Pompeii!

As soon as I knew we would be traveling to Rome, I knew I would make the effort to go just a little further to see the ancient city of Pompeii and It was so worth it!

#thankyouwikipedia

Although there are many organized tours leaving from Rome, most of them start pre-dawn and I rarely do pre-dawn. We chose to go on our own and in our own time and it worked out perfectly! We even slept in a little bit!

#modernpompei

The modern city of Pompei (spelled with one i) is only 2 hours and 20 minutes from Rome. We took an express train to Naples and then transferred to a local train. The station is just down the hill from the entrance to ancient Pompeii. Don’t worry there will be taxis lined up waiting to drive you the two miles up the hill. Our taxi driver let us know that there is no outside food allowed and suggested a nice pizza place just outside the gates. How convenient! 😉

I did notice what looked to be a food stand inside the city, but it was closed until summertime.

#whatagreatguideWhile Tim was paying the taxi I was approached by a nice older gentleman who wanted to know if I needed a guide. I must admit I was hesitant at first. I wasn’t sure, was he legitimate? How much is too much to pay for a tour? However, I really wanted to hire a guide and he did seem nice, we had come so far, his badge did look official…

Tim arrived! Okay! He was an official guide and it would be a two-hour private tour. We were visiting during the off-season, so he would give us half price. We agreed and off we went! Our guide, whose name I seem to have forgotten, had been giving tours of Pompeii for 30+ years and had grown up only a few miles away! Did you know Pompeii has been a tourist attraction for 250 years?! Wow!

#we'vegottheplacealltoourselvesBecause we were there in December there weren’t many other people walking around and we had the opportunity to wander down many of the ancient streets alone and undisturbed. Maybe it was just me, but I could almost feel the people who had walked there before us. Because it was buried under 20 feet of ash and pumice during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius even 2000 years later everything is incredibly well-preserved. Walking where they walked and seeing where they lived and ate goes a long way in helping to bring the past to life.

It seems that the Pompeiians were a very progressive and open-minded people, especially about sex. There were references to it everywhere, even on the streets. Sort of like street signs directing you, there were phallic symbols literally pointing the way to the brothels. Our guide did a great job of telling us all about this part of life in Pompeii without really alerting the kids to what he was talking about. Yay guide!

#frozenintimeDuring the tour we saw some of the plaster casts that were created of the human remains which were frozen in time at the exact moment of their deaths. Although I know they aren’t actually the bodies of these people you can’t help but feel moved when you see them. We also saw many remnants of everyday life in Pompeii: pizza ovens,”fast food” restaurants, the brothels, private homes, the forum, as well as incredibly preserved mosaics and other art pieces.

All four of us really enjoyed the tour and we learned so much about what life was probably like in 79 AD. We couldn’t believe that two hours had gone by when it seemed like no time at all!

Roma! La Città Eterna!

Rome is a city packed so full of amazing history and sights that even with 9 full days to visit we came nowhere near seeing everything on my list. We would just have to pick our “must-see” places and everything else would be a bonus.

The Colosseum

#theromancolosseum

We loved this! Although you can arrange private tours and you probably should for a high season visit we took a chance and bought our tickets and booked our tour upon arrival. The tour guides do an amazing job. I can’t explain it, but there is something so moving about being in this place you’ve heard so much about and where so much history took place. It was a very sophisticated structure for its time and it is incredibly well-preserved. You can really imagine what it once was!

The Forum

#theromanforumThe Forum was a disappointment to me. Maybe it had something to do with being there alone with two hungry boys who wanted to be anywhere else but the Forum? I just couldn’t concentrate. Simon and I tried to take the audio tour which you do at your own pace, but the ground is very rough and uneven and it was hard to know where to look when consulting the corresponding map. It’s actually quite a large area to cover up and down some hills and requires a lot of walking. It’s on the way to the Colosseum, so if you have limited time and are with small children a quick look over the rail and down into where it used to be might suffice.

Piazza Navona

A lovely square with a long history and the beautiful Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi fountain. This is a lovely place to people watch and to grab a bite to eat or a coffee. We visited the Christmas market one evening and had such a lovely time.

The Vatican

an iphone4 can't do this justice, but you get the idea

No trip to Rome would be complete without a trip to the Vatican and it was especially lovely decorated for the holiday season. While you can arrange guided tours of St. Peter’s we chose to wander at our leisure. Incredibly beautiful and immense inside and out it is hard to really prepare yourself for just how big it truly is. It seems to go on forever, and you’ve only walked halfway down the knave. There is an underground crypt which can be explored, but young children aren’t allowed so we were unable to see it on this trip. Did you know the Vatican is a country? Yep! It has its own postoffice. We sent postcards to our catholic friends back home with Vatican City’s special stamp and postmark.

The Sistine Chapel

No matter the time of year the Sistine Chapel will be packed and the line will be long. Simon and I arrived by taxi at 8:30 am and found the line for those without a pre-booked tour was already three hours long. I highly suggest making guided tour arrangements prior to your arrival. You’ll skip the line! If you do decide to take your chances and just show up, like we did, you will find that there are MANY tour companies out on the sidewalks awaiting your arrival and hoping to draw you in. Knowing which ones are legitimate and if you’re choosing the right one can be difficult especially if you don’t speak Italian. We ended up on a perfectly fine tour, but it was in both English and Spanish which made it quite a bit longer. This wasn’t ideal for a 10-year-old. In hindsight I would have booked this tour in advance and only in english.

On the tour we visited many interior halls and outdoor courtyards of the Vatican Museum before arriving at the Chapel itself. The halls leading to the Sistine Chapel are equal in beauty to the Chapel itself and there is so much to see in the Vatican Museum that one could spend days and not see everything. The tour ended in St. Peters and we didn’t pass up a chance to take another look around!

Spanish Steps

Everyone goes to the Spanish Steps and if you’re planning a trip to Rome I am sure you will too! Keep in mind It is a very touristy area and you should beware of pickpockets. The view from the top is quite lovely and they are located right near a lot of really good shopping! During the holiday season many of the shopping streets nearby were lined with red carpets and had “crystal chandeliers” hanging the length of them! Very impressive!

Trevi Fountain

#needawideanglelensThe Trevi Fountain is one of the most famous fountains in Europe. It’s been in many movies over the years and is definitely worth taking a look at! It’s huge! We went at dusk and it was beautifully lit. There is a legend that if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain it will ensure a return to Rome. I read that the coins are collected and used to subsidize a supermarket for those less fortunate. Nice!

The Pantheon

#historyrightinthemiddleofeverythingThe Pantheon is amazing! Built in 126 ad it’s absolutely incredible looking inside and out!  It’s funny, but for some reason we ended up walking by this place 8 out of 9 nights in Rome. I guess all roads in Rome lead to the Pantheon! The area around it is great with a lot of nice places to eat and fun side streets to wander and shop.  There is no need for tickets you can just walk right in. How incredibly fascinating that all of this amazing history is just sitting there unprotected right in the middle of modern-day life! Oh, and there is a good taxi stand around the back side.

Capuchin Crypt

1200px-Rom,_Santa_Maria_Immacolata_a_Via_Veneto,_Krypta_der_Kapuziner_1If you’re not too squeamish The Capuchin Crypt is quite a fascinating place! Located beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini on the Via Veneto are the skeletal remains of 3700 bodies. But it’s not just the large amount of skeletons that make this place interesting, it’s how they are displayed. The bones are nailed to the walls in various patterns like art and some are even made into light fixtures hanging from the ceiling!

The Rome Zoo

Bioparco di Roma, is a lovely zoo located on the opposite side of the Villa Borghese Gardens. We wandered through the gardens and then around the zoo on Christmas Eve. It was a nice break, especially for the little guy and as far as zoos go, it was a pretty nice one! I’ve visited many…

And the list goes on…

Other sights we found time to see which I highly recommend are: The Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore, The Jewish Ghetto, the Great Synagogue of Rome, The Jewish Museum, Palatine Hill, and The Arch of Constantine. There were many other places we wanted to see, but we just ran out of time…Good thing we threw that coin into the Trevi Fountain!!

Where to Eat

While there are many restaurants in a Rome, finding places to eat that aren’t too touristy can be difficult. Our family joke is that we can’t sit down for dinner until we’ve wandered the streets lost and starving for at least two hours. I suppose by that time everything tastes good! Anyway, here are a few places we discovered that are worth checking out.

Renato e Luisa was recommended to us by a Roman friend of Tim’s! We don’t speak Italian and they didn’t speak any english, but we were able to ask them to choose our entrees for us and were not disappointed, in fact it was the best meal we had the entire trip.

Gioliti Ice Cream – Located near the pantheon this place is famous for a reason! It’s very good! Elliot LOVED the chocolate and I’m pretty sure we hit this place everyday! You can either have table service or get a cone to go.

Life Pizza – We ate here twice we liked it so much. They take reservations and have a large wine selection!

Ristorante Maccheroni – Don’t show up without a reservation! This place was packed! The staff was very friendly, the food was great and they loved kids!  Near the Pantheon!

La Bottega Del Cioccolato  – There are many beautiful chocolate shops, but I really liked this one.

We stayed at the Westin Excelsior on the Via Vittorio Veneto which is a great location.  I couldn’t believe how big our room was and even with an extra roll-a-way bed for the boys there was room to spare! The hotel had a pool which was nice and because it was Christmas time everything was decorated beautifully.

Buon Natale da Roma! Merry Christmas From Rome!

Fed up with doing all the holiday decorating, shopping, present wrapping and cooking when it seemed as though no one actually cared about any of it. I decided I was over it! “That’s it! I’m quitting Christmas!”, I announced to my family!

The following year we spent Christmas in Rome! “Don’t worry. Santa will find you wherever we are.” I told the boys and it was true! 😉

#colosseumxmastree

If you’re wondering, the holiday season is a great time to visit Rome. Fantastic even! The Christmas and holiday decorations are beyond compare, the weather is temperate and the lines are short. In fact with the exception of a few places there were almost no lines for anything. It turned out to be the simplest and best Christmas I think we’ve ever had.

The Holiday Decor

#nowthosearesomelightsI think I can safely say that I have never visited a city with more holiday decorations than Rome! There was scarcely a corner left untouched by festivity. It’s simply spectacular! Where you might think that the streets would be deserted on the eve of a major holiday, it was the exact opposite. The amount of people who are out and about strolling and enjoying the lights and atmosphere is simply amazing.

The Christmas Market in the Piazza Navona

We visited the Christmas market in Piazza Navona one evening and had such a lovely time. There were all sorts of holiday themed treats and it was incredibly festive. We picked up a tiny tree for our hotel room and each of us picked out two mini ornaments to decorate it with. A small strand of lights and a little angel tree topper finished it off! We set it up on our hotel room desk! When it was time to leave we brought all of our ornaments home with us and we hang them on our tree every year!

Piazza Navona is also a great place to explore during the day. There is a beautiful fountain and many cafes where you can people watch and grab a coffee.

The Vatican

No trip to Rome would be complete without a trip to the Vatican and it was especially lovely decorated for the holiday season. Not only were their multiple creches on the inside of St. Peter’s, but a large portion of St. Peter’s Square was filled with the biggest nativity scene I’ve ever seen. No pun intended!

Via dei Condotti

#viacondottiComplete with red carpet and “crystal chandeliers” the Via Dei Condotti was all dressed up for the holidays! One of Rome’s most fashionable streets it is located at the foot of the Spanish Steps. Many of fashion’s biggest names have shops here, Dior, Gucci, Valentino, Armani, Jimmy Choo, and Prada, to name just a few. It’s no surprise that the holiday decorations on this street were nothing short of stunning.

Santa? Is that you?

Traditionally we have our big holiday meal on Christmas Eve. Rather then go out for dinner we decided it would be more fun to order room service! After all we were taking a break from the usual holiday traditions this year! A little while later when the food arrived, Elliot, who was only 31/2 at the time, heard the knock at the door and yelled out, “It’s Santa!”

Yep! The holiday magic had followed us to Rome! I think we enjoyed that Christmas Eve dinner more than any other. At least I know I did!

#salute

Later that evening after the boys were asleep Santa stealthily put the tiny packages she had hidden in my suitcase as well as the Italian candy she’d discovered during the week into the boys stockings also hidden in the suitcase. Under the tiny tree they went!

“Mommy! Daddy! Wake up! Santa was here, he found us!” “Didn’t I tell you “he” would find us wherever we are…”