Marathon through the Colosseum and Vatican and Overcoming Problems with Maps

Friday was the busiest day of the tour, with visits to the Colosseum, Forum, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Basilica. In spite of lingering sleep deprivation, and, in the case of one traveler, illness, the kids were troopers. The main problem of the day was the long-windedness of the local tour guide, who felt compelled to tell us everything she knew about each place. I love history, but just walking through the Colosseum and the Vatican is a phenomenol experience without a full description of each of the 495 statues we encountered. Fortunately, the guide either didn't notice or didn't care that I had stopped listening to her approximately ten minutes into the tour.

I'm just going to sit down here until that lady stops talking. That should be soon, right? RIGHT?!

Although this guide tried really, reall hard, no guide can ruin the awesomeness of the Colosseum. It was a beautiful day for seeing these outdoor monuments, and I just had to remember to watch out for our guide moving to a new spot. That wasn't hard to do because our guide moved more slowly than the Colosseum was built.

I think our guide just moved! No, that was just the sun changing position in the sky.

Since we are awful people, Laura and I encouraged the kids to break away from the tour guide so that they could see cool things and take lots of pictures.

If the matching trip shirts we wore at the airport didn't establish our coolness, then certainly making the Cosby C in front of the Colosseum seals the deal for us.

Then we moved on to the Roman Forum, an incredible place that has to be experienced personally – pictures of the place simply don't convey what it was like to be there, among ruins of a sophisticated government from around 2000 years ago. Once again, our guide somehow thought that she could enhance this experience by relating the entire history of the Roman Republic, but we were on to her game.


After a quick lunch, we moved on to the Vatican to see the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica.
The tour of the Vatican starts at the Vatican Museum, which tourists must pass through on the way to the Sistine Chapel. Since the Chapel is extremely popular, crowds move through the museum in a massive herd, taking pictures on the move. The museum has a ton of cool things to see while doing the cattle herd shuffle, although the view was occasionally blocked by Annoying iPad Guy – that guy who raises his iPad above the crowd to take a picture, eclipsing the sun with his enormous tablet.

Since no pictures are allowed of the Sistine Chapel, here's a picture of the sign leading to the Sistine Chapel.

The Chapel is amazing, with Michelangelo's masterpiece on the ceiling and massive paintings, each of which was explained in detail by the guide, along the walls. In spite of the prohibition on taking pictures, One traveler stuck it to the Man and was able to sneak one. After taking in the paintings covering the ceiling and walls, we made our way to St. Peter's Basilica.

After five tries, an exhausted Sammy finally stood in the correct spot for this picture.

The Basilica is absolutely enormous; to me, the sheer size and degree of decoration made the Basilica the most impressive thing we saw on this day. Again, we urged our travelers to get the most out of the experience by seeing the parts of the cathedral that most interested them and not listening to our guide, who was nevertheless still talking. Maybe it's like how a shark has to keep swimming to take in oxygen to survive; if our guide had stopped talking, she would have suffocated to death.
After leaving the Basilica, we ate a dinner of Italian pizza and returned to the Piazza Novana via the narrow Italian roads.

In Rome, this alley that isn't as wide as a hallway at Cosby High School counts as a road. Occasionally we had to scoot to. The side to let a car go by.

Several of us left the piazza to find an ATM a few blocks away. Rounding a corner from the bank, we saw…

Hey! I found the Pantheon!

Collectively, we aren't great with maps, so it makes a lot of sense that we accidentally visited one of the most important monuments in Rome.

I'm enjoying this monument I accidentally found! Now how do we get back to the piazza...

The following day, Saturday, was our free day in Rome, and since the late-arriving group from Oregon was visiting the Colosseum, which they had missed on Friday, we planned to jump off the bus there and visit St. John's Basilica and the Scala Santa. There was one problem – in an age when we use GPS to find everything (and lacking a data connection in Italy) none of us was really great at navigating using a paper map. To make matters worse, the so-called map of Rome was really a tourist map of some of Rome and was missing a number of side streets. The lack of map detail combined with map-reading incompetence led to several false starts, but we finally zig-zagged our way to the Cathedral using the Google Map I had downloaded the night before during the five minute window when the wifi in the hotel actually worked.

The part of the Cathedral we saw before Cathedral security chased us out for wearing illicitly short shorts.

Then part of the group crossed the street to visit the Scala Santa. The other half of the group went shopping at a festival that appeared to have been organized by one of Italy's leftist parties. Judging by the number of scarves the organizers of the festival were selling, the party was willing to bend on some of their Marxist principles.
The two churches were miles from our next destination, the Spanish Steps, so we decided to try our luck with the Roman Metro. After the earlier map-reading difficulties, I was skeptical about our ability to successfully use mass transit in a foreign country, but the Metro in Rome was surprisingly easy to figure out.

Three out of four travelers love the Metro!

Minutes later, we were at the Spanish Steps, which are surrounded by one of Rome's most famous restaurant and shopping districts.
Most of the shops and restaurants were located along what we in the United States call “alleys” but the Italians call “roads.”

Go home, car. You are drunk.

Since it was after 1pm, our travelers were so hungry that none of them was all that picky about where we ate. We ended up eating at the first restaurant that we found with outdoor seating and had delicious pasta.

You have food here? We're in.

After lunch, we went back to the Spanish Steps and saw an Italian police officer there. Our travelers have been amazed at how little the Italian police seem to do, since, as far as we can tell, they mostly stand in groups of four and smoke.

Posing here may have been the most that this officer did all day.

Now it was time to see those famous high-end Italian shops.

Some people may have been more into the shopping trip than others.

We stopped in a Gucci store where we were immediately tailed by one of their security people. Something about us must have clued the staff at Gucci into the fact that we could not afford a 700 euro purse. There was a “Gucci for kids” section of the store, apparently for people who like to buy really expensive clothes that will quickly be outgrown.

We walked through the shopping district to the famous Trevi Fountain…

Which was being renovated.

One woman tried to throw a coin over her shoulder and into the fountain, which supposedly ensures that you will return to Rome. Instead, she hummed it into the glass barrier, which I don't think brings any good luck. In the area around the empty fountain (should we still call it a fountain?), there was plenty of shopping and food, which made the shoppers of the group happy.

Our last stop was the Capuccin crypt, where the Capuccini monks have decorated the areas around mummified monks with the bones of other monks, which were literally nailed to the walls and ceiling to convey messages about mortality. No pictures of the inside were allowed, but here is the nondescript exterior.

Nothing about this facade says Come inside to see wall art constructed from pelvis bones.

Our visit to the crypt generated some important questions:

  • Were the mummified monks wearing their original robes? If so, how were they in such good shape? If not, how terrible would it be to have the job of changing the robes of a mummified monk?
  • What chain of events must transpire to give one the idea of constructing a light fixture out of human bones?

At the end of the day, we emerged victorious over the terrible tourist map of Rome.


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