After biding a sad ciao to our Tuscan villa paradise (and the rest of my fam), we headed down to Roma with a brief stop off in Siena to check out the Palio preparations, the gorgeous striped Duomo and of course put away yet more gelato. Rome was considerably more touristy than I remembered - it was basically like voluntarily spending three days in Times Square. The Pantheon was wall to wall people while the Coliseum made the Pantheon look positively pastoral. But we managed to navigate around the roving tour hordes and enjoy ourselves immensely.
Our apartment's balcony opened right over the Fontana di Trevi. Which admittedly would have been cooler if it had been working. We at least knew that it was under construction before we arrived, unlike the throngs disappointedly milling around it trying to throw coins over their shoulders over the plexiglass barriers to ensure a return visit. As an added bonus, Kevin kindly pointed out that our balcony afforded the perfect view of the rat playground the construction site became at night.
Gladiator school was by far the boys' favorite thing of the entire vacation. I have to agree, it was awesome.
Cheering on Kevin in his bout.
We spent an afternoon at St Peters, but decided the Vatican would be an exercise in lunacy. St Peters was bad enough as we waited in the (shadeless, blazingly hot) security screening line for over an hour. Oddly enough, once we got through that particular hell, the line to climb up to the Cupola was nonexistent. We felt like we had somehow pulled a fast one on the entire Rome touristing population. And of course, once you're inside the basilica, the space is so cavernous that it doesn't feel all that crowded, so we happily wandered about hunting for Barberini bees and other family heraldic emblems (with bonus points for obvious reasons for any sightings of the Medici coat of arms - quite literally balls on a shield). We are easily amused as a family.
We then explored Castel Sant'Angelo - initially commissioned by Hadrian as a mausoleum, but later used as both a prison and a papal fortress (presumably not simultaneously), and actually connected to St Peter's Basilica by a covered fortified "passetto." I'm sure this is common knowledge, but the fortress was the refuge of Pope Clement VII from the siege of Charles V during the Sack of Rome in the 1500s. We, however, were more interested in seeing how close we could get to a seagull than a history lesson. Mission accomplished I'd say.
Other stops on the grand tour - the Coliseum obviously, where we took a tour of the underground and the third tier (those areas are only accessible with an organized tour, so we booked one in Italian because that's all that was available, so we clearly got a lot out of it intellectually). It did at least allow us a brief reprieve from the sea of humanity wandering around the other levels. Of course, continuing his proud European tradition of peeing in wildly inappropriate locations, Henry declared with no little urgency while up on the third tier (accessible only by locked gate) that he had to pee. As soon as the guide unlocked the gate, he and Kevin raced down ahead of us, I assumed to find an actual toilet. But no, Henry peed in a semi-discreet corner into a water bottle which Kevin was forced to carry around in his backpack until he could find somewhere to dispose of it.
As a reward(?), we let him pose for a gladiator picture. We are so very cheesy.
The view from the third level.
We decided it was way too hot to do more than admire the Forum and Palatine Hill from a distance, and beat a hasty retreat to lunch instead.
We spent an afternoon go-karting in the Pincio and Borghese Gardens.
Afterwards, we walked past the Spanish Steps (insanity of course) and this awesome monster house.
Celebrating our final night with rose and mocktails in the Campo de' Fiori which, with the jazz quartet playing in the piazza and the bubbles floating through the air, felt surprisingly magical and a true respite from the nuttiness of most of Rome.
Enjoying a delicious final dinner at Roscioli with our new gladiator friends.
And of course, we couldn't say goodbye to Rome without a final gelato and one last stroll by the Pantheon.