Our Rome Story
I still want to pinch myself, did this really happen? I have always been in love with Italy; the culture, the people, the food! Italy also represents family for me. When I was little, my grandparents lived in Rome. My Uncle, Aunt, and cousins lived there as well. I remember baking Christmas cookies, throwing wishes in Trevi Fountain, dancing around the Christmas tree, visiting the Nativity at St. Peter's, climbing the Spanish Steps with my uncle and cousin, celebrating the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, all of this while creating such an affection for this country. I have always had a dream of taking our family to Rome. Not only to experience this stunning culture but also to show them a part of their roots, a part of their legacy. It is amazing how life lays out opportunities for you, but you are the one that affects the outcome, you are the one that chooses "Go big or go home!" We chose, go big!
June 8th 2015 was the day. We boarded our flight to Toronto at 2pm on a bright, sunny, warm summer day. 3 gigantic suitcases, 2 small suitcases, 3 backpacks, in tow (We look back at it now and laugh, we should have and could have traveled with 1/2 of that). A quick flight on a small plane and we had arrived in Toronto. Unfortunately the only sights we would be seeing of Toronto would be the inside of the airport. At 8:10pm we boarded our 9 hour flight with pillows and blankets in hand, the boys first overnight flight. We arrived a little tired, but truly excited to be in Italy! While we waited for our room to be ready at Hotel Selene, we walked down the block to finally get a taste of Italy. We walked up to the glass case, picked out a few mouth-watering looking pieces of pizza and we enjoyed every morsel.
Our first day of wandering the streets of Rome was captivating. With our maps in hand, we climbed the cobblestone streets heading to the Borghese Gardens. The boys, fascinated with the buildings, the fountains, took pictures like typical tourists. They stopped at each trinket souvenir shop along the way, mini Colosseums and golden Roman keychains were their favorite. On our walk to the Borghese Gardens we found ourselves at the top of the Spanish Steps. It was so breath-taking to look down and see all of the shops and cobblestone streets. The top was filled with painters sitting in the warmth of the sun with a paint brush in hand, capturing the morning's beauty in each brush stroke. We walked, Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria Montesanto churches in Piazza del Popolo. We climbed the Spanish Steps counting the number of steps at the Spanish Steps and cooled off feeling the refreshing water of Barcaccia fountain. We decided for dinner to grab paninis from a little sandwich shop and have a picnic dinner on the streets of Rome. We sat on the bridge over looking Castel Sant'Angelo as we ate our dinner. We watched the sun set over St. Peter's Square and as the sun set, our bodies whispered it was time for bed.
The next morning was our first tour of Rome. We met our tour guide Anna, from Pinocchio tours, at the bottom of the Spanish Steps. We walked the streets as she shared with us the history of Rome. As the heat of the sun melted us, Anna showed us how to cool off in the little faucets sprinkled around the city. We learned from Anna if you hold your hand under and push up on the faucet a little, a fountain appears at the top to create the perfect water fountain. Of course the boys were fascinated with this! A tour of Rome couldn't be complete without a visit at Trevi Fountain. Commissioned by the Pope and designed by Bernini and Nicola Salvi in 1762, it is Rome's largest and most famous fountain. A breathtaking sculpture of Neptune fighting with two Tritons. The famous legend says that if you throw a coin into the Trevi fountain, with your back to the fountain, throwing the coin with your right hand over your left shoulder, will ensure a return to Rome. A newer story says throwing one coin means a return to Rome, a second coin leads to a new romance, and a third coin leads to marriage. Next stop the Pantheon, the Roman temple of "all of the Gods". The hole at the top of the dome, the oculus, serves as the only light in the church. The Pantheon was designed by Emperor Hadrian in 118-125 AD. Famous artist, Raphael's body lays in a tomb in the Pantheon. Our final stop on our tour was Piazza Navona. A stunning Baroque piazza shaped in an oval, once a stadium in the 1st century for 33,000 spectators to cheer on athletic contests, including chariot races. In the 17th century the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi was added. Each statue in the fountain stands for a different continent of the world.
The next day, The Colosseum. Stepping out of the taxi, you lose all of your thoughts and words when your eyes fall upon the Colosseum. The sheer magnitude of this once great amphitheater is awe inspiring. Commissioned by Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD it held 55,000 spectators. Gladiator fighters, which were criminals, thieves, and people that did not pay taxes, fought against other gladiators or wild animals and beasts. In 442 AD the Colosseum was severely damaged in an earthquake. The Colosseum was one of the items on the boys "list" of places they wanted to definitely go while in Italy. They couldn't believe how gigantic it really is. Francesca was our guide for the Colosseum and the Roman forum. She shared a wonderful book with the boys that showed overlays of what the colosseum looked like back when it was first built compared to what it looks like now. Hearing all of the stories of how the gladiators were picked, what they endured, and how influential this historical structure was to the past, was incredible. The Roman Forum was our next stop. It was the center of the political, commercial, and judicial life in Ancient Rome. Prior to arriving in Italy, we had read on the internet about a Gladiator School in Rome that taught kids about the history of the gladiators. We thought this would be such a fun experience for the boys but also a great chance for them to learn about history! We arrived at the Gladiator school after lunch. We were grouped up with 4 other families. A large "angry" looking man in a Gladiator uniform walked up and started ordering the kids around, he would be their fierce instructor. He gave all of the kids traditional Gladiator outfits. We then followed him into the weapon and armory room. Beautiful, heavy, metal helmets lay on shelves on the left side of the room. He placed a helmet on each of the children's heads. The helmets weighed a ton. He explained to us that most Gladiators died of suffocation from their helmets. Most Gladiators couldn't breathe after 20 minutes in their helmet. The Gladiator instructor then ran the kids through many drills to test their strength and endurance. The kids were separated into 3 groups and paired with an adult to work through an intelligence test. Our boys finished 2nd! Finally, the boys were given wooden swords to learn how to fight against other gladiators or wild beasts.
The next day, one of the most amazing and coolest experiences of my life, and I was so happy to have my boys and my husband right beside me. This is was a "God put you there for a reason" moment. There are not accidents! This was our last tour in Rome, our only afternoon tour, a tour that would take us through the Vatican, St. Peter's, and the Sistine Chapel. We were planning on walking around a different area that we had not been to yet. The day before, our tour guide from the Colosseum had mentioned that she was going to be our tour guide the next day for the Vatican. She told us that there was going to be a huge celebration in honor of the Alter boys and Alter girls and that finding a taxi or getting into the area might be difficult. So we changed our plans that morning and decided to go ahead and head down early to Vatican City and have lunch by there before our tour. We took a taxi and were dropped off at the closed barricades down the street from St Peter's. We walked through the barricades and continued to walk towards St. Peter's. We could see a sea of children dressed in uniforms gathered around the front of St. Peter's. We weaved in and out of little gift and trinket shops and Rosary sales carts. As I walked out of one of the shops I began to hear a roar of the crowd. I looked over to see a jumbo screen showing the Pope in his car driving through the crowd. We ran for the barricades. Only a few minutes past before he was only 5 feet in front of us. Tears filled my eyes as I looked up to see our littlest on my husband's shoulders and my bigger boy bobbing up and down in the crowd to get a better look. This moment, this feeling of butterflies in my stomach, of love pouring out of my heart, my soul was so full at that very moment. After our amazing morning seeing Pope Francis, we met up with our tour guide Paola. She sat with us and shared with boys the story of Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel. For weeks after we got home, people would ask the boys what their favorite part of the trip was, my little guy would say the Sistine Chapel. He was quite amazed to hear that it took Michelangelo 8 years to paint it, and his hands went crippled, and he went blind. He also shares that Michelangelo incorporated a painting of himself twice in the Sistine Chapel. Traveling is never without it's challenges. At the end of the tour, we noticed our big boy wasn't feeling well. Back at the hotel we realized he had strep throat. Thankfully, we had medicine with us and after medicine and a long night sleep, he was back to his cheerful, explorer self the next day.
Our last day in Rome was spent at Castel Sant' Angelo. The boys LOVED exploring this castle. Running through the dark stone hallways, through dungeons and prison cells, past cannons and cannon balls. The view was incredible too! We loved our time in Rome but we couldn't wait to get to Florence.