Rome Vatican

I decided to start a little “story telling”  blog about our first European experience, which was Italy. What brought this on? Throughout the years  I have had family, friends and acquaintances ask about our travels to Europe. I find several are very hesitant to go even though they really want to experience Europe.  I’m hoping some of our early travels help people realize travel is not perfect all the time, as you will read with this first blog in my series “Our First European Experience”.   So I hope you enjoy each installment and for the ones who have hesitated on going… we survived!

Let’s get to Italy…with the entire family

Our travels in Europe began back in 1996 when we made a decision to take our kids and niece to Italy. It was our first time too, so it was a little scary.  But we were feeling confident as the departure date soon became a reality.  We planned everything out; flights, rental car, stops and hotels. All systems go…

The itinerary had us flying into Rome and renting a van.  Getting off the plane we felt pretty good that we were understanding all the directional signs.  The signs led us directly to the rental car office.  All good right?  Not so much.  As we entered the garage to pick up our van, for 6 people, we stopped short to see what was arranged.  Unfortunately, the van was a mini van.  Now if you drive a mini van you know unless you lay seats down there is no extra room for luggage.  Did I mention we each had two suitcases for the 14 day trip?  Of course, there were no other vehicles available.  So we did what we had to do, sit on pieces of luggage and also have them in our laps.

Are we there yet?

We are now off and even though we missed the entrance to the autostrade we ended up on a road that followed right alongside the highway all the way to Rome.  Our hotel was Hotel Columbus which is just a few steps from the Vatican.  Feeling very fortunate that it is located next to the Vatican so that we could easily view on a map, we headed into the city.  For you young people who have never used a map, you don’t know how lucky you are that you have GPS now!  Duly noted, maps do not necessarily show you one way streets.

Therefore, it took us three hours of driving to get to our hotel.  Ironically, we actually saw the entire city and all the monuments we planned on going to; the Pantheon, Coluseum, Spanish Steps, Altare della Patria, you name it we drove by them.  In fact we drove down a oneway street twice going the wrong way.  The Rome police shook their heads and just laughed at us the 2nd time around.

Finally the hotel!

Finally, we make it to the side road outside our hotel.  At the Hotel Columbus you pull into a tunnel like area to get to the back parking area.   It was a little narrow and before my husband was willing to move off this oneway side road he asked me to go  to the hotel desk and make sure we were at the right place and if this is where we were to park.  Off I go, the front desk was so kind and helpful.  Yes we were in the right place and the bellboys will help with luggage and the car.

So back outside I am waving for Kevin to turn and pull into the tunnel.  He is shaking his head no.  I look at the bellboy, he is motioning for Kevin to drive forward.  Kevin is still shaking his head no.  Car’s are now beeping at him to move. No movement.  The bellboy and I approach the mini van, just to see through the car window Kevin holding something in his hand.  It looks like the entire gear shift!

What happens next I do not take full responsibility.  Alright, I will admit I should of brushed up on my Italian a little more.  Being the one they designate to steer the van as the bellboys (2), the hotel manager, my two sons and my husband push the vehicle through the tunnel.  I might of not fully understood when they were telling me right or left.  So under the tunnel before entering the back parking area, the van might of scrapped down the whole right side.  To point out, notice the rental car company is not being mentioned by name. Anyways there has to be a statue of limitations right?

Boy leaning against wall eating gelato in Rome

In his words “you couldn’t drive a needle up my a_ _ with a jackhammer”.

We all know the food in Italy is amazing, especially in the neighborhood of Rome called Trastevere.

Check out fellow Travel Blogger Our Escape Clause: Our Tasty Trastevere Food Tour

What Do We Do Now?

We pretty much felt like the Griswolds by now.  I have to say the hotel was wonderful, helping us with the AAA of Italy and arranging another van for us to rent.  So we checked in and headed right back out to the other airport in Rome, Ciampino Airport.  Not feeling comfortable leaving the kids, we took two taxi’s.  Good news; we received a huge van that would fit everything.  Smart idea my husband had; a few of us ride in the taxi which he can follow so it doesn’t take us 3 hours again.  Bad news; Kevin had to drive this van in Rome!  In his words “you couldn’t drive a needle up my a_ _ with a jackhammer”.

By the way, check this funny cab ride experience in Italy with Worldwide Wendy!

Did I Mention?

That Pope John Paul II was going to be making an appearance outside that very next day on Sunday.   So after a long Saturday we had a wonderful dinner and hit the sack.  The next thing I knew my phone was ringing, it was my Mother.  She was asking me how exciting it was to see the Pope.  I told her she had the times mixed up, we had not even gone yet.  She continue to inform me she just watched the mass on the television!  I pulled back the heavy block out all light possible curtains to see the street filled with people going in the opposite direction of the Vatican!  Here we have a prime example of jet lag!

First European Experience with the family Rome Italy
Rome Italy Vatican

Rome Had Our Hearts

Regardless, of everything that happened, we all throughly enjoyed Rome!  Likewise, Richard, Westley, Alyssa and our niece Tori loved every moment.  They were in awe of all the artifacts and sights that were able to be seen, touched and experienced.  As shown above, gelato was the biggest hit with Richard, especially since there was a Gelato shop right next to the hotel.

PS:  Consequently, we found out 18 months later on our 2nd trip and staying again at Hotel Columbus that the broken down van stayed parked for over 3 months in their parking lot.  The tow truck couldn’t get their truck through the tunnel!  No doubt, it’s safe to say I believe the Hotel Columbus knows are last name 🙂

Next installment will be on the road to Assisi!

Sherrie has been traveling for sometime now. Her husband Kevin and herself love to explore different destinations and adventures. She has always wanted to write, so writing about traveling just became the obvious combination. "I love, love, love to travel! Everything about it- views, sights, experiences, exploration, food, wine and of course meeting people!" Sherrie Fabrizi Allbritten


  • August 11, 2017

    OMG the entire gear shift just popped out?!?! That’s crazy! What a way to get welcomed into the country for the first time, haha. It’s great that the hotel was really helpful for you all.

  • August 11, 2017

    I love Rome, I don’t think you’d get away with driving the wrong way down a one way street these days though! ? Must have brought back some great family memories for you, thanks for sharing!

  • August 11, 2017

    That rental car story! What happened when you called the AAA of Italy and the banged up van without a gear shift was returned? It’s stories of the mishaps that are so funny to tell when you look back on your travels, right? It probably didn’t feel so funny in the moment though. I don’t know what it is about Italy, but that’s where I had my biggest travel mishap, too. My friends and I were “backpacking” through Italy after our semester abroad. Usually I thoroughly researched hostels for each destination and booked for the group, but for Florence I let one of my friends do the planning. We ended up booking a non-existent hostel and wandered around the city for hours trying to find it. Then upon realizing what had happened we wandered some more to find a vacancy elsewhere. It felt like a nightmare at the time, but now it’s one of my favorite memories of that trip. Oh, and that was before smartphones or traveling abroad with any cell phone at all.

  • August 12, 2017

    Shoot! I think it wasn’t comfortable at all being sandwiched between two luggages but happy that you are all had a great trip nevertheless. What a beautiful memory and I love they way you write it into story. I’m in love with Rome too and also had endless portion of gelato everyday, hahaha. Wish I could re-visit it again someday soon 😀

  • August 12, 2017

    The prime example of jet lag was beyond funny. I actually read that and thought about my mom too. She would surely call me to rave about the Pope as well!

  • Joanna

    August 14, 2017

    That is actually a great story, definitely one to tell your grandchildren. I can imagine the shock of your husband when the gear stick just “left the premises” haha. My first ever trip outside my home country was to Rome as well so it has a special place in my heart. I did see the Pope as well one year, and I’ve even been on prime time in the news because apparently I looked photogenic to one of the cameramans and he decided to take a prim plan of me. And the televisions from my country all took that image and broadcasted as footage for the Christmas celebrations at the Vatican lol.

  • August 14, 2017

    What an “experience”. I’ve never been brave enough to drive in Europe. I don’t know what it is, but it scares me, and I don’t know what I would have done in a similar situation!
    I’ve been to the Vatican and it was great, just so many people! I’m not the greatest with crowds so I probably didn’t stay as long as I should have.

  • August 14, 2017

    Oh how I love Rome. Loved my short stay there – but no way in the world am I renting a car LOL

  • August 14, 2017

    Such great (and very funny) memories! Isn’t it amazing how even stressful situations seem to end well and sometimes even end up creating the best stories:)

  • August 16, 2017

    Italy is one of the most beautiful country in the world and Rome is always a good choice!

  • August 17, 2017

    What an adventure… and that was just your first day! Sounds like amazing memories were made, especially if you went back to the same hotel. Italy is one of my favourite places… time for me to go back, it has been way too long!

  • November 11, 2017

    No matter how many times we’ve visited a certain place, it’s usually the first visit that becomes the most memorable. Are these photos taken in the 90’s or early 2000’s? This kind of photos makes me feel nostalgic.

  • November 11, 2017

    What a story! I can’t believe how much you remember from over 20 years ago! That’s the beauty of travel – the memories stay with us forever!

  • November 13, 2017

    Oh, my! Your family trip to Italy did sound like the Griswald. Driving on a one-way street twice, the opposite way, stuck in a tunnel and ended up leaving a mark on the van. Hahaha…

  • November 28, 2017

    Italy is a great choice. My personal favorite too. I have visited Rome, Naples, Sorrento, Florence, and Venice, but there is so much more to see in the country.

  • December 3, 2017

    Wow, love the post! I was in Italy in 1997 and I loved seeing your 90s pictures (seriously! I’m a 90s kid, it was informative and nostalgic). I also did the Richard and ate three gelatos before 10am. Haha

  • December 4, 2017

    I had a similar experience following my FIL, who was following his Sat Nav and it kept taking him to an old entrance to the freeway that was now closed, 45-60 minutes circling the same spot in Sydney Australia, with a screaming eight week old in the car. Wishing he would pull the map out instead. 🙂 The memory makes me laugh now, not so much then.

  • Flo

    December 4, 2017

    Haha, even though it took you 3 hours to get to the hotel, at least you get there in one piece (kind of). Too hilarious that the car stayed in the garage for 3 months! I bet Rome was very different back in the 90s, each time I go back it gets even more crowded than the last time.

  • December 6, 2017

    First time experiences are really amazing and instills more laster impressions and memories. The excitement must have been really great especially that you were with family.. 🙂 And I must say what a welcome! At least you got to see the city on your first day! 🙂

  • December 6, 2017

    My first trip to Europe was to Italy, too! We had a similar experience renting a convertible. We didn’t think about the small trunk space. Our girls ended up surrounded and covered by luggage until we could make it from the airport to our hotel.

  • December 7, 2017

    What a terrific first choice for Europe! Italy would have been great for the whole family So real and so relatable, every word of what you said here. I love the expressions on the kids’ faces. Maybe history is not the favored cup of tea.

  • December 9, 2017

    I still remember the only time I visited Italy. We went to Rome, Naples, Sorrento, Florence, and Venice. Loved the country. Want to go back for a second trip.

  • December 10, 2017

    Just wow! Italy is one of our dream destinations. For us, it’s very romantic. And although we are avid outdoorsmen, we wouldn’t mind enjoying a bit of luxury and sightseeing.

  • January 18, 2018

    Italy is fantastic. There is so much to see and do in the country – history, culture, great food, stunning islands, lakes, beaches, and more. I want to go back again.

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