Monday, July 13, 2009

Rome, the adventure begins..

The first real day of Strange vacation we met up with the delightful tour guide "Ron in Rome." He met us at our hotel before 9:00 and I think we had him till about 6:00. He was an interesting guy, retired military, and lacking consulting work he'd taken up tour guiding. The group of twelve, including Nanner, Greg & Kim's brood, and Greg's brother, Doug and their kids, worked well with him as a benign dictator. Ron took us to all the big sites: Colosseum, Palatine, Forum, Campo dei Fiori, all the big piazzas and fountains, even the place where Audrey and Joe put their hands in monster's mouth in "Roman Holiday," all with accommodating gelato and water breaks. He was a real pro!

Ryan and I had seen some of the sites before, but it was great to have a guide to paint in the ruins for us. In between I quizzed him about his expat experience. He'd only been in Rome a year and a half, but he was un-stump-able! The day was busy and very hot, but everybody, even the tour-haters enjoyed themselves.

Day two was for the Borghese Gallery and Vatican. The Borghese is an old Cardinal palace situated in the middle of one of Rome's few green parks. I've developed a theory about art museums: the best ones are no more than 3 floors and take about an hour or so to walk through. Anything else is just overwhelming and tends to blur together. But Borghese was not too big and plenty of space was given to each piece. I don't know much about art and I bugged Nicky (Ryan's artist brother) by pointing at different pieces and asking if they were "good" or not. At first he gave me a long, intellectual answer about subjectivity, but after I repeated this game a few times he just answered "yes."

We walked back through the lovely park surrounding the Borghese, glad for the shade. It was sooooo hot. My mother always said that men sweat and women "glow," but I assure you I was sweating like a fat construction worker.

At the sun's peak we ambled over to the Vatican museum, and I was relieved to see a minuscule line at this site famed for roasting tourists for hours. The last time we saw the Vatican I remember spending a lot of time in the first few rooms and then speed-walking the rest thinking "Where is the Sistine Chapel? Where the hell is the Sistine Chapel?!" Remembering this, I tried to pace myself, starting fast and slowing at what I thought was the midway point, but I once again severely underestimated the size of the Vatican Museum. Our group of twelve was dispersing in its giantness and after a bit I decided just to stick with my mom-in-law, Kim, and Nicky. I gave up on Ryan due to his habit of reading all the informational plaques.

Finally in the astonishing Sistine Chapel I wished I'd brought the Rick Steves audio guide we'd used last time. The room itself is so huge and detailed that you really need time to soak it in. Without Rick's sweet whispers I couldn't remember much about the various stories behind the chapel. Soon something more urgent was brought to my attention: Max and Alli were lost! The rest of the family had reassembled while our two book worms had hunkered down in places unknown to read.

After a preliminary search of the two exits it was decided we'd split up and meet at the obelisk in the center of St. Peter's square. I argued with Ryan that we should meet by the entrance to the Basilica but he didn't listen to me and I still volunteered to go with him, completely forgetting the huge security lines we'd have to go through to get back into the Basilica. I was kicking myself as we roasted in the middle of the square. But luckily Max and Alli were found quickly enough, and after a talking-to resolved to stick closer by. The above photo are the Strange siblings reunited + me in front of the Basilica. We ended the day cooling in the crypt before getting some much-needed gelato.

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