There are a few rules about visiting the Vatican you need to know. First, women must cover their knees. This means long dresses are preferred. Second, women must cover their shoulders. This means you’ll likely need a scarf or shawl to pull over your sleeveless maxi dress. Third, men must also have their knees covered. This means every American man who has ever visited the Vatican in the summer has spent hours measuring the length of their cargo shorts, sitting and standing, moaning about the audacity of God to ask they cover their hairy legs (Adam didn’t have to!), and eventually succumbing to the fact he’ll die in full-length pants in 90+ degree heat.
The baby on this trip was not Skinny Jeans.
Inside the City Walls
Our tour guide, Katia (same as from the Colosseum) met us early at the Vatican doors. We skipped a few lines and were led towards a long hallway adorned with statues where she explained a some things to us before heading inside and making our way to the Sistine Chapel.
As we sat on a marble ledge, Katia took out a long, laminated picture and handed it to the kids.
“Who is this?” she asked, pointing to a man sitting at the center of a table.
“Have you heard of the Last Supper?” she asked.
I pretended I was letting the children have a chance to answer.
“Jesus?” Katia asked, eyes widening.
She continued to explain the frescos in the picture, as simply as she could. Stories of Moses. Stories of Jesus. Every once in awhile, Katia asked “Do you know…?” and “Haven’t you heard…?” and I wished I paid more attention all those years I went to mass. Skinny Jeans blurted some random references to Little Mermaid and, perhaps, Captain Underpants just to prove she’s a heathen and the rest of us were grateful she broke the silence so we could get on to the good stuff.
Katia led us through incredibly intricate museums of sculptures, tapestries, and maps. We passed through as a mob of hundreds, looking every which way to take it all in. Now knowing her audience, Katia skipped the scriptures and pointed out the tapestries that had eyes that appeared to follow us and answered questions about where all the penises have gone on the sculptures.
Inside the Sistine Chapel, guards regularly shouted, “SILENCIO!” and no photography was allowed. It was smaller than I expected, but still breathtaking. Katia had explained several key pieces of the ceiling (e.g, a super-buff Jesus, a serpent wrapped around the naked body of a man who’d protested Michelangelo, someone holding the skin of another) that made Skinny Jeans excitedly point in recognition.
St. Peter's Cathedral
From the Chapel, we were on to St. Peter’s Cathedral. Katia had a story for practically every nook of the enormous church, and we spent hours spying for animal carvings in the ceiling, rubbing the feet of St. Peter for good luck, and looking at embalmed popes.
While our visit to the Vatican wasn’t the most sacred, it was certainly the most memorable and we were all glad we did it. The city holds secrets and stories that are fascinating to all--even those who think Christmas is about Santa.
But, if the Vatican just isn't your thing, be sure to check out our other adventures in Rome.
When in Rome
It’s taken me this long to figure out where to even begin. Our three-week trip to Italy now seems like a dream, a blip in the summer where we traded in the normalcy of good old American pool parties and firework dotted skies for endless gelato and oven-hot cities where the streets twist like grapevines. Over our 20 days of wine drenched wander, we went from Denver to Munich to Rome to Florence to a farm outside of Siena to an island out in the sea and back. We traveled by plane and bus, train and ferry, and made ourselves dizzy driving along the rolling hills of Tuscany. It was exciting and strange and difficult. There were times we longed to come home and times we were desperate to stay.
Italy or Bust
Our adventure started with a red-eye to Munich. We flew with Lufthansa, which wasn’t my favorite. Leading up to the flight, I had a difficult time getting anyone to help me with the kids menu to check for Skinny Jeans’ allergies. Apparently, not a single person knows what the hell is in the food they are serving. While I’m completely accustomed to bringing food for Skinny Jeans, the flight was over 10 hours long and one can only keep food cold for so long. The safest bet was the vegan meal, but you try feeding a seven-year-old flaccid tofu and fart-smelling broccoli.
We landed in Munich where, much to our surprise, there was a play area right by our gate. In the couple of hours we had to wait for our next flight, Skinny Jeans made friends with kids from different countries, all speaking different languages. It was incredible to watch how much language and nationality meant nothing to a bunch of kids playing hide-n-seek.
Calling Rome Home
Rome was our next stop and we got there just in time to enjoy the afternoon and settle into what would be our new digs for a few days. Opting to stay somewhat close to the action, we chose the Hotel Serena, a modest boutique hotel with breakfast and fat and friendly dog at the reception. The room included a queen bed and a twin--perfect for the three of us. After unpacking, we wandered around for a bit, taking in the bustling streets and blowing off the eager waiters all vying for our business. As the temperature spiked to 95 degrees, we were on the hunt for something to cool us off. A trip to oldest gelateria in Rome, Fassi, did the trick. Tired from travel and exhausted by the heat, we went to bed early, cranked the air conditioning as high as it would go, and didn’t even mind the rock-hard mattresses.
Explain it to me like I'm five
The next morning, we met my sister and her family who had just arrived from the States, and took the bus to the Pantheon where our tour guide, Katia, was waiting. Katia was recommended to us by a friend, the principal at the American School in Rome. As a group of seven with kids ages 7, 11, and 15, I was worried about how to keep everyone engaged during the three-hour tour. Rome, to a kid, looks like it’s broken, like a run-down apartment complex where the slumlord refuses to fix anything. But, Katia did not disappoint. In the time we spent with her at the Pantheon and Colosseum, she was able to bring the ruins to life with her captivating stories (and trusty iPad). And while the Pantheon was stunning with its giant oculus and the Colosseum breathtaking and surreal, my favorite part of the tour were the lesser known stories and secrets Katia shared. Like, did you know the pope has his own personal store where he gets his socks? Or, that behind the Pantheon there’s a sculpture of an elephant flipping off (among other things) a monastery because the artist was in an argument with the priest who lived there? History buff, I am not. But give me a good, gross story, and I'm in like the rest of the kids. Katia quickly learned her audience.
Our first full day in Rome was soaked in history, mysteries, and more sweat than I’m proud to admit. We were off to a great start and ready to tackle the next thing: The Vatican. In 100 degree heat. With a kid. Just us and about 1 million other tourists. What could possibly go wrong?
Where to Stay: Hotel Serena. Simple and small. Close to the train station and lots of restaurants.
What to Do: Pantheon and Colosseum. When in Rome!
Where to Eat: I can’t say our first day included any fine dining. We popped into a ristorante, La Piccola Cuccagna, for classic Roman pizzas before the Pantheon. It was good and the Peroni was cold.
Fassi is a fun place to visit, lots of antique gelato-making machinery and delicious gelato.
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