Monday, August 31, 2015

Italy: Rome Days 1 + 2 -- Ancient and Baroque Rome

We are still shaking off the jet lag of our recent return from Italy; but, even given the 3 (and 4.15 and 5) am wakings since we landed stateside, one thing is clear: this family has been bitten by the travel bug. We've taken plenty of family trips, internationally even, but never just the four of us. In fact, as we sat waiting for our plane to take off, it dawned on Joel and I that we had never all been together (by ourselves) for a period as long as 10 days. Fingers crossed, we tried to convince the kids to go to sleep (bwhahaha).

But despite a rocky start -- only Kane really slept on the plane and everyone was completely out of sorts the first day -- everyone surprised everyone and stayed in good spirits, cooperated fairly well, and just generally did a great job with all the difficulties such travel presents. And we LOVED Italy. Some things met or exceeded our expectations (the food!! oh the food!), others weren't what we expected. But overall we all fell in love with Italy and the astonishing number of things to do -- we didn't get to a fraction of what we had planned for just the two areas of the country we visited. And we can't wait to go back -- Cam is still constantly working the few Italian phrases she knows into conversation and hearing her say "grazie" daily is adorable.

We spent about four full days in Rome and four and a half days on the Amalfi Coast. And we packed a lot in while still leaving a good amount of time for just doing nothing. I'll share all our adventures, but plan on combining days together where it makes sense to avoid posting on nothing else but Italy for the next two weeks (although I certainly could).

We took a Sunday overnight flight, landing in Rome fairly early Monday morning to unusually cool weather (yay!) and a fairly-empty city to explore, both of which made for such a wonderful experience. We spent Monday and Tuesday visiting mostly Ancient and Baroque Rome. It was a lot of walking, right off the bat, which I think worked for and against us with the kids. But, see what you think ....

We stayed at the St. Regis, which is conveniently located near many of the Baroque Rome sights, and which fortunately had our rooms ready for us when we arrived early on Monday morning. We'd gone back and forth about whether to nap upon arrival, but decided to try and work through the jet lag and get out and about. We knew almost immediately that was a bad decision, but forced everyone to stay out until after a comatose lunch. One we retreated back to the hotel for a late afternoon nap, everyone did much better, even staying out for a late dinner. So we adopted that schedule every day in Rome: up early, see the sights, late lunch, long afternoon nap, and a late dinner out and about in the city. It worked perfectly and the kids slept like they'd never slept before.

Our plan was to spend most of Monday doing Rick Steve's self-guided "Heart of Rome" walk, which focuses heavily on many of the beautiful Baroque-period sights created by Bernini and Borromini as well as some from ancient Rome. We'd spent hours and hours as a family listening to Rick Steve's audio tours (get for free here!!) and Kane was particularly obsessed. So we also purchased his guidebooks and followed several of his walking tours ourselves. 

Telling everyone to suck it up a bit, we grabbed a cab (although it was easily walkable) to start our walk at Campo de' Fiori, a lovely square which now houses a colorful market in the mornings but is also home to the Theater at which Julius Caesar was assassinated. We stayed just long enough to figure out how the city's plentiful drinking fountains work and then walked over to Piazza Navona. The piazza was originally a racetrack built by Domitian in A.D. 80 and also holds Bernini's famous Four Rivers Fountain. The kids were really starting to wane at this point, but we pushed on. 

I'd love to say that we spent ample time exploring the Pantheon -- arguably the city's most important architectural site -- but, the kids had moved beyond the point of complaining and Joel and I were also feeling completely loopy. We sat for a while admiring the perfectly proportioned dome and then gave up and sought out lunch. We walked and walked and walked in total circles, getting our first taste of Rome's "city planning" in search of a recommended restaurant (and later took some comfort in the fact that it actually no longer exists). And finally gave up for touristy pizza and the only sort of forgettable meal of the trip. It served its purpose though -- with tummies full, we hightailed it back to the hotel for a much-needed nap. The combination of jet lag, lots of walking, and  blackout curtains did the trick -- everyone slept hard for several hours and awoke feeling so, so much better.

We walked out into the most gorgeous evening light -- the city just sort of glows in the late afternoon, it's kind of crazy. We played for a bit on the Moses Fountain by our hotel, and then, since it was a close walk to the Spanish Steps, we decided to head there and pick up the last few stops on the Steve's "Heart of Rome" walk. We started at the top of the stairs and had a great view of all the tourists lounging, Bernini's "Sinking Boat" fountain, and high-end shopping surrounding the steps. While I snapped photos, the kids ran and counted stairs with their newly-recharged energy.

I'm not a fan of crowds, and this was among the most crowded spots we visited in Rome. So we shortly made our way to a lovely little restaurant recommended by the hotel -- La Buca di Ripetta. We had our first taste of Cacio e Pepe, and the kids struck up one of their first of several hundred rounds of "rock, paper, scissors" in Rome. They literally played this every single place we went, coming up with new fantastical hand gestures (including the "beats everything" and the "everything beats everything") and quickly developed their own shorthand version whereby they cheered matching hand gestures and "awww'd" in disappointment when one beat the other. It was hysterical and so, so annoying at the same time. As were their versions of "invisible" chess, hangman, and battleship they developed, which spawned many disagreements and spats (but at which Joel and I just laughed as they threw out ridiculous directions of "Rook 3 to Knight" as if they could see, much less keep track of, the virtual boards on which they played. Plus Kane kept picking Italian words for hangman because he'd see them on signs, but then have no idea what the word really was -- and Cami certainly didn't either). Ironically, I had packed travel versions of all these games, but they preferred to play constantly en route to places. Così è la vita.

We ate late, a custom which we kept up the entire trip and which allowed Joel to jump on calls back in the U.S. in the late afternoon and after dinner without too much disruption to the vacation (he is the hardest working person I know, seriously). So after dinner the kids and I led a walk to Trevi Fountain, which was closed for renovation during our visit (something big was bound to be and I was glad this was it instead of one of our planned larger sites). We ate our first of gelatos and strolled by the fountain, tossing a coin in even though it was empty of water. And then we hightailed it back uphill to our hotel and slept and slept and slept. 

We'd planned our first big tour for Tuesday -- a five hour walk though Ancient Rome sights, including an early entrance and underground tour of the Colosseum (WORTH IT), Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum. Everyone was up and moving with plenty of time to meet our guide when the phone rang -- it was our guide for the Vatican tour I thought I planned for Wednesday. But apparently I'd double-booked us. Doh. Joel convinced them to move it to the following day and we were off. Our guide was a fairly serious Italian man who did not seem particularly at ease with children, but who had some kind of arrangement with a Colosseum employee and was able to bypass all lines, barricades, and locked gates. So we shut up and rolled with it.

We started off in the Colosseum underground -- where gladiators entered the amphitheater via tunnels from the school across the street, readied for battle, and losers were carted off to try and be saved. We stood on original marble floors and walked among the maze of rooms, viewing a reproduction of the pulley system through which gladiators and animals were raised to the original Colosseum floor. It was absolutely incredible. And hot. And our kids were not really having any part of it. Appalled, since Kane had spent so much time "researching" the site, we had several stern conversations throughout. Other parents sympathetically looked on. But once we went up to the tippy top, the kids perked up a bit. And after being plied with drinks and sugary snacks, they really pulled it together.

We headed over then to Palatine Hill where, as legend goes, Romulus and Remus grew to found the city in 753 B.C. and where several emperors (Augustus, Tiberius, and Domitian) resided. Palatine Hill also affords a wonderful overlook of the Forum, so we spent some time there with our guide pointing out several sights below (all of which Kane was able to recall from listening to Rick Steve's audio tour, so those are definitely worth listening to). And then we walked back down Palatine Hill to stroll through the Forum. Everything was amazing, but family favorites included the Arch of Titus (despite the victory it celebrates), the Temple of Julius Caesar (the location of his cremation), and the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina (have you ever seen Cipollino marble?! OMG. I was dressed for marble that day, but this was beyond gorgeous even after all this time).

At the end of the Forum, we had about 45 minutes left of our guide's time. He suggested going back to the Pantheon, but the kids were so, so done. So instead we had him walk with us just a short distance to the Jewish Quarter and give us a brief history of the small area. Like so much of Rome in August, the 200-year old Jewish bakery was closed, but we stopped for lunch at Giggetto al Portico d'Ottavia. The food was good, although neither Joel or I were big fans of the Jewish-style fried artichokes that Zagat claims are "best in the world." Revived, we strolled a short distance back through the Quarter to get our first peak at the Tiber River and realized we were standing next to one of the oldest bridges in Rome, which also happens to lead to Isola Tiberina.

We had the island on our list to check out restaurant Sora Lella (recommended by Anthony Bourdain in his Layover series, which the kids also watched on repeat). The restaurant was closed, BUT we discovered our second-favorite gelateria in the city right next door at Antico Caffe Dell'isola. The ginger chocolate was outrageously good and we sat along the Tiber dripping the deliciousness all over the place and chasing pigeons (well, I ate the kids' gelato while they chased the pigeons). Even re-sugared, the kids were cooked and we headed back to the hotel for our daily nap (well, Joel worked, we napped).

We took a post-nap stroll down the street from our hotel to Piazza della Repubblica adjacent to the Baths of Diocletian for a quick walk through the basilica built in remains of the Baths. We lit a candle for my grandmother who passed recently and sat to listen to a bit of service (although the kids were itching to get outside, clearly). So we frolicked around the fountain a bit and then headed back to our hotel for the nightly saber uncorking of champagne. The kids became obsessed with this happy-hour ritual and we quickly learned to order them $2 lemon soda (instead of the $15 Shirley Temple) which was delivered with enough snacks to keep them occupied while Joel and I had proper drinks. The kiddos waltzed to piano music and played their virtual games until we dragged them off to a lovely outdoor dinner at Taverna Antonina (we actually only ate at indoors at one restaurant in Rome, the weather was that nice).

Phew! So those were our first two days in Rome! Tired yet? We were too. But we tucked in for a good night's sleep before our trip to the Vatican the next day. Stay tuned ....


Barbara Rucci said...

your photos are so good!! i loved seeing and reading about day 1 and 2. my dad took me to Italy when I was 16 and all of your photos look exactly the way I remember it. it's such a magical place.

Not-So-SAHM said...

Thanks, Bar! xoxo