Our family of five spent four days in Rome - our first stop in Italy. I was so excited to have landed that jet lag was not an issue for me so I thought. The rest of the family was a little ragged out. We used Rome Cabs for pick up at the airport. The driver called the owner of our apartment and got directions. We had rented an apartment on Via Capo D'Africa near the Colosseo, but apparently the directions had changed. The driver actually had a hard time finding the address and drove past the Colosseo twice. Finally, we arrived and met with the owner, who whisked us through the apartment at record speed. After exchanging the cash due, he left and we looked around and determined that "Gosh - I don't think that this was the apartment that I rented on Internet." Hmmm I guess that is what jet lag will do to you. So we called the owner back. This time we got the full story. Apparently the apartment that we had originally rented had a plumbing problem, but really, the current apartment was so much better that even Madonna and Sting would be envious If we really wanted to, we could move to the new apartment the next day. Actually, the current apartment was quite charming even if it only had 2 baths instead of 3 so we decided to stay anyway. It was just an interesting way to start the trip.
My boys wanted to sleep and nobody was up for sightseeing. We forced the boys to get up for lunch and made the mistake of stepping out the door and into the first restaurant with a barker outside.....It was food, but not very good. We learned quickly that if anyone is outside touting a restaurant, it is probably not going to be a good dining experience.
I had planned to visit 4 different churches this day. That plan was quickly nixed and so I turned this into procurement day. We bought food for dinner, wine and cheese, got cash from the ATM, went to the Forum and bought Roma Passes, and to Termini to buy train tickets for our legs from Naples to Florence, Florence to Venice, and Venice to Milan.
Our apartment had an terrace looking over an indoor courtyard. I remember drinking some wine, gazing at a sliver of the bluest sky and then falling asleep on the divan as the day faded away.
Wednesday, we got up in search of coffee. My sister and I had tried to figure out what coffee filters were called in Italian without success so our coffee machine sat empty. I'm really glad we didn't figure it out as we found a wonderful little bar two blocks away that made a capuccino that you would die for. We each ordered and then my older son, who took five years of Italian, would settle up for us.
We toured the Forum and Coliseum. I had prebooked a tour group with Angel Tours. We met upstairs at the metro stop, and then walked over to the Forum. James was our tour guide. He was wonderfully entertaining, the group was small - no more than 12 people , and there were no headsets involved. We were also lucky in that the day was beautiful - not too hot, but sunny. We learned that it was safe to refill our water bottles out of the various fountains, which came in handy during our time in Rome. After the Forum, James led us over to the Colosseo, walked past hundreds of people and went right through with our already purchased tickets. I felt very sorry for all those people waiting in lines for what must have been a very long time. After an overview of the history, James left us to explore the place on our own. Our family really enjoyed this tour and so it was a good start for Rome.
Off we went for lunch in search of Cavour 313 - a wine bar. It was a poor choice for us as we missed the street and walked too far and had to double back. Once there, we discovered that the menu was limited because they were getting ready to close for August. I think that they would be better in the later afternoon for a glass of wine as opposed to a place to stop for lunch...but we made the best of it.
After lunch, we walked over to the Capitoline Museum, using our Roma passes for entry. It was an interesting place, but I think that we were getting tired. My sister, younger son and I decided to go back to the apartment while my husband and older son continued to explore the museum. They later went to the Victor Emmanuel Monument and took the elevator to the roof for a panoramic view of Rome. Meanwhile, we were walking home. The key theme of this day, being walking... When we reached the apartment, our legs hurt so much that we ran an ice cold bath in the gigantic whirlpool tub and soaked our feet for a good half hour while drinking some wine....It's the little things that make you happy:-). That night we had dinner at a little restaurant in the neighborhood with much better food.
Thursday was our big day at the Vatican. I had pre-booked a tour of the museums with Angel Tours and was lucky enough to have booked a Scavi tour through the Vatican. After visiting our neighborhood coffee bar, we were off to the metro. We had to switch lines at Termini and that's when our plans went awry. The metro line to the Vatican was closed and everyone was being forced up. This was not good as I was not familiar with the bus lines. As we walked out of a side entrance to Termini, we saw an empty taxi. After asking how much it would be to go to the Vatican (30 euros), the five of us jumped in and we went racing off 3 feet into a traffic jam. Hmmm. The driver excelled at creating lanes that did not exist. Finally, we broke free and began to move. We got a quick cab tour of the center of Rome and arrived at a non-descript wall that was the outside barrier of the Vatican. Now I know that I was probably overcharged, but we made it in time for the tour and I was willing to live with it.
Anyhow, we met up with the Angel Tour group and were quickly into the Vatican. Simon was our tour guide and an art history major. He was outstanding in explaining the creation of the Sistine chapel and did a good job of focusing on the highlights of the museum. Again, we really enjoyed the tour, which lasted about 3.5 hours, and ended at St. Peters Basilica. I was very happy with the Angel Tours and with the size of the group (again about 12 people). This was especially true after I saw large tour groups go by with headphones, all in a rush to keep pace with the leader.
Coming out of St. Peters, we went to the Vatican Post Office to mail some postcards. I had my money thrown back at me after I bought stamps...rather rude, I thought. We waited patiently for the Swiss Guard to let us back to the Scavi office for the tour - finally they let us go back to get the tickets and the tour began. We had an Italian guide who had learned English from a Scotsman.....she was just a little hard to understand:-) But it was awe inspiring to see -such old structures, and the resting place of St. Peter. When the tour finally finished, we walked out onto the piazza and had gelato....our legs were caput after being on our feet for so long so we caught a taxi back to our apartment. Again the cold foot bath and a little wine revived us enough that we decided to venture out for dinner.
We caught a taxi to Trastavere for dinner at Trattoria Da Lucia. It was a very relaxing dining experience and we enjoyed the pasta. By this time, we had learned to order the house wine to keep our costs down. When we finished, it was getting dark and we decided to walk down to the Tiber as it was such a pleasant evening. The Ponte Sisto had a band playing on it, there were all sorts of restaurants open on both sides of the river and there was an outdoor movie playing on a really big screen. We just kept walking and taking in the scene and pinching ourselves that we were walking along the Tiber. Then we decided to walk all the way home....probably not the best decision as we were a long way from home and we got sidetrack at least once. We made it, but my sister started to refer to her "Tiber" blister for the rest of the trip.
Friday had no scheduled tours although we did have reservations for the Galleria Borghese. We decided that we would just take it easy, not go to the Borghese, and walk around the historic center. We started at the Spanish Steps, which weren't all that crowded. My younger son was taking pictures when a man grabbed his hand and started to braid a bracelet with red, green, and white strings. After assuring myself that he was ok, we watched as the bracelet was completed. We gave him a coin when he was done, and in fact, my son still has his Italian bracelet on even after we got back to the States. From there we headed towards Piazza Navona. We enjoyed the viewing the fountains and decided to stop for lunch at the Bar Navona on the piazza where we enjoyed some great pasta. After lunch, we went on to the Pantheon, which was just awe inspiring. We saw the columns in Piazza Capranica and Piazza Colonna on our way to the Trevi fountain. And yes, we tossed coins in to ensure our return. We headed up the Via del Tritone to see another fountain. We stopped by the Cappuchin Crypt, but decided not to pay another fee to enter. To top off the journey, we found the American Embassy, which sounds like a corny thing to do, but it was rather heartwarming to see it. We metroed it back home to our apartment, and for dinner got some take away pizza with wine and watermelon. We sat out on the terrace for a long time that evening, but finally went in to pack for the next leg of our journey to the Amalfi Coast.
For those going to Italy for the first time, I also posted my thoughts on planning the trip at this link