Touring Rome and Vatican City on our own

A Swiss Guard at St. Peters

DAY TWO — The alarm doesn’t go off. Despite the directions and our plan to walk through the Borghese Gardens to the Borghese Gallery, with its fabulous collections of paintings, sculptures, mosaics and bas-reliefs, mainly from 15th to 18th Centuries. We have a reservation — apparently reservations are needed at this small gem of a museum. But instead of a leisurely walk (not to mention a much-needed cappuccino) we race to a cab and to the museum where we got in line with all of the other confused tourists who also had reservations.

It was worth the effort and so was getting the English audiofone so we could hear an explanation of what we were seeing — Bernini, Corregio, Titian, Raphael…even without having had coffee or breakfast first.

Afterward, we grab that much-needed coffee and stroll through the park (the little kids in the family, we decide, would love the zoo here and the chance to run and jump). We see lots of Italian kids on field trips.

After a lunch of pizza, we meet up with Monica Saab, an accredited Vatican tour guide that Rita Clemens (www.customizeditaly.com) has arranged for us. Not only does she make our tour of the Vatican Museums, St. Peters and, of course, the Sistine Chapel less stressful, she’s a fountain of knowledge, telling me how she keeps kids engaged. (Looking for figures in the art work helps — how many honeybees can you find in one picture, dragons in another?) The kids, she confesses, most like looking at the dead Popes laid out in St.Peter’s Basilica.

We sit in the Sistine Chapel and stare up at Michelangelo’s ceiling. “You don’t need to be Catholic to appreciate this,” she says. “If you are a person with feelings, it will touch you.”We are awed that Michelangelo was jus t 23 when he carved the famous Pieta — just a little older than Reggie is now.

But even spectacular sites are no match for severe jet lag. We were supposed to spend four hours touring the Vatican. Reggie can’t last. We opt for a gelato break and then take her back to our apartment for a much needed nap while Monica, a mom of two, and I walk and walk, stopping at the Pantheon, St Louis of the French Church to see three Caravaggio’s on display. There is art everywhere in Rome, not just museums. We pass a “talking statue” where people would leave notes voicing their disapproval of the all powerful Popes. Today, there are notes plastered on the statue too.

Later that night, we meet up with Jill Kammer and her 20 year old daughter Ava to go for dinner in the Trastevere section of Rome across the Tiber River. Once an ancient working-class area it’s now hip. (If you want to stay here, check out the Hotel Santa Maria www.htlsantamaria.com Ask about their new apartment, that would be a good family bet.)

The Kammers take us to Trattoria da Lucia, that has been here since 1938. (Vicolo del Mattonato 2). A few tables are set out in the cobblestones and we feast on salad, pasta, and the tenderest beef stew and freshest green beans. We drink a lot of wine and eat chocolate mousse for desert.

It’s so nice to meet new friends in a foreign city eager to show us their favorite haunts. I never would have been able to find this tiny restaurant on my own. I’m glad we didn’t have to.

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