GG, Etc!


The Benitez Euro Adventures 2017 Part 1 – Italy (Rome, Assisi, Tivoli)

Jul 10, 2017

We arrived on June 16th to our AIRBNB apartment on Via Vittoria, adjacent to the Spanish Steps. We had stayed here just the summer before, and loved the location, the owners’ service and accessibility, the cleanliness, the size, and location, as in addition to The Spanish Steps being so nearby, The Trevi Fountain, The Pantheon, and Villa Borghese are just a few minutes away, with even The Piazza Venezia, The Forum and The Colosseum within walking distance. And, if you love to shop, the fanciest and trendiest designers are a mere 2 minutes away!

We started off our 1st evening in Italia visiting the newly refurbished Spanish Steps, which had been closed off last summer, and enjoyed climbing up to the top (Monti area) and looking down upon the burnt orange colored buildings of Roma, with views all the way to the Vatican. We sat on the those steps and just soaked it all in: the crowds; the various languages; the gelato-devouring happy tourists; the sounds and site of the Fontana della Barcaccia. I replayed in my mind scenes from Roman Holiday, and imagined what it was like filming the scenes here. It was a perfect way to start off our week in Roma.

From there, Daniella already knew where she wanted her 1st taste of gelato: Gelateria Valentino next to the Trevi Fountain, so we walked over to the Trevi Fountain, which you can hear before even turning the corner and seeing one of the most gorgeous fountains in the world, recently refurbished through funds donated by Fendi. Just as we turned the corner to the huge crowds, we heard applaud; we had just missed a proposal. So romantic. We sat and took turns throwing our coins into the fountain, superstitiously sealing our fates to return once again to this very spot. The color of the fountain, surrounded by the stunning statues, along with the sound of the water, were mesmerizing. The Trevi Fountain should be experienced both during daylight and at nighttime, much like all of Europe, really. Each provides a different perspective, and the Trevi Fountain is no exception. I could have sat much longer, but my family craved the authentic Italian cuisine which scents were lingering in each gasp of wind.

We tried to get into a restaurant recommended by a dear Italian friend near the Pantheon, Armando de Pantheon, but they didn’t allow us in without reservations. So, we quickly called another recommended spot, Da Francesco, and were able to secure a table…We headed over and had one of the best meals EVER in Italy. I tried the Fettucine Bolognese, and Daniel and the kids had various other dishes, including sharing a handmade pizza. Daniella’s eyes watered up as she said to me, "I’m going to cry from how good this is". My kids aren’t big eaters, so that made ME want to cry. We devoured each bite, and loved the local vibe of the restaurant and the fun spirit of the servers. After our satisfying dinner, we walked back to our apartment, but I had accidentally entered in Via Vittorio in my google map vs Via Vittoria, so we ended up in the wrong area and had to cab it back! OOPS!

It took us a while to settle in that 1st night, but we were excited to wake up the next day and return to one of the kids’ favorite spots, the gardens of Villa Borghese, where we rented segways and just explored the gardens.  Daniel stayed back in the apartment to get some work done, so it was my turn to try the segway (Daniel did it last year with the kids, while my mom and I sat and enjoyed the views and the live music being played).  We finally found the spot in the lake which I had had only seen in photos for so many years, The 18th century "Temple of Aesculapius" which was apparently built just to be a landscape feature, influenced by the lake at Stourhead, Wiltshire, England, and I just wanted to watch it for hours. I felt such peace in that spot, and felt the desire to sit in quiet and enjoy, but we  only had an hour rental time, so after enjoying this area we cruised around some more, before turning in our segways and heading back down into Piazza del Popolo (there were some crazy crowds as a marathon was taking place) before heading back to the apartment to pick up Daniel and head off to our VIP COLOSSEUM AT NIGHT TOUR WITH UNDERGROUND & ARENA FLOOR.

We almost missed the tour (and I was having an anxiety attack in the streets of Rome as we were running as fast as we could to get there in time), but the kind tour operator waited for us and we are so happy they did, because the tour was FANTASTIC! My family and I had already toured the Colosseum during the day, so doing the nighttime tour gave us a different perspective, and we also got to go down into the chambers underneath the colosseum to see where the gladiators and animals waited before their horrible experiences. In addition to learning new facts about that era, and the building of the colosseum, we got to explore the Forum at night and see the Forum from above, lit up and quiet. It was GORGEOUS! Also, since summer time is quite hot and crowded in Rome, the nighttime tour is a great way to avoid both. Even for a first time visit to The Colosseum for families during the summer, I think this is the tour to pick!

By the time it ended and we headed back to our apartment, most of the restaurants in our area were closed, so Daniella and I decided to call it a night while the "boys" ventured out and found an open place to eat somewhere near The Spanish Steps.

On Sunday, we headed out to Tivoli to explore Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa) and Villa d’Este, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. WOW! What an experience. They were majestic. The kids and my husband were especially interested in Villa Adriana (history)…but, I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears when we arrived in the gardens of Villa D’Este. I had seen the gardens and fountains in pictures, but they were so much more magnificent in person. The gardens were commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este in 1550, who was the governor of Tivoli, and were designed by artist and architect Pirro Ligorio, and completed by Alberto Galvani. The gardens and grounds, in Renaissance style, are HUGE, and we had to take many breaks to rest, but resting while being surrounded by luscious grounds and the sound of the waterfalls was perfection. We stayed for hours, going from fountain to fountain, garden to garden, posing for picture after picture.

In between the two, we had lunch at Ristorante Sibilla, overlooking ruins. It was a gorgeous setting, and we sat right next to an A-list actress and her famous NBA player husband. That was fun!

We came back to our apartment, napped, showered, and headed back out for a quick dinner at a trendy, upscale restaurant called Dal Bolognese overlooking Piazza del Popolo. We had heard it was where Karl Lagerfield and other such celebrities hang out when he is in town, serving great food, although being a little stuffy. Well, the food was okay; my bolognese was better at Da Francesco. And, I didn’t like the vibe. It was too stuffy for me. I didn’t find the experience enjoyable, and wouldn’t necessarily recommend this place for families.

On Monday, we had train tickets to visit Assisi for the 1st time, but I woke up sick. So, instead, it was a lot of rest, catching up on work, and garlic soup…I mean soup with garlic.

I refused to stay cooped up all day, so I rallied up to get out of the apartment and head over to Trastevere and eat at Taverna Trilussa, a restaurant my daughter Alexis, who had studied abroad in Rome in college, had recommended and brought us to last year. The award winning ravioli comes served in the sauce pan it was created in; talk about FRESH. The meal was DIVINE, including the nutella biscuit desserts!

On Tuesday, we got up, and felt okay enough to do Assisi, take 2! And, OH MY goodness, I can’t express enough how much I fell in love with Assisi. I had NO idea that I could fall MORE in love with Italy than I already am, until the kind taxi driver dropped us off just before the Basilica. I went to a school where the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi was our "school prayer", so we grew up learning about this man, who he was, his humility and kindness, and his prayer got me through some tough times in my life. So, I was already feeling emotional on the train over, but visually, WOW! The streets of the town are just stunning, charming, adorable and more that I had imagined. We of course, visited the Basilica, and the main piazzas, but we only were in the town for a few hours, and decided that we wanted to come back to be able to enjoy an evening there, too. There is such a sense of spirituality in Assisi that has affected me, and I still get emotional thinking about it now, 3 weeks later.
On Wednesday am, we had bought tickets through Viator for the Papal Audience. At first, I didn’t really believe that these tickets were going to be so special, as I know that you can get your tickets for free for this audience, but, in fact, Viator did direct us to seats where we DID get to see the Pope up close and personal, an experience that will impact our family forever. Because of the chaotic masses, I lost where my husband and kids were, as I was directed by Viator to stand in a certain spot to increase the chances of seeing the Pope on his popemobile. So, I used one hand to take pics from my camera, and used my other hand to take videos from my iphone as soon as I saw the security scrambling, signifying he was about to come our way. And, then there he was: his sweet, humble smile turned the corner on his popemobile and stopped right in front of me. The only thing separating me from the Pope was his handsome security guard, who nodded as he saw my crying. When he passed, I sat down to replay the iPhone video, only to discover that I inadvertently stopped recording just as he came around the corner. I almost started to cry AGAIN, but my husband said he was RIGHT behind me and DID record it all, so Daniel saved the day. I want to replay that special moment forever.
We were exhausted after the Papal Audience experience, so we went back to rest for a couple of hours before coming back to The Vatican City to climb the Dome of St. Peter’s, with its gorgeous views of Rome. With this viewpoint, we got a sneak peek into The Vatican gardens, and decided that the next time we come to Rome, we want to do that tour and see it up close and personal. We had dinner again at Da Franceso, then walked around enjoying the best of Rome after dark, including Piazza Navona and the area in front of the Pantheon; we then decided to make it our tradition to do what we did on our last day in Rome last summer by taking a horse carriage ride back out to see the Vatican at night, catching a bit of Castel Sant’Angelo and its gorgeous bridges, finally being dropped off at the Spanish Steps to get one last soak in before heading off to Croatia.


The Benitez Euro Adventures 2017 Part 3 – Croatia

25 July, 2018

Every trip forever changes me, as only fellow travelers can appreciate. Every sense is engaged. Dreams come true. More dreams are created. Bonds are made stronger. New bonds are formed. Memories are imprinted in our hearts and minds that we will treasure for eternity, no matter how much we had already seen before. I do not take one single bit of these adventures with my family for granted, and I s...

Meet GG Benitez of GG Benitez & Assoc. Public Relations in San Diego

22 May, 2018

My plan was to become an attorney. I did well in school growing up, and I always loved the art of debate, persuading people to agree with my angle of any situation. However, coming from a strict Middle Eastern family, I was set up to be married just after completing my freshman year at UCSD, and became pregnant with my first child just a few months later. I still stayed in school full time, while ...