When in Rome: Day 4
In doing my research on what to see in Rome, I found out that there was a series of great but under-visited museums that were all part of the same 7 Euro ticket, which was valid for 3 days (giving you enough time to see them all). I knew it wouldn't be the biggest name works of art and such (like what you'd find at the Capitoline and Vatican museums), but what I heard about the art was intriguing, and honestly, 7 Euros for three museums was really hard to beat! I also liked the idea of doing it cheaply because, with kids, we were definitely not going to get our money's worth from a 20 Euro ticket somewhere else (poor things can only look at paintings for so long before they lose their little minds!)
So on day four we headed out to Palazzo Massimo! It was conveniently located right near the central train station and was nearly completely empty (another perk with kids) on a Tuesday morning.
Most of what is in the Palazzo Massimo is statues and mosaics, with a smattering of famous pieces in the mix.
For instance, this statue of the Boxer at rest (a Greek bronze statue from somewhere around 300-50 BCE):
(Fun fact: this was taken right before we realized there are sensor alarms on the base of the pedestal, which Miriam triggered by sitting on the base. Whoops!)
In the basement of the museum was a cool exhibit showing all of the currency used in Rome from the advent of currency. I really enjoyed seeing this casting mold for making several coins at once.
Upstairs they had lots of marble statuary, including the Discobolous Polombare, a
1st century Roman copy (of the 4th century BCE Greek original). This is another one of those items that I've read about and seen photos of, and it was really cool to see it in person! (I mean really, how can you not look at this statue and think of the insane skill that goes into making it? How does one carve the thumb without shearing it off entirely on accident?!)
Another room had some bronze remnants from an ancient ship, including a handrail and these giant hands, used to decorate a door or some such:
Jesse helped Niko enjoy the museum by telling him more mythological stories, which Niko loved. I think it was somewhere around this point that Jesse told him the story of Perseus and Medusa, which was fun at the time (but not so fun when it was bedtime and Niko remembered the story and got scared!)
Also, I know it looks like Jesse's touching the mural here, but he was actually just gesturing expressively (I swear!)
After the Palazzo Massimo, we went across the street to the Baths of Diocletian, another of the museums on the ticket. This museum had a huge outdoor garden area with a fountain in front, and loads of statues inside (there were sooooo many, a lot of which were broken--and can you imagine with me for a second a society in which these incredible marble statues were commissioned constantly to decorate every wealthy property owner's courtyard?!)
It also had an exposed area showing the original Roman road/pathway (presumably made of volcanic basalt like many other places in Rome, though I don't actually know for sure):
Off to one side of the main exhibits was a huge outdoor area, where the original Baths of Diocletian (a 2nd century Roman emperor) stood. They've uncovered a bit of them and we got to go walk around in them, which was really cool. It seems like the original stretched back quite a bit further, but a huge church was built on top of part of it a few centuries later, so they can only expose so much (also, what's more Roman than building yet another church on top of a Roman emperor's baths?)
For lunch we took the kids to get some pizza. We definitely wanted to eat pizza (I mean, when do I not want to eat pizza?) but we also felt obliged to, because part of how we pepped Niko up for the trip was by telling him we were going to the homeland of pizza (later shortened to just the "land of pizza," but you know). So anyways, we really felt like we needed to make sure Rome lived up to that promise and we had only eaten pizza once in our prior 3 days there (just once?! Crazy, right?!), so off to get pizza we went.
And then it was home again, for another restful afternoon! By this point we had had a good but busy morning and were looking forward to getting some laundry done and resting before our evening adventures.
As for Niko, he claimed he "wasn't tired" and then proceeded to take one of the first naps he's taken all year.
And when I went in to wake up Miriam for our evening adventures, I discovered that not only had she stopped wandering around the room and finally fallen asleep, but she had found something in her wanderings and decided it would make a cozy bed mate:
Yes, a roll of toilet paper. Yes, kids are wonderfully strange.
After getting the laundry cleaned and the kids fed a bit, we again ventured into the public transit of Rome to head to an exciting destination: The Vatican!
Now, the Vatican is kind of an intense and interesting place to visit. First of all, you're technically going to another country (though we were not asked to show our passports nor given an exciting stamp in them), which is always fun. But then it turns out that visiting the Vatican is actually a pretty complicated affair.
First of all, you can go to the vatican museums (which are HUGE, requiring at least a 2 hour visit and culminating in a visit to the Sistine Chapel). Honestly, this sounded AWESOME. Go see a huge museum and the Sistine Chapel too?? But the vatican museums did not sound terribly kid friendly to us (I heard reports that you can only get through the museum so quickly, there are almost no bathrooms inside, and it was pretty pricey as well). Tickets also required advance purchase, as this is a really popular attraction. After some debate, we decided this probably wasn't the right thing to visit for us.
But we did really want to see St. Peter's Basilica. Everything I'd ever heard about it made it seem incredible! But again, this was a tricky place to visit. It's free to enter, but apparently it's almost always busy. Some websites suggested going first thing in the morning (like 8 am) to get in line, making sure to go on a Tuesday or a Thursday, and then if you were lucky you'd only have to wait for 45 minutes. If you were unlucky and arrived later in the morning, you'd probably be waiting for several hours.
In planning this out, I thought it was pretty likely that we could get there by around 8:30 or 9 (I was dubious that we could get there any sooner), but waiting in line with two kids as the day grew hotter sounded honestly pretty terrible to me. But as I continued reading travel blogs, some people mentioned that sometimes you could get pretty easily between 5 and 7 pm (the last two hours before it closed), and there usually wasn't much waiting (though they warned you wouldn't have as much time to take it all in).
I was more willing to risk not having enough time than sitting in a crazy line, so we picked the early evening to visit. I think we ended up getting there around 6:15 (unreliable buses, again!) and I was feeling pretty nervous about our chances of getting in. But once we got there, I was relieved: there was almost no line (I think we stood for maybe 3 minutes), and then we had at least 40 minutes to look around.
Also, it was relatively empty, which was really nice too!
Now let's be real here: 40 minutes is NOT enough time to take in the lavish splendor that is St. Peter's Basilica. It's just not. BUT 40 minutes was approximately as long as the children were willing to endure walking back and forth across an ornate marble floor, so it ended up being absolutely the perfect amount of time for us!
And guys, honestly, it was just cool to see it! It's really impossible to describe just how big this place feels when you're inside--I really felt like some sort of ant crawling along, staring up at the golden sky overhead. At times I was overcome with this mixture of awe and vertigo (which is maybe what the architect was going for?!)
For his part, Jesse was a pro parent and tried to point out some symbolism that the kids could notice (I think here he was pointing out the pope's hat on the grate).
Ok, some more interior shots (that do more to stoke my memory than anything they can do for you, because they do not do it justice):
Finally, we circled our way around to Michaelango's Pieta (a famous sculpture of Mary holding the crucified Jesus). This was another from my undergraduate studies, and I had been looking forward to seeing it the whole trip!
The thing that I absolutely loved about the Pieta was that, unlike the massive size of everything else in the basilica (seriously, there were statues of famous saints that were three times the size of a human), the Pieta was on a much more realistic scale. I think it was probably still a little larger than life, but not by much (especially in comparison to the other sculptures around).
That size was really interesting given the subject matter--it really put the experience of Mary holding her deceased son on a much more personal level. It felt like it was less there to command your respect and awe than it was to share a common emotion (mourning at the death of Christ, a parent's mourning for a child, general sorrow in the face of inevitable death, suffering and sadness, etc).
We spent as many minutes as we had left at the Pieta, and then it was time for the basilica to close, so we headed out into the giant plaza (which we hadn't really even looked at in our haste to get inside).
Just outside, there were guards dressed in traditional *something*-century clothing (ok I can't remember which and don't feel like looking it up!) I had heard about this but it was still really fun to see it in person, and the kids enjoyed seeing it too.
They had pairs of saints stationed around the top of the outer ring of the plaza, and, being in Rome, it was a little hard not to see them and think they were a Pantheon of gods.
We had a quick snack sitting on some steps in the plaza (mostly because we were about to go get some gelato and needed it to not be the only thing we ate for dinner ;D) and let the kids run about a little too.
And then we headed out to get some gelato! Jesse, hero among parents, let Niko ride on his shoulders for the umpteenth time that trip. Just looking at him up there made my shoulders tired (Niko's probably 50 lbs by now!) but Jesse wanted to make sure that Niko had a good trip too and knew that letting him rest his short little legs was a good way to make sure that happened.
A blog I read highly recommended Gelateria dei Gracci near the Vatican, and a short 15 minute* walk got us there.
*probably 7 without kids
The blog was right: this was seriously good gelato! I should have written down what flavors I got because I have already forgotten them. Bummer!
And then we headed back to the apartment for a much deserved rest!