Here’s the advice that’s going to help me make it big as a travel blogger: Bring your kids everywhere in Rome and what you miss out on in the areas of romantic dinners and full-night’s sleep, you make up for in skipping the whole line at the Vatican Museums.
We decided to brave the museums by getting in the notoriously long and sweltering line by 7:30am. We made it by 8:00am only to have the official line dudes tell us we could go right to the front with the tour groups who had advanced admission. Over and over again the refrain, “Baby? No line.” My protip: if you want to skip the line at the Vatican Museums, have a kid, fly to Rome, and walk right on up to that line.
The Museums open at 9:00am, so we had an hour or so for me to go get coffee and some breakfast pastries to supplement our morning eggs Chris made at home. Chris had retrieved some pastries from La Fiorentina on Via Andrea Doria the night before and they were super delicious. Since it was only a few blocks away from our place in line, I ran over and drank my cappuccino at the bar and took back some pastries that were not my first choice, but I was too nervous to change my mind. (I know – I need to get over this coffee bar anxiety.)
We chomped our pastries, feeling upbeat about our prospects for the day after skipping the enormous line. It only continued as we got to pass hoards of people to take lifts to the ticket booths and then, the best part, we got to take the shortcut of the shortcut to the Sistine Chapel to avoid the stairs.
Before we went, I felt jaded about the Sistine Chapel. Hadn’t I seen the God and Adam painting with the finger in every textbook ever? But we rounded the corner and another American, clearly moved, said “One more turn. It’s incredible.” It was indeed breathtaking. It is painted with so much dimension, such color. No pictures are allowed, but I think that is a good policy in this case. No dinky iPhone photo could capture how beautiful. Christopher was rather confused by muscular Jesus. He later commented how “Mary has clothes on.” #artappreciation
The whole museum is simply incredible. We took a little time to walk down the halls and admire painting after painting of moments in church history: the council of Lyon (Chris: “Yeah, that one didn’t go so well.”), the condemnation of the Waldensians and the Cathars, a whole French Catholic scene. Truly extraordinary.
We then made our way to the Pinoteca, the 12th-18th c. art. This stuff is extremely my jam. Some faves:
After taking in the art, we took a break in the garden. I nursed Therese on a bench near a tour group of children putting together a puzzle of the Sistine Chapel. It made me want to come back when Christopher is old enough to remember everything.
Perhaps full of hubris, we decided to go back in to another gallery to find the Raphael paintings of The School of Athens and the Disputation on the Eucharist. To get there, though, we had to go the long way to the Sistine Chapel we avoided the first time. Full of stairs. Wall to wall people. Hot and sweaty. Some of the galleries on the way were beautiful, but it was a cattle call in there.People were very helpful with the stroller, though, and while I wanted to bail at one point and let Chris go by himself, I pressed on and seeing the Raphaels was worth it.
Sidenote: the only way we could possibly have done this part was with a sleeping Christopher, who slept through all of the heavy lifting up and down countless stairs like some sort of prince in a litter.
We had to go back through the Sistine Chapel and considered taking the somewhat illicit shortcut to St. Peter’s Basilica, but decided seeing it while hot and tired and hungry would be a bummer. We went to lunch at Pizzeria Amalfi, the Askonases favorite pizza Roman pizza joint.
Christopher had woken up too early from his nap and we suffered the second cup casualty of our trip abroad. It provided an interesting contrast between the Brits and the Italians; the first cup breakage in Oxford provoked complete silence, perhaps some tut-tutting. The second one in Rome? A stately Italian woman asking why he was so sad about it (“Hot, tired, and hungry” I responded) and joked I should give him some scotch or cognac to settle down before trying to cheer him up herself. We should have Christopher break cups in restaurants around the world. I’ll write a memoir about it.
Pizza was tasty, as was the beer I had. We realized we spent four hours (!) at the Museums and survived, so we headed back to the apartment for a siesta. I took a catnap with Therese while Chris gave Christopher a bath.
We made a last minute decision to try to get to the Vigil Mass at the Pantheon. We found the bus, ran to it with the locals, and couldn’t figure out how to pay. It seemed as we were riding that only the tourists paid anyway, so I guess we rode like the Romans? We made it about ten minutes after the Mass was supposed to start and went to the guard at the front of the ever-giant line who was explaining in loud and slow Italian to the grumbling tourists that there was a “Messa” and they couldn’t go in. Out of breath, we explained we wanted to go to Mass and he let us through. It is certainly the way to see the Pantheon. It was pretty much empty and the Mass was beautiful.
To our horror, Christopher had fallen asleep again. We had hope that maybe he would transfer when we got back to the apartment, so we decided to hit up a few churches in the area before walking home. We went to Sant’Ignazio Church to pray for our Jesuit friends and teachers and Georgetown. There was a Mass going on so we couldn’t see the whole church, but what we did see was breathtaking.
Next, we stumbled upon Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. St. Catherine’s body is entombed there and it was beautiful and huge. We didn’t realize it was a Dominican church. We didn’t get to see all of it either since they were saying Mass there too. We tried to go in after Mass but were kicked out by a man speaking rapid Italian and pointing to the sign with the church’s hours. Oops.
Unfortunately, this is where the night took a bad turn. Christopher woke up and we tried to go to dinner at a nice place near the Pantheon, but it was immediately clear that we were headed for another cup fiasco so we bailed. We were all hangry, Chris and I were disappointed we didn’t get to have a quiet meal at a nice restaurant, and we started the trudge back to the apartment, hoping we’d run into a place to get a non-touristy meal.
We had passed a place called La Prosciutteria a few times already that look cool. An Italian couple was sitting outside and the man played peekaboo with Therese while we looked at the menu. He said it was a really good place, so we decided to go for it. We got tasty prosciutto and pecorino sandwiches and a bottle of wine. We tried to sit outside for a bit, but Christopher was proving challenging so we bailed again to finish at home.
The rest of the night was pretty awful. Christopher was the most overtired he’s ever been, we were exhausted, and didn’t have the stamina to deal. I decided to finally just lie the other twin in his room until he theoretically went to sleep, which didn’t happen until I gave up and left around midnight. It was our lowest point of the trip so far.
I am still all for travelling with kids, but it was a reality check about how much our kid can take. He’s hyper-concerned with what we’re going to do next and after that and after that, clearly experiencing some anxiety. We hope that Chianti will be more restful (for all of us) and that he can get more exercise and fresh air. In the meantime, please pray for us to be attentive to his needs.