Thursday, December 30, 2010

When in Rome...

Our first adventure "off the island" as a family of five. Here are the highlights:

DAY 1:

We had to spend some time figuring out the layout of the city and the most efficient (or rather the least painful!) way to travel with our mini-muskateers...a rainy start didn't make things any easier, but at least we were planning to spend most of the day indoors.

* Went to the National Museum of Rome which has the largest collection in the world of ancient Greek/Roman statues. Made kind of a rapid run through the museum since our little crew is not really prime museum material. Yes, we did find Elise standing on top of one of Julius Caesar's statues and though it was a pretty unique photo-op...we were too busy instantly transporting her to time-out to snap the shot!

* The kids loved looking at the old money the most. It was really cool to see Caesar's head on coins that may have been the same ones that Jesus once saw.

* Baths of Diocletian - once the great "YMCA" of Rome, a place where citizens would come to bathe, exercise, and socialize - just one hall of the ancient facility was 8 stories high and the size of a football field. WoW!

DAY 2:

My favorite day in Rome - the weather was beautiful and kids did much better with all the open space where they could run and explore. A downside was that Josh's wallet was stolen on the metro on our way to the Colosseum, but we rebounded quite well and ended up with a great day.

* The Colosseum - completed in AD 80, when Rome was at its grandest, and the home to thousands of deadly gladiator battles. It could hold over 50,000 spectators - the Romans pioneered the use of concrete and the rounded arch, allowing them to build on such a tremendous scale. Now only about 1/3 of the original structure remains. (and even that is amazing!)

* The Roman Forum - "Main Street" Ancient Rome - the birthplace and center of political, commercial and judicial life in the ancient city. Talk about making your history books come alive. It's amazing to walk through all the old ruins and think about what a magnificent sight this must have been in it's prime.

* Palatine Hill 90210 - "Best Address" in Ancient Rome - home to the emperors and elite of the day. You would think that you could only look at old crumbling buildings for so long, but it really is amazing and captivating to stand in the ruins of places you've only heard and read about.

* Piazza Navona's Christmas Market - Originally a racetrack built by the emperor Domitian - this piazza still retains it's oblong shape - home to the Four Rivers statue by Bernini and one of Rome's most interesting nighttime scenes. There is a Christmas market here from early December until Epiphany.

Yes, we really did spend almost 10 consecutive hours on our feet touring around the city. We ended here with panini for dinner, sugared donuts for dessert, and a wonderful carousel ride for the kids!

DAY 3:

We were definitely blessed to end up in the right places at the right times during our trip. This day was super rainy, so we were glad to spend the day in the Vatican Museum. Still can't figure out how we got in so easily on Christmas Eve as everything we read about said that we should plan way ahead and/or expect to wait in line for several hours to get in. Guess it could have been the two embassies in Rome being bombed the day before...or the deluge of rain...whatever the cause, we were all too happy to walk right in the door and enjoy the amazing and extravagant collections of art.

* Vatican City - the smallest independent country in the world (we sent our families letters from the post office here...guess it's kind of "the thing to do!")

* Vatican Museum - Once the palatial homes of the Renaissance popes, now it houses one of the worlds most stunning collections of art - over 4 miles of displays!

* Sistine Chapel - Personal chapel of the Pope and the place where new popes are elected. Contains Michelangelo's ceiling (Think: "The Creation of Adam" along with the history of the world from it's beginning until the birth of Jesus) and "Last Judgment" paintings. Unfortunately, you can not take any pictures, but we really could have sat in there for hours reading about and locating all the Biblical stories and characters that appear on the walls. When we asked Elise how long she thought it took Michelangelo to paint all the beautiful pictures her answer was "Probably about 5 minutes - that's a really long time." CORRECT ANSWER: 4 years - She was just a little off!
* St. Peter's Square - an enormous piazza welcoming the world into St. Peter's Basilica, designed by Bernini - They had a huge Christmas tree and a beautiful nativity set up in the middle of the square. The church closed early due to preparations for the Pope's Midnight Mass, so we just enjoyed the festive atmosphere of the piazza and quickly headed home to dry out.


Had a nice Christmas morning breakfast then set out for our day's adventure. With the holiday and the light drizzle the city was pretty quiet - so we wandered back to Piazza Navona to enjoy another carousel ride and indulge in some traditional Italian treats - roasted castagna (chestnuts) and torrone (nougat candy) Next we took a taxi to see St. Peter's Basilica and a grab a surprise lunch date with...

* Pope Benedict - when we got dropped off by the taxi we noticed that everyone around us was pouring into St Peter's Square, but we weren't quite sure why. As we got closer to the Basilica we realized that the pomp and circumstance must have something to do with the Pope. Sure enough at twelve o'clock sharp Pope Benedict came out to the balcony to give his Christmas day greeting. It was all in Latin and Italian, so we didn't catch much - but it was still a very special thing to experience. After he said Merry Christmas in several European languages, the crowd let out a huge cheer, the bands began to play, the church bells rang out and the Pope quietly disappeared behind the red curtains.

* St. Peter's Basilica - probably the greatest/grandest church in Christendom, was built on the grave of the apostle Peter after Constantine legalized Christianity in 313 AD. The church fell into disrepair during the Renaissance and was rebuilt in 1506 (well, they started the project then and completed it 120 years later!)

To give you a sense of it's size, when you walk into the massive front doors the stained glass windows on the far side of the church are two football fields away. The church covers 6 acres of land. Every word spoken from Jesus to Peter is written in Latin around the inside border of the church - the letters themselves are 7 feet tall. There is a bronze canopy over the alter that is as tall as a 7 story building - imagine how tall the dome is! The church is colossal, extravagant, and beautiful. I am awestruck again just writing this all down - it really is amazing!

Probably one of the most memorable things about our visit to St. Peter's was watching Elise be totally captivated by Michelangelo's Pieta statue. It is an exquisitely done marble statue of Mary holding Jesus' dead body after the crucifixion. This Christmas season Elise was really intrigued by the nativity scene and especially by Mary. She wanted us to explain the statue over and over and then just sat and looked at it for about fifteen minutes. (remember how she thought 5 minutes was a really long time?!?!)

After so many very full days of exploring we decided it would be best to have an early and quiet night, so we headed home in the late afternoon. It was nice to read some Christmas books with the kids, play a little and head to bed. What a great day!

DAY 5:

Our flight home was in the late afternoon which left a little time for venturing out in the morning. We got packed up (in record time!!) and headed out under blue skies for one last walk around the Eternal City. Stopped at a patisserie near the Spanish Steps and got some delicious chocolate filled pastries and then headed on to the Piazza Poppolo.

* 100 Presepi - In this square was a church that had 100 Nativity scenes on display. They were from all over the world and made from all kinds of materials. Elise loved finding baby Jesus in each scene and Caleb enjoyed a good nap in the backpack!

* Borghese Gardens - Our last stop and a nice way to enjoy a beautiful afternoon. This 3 square mile park in the center of Rome (think NYC's Central Park!) has some beautiful lookout points that allow you to look over the whole city. We had to wind up a serpentine road for almost 30 minutes just to reach the entrance. It was fun to watch all of the Italian children trying out their new Christmas skateboards, bikes, and rollerblades! (and a little dangerous, too!) We enjoyed lunch at a little cafe inside the park, found another carousel for the kids to ride, and then headed back to collect our things and leave for the airport.

All in all it was a wonderful vacation. Not the relaxing kind we still remember from our early days of marriage, but a special and memorable one just the same!

We did a pretty good job of "learning" as we went along, but I would definitely recommend reading up on your ancient history if you're planning a trip to Rome. Rome is like one very, very large museum and there's a lot to miss if your nose is stuck in a guide book!

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