With Sue and Lou at the Colosseum.

On January 2, our first visitors of 2012 arrived. When our Madison friends Sue and Lou bought their tickets last summer, we were worried that January would not show Rome in its best light. We were wrong! Sue and Lou brought the unusually balmy winter with them from Wisconsin, and other than a rain shower their first day, they had sunshine for their 10 days in Italy.

Part of why we hoped to show Rome off was that while Lou is a professor of European history, she’d never been to Italy before; her work is focused on WWII France. So we knew comparisons between Paris and Rome would be forthcoming  – not least because Lou loves fashion and makes many of her own (gorgeous) clothes, and she and Sue are both gourmands. We started them off right with Nell’s birthday dinner (see previous post) at Da Gino; Lou loved her house-special pasta there so much that they returned to Da Gino for their last night in Roma.

And with a few gladiators.

We took in both well-known tourist sites (Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon, best coffee in Rome, etc.) and more off-the-beaten-track tourist sites. The kids have now learned enough about Rome that they are great tour guides.

One of our days was spent at Ostia Antica, a well-preserved ancient town just outside of Rome, by the ocean. Ostia used to be a major port in ancient times. But when the Tiber river moved away from it, the town fell into disrepair and was buried in mud, which helped to preserve it over the subsequent millenia. It’s particularly interesting because it was a working class town; amongst the ruins we visited were tenement apartment buildings 5 stories high.

Lounging at the Forum, near the ashes of Julius Caesar.

Another highlight of their visit was shopping. Every store in Rome has a 2 week sale starting after Epiphany, around January 6, with prices slashed in half or even more. During a trip to Florence in the middle of their visit, Sue bought fabulous boots that we immediately christened her ‘Dean’ boots (since she’s just begun a term as a dean at our university). Lou bought stunning Italian wool that she will sew into a coat. We all agreed, though, that clothing in Italy simply isn’t cut for we women who are above a Size 2.

In the ruins of Ostia Antica. This street once held a bakery and a pub; the structures are remarkably intact.

In sum, Lou and Sue decided that the pastry and bread in Paris outranks Italy. We have to agree, with a few exceptions (pizza bianca among them). Cuisine overall – well, it’s a tossup, and rests on personal preferences. But in terms of warmth and friendliness even among strangers, Italy wins hands-down. We were very sad to see them go, and indeed the weather turned chilly again just after they left!

– Jenny