Day 20 Rome and The Vatican (so that’s where all the marble went)

under the basillica

St. Peter's Basilica

Here’s the one thing I refuse to do on a trip to Italy with kids – wait in line.  So far we have been incredibly lucky.  We have made advance reservations whenever we could, we encountered no lines anywhere else like the Duomo in Florence and the Palazzo Ducale in Venice because we went late in the day.  We used our Roma Pass to glide by everyone at all the major archeological sites in Rome, and so for the Vatican I ordered our tickets on-line and printed them at home.  We had our two o’clock reservation time so all we needed to worry about was lunch.

The only real snags we’ve hit on this trip have been with restaurants – either not being open at all or not seating people without reservations.  This time I was determined that we would eat somewhere great in Rome.  I don’t believe that you can’t have a bad meal in Rome.  I’m from New York; I know that great restaurant cities are full of mediocre restaurants of all price ranges.  I settled on eating at Trattoria the restaurant that the NY Times raved about recently.  And, they had on-line reservations.  This was a dream.  I made our reservation the night before and felt pretty good about our changing restaurant karma.

What we lack in restaurant karma we have made up for in parking karma, which held out again and we found a parking spot on the street about 2 blocks away from The Vatican.  I don’t know how we did this but there it was waiting when we turned the corner.  It only cost us 4 Euros for the whole day, and more importantly it was exactly where we wanted to be.   We headed out on foot across the bridge and along the Tiber back towards Piazza Navona where the restaurant was.  When we reached Trattoria it wasn’t open yet, despite being 12:30 already, and when my husband looked at the menu he decided it looked too pricey for a lunch we’d have to rush through in order to make our Vatican time slot.  Fortunately, there was another restaurant, catty-corner to this one that was open and looked great, Grano.

We had a perfectly lovely lunch with lots of fresh pasta, meatballs that my daughter declared the best she’d ever had, and fried cod that my other daughter said she would like to eat every day.  All in all a big hit, though I am bummed that I didn’t get to try one of the more foodie restaurants in Rome.  I guess that’s just part of the compromises you make when you travel with kids, and when the dollar tanks.

We took a taxi to the Vatican to make our time.  The girls were so thrilled to be in a taxi, plus many of the taxis in Rome accommodate up to 6 people – something New York cabs really need to change.  We arrived at the Vatican Museum, breezed right in, got our tickets and picked up our audio tours.  Then we began the continuous march forward through the rooms towards the ultimate destination – the Sistine Chapel.  When we entered a room with a painted ceiling the girls would ask, “Is this the Sistine Chapel?”  And we would say. “No, you will know when we’ve reached the Sistine Chapel.”  And on and on like that.

The rooms that were the biggest hit with the girls were: the Egyptian rooms, the map room and the Roman mythological sculptures in the Octagonal courtyard.  By the time we reached the Sistine Chapel we were all tired, hot, sweaty and thirsty.  The last time I saw the Sistine Chapel I was 16 and half of it was under cover and scaffolding because of restoration.  I was looking forward to seeing it now in all of its colorful glory.  It is beautiful and overwhelming and impressive in every way that all art historians and art lovers go on about, but it is very hard to take in and appreciate with the mobs around you and the camera flashes going off and the stifling heat.  Even listening to the audio tour is difficult.  We stayed for as long as we could and let the girls take in as much as they could bear and then we got out of there.

They don’t make it easy to leave.  It takes another fifteen minutes to make your way through the remaining rooms and out of the building.  Then we made our way along the walled passageway to Piazza San Pietro.  Finally.  The girls were astounded by the size of the columns in the colonnade and the tremendous obelisk.  Again we were lucky – there was no line into the Basilica.  In we went and now the girls were awed.  What can you say about the Vatican?  Its sheer enormity and opulence is both overwhelming and a little sickening.  Its hard not to look at all of the marble that was pillaged from the Forum and Colosseum, the gold, the bronze, the sheer audacity of building a religious monument that celebrates power even more than piety and not feel the weight of all the misery and war that was waged in its name.  At least for me.

My daughters were bowled over and relieved that there weren’t too many images of Jesus on the Cross – as they call it, because they were really disturbed by them.  However, after all of the pomp and grandiosity of the building we did take a good ten minutes to just sit and stare at The Pieta.  Even though it’s a death scene of the most intimate kind I think Isabel especially appreciated it and wasn’t worried by it like she had been by the more graphic paintings we had seen at The Uffizi.  It almost feels like the pieta should be somewhere else, somewhere by itself, instead of set back in glass in this humongous building.  It’s so touching, quiet and serene it probably belongs in its own meadow or something like that where it could just resonate and be.  Or maybe this beautiful sculpture helps balance the in your face brashness of the rest of it.

At any rate we finally left the Vatican grounds after a day well spent and headed back to our car, via a gelato pit stop, and drove back to Tuscania to fall into bed.

This is an original beccarama.com post