We arrived in Rome on Saturday morning and I’ve been obnoxious ever since.
“The coffee in Rome is better.”
“The bread is better.”
“The buildings are prettier.”
“The light is more gorgeous.”
“This park is just stunning, so amazing–so much better…”
And finally, moaning as I twirled my fork around a plate of homemade pasta–a plate that was less expensive than a glass of fresh orange juice on a Sunday morning at the cafe near our house– “Even the mediocre tourist food here is better!”
I’m sure Rome is not all bread and roses. The tourists are omnipresent. Things don’t “work” quite the same way they do up here in Milan. Ummmm the tourists. I’m sure there many other things. Please tell me about them. I think it’s better for everyone around me that I find out all of the unpleasantness of living in Rome as soon as possible.
Doing Rome with two little kids who boycott baby carriers and strollers to the point that we don’t even bother packing them means that our site-seeing is never thorough nor leisurely. I’ve long since given up on either high or low expectations for our trips–no expectations is the key to family travel happiness. Also the ability to share just one plastic knife and one plastic spoon equitably among a group of 6 people trying to inhale a take-out dinner in a hotel room.
In short, I wasn’t expecting to do much in Rome and so I still can’t believe just how much we did manage to see.
I don’t remember much from the Vatican Museum except that Shiloh desperately wanted to nurse and there was nowhere in that museum to exit prematurely or even just get away from the slow-moving crush of shuffling tour groups. The place is laid out like an Ikea–if Ikea sold ancient Egyptian artifacts instead of furniture made out of cardboard.
But the claustrophobia was worth it. I think it’s for the best that photography in the Sistine Chapel is forbidden. No picture could capture that ceiling. The perfection of the perspective, the way the images twisted and turned in perfect dimensions as we moved across the room. To stare upwards at that cavernous space and imagine the sheer amount of mathematics that must have gone into every single tiny image overwhelmed me. How was such a thing possible 500 years ago?
We inadvertently left the Sistine Chapel through the “group tours” exit which turned out to be especially lucky: group tours proceed directly to the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. Individuals exiting from the proper exit are dumped at the end of a very, very, very long line to get into the Basilica.
The kids were fried and clamoring for gelato but the glimpse I got of the Pietà was unexpectedly moving. I saw it from a distance, through the glare of glass and smartphone camera flashes but there’s a reason for all of that. It is a beautiful portrait of motherhood–so raw that it shines.
We finished our first day of tourism running around the fountain in front of St. Peter’s. By the time we got back to the hotel, the kids were done. We let them eat french fries for dinner at the edge of the bed and called it a day. On our second day in Rome, and for possibly only the second time since both kids were born, I snuck out early while they slept to go take a few photos near the Spanish Steps.
Then, it was off to the Colosseum on foot. My husband has told me stories of the marathon marches his mother used to treat he and his sister to when they were kids on vacation. Before they were even teenagers, they’d been made to walk the entire length of Manhattan island in a single day. Our kids are now apparently continuing in the tradition.
Which is a wonderful thing. You see a lot more of a city when you walk everywhere. Will loved looking out for the SPQR acronym that’s visible somewhere on nearly every public man-made structure in Rome and practically ran the whole way to the Colosseum. Shiloh was a little less clear on the letters SPQR and so made a game of stopping to show us every single manhole cover in all of Rome instead.
The only downside to walking everywhere, especially when little kids are involved, is that you may just see a little less of wherever you’re trying to get to. That’s not usually a bad thing. Museums don’t always live up to expectations, but Rome might be the rare place where the destination is almost always as interesting as the journey.
Entry into the Colosseum and the Roman Forum is free every first Sunday of the month. We skipped the lines at the Colosseum and headed instead for the Forum, hoping to linger long enough to get a sense for the immensity of the space as well as the antiquity.
We tried, but the kids were tired from the long walk and so we sped-walked through 1/10th of the grounds to the exit. Next trip! We stopped at a touristy restaurant for lunch, the sort of place where the wizened old waiters in accented but flawless English chant. “Come to our restaurant, beautiful meat, beautiful pastas, beautiful wine, only the service…ehhh…the service? The service is not so good.”
Predictably, the food was just ok, but the service was great with waiters stopping by our table every few minutes to tell our kids a joke or show them a magic trick. Will and Shiloh loved it.
Buoyed by food and a particularly caffeinated and boozy tiramisu we headed to the Villa Borghese to write some postcards to some of Will’s friends.
While Chris and I took dictation (“Dear R___, I love you. We are in Rome. We saw buses, puddles, and trains. And also the Sistine Chapel. love, Will”) Chris’ parents disappeared around the corner…
and came back with this:
We couldn’t get over the trees in the park, they are stunning, otherworldly almost. We couldn’t get over the vistas. The depth and breadth, the ruins the dotting the land, the old fountains, the multiple playground–and the fact that we all survived an hour on that group bicycle without crashing.
I took mostly film shots in the park and I’m still waiting to get those developed, but it was the perfect place to end our quick trip to Rome. Early the next morning we took the kids back to the park to let them run around for a few hours. We saw more beautiful statues, more beautiful trees and even ran into one of Chris’ colleagues from Rome at the playground–go figure. After a quick lunch, it was time to trek back down to the train station.
We’ve been back in Milan for over a week now and while I’m glad to be home and grateful for all of the wonderful things about living in Milan (it really is a far easier place to live day-to-day) it surely won’t be long before we head back south for another round of Rome.
There were cool mornings spent picking ripe red tomatoes in my mother’s garden, afternoons spent walking trails and seeking out homemade ice cream in Door County Wisconsin. The ice cream was ok, the ice cream slide was fantastic, the watching the kids run across the play area against a backdrop of Door County farmland–and just beyond that–Lake Michigan was amazing. Mostly though, we just relaxed. We filled our days with sunshine and garden hose negotiations and very few plans. We went to bed a little earlier and got up a little later. In Charlottesville, we snuck in our diner breakfast, visited a fresh water beach, and played at suburban life, taking the kids to a children’s museum, a very cool public pool and-need it be said? Costco.
We took a Will-mandated “flower walk.” We watched him pull a little wagon full of wild flowers behind him on the river trail in Charlottesville, stopping here and there to point out new specimens we hadn’t yet collected. We celebrated his 4th birthday 4 times this summer, but I don’t think anything drove home the point that he’s 4(!!!!!!!) now than watching him search so carefully for flowers, exclaim “Look how beautiful!” every other step, and then wait patiently for us to tell him whether we were allowed to pick his newest find or not. He’s a little kid now, full of energy and questions and with the vocabulary and comedic timing of someone a few decades his senior.
And Shiloh. Our sweet baby girl, she is as fierce as she is sweet and she is so sweet. She’s talking a bit and understands nearly every word around her. Watching her imitate every single thing her brother does–from the way he holds his spoon, to wanting to wear all his clothes–is something to behold. She “discovered” baby dolls in Charlottesville and then again at the airbnb we stayed at in Brooklyn. It was only a matter of days before I was on Amazon finding her one of her very own. She’s been carrying it around everywhere since the day it arrived.
Before we left the States, we took a train up to New York with Chris’ mother, met my parents at the train station and all drove (in a suburban-ridiculous) through rush-hour Manhattan traffic into Brooklyn where the 7 of us camped out in a Greenpoint airbnb rental. The goal? A celebration of my sister’s elopement and a reunion with Chris’ relatives–all in under 24 hours. At 7pm on Saturday night we picnicked in Bushwik Inlet Park with my father’s family to celebrate my sister’s wedding. At 11am on Sunday morning we brunched with Chris’ extended family. At 6pm SUnday night we got on a plane back to Europe.
It wouldn’t be worth it for anyone or anything except exactly the people who we did for and did it with. I felt such a happy rush of a adrenaline as we got on the plane in Europe as I thought about all of the relatives we got to see–many of them for the first time since before we moved to China over 5 years ago! It was a whirlwind–but of the best sort.
Summer isn’t quite over but sunset comes earlier every evening, the air feels just whisper-bit cooler in the mornings. As noted (and noted and noted again) on this blog, fall is my favorite and it’s even better when it comes in on the coattails of a wonderful summer, spent in the outdoors, with all the people we love best.