Last week was spring break for us, the holiday we traditionally spend with my parents and my sister Lauren and her family. This year the destination was Rome! We all loved the idea but were a little nervous about it too...would the kids enjoy sight seeing when they have grown accustomed to spending this holiday on the beach? Would they be interested in the history and art? The short answer is they loved every minute of it! From day one they were full of energy and approached every outing with delight.
We did do a little to prepare them. First of all, we bought This is Rome and Ancient Rome, knowing that most kids enjoy seeing familiar books come to life. Secondly, my mom brought each child a sketch book -- more on that in my next post! Last but not least, I recommend the guide book Rome with Kids. It was full of suggestions on how to beat the lines and gave hints about how much time various sights would take. It aslo had fun suggestions of how to engage the kids...for example, there was a list of things to look for on the Vatican grounds if you climbed to the top of the Basilica at St. Peter's.
One of the truly special things about Rome is all the ancient history...something I knew the boys would be interested in, especially since they have learned a bit about it in school. The stories are right up their alley...gladiators fighting bears certainly captivated their imaginations! There is something about standing in the vast Colosseum that was very exciting for all of us, looking down and imagining what would have been going on below.
While planning the trip, I was most apprehensive about whether or not the kids would have much interest in the art and architecture. While I was pretty sure the Forum and Colosseum would be interesting for them, I was pretty sure that the Vatican might not be. At the same time, I felt strongly that no trip to Rome was complete without seeing the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. Amazingly, the kids were troopers for it all...even more amazing since we left those sights for the last day so had to cram in both into one exhausting and long day.
The highlight of the Basilica was climbing to the top of the dome. You can take an elevator up halfway and the sight within the church at this mid level is mindblowing. It is amazingly vast, and the mosaics and architecture are really spectacular. Then you wind up through very narrow passages filled with stairs to the very top. This time the view is of all of Rome and a great overview of Vatican City. The only downside is that it is a popular thing to do so very very crowded. Still, the kids thought all the stairs were great fun and they did manage to spot most of the things the guidebook suggested. As you finish the climb you are dropped into the Basilica itself and can walk through to see the art. Sadly, the Pieta is now behind plexiglass but it is still pretty amazing to see. The kids enjoyed hearing that Michelangelo was a young unknown sculptor when he made it and that now it is considered one of the best sculptures ever made.
After spending our morning at St Peter's we went for a lunch break so we could rest our legs before tackling the Vatican Museum and seeing the Sistine Chapel. I will admit, that by the time we navigated the mob and the incredible maze of the museum I am not sure the kids had anything left in them to really appreciate the chapel ceiling. I would certainly reserve a whole day for the museum if we were to do it over again. They did get to marvel at many things along the way though. We got to show them a masterful trompe l'oeil ceiling that had us all convinced at least temporarily that the ceiling was actually carved marble. We also saw hundreds of marble statues and each of the kids found aspects of them fascinating...Owen especially wondered how artists carve hard stone and manage to have it look so soft and lifelike. They were also blown away by the intricate tapestries portraying scenes in such detail that you could not believe that it was woven rather than painted. They were also quite curious about all the gore depicted - we had to talk a bit about parts of Christianity that they had been blissfully unaware of up until recently.
As for the architecture, the fact that the ruins are outdoors, and the castles and even churches are full of stairs to climb, means that they got to be very physical most of the time. This is a real plus if you have energetic kids like I do. Walking quietly through the Metropolitan is much harder for them than any place we took them in Rome!
One thing I thought Oliver would be particularly interested in was the work of Leonardo DaVinci since he read a book about him in school recently. Just by chance we found a small exhibit of his machines. It was an interactive show and the kids loved getting to turn all the various cranks and see how things work. It was quite remarkable to realize what a prolific artist and inventor he was...two fields that we often think of as quite different from each other.
In addition to all of the famous sites we all loved just wandering the streets. My mother was our expert navigator and I have countless photos of her leading our pack. Practically every alley had some magnificent colorful palette or a wall dripping with vines of wisteria or covered in ivy. And all the piazzas were great places to take a people watching break and let the kids run in circles, playing with whatever silly "souvenir" they had talked us into that day.
Last but not least, no report would be complete without mentioning the food. It is hard to go wrong when every imagineable pasta and pizza are standard fare and gelato is allowed every day!! As promised, my Dad got to give Noah his first gelato and it was love at first bite. All in all, we had a wonderful week.