Rick in Rome

We were told in advance (by Grandma Vi) that the offer of a 40 euro Mercedes pre-booked ride from the airport to our B&B apartment was entirely reasonable. It was noticeably cooler from Jordan, but still shorts weather by our reckoning. Luke was a little choked that we made him wear long pants and then it turned out to be +12. Luckily the surprise of seeing Grandma Vi and Grandpa Ray took his mind off of it. Don’t believe anything the kids said about not being surprised. There was no way Luke recognized Grandma’s voice, since even I didn’t know it was her behind the speaker. Alex had known about the original plans and might have been suspicious. I think we had her mostly convinced that they were only going to join us in Halifax, so she was still pleasantly surprised to see them hiding in the apartment. Unfortunately Alex was just not shocked and screaming like Luke was.

We took it fairly easy that first day, walking around the neighborhood quite a bit looking for a reasonable restaurant for a sit down meal that was open before 7:00 PM. The streets were littered with little pizzerias which looked OK, but only served take-out. There were a few of these that had seating outside, but after sundown that was an option that two thirds of us were not the slightest bit interested in. We found a small grocer and bought some cereal and sandwich lunch fixings. The B&B woman was almost psychotically insistent that we were NOT allowed to eat ANY food in her apartment other than breakfast. A few days later when we (mostly me) had clearly broken this rule a few times, I had a friendly chat with her about it. Apparently the real issue was one of licensing, so that while we officially weren’t allowed to bring cooked pizza back and eat it, we conceivably really could. This was only permissible in her mind I think because we had done a really good job so far of cleaning up any of our messes right away. Also the kids and I doted on her little Jack Russel Terrier, smothering it with attention, hugs and playtime whenever we were both at home together.

We were in downtown Rome, and only a couple of blocks from the Vatican. This was pretty convenient for us to walk around, but using the subway system was pretty easy too. Our apartment was halfway between two stations, but from there we could easily get to any other sights we needed to see. We also went to the train station to buy our future tickets to Florence and then on to Nice. Claudette and I booked an apartment “near” Florence for a week and figured on taking the train on short trips to see Venice, Florence and Pisa. This proved to be both a good and bad idea. I’ll list a full description on why in my Florence post.

The Vatican was very impressive. We spent our second day just waling around the neighborhood and getting a feel for the main drag. Down from the St. Peter’s Square a little ways was a municipal tourist office next to St. Angelo’s Castle on the river. We bought a “Roma Pass” which gave us free admission to any two and decent discounts at the remainder of almost two dozen museums in the city. Sadly the Vatican Museum did not apply. We also spent a couple of hours that second day exploring St. Peter’s Basilica. This being the largest church in the world was simply beyond amazing in size, stature and artistic expression. We were freely allowed to take pictures, but I couldn’t even begin to pictorially document all of the amazing carvings, paintings and exquisite mosaics. I’ve never really been much of a fan of bronze, but there were a few pieces inside that still impressed me enough for my jaw to gape a little. We left Claudette and Ray behind to attend mass while Vi, the kids and I went bookstore hunting. A few days later we returned explicitly to climb the dome of the basilica. Being the highest building in Rome, the Dome climb offers the best view in town! I hadn’t thought about this until it was pointed out, but Rome has no tall apartment buildings or skyscrapers. A city bylaw actually dictates that nothing can be taller than the basilica. The dome walk itself was long but pretty cool. It was via indoor stairs almost the entire way. First we rode an elevator to the roof of the main building. At this level we could go up a ramp and a few stairs to get inside the church again to an upper level of the dome and see down, which was another amazing perspective of all the stunning works of art and a view of the little ant people way below. From this point the staircase up was just inside the outer wall of the dome, but there was in inner wall beside us as well. The other side of this inner wall was where more of the incredible paintings were. Being sandwiched in between these two walls not only made the staircase (barely one meter wide, and only 0.5m wide at some points!) spiral up, but we had to walk at a slant for most of the top portion where the dome really starts to curve in. This is pretty neat to reflect on now, but rather troublesome at the time of walking…

The day before, when looking for travel agencies to buy train tickets we had gone to the Spanish Steps. They were nice and all, but none of knew the relevance. There was a huge amount of tourists mulling around though, and a Rotten Ronnie’s where we all went to use the toilette’s. Funny enough though, a book that Luke was reading a few days later made reference to the Spanish Stairs. It talked about some kids going in a time machine back to see the killings at the Spanish stairs. Oddly enough it was a British book too, so the reference was uncanny in it’s timing. Luke was only too happy to enlighten us somewhat of course.

Our second last day was spent at the coliseum. This also phenomenally cool. It certainly seemed much smaller than I always envisioned it to be in order to hold 70,000 to 90,000 (depending in which “authority” one pays attention to). If the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton can just squeeze in a little over 60,000 then ancient Romans were either an incredibly tiny people, or else they sat on top of each other with no elbow room. The sides were quite steep up as well. Much more so that I’m certainly used to seeing in modern day stadiums at least.

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