Let me just get this out there: a family of five staying in one room of a convent is not a good idea. We had started out in a wonderful apartment but moved to the convent two days later because La Lopez had recommended this particular one, a stone’s throw from St. Peter’s Basilica. In my quest for cheap travel, this particular experiment backfired (it’s not LaLo’s fault – keep reading).
Given my real name, you would think I would mesh nicely with the convent environment. Indeed, the 10 p.m. curfew was no problem. Exhausted from hard-core sightseeing, we would fling ourselves onto our cots around 9 p.m., our bellies laden with pasta, pizza, and gelato, rewards for having walked ten miles a day. Kindles would come out and then the teenage bickering would begin. Someone was making too much noise, someone had their feet in someone’s face, someone used somebody else’s towel. It was not the contemplative end of the day experience I was seeking, making me actively pine for a door and a bottle of Glenfiddich. It had not even occurred to me to get two rooms- how dumb is that? – and tested the limits of our collective patience.
But that was really the only glitch in a three day sensory bombardment that began with a trip to the Borghese Gallery. Thing 3 and I both fell in love with Mr. Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the famous Roman sculptor of the 17th century. Aside from one sculpture in the Prado, a bust of Queen Isabel with a veil flowing backwards over her face, and the works of Mr. Understanding’s predecessor, I have never been drawn to the art form. Bernini changed all that. To say that he was a genius is to belittle his talent. Click on the title to see his sculpture of Apollo and Daphne, which really has to be seen up close to appreciate his gift. Another personal favorite was his unfinished work, The Truth Unveiled by Time, as it is a not-so-subtle snub to his detractors.
In the evening we took the Heart of Rome tour with Angel Tours, starting at the Spanish Steps, moving on to the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and Piazza Navona. The next day Thing 1, Mr. Understanding and I took a tour of the Scavi, the excavation site underneath St. Peter’s Basilica which claims to house St. Peter’s bones. The evidence, as presented, was pretty convincing. Even if you are not a Christian, it is a fascinating tour through a former pagan necropolis; the sarcophagi, niches, and cinerary urns still form the basis for our present day burial customs.
A tour of the Vatican Museum (February is the month to go) likewise delighted all. This time, the ceiling of the Map Room was my favorite, which I could gaze up at my leisure. In the above photos I posted one of “Gratitude”, a woman holding a dove signifying the Holy Spirit. The Sistine Chapel rocks but if the hordes do not prevent one from interpreting the Map Room’s ceiling, it is worth the crick in the neck, notwithstanding the fact that it was not painted by the sainted Michelangelo.
The Things were naturally appalled by the tales of Christians and criminals being served up as entertainment fare in the Colosseum. According to our guide, you were lucky if you drew a lion; the big cats would eat you quickly. The hungry caiman and the Icarus re-enactment were slower, more painful deaths. Likewise, the humans tarred and set on fire to provide lamplight. We were also told that only 10% of gladiators actually were killed – they were too valuable to waste. Gentrywomen sometimes purchased the boy toys, missing a few appendages, for their entertainment; besides death, this was pretty much the only way out of the pit.
One final highlight: the cupola of St. Peter’s. For 7 euros, you can take an elevator halfway up, to the inside of the dome which is decorated with gorgeous mosaics. The final 320 or so steps are a killer and not recommended for claustrophobes, small children, those not in shape, and senior citizens. Hugging the dome as you climb, the tunneled stairs are tight and narrow. The view, when the weather is clear, is worth it for all of Rome is literally at your feet. And, best of all, there is a souvenir shop up top! Bellissima!!!!!
Roma Quiz: (Answer if you can WITHOUT Googling)
1) what’s a vomitorium?
2) what American owns a paperweight made out of red porphyry marble, valued at approximately $250,000 USD? The rest of this marble is found only in museums in France and Italy. Nero made a gigantic bathtub out of the stuff.
3) where was Julius Cesar killed?
4) how old was Michelangelo when he designed St. Peter’s dome?
5) why does Rome have so many cats?
6) why does a sarcophagus have a hole at the bottom?
7) to what song does the title of this blog post pertain? Find it, play it, make yourself happy!
Travel resources/other tips:
Apartment: http://www.residenzacellini.it – fab location, reasonably priced for a family of five, and comfortable. Barbara was a wealth of Roman information as well!
Scavi: book your appointment months in advance – they only permit 110 people in per day. Not for claustrophobes and you have to be 16+ to get in.
Borghese: likewise, make a reservation beforehand. They sell out quickly. I called to make the reservation and paid at the Galleria – the schedulers speak English so no problemo!
Angel Tours: excellent for all, especially kids and teens. Jimmy and Ken kept us laughing with obscure Roman lore and stupid questions for tour guides (i.e., “If this is the Sistine Chapel, where is the Fifteenth and Seventeenth?”)
Convents: If you are traveling on the cheap, without kids, this is the way to go. Unless you want to party in Rome. The nuns will lock you out like a … nun … if you show up after curfew. The girls need their sleep!
N.B. many thanks to Thing 3 for showing me how to create links. Pathetic, I know.