After a good night’s rest following our march around Rome proper, we were ready to catch the train up to Venice and — that’s right, baby — Carnevale!

But not before, ya know, fueling up again at our new favorite place, Pompi’s.

My brother kept missing the boat on pizza there — they kept selling out — but he was never disappointed. (In the days to come, he would eat more great pizza than he could shake a stick at.) This lovely Roman morning, he consoled himself with a ham and fresh mozzarella sandwich. I know you’re looking up at that little drip of cheesy goodness. I know you are because I can’t look at this picture without staring at that little drop of happiness myself.

I am an almost tragic creature of habit. Having had the best in my life just a mere 24 hours earlier, I can’t help but bark up the same tree. Cured ham, warm brie, sesame-seed-festooned fresh bread — poor me!

Of course, no Roman day is properly begun without espresso. I went for the marocchino, espresso with frothed milk and cocoa powder.

Oh, Starbucks, I loved you so…surely my receipts prove that. It’s not you. It’s me. I’m just in a different place right now. (Yeah, fucking Rome!)

But now we were off to fucking Venice! To the train station!

I had to snag a shot of Game Stop for my pal C-Lao…should have put in for a transfer, dude!

And I had to include a shot of the McDonald’s for all my friends (and there were many) who threatened to disown me if I ate at one while in Italy. Ladies, please!

After taking the subway the wrong way, getting off and taking it the right way, discovering that we could have taken the subway from the airport at a tiny fraction of the time and cost of the shuttle, getting to the train station, waiting in line for 30 minutes to buy train tickets we could have gotten from one of the kiosks, paying €1.50 to wee (a preview of wee expenses to come), we were finally on our way.

The Eurostar trains travel up to a blistering 186-mph, and make Southern California’s Metrolink look like an old lady on a two-wheeled tricycle. The trip from Rome to Venice takes only three and a half hours. It’s a little unreal at first seeing the landscape blur by at warp speed, but then you just start seeing the landscape.

DIY Nostalgic Instagram photo filter — dirty train windows.

A couple of weeks before we arrived, Rome received its first snow in 25 years! We saw only dirty bits and patches of it in the few shadowy places of Rome, but as we moved north, the landscape became a winter wonderland…

…only to fade away again.

We met two Americans on the train. Students studying abroad, they were headed up to Venice for Carnevale as well. The young man said nothing, but nodded and smiled pleasantly while glued to his netbook while his more gregarious traveling partner bemoaned the lack of wi-fi on the train (she had an assignment due that day for an online class), praised the progressiveness of the Dutch (Amsterdam was great!), and the primitive-ness of French thinking (having spent a month in Paris without being able to score any weed). She was much more optimistic about their chances in Venice. We wished them buona fortuna.

There’s something magical going on between Italy and the sun. It certainly does seem to favor her.

Lulled to sleep by the passing golden landscape, I managed to completely miss the crossing from the mainland into Venice. But here’s our first view of Serenissima coming out of the train station.

This is pretty much the last time we knew for sure where we were. For the next several days, we would be undeniably, unavoidably, unforgettably, and thoroughly lost.


So a writer, an artist, and three Catholic priests get into an airport shuttle…sounds like the beginning of a groan-worthy joke, doesn’t it? The only thing groan-worthy about it was how long it took to drive from Fiumicino Airport into Rome. Mama Mia!

That and the fact that I was a little a’feared for my life. It was very much like a grown-up version of Disneyland’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Thankfully, our very skilled driver was able to read the map and drive at the same time. Win!

First look at the Colosseum

Since my brother Jon and I only planned one day in Rome, we decided our best bet would be to drop off our luggage and hit the pavement right away. We were so jet-lagged though, we very nearly opted for naps. Of course, neither of us were up to the berating we would have gotten if we slept our whole day in Rome away.

Obviously, we were going to need to get refueled.

The concierge at our hotel told us that Pompi’s was the place to go. And so we did.

The most awesome sandwiches in the world.

If you look at the back row, three sandwiches from the left, you will see the best sandwich I ever had in my life. No exaggeration. I could eat here every day for the rest of my life. *sigh*

Though their sandwiches are divine, Pompi’s is actually best known for their tiramisu. But there’s lots of other goodies to choose from.

Don’t see anything you like? How about over here?

After I wept over my sandwich and the state of coffee back home, it was time to hit the pavement. Literally, as it turns out.

Okay. So one of the things you really have to pay attention to in Rome is the sidewalk. Firstly, the Italians love their puppies, so there are dog bombs everywhere. If you’re not careful, you could easily find yourself slip-sliding on a canine tootsie roll.

Secondly, the sidewalks are full of potholes and cracks and uneven surfaces, so it’s really not a good idea to walk and read a map at the same time…which is what I did. Thankfully, the woman I did a swan dive in front of wasn’t too frightened — come to think of it, she hardly acknowledged it — hmph! — and my bloody knee didn’t seep through my jeans. Another win!

Thirdly — and most importantly — BE CAREFUL CROSSING THE STREET! Roman pedestrians just go — ain’t nothing gonna break’a their style. But the same holds true for Roman drivers…ain’t nothing gonna slow them down, oh, no!

Anyhoo, we decided we’d walk part of the Appian Way, “the queen of the long roads,” on the way to the Colosseum. According to our guidebook, it wasn’t far. So off we went through the neighborhood.

I have to admit, I love Italian sensibilities. Check out the dozens of rabbit ears on the roof. They just run the wires down the wall. Almost all of the apartment buildings sported this look.

Their neighborhoods are so beautiful. I love that everything is just mixed together. And no matter where you are, there’s a café nearby.

Ahh…ancient wall…we must be getting closer!

This way?

Say, “Formaggio!”

I think it’s this way.

Okay. Now we’re in wilderness. The Appian Way may be the queen of the long roads, but getting there is no jaunt in the park either. For now, it will have to remain a mystery.

Let’s go see the Colosseum!

From here, it looks like a wall at the end of the street.

Pictures don’t do it justice.

Victory Arch of Constantine (side view)

Segway Chariot — just like the ancient Romans used.

Gladiators on caffé break.

Belly of the Beast

View of the Palatine and the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument in the distance.

The late afternoon sun loves Rome.

Across the street from the Colosseum.

Walking back to the hotel.

This place is lousy with gorgeous architecture.

Rick Steves says you can do Rome in a day — and we certainly tried, Rick! — but alas! Clearly, we’re going to have to come back and give it another go.


Over Rome, Italy ~ February 16, 2012

It’s all Neil Gaiman’s fault really. It was this thing he said on his blog a few years ago. He wrote: “I suspect that Venice is full of ghosts. Not of Venetians, but of all the visitors who came, and fell in love with the place, and promised themselves they’d be back, dead or alive.”

This lovely little sentiment lodged itself in my brain and started worming its way to the center. At first, it told me, “Hey, I’m a cool little short story. You oughta write me up, see how pretty I could be. It won’t take long.”

So I did.

And it was pretty…that part was true. But it wasn’t a short story. It lied. As it turned out, it was actually a 90,000-word novel set mostly in Venice, Italy, a place I had visited once for an afternoon with my family when I was 12 years old.

So I guess Neil was right. Venice does call you back.

A view of the Colosseum from a speeding car.

But the problem with writing a book set in an exotic place like Venice is you can’t fake it. And surely, Venice is such an important character of the story. True, I had been there before, but it was so brief and so long ago, I only had a chance to fall in love with it, not get to know it.

Fat Cat pointed this out when I was writing the book. He didn’t feel I could do it justice not having spent time there. I disagreed…only because I didn’t think there was a way I was going to travel to Italy anytime soon. We had a business to run. We had a bills to pay, a child to take care of…just like everyone else. It just didn’t seem feasible. I thought I could recreate Venice through research and reading trip reports. What else could I do? Not write the book?

Still in a speeding car...San Giovanni Laterano!

Not writing the book was not an option. So I wrote it as best I could, and I finished it. But I realized Fat Cat was right. I couldn’t do it justice without going there and experiencing it for myself.

I’m not really sure how it started, this idea that I could go to Venice this year. I think it was really just me wishing out loud. But people heard me and paid attention. My awesome, amazing Mom offered to watch my little one (oh, man! do I miss her…and thank you, thank you, thank you, Mom!); a friend offered his buddy passes from the airline he works at; I rediscovered a small account I had squirreled away ages ago (hiding money from yourself works!); and my brother offered to come with me. An epic trip in the making. We were going to Venice!

“Only…wouldn’t it be cool if we could see the Colosseum too?” my brother wondered.

I think so!

Me and my brother Jon at the Colosseum


This made my January!

I know, I know. I’ve been absent. But it’s not because I haven’t been thinking about you guys. Honestly, I think about you guys all the time. I’ve got a folder this thick (indicating a very thick folder) full of everything from thoughts about new shows (Vampire Diaries, I heart thee!), exciting-not-nerdy-at-all writing stuff, to dog pictures. I’ve got lots of dog pictures for you guys, you lucky devils.

I was going to blame it on the aliens — they’re thick as thieves out here and won’t hesitate to snatch you when you’re dragging the trashcans to the curb — but I promised I wouldn’t blame them this time. (It’s totally their fault…they have satellite TV!)

Truthfully, it’s been a slow start to the new year. I think as I get on in years, it takes me longer and longer to recover from the holidays. And I’ve been working hard — really hard — on the writing. I know it’s hard for loved ones to hear that you’re writing, you’re working, yada, yada, yada, and they don’t see any results.

Believe me…I know because it’s hard for me too.

I was really struggling with this at the beginning of the year. It’s usually my most favorite time of the year, but not this year. I was just having a tough time with everything.

Then in late January, I got the most awesome Happy New Year’s card from my friends Holly and Raj (Holly is the incredible, inspiring force behind Thank you, guys, so much!

Anyway, I know the year is already starting to cut teeth, but I wanted to wish you guys a happy new year and pass on Holly and Raj’s sweet message. I hope this comes at a good time for you as it did me.

Oh, I should mention that I am writing this from Rome, Italy. That’s right, baby! Happy New Year and Seize the Day By the Throat and Put it on a Plane to Rome! I’m back, and we are hitting the ground running.

So that thick folder of Vampire Diary musings and dog pictures I was telling you about? All that can wait until later. In the meantime, I’ll be sharing pictures of the Colosseum and the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten in my life! Unfortunately, that will have to wait until tonight as I have a train to catch to Venice. (Squee!) So stay tuned. I’ll be posting daily, and I’ll tell you the whole long story of how I ended up here in the first place.

Happy New Year! I hope you’re busy chasing dreams…and catching them!