The breeze is warm as it tenderly licks my bare shoulders. The sweat slowly drips down my chest as I welcome the stray water droplets that find their way to my skin from Bernini’s impeccable Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the four rivers). I’m sitting quietly in Rome’s Piazza Navona, entranced by one of my favourite sounds – the tinny clang of church bells ringing from a short distance away. The four young Italian men I’ve been noticing at the centre of the square look my way and smile. They look handsome in their perfectly-fitted suits and tanned skin. I slowly shake my head, allowing my long brown locks to create a breeze of their own on my neck when I hear it: “Mommy, I have to pee. I really really have to pee.” A child is running towards me, well, she’s more waddling than running actually. The little girl is holding her hands between her legs and screaming at the top of her lungs.
I quickly snap out of my romantic reverie to realize that the mommy of which this girl speaks is, in fact, me.
The Italian hotties who smiled in my direction were merely chuckling at my six-year-old daughter, Marley’s, enthusiastic version of the pee pee dance and laughing at her very public declaration of her need for a toilet.
Her father, my loving husband, Austin, is on the other side of the piazza consoling our four-year-old son, Pierce, who dropped his pistachio-flavoured gelato on the ground.
Twelve years ago, my husband and I (then merely dating) spent two months backpacking through Europe. The delectable food, remarkable history and awe-inspiring ruins made Rome a must on our “we have to come back here” list. So, mere months after moving to London, we packed carry-on suitcases and jetted off to Rome for a low-budget long-weekend trip with the kids.
Boarding our Easy Jet flight we wore every sweater and raincoat we’d packed for our three-day stay. Too cheap to pay to check a bag, we opted for the free carry-on option instead, but everything, including my purse, had to fit into our tiny bag. We arrived late at night to find the apartment we’d rented online to be dirty (our white socks were filthy after walking in it), full of bed bugs (Pierce’s little body was covered with bites the next morning) and situated in a very sketchy area of town (people screamed, fought and broke bottles outside at night). The “central location” was actually a 15-minute bus ride (not walk, as they claimed on the Website) from the central Termini train station.
After a sleepless night, we headed to the Colosseum. Perhaps the most recognized of Rome’s many historical attractions, this ancient home to Gladiators and actors alike was built between 70 and 80 AD and was the largest Ampitheatre to be erected during the Roman Empire. Despite the long (75 minutes), hot (35 degrees Celcius) wait to enter, Marley and Pierce were excited to see where the gruesome games were played so many years ago. They climbed on downed columns, skipped through open corridors and reinacted the Crucifixion for photos before complaining of hunger.
We were more than placated by a very over-priced yet utterly delicious Margherita pizza (so-named in Naples for Queen Margherita, the wife of King Umberto I and made in the colours of the Italian flag – white (mozzarella), red (tomatoes) and green (basil). Feeling refreshed from our lunch, we hopped on the Metro to visit Vatican City.
In an attempt to beat yet another long line to enter Saint Peter’s Basilica, we signed up for a two-hour guided tour of the Vatican Museum (including the Sistene Chapel) which also gained us entrance to the church. “Two hours,” Marley wined, wiping sweat from her brow. “That’s too long. Can’t we just go swimming somewhere?” “How about some gelato,” I suggested. “It will cool you down and taste delicious. I’ll get you one now and another when we leave the museum. Deal?” “Deal,” the kids shouted in unison, running towards the Blue Ice gelato shop across the street.
Despite the sugar rush, the kids were amazingly well behaved during the tour through the Vatican. They even managed to lower their voices to a whisper during our time in the Sistine Chapel. Once in St. Peter’s Marley stood entranced in front of Michelangelo’s Pietà, protected behind glass near the cathedral’s entrance. She was so impressed by the holy sculpture that she made us re-enact it for a photo – Austin and I were directed to act as angels and hover above her Mary and Pierce’s Jesus in the centre of the basilica.
Dinner that night was a sampling of pasta with wild boar sauce and yet another pizza (this time the kids ordered one with French fries and hot dog as toppings – not my choice). We went to bed exhausted enough to ignore the biting bugs and loud locals, waking up ready for our trip to the Piazza De Spagna (Spanish Steps) in the morning. We bypassed the expensive shops near the base of the steps to race each other to the top. The view was reward enough for the winner. The mid-morning sun glinted off old stone buildings while the infamous steps, originally designed to connect the Church at the top of the hill with the bustling plaza below, cascaded below us, peppered with tourists and shoppers alike.
After yet another gelato pit stop (this time for hazelnut and stracciatella), we walked to the site of Rome’s oldest market, Campo de Fiori. We ate lunch on a patio, enjoying every second we spent watching shoppers browse through the various wares – everything from bicycle-shaped pasta to vintage jewels could be found in abundance.
Our next and final stop was the Trevi fountain which was built to mark the end of an acqueduct that brought water into the city of Rome during the Baroque era. According to legend, throwing a coin in the Trevi’s water will ensure you another visit to Rome. Since it worked for Austin and I the first time, we wanted to make sure the kids had their own chance to test fate. Austin had to carry Marley for the long walk from the Metro as she’d succumbed to utter exhaustion. We woke her up after finding a seat on the steps just in front of the fountain, watching as she blinked in awe at the Baroque sculptures, sitting speechless as she admired the fountain’s beauty and grandeur. At 86 feet in height and 161 feet wide, it’s hard not to be impressed when looking at such a spectacular work of art. We fought through the crowds of tourists for a spot near the water, snapping photos as the kids threw coins over their shoulders, smiling up at us as the Trevi swallowed their wishes and ensured their return to this magnificent Italian city.
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Writer, Photographer, World Traveler