Wednesday, April 16, 2014


I booked us a place in Rome for a week over Spring break.

Because of our experience in London, I thought we would need a week to see everything we wanted to.  I really learned some great lessons on that London trip, however, and planned this trip much better.  We were actually done with all the major sites in 2 days and took the third day to travel out to Ostia Antica (which was amazing!) and so that left us with 4 days to visit all the lesser sites- um wayyyyy too long for the little ones and the husband who hates hordes of people.  I have to admit  that it was too long for me, as well!  I would have loved to have split it up with a  different kind of activity, like a beach day, but it wasn't quite warm enough nor close enough. 

I had originally planned to go down to Pompeii for a day, but hadn't reserved any rooms in Naples, so it was going to be a down and back kind of thing.  After researching it some more, we found that it was going to be around 6-7 hours of train riding round trip, plus the cost (close to 30 euros a person just to get to Naples and then whatever the train tickets were from Naples to Pompeii- this is when our internet stopped working! and then the tickets to get into Pompeii)  Then there would be all day long, walking around in the sun (no shade in Pompeii) to see a bigger version of Ostia.  We decided to not do that!  Instead we found some fun churches, an Italian Spring Festival, the USO on pizza day, and some beautiful parks!  We kicked the Vatican- because that's our thing.  We like to kick a few major sites in all our travels- we have kicked the Washington monument and the St. Louis Arch as well.  We went back to the Trevi fountain, when we could actually get close to the water!  We got ourselves in the middle of a huge protest with armed policemen everywhere!!  We even found the Hard Rock Cafe in Rome completely by accident and enjoyed an American style lunch, complete with free water with ice and with free refills!!  I know!  We were super excited, too!

The Metro was cheap and so I thought we would use that a few times, but we only used it twice- once to get up to the Vatican, so that we were on time for sure, and then one other time.  The rest of the time we walked everywhere.
One of the things we saw on our walks- a Roman arch on top of a house, or a house built around a Roman Arch- crazy!
Our children are amazing travelers- always have been.  We just don't put up with whining on trips and so they have all gotten used to it.  We also try to bring or buy plenty of food for snacks.  We let them play electronics when we get back to the places we are staying, so they can relax.  Even 8 year old Max kept up the whole time.  A couple of days we walked from our place that was 15 minutes south of the Colosseum all the way up to the Vatican or Villa Borghese park and back.  No one complained or lagged.  They really are awesome children!  Of course we don't force road march them.  We stopped on the way to take breaks in parks
 Sam made me daisy chains, because I asked him to
 The first time he did this, he fell and broke his back on that Roman cinderblock!
 we carried two backpacks full of food and became Hobbits.  We had elevensies, and lunch and tea and noonies.
and have snack breaks and see some sites along the way.

Day 1

Colosseum, Palentine Hill, and the Forum
You come upon the Colosseum first from the place we rented,

but we knew that wasn't the place to get tickets.  One of the people selling tours confirmed this.  The line didn't look so long, but she said it was, because it winds around on the inside of the Colosseum.  It was about a 2 hour wait at that time for tickets.  Instead she directed us up behind some trees to the newer Palentine Hill ticket office.
Sam getting stabbed by Rob on the steps on the Senate building
Casa della vestal virgins
We had to wait for about 6 people in front of us to get tickets there- that's it!  We could have taken our tickets and gone straight over to the Colosseum (they are combo tickets), but we decided to see the Forum and Palentine Hill first.

A Temple to Vulcan and the belly button of Rome
Those are the original doors and the lock still works

That took most of the day, but was really enjoyable, except for the fact that they are both hills and we could only find 2 of the 3 bathrooms in the area- one down at the bottom of one hill and one at the top.  I think we walked up and down hills at least 6 times.  We were so done by the end of the day!  We had downloaded all of Rick Steve's audio tours, so we listened to those as we went along.  
We forgot the splitters the first day, so we each had to just use an earbud and be attached to someone all day.
Afterwards, we went to the Colosseum and enjoyed getting straight in!

The whole day was amazing!  When you see these huge things that were built BC, medieval castles don't seem so amazing any more!

Day 2

The Vatican Museums and St. Paul's
We took advice and booked tickets on line ahead of time to get into the Vatican Museums.  Tour guide selling people (they were selling tours, not people) along the way kept bugging us, telling us that we would still have to wait in a 3 hours line to get into St. Paul's after going through the museum.  I was a little worried about that, but we are just too cheap to pay for a tour for all of us.  We got straight into the museums with our tour tickets- the line was huge!!!  I was so glad we had booked ahead of time.  The museum was wonderful. 

We loved their courtyard. 


 The Sistine Chapel was so crowded with people and they just kept packing them in.  We stood our ground though and listened to our Rick Steve's audio tour.  We had them downloaded on our iPhones, so at one point, I switch to camera mode, flipped the camera angle and took a picture of the ceiling without the guard throwing a huge fit.
You can see God creating the earth in these scenes
They were actually throwing people out for taking pictures.  When we were done, we used Rick Steve's tip of blending in with a tour group to go the short cut route to St. Paul's.  We figured the worst that could happen was a security guard would make us go back and through the other exit.  There were two tour groups leaving at the same time, so I think we blending in easy enough.  We by-passed a long walk and a long line through security and got straight into St. Paul's.  It is huge!!

 The holy door only opened ever 25 years

After St. Paul's and a nice lunch outside on the steps,
Swiss guard with Michaelangelo designed outfits- Sweet!
we made our way down to take a quick peak at Castle St. Angelo, 

over the Angel Bridge

and down Via Dei Coronari where we got exotic gelato flavors.  I had grapefruit and pineapple with mint.  I really liked it after the initial shock of, these things don't go together!

We checked out Piazza Navona, then hopped over to the Pantheon.

We kept on walking, hoping to find a bathroom somewhere, towards the Trevi Fountain.  We found a Lindt chocolate store, instead!

So yummy! And they had a bathroom, as well.  We met our neighbors, the Fary's, at the Trevi Fountain.  We had just bumped into an old friend of Max's, from Ohio, at St. Paul's.  Small world!  We went to a recommended restaurant for dinner, but won't recommend it ourselves.  The pizza was good, but the pasta tasted mushy and warmed over.  We ended the night at the Spanish steps,

where Emma and I were forced to take flowers and then made to pay for them.  I almost put mine down and walked away, when Rob came up and payed way too much for them.  He said, he needed change for the metro, anyway.  I tried to find a way to get them home, but they would have never made it.

Day 3

Ostia Antica
Ostia is about 20 minutes away from Rome- towards the ocean.  It used to be at the mouth (Ostia) of the Tiber river .  The Tiber river changed course and so the town was abandoned.  It is cheap to get out there, because it is considered part of the metro line, even though you go another place and get on a train- so you only pay the metro fair for one trip (1.5 euros.)  It was a little crowded with school field trips, but once you got inside, the city is big enough that you don't see much of those people. 
 These mosaics are outside of shops to tell what they are- fish merchant?
 Ivory or exotic pets?

We got stopped once by the kids, to ask us if we had seen any of the pictures on their scavenger hunt and we helped them out.  The audio tours really helped things come alive.  We loved running around the cemetery (the sepulchers were amazing!), 

seeing the baths of Neptune, 

the bakery

and the theater.

Joe, Max and Sam even put on a play for us.
As we came out of Ostia, we suddenly realized a) we really didn't need to use the restroom and b) somebody was getting fired from a tour bus company when they got home, tonight!  Emma's little bit of Spanish got her to understand the Italian man that decided to tell us all about it.  Apparently there were people in the bathrooms and on the tour bus at the time!  I guess they were in the right place for getting things scared out of you!
Day 4

Terme di Caracalla,  Circus Maximus, Bocca de Verita
We had seen these old ruins down by our place, but weren't sure what they were.  We decided this day, that we were going to go check them out.  They ended up being a huge public bath house for all free Roman's.

Look how huge they were!

We went and ran around the Circus Maximus

and then waited in line to see if the Bocca would snap our hands off!

 Sam was getting his snapped off, that's why he was moving so fast!  Luckily, he got his arm out in time!

The church was pretty inside, but had this little gem on leaving. 

We also saw the Piazza Venezia with their big statues of Castor and Pollux (we had to learn who they were, afterwards.)  I told them that the stairs going up to the Santa Maria in Aracoeli were supposed to make you win the lottery if you went up on your knees.  Sam really wanted to try, but Rob was having none of it.  There were a lot of people there!
The temple of Hercules
We went around the Jewish ghetto and across the bridge onto the Isola Tiverina island, but the kids were kind of beat, so we didn't finish our Jewish Ghetto audio tour before we went home and ate grocery store pasta and canned sauce, 

because the restaurants not in tourist areas don't open for dinner hours until 7:30 pm.  

Day 5

Trevi fountain, again, USO, Trajan Markets, Trajan Column, Time Elevator
You can get a lot closer to the fountain in the morning times.

Sam and Max both found coins that didn't quite make it into the fountain that they used for their own coin toss.  Poor Joe- we couldn't find another one for him.
Afterward, we walked to the USO and made it in time for Pizza Friday's.  Some one also brought chocolate chip cookies and of course we got our free soda.  We enjoyed hanging out and talking with all kinds of people who had stopped by as well.  It wasn't easy to find.  I had the exact address and that's the only way we found it.  It almost looks abandoned, but it has a little tiny sticker on the door with USO on it.  You have to ring the door bell and show them your ID card to get in.
On our way home, I pouted until I got my way of going to see the show in the Time elevator.  It is actually a horrible flight simulator that shakes you up like crazy while they show you the history of Rome and how it all looked then.  It was interesting, but made me sick.  
We also saw the Trajan Markets, the Trajan Column.

First shopping mall
Day 6 

Villa Borghese park, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Hard Rock Cafe, Fests and Protest
We walked up to Villa Borghese this day, stopping to visit San Giovanni in Laterano church (which ended up being Rob's favorite for all the statues of the apostles)

 St. John- Notice he is writing

and San Clemente (which we didn't tour).  We tried to see Santa Maria della Vittoria, also, but it was closed for Siesta.  We also found a Spring fest going on.  The little boys participated with some other children in learning to fight, gladiator style.

They said they were promoting their big festival on April 21st.  As far as we could understand, that is their day of Nationalization.  "Big day in Italy!"  That is about all we could understand.  But we bought a couple of their buttons and they said something that looked like National on them. The gladiators had a lot of fun with the kids, so we enjoyed taking a break and watching.
We found the Hard Rock Cafe on our way up to the Villa Borghese and determined to have dinner there.  
After a nice walk around the park
 The Temple of Sam
 The Temple of Max
The Temple of Joseph
Emma didn't want a temple
to find a potty- they really don't have enough of those in Rome, although there are free public fountains with drinkable water everywhere-

we went back to the Hard Rock Cafe for an early dinner,

 then made our way back to see Santa Maria della Vittoria.  Rob really wanted to see it, because it was one of the churches in the book, Angels and Demons.

 We had noticed a large police presence when we came up in the morning with yellow tape everywhere.  Just before we made it to the church, we found out why.  There was a huge protest going on.

The police were all in their riot gear with their helmets on and shields up and ready.  The first wave of protestors seemed to be carrying signs that had x's over what looked like a metro and the word casa everywhere.  I knew the metro was still building, so I figured they were protesting it coming through their housing areas.  The next wave, though had pictures of a satellite x'ed out and Russian flags and Russian flags along side of Italian flags.  We decided that it was a good time to not look too American.  This is about the time that the police let us go around them to the church.  I think they just didn't want anyone behind them any more.  We were out in the open with the protestors for about 100 yards.  I wasn't feeling real comfortable about that.  We made it to the church steps and then I felt a little better.  When more men with ski masks came waving colored smoke and linked arms with lots of chanting and waving Russian flags, we headed into the church to take a look.  This one had a Bernini statue of the ecstasy of St. Teresa 

- which was weird and the overcoming of Mary of the heretics that changed the bible into the common language.  

The fountain outside of the church
It was a wonderful vacation, but we are officially done with Rome!  Check!  I got on the plane the next day and sighed, relieved. 

We made it a whole week in Rome and no one got pick pocketed! 

Some of the street performers 
My camera started acting up, but that just convinced Rob that I needed a new camera- score!  We walked an average of 1400 calories off a day and saw some of the coolest stuff in the world!  Next time, though, we need a beach vacation!


Searls Stuff said...

We never made it to Rome. The only place in Italy that we took the kids to was Venice. They all hated it and never wanted to go back. Of course, the fact that there was a huge rock concert taking place on a floatilla in the grand canal, a water taxi driver strike, limited toilet facilities, and rampant drug use in the streets made it easy for me to agree with them. I think you were smart to go early in the vacation season and it looks like you saw some fantastic sites.

Robert Kress said...

Baby that was a fantastic blog – thanks!. I had a lot more fun reading that over an OPORD or a BASEPLAN - yuck. Anyways, thank you for keeping this sweet family record. I truly hope you can turn it into a family book. By the why, St. Paul’s was and is actually St. Peter's Basilica. It is Peter that is buried there. St. Paul's Dome was in London, but you know that. Love and kiss. Rob