Trip win #6: City Wonders. City Wonders is a tour company that operates in many big cities all over the globe. I found them on Viator.com and they had reasonable rates for the different places we wanted to go in Rome. We had planned on going to the Vatican on one day, for half day and then hitting up the Colosseum for a half day the next. When everything happened with my mom, I called them the night before the Vatican tour and told them what had happened. They were very accommodating and didn’t hesitate to find us another tour, without charging the usual change fees.
We woke up a little early this morning, as we had a tour of the Colosseum scheduled for the first part of the day and then the Vatican tour in the early afternoon. We knew it was going to be a long day and that we might have to forgo parts of the early tour in order to be able to make it across town for the the afternoon one. We grabbed two taxis and headed over to the Colosseum.
The sheer magnitude of the Colosseum is breathtaking. The last time we went to Trier with my cousins, we saw the amphitheater there and thought it was pretty cool. Um, yeah. That has nothing on this wonder. We arrived a little early and realized that we hadn’t properly caffeinated. Trip win #7: La Riga Cafe saves the day. This cafe is directly across the street and the prices for coffee (and food…although we didn’t have any) were actually reasonable considering the location. We sat outside and and enjoyed a view of the Colosseum and a cappuccino…including Husband. Husband is NOT a coffee drinker and he surprised us all by downing the whole cup. I had a little tear of pride in my eye.
When we were properly caffeinated, we checked in with our tour guide, Davide, and headed into the Colosseum. If you head there, be sure to shake off any claustrophobia or fear of crowds. You walk through with a couple thousand of your new best friends. I’ll admit it…we didn’t do the arena underground. The history of the Colosseum is so violent and bloodthirsty that we really didn’t want any of the bad juju by visiting the holding cells and last living quarters of the gladiators. That being said, learning the history of the Colosseum and listening to the stories was actually quite fascinating.
We spent a good hour or so inside the Colosseum and then started our walk over to the Palatine Hill/Forum area to go through the other Roman ruins. By this time, the sun was blazing overhead and I could tell that a few of us were getting a little fatigued. We knew that we had a long afternoon at the Vatican ahead of us, so we decided that we had seen what we had really come to see. We handed the headsets back to the tour guide and headed back to the apartment for a quick breather.
On the way over to the Vatican we stopped at a gelateria and walked over to the Vatican Museums entrance. The Vatican is a huge compound with St. Peter’s Basilica on side and the museums (yep, that’s plural) on the other. We checked in with our tour guide and headed inside. Again, check your enochlophobia (I totally Googled this…fear of crowds) and/or agoraphobia at the door. Be sure to wear deodorant, as you will be spending a lot of time smushed in with a LOT of people.
The Vatican museums are ornate and ostentatious at the same time. The antiquities are astounding and honestly, it kind of made me wonder about the history of the church. I grew up Catholic and still identify as one (even though I’m a non-church going heathen). To see the volume of paintings, tapestries and other priceless works of art, you know that there had to be some back room dealings going on back in the day. I know that’s the reality of the world at the time (and still today), but it made me raise my eyebrows a little.
As we went from room to room, I’ll admit…it started to blur together. I like art and can appreciate the beauty and history, but I’m not a huge art buff. I can distinguish between some of the better known artists, but when you start talking about the different periods, my eyes start to glaze over. Sadly, if my eyes are glazing over, my kids’ are probably wandering aimlessly looking for the nearest exit. Because we had an afternoon tour, we had the ‘privilege’ of going into the Raphael rooms. The spunky tour guide we had was happy because she said it wouldn’t be crowded and it was be ahmaaaaazing.
I’m not sure what her version of non-crowded was, but it definitely didn’t fit that description. The Raphael rooms were just as packed as the rest of the museums. Once you make it through the fourth and final room, you’re pretty much just done. Which is sad, because the final stop is the Sistine Chapel (pretty sure they do this on purpose). By the time we hit the chapel, I looked up and while it was stunning, I was ready to be done. You’re not allowed to take pictures or talk while in the chapel and you only get 15 minutes. The guards constantly shush you and will confiscate your phone/camera if they catch you taking pictures. I think had it not been so crowded and had we been able to take more than 15 minutes, I would have appreciated it a lot more. There were a few frescos on the ceiling that popped out to me more than the typical ones. Husband’s favorite was The Last Supper.
After our 15 minutes was up, we walked into St. Peter’s Basilica. They have two separate entrances. One for believers and followers and the other for everyone else (?). This basilica is definitely the big mac-daddy of them all. It is stunning and the top of the dome is directly above the tomb of St. Peter (you learn something new every day). It was amazing to see the shrines to the different popes and the different altars inside. For Mom, it was one of the top spots on her Rome bucket list.
Once we finished up at the basilica, we realized that we were getting pretty hungry. We were also pretty tired and needed to pack up our stuff for the next day. There was a small restaurant located directly next door to our apartment, Rendezvous. Rather than venture out, we decided just to eat there. We should have ventured out.
Trip fail #3: Rendezvous. I will tell you now, don’t eat there. Save your taste buds. The service was just okay and the food was bland and just seriously meh. They seated us near the beverage cooler, so any time another customer ordered a bottled beer or water, they had to ask Mom to move. At one point, Husband reached in and grabbed it for the server. Mom had a super bland Caesar salad and Husband had a Greek salad that had no flavor and no dressing. Dad had an odd looking pizza and I had a spicy pizza that was probably more of an oil than a solid. Seriously. Don’t. Go.
We woke up a little early and got all of our stuff ready. The apartment manager was kind enough to set up our airport transfer for us and he was downstairs waiting for us. We loaded up the van and headed over to the airport.
Trip fail #4: Airport transfer. We had had many crazy taxi rides throughout our time in Rome, so we knew it would be a lot of weaving, honking and brake slamming going on. For some reason, this dude was just a flat-out crazy, bad driver. I can be a nervous passenger at times, but rarely do I have to close my eyes. Let’s just say my eyes were closed the majority of the time, AND I was sitting on my hands, so as not to have them flailing around in fear. Dad and Mom have this cool app on their phones that tells you how fast you’re moving. Dad turned his on, and honestly, I didn’t need to see that we were doing over 100 in a 50 zone. Kids thought it was awesome, I was just happy to get to the airport in one piece.
Trip fail #5: Expedia. Here’s a little tip when booking with Expedia. Be sure to read whether or not your ticket includes the luggage fees or not. The fees on the flight to Rome were covered, but when we checked in for our flight to Paris, we had to pay the bag fees. We had the money for them, but it was more of an annoyance than anything.
Trip win #8: Getting to the airport waaaaaay early. We got to the airport a little (okay, a lot) early. It actually turned out to be a good thing because there was NO ONE there. Literally. We had to check in through a partner airline and when we hit the security checkpoint, we were the only people in the line. I have seriously never been through security that fast. It was awesome.
The takeaways for Rome:
I would give yourself about 5 or 6 days if you want to see the majority of the things you want to see. There are still a few places there that we didn’t get the chance to see. We hit the biggies, but there are still some things that we hope to be able to see if we go back.
Rome is one of the theft capitals of Europe. Make a photocopy of your passport and then stash your passport somewhere safe in your apartment or hotel. Only take as much as cash as you think you’re going to need and one credit card in case of emergency. Also, be sure to know where the Embassy is, just in case of an emergency.
Rome can be really overwhelming. In a way, I wish that we had held off on Rome until the latter part of the trip, instead of introducing my parents to that crazy right off the bat. If you can survive through Rome, you can definitely survive through pretty much any major European city.