Rome If You Want To

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: – 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.



Filed under Family, Fine Dining, Folkart, Holidays, Life, People, Religion, Sightseeing, Star Gazing, Travel

11 responses to “Rome If You Want To

  1. Raftbuddy

    Ah, memories! Your convent experience reminds me of the 30 days our three teens spent rooming together last summer. You can only imagine how enjoyable that was for all of them (and us- as we had to hear about it EVERY day)!! I think you are on to something hitting Rome in February- GREAT plan! I can only answer two questions without Googling and I am now going to look up the sarcophagus question because I am curious!

  2. And what are those two questions, Raftbuddy? I am going to blog about traveling with children soon and hope you will opine heavily, based on your experiences. xoxoxo

    • Raftbuddy

      The cats question and the Julius Caesar question I knew without Google. In the 5 minutes I allotted to Googling answers to the rest, I could not come up with satisfactory answers to the paperweight or the sarcophagus questions, so I hope you will enlighten us. The vomitorium question was good as I am not sure I ever heard that actual term used, and Michaelangelo’s age was never absorbed into my long term memory. Fun trivia! P.S. I think the close quarters traveling is worse for the sole brother of two sisters due to excessive amounts of toiletries, hygiene products, and clothing chaos created by girls.

      • Answers please! I need to see if you are correct! Will give answers in a few days to see if others can figure it out. In our family, the convent bickering went on between the youngest two, for the most part. We did not have a lot of toiletries, mainly because there was nowhere to put them in the bathroom! xoxoxo

  3. I am pretty sure I stayed in the same convent. I loved the plainness of the room with the cot. But then I did have one year at day school at Sacred Heart. I think I was there about 20 years ago. Nine nuns were in the convent, but most were too old to do the work. Nuns who wanted a break came from America to do the cooking and some of the room clean up. I had never seen such short women. I am sure they came from short stock, but I think some of it must have been from malnutrition when they were young. Teenagers could break this spell.

    • Only one short nun, probably slightly younger than you. I only saw two nuns working at the convent. I was stunned that the breakfast rolls came out of a bag which looked like a potato sack. Good luck convincing a teenager!

  4. Raftbuddy

    3) Julius Caesar was killed at the Theater of Pompey (or something like that) because the Forum was being “remodeled/reconstructed” according to his wishes. 5) There are so many cats because they have been fed by the “cat ladies of Rome” for almost a hundred years. This is what I remember without Googling from our guide in Rome. He lived there and was a maniac driver but a lot of fun!


    1. Where we offloaded food and wine so that we could enjoy more of it going down.
    2. Rudy Giuliani
    3. The Forum
    4. 82
    5. Law protects them
    6. So the spirit can get out
    7. Roman Holiday

    No Googling, such a thing doesn’t exist in my world.

  6. Thing 1

    Heads up on #2- it’s most likely a load of blarney. I’ve searched furiously for information on its price value to no avail, and have only heard accounts of the paperweight story on other blogs re-counting their adventures in Rome with Jimmy… I guess tour guides need their fun too?

  7. Mood Ring Mama

    I am not playing Q&A game because I have no clue about any of that. That being said, I too am curious about the answers.

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