Saturday morning we headed back to the Vatican, this time for a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica. As soon as we arrived, we were immediately accosted by “tour guides” and “information agents” who asked with urgency, “Do you already have your tickets? You don’t want to wait in that two-three hour line only to have no tickets!” Even as an experienced visitor who’d read her guidebook, I had a pang of doubt… but, bolstered by my surety that we didn’t need tickets to visit St. Peter’s, we joined the impressive queue. Only 17 minutes later, we arrived at the front of the line, passed through security, and headed inside. The lines do look daunting, but they really aren’t that bad. Just inside, Penelope and I paused to take a picture looking down the nave.
Jeremy opted to listen to the Rick Steves’ audioguide (there’s a great free app, with all of his walks and tours narrated), while Penelope and I strolled together and I read aloud selections from the paper guidebook. The church is simply enormous—hard to process just how big, even when standing inside. Having just finished reading the children’s Bible, the newly-acculturated Penelope was quick to identify many of the images around us, from Noah’s dove to Mary holding Jesus after his death (aka Michelangelo’s Pieta). It was fun to see her so excited when she recognized these symbols—the great joy of understanding cultural allusions. 🙂
After we finished touring the church, we headed back outside to queue for the Dome—my favorite part. Being so close to the amazing dome mosaics is such a privilege, and there’s something so wonderful about being able to look both up and down at all of the art that really thrills me.
We took the elevator back down to the ground, walked across the square, and stopped at one of the many small fountains to have a refreshing drink of water. Having forgotten our water bottles, this involved some wet shoes as well.
In need of refreshment, we headed north to a nearby pasticceria, the aptly named Dolce Maniera (recommended by Italy connoisseur Lydia). We picked out several pastries by sight alone, and sat down on a nearby sidewalk to indulge.
Thus fortified, we resumed our plan for the day and headed to the National Museum of Rome. While there were many marble busts to admire (and a fun Classico Pop! exhibit), the real star of this museum for me was the top floor: mosaic and fresco.
By the end of the day, we were ready to put our feet up, so we opted for dinner at home and some family reading time. I finished Robert Harris’ Pompeii, which, though it wasn’t great literature, definitely added some human elements to the great destruction of 79AD. Looking forward to our visit there next week.
On Sunday my folks had planned to come back into the city for the day, so Penelope and I met them in the morning at the positively enormous Trastevere Market. By far the largest temporary market I’ve ever been to—a wonderful mix of antiques, clothes, knickknacks, household goods, and junk. Penelope found two necklaces on various 1 euro tables, while I purchased three scarves from two different dealers. Penelope announced that I now have enough scarves for a lifetime. I demurred, suggesting I might now have an adequate number for this trip. I could easily have spent several more hours browsing the stalls!
After the market, we went our separate ways, and I left Penelope with her grandparents while Jeremy and I met up for our tour of the Borghese Gallery. The number of visitors is strictly limited and the tickets are timed at both entry and exit—you have two hours to complete your tour of the palace. But wow, was it fabulous. Such a pleasure to see art in its original habitat—in some cases, in the very rooms for which the sculptures were designed. Mosaics, trompe l’oeil, marble sculptures, paintings—this museum has it all. Some of my favorites:
Afterward, Jeremy and I rambled through the gardens surrounding the Gallery, stumbling upon a picturesque statue of Byron, and snapping a quick selfie. And on the way home, we stopped in for pastries at our local pasticceria, Roscioli. Amazing, amazing treats—best we’ve had so far!
We all met up again at the apartment, where the grandparents were wilting (being a few days behind us in jet lag adjustment). They soon departed to their camper in the burbs, and Penelope, Jeremy, and I opted to eat out. Thanks to a recommendation from a former student (and now colleague!) at Castilleja, we had an excellent choice in mind: Dar Poeta. A lovely sunset view across the Tiber as we walked to dinner, and it was Penelope who identified the dome in the distance. 🙂
Dinner was amazing. We all ordered pizza, though I proclaim mine was the best: diavola con salsiccia. Jeremy, after sampling a slice of my pie, concurred. Penelope did not, sticking firmly to her own classic choice: margherita. Dessert, as recommended by Elke, was the absolutely enormous nutella and ricotta calzone.
Stuffed to the brim with breaded delights, we rolled our way home to bed.
Monday we had plans to see the Colosseum and the Forum, so we walked from our apartment over to the Colosseum, taking in the sights of the Trajan’s Column and Trajan’s Forum along the way. We arrived at the Colosseum in time for our reservation, wading through the crush of people and lots of tour “guides” offering information. Most of our time in Rome hasn’t been too bad in terms of crowds, but the Colosseum was really something else. A complete zoo—I can’t even imagine what it’s like during high season here. But we managed to find the right line for our online reserved tickets and were soon inside, touring through both the Colosseum itself and the exhibits describing its long history. I particularly enjoyed learning about its use in the Middle Ages: homes, workshops, stables. A medieval apartment complex, of sorts.
After climbing on top of as many pillars as possible, we left the Colosseum and walked just a few steps over to the Roman Forum. This time we decided to all listen to the audioguide, with Penelope using one of my AirPods. She was quite thrilled by the chance to listen like the grownups, and we all really enjoyed the tour of the Forum. And the just-blooming wisteria were absolutely lovely. A definite benefit to touring these ruins in the spring!
On the way home, we were entertained by a number of street performers—these two were my favorites.
We also stopped by a store in our neighborhood that I’d been eyeing: stationery! Always one of my favorite kinds of shopping. I chose a gorgeous leather pencil case, and Penelope dipped into her savings to buy a lovely blue feather pen and ink set.
Then it was home to dinner and some well-deserved rest!
Tuesday, our final day in Rome, Penelope and I went out in the morning for one final stop at our favorite fruit stand in Campo de’ Fiori, then home to start packing. By lunchtime, we were joined by my folks, and we treated them to a belated birthday lunch on the nearby piazza. While the food wasn’t fabulous, it was lovely to enjoy a meal with them on a sunny spring day in Roma.
After lunch, Jeremy headed back to the apartment for some computer time, I headed out for an afternoon of solo exploring (and shopping), and Penelope headed out to do some sightseeing with her grandparents. I wandered from area to area, in and out of jewelry shops and leather goods stores, eventually walking for about three and half hours.
In the end, I decided the purse I liked best of all was back at shop just around the corner from our apartment. When I stopped back in, I asked about the bag in a different color, and the owner/artisan said, sure, we can make that for you. Tomorrow? Thursday? A bit stunned, I said we’d be leaving town tomorrow but perhaps my folks could come by later in the week. But when I stopped by the next morning on our way to the train station, just to check in, my bag was ready! A lovely dark teal color, with bright leather rounds to accent the front—perfect for summer. I have to say I still feel so tickled to have a purse made just for me!
Meanwhile, during that afternoon of walking and shopping, Penelope and her grandparents were visiting the Bocca della Verita, the Circus Maximus, and the Basilica San Clemente.
Rome has been simply wonderful—a perfect introduction to the sights, sounds, and—perhaps best of all—tastes of Italy. And now we head south!