European Vacation: Adventures in Rome - The Beginning

(Chevy Chase has got nuttin’ on us)

Well, we’re back from our very first European family vacation. We spent eight amazing days in Rome, Italy. We left on Saturday, April 4th, arriving in sunny Rome on Sunday afternoon. My hubby had done endless hours of research and booked a charming cost-effective Roman apartment for us, as opposed to two hotel rooms. (Four people aren’t allowed to stay in one hotel room, which contains only two twin-size beds and that’s all folks.)

Here are the kids outside our home-away-from-home at #43 Via Rodi, in Rome, Italy.

No, we’re not unusually small people (well, at least my hubby and the kids aren’t), all the doors in Rome are just really HUGE--which is interesting since most Italians we encountered were petite-to-normal height in stature. Perhaps ancient Romans were much more gladiator-sized? Something to think about.

Here’s the view from our seventh floor balcony.

Prettier at night, huh?

We quickly stowed our stuff and ventured out. It was around this point that I realized I’d forgotten to pack a few critical items. Things like, oh…

The map of the city! Our Italian/English dictionary! And all our travel guide books! Unbelievable! Well, if anybody was wondering how to make an already interesting trip even more interesting…

Armed with my far-from-fluent Spanish, and slightly more fluent English, we entered a neighborhood Tavola Calda. These are small kitchens that serve a variety of fresh, hot dishes. The owner greeted us warmly and did his best to explain the different types of food we were looking at. He served us some of his personal specialties, proud of the fact that he prepared everything fresh daily. We finished and left, but after walking in confused circles past his shop three times, he took pity on us and gave us a map to use. Gratzie!

We wandered the streets a bit, but still jet-lagged, we hit the hay early. We wanted to get a good night’s sleep to be in prime form for touring the city the next day. But as it turned out, a good night’s sleep was out of the question…

Around 3:40 a.m., my hubby and I were awakened by our bed rocking back and forth. My hubby’s first thought was that there was some, uh, “activity” occurring in a neighboring apartment. But then we noticed the floor and walls were rocking as well. While I drowsily pondered this strange occurrence, my quicker-thinking hubby leapt from the bed shouting, “EARTHQUAKE! Quick, everybody get into the stairwell!”

We scrambled out the door and raced down the steps in our jammies. By the time we reached about the fourth floor, we realized that nobody else in the building appeared to be freaking out like we were. While we stood there confused, one young apartment dweller opened her door a crack, and squinted out at us hovering on the staircase. She mumbled something unintelligible, then shut the door in our faces.

We looked at each other.

Hmmm. Maybe we imagined it? We pattered back up the stairs. All tucked back in, we were just starting to drift off when there was another rocking, more gentle this time.

“Daaaaad?” our son, Joshua’s voice quavered from the next room.
“I know. We feel it too,” I called back.
It finally stopped after a few seconds. Yeesh. Enough already!

Watching Italian television the next morning, we saw pictures of all the destruction that had taken place at the epicenter. We were grateful to have only been at the outside edge of this natural disaster. We ended up experiencing five total quakes (or according to Josh, one earthquake and four aftershocks) in five days. By the third aftershock, I wasn’t even fazed.

Earthquake, schmerthquake. No sweat. I’m used to it all now, baby.

We arose Monday morning, and headed to Vatican City. To help our kids enjoy all the art they were going to see, I’d created little cheat sheets for them. One covering the Renaissance period, and another the Baroque period. I wrote them in “regular” language and even included pictures so they wouldn’t be completely dry and boring. Or so I thought.

“Ugh! It’s supposed to be a vacation,” Joshua grumbled, taking his packet. “You’re not supposed to have homework on your vacation.”
“It’s not homework, I made it fun,” I said, annoyed. “I just want you to know what you’re looking at!”
This was greeted with enthusiastic eye rolling.
Hmph! I didn’t care. After all my hard work, I insisted everybody read what I’d written.

I later learned that my son only pretended to read his packet. He merely daydreamed, then flipped to the next page whenever he noticed his big sister turn her page. Hmmm. Now I’m wondering if my hubby was doing the same thing?


We explored the Vatican Museum for a few hours…

Then we entered the Sistine Chapel. It’s just as astounding as you might imagine. Roughly covering the area of a football field, it’s amazing to think that Michelangelo spent four years painting the colorful frescos on the altar’s upper walls and ceiling. And to think he painted this entire ceiling standing up, not lying down as I’d always imagined. Many people consider this the single greatest work of art by any one human being. I listened to my free Rick Steve’s audiotour on my iPod while my uninformed family members opted not to use theirs, just staring at the ceiling and walls, trying to figure everything out for themselves. Sniff.

Security guards maintained a hushed atmosphere as we craned our necks upward to take in Michelangelo’s portrayal of the history of Christianity from Creation to the Last Judgment. We stood directly under the painting of God on a cloud, reaching out his hand to give the newly created Adam the spark of life.

We noted the shriveled self-portrait of Michelangelo, dangling from the hand of St. Bartholomew in the Last Judgment scene.

And we couldn’t help but chuckle just a little at the lower right-hand corner of hell, where Michelangelo depicted his greatest critic, naked, but with a serpent twining up his torso to hide certain parts in a most uncomfortable-looking way.

We learned the Last Judgment scene was actually painted over 20 years later than the rest of the room. By this time in history, people no longer felt the naked forms of Renaissance art were appropriate. So after Michelangelo’s death, church authorities had strategically placed wisps of clothing added to the work.


We left the Vatican Museums and stepped into St. Peter’s Square which is actually an oval. (Still trying to figure that one out.) It was designed by the famous Baroque architect and sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Around 2,000 years ago, this area was Emperor Nero’s Circus (which is old-fashioned Italian for a Roman chariot racecourse). The Egyptian obelisk here was the center of the course.

Two-hundred-eighty-four Doric columns now ring the perimeter of the oblong shape, symbolizing the arms of the church reaching out to welcome believers and unbelievers.

The square was filled with loads of people, lots of priest and nun sightings.

From there we moved on to explore St. Peter’s Basilica—the largest church in the world.

The Basilica was built on the grave of the apostle, Peter, who was crucified there around 65 A.D.

The Basilica has strict dress codes; no shorts or bare shoulders. We saw one twenty-something and her group turned away at the door due to her super-short shredded denim skirt. The altar and Michelangelo-designed dome of the Basilica are alleged to mark the exact location of Peter’s grave.

We wandered around the extravagant structure, each at our own pace. We were leaving the building when Josh casually mentioned he’d noticed a sculpture of Jesus lying in a lady’s arms. Yikes! I’d almost missed seeing one of Michelangelo’s most famous pieces, the Pieta! The crucified Christ in his mother’s arms was located behind protective glass and was surrounded by a small crowd. I managed to shove--er, ease my way to the front and snap a pic.

We got lost heading for home, and found a Gelataria instead. Gelato for dinner, everyone!

With aching feet, we finally trudged back, dragging ourselves to bed. After another “shaky” night, we were ready for lots more sightseeing.

Stay tuned for more Adventures in Rome!

Sistine Chapel images by: Sacred Destinations


Susan E said...


Thanks for the first installment of your trip! Your photos are beautiful! I look forward to your next update!

RuthMom said...

We really enjoyed the first installment. Can't wait for the second!

Annette Piper said...

I don't stop in for a while and you go and take yourself off to Europe! How terribly exciting. A great first instalment - I'm off to read the second one now :)

BTW I remember visiting Vatican City when I was a teenager and being surprised at the huge bronze doors into a building - possibly the Basilica that were covered with scenes of torture. Did you see those?

Name: Holly Bowne said...

Thanks everyone! Annette, we did see a lot of art depicting torture (popular Renaissance theme, I guess!) but I can't recall the specific doors you mentioned. Have you ever been to Paris and seen the doors known as "The Gates of Hell"? These have the famous "Thinker" seated at the top of the doors, while he contemplates the horrible, torturous eternity going on below him in Hell. (Ugh!)