Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Roma Day 2

We woke up, had breakfast and were off for a day of Gladiator School and seeing the Vatican with another fabulous guide from Rome4Kids.  The day got off to a rocky start when Ryan took Drew to get a muffin and said he would meet us at the bus stop but didn't mention which bus stop.  Trevor and I stood at the top of the stairs for a bit trying to figure out which way to go (the hotspot was with Ryan and not us) when we finally figured it out - we had to run to the bus to catch it.  We were actually supposed to do Gladiator School yesterday (Friday) when we were visiting The Pantheon and wandering around Piazza Navona but I had my days mixed up (vacation will do that for you) and we completely forgot.  Luckily I was able to reschedule for today at 1100.  One problem is that the outfit I am wearing for the Vatican (legs and shoulders covered) is not the best for combat.

I posted this on FB already but Drew was already over waiting for the but before the day even started.
Gladiator School is run by a group that is dedicated to preserving the history and art of the military of the Roman Empire and Gladiators (I think of Renaissance Fair people).  It is outside of town along the Appian Way and it was a little bit of a haul to get there.  We got off at the wrong bus stop too so had a farther walk than we were supposed to.  Remember how you have to ring the bell for the driver to stop?  We were sitting on the wrong side of the bus to see the signs for the stops as we whizzed by them so we got off a stop too early.

Our instructor at Gladiator School was Emmanuelo.  We were in a group with another family with 3 kids from California - their parents weren't cool enough to participate.  We started inside with a history of the Roman military and Gladiators.  Emmanuelo was amusingly intimidating with the kids and grown ups.  Romans were considerably shorter and smaller than many of the Northern Barbarians that they conquered.  They used intelligent armour design and military tactics to overcome these weaknesses.  For example, their helmets were designed so that a blow from above was deflected off to the side.  They would frequently coat their swords with garlic (anti-coagulant effect) or horse manure (which carried typhus) to make their wounds more deadly.  They also fought in regiments or lines with the least experience fighters in front (they were more expendable than the veterans).  After 2 minutes of combat, the general would whistle and those men would fall to the back of the line with fresh fighters coming up to take over.  He also went over the history of the Gladiator.  They got their name from the Gladious, or sword, that they used.  Contrary to what we had been told by other guides, there were professional gladiators.  These men had usually started out as slaves or prisoners of war.  After you won 20 matches you earned your freedom but many of these guys had nowhere to go (how far away was your country of origin?  was your wife still waiting for you after all this time?) and being a gladiator offered some prestige so they would sign a new contract to work for themselves and pay rent to stay in the gladiator barracks.  These bouts were more like wrestling of today - theatrical with wounds made to produce lots of blood but not much injury.

After our history lesson we went outside (where thankfully it was a little shaded) to receive our instruction.  First we did some warm ups with running, push ups, jumping over obstacles, and dodging swinging bags filled with sand.  Turns out my footwear was more inappropriate for the task at hand than my pants.  I ended up crashing while jumping over obstacles and got a big knee boo boo so I ditched the shoes.  We were then taught 4 offensive moves, practice our moves on a pole and then sparred.
He is one big dude.

Drew and Trevor sparing.  I think she won this round.

A good blow to the stomach

Mano e mano

Drew vanquishing her opponent from the other family

Drew and Trevor going after each other again.

At the end we all got certificates.  This was a great start to our day.  Then we headed back to the bus stop to make out way back into town and Vatican City.

Our tour guide Carol was excellent.  She has lived in Italy for 35 years but was born in the US so we didn't have to fight our way through an accent.  She just showed us the highlights of the Vatican Museum and sat us down on a bench with her Ipad for a long chat about the Sistine Chapel.  This was vital because you get herded through there like sheep and there is hardly time to look at it as you go through.  You were allowed to take photos inside St. Peters but no flash so a lot of them are too dark.
The kids enjoyed looking at the various Popemobiles

The Holy Door that gets opened during Jubilee Years.  Apparently the Pope just recently announced he would make this a Jubilee year (like 10 years ahead of schedule or something) and the Italian police are absolutely freaking out about having to provide security on such short notice.

The ceiling of St. Peters
This is the body of Pope Innocent XI.  According to our guide, his coffin was not long enough and they had to cut off his feet.  His face and hands have lead masks covering them.

The Swiss Guard
After the Vatican we separated from our guide and made our way back home.  Relaxation time ensued and then we went to a fabulous little restaurant for dinner.  They hardly spoke any English at all but we had fabulous pasta and lamb and the kids had some beef.

Roma Last Day

Today we had an appointment at 1100 to have the kids learn how to make pizza.  It was a day they could sleep in but they didn't.  However, we didn't leave the apartment until 1000.  We rode this tiny bus that morning which excited the kids and then got a crepe on the way to stave off the starvation.
This is the view of the bus from back to front.

Drew can't wait for that crepe
Then we walked to the pizza parlor where Marco instructed the kids on how to make Roman pizza - this kind you open up with your finger and the counter - it is a different type of dough than the "acrobatic" kind that you flip up in the air.

Drew's masterpiece with olive oil and cheese

Enjoying the fruits of their labors

When then headed to Villa Borghese Gardens which is kind of like Forest Park or Central Park in Rome.  We rented a bike and explored the area for a little bit.

After that we rode the bus around and walked to see some general sites - the Spanish Steps (kids were very confused as to why I wanted to see this) and then Trevor wanted to see the Trevi Fountain even though it is is currently closed for renovations.
The Spanish Steps

Trevi Fountain - can't imagine how spectacular this is when it is open and running.
We then headed back to Trastavere to visit Santa Maria in Trastevere which is probably the oldest Christian church in the world - its construction was begun shortly after Constantine made Christianity legal.

The square outside the church was a pretty happening hotspot with some musicians playing and a really crafty street performer.  We sat at a cafe and had a drink before going home to rest up for the evening.

We headed back to the same pizzeria where we had lunch to have dinner.  The kids had pizza again, Ryan and I had a pizza and also some pasta.  Tomorrow it is a taxi to the airport and then a very long journey home.  Italy has been a pretty good trip.  If I come back, I will skip Rome and concentrate on Venice and the Tuscany area.  There were lots of things that we did not do in Venice - maybe next time that could be the end of the trip and not the beginning.  I would love to stay in an agriturismo so the kids can swim and rent a car to explore the villages of Tuscany.  Who knows if we will ever make it back - there are so many other places to see in the world.

Until our next adventure!

Sunday, June 14, 2015


We arrived tired and hot to our apartment in Rome in the Trastavere area.  It is on the "wrong side" of the river but is a fun, bohemian neighborhood with lots of restaurants and nightlife.  Giorgio met us and, though the Homeaway site says he speaks Italian, English, and French, he really just speaks Italian.  He had his Dad or some other older man with him for company but it was really just him using Google Translate on his phone.  Took a little bit to get checked in but it finally worked out.  This apartment is quite small - especially the kitchen and it is my least favorite place that we have stayed.  2 bedrooms (kids are sharing a large bed which makes for fights over space when they are awake) and one bathroom.  I love how in Italy having a waterproof shower seems to be a luxury.  Both here and Pompei there is a little lake outside the shower when you are finished.  Here you also have to step over the toilet to get out of the shower.  It is a little acrobatic.

Friday we met our guide, Vincenzo (?sp) at 830 for our tour of Ancient Rome.  Getting there was a bit of an adventure because we wanted to buy a 72 hour bus pass but you have to buy it from a shop that doesn't open until 800 and we needed to catch the bus at 805.  The shop still hadn't opened by 805 so we took a taxi.  This was a tour operated by Rome4Kids and it was fabulous.  We toured the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Forum with him.  The problem with Ancient Rome is that not much of it really exists in total today which makes it really hard for a kid (or even an adult sometimes) to use the imagination to figure out what in the heck they are looking at.  Also, compared to the wonder of Renaissance architecture, ancient architecture is a little drab and boring.  Vincenzo did a great job of engaging the children right away.  He brought books and postcards to help explain things to them and to show them pictures of how things would have looked.  He spent most of his time talking to them and it was as if Ryan and I were just tagging along which was perfect.
What is a trip to the Colosseum without a family photo?

The kids are hunting for ancient graffiti that was carved in stones.
The thing that amazed me was that the Roman Colosseum was really in pretty bad shape and most of what you can see today has been restored.  Compare this to the amphitheatre that Ryan and I saw in Nimes (or Arles I can't remember which city we were in) in France where much of the structure was still standing.  What was made very clear to us today was that when Constantine moved the capitol of the Roman Empire from Rome to Turkey (Istanbul was Constantinople, now its Istanbul not Constantinople, if you have a date in Constantinople she'll be waiting in Istanbul - sorry had to work in a little They Might Be Giants) he really decimated the local economy and Rome went through some really hard times.  As a result, many/most of the awesome ancient buildings were used as a sort of quarry for building materials.  Some things managed to survive if they were deemed important by the Catholic Church but even those things were completely redone and don't really represent what they originally looked like - they have been all Catholic fancied up.

On thing that was really interesting was the labyrinth of rooms they had under the floor of the colosseum.  Animals and fighters would be loaded into these boxes and then raised up, like an elevator, to a trap door in the floor so that they seemed to "appear" out of nowhere.  These trap doors were mostly used for animals or minor gladiators.  The famous gladiators would come out through an arched tunnel to music and fanfare (like our modern football teams but without the gauntlet of scantily-clad cheerleaders).
Photo rendering of the floor

The actual floor
Another family photo

 Then we headed to Palatine Hill - the highest of Rome's 7 hills and supposedly where Romulus founded the city.  It was home to an extensive palace for the Roman Emperors but there isn't much left standing.  We cured the "hangry" with some Pringles prior to coming inside but Drew was still sullen.  It was hot and she just couldn't get what we were looking at.
This is the Emperor's gymnasium.

Then it was on to the Roman Forum which is really in ruins.  It was so hard to see anything that made sense - even for me it was a total blur.
I think this is the most intact building of the whole place.  I'm not even sure what temple it was.  It is currently a church like every other ancient thing that has been spared destruction.

Here is a postcard of what it would have looked like.
After we split up from Vincenzo, the kids were really tired and crabby.  He had given us some ideas of places to go.  First we hit the Pantheon.  Again, it has survived because they made it a Catholic Church on the inside.  Trevor was fascinated with the oculus in the roof and how the sun moved as time went by.
Drew and I checked out the cool tombs inside.
This is not a good picture but the famous painter, Raphael, is buried inside here is an ancient sarcophagus that some pope or other donated to the cause.
The we headed to Piazza Navona which is just a lovely square that is filled with three fountains and artists and street performers.  We all got some souvenirs - animals woven from reeds by Asian guys - so Roman! 

Then we headed back to the apartment.  I did some research for our tour the next day (Vatican) so I could prep the kiddos.  Everyone else had screen time and then we headed out to Grazie and Graziella for a good meal.  Drew bought an Italian wallet from her own money (I'm afraid I didn't haggle enough with the vendor - well really I didn't haggle at all because it makes me extremely uncomfortable and for that I will feel forever guilty.  We found some good gelato after dinner in the neighborhood.