They all have a fantastic time!

Our final visitors for the year were our Madison friends and colleagues Trish and Melanie. We credit them with introducing us (especially the kids) to the joys of cheesehead-dom. So we were especially happy to host them on their first trip to Italy.

At Ponte Milvio

One event that we missed during our year away was Trish and Melanie’s wedding. Last August, on the weekend of their wedding, we happened to be exploring a part of Rome dominated by a bridge, Ponte Milvio. There is a tradition that newlywed and otherwise hardily coupled pairs bring locks to Ponte Milvio, sign or carve their names on the locks, and attach them to the bridge to symbolize permanent love. They can then toss the keys into the river if they really feel committed!

With their very own lock.

So on Trish and Melanie’s first day in Rome, we gave them our (belated) wedding present – a walk to Ponte Milvio and a lock to attach to the bridge. They are brave souls, and threw away the key. As I wouldn’t recommend diving into the Tiber river (yuck), I guess their marriage has to last.

Siena and the Tuscan vista.

Another highlight of their visit was a trip to Siena. This city was one that I particularly wanted to visit, and we thought it would be fun for our visitors to get to see a very different side of Italy: from the bustling ancient city of Rome to the picture-perfect medieval city of Siena. And picture-perfect it was! My kids tease me for my obsession with beautiful views, and Tuscany really does take the cake; Seth calls it Disneyland for grownups. Accurate, given the incredible wine paired with the views.

Breakfast room and terrace at our lovely hotel.

We stayed in a fabulous little hotel – just 6 rooms – called the Campo Regio Relais; I think it might have been my favorite hotel of the year, in large part because of, yes, the view. It has a little terrace overlooking the city where breakfast is served, and our bedroom had the same view. It was so pretty that it was hard to believe it was real.

Now that’s a breakfast nook!

Our time in Siena was largely spent wandering the little streets and exploring back alleys, and, of course, climbing towers. And we ate surprisingly well. We’d heard that the food in Siena was generally not so great by Italian standards (especially compared to other cities we’ve visited recently such as Bologna …mmm…), so we really did our homework.

Both kids sporting the local team jersey.

Our two favorite meals were our Friday dinner and Saturday lunch. Friday dinner was at a little place called, simply, Osteria (which means wine bar; Via dei Rossi 79/81). No web site, no frills. But the food was excellent, the local wine among the best we’ve had, and we loved the relaxed atmosphere. And unlike other places we saw in Siena, no tourists.

Lunch the next day was at Ristorante Castelvecchio (Via Castelvecchio 65), outside the center, which I chose because it was one of the few restaurants I read about that specialized in non-meat dishes. We loved it! The room was fancier than the other restaurants we tried (cloth tablecloths), and we were the only table eating, but the food was perfect and a bit creative.

Seafood feast in Ostia.

On Trish and Melanie’s last day, we joined a tour of Ostia Antica that was organized by a local guide/ historian/ artist/ archeologist/ architect/ you name it. Nancy de Conciliius is legendary amongst local Anglophones for her biweekly tours of Rome neighborhoods and landmarks – and if you’re ever visiting Rome in the spring or fall on a Monday or Tuesday, join her tour regardless of her destination; it’s always fascinating. We felt privileged to be able to explore this ancient town just outside Rome with her. Afterwards, the four of us lunched on piles of local seafood (Ostia is by the ocean) at Il Monumento, and reflected on how glad we were to have shared time in Italy together.

It was strange saying goodbye to our last set of guests. We’ve had more visitors in Rome this year than in 15 years living in Madison. Now, we are hoping that some of our friends from Rome will make their way to visit us in the land of the cheeseheads.

– Jenny