crave, like the box of Belgian chocolates hubby bought for me on a recent trip to Europe, and…I …don’t…care. It’s so hard to even write that! I look at all that stuff and feel like I should want it, desire it, crave it. But those old lovin’ feelings just aren’t there. It’s not even particularly painful to pass the stuff up when I’m confronted with it.

Now, this doesn’t mean I’ll never eat those goodies again. Because, I mean, c’mon. God made desserts for a reason, right? And Dr. Agatston even acknowledges it’s fine to cheat on occasion. But for now, I’ll stay the path.

Other changes I’ve noticed are that I have more energy, and honestly, I feel like my brain function has even improved--less of that brain fog feeling. Chris just had a regular doc appointment, and although his cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure have always been in the normal range (just like Noah’s were!), his numbers are even better now. This is so encouraging since we’re both at risk for heart disease due to heredity factors. By being proactive this way, we’re hopefully altering our heart-health futures in a positive way.

I realized how much this diet had changed me when we went out to dinner the other night and our food arrived.

As we both dug into our side orders of fresh veggies, I said, “Who would’ve ever believed I’d be ordering steamed broccoli. On purpose!”

Chris just grinned at me and kept eating his own veggies before they got cold.

Would you try a diet if it promised to eliminate your cravings for sweets?

Image by: Mostafa Zamani

How to Deal with Empty Nest: 10 Things I Don’t Miss About You

Well, we’re three months into this new Empty Nester thing and I still miss the boy. Since I’ve embarrassed Ashleigh plenty of times on the ol’ blog, I decided it was Josh’s turn. Again. (Heh, heh!) All’s fair in love and family! To help me along in this EN transition, I thought if I wrote a top 10 list about stuff I DON’T miss now that he’s gone, it might help. So here goes…

10 Things I Don’t Miss About You

How you liked to play with knives.

Then you liked to play
with bigger knives.

How you’d decide that midnight was a good time to go walk around the neighborhood with your buds.

The motorcycle! ‘Nuf said.

How disgusting you’d let
the bathroom get.
(For the record, this isn't our bathroom. It looks way better ours did!)

How trashed our living room was.

Getting up at 5:50 a.m.

How you liked to longboard.
In the dark!

Nagging you. (You probably don’t miss that either!)

The daily loads of dirty, sweaty, mud-stained soccer laundry.

*Sigh* Yeah, I’m totally lying.  I miss it all. Seriously, all of it.

Hey! You parents out there! Any of you who are going through difficult or challenging times with your kid and you’re thinking, I can’t wait till they’re gone so we can have some peace and quiet around here--I admit, there’s some good stuff about becoming Empty Nesters. And maybe I’ll write a post about that someday. But the truth is…sometimes I really do miss those noisy, stressful, nagging, messy times the most.

How do you get through those times when you're missing someone?

How Safe Is Your Heart From Attack? (Part II)

After the shock of what happened with our friend Noah, Chris and I took hard looks at our own genetic predispositions for heart disease. As I mentioned, both my parents have had bypass surgery, as well as Chris’s father. So we resolved to immediately begin eating in a more heart-healthy way.

Noah’s doctor recommended he read the The South BeachDiet by Arthur Agatston, M.D. I bought a copy and devoured it in only a couple of days (an amazing feat as I’m about the slowest reader on the planet). I found the information it contained really interesting!

I’d heard of the South Beach Diet (SBD) before, but since I’ve never been into what I perceived as “fad diets,” I hadn’t paid much attention to it. I figured it was some sort of body building trend for looking good on the beach. It seems I’m not the only one who had misconceptions about it. Many have mistakenly thought it was a low-carb, or low-fat, or even high-fat/high-protein diet.

None of these are accurate.

The diet’s creator, Dr. Agatston, is a cardiologist. He developed the diet back in 1995 specifically to help his cardiology patients improve their heart health. He lives in Southern Florida’s Miami Beach area (thus the diet’s name). After following his diet, his patients not only experienced, significant improvement in their blood chemistry and heart health, but they achieved phenomenal weight loss benefits as well. As a result, word quickly spread and the diet gained national attention.  

But bottom line, his diet started out all about the heart.

The SBD recalibrates the way your body responds to food, sugar in particular. You do this by going through the diet’s three phases, avoiding foods with a high glycemic index (high sugar!), and by:

1. Eating lean sources of protein (chicken, lean beef, fish, etc.)

2. Relying on “good” carbohydrates (vegetables, fruits and whole grains) and “good” fats (olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil)

3. Avoiding bad carbs and bad fats found in most processed foods like white bread and white rice, as well as pasta and potatoes.

Chris and I both wanted the heart health benefit, and he hoped to lose some weight, so we started the plan. For Chris, this diet wasn’t that much of a hardship. He’s a natural veggie lover. For me, on the other hand…well, I’m a sugar monster. I love dessert, donuts, pastries, chocolate. Oh mama, love me some chocolate! Ahem. Sorry, I digress. I figured if this diet actually removed my cravings for my beloved foods, well, that would be all right. I was doubtful, but decided to give it a try. I’ll post our progress periodically on the blog here.

In the meantime, through my SBD reading I discovered some unexpected foodie facts. I thought I’d share five of them with you today.

Five Heart Health Facts You Probably Never Heard Before

1. Starches such as white bread and white potatoes increase blood sugar levels faster than table sugar does. In fact eating a slice of white bread is worse for you than eating ice cream!

2. Immediately after eating a meal high in saturated fat, your arteries become predisposed to constriction and clotting. In essence, if the circumstances are right (or more accurately, wrong!) eating a high-saturated fat meal can actually trigger a heart attack.

3. Instant oatmeal is not a good choice! It’s too processed and thus has less fiber and more bad carbs. If you love oatmeal (Chris does, although I could never understand this), choose the slow-cooking kind and steel cut is the best.

4. Beer is not a good choice either! It’s made from maltose (maltodextrins), this sugar form increases blood sugar faster than any other type.

5. Most people who suffer heart attacks have average cholesterol levels! (It’s your ratio of LDL to HDL that plays a much more significant role.)

Have you ever tried the South Beach Diet? When thinking about your own health, how important do you think it is to pay attention to heredity?

Image by: Mostafa Zamani

How Safe Is Your Heart From Attack?

You may have noticed how much I whined about my hubby and I becoming dreaded Empty Nesters. Well, only two days after abandoning delivering Joshua to his new college dorm room, something happened which made our Empty Nester concerns pale in comparison.

Someone very dear us discovered he needed to have heart surgery, and his story impacted us in a profound way.

It all started a few months ago, when our friend Noah* began noticing his heart racing faster than normal when he ran, a short time later, he began having chest pain. He made an appointment with his regular doc, who did all his blood work and some standard tests.

He’s 49 years old. And his results for blood sugar, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, triglycerides, were all good. His thyroid was fine. He doesn’t smoke, and he’s not obese. His allergies had been flaring up, so the doc suggested that might be the cause and sent him to an allergist. More tests. More good results. But they gave him some allergy medicine and sent him home.

But he was still experiencing chest pain, so his original doc referred him to a cardiologist. This doc ran the standard battery of tests: EKG, stress test (Noah loved bragging about how he scored in the top 85% for his age group!). Again, all good. The cardiologist told him he was fine and sent him home.

NOBODY thought it was his heart.

Except Noah.

He refused to listen to the experts. On his own he "Googled" one of his area’s top local cardiologists and scheduled himself an appointment. When he met with this doctor, even he didn’t think it was Noah’s heart. But he scheduled him for a test called an Electron Beam Computed Tomography (EBCT). It’s a test where they take a three-dimensional, super fast--as in within one heartbeat-- picture of the entire heart and surrounding blood vessels.

It's an extremely accurate test, and it shows everything.

They discovered blockage.

Three days later Noah underwent surgery. (I refuse to call it a procedure! Have you noticed how everything is a “procedure” now? I say, if they’re cutting into your body, it’s surgery! But, I digress.)

The surgeon performed a catheterization which resulted in a stent being placed into one of Noah’s diagonal LAD arteries. Later, the surgeon told him that the vein they put the stent in was 99.9% blocked! He was so close to having a heart attack that it chills me!

I THANK GOD Noah refused to listen to all the experts, choosing to listen to his instincts instead.

Noah had none of the typical risk factors for heart disease, except one. His father had a heart attack in his early forties.

I am shocked at what a significant role heredity plays in our health as opposed to the traditional health issues science usually likes to blame. Both of my parents and my hubby’s father have had bypass surgeries. Noah’s experience was a wake-up call to us. Just because we aren’t experiencing any symptoms at the moment, doesn’t mean we have the slightest clue what is happening within our arteries at this very moment. I have now devoured a book on heart healthy eating habits which we will be practicing from this day forward. And I’ll be blogging about our journey over the some of my next posts.

If you had been in Noah’s shoes, would you have trusted the “experts,” or followed your instincts?