When my husband and I decided to head up to Rome for a day of sight-seeing and history walking, we thought we had things planned out pretty well. We went to bed early the night before, pre-booked our train tickets for the 6am train (34 euros/ $46 US) the next morning, and packed a bag full of snacks and water for the kiddos. At 5:30am, we woke up and headed for the train station. Unfortunately, I found once we were on the train that I forgot one of the lenses for my camera, and the only lens I did have, was my telephoto lens. Which meant the only pics I would be able to take would have to be close-up. Dargh!!! Trying to be even more prepared, I brought my make-up with me to do on the train. Let me tell you, although it saved time getting out the door, trying to do your makeup on a shaky train.... hmmmmmm.
The train was awesome. It took us approx. 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to the main station in Rome. The whole trip was full of views of the country and the coast. My girls loved the train and asked if the train was going to last the whole day. Or oldest daughter, Ms. A, was glued the window the entire ride. Although the ride was fun, there were some funny European eccentricities that went along with the fun. The bathroom was your typical train bathroom, all except for the toilet. Once we (my daughters and I) lifted the lid, we realized that the hole in the bottom of the toilet was opened....to the tracks below. This gave my youngest daughter sort of a pause on the whole "potty" process. After some coaxing and promising that she would not fall onto the tracks below...we finally got to leave the bathroom sans any pee-pee dancing. (Note to parents wanting to travel by train: bring hand sanitizer!! The bathrooms are usually pretty filthy, and they are almost always empty of hand towels and tissue. Be prepared!!)
Once we finally reached our destination, we were off and running to the nearest bus stop, where we hopped on the #40 Express. It was a quick 10 minute ride to Vatican City where we disembarked, and made a little time for a chocolate croissant and a cafe. I have to say, I was a little hesitant to stop, especially so soon into our arrival, but the amount of chocolate pastries available at only 8am was pretty tempting. Besides, what's wrong with attacking Rome's monuments with a serious sugar high? Well....
After we left our pretty cafe with all the lovely chocolate yummies, we headed towards the Vatican and St. Peter's Square. Unfortunately for us, we didn't plan well enough in advance for a trip to the Vatican. We had hoped to see the Sistine Chapel, the museums, and the inside of the Basilica itself. Except, once we reached the Square we were met with a line that was long enough to wrap around the Vatican itself.....twice. And it was only 8:30am! So, in true "keeping an upbeat outlook", we let the kids chase the crap out of the pigeons around us. The kids had a blast, the pigeons got a work-out, and I got some great pictures.
After we let the kiddos run off their chocolate breakfasts, we headed back to the bus stop and only waited 5 minutes before another #40 squealed to a halt and opened its doors for us to enter. We boarded, and headed toward the Coliseum in hopes that we would be able to see the inside of this next monument. We were warned beforehand of the so-called 'actors' who pose as Gladiators and Roman soldiers in front of the Coliseum who ask if you want your picture taken with them. If you agree, they smile willingly enough and as soon as your picture is taken and you say, "Thank you," They demand payment for their "services." They have even gone so far as to threaten calling the police if you refuse to pay. Some tourists give in to bypass the scene being caused, and smart people ignore them all together. I, however, caught a few pictures of the shake-downs we saw taking place around us.....
This unfortunate man in blue (seen here in this picture) asked for a photo of himself and his girlfriend with the finger pointing Gladiator in red. Once the picture was taken, the gallant Gladiator demanded 10euro for EACH person in the photo! 20 euro?! C'mon! He wasn't even wearing a helmet, nor did he have any props on his person. How's that for being screwed 'cause you're a tourist?
These lovely men in red pictured here, were telling the lady in the green shirt that she should take lots of pictures with them because her camera was good quality and would make for fine portraits. The lady said, "thanks, but I'll pass. I can't afford your fees." The Gladiators quickly walked to a new area and tried again with different, less knowledgeable folks....
After a few laughs and seeing the outside of the majestic Coliseum in all its Wonder, we decided that people watching was a little more fun. We saw a so many different things around the Coliseum itself, not to mention the wait to get in was around 45 minutes to an hour, we decided to people watch and planned our next bus ride and area to visit. One thing I will never understand about Europe though, and maybe someone can someday explain this to me, but what is the deal with wearing high heels and stilettos in the most unconventional of settings? I wore athletic shoes to walk around Rome all day. But while I was checking my cameras lens, I caught a glimpse of a lady's foot in my viewfinder and had to snap away.
I have no idea what would drive someone to want to wear fish nets and platform like shoes on cobblestone streets, but who am I to judge? I'm not part of the fashion police, and I would hate for someone to judge my fashion faux-pas days, but fish nets? Seriously?
Oh! Speaking of fashion and police, but in a different context: We spotted the "Bag Guys". The guys who can sell you a great looking knock-off for around 15-25 euro depending on the fake make of the bag you want. I spotted a Chanel handbag laying on a sheet, and realized piled around it were Prada, Fendi, and Gucci. I will in no way deny that I am always looking for a good bargain, especially in the area of overpriced fashion items. Note the Chanel handbag? The seller only wanted 20 euro for it. Not a bad price when you consider the real deal would most likely set you back an easy $1000 or more.
Right about the time I was seriously considering buying the beautiful chocolate brown Chanel in the back, a yell rang out through the crowd. Apparently the Polizia had shown up and a scout was yelling for everyone to make a run for it. One by one vendors hawking their wears began to scatter like crazy, throwing all their goods in garbage bags and taking off. The Bag Guys we were next to decided just to wrap up their sheet and make a run for it. They were pretty quick too...
(The Vendors making a run for it through the crowd with their goodies all wrapped up in a sheet. If caught, they could face complete confiscation of their goods and jail time. No thanks, I'll pass on the Chanel this time guys.....)
By now, the family was ready to move on. So we got out our trusty map of the city and began our walk towards the Palazzo Venezia. On the way there we passed a very interesting statue of Julius Caesar. So mighty and majestic.
'Vini, Vedi, Vici' indeed.....
All along both sides of the road leading to the Palazzo, we passed ruins and columns, statues and ancient marble slabs. Churches straddled each street corner, and vendors who were selling overpriced bottles of water and food stared dispassionately at all the passing tourists. Once we hit the major intersections it became a crushing throng of tour groups, commuters, photographers, and wandering tourists all crowding the streets with their mixture of noise and chaos. It was a beautiful and crazy clash of culture, history, and learning to say 'excuse me' in 4 different languages. By the time we exited the crowd and the smoke cleared a little, we were able to see the Palazzo. We snapped some quick pictures and headed in the direction of a sign that pointed the way to the Trevi Fountain.
The Palazzo was beautiful, but the stairs leading up to the main building looked daunting and my husband and I were excited to see the Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps, and the Pantheon. What we didn't know at the time (because the map was visually deceptive!) Was how far apart these great things were. We followed the map, and the signs on street posts towards the Trevi fountain from the Palazzo, only to find 15 minutes into the walk that we were still a good 15 minutes more away. So, we all agreed it was time for lunch. Which is exactly what we stopped for at a little place we found in a small 'pedestrian only' alley. The kids were happy to be eating pasta, hubby and I were happy to be escaping the prices of the restaurants on the main street, and all of us were happy to be giving our poor feet a rest.
For lunch, hubby and I had the typical Italian pizza. Mine was with red sauce, mozzarella, oregano, artichokes, and mushrooms. Hubby had the same. You can't go wrong with a pizza that can feed 2 people, but is all yours for only 5 euro. The girls ate their happy fill of tomato pasta. Everyone left that table well fed and happy for around 25 euro. (For a family of 4 in Rome, that is AWESOME!) The only hardship faced at that table, was having to leave. We heaved ourselves out of the chairs, and began the rest of our walk towards the Trevi....
I will say, I was slightly (and I mean VERY slightly) disappointed by the Trevi Fountain. Every postcard, poster, calendar, movie screen, etc. that I had seen the Trevi featured on made it appear as this massive mountain-like fountain. When we arrived, we had to wade through all the 'kitsch' vendors trying to sell bubble blowing guns, stress balls, flowers, laser guns with their annoying alarm noises, watches, and of all things, scarves with pictures of famous statues' private parts....
Once through all those vendors, we were able to see what we were hearing over the voices around us: the rush of water descending from the fountain. It was beautiful, truly magnificent. After taking pictures for other couples and tourists who asked us nicely to be a spot photographer, we snapped our own. Ms. A was given a rose by a vendor while my husband took a picture of me in front of the fountain. Before she could say thank you, he turned and demanded my husband give him money for it. Of course by now Ms. A was happy to have a flower all her own, and my hubby being the softy he is, let the manipulating vendor take him for 2 euro.
You gotta give it to 'em, they know their game well.
(Here's Ms. A showing her pretty "free" rose, the beautiful grace of the Trevi, and me in front of the fountain right before my husband was tapped on the shoulder for payment for said rose....)
Due to the 'incidente de Rosa', we forgot to toss our good luck coins into the fountain. So, I suppose when and if we go back, we'll be throwing in double the amount of coins... One thing that was good to know as well? No matter where you are in the world, you will never fail to find a place that sells a good kung-pao chicken:
Our next stop, which unfortunately I have no pictures of, was the Spanish steps. The steps are famous for leading up to what was once the Spanish ambassador's residence. The palace was converted into a museum, and now the steps are the real draw to the place. Surrounding the steps are awesome gelato shops, the Shelly-Keats house/museum, and boutique shops. For about 8 euro, we all indulged in a heaping scoop of chocolate gelato in a cone. Sitting on the Spanish steps while you eat is actually against the law. (We found that fact out by being asked to leave the steps, along with every other person sitting and enjoying an afternoon snack.) Although the steps were amazing and full of history, they were also full of pushy tourists. Its one thing to enjoy sitting on a stone stair case and people watching, and its another while your attempting to do that wedged in between about 1500 other people trying to do the same thing. I finally had had enough when a lady decided to push my 3 year old out of her way, just so she could wedge herself into a tighter spot than her body was meant for. Instead of sticking around and causing an international incident (I seriously wanted to slap her!) we took out our map again and plotted our next course. On to the Pantheon!
I only wish that I had a better picture of this massive giant. Columns loomed over our heads to hold up their marble and stone burdens with care. Colors, that at one time must have made the sun bounce off their glittering surfaces, now stood dark gray and brown. It was a testament to how time passes. 'I might be older than anyone can imagine,' it seemed to say, 'But I'm still here.'
Nothing instills more awe in me than the ability to walk around and touch antiquity that is so intact, it feels as if men in red togas, and priests and priestesses would be coming around the pillars of these buildings at any moment. The inside is free to enter, but it is still considered very sacred ground (as it is a Catholic church and cathedral now) Sacred relics line the circular interior, along with signs asking for respect of the sacred space in which you were standing written in 5 different languages. A quick walk around the inside, and we were back outside admiring the wonderful surroundings. My suggestion is this when traveling with children through the pantheon, take turns. One parent inside while the other watches the kiddos outside. Small children of walking age (3-6) will feel completely helpless due to the amount of bodies trying to cram into the area. My poor daughters experienced half of the Pantheon staring at nothing but the backs of people's legs. Strollers were not allowed, and many carried their babies inside. Even they were being shoved and pushed up against. I know it sounds like I am complaining a lot about the other people around us, but its mostly their behavior I was shocked at. Usually we have no problems going anywhere in Italy. People are very accommodating because we have our daughters with us, but the attitudes and downright rude "me first" mentality we witnessed from ALL language speaking tourists around us, made our trip begin to turn negative. Hubby and I decided that it would be better to just keep going and enjoy the day, than worry about what other people were doing. But I do have to say, after watching my daughter get used as bait for money, my other daughter pushed with no regard to her safety by a complete stranger, and being herded like cattle through a monument that was supposed to be a place of peace and worship (especially to us Catholics) I was losing patience.
Walking back to the Metro Stop to catch the #40, once again, to the train terminal, we entered a Palazzo that we hadn't thought about visiting but we were so thankful we did. Palazzo Nuovo was a breath of fresh air. It was an artists and art lover's paradise. Painters, sketch artists, caricature artists, and even puppeteers were all lined up in neat rows to sell their works, perform, or sketch your portrait. The artists were so talented and spanned a vast area of interests. Don't like oil paintings? Then shop from the guy next to him and buy a watercolor. Don't like watercolors? Purchase a photograph in black and white from the guy next to him. We were even being serenaded by a lovely woman playing the accordion.
She was amazing. She played a traditional Italian song, and when my girls placed a coin in her accordion case, she smiled warmly and switched the song to the theme from 'Lady and the Tramp'. ("Bella Notte") It was such a serene scene, and so calming. Hubby and I were able to finally breathe and relax. Although there was quite a few people around us, none of them were in the hurried frenzy we had been experiencing for most of the day. My girls even noticeably relaxed and strolled alongside us, humming the accordion player's tunes. Ms. A was watching a woman being drawn in charcoal by a portraitist, when a song made her look around for its source. There, not even 10 feet away from us was a man doing the oddest thing. He was making his fingers dance, and attracting quite a crowd....
The amazing man behind these "dancing" fingers was named Marcel. He was a master at setting a mini-stage of dancing can-can girls, a charlie chaplin homage, and a hilarious take on Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal". Not only did "Michael Jackson" dance for the crowd, he also came with his signature smoke screen and yell of "Hoooooooooooooo!!!!" It made the entire crowd roll with laughter. Thank you Marcel, you made the day end on a very happy note...
- Once the sun began to set, we headed towards our metro stop and boarded our #40 back to the train terminal. All of us were tired, happy, and ready to get back home. Lessons learned: #1. Never accept anything free, even a flower from someone at a major tourist attraction. It will end up costing you anyway.
- #2. Always bring your own bottled water. It will end up costing you more in on the spot purchases than a pack of postcards, a souvenir snow globe, and a key chain put together!
#3. Learn the words "Excuse me", "No, I don't want to buy your bubble blowing laser gun", and "Don't push my kid you (expletive)!" in at least 3 different languages. You never know when those phrases will come in handy.
#4 DO bring hand sanitizer! One city, thousands of people from around the world with germs from around the world. Enough said.
#5. Don't fear the alley restaurants! Better deals, meals, and service than what you would get at the more prominent restaurants lining the main streets, are to be had by diving off the main thoroughfares.
#6. Plan for the unexpected. Our train was supposed to depart at 5:40pm but was delayed till 7:20pm. Thankfully, there was a very big McDonald's at the train station.
#7. Just because a guide book says something is worth seeing, most of the time it's the outside of said 'must-see' that's the main draw. Why pay some exorbitant amount of money to look at caved in ruins, when the outside is still intact and beautiful? Choose what you pay to see wisely....but do take the train wherever you go. It will save you parking nightmares and headaches.
#8. Always remember that, just like you, people are there to see as much as they can in only in day. People will get pushy, aggressive, and nasty. Its okay to occasionally jab a little too hard when trying to make your way past extremely stubborn and impolite people. Besides, they did it first!! But, being in the land of the Vatican and the Pope, maybe it would be better to turn the other cheek.
Other than the pitfalls tourists inevitably fall into once in awhile, we had a great time. We saw some amazing sights, took great pictures, and will always refer to the rose debacle as "Incidente de Rosa". When we returned home, our landlords asked us why we didn't stay in Rome for 2 days instead of just one. Well, you see....