Sunday, 30 October 2011


Just back from a wonderful week in Rome.  Though we were an inch away from a catastrophic beginning (detailed below), the week turned out very well.  You may recall that this was the trip we were going to take last March/April but we moved to the UK instead.  It's been on my mind for awhile and I'm glad we finally got here (October was a great time to go as well).

The trip was well planned if I do say so myself.  We had some flexibility with the schedule that we utilized and we had enough time to see most of what we wanted to see without killing ourselves.  The sites and history were amazing as were the food and gelato.

We stayed in an apartment in the heart of central Rome near Piazza Navona.  This put us within 2 miles of most of the sites we wanted to see.  It also gave us the necessary space to separate when necessary.  Our general schedule worked well:  croissants/muffins/coffee in the apartment, leave between 8-9, morning activity, picnic lunch, afternoon activity, gelato break, back to apartment around 4-5, rest up, dinner at 7.  Surprisingly relaxed pace in this city that could be hectic/chaotic.

Note:  here's a funny YouTube clip showing how Italy is different than the rest of the European Union (not all true but pretty close!).

Note:  if you are thinking of going to Rome or want some more planning details, see my post on Fodor's.

I've selected my favorite 200 or so photos to tell the story :-), so hunker down and enjoy.

Day 1 -- Sunday:  Borghese Gallery and strolling around

This is one of the statues in Piazza Navona (but not the main one).  We arrived late the night before (Saturday) so I decided to have a quick stroll in the morning to get my bearings.  I had the place to myself but my battery was only worth 1 picture!  Fortunately, my backup at the apartment was charged so the rest of the day was not photo free.

Our first activity was the Borghese Gallery which required a reservation for a 2-hr time slot.  We also signed up for the English tour.  This gallery was the pride/joy/hobby of Cardinal Scipione Borghese (early 1600s).  Interestingly enough, Borghese wasn't particularly religious but he got the appointment because his uncle was pope!  He used his position (and money from it) to commission many great works of art by Bernini and others. No photos allowed inside.  Here were our 3 favorites (all Bernini's taken from the website).

Apollo and Daphne.  She was so disinterested in his love that she turned herself into a tree!  Viewed from the back, you can only see Apollo and a tree and not Daphne.

David preparing to sling his rock at Goliath.  Tensed and coiled with very expressive face.

My personal favorite:  Pluto and Proserpine.  Pluto, king of the underworld, captures an unwilling Proserpine.  Notice the muscled Pluto and the soft Proserpine (see his right hand dig into her thighs).

After lunch, we set off for a walk through Borghese Village (park) and to find some popular piazzas/plazas and sites.

Statue in Piazza de Popolo

Street performer/magician in Piazza del Popolo with a view of the twin churches (Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto) -- sorry not the best photo

opposite statue in Piazza del Popolo

obelisk in Popolo (2nd oldest in Rome -- used to be in Circus Maximus, first one brought to Rome, dates back to Egypt 1300 BC)

Spanish steps -- crowded and chaotic

looking down the Spanish Steps

Triton Fountain in Piazza Barberini

Fun random moment.  Sturgis in Rome?  Harley Davidson entourage passed by while we were at the Triton fountain.  Very loud (and purposely so after some female tourists posed near them)

Around the corner from Piazza Barberini is Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini also known as the Bone Church and home to the Capuchin Monk Crypt (and here).   This I had to see.  Bones, bones, bones.  "Their bones, together with those of many other people buried in the cemetery, were used to decorate the walls and chapels of the crypt, as a kind of hymn to life."  Again, no photos, but here are some from the web.

this was on the ceiling in one of the rooms

Trevi Fountain.  This practically qualifies as modern (1700's).  We enjoyed the vibe as well as the massiveness of the sculptures.

family shot at Trevi

Pantheon.  Original temple built in 27 BC and completely rebuilt by Hadrian (though credit given to Marcus Agrippa) after a few fires in 120 AD.  Well preserved since it was converted to a church (and not completely scavenged for marble/parts/etc.).  Just a walk by this time.  It's actually kinda beat up and not that pretty, but it is about 1900 years old.  For some reason I was expecting a glowing bright white marble building.

family shot -- not sure what's to my left that has the kids' attention

Though not the best shot, this is a view up Governo Vecchio.  Our apartment is up a ways on the left.  The road narrows considerably.  It looks like it is pedestrian only, but it's not.  The location was great -- close to a grocery and many restaurants.  We did have a incident upon our arrival that I'll explain a little later . . .

Day 2 -- Monday:  Ancient Rome

We bravely hopped on the #87 bus and road to the Colosseum to meet our private guide for the day.  I thought we would try that out for the ancient Rome part of the vacation to see if we could get more out of looking at a bunch of rocks/ruins.  Glad we did (though this was a tiring day).

massive Arch of Constantine outside the Colossuem

The Colosseum is full of pock marks where metal supports have been removed/recycled over time (apparently something else is sufficient to hold it together).

The Arch of Constantine from the Colosseum.  Palatine Hill off to the right.

Statues on top of the modern and massive Victor Emmanuel II monument (white building in background).

Looking down at the Colosseum.  We had signed up for the special underground tour but recent floods closed that off.  What you see here would have been below the arena floor.

Artist rendition of Nero's Golden House and large pond that pre-dates the Colosseum.  The status was 120 feet tall (a colossus) and is why the Colosseum is so named.  Some think that the great fires of 64 AD were set by Nero to clear out the land for his palace.

Closer look at the lower level of the Colosseum.  The long straight section on the right of the photo splits the Colosseum.  Animals and such were kept in cages to the sides.

 Cutaway view of a wall (bricks on exterior, concrete like substance in the middle)

We took a break for lunch nearby and our guide took us to an interesting shop with food from Napoli/Naples.  Alex tried one of the fried "things" in the front that had rice and meat sauce -- yummy.

Modern (relatively) buildings and a nearly 2000 year old one.

After our snack, it was off to Palatine Hill (one of the 7 hills of ancient Rome).  Evidently, this was quite the place and is where the name "palace" is derived.  This is the personal arena of the emperor.

A view of some of the Palatine ruins and St. Peter's off in the distance.

a different shot of the Victor Emmanuel II monument (still from the back though with another building in the foreground).

Cork tree.  Who knew.  I guess I never thought where cork comes from.

a view of the ancient Forums from Palatine

more Forums

again, Forums, this time with the Colosseum in the background

details on the Arch of Titus within the Forums


this is the 3rd arch near the Forums (Arch of Septimus Serevus).  It's also an example of how much the street level has built up over 2000 years (hill on right).

Final shot with our wonderful guide Alessia.  We enjoyed her knowledge, passion and enthusiasm.  She helped bring out the history and made for an enlightening day.  It was a long one though (about 5 hours touring these 3 sites) and the kids (and me) were starting to tire.  This was our most tiring day with all the standing.

So, what better way to have a break than gelato!  Alessia guided us to Flor and it ended up being our favorite (we tried about 4 I believe).  We had gelato every day and sometimes twice!

crafting the perfect cone

a well deserved treat (and seat!)

Another treat for Kuk was roasted chestnuts from a street vendor.  It brought back memories from her childhood in Korea.

We had a good couple hours of down time before dinner.  After dinner, we decided to check out how some of the piazzas looked at night.  This is the Four Rivers fountain in Piazza Navona.

kids in front of 4 Rivers

fountain near Pantheon


Trevi (still loads of people around, just not in the photo)

Day 3 -- Tuesday: Ostia Antica

We were also quite close to the market of Campo dei Fiori.  We decided to have a relaxed morning shopping before heading out for our day trip.  We purchased some grapes, cherry tomatoes and some overpriced candy.

We found this small cafe down an alley from Campo dei Fiori to enjoy a cup (bowl?) of cappuccino and hot chocolate respectively.

After the coffee break, we set off to ruins of Ostia Antica which is a nearby day trip.  We first took the #30 bus to the train station and hopped aboard this beauty.  Not much to look at but it eventually got us there (though we had our doubts after a few unplanned stops).  You can just make out Alex and Kuk in the dirty window.

A little hard to see, but the train stops were well labelled.  We started at Porta S. Paolo (1st stop on the right) and went 7 stops to Ostia Antica).  Easy, peasy.

It was a quick walk from the train station to the site.  As you can see, it was a wonderful day.  Time for a picnic before touring.

capturing the beautiful day

Ostia Antica dates back to 6th century BC and was (one of?) Rome's first "colonies".  From wikipedia:  Ostia Antica is a large archeological site, close to the modern suburb of Ostia (Rome), that was the location of the harbour city of ancient Rome, which is approximately 30 km to the northeast. "Ostia" in Latin means "mouth". At the mouth of the River Tiber, Ostia was Rome's seaport, but, due to silting and a drop in sea level, the site now lies 3 km from the sea.[1] The site is noted for the excellent preservation of its ancient buildings, magnificent frescoes and impressive mosaics.

I believe it silted up over time and the mud preserved the site well (similar to Pompeii in a way though Ostia Antica provides a more working [port] town viewpoint).  The shot above is "main street" into the city.
Nicole in front of the old city entrance (I think)

a surviving mosaic floor

 dwellings (or business buildings)

the large amphitheater (partially restored, I believe)

market square, so to speak

Nicole inside the amphitheater

The storefronts advertised with mosaic pictures (and occasionally words).  This one likely sold ivory.

family shot

more mosaics . . . trading post?  sea food?  not sure

and another

kids as a column (I guess)

Alex found a bowl.  I think it is for grinding grain (we were in that area at least)

The kids enjoyed the freedom to explore in this traffic free environment (especially after a few days of formal tours).

view from an upper floor

Kuk and Alex taking a break

 a rested Alex climbing up to join me

Nicole one floor down

 ancient toilets. . . glad to see that stalls came along

 the kids in front of the bath area

it's impossible not to have some anatomical humor with the kids and all these statues

probably not the first to pose here

or the second

After the ride back to Rome and the typical gelato break and afternoon rest, it was out to dinner in the neighborhood.  The food was great all week.  Here's Nicole tackling her pizza.

Kuk with her seafood pasta

And Alex with his own clam pasta

Here we are back at via del Governo Vecchio close to our apartment.  Though the night shot isn't the best, you can somewhat get a feel for the street.  It is narrow and cobblestoned.  It would be a perfect pedestrian street except it's not.  It's actually a one-way street.  We arrived on Saturday night and the place was very lively with all the restaurants, etc.  Our driver couldn't drop of us right in front so we had to walk back a little.  Fortunately, our contact for the apartment was waiting for us.

While we waited for him to open the door to the building, we were tight against the wall.  Unfortunately, the restaurant across the street had outdoor seating that jutted into the road making in very narrow.  All of a sudden Kuk yelps and cries out.  A car that was inching down the road ran over her foot!  It actually stopped on it and I yelled at it to back off (it did).  Kuk was in near hysterics and it wasn't a good way to start the trip (to say the least).  Fortunately, it only rolled over the tip of her foot.  It pinned her and just got her little toe.  Very scary but nothing broken (phew).  The apartment had a wine ice pack that she put over her foot as she recovered.

Another inch and her toes/foot (and our vacation) would have been ruined.

Day 4 -- Wednesday:  Churches and the Capitoline Museums 

Had some heavy rain to start the day.  We waited it out a little but then set on our way.  We had 3 churches to see.  Given the weather and the ambitious itinerary we took a taxi out to San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in chains).

Michelangelo's Moses inside the church

 looks like Charlton Heston (or vice versa I should say)

The chains.  There are actually 2 sets.  One (allegedly) held St. Peter when he and Paul were in Mamertine Prison (in Rome).  The other (allegedly) dates back to when Herod jailed Peter in Jerusalem (Acts 12).

art work above the chains

enjoyed the fairly random use of skeletons used elsewhere in the church

and another

With the rain having subsided, we walked by the Colosseum and up the hill to the church of San Clemente and to the excavations underneath it (sorry no photos).   The layers of Rome -- a 12th century basilica, which sits atop a 4th century church which sits atop a 2nd century Temple of Mirthras (pagan).  Pretty cool stuff.

Though walkable, Kuk's feet were developing blisters so we took a quick taxi to Bocca Della Verita (Mouth of Truth) in the portico of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.  This was once a manhole cover for the ancient sewer system of the Forums and legend says it bites off the hand of liars!  We enjoyed this photo op but thought Hadrian's crypt inside the church was a yawner (and not worth the small fee).  [For one thing, it's Pope Hadrian, not the emperor.]

We backtracked slightly to see Circus Maximus, the former chariot race grounds.  Six football fields long.  Think of Ben Hur (I guess).

Temple of Hercules (and sometimes called the Temple of Vespa)

Next up was the Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill.  Here are the broad, horse-friendly steps designed by Michelangelo.

A bronze copy of Marcus Aurelius (the original is inside) in the square.  It is thought that the reason the original lasted this long was that people thought it was the beloved Emperor Constantine who legalized Christianity (blessing those with his right hand).

Goddess Roma and 2 river gods

kids with Roma

the purple marble is the rare porphyry (note this used to be Minerva--need to update with changing religions)

God of the Tiber (with Romulus and Remus)

God of Nile (holding cornucopia symbolizing the fertility of the Nile)

Big foot.  We are now in the Capitoline Museum(s) -- very enjoyable.

Big hand (these are of a former statue of Constantine)

 and finally the big head

Relief of Marcus Aurelius preparing to sacrifice a bull.  I like how even the bull is looking on.  Reminds me of Bugs Bunny for some reason.

Again Marcus Aurelius.  This one used to also contain is crazy/wicked son Commodus (played by Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator) but he's been photoshopped out!

nothing like a good kill scene to get your attention (or at least Alex's)

boy with thorn--life can be mundane and it's captured in art in this instance
the famous Capitolina Lupa (she-wolf) with Romulus and Remus

Bernini's Medusa

the original Marcus Aurelius statue

another big Constantine

nothing special, but we liked the whippets

we had fun with this large status of Hercules . . . I had to promote Rick Steve's to make it G rated.

Between the two Capitoline Museums, we passed under the Senate building to the Tabularium which provides excellent views of the Forum

family shot in front of Forum

The kids and I (and maybe Kuk) have realized that we prefer sculptures to paintings.  Here is a 1st century BC copy of a Greek statue called Dying Gaul.  Very poignant.

massive sculpture of Marforio

common scene:  Kuk tending to (or cooling!) her feet.  The look of anguish is more from the surprise photo than any pain though she was limping along at this point.

my beautiful "little" girl

We took a short cut around the back of the Victor Emmanuel II monument up to the top and were afforded these wonderful views.

back across the Forums and Colosseum

finally and front shot of the VE II monument (evidently most Romans think this is a rather over-the-top and grotesque building)

on our way back to the apartment -- not necessarily comforting to see a 15 year old (okay she's probably older) holding an automatic gun; can't remember what building she was guarding

Day 5 -- Thursday:  Vatican City

The only real day that I had to rustle the troops out of bed (we left at 8).  I had a [good] plan to attack the crowds at St. Peter's and the Vatican Museums.  It was a 20 minute walk from our apartment and we passed (but did not enter) Castel Sant' Angelo, formerly Hadrian's Tomb turned castle, prison and papal bunker.

coming up to St. Peter's

in St. Peter's Square (before the crowds!).  I assume all those chairs set up are for the Wednesday Papal audience

We went straight to the top!  Actually we first caught the elevator up to the mezzanine level and then walked to the top.
walking up a dome involves some curves!

the only downside of beating the crowd in the morning is the blinding view looking back at Rome to the east (St. Peter's Square below)

 less blinding view in the other direction.  Vatican gardens below; museums to the right.

more Vatican grounds

kid shot up top

view of the dome from up top (note we were up by the cross near the top)

dome shot with kids

Jesus and his disciples looking out over St. Peter's Square

now back in the basilica, this time on the ground level

this is one part of one of the large entry doors -- Alex was fascinated by the fact the St. Peter was crucified upside down (see top of frame)

St. Andrew (I believe)

Bernini's 7 story bronze canopy above the alter

the hard to see alter marking the burial spot of St. Peter (much farther below)

Bernini's dove / golden window in apse

Michelangelo's Pieta (Mary with crucified Jesus)

a look back down this massive, massive church

obligatory shot of the Vatican guards

Time for an early lunch break.  One of our best finds thanks to a tip on the Fodor's forums.  This was Pizza al Taglio (pizza by the square) located between St. Peter's and the Vatican Museums.  Crispy, almost cracker like, crust.  About a dozen pizzas to choose from and they whack off however much you want.

At 12, we headed to the Vatican Museums after our lunch and coffee break.  This was part 2 of the crowd beating strategy (most of the tour buses go through in the morning and Tues/Thurs are lighter days in general).  No line for St. Peters in the morning and no line for the Vatican in the afternoon.  [Yes, I'm awesome :-) ]

helpful (fortunately not needed at this point)

The Sistine Chapel is the prize at the end of the long walk through the museums but there's more than a few things to see along the way.

Ancient Egypt for one thing.  This was a really cool 3000 year old mummy.  It did require a 10-minute stop to answer Alex's 40 questions on the topic though.

Egyptian Alex

Vatican Courtyard

Bes.  The patron of beer-bellied men.

nice courtyard in the ancient wing

Laocoon, the high priest of Troy, warned his fellow Trojans of Greeks bearing Gifts (e.g. the Trojan Horse).  But the Gods were on the Greeks side (evidently) and sent some snakes to take him out (and his sons).

anatomical police and the fig leaf (also Hercules)

absolutely massive porphyry basin (remember that this is rare marble)

art work on another massive porphyry coffin

Sphinx Alex

 the long march (map gallery)

After the Sistine Chapel, the next most famous grouping in the Vatican are the Raphael Rooms.  Here's Constantine getting the heavenly message to follow the cross.  His smashing victory paved the way for Christianity (JC was all about fighting after all . . .)

On the ceiling:  a classical statue blown away by the power of the cross

The School of Athens (Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euclid, etc.).  I liked the story that Raphael went down the hall and took at peak at Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel and was so impressed that he came back and added him in the painting (fellow in foreground on block of marble).

Alas, I have no photos of the Sistine Chapel as cameras were not allowed.   In fact, the main memory is of the guards continually saying "ssssssssshhhhhhhhh" and "noooooooo phoooooooootoooooo" while we were trying to figure it out.  I say try because we never really did.  It is very complex and the room was very crowded.  We did buy a book about it so maybe I'll get there.

There's a sneaky way out of the Vatican that dumps you back at St. Peter's saving about 40 minutes of walking back through the museum and then around the Vatican walls.  Here is my victory shot of the huge crowd waiting to go up to the dome of St. Peters (limited numbers can be up at one time -- I can't imagine how long this wait would take; it was 0 minutes at 8:30 though :-)

Time for more gelato.  This time at our "local" just up the street (after we walked back from the Vatican).


We did a little shopping before dinner as our restaurant of choice did not open until 7:30.  This butcher shop caught my eye.

Day 6 -- Friday:  Pantheon/Piazza Navona plus Le Domus Romane

On Friday we wanted to spend a little more at a couple of the stops that we surveyed earlier.  First stop was the Pantheon.

The Pantheon contains the tombs of Italy's first two kings (remember that Italy wasn't united until 1870).  Here is Umberto.

Raphael's tomb

occulus in top of tomb -- yes it can rain through it.  The floor is sloped for drainage.

Victor Emmanuel II tomb

Yet another engineering marvel.  The base of the dome is set on a circular base and is some 20' thick and used heavier concrete. The walls are progressively thinned as it goes up and lighter (pumice) concrete is used.  The square indentations further lightened the load while maintaining strength.  The insets (under the triangles) used to hold statues of the pagan gods (long gone).

As I said earlier, not particularly pretty outside.  Here's another example of the change in street level over time though.

Before heading back to Piazza Navona we had a quick walk around.  Nearby is the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.  Inside is Michelangelo's Christ Bearing the Cross.

Also nearby is via Pie di Marmo (foot of marble street) and there is a random, huge foot in the street.

Now back to Piazza Navona and a closer look at Bernini's Four Rivers statue.  These represent the 4 large rivers on the continents known at the time (1650).  This is the Ganges.

And the Nile (the headwaters were unknown and hence "covered").

Rio de la Plata (from Uruguay)--lots of discussion on why the look of shock, etc.
and the Danube

family shot

mid-day gelato run this time -- we noticed this store (Della Palma) the other night.  It had a massive display and some interesting flavors.  Not our favorite though as it seemed to me they were trying hard to be unique and they missed.

The best for last?  This amazing site was recommended to us by a guide that we did not use because she was booked.  I'm so glad she did as it is too new to be in either of the guide books I had.  Le Domus Romane are recently (2005) discovered Roman Ruins under the massive Palazzo Valentini (Valentini Palace).  They've excavated what they can and placed glass floors above it.  They then put together a very well done multi-media exhibit to explain what you are looking at and how it might have looked.  Superb (but no photos).
Odd ball statue in the courtyard

waiting to go in -- notice the uniquely grafted tree trunk

nearby Trajan's Column

some of Trajan's Forum ruins (we just looked from outside the gate)

family taking a break

 she-wolf shrubbery

ticking a few last things off the list -- a walk over to Tiberina Island

on the bridge over the Tiber

a quick walk through Trastevere in Santa Maria in Trastevere plaza

inside the church and its famous mosaics

a closer look -- thought to perhaps be the first instance of Mary at the throne with Jesus in heaven (this predates the Renaissance by 100 years or so)

Well, there you have it, assuming you've made it this far.  As you can see, we had a good time.  The people were great and it was very easy to find our way around.  A future trip to a different part of Italy is certainly in the cards . . .  


  1. Great trip summary!! It actually made me reflect fondly on our trip to Rome! It's good to hear that you enjoyed your private guide ... and that you were tired afterwards; it validated my decision that while worthwhile, a private guide would be out of the question with young children. Perhaps we will revisit Rome when the children are older ... and then the trip would be more enjoyable. Although, you'd miss out on the youthful commentary on the plethora of human anatomy, or lack thereof. Thanks for sharing & blogging about it!

  2. Stumbled on your blog while researching the Fodors Forum. My kids are as similar age as yours and I also started my blog to document our trips together. Keep it up--would love to learn from your finds!

  3. Awesome trip Steve. I may have to buy that itinerary off of you. Pretty funny about Kuk getting run over, she probably has the smallest feet in the family.

  4. Not so funny when it happened! Small feet/toes were an advantage in this case though.

  5. I leaving for Rome in a week and loved your blog. Thanks so much for all the advice.

  6. Off to Rome In June and thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog. Well done!

  7. Left a comment on Fodors too - thank you for this wonderful update. We'll be in Rome in a week and I haven't done a lot of planning or so this is so helpful.

  8. Steve, you did a wonderful job with this, and many of your comments with the photos are very educational and made them more enjoyable for me. We are headed back to Rome, with some daytrips outside of it, in November, for our 2nd time there. We have fallen in love with the city and the rest of Italy as well. Thank you for sharing this with us! Happy travels to you and your family!

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  11. Thanks for your blog. It has been very helpful to me planning my 3 days in rome. I am gong to check out some of your other blogs as you are very talented for having just enough detail to make it helpful and interesting

  12. Brilliant summary of your Rome trip. Thank you Steve. We are planning a trip to Rome (7-12 March) which will be our first trip to Italy. I am going to take your guidance seriously. Though its been some time since your trip, I cant believe things have changed that much. Did you make a similar trip to Naples, Florence, or Venice by any chance? If so, do you have any such summary? If not are you aware of any similar blog. Once again, our heartfelt thanks.

  13. Sorry, no, we've not been to those other Italian cities.