Rome: Gritty, Grimy, Glorious.

Metro Graffiti Forum Columns Colloseum from the Forum
Gotta Go!
2)Santa Maria Church
3)Public Transport
4)The Angelus Prayer
5)Giancolo Park
7)St. Peters Cathedral
8)Ostia Antica
9)Vatican Museum

Skip It.
1)Villa Borghese Park
2)Trevi Fountain
4)The Forum and Palantine
5)Ostia Beach

I hadn't realized how structured and repressed we'd become in the United States, but a recent trip to Rome leads me to question my country's title to 'land of the free'. It appears that anything goes in Rome. Got something to say? Scrawl it on a wall. Need to get somewhere in a hurry? Then drive like it. Tired of lugging something around? Then put gravity to work. This leads to some chaos and dirt, but this American found it quite liberating.

The graffiti is everywhere. In the U.S. you can judge the quality of the neighborhood by the amount of graffiti and check cashing stores. Not so in Rome. I'm not sure there is a building in Rome without some graffiti. Maybe the churches, I forgot to look.

The graffiti tradition goes back several thousands of years as the Colloseum is covered with Latin screeds. Boy, that would be a great archaeological thesis paper: Analysis of the Colloseum Graffiti. "The woman most cited on Colloseum walls is Copernia 555-3482. She was apparently a lot of fun. Not like, Pomponia who was to be avoided if one wished to remain healthy."

No one seems to care about the graffiti either, as I've never seen any painted over. They've had two thousand years to paint over the graffiti in the Coliseum and haven't gotten around to it yet. I'm not sure it is a lack of caring, either. Maybe it's the Roman state of mind. It isn't really hurting anything, and someone went to a lot of trouble to put it there, so why destroy their hard work?

The man who invented America's traffic laws grew up in my home town (prize to anyone who guessed William Phelps Eno). Mr. Eno, may have made the roads safer but he also squeezed the fun out of them. The woman renting us an apartment in Rome was kind enough to drive me to the hardware store. This was an E ticket ride. Windy narrow streets, with only inches to spare on the side view mirror. Two speeds: like a bat out of hell or stopped.

Only the busiest intersections have traffic signals, and I only spotted one stop sign during my week visit. Most intersections are first come, first served. When we pulled out of the hardware store a left turn was impossible, so we hung a right, cutting off on-coming traffic. Then we stopped in the middle of the street to make a U-turn. Well, we only stopped for a moment as Elayana steadily inched the nose of the car into the oncoming traffic. Finally, an oncoming car flinched and we began our turn. Couldn't make a tight enough radius so Elayana slammed it into reverse, but she had hesitated and the cars we were blocking began buzzing around our bumper. So we sat there for a minute perpendicular to the road, blocking one lane while the blocked cars circled into the on-coming traffic. Elayana cursed the cars blocking the completion of her turn, and gunned it when there slight gap in the traffic.

Despite all the chaos, I never saw a single traffic accident. It is like soldiers describing time slowing down in the heat of battle. Adrenaline is pumping and reflexes are lightning fast. I would like to be a fly on the wall in Roman traffic court to sympathize with the poor traffic judge trying to determine fault because everyone is breaking some traffic rule at any given moment. Judge: 'Signore, you must be at fault because you struck the Signora from behind." Signore: "But she was backing up! She was making a three point turn in the middle of the boulevard, so I had to go around her by swerving into oncoming traffic. However, a scooter was doing the same thing to my left when out of nowhere an auto bus was approaching. I swerved back into lane to allow the scooter to pass. I saved the scooter rider's life!" Judge: "Si, si, very commendable. Signora, you must be at fault because you were backing up." Signora: "But the Signore stopped to let me make the turn. And I was in the correct lane, he came across the line." Signore: "I only stopped to avoid clipping the nose of her car, and she was the reason I was in the other lane." Judge: "What do you say, we flip a coin?"

Street litter is impossible to find in Switzerland and an endangered species in the U.S,. it is thriving in Rome. The litter breeds profusely fueled by the Italian's obsession with receipts and tickets. Buy a gelato, get a ticket. Want a slice of pizza? Pay, get a receipt, then pickup your pizza. Have a museum pass? First, show it to get a ticket, then show your ticket to two people before getting through the entrance. Of course, all these receipts and tickets must go somewhere. Cutting down on receipts would be a good first step in a spay and neutering program.

I'm sure some of the street litters are 'accidental'. A few hours of shopping and your pockets are packed with tiny slips of paper. All those slips in tight quarters are bound to get into some mischief. As litters are born, the slips of paper migrate towards the pocket entrance eventually jumping free of the crowded nest to the street below.

My seven year old daughter caught on quick. "Daddy, am I supposed to throw my gum on the ground?", as she stood on a sidewalk stained by the well worn dark blotches of chewing gum. Though the saying, "When in Rome" popped into my head I couldn't shake the conformist chains of my American heritage. Visions of crying Indians and hooting owls quickly subdued my desire to let her pollute.

I'm sure the Italian Tourism Board is cringing as they read this article. I envision a program to clean up the streets and walls of Rome being planned by bureaucrats huddled over a map of the city. But that would miss my point. The Tourism Board should embrace their way of life and promote it: "Tired of waiting at red lights? You can drive from one end of Rome to other without ever passing a stop sign!", "Tired of crying Indians and hooting owls invading your psyche? Clear you mind and litter a little in Rome!" Americans would love it. Well, the type of Americans who serve as president of homeowner associations might find it maddening. But the rest of us, who want to put up a basketball goal in our driveway, will find it a breathe of (slightly less than) fresh air.

Family in the Colloseum

Gotta Go
The Pantheon, Santa Maria Church, Public Transport, The Angelus Prayer, Giancolo Park, Trastevere, Saint Peters Cathedral, Vatican Museum, Ostia Antica
Details and Pictures
Family Grades: Brian(Dad):A, Toni(Mom):B, Sean(13):B, Kyle(12):C, Emi(7):B

One of the greatest pieces of architecture in the world. It was the largest dome in the world for over 2,000 years. Also, its a great place to rest and cool off. When we were there kids were entertained by a seagull which was flying around inside the dome and couldn't find a way out.

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva Church
Details and Pictures
Family Grades: Brian(Dad):A, Toni(Mom):A, Sean(13):B, Kyle(12):A, Emi(7):A+

One of the most beautiful churches we visited in Rome. We were lucky enough to be there when the choir was practicing for an upcoming visit by the Pope.Wikipedia

Public Transportation
Details and Pictures

The public transportation in Rome is very convenient and the best way for tourists to get around. Weekly passes are quite reasonable coming to a few dollars a day per person. They cover all buses and metros. The passes even cover the train to the Mediterranean coast.

The Angelus Prayer
Details and Pictures
Family Grades: Brian(Dad):A, Toni(Mom):A, Sean(13):D, Kyle(12):B-, Emi(7):B

Except for the middle of summer, the Pope gives a prayer in St. Peter's Square every Sunday at noon. The prayer is followed by a welcome message to the crowd in multiple languages. This was a highlight of the trip and one of the truly unique Italian activities of our trip.

Giancolo Park
Details and Pictures
Family Grades: Brian(Dad):A, Toni(Mom):A, Sean(13):A, Kyle(12):A+, Emi(7):A+

We stumbled upon this park on a bus trip by complete accident, yet it was the best park we found in Rome. It lies high on a ridge on the western edge of Rome and offers cool breezes and a fantastic view of the city.

Details and Pictures
Family Grades: Brian(Dad):A, Toni(Mom):A, Sean(13):B, Kyle(12):A, Emi(7):A+

A laid back section of the city with good restaurants and unique shops. It is a good place for lunch and an afternoon stroll in the narrow shaded streets.

Saint Peter's Cathedral
Details and Pictures
Family Grades: Brian(Dad):A+, Toni(Mom):A+, Sean(13):B, Kyle(12):B, Emi(7):A+

The cathedral of cathedrals. I haven't ever seen a church that even compares to it. Make sure not to miss the Pietra.

Vatican Museum
Details and Pictures
Family Grades: Brian(Dad):A+, Toni(Mom):A, Sean(13):C, Kyle(12):C, Emi(7):A+

One of the great museums of the world, it was especially enjoyable to tour it on a peaceful evening.

Details and Pictures
Family Grades: Brian(Dad):A, Toni(Mom):A

The best ancient Roman ruins in Rome.

Villa Borghese Park, Trevi Fountain, Colloseum, The Forum and Palatine, Ostia Beach, Aventine
Villa Borghese

Overall, we were disappointed with the parks in Italy. They are not the manicured gardens we are used to. Instead, they are simple public spaces. Often hot and dusty. There wasn't much for the kids to do. No playground just some pony rides, a game arcade and a mini children's theater. Don't waste your precious time in Rome here.

Family Grades:


Toni(Mom):B "Fountains shady and big but no playground."

Sean(13):A "I give it an A because you can climb on the fountains and I like climbing on the fountains. Audio Clip

Kyle(12):B "It wasn't really that cool, but cool. There were these neat bike carts but Dad didn't rent one. There was peacocks in the zoo. There was lots of fountains. There was museums in there." Audio Clip

Emi(7):A "It has snack bars where you can get ice cream. I got some ice cream but threw away my napkin when it got all chocolately. We got a paper towel and water from another guy at a snack bar so I could wipe my face. It has restaurants, waterfalls and things like that." Audio Clip


Well I know you won't skip it, you can't return from Rome and tell your friends you didn't see the Trevi Fountain. But really, it isn't that big of a deal. In any other city it would be a must see, but there are spectacular fountains everywhere in Rome. Unlike the Trevi, the other fountains are not packed shoulder to shoulder with tourists. Also, you have to walk through a ton of tourist schlock on your way to and from the fountain. If you have to go, then go, toss a coin and then get out!

Family Grades:


Toni(Mom):A "I give the Trevi Fountain an A,for a fountain it was a pretty amazing piece of sculpture but the tourist ruined it. Too many people there and it was such a small area you couldn't really see it. It should be in a park somewhere." Audio Clip

Sean(13):B "All I really saw was a bunch of marble and shapes of horses and things and I didn't really enjoy it that much. Plus they wouldn't let you climb on it." Audio Clip

Kyle(12):B "It was really crowded, it looked really cool. I got to throw a coin into it." Audio Clip

Emi(7):B "It was very pretty but the thing is it was boring except for the part of throwing the coin in." Audio Clip


Not much for kids here. They emphasize the serious archaeological aspects versus the fact it was a sports arena of death. An audio guide is a must, though Kyle only got through half of it before getting bored. They've rebuilt a third of the floor but they don't let the general public onto it.Colloseum Video

Actually, the Colloseum is mostly ruble. It has been stripped of all of its marble. The museum only contains fragments of statues. It is also expensive, for all of this I paid 60 Euros.

We were able to avoid the long wait by getting into the much shorter line for audio guides. You are required to purchase one audio guide for each adult.

Family Grades:


Toni(Mom):C "The Colloseum is not very handicap friendly. The tours are all blocking the ways. You can see everything we saw by Googling it. It was way too expensive for what we saw. I would much rather view it from the outside." Audio Clip

Sean(13):C "I give it a C because you can't go on the platform unless you're on a tour. Most of the area is blocked off and there is a museum inside which has no point value either and you can't really go anywhere because everything is blocked off. The tour groups walk up most of the entrances and exits. It just isn't worth your time." Audio Clip

Kyle(12):C "You have to watch your step, the ground's really rough and you'll twist your ankle a couple of times if you don't watch where you step. It was really hot and there were a lot of people there. The tour groups blocked off everything you wanted to see. " Audio Clip

Emi(7):B "First off they're killing each other. Secondly it isn't right. Maybe people are coming to see their son or daughter fight. So its just a little bit stupid. For entertainment they should just make movies, show it on TV and edit it." Audio Clip

The Forum and Palatine

Toni and the kids were so worn out from the heat and crowds in the Colloseum they had no interest in walking through the Forum and Palatine with me. The ticket for the Colloseum includes the Forum and Palatine, so if you want a casual walk with some wild flowers it will meet those expectations. However, when they say ruins they aren't kidding. There isn't much left. If you only have time for one set of ancient ruins, I would highly recommend Ostia Antica (see above).

Family Grades:


Ostia Beach

I didn't realize it, but the Mediterranean is only a 30 minute train ride from Rome. In fact, the ride is even covered by the Rome metro pass. The problem is that the beaches aren't that great. They are set behind a sea wall and the water is shallow. Of course, we didn't visit every beach so maybe there's a jewel there somewhere. So if you do go, do your homework to find the best beach.

After playing with some little Italian girls Emi came back over, put her hands on her hips and voiced her disapproval "Those little girls aren't wearing any tops. That isn't right!" Meanwhile, my two teenage boys were so busy playing in the ocean that they didn't even notice the Italian women sunbathing topless.

Toni felt a little uncomfortable because she was the only woman wearing a one piece bathing suit. All women whether they had the body for it or not, were wearing bikinis. Half of those bikinis were thongs.

Family Grades:

Toni(Mom):B- "It was a different kind of beach than we're used to. The sand was brownish-black and very hot. The water was only two feet deep, you could play in it. It had a breakwater about 30 feet from shore. You could go past it but the water still wasn't any deeper and since no one was going out there I don't think the life guards allowed it. It was very crowded. It was so crowded you had to rent an umbrella to get a spot. There were lots of people coming by to try to sell me stuff. At least 30 people came by. " Audio Clip


One of the three hills which make up the original settlement of Rome, the Aventine has very little to offer tourists. We walked up and over it one evening after seeing the Bocca di Verita (Stone of Truth). The public rose garden is the first attraction you come to as you walk up from the Circus Maximus. However, it wasn't open in the cool evening when it would be most pleasant to walk through it.

There is a small park with a good view of St. Peter's Cathedral (Giardino degli Aranci)on top of the hill. Apparently, one of the guide books touts the oranges growing in this park, because a couple of college kids asked us for directions to the free oranges and there were other college kids collecting them in the park. But unfortunately whoever wrote the guide book never bothered to taste the oranges because they are extremely sour Orange Video. Another favorite of the guide books is a view through a special key hole, but not really worth a special trip: Keyhole View Video

And that is all there is to Aventine. Most of the hill is covered with large homes/offices separated from the street from high stone walls. There aren't any restaurants or stores on the plazas either, which got me into trouble with the kids because I kept prodding them along to keep walking by promising them a treat at the first gelato store. Gelato Face Video

If you'd like to stand in line for 45 minutes you can risk having your hand bitten off in the Bocco di Verita at the base of the Aventine Hill. Tradition says it will bite off your hand if you tell a lie. Sort of a tradition to fulfill.Bocco id Verita Video

Family Grades:


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