European Vacation: Adventures in Rome – The Middle Part 2

If you missed my previous two installments on Adventures in Rome, click here:
The Beginning
The Middle

Now, in case you were wondering, there is another advantage/disadvantage to staying in an apartment vs. a hotel for a family of four.

Advantage: We had a nice big bathroom to use.

Disadvantage: We didn’t have a lovely maid service providing an endless supply of T.P., and even worse, we didn’t have Louie Da Plumber with us! (If you missed my blog post singing the praises of Louie Da Plumber click HERE.)

Yes, although my beloved plumber, Louie Valenti, is Italian, he wasn’t in Italy. And for some reason the apartment’s hot water heater circuit would trip on a daily basis. (Maybe that’s an electrical problem, but anyway…) It wouldn’t have been so bad except the circuit would typically trip mid-shower.

I knew from reading the tour books beforehand that we shouldn’t expect the long, hot showers we get in the U.S. But none of us were prepared for the mere minute-and-a-half showers we received. Typically, one of us would get in the shower, get all soaped and shampooed up, then BAM! The water would turn ice cold. We’d be forced to shiver our way through a super-fast rinse off.

Then to add to our vacation pleasure, we ran out of T.P. (Two rolls for a family of four for eight days. Nah. Didn’t quite cut it.)

So my brave “non parla Italiano hubby” attempted to buy some at the grocery store. I say attempted because due to a helpful sales clerk who thought she knew what he wanted, he came back with paper towels instead.

That was, um, interesting.

Aaaaaanyway…back to our exploration of Rome.

We had pre-registered for a Wednesday tour of the famous Borghese Gallery. We arrived at 10:30 a.m. and checked in.

“Oh yeah! We can get audiotours!” I said excitedly pointing out the audiotour sign.

My entire family just blinked at me. “What for?” Joshua asked.

I gave an exasperated sigh. “So we know what we’re looking at!”

My family blinked again, then just strolled away.

Hmph! I got my audiotour anyway, which I shared with my son, much to his dismay.

We saw the action-oriented Bernini sculpture of David, from the famous David and Goliath story. I think this David is so much cooler than the typical just-standing-there David. Twenty-five-year-old Bernini used his own likeness to portray David’s face. In typical Baroque style, he’s in action. Biting his lip, focused expression, we witness him at the very moment he’s about to become a hero.

And we also saw another famous Bernini sculpture taken from Greek & Roman mythology. This Apollo & Daphne sculpture portrays the moment Daphne has just cried out to her father to save her from the unwanted advances of the overly amorous Apollo. He grants her wish by turning her into a tree just as Apollo reaches her.

Leaving the museum, we strolled through the beautiful Borghese Gardens.

Then back to the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. There were SO many more people there during the daytime!

These cute Italian boys were attempting to ride this—this bike-thingy through the crowds. Give it up, boys!

Next we arrived at the Pantheon.

Constructed to honor all pagan gods, this temple was rebuilt in the 2nd century A.D. by Emperor Hadrian. The incredible dome was the largest ever designed until the 20th century. The Pantheon also offered audiotours, but my family made me skip this one.

Located right nearby is Santa Maria sopra Minerva, the only major church in Rome built in Gothic style.

It’s built over the ruins of a Temple of Minerva, goddess of wisdom. It’s also the home of Michelangelo’s famous Risen Christ. Unfortunately, as I previously mentioned, I’d forgotten our guide books. So although I had remembered wanting to visit this church, I couldn’t remember why. I got so busy taking artistic pics of the church’s interior…

…I completely missed Michelangelo’s famous work. Sigh. I guess I’ll just have to be satisfied that I saw the Sistine Chapel and the Pieta.

One thing I found particularly cool about sightseeing in Rome, was the opportunity to see the places where Bible stories I’ve read about actually took place. Like Mamertine Prison (Carcere Mamertino) for example.

The apostles Peter and Paul were actually imprisoned there. It was a dank, dark, cramped space. We walked on the actual floor of their prison--touched the walls with our hands--that was SO COOL!

We also visited the Basilica of St. Peter-in-chains. This church holds the actual chains that bound Peter and Paul in Mamertine Prison, as well as a second set of chains that bound Peter when Herod jailed him in Jerusalem (Acts 12). Quick story summary: King Herod threw Peter in prison with plans to kill him later. One night, Peter was lying asleep between two snoozing Roman soldiers, bound in these chains. Even more guards were outside the door of the prison. Suddenly an angel appeared, struck Peter on the side, and his chains (THESE chains!) fell off his hands. The angel led him out of the prison to the city gate, which opened by itself, and Peter was set free. More coolness!

There was a church service going on while tourists traipsed around the basilica, which felt kind of weird & disrespectful somehow, but the congregation seemed accustomed to it. On top of the historically significant chains, the basilica also is home to a sculpture of Moses, another famous work of Michelangelo’s.

We came to Capitoline Hill and the Capitoline Museum. The Capitoline Museum was established in 1471, and it’s the oldest public collection in the world. I was thrilled to learn the museum offered audiotours, but when I asked I was told none of the English-speaking ones were available. I heard several very suspicious sighs of relief coming from my family behind me.

The courtyard of the museum is filled with massive chunks of an ancient sculpture of Emperor Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor (306 – 337 A.D.). His head, hand and foot survived intact.

The museum also contains the greatest surviving equestrian statue of antiquity—a statue of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.). Many believe this statue was preserved so well because it was mistaken for a statue of the Emperor Constantine.

Our next stop was the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument, a.k.a. the Wedding Cake. This brighter-than-white structure was built as a monument to Italy’s first king and to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Italian unification.

We took the elevator to the top for an awesome 360-degree view of the city.

We’d seen the oldest equestrian statue in the world, and here was the biggest. The statue is 43-ft. long, and the king’s moustache alone is over five feet wide.

After a quick gelato trip, we headed home to rest our aching feet. As we prepared for bed, Ashleigh was not a happy girl.

She discovered pavement ants in her bedroom. Ewwww! Quite curious since we were on the 7th floor, and we’ve never known pavement ants to live anywhere besides ground-level slabs. Maybe it’s an Italian thing, or maybe they got confused from all the earthquakes.

“Hey Joe, did you notice the ground shaking? Maybe we should all move up to the 7th floor for a while.”

Stay tuned for more Adventures in Rome!

Italian Shower image
T.P. image by Bollin
Vittorio image by Argenberg
David image by
Apollo & Daphne image

European Vacation: Adventures in Rome - The Middle

(In case you missed episode one, click here!)

And now, our story continues…

There are some advantages, for a family of four, to staying in an apartment rather than a hotel when vacationing in Rome. And then again, there are some disadvantages.

Advantage: We have access to a washing machine so we can do laundry.
Disadvantage: We have access to a washing machine so we can do laundry.

Advantage: We have access to a kitchen and can cook our own meals.
Disadvantage: We have access to a kitchen and can cook our own meals.

Hey, mama’s on vacation too! Fortunately, my hubby was intuitive enough to recognize this fact and sweetly took over these dreaded domestic tasks. (Yeah okay, intuition probably had less to do with it than my whining that there was NO WAY I was gonna be spending my vacation cooking and cleaning!) So the menfolk went to work.

Here is Joshua being very brave, stretching over our 7th floor balcony to use the Italian dryer.

We had an elderly neighbor lady who came out onto her roof every other day dressed in a beautiful skirt and blouse to use her dryer…

And although we gave it our best effort, man cannot live on gelato alone. So after shopping at a local grocery store, here’s my darling hubby, whipping us up a lovely steak and tortellini Italian dinner…

But, back to our sightseeing expeditions…

After exploring the Vatican and St. Peter’s the previous day, we set out to investigate some other well-known sites of Rome.

Located at the end of the Via dei Fori Imperiali, (sounds really cool, right—it’s just the name of a street!) lies the Colosseum. The construction of this primo entertainment center was finished in 80 A.D., and the Emperor Titus declared a 100-day holiday to celebrate its completion.

Seventy-thousand people would gather several times each week to watch the fatal gladiator fights held there. Our tour guide, Maura, explained that about 85 percent of the gladiators were slaves, and forced to fight. In addition to gladiator fights, sometimes the arena was filled with water for naumachias (real sea battles) re-creating great battles of the past. They only held a few of these though, because the Colosseum wasn’t really designed to be filled with water and these battles were ruining the foundation.

Near to the Colosseum is the Roman Forum. I always thought the Forum was an individual building, but it’s actually a large area which encompassed several elaborate temples, triumphal arches, and monuments. It was a hub of activity in ancient times. Here’s the view from the top of neighboring Palatine Hill.

Here is the Arch of Constantine—built in honor of the first Christian-sympathetic emperor. It’s one of the best-preserved arches from ancient times.

The Arch of Titus was completed by his Titus’s brother and successor, Emperor Domitian.

And here is the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina. When the Emperor Antonius Pius lost his wife, he wanted to deify her and built this temple in her honor in 141 A.D. It’s the best-preserved building in the entire Forum.

The Temple of Castor and Pollux was built in 484 B.C. Can you believe people just hurry past this stuff on their way to work every day?

The Temple of Vesta ( 8th century B.C.) was built to guard sacred objects, including the “eternal flame.” It was believed that as long as the flame burned, Rome would stand.

It was the job of the Vestal Virgins to guard this flame. Who were the Vestal Virgins you ask? Well, there were always six Vestal Virgins, selected from noble families by the age of 10. On the up side, they received lots of special privileges, and got to live in this massive, cool house.

On the downside, they had to remain virgins for 35 years. (Lifespan was around 45 years back then.) If one of them let the eternal flame go out? Death! If one broke her vow of chastity? Really horrible death! Buried alive. In the interest of fairness though, the guy doing the deed didn’t get off lightly. He was skinned alive. Yuck! Let’s move on…

We also took a guided tour of Palatine Hill, home to the majority of Rome’s emperors. As I mentioned before, it overlooks the Roman Forum. Lots of lush vegetation. These are the beautiful Farnese Gardens.

These trees are everywhere in Italy. They’re called Lebanese Umbrella Pines. Aren’t they cool looking?

Augustus was the first Emperor to make his Imperial residence on Palatine Hill around 700 B.C.—just a really nice house. The Emperor Tiberius built the first palace there. But the Emperor Domitian built the first truly extravagant palace on the hill. He had the entire massive structure encased completely in marble both inside and out. Here we are stepping on a piece of the original marble flooring that remains.

Emperor Domitian’s palace contained this private arena where he and 30,000 of his closest friends could view their own private chariot races and gladiator fights.
And here is the symbol of Rome: A she-wolf taking care of the twin boys, Romulus and Remus.

One legend about the origin of Rome goes like this:

Rhea Silvia, daughter of king Numitor, was a Vestal Virgin. She got pregnant. Oops! Rather than risk the whole “being buried alive” thing, she claimed she’d become impregnated by Mars, the God of War. Nobody wanted to tick off the God of War, so they didn’t kill her—just decided she’d have to get rid of the baby. She ended up having twins, Romulus and Remus, who were sent down the Tiber River to die. Allegedly a she-wolf who’d recently lost her cubs found and cared for them.

When they were older, there was a competition to determine which of the twins would become the king of Rome. Remus won, but Romulus got mad and killed his twin, thus Romulus became the king, and that is how Rome got its name.

Skeptics always thought the story of Romulus and Remus was a myth, but in the fall of 2007, archaeologists unearthed a sacred sanctuary dedicated to Romulus and Remus beneath the House of Augustus near Palatine Hill. Hmmm…very interesting.

To end our busy day, we took a night walk starting at the Spanish Steps.

From there we hiked over to the incredible Trevi Fountain.

There was a fairly young crowd there at night—lots of young couples and stuff. I noticed one young Italian girl making eyes at my boy and trying to sneak a picture of him with her cell phone camera when he wasn’t looking. Back off, honey!

We tossed our coins in over our shoulders, ensuring we would come back to Rome again some day.

Last, we meandered past the Colosseum and the Roman Forum again, snapping some cool moonlight shots that are definite keepers.

And last but not least, more gelato!

A quick earthquake, and then time for bed. Stay tuned for the next episode when I’ll share more cool sites, apartment plumbing issues, power outages, and more!

Gelato image by avlxyg