Our final city of the trip was Rome, and it’s the city where we spent the most time. It’s a large city with such a deep history, how could we do anything else? Because it’s so large, getting around it was more difficult than the other places we’d gone. Everywhere else, once we were in the city, we could mostly walk everywhere we needed to go. You can’t do that in Rome. (Also, you don’t want to do that, because it’s sweltering outside.) On the plus side, Rome has a fairly large public transportation network. On the minus, most of that depends on buses, and those are . . . not very on time. We were never quite sure if the bus was just seriously late or very early, and we made many mistakes about which stop to wait at. It was just plain confusing, though it also might be due to being very tired by this point.
Still, Rome didn’t disappoint. Here’s a rundown of the highlights:
- St. Peter’s Basilica: Talk about ginormous. It’s the large (large) cathedral built over St. Peter’s grave. We first tried to hustle there right before it closed, but all that hustling was for naught. Instead, we went back on Sunday, which worked out very well. The place is very large, with lots to see, and we got to see mass and hear the organ music, which is always a plus. There’s Michelangelo’s Pieta, the tombs of so many popes, monuments to different popes of note, St. Peter’s grave, and a hike up to the dome which we didn’t do. (Though I’ve heard very good things about it.)
- Vatican Museum: This is also where you go to see the Sistine Chapel. I was amazed by just how much is on display here. Artwork for so many different masters. Treasures from throughout history. By the time you get to see the Sistine Chapel, you’re almost in sensory overload. I had always assumed the Chapel would be like so many of the other painted ceilings I’ve seen in palaces over the years, with Adam reaching out to God being the large centerpiece. Instead, it’s essentially one large painting. Adam and God is in the middle, but it’s no larger than any of the other scenes depicted. It really was incredible.
- The Colosseum was much bigger than I expected. It was also absolutely mobbed. Like with many places, however, there was a glut of people taking pictures at the literal first chance they could, but if you got away from there, things opened up and it wasn’t as packed. (And you could take better pictures.) That said, it didn’t take too long to actually see the place. It’s largely in ruins, after all, and without an organized tour, you’re really just checking out the massive scope of the place. I really liked it.
- The Roman Forum: A series of monuments built by Important Romans over the years, all kind of scattered around in the same area of the city. Daniela was a big fan, and she now wants to know more about archaeology. (A heads up: we bought the two day ticket for the Colosseum and the Forum. The first day, we went to both, but we were short on time, so we decided to come back and see more of the Forum the next day. When we came back, we discovered that “two day ticket” actually means “you can use the ticket either the first or the second day, but once you use it, you can’t use it again.” It does not mean “come both days.” So that was a bummer.)
- Circus Maximus: I thought this would be awesome. The site of chariot races? How could you go wrong? Instead, it’s basically a big open field with a lot of construction work in it, often used as a concert venue. There’s like one small ruin on one end, and that’s it. Underwhelming.
- The Stone of Truth: Famous from Roman Holiday, it’s the stone Audrey Hepburn visits that is supposed to bite your hand if you’re a liar. It’s also right next to the Circus Maximus, which helped make that trip feel more worthwhile. Yes, you essentially just wait in line to take a picture in front of the stone, but the kids really liked it. (Daniela liked recreating shots from the movie.)
- Catacombs of St. Callixus: The burial site of the popes before things in St. Peter’s really took off. This is where Christians were buried back in the early days, when they were still being fed to the lions on a regular basis. Seeing this firsthand made the persecution early Christians experienced much more real to me. These catacombs are enormous, and they estimate about 500,000 people were buried there over the years. Very much worth the bus ride.
- Trevi Fountain: The most famous fountain in the city. It’s generally mobbed unless you go early. It was pretty, but I had somehow expected more . . . fountains. Like, actual streams of water going every which way. Instead, it’s mainly just a regular fountain, but with great statues. Not a big fan of the crowds, though.
- Spanish Steps: The site of my biggest mistake of the trip. We went early to the steps and got there well before the crowds (which meant we could actually take some pictures with almost no one else in them.) However, it also meant we had enough space to race up the steps. First the kids gave it a shot, and then I decided I wanted to try as well. People, there are a lot of steps. A lot of steps. I bolted up them as fast as I could, thinking there were only as many as you can see from the bottom. But then they turn, and there are more steps. I made it to the top, but I felt awful for the next half hour. That wasn’t that smart. Don’t pull a Bryce, folks. Just walk up the steps.
- The Pantheon: Originally a Roman temple and now a Christian church, this was super interesting to see. We went early and were some of the first into the building that day, which was (again) a good call. Great to see the place without a big crowd. It still has the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world, 2000 years after it was built.
- Borghese Gallery: This was the one art museum we decided to visit in Rome. (Any more, and some of the kids would have started a revolution.) It was very nice, and quite compact. We saw the whole thing in under two hours, and it had some fantastic sculptures and paintings. Very worthwhile.
- Gelato della Palma: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this gelato place. It has 150 flavors of gelato to choose from, which was really incredible. We went twice, and we could easily have gone many more times. So much gelato, so little time.
Crowd levels were quite busy. I went out one evening to see things at night, and it was elbow to elbow walking down streets in popular areas. If you know me, you know how little I enjoyed that.
One thing I would do differently if I were to do it again would be to actually pay for some tours of the different places we went to. We sort of cobbled together the history with the small posted signs and some Wikipedia searches, but it would have been much more impactful to listen to someone who actually knew what they were talking about. (Of course, you’re never sure if you’re going to get a good tour guide or a bad tour guide, and with kids, “no tour guide” is definitely preferable to a bad tour guide.
Anyway, that wraps up my report on Italy for now. It was a great trip, and I’ve got lots of good memories from it now.
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