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Friday, December 14, 2018

Italy (Day 3) Rome: Guardians and Gladiators

Veni, vidi, vici! Today we saw a few sights you might recognize as we kicked it into high gear to stay out of harm's way by avoiding the spears of guardians and gladiators. 

First up, we took a guided tour of Vatican City seeing the Sistine Chapel (no photos allowed), Vatican Museums (Gallery of the Maps, Gallery of Tapestries, Raphael Rooms), and St. Peter's Basilica. Absolutely stunning!! It was hot and crowded inside, but nothing short of AMAZING!!
We had a meet time of 7:15am for our Pristine Sistine Early Entrance Small Group Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy.  We had to cab to the meeting place, so it was a welcomed sight to see that the meet place was a coffee bar.  We had a bit of breakfast and waited for our tour company to organize the small groups.  And waited.  As groups were formed, somehow we ended up in the last group to depart.  When we got to the entrance of the museum, we queued into a very long line to wait for the museum to open.  There was no early entrance ahead of any crowds.  This is about when I wished we had gone the DIY route, but our guide did make the most of the waiting to tell us all about the history of the artists and their work in the Vatican Museums and details of things to look for in the artwork.

Once we FINALLY got inside and through the security lines, our group then had to wait for the guide to take the children with her to some office to get special tickets for them.  Our small group was so much more understanding and patient about this than me considering it was my own 2 kids (the only kids in the group).  Okay, enough complaining.  We were briskly whisked through the museum to get right to the Sistine Chapel ahead of the crowds.  This was definitely the highlight!

The OG of #corridorgoals is this Gallery of Maps in the Vatican Museums! I never walked so slow in my life craning my neck the entire length. There are some STORIES up there!

You are not allowed to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel and there are Guardians (security staff) to keep an eye on everybody, but they didn't notice the guy sitting on the bench snapping away. We behaved properly and simply stood there jaws agape admiring our surroundings.  Our tour company was brilliant to get us here so quickly and we were able to move about to different benches to admire the view from sides of the room.  This was an impossible feat later when we backtracked through here again.  The Guardians were also much more sterner later when it was super crowded and we saw them admonish many tourists for one reason or another.

Strategically placed fountains were greatly appreciated as we made our way through the museum complex and out into the courtyard.

The Pinecone Courtyard was a nice welcome of fresh air and a good break before we continued back into the museum.

We re-entered and found ourselves in the Octagonal Courtyard where we admired magnificent sculptures including the below Trojan priest Laocoön and his two sons losing a battle to the death with two sea serpents.

We were surprised by the Sala Rotonda (Rotonda Room) and its similarities to the Pantheon. This circular room full of treasures was a real treat!  I recently came across this list of Vatican Museums Must-Sees and think it is a good capture.

Interestingly, we backtracked through the hallways of the museums and reentered the Sistine Chapel. I realized later that this is the route taken by our tour company to get us to St. Peter's Basilica.

The Vatican Museums are the largest museum complex in the world with over 1000 museums and galleries full of these masterpieces gathered by various popes. It's stunning and overwhelming to see in person. No matter the time of year, the crowd size, I can't imagine coming to Rome and not seeing this magnificent sight. For us, it would be the equivalent of coming to Washington, D.C. and not seeing the Smithsonian museums.  Except, those are free, but I digress.  We followed our guide over to see St. Peter's Basilica passing in front of St. Peter's Square.  It is an incredible space to simply wander.  We enjoyed strolling it post-tour as we exited the Vatican City.  Now that we are home, it is a good memory to read up on the history and architecture as we recall the sights.  Interesting what stands out for each family member.

The Swiss Guard, the world’s smallest army, was formed in 1506 and still exists to protect the Pope, the Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica.

It was crowded over at St. Peter's Basilica and we had a short wait before we gained entrance.  Once inside, we marveled at the enormity of the church and its impressive works of art.  Our tour company Walks of Italy has an interesting write-up of St. Peter's Basilica Facts.

From here, our tour concluded.  It was a bit of a walk out of St. Peter's Square to exit the Vatican.  Something that worked for us in the unrelenting heat was taking the left past the Vatican Obelisk and cutting through the perimeter of columns.  This bypassed the rather long walk down the long way straight out.  It's a direct path out of the Vatican where we easily found a taxi.  

After a break for lunch and rest back at our hotel, we then had our Colosseum tour also with Walks of Italy.  Now if you are just joining us, I want to reiterate that I would normally not book us more than one major exploration in a day.  But due to circumstances out of our control, our only option was to have both tours on the same day or refund one.  So, here we are full-speed ahead.

Our 2nd of the 7 Wonders of the World!!!! This was so special as I had arranged for an underground tour into closed areas where we got to walk on the Arena Floor!

Oh my ❤️ we walked in the footsteps of gladiators who waited here before battle! We also saw the heart of Ancient Rome visiting the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill including the Arch of Constantine.

A quick cab ride to the meeting point for our small tour group at a cafe nearby the Colosseum. Of course, we found time for espresso and sweet treats while we waited. Before long, we were outfitted with audio headsets and on our way!  Our guide informed us that we would be seeing the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill sights first to time our underground access at the Colosseum.

Arch of Constantine

The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch in Rome, situated between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill. It was erected by the Roman Senate to commemorate Constantine I's victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312. Dedicated in 315, it is the largest Roman triumphal arch.

It was hot. Super hot. Thank goodness for our cooling towels. We refreshed them at every fountain.  We proceeded to the Palatine Hill, the centremost of the Seven Hills of Rome and is one of the most ancient parts of the city. Standing above, we overlooked the view of the Roman Forum.

These ruins are spread out over a large area and we enjoyed walking the sights while we absorbed the vast commentary on the history from our guide. It's such an enormous complex of still standing structures representing the ancient center of Rome with government buildings, marketplace, temples, and so much more. Upon reflection, we needed much more time than we had to see it properly.

FINALLY! It was time to enter the much anticipated gates of the Colosseum imagining ourselves gladiators of times past.

Rome’s great gladiatorial arena is the most thrilling of the city's ancient sights. Inaugurated in AD 80, the 50,000-seat Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, was clad in travertine and covered by a huge canvas awning held aloft by 240 masts. Inside, tiered seating encircled the arena, itself built over an underground complex (the hypogeum) where animals were caged and stage sets prepared. Games involved gladiators fighting wild animals or each other. (Lonely Planet)

We were so giddy upon entering the interior that we spent more time skipping around the platform and taking pics than paying attention to our guide. 

But, the kids were enthralled when we got to the arena floor and our guide went into great detail about the life of a gladiator and the beasts in the belly of the Colosseum. Wow. His stories absolutely captivated our attention.

Thru the tunnels and out to the arena floor.  Incredible.

Restoration of the gates for releasing the beasts into the arena.

The Arena Floor.

Tunnels beneath the Colosseum.

Wild Beast of the Colosseum

Guess what we did? We walked the entire perimeter, all 360 degrees around. Because, I wanted to check out the view from EVERY angle. Come on, this is one of the 7 WONDERS of the WORLD. The crew was all for it (barely) until about halfway when they full on halted.  Lots of whining (and not just from the kids; I'm looking at you Rob).  I said, "Fine, let's turn back." They looked at where we were - dead midpoint directly across from our exit.  They didn't find the humor in my statement.  We continued the other half of the full circle much to my delight. I won't bore you with the 360 pictures.  Hahahaha.

It was easy peasy to get a taxi afterwards.  In fact, we must have looked as hot & sweaty as we felt = ready to fork out $ because as we approached the taxi stand line, a driver dropped his conversation with a group (we assume they were negotiating fare) and suddenly came running over to us.  He proclaimed that he would take us and started walking us to his vehicle.  He surmised us correctly because we didn't even discuss fare.  We just got in and gave him the destination.  I noticed that he wasn't running the meter.  I couldn't have cared less at that point.  We were so happy to not think.  The fare was probably overprised and the driver didn't quite take us all the way up to the Pantheon, but we were thankful for the no-worries, just sit back and relax vibe that comes with going with the flow.  Rome had our hearts and could do no wrong. 

Of course, we stopped for a pic as we walked the rest of the way through the piazza from our taxi drop off. See, it was a good taxi ride!

We decided not to venture far from home base and ended up having a memorable AMAZING last meal in Rome. It's not just the view, but the whole atmosphere of this top-notch location that made us have no regrets for not going further.  This restaurant at the Albergo del Senato delivered it all.  Above and beyond! 

Roma artichoke for the WIN!

The kids devoured their pasta and begged us to let them return to the room by themselves.  This resulted in Rob and I staying put for the rest of the evening and having really good connection!

This is what 2 bottles of wine looks like in the Piazza della Rotonda of the Pantheon in Italy. 

Color me WOW, that's a wrap for Rome. We feel like we have barely scratched the surface, but we certainly got enough to fall in love with this great city. Arrivederci, Roma 🇮🇹

Up Next: Amazing Amalfi!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Italy (Day 2) Early Bird Gets...Rome Without Crowds!

Perks of staying in the ❤️ of Rome = sunrise delights!  Molly and I may have frightened a few pigeons with our high-pitched giggles as we gallivanted through the empty Piazza Della Rotondra.  Wowsers - the Pantheon looks so majestic in the morning sun and the main square is HUGE without all the people.

It's 6am in Rome!

Love our hotel Albergo Abruzzi!

Heavy Lifting

Molly size car :)

After wandering a bit, we headed back to pick up Rob and Caitlin. It was still so early, that the coffee shop wasn't yet open.

With some grumbling, we roused the other half awake and got them outside.  Rome is incredible with ruins just about everywhere and the juxtaposition to the modern buildings makes them even more impressive. 

We tripped over these ruins smack dab in the middle of our walking path. Gosh, we are loving Rome!

Free ice cold drinking water from one of the city's 2500 traditional free-flowing water fountains.  You will come to appreciate these fountains!

The full Chic Family crew shaking off sleep stood giddy before a near-empty Trevi Fountain. Trust me, this is a huge deal as a later stroll showed us absolute zero view of any water due to the throngs of wall-to-wall people. 

Two clowns.  At the Trevi Fountain.

The Trevi Fountain is one of the oldest water sources in Rome dating back to ancient Roman times, since the construction of the Aqua Virgo Aqueduct in 19 B.C. that provided water to the Roman baths and the fountains of central Rome. It’s said that the Aqua Virgo, or Virgin Waters, is named in honor of a young Roman girl who led thirsty soldiers to the source of the spring to drink.  (Walks of Italy - 9 Surprising Trevi Fountain Facts)

With our crowd-free access right to the front we set up for our obligatory coin toss, a tradition to guarantee return travels. Some questions - right hand or left hand, over right shoulder or left, eyes closed or open? Oh, yes. We tossed many coins just to be sure.
Guess where we went after breakfast? My 4th time in the Pantheon 😂 but this time was the best because it was near EMPTY and the whole crew was together.

We are such tourists!

Cheesy Family Portrait 😂

Now, we were actually supposed to have our Colosseum Underground VIP Tour today, but just a few weeks before travel we received a notification that it had to be rescheduled to the following afternoon (tomorrow).  This would be combined with our already scheduled Vatican tour making for a full day.  Rather than try to fill the unexpected break in this day with another tour, we kept it chill and simply ate, drank, and soaked in the vibe.  Oh, wait.  We did do a surprise tour in the evening and it was awesomely spooky - can you guess?

Yes, champagne and beer! 😂

Caitlin is making herself right at home with frequent visits to gelato shops.  We encourage the children to be independent and explore on their own when we travel, especially in local markets.  I love the confidence I see in the girls as they effortlessly interact with all peoples.

Champagne, beer... limoncello?! These things just happen 😂. Rome service for the win!

There's something about Piazza Navona that kept us coming back!

We just realized that this heavily guarded building that we keep passing is actually the seat of the Senate of the Italian Republic - Madama Palace.

A last minute booking with Walks of Italy for an after-dark private viewing of Bones, Crypts, and Catacombs was a definite hit! We thought Molly would be scared, but she proclaimed it an AWESOME OH WOW AMAZING SUPER COOL experience (we concluded that she liked it 😂).

Entrance to Catacombs
We enter here to begin our evening of strolling Bones, Crypts, and Catacombs 👻! I told my joke of "So, there's this movie where the tourists...". Rob didn't think it funny 😂

Just so you know, none of the catacomb pics are mine. They are actually pics I took of postcards that I purchased at the sight. No photography is allowed. 

This tour was fascinating and because it was unplanned, we had no idea what to expect to see.  Real human bones are displayed as "art"!

Our tour first took us to the Catacomb of Santa Priscilla. One of Rome's first underground Christian cemeteries (dating back to 150 years before Christianity was legalized), this site has extraordinary ancient frescoes, eerie tunnels and the world's single oldest depiction of the Virgin Mary.

We visited another site that was even more shocking – the Capuchin bone crypt, a cemetery literally built from bones! The chambers are decorated with the remains of some 4,000 friars. For kids, it’s a fascinating lesson in anatomy and for adults, a moving reminder of what we’ll all become. The message at the end of crypt says it all: “What you are now, we once were. What we are now, you will be.”

Finally, we visited Basilica San Nicola in Carcere, the very center of 3rd century BC Rome in the midst of three separate temples. We descended through a crypt used in the 12th century for exorcisms, passing stacks of ancient human bone fragments. 

All along the tour, we enjoyed our guide's vast knowledge and great storytelling.  It appears that you can visit these sights on your own, but I can't imagine not having a guide.  We may not retain the knowledge, but to hear it, absorb it, and let our imagine run wild while in the moment - priceless!  Our girls are still regaling us with their memories of the catacombs of Rome.

After the tour, we wandered about back near the Pantheon and stumbled into a real gem for dinner - Achille Pantheon.  Both kids got their own whole fish. And, proceeded to devour it.

Roma artichoke 😋 so delicious!

Today, we discovered ourselves falling victim to what seems to be the normal operandi of complimentary welcome drinks (champagne) pre-meal followed by complimentary drinks (limoncello) post-meal. Perhaps, we are just getting even better at our restaurant selections! 

Tomorrow is our go-hard day in Rome, so off to 😴 Buona Notte, Dormi Bene da Roma!

Up Next: Rome - Guardians and Gladiators