Civitavecchia, Rome’s port, is one of those sprawling port cities that conjure images of seafarers, trade routes, and debauchery. For most, it’s a place you pass through, headed to the bigger draw. Memories flooded back of our last visit here, two years ago, when we had lunch under the olive trees in a backyard trattoria near Rome’s catacombs. To this day, the best meal we’ve ever had. That time, we had a driver for the day and stormed Rome with a vengeance. This time, we’re on a different budget, and a different mission, exploring by foot and by train. From tourists to travelers perhaps?
In St. Peters Square, we joined the throngs for the weekly papal address. A sunny spring morning, the sun glistening off the imposing architecture, designed by Bernini to intimidate. It still works, hundreds of years later. It was one of those moments – and as a homeschool traveling parent skipping the traditional route for a road less traveled, I live for these moments — when it all comes together. Like a gentle tap on the shoulder, “oh yeah, this is why we’re doing this.” This choice, this lifestyle, it’s working.
Rome inspires. It’s just one of those cities. We love the chaos, the sprawl, the old amidst the new, tourists, travelers, and locals all jostling for space. Wandering the Vatican with Agnes, our RomeWalks guide for the morning, we learned of Papal intrigue and holy discord, along with a good dose of history, art appreciation and local culture. Sacagawea hung right with her, particularly amused by the story of Michelangelo’s debate with the church to “clothe or not to clothe” the minor players in the magnificent mural of the Sistine Chapel. Seems that one of the Pope’s advisors held a strong anti-nudity view, and lobbied the Pope mercilessly, much to Michelangelo’s irritation. (Remember, he didn’t really want to do this job in the first place.) The master prevailed, of course, and to forever remind the Pope’s advisor of his failing, painted him into the crowd being tossed to the jaws of hell – naked, of course – with a serpent wrapped around him, jaws aimed towards a particularly delicate region. (Ouch. Moral of the story: Don’t argue with the master.)
As the day drew to a close, we found our way to the Trevi Fountain, a personal tradition of coin tossing and gelato. Sacagawea and Dundee were determined, and took off to find that favorite photo spot, and that gelato joint. They remembered is perfectly and led the way. We tossed our coins and jockeyed for position to snap the family photo – same spot, two years later. A new family tradition, it seems. And one that’s likely to be honored again and again.