SPQR: A Visit to RomePosted by in Travel
I’ve titled this post SPQR, which stands for Senātus Populusque Que Rōmānus (the Senate and people of Rome), and is an abbreviation you see on manholes all over Rome and which was used in ancient Rome. My husband and kids all bought t-shirts that say this. Rome was really about history for us and we really enjoyed this city immensely.
We started our visit by walking to the Spanish Steps. They’re interesting, but really, it’s just a big bunch of steps (if you go, plan so that you emerge at the TOP of the steps and can walk down them. You will definitely enjoy your visit here more: this is what we did in a burst of genius because there are a LOT of steps). There is a lovely fountain in a piazza at the bottom of the steps that is a big tourist gathering place. If you go at night, beware of the aggressive vendors trying to sell roses. They were literally hitting my daughter with roses saying, “You are so special to me,” trying to get her to take one so we would have to pay for it. This is a lovely area though and a nice photo op. The streets surrounding this area had some shops and we stumbled upon one of the best restaurants of our entire trip in this area (coming soon in a post about the food on the trip!).
We also visited the Trevi Fountain, which is within walking distance of the steps. This is a
mob scene, particularly at the height of summer when we were there, but if you are patient, you can get a spot on the edge of the fountain where you can toss two coins in and take a nice picture. People tend to move in and out of this area pretty quickly, so even though it looked really crowded, we didn’t wait very long. While we were there, some star (athlete, movie star, we don’t know!), walked through the piazza, followed by screaming girls. It was quite a site!
While we were on our own, we went to the Pantheon, which is a beautiful round temple, originally Roman, and converted to Catholicism. The architecture was stunning, as was the scale of the building (we also found some great shopping nearby).
Beneath a church in Rome, there is a museum of artwork made of human bones. Can you tell I have a teenaged son? This was a must-see on our list. (photos were not allowed, so you can watch this video if you’d like to see it). This little unassuming church has a museum you pay to get into, filled with religious artifacts and some religious history. Underneath the church are rooms where the bones of monks are used to create designs and art. Each little “room” used a specific type of bone, so there was a femur room and a skull room, etc. The idea was to remind us all that we will all be reduced to bones one day. I found it to be quite creepy, but the rest of my family thought it was fascinating.
We had not planned to take a bus tour of the city, but after we arrived and were blown away by the architecture we were driving past (not knowing what any of it was), we decided to pay for a hop-on-hop-off bus tour with a recorded message telling you what everything was. It helped us get our bearings in the city and it identified a few buildings, but overall, it was a waste of time and I wouldn’t recommend it. The headsets did not work sometimes and it seemed they spent a lot of time giving too many details about some buildings and then not identifying other places we were passing by. So, I don’t recommend the Trambus for this, unfortunately.
Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini
Another bit of the trip that was lacking was this new museum that seems to be run by the tourism department for this region of the country. It wasn’t in any of my guidebooks and I happened upon a mention of it on TripAdvisor. The web site is a bit deceiving. The general idea was supposed to be this: they found an actual Roman villa (home) underneath another building and it was pretty well preserved. They excavated it and you get to go in and using virtual technology, they show you how the rooms used to look, so you can experience a real Roman home. That’s what it was supposed to be. In actuality, they built glass floors over some ruins. They shine lights on them and use lighting to complete some mosaics that are partially destroyed. It did not bring it to life for us very well at all. The tour lasted an hour and a half and we simply stood on glass floors the entire time (not a bench or chair in site at this place), until 15 minutes before the end, when we were shown a movie about a nearby monument that seemed completely unrelated. The tour didn’t make a lot of sense. If they had shown us a map or given us information about the layout of the home it would have made more sense. At this point, I just don’t recommend this museum.
We took two guided tours that we greatly enjoyed. The first was of the Vatican Museums. We decided to go with this tour because it allowed us to skip the line to get into the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. It also took us to see some of the art in the Vatican, which frankly, we weren’t that interested in. I did enjoy having someone tell me what to look for when I was looking at the Sistine Chapel and in the Basilica. Of all the art we saw, I enjoyed the tapestries and maps the most. A lot of it is a blur: it was incredibly hot and crowded in the museums and just keeping up with the guide was a challenge.
The Sistine Chapel was impressive, but was somehow smaller than we thought it would be. The room was packed with people. There were no signs directing people to be quiet, yet there were guards who would say “shhhh” and “silence!” occasionally – then the noise level would slowly build again until they would say it again. It seemed a bit silly. We were pleased to be able to see this important work of art. The Basilica was beautiful and I thought the Pieta was moving.
We did walk around the Vatican area and shopped and had lunch nearby. We saw lots of nuns, but only one priest in a cassock. The grounds of the Vatican looked gorgeous from what I saw of them and St. Peter’s Square was fun to see in person.
Our other guided tour was of ancient Rome. We started at the Collosseum. It may have been one of the most impressive things on the entire trip. It was fascinating to stand inside it, gaze down at the stage, and imagine the stadium filled with Romans, an emperor, and gladiators. To be in such a place with such a deep history was really a moment I won’t forget. And our guide allowed us to skip the line to get in, which was also terrific (he said people wait 2-3 hours often just to get inside). This was a not-to-be-missed stop in our trip.
The tour then took us into the Roman Forum, which is not as well-preserved at all. To walk
down roads that the ancient Romans walked on was quite a feeling! We saw the tomb of Julius Caesar (which gave me chills, because he has always seemed like such a fictional person, but to feel his humanity was really something), the Arch of Constantine, and the remains of many buildings. It was a remarkable place to walk through. I took 4 years of Latin in high school and so did my daughter, and my son will also. Being able to walk through an ancient place that you learned about in school makes it so much more real and important.
We really loved Rome. It had this great quality of delivering the unexpected. You would turn a corner and there would be ancient Roman ruins next to (and in some places actually built around) modern buildings. It had the feel of a very cosmopolitan city, yet it felt completely accessible (we felt this way about London too, perhaps because it is not filled with skyscrapers like American cities?). We found the people to be friendly and the streets to be very walkable. We loved the sense of history, coupled with the feeling of a very modern and with-it city. I would have loved to see the Appian Way and to find more shopping, but we used our time well here. It was a beautiful city with a deep history that spoke to me.
Still to come: posts about Pompeii, Capri, Sorrento, FOOD, and hotels in Italy.
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