Day 18 – When in Rome (Let Your Inner Tourist Shine Through)


Here is my philosophy on being a tourist:  You will not fit in.  You will not pass as a local.  You are a tourist.  Grab your camera, spread out your map and get on with it.  Living in Manhattan makes you privy to all sorts of bad tourist behavior from all ends of the earth.  More often than not tourists will stop right in the middle of the sidewalk for no apparent reason, or try and act New Yorker-y by crossing the street against the light and miss getting killed by a second.  But, I happen to think as annoying as these actions (or lack thereof) can be it’s really all right.  If you’re going to come to New York then by all means gawk at everything, but don’t think you will blend in.  You just won’t.

I sometimes wish I wasn’t from New York so I could have that experience of coming to the city for the first time.  I don’t even remember the first time I went to any of the museums or major sights.  I think it would be awesome to have that first WOW upon driving into the city and seeing the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty.  Flying into New York at night still gives me a tingle of excitement and it has to be the greatest lit up skyline on the planet, but that tinge of awe is always tempered by the settling, ho-hum thought that I am home.

I had that feeling of wow the first time I came to Rome over 20 years ago, and I had it again the second time 10 years ago.  I was hoping that this sense of awe would seep into my New Yorker daughters’ souls as they encountered Rome for the first time.  While Paris has romance and New York has energy, Rome has something all together different – ruins and grandiosity bumping up against each other and hustling for prominence with each turn of the streets.  You can go from the loud, modern neon lit train station to the cold, imposing, half eaten away silhouette of the Colosseum in the span of 5 minutes.  Driving down one street!  How can you reconcile thousands of years of history staring you in the face while motorcycles whip past you and cranes continue to build in the distance?  Well, you don’t.  You just take it all in and relish the continuity of civilization that is all around you, under your feet, and at your fingertips.

I was a little bit nervous about doing the double-decker red bus (called the tram openbus) because it is so very cheesy.  It ended up being the perfect way to get around Rome with kids.  First of all, we drove into Rome, which everyone says is crazy, but it worked out perfectly.  After a little bit of meandering we ended up at the Termini and found a spot right in front on the street.  The red bus starts from Termini and circles the entire city with stops at all the major sites.  You hop on and off as much or as little as you want.  For us with the kids this made it so easy.   Plus, they loved the little headphone audio guide that narrates what you’re seeing as you drive along.  We also bought a Roma Pass, which gives you your first two sites free, allows you to skip the lines, and then gives you discounts for everywhere else.  Plus free metro and bus, and it gave us a big discount for the Red bus too.

We hopped off the bus at the Colosseum stop and began our day at Palentine Hill.  I wanted to start  there so we could work our way up to the amazing views of the city and the Forum, plus take in the incredible ruins before lunch.  I had no idea how long the girls would last and seemed like a good idea to get as much “ruin” gazing in as possible in the beginning.   We used our Roma Passes, and the man at the gate gave us 2 free tickets for the girls.  It’s that kind of unexpected kindness that we have encountered all over Italy and each time it surprises me.  The girls actually loved it.  The ruins are so incredibly vast and enormous that they couldn’t help but be impressed.  Though they started to get a bit freaked out the more they thought about these arches and crumbling remains of palaces and stadiums once being a great city.   To imagine that New York could one day be buried under the next great city is very difficult to comprehend and they started to get tired of hearing about what “used to be” around where they currently stood.

We did a buy a book at one of the tourist stands that the girls loved.  Its called Rome Past and Present and it has plastic overlays which go over the pictures of the ruins to fill in what the monuments and city looked like in the heyday of the Roman Empire.  This book engrossed them and I highly recommend picking one up at the start of any Rome visit with kids.  Also, the girls loved being photographers and having their own little cameras kept them busy and focused on seeing all the sights.

We walked down from Palentine Hill into The Forum.  We made our way through the Forum, basically going for the highlights and major monuments for the girls since we could see they were starting to wilt.  By the time we exited the Forum we were only a couple of blocks away from where we wanted to eat.  We found the restaurant that had been recommended on every blog imaginable and it was closed.  The third restaurant this week that this has happened to us.

We ended up backtracking to a cute place down the block that was perfectly fine, but so not the same.  After lunch we went to the Colosseum.  With that Rome book in hand the girls stood and recreated what once was.  We had listened to a podcast about the Colosseum on the drive into Rome and they were enthralled with the history of the gladiators and the different games that went on.  Also, the idea that a huge linen roof was held up by sailors who marched in step was pretty amazing to imagine high above where we stared down at the labyrinth of passageways.

After the Colosseum we hopped back on the bus and stayed on past the Circus Maximus, the old markets and finally to the stop for the Pantheon.  As we made our way on foot towards the Piazza Navona we found an incredible bakery filled from end to end with tozzetti, tartes, tartufo, biscotti, and more sweets than you can imagine, so of course we had to buy some of everything.  Now that the girls were refueled with sugar they practically leapt all the way to Piazza Navona where they gaped at the fountains.  Then onward to the Pantheon where we all gazed at the oculus.  And finally we wound our way around to the Trevi Fountain and the girls made their wishes and threw in their coins.  We ended with by far the best gelato of our trip at San Crispino where we had flavors like cinnamon-ginger, honey and grapefruit.

We then hopped back on the bus and the girls declared that they did not want to go home so we decided to do one huge loop around and do the whole tour of the city one time without getting off.  Little did we know it would take almost 2 hours.  But, we did it, and then grabbed dinner and piled into the car to head home, tired, feet aching and feeling very satisfied and completely WOWED.

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