Day 12 Rome -- A Perfect Day
How We Planned
DH and I had been to Rome once before for 3 days. This was SO helpful during planning because I actually knew where the sites were and logistically what would make sense. The hard part was accommodating all of our impaired mobility issues. We couldn't walk too much all at once. We couldn't do too many sites since the kids needed potty breaks. Also, planning for Rome was tricky because there were things I definitely knew I did and did not want. For example:
1. I did not a want a car for the day --- I know many people hire a driver and are driven around and shown the sites, but I did not want this. The traffic in Rome is notoriously slow, and we already knew that we wanted to focus on the Colosseum and the Vatican. Those 2 sites alone take up 5-6 hours of time. I didn't see the point in paying for a minivan for the day just to have the driver sit around for 6 hours waiting for us. That being said...
2. I wanted to do the "Underground Tour" at the Colosseum -- this tour just opened up a few years ago and for a very small tour fee, it permits access to the underground and stage portion of the Colosseum. The English tours are given at very specific times--times which are not released until a few months prior to the tour date.
3. I wanted to have a tour guide in the Vatican. Although my family does not usually prefer having tour guides, I knew from experience that a guide in the Vatican was necessary. There are so many lines, doors, access corridors and elevators that only a guide can go through. With our limited time in Rome, access was essential.
4. We have to stop at Trevi Fountain. My kids needed to throw coins in the fountain. How else can we ensure that they'll go back? Plus, my family has been to Caesar's Palace WAY too many times. They needed to see the real Trevi Fountain and not just the one next to Abercrombie & Fitch in the Forum Shops.
Walks of Italy was the only company that I contacted who allowed this extra stop without a fee. I tipped the driver extra based on what the fee would have been.
I contacted the usual companies recommended on here (Rome Cabs, Rome in Limo, etc.) Truth be told, they were all great. Problem? We have an odd number of 9 people. Everyone wanted to charge me for 2 cars, totaling over 1000 Euro for just driving! This is without guides, without admission tickets, etc. I know I talk about budgeting alot in this TR, and here's why. My brother (and his wife) and my husband and I were splitting ALL costs 50/50. Although my parents and my aunt were set on paying us back, we just couldn't let them. We needed to find savings everywhere and still have a good time. I contacted Walks of Italy and was able to get roundtrip transfers in a minivan, and 20% off their listed price from a promotional code posted on their blog.
DIY Route? --- There are lots of DIS'ers who did it the old-fashioned way, the way I used to travel to Europe: DIY. This means you get on a train, and you do it yourself. In fact, this is how we did Rome the first time we went. Our problem this time? Well, we're a band of invalids. I honestly couldn't walk 3 blocks without taking a break. Having been to Rome before, I also knew that it was another 45 minute train ride from S. Pietro station to Termini, then we had to go to metro the Colosseum from there. Why waste time? I checked the Port schedule for our Rome day it looked like at least 5 ships would be in the Port that day. Competing with thousands of other people trying to get BACK to the ships? No thanks.
A Happy Surprise
In the midst of my frenzied planning, I found a tour that would be more fitting for me personally: the Scavi Tour. The Excavations office of St. Peter's currently allows very limited number of tours down into the necropolis under St. Peter's Basilica. The following is an excerpt from catholiceducation.org.:
What we know today as St. Peter's used to be called New St. Peter's to distinguish it from Old St. Peter's, the basilica built by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, over what he and everyone else understood to be the grave of Peter, prince of the apostles. Despite his absorption in planning the new imperial capital at Constantinople, Constantine helped with the construction of his magnificent St. Peter's by carrying twelve baskets of earth to the site, one for each of the twelve apostles. For more than a millennium, Old St. Peter's was one of the focal points of the Christian world, a pole toward which Christians' internal compasses naturally pointed.
By the second half of the fifteenth century, however, Old St. Peter's had fallen to rack and ruin; the decision was made to pull it down to make way for a new basilica. The building of New St. Peter's, which would eventually include the world's largest dome and the fantastically strong foundations needed to support it, took 120 years and absorbed the attention of twenty popes and ten architects, including such legends as Bramante, Michelangelo, and Bernini. The building's changing design, the execution of those designs, and the fund-raising necessary to support such a vast project caused a lot of controversy, and contributed in at least an indirect way to the Reformation. Amid all the confusion and construction, little was done to explore the tomb of St. Peter. It was simply assumed to be where tradition and Constantine had sited it. "New St. Peter's" was thus built without any systematic excavation of what was underneath Old St. Peter's.
When the workmen began lowering the floor of the undercroft to accommodate the tomb of Pope Pius XI and renovate the grotto space, they discovered a series of tombs that, on further examination, seemed to be part of a kind of necropolis, complete with walls, streets, benches, funerary monuments, and so forth. Much of this had been disturbed or destroyed when the ancient Vatican Hill was leveled by Constantine's fourth-century builders, but a fair amount of it was still intact. While World War II raged across Europe, Pius XII quietly authorized a full-scale archaeological excavation of the area, which continued throughout the 1940s.
Digging under the papal high altar of the basilica was something like peeling an onion or opening one of those nested Russian matrushka dolls. Eventually the excavators found a shrine, the Tropaion (the Greek word for trophy or victory monument): a classic structure with columns supporting what may have been an altar, surmounted by a pediment. The floor of the Tropaion, which has an opening delineating the boundaries of the grave over which the monument was built, defined the level of the floor of Constantine's basilica. At the back of the Tropaion was a red wall; exposed to the elements, it began to crack, necessitating the construction of a buttressing wall to support the whole structure. When archaeologists unearthed the buttressing wall, they found it covered with graffiti. And it contained a secret, marble-lined repository. One piece of graffiti, decoded, seemed to say, "Peter is [here!]"
Thanks to long delayed renovation plans, the need to accommodate Pius XI's tomb, and the curiosity of Pius XII (who seems to have been intrigued by the discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1923), archaeologists eventually unearthed a small city of the dead beneath the foundations of Old St. Peter's, which had been incorporated into New St. Peter's as supports for the colossal new structure. There had been, evidently, a vast pagan burial ground on the Vatican Hill. At some point, Christians began to be buried there. The central grave that defines the Tropaion is surrounded by other graves, which radiate toward it. Thus it seems that the remains of St. Peter, which would have been among the most jealously guarded relics of the ancient Roman Christian community, had been buried, perhaps immediately after his death, perhaps a brief time later, in the Vatican Hill necropolis: secretly, but with sufficient clues to indicate to pious Christian pilgrims the location of Peter's tomb. Perhaps the remains were, during persecutions, moved to a less risky place and then reinterred. Perhaps the Tropaion was part of a Christian complex that, in calmer times, was used for baptisms, ordinations, and funerals. Perhaps, before the Tropaion was built, the grave itself was used as a site for small Christian gatherings in the dead of night.
No one knows for sure. Archaeology isn't algebra; it yields probabilities rather than certainties. But reputable scientific opinion today holds that the excavations under St. Peter's in the 1940s originally undertaken for an entirely different purpose did yield the mortal remains of Peter.
Contacting the Scavi Office
Forum posts on TripAdvisor say that you must contact the Scavi (excavations) office at least 3 months prior to your desired tour date to request a tour. The process is opaque. You can either email or fax in a request. If you receive a reply with a tour date, then you're in. If you don't receive a reply, then it means that the Scavi office did not assign you a tour. They don't like it if you call in asking about your request because there are only a few administrative people who work for the Scavi office, and they still work manually out of a handwritten appointment book. Sometimes you will receive a reply within a few days, sometimes within a few months.
For me, my 3-month mark fell right when the Vatican was preparing for the election of the new Pope. I emailed them about one week prior to the Papal Conclave. I wasn't surprised when I didn't even receive an automated reply back. My SIL faxed in a request for me. I tried emailing from another email address. "Stop harassing the Priests." DH said. "They're kind of busy at the moment." OK. Sorry. I'll give it a rest. A week after the fax request was sent, I received a reply. We were granted a tour -- but the time conflicted with our Underground Tour schedule AND our Vatican tour. The rest of the family decided to do the Vatican museum tour, and I would do the Scavi Tour alone. I would also miss the Underground Tour. It didn't matter, I was excited and grateful for the opportunity.
What Actually Happened
Perfection. It actually happened. Our Rome day was perfect. I had planned it so that there wasn't much room for error. Everything had to happen right on time. Since Baby Ems did so well in the nursery during our Palo dinner, the CMs suggested that we leave her there for our Rome day. We dropped her off at 8:00 am exactly (along with a line of other parents dropping off babies). I missed her terribly during the day, but it was way too hot for her to have been with us on our long day. We left Rome at 4:45 pm and got back on the ship at 5:50 pm. Picked up Baby Ems and we were poolside by 6:00 pm. Here was our schedule:
Pick up from Port 8:00 am
Quick Stop at Trevi 9:15 am
Drop Off at Forum 9:30 am
Enter Colosseum 11:30 am
Colosseum Tour 12:00 pm
**Lilpooh108 (me) cabs to St. Peter's at 12:00 pm
**Scavi Tour at 1:30 pm
Vatican Museum Tour (Walks of Italy) 2:00 pm
Return Pick Up 4:30 pm
Rather than summarizing our day, you can see it in our pictures. By the way, I do not have pictures of the Scavi Tour. Pictures are not allowed. I will say though, that if you have the opportunity to do it, please do. It was amazing and humbling at the same time. It was also a special moment for me that day, as I wanted to say a prayer for my family's health. My dad ended up not doing the Vatican tour as it would have been too much walking for him. The Scavi office allowed him to come on the tour with me when I checked in. Somehow it just all worked out. Being able to walk through the Necropolis, to see St. Peter's burial site, to see the chapel where the Pope prays, was breathtaking, humbling and amazing.
1. Walks of Italy gave us a great guide for the Vatican and an awesome driver for our transfers. I didn't take the tour with my family, but I met the guide (Alessia) outside St. Peter's. She was VERY punctual and OCD (just like a DIS mom would like). She watched our stroller while the family went inside St. Peter's to meet up with my dad and me. She walked us to Galleria Savelli for a potty break and coordinated the meeting with the driver. She literally did not leave until we got in the van. She was great, and Walks of Italy was great to work with. Our driver, Luigi, was also amazing. He gave us his cell phone and said we could call at any time during the day if we wanted to get picked up early, etc. He also coordinated well with Alessia. I was frankly surprised at how professional and coordinated these two were. Check out Walks of Italy's blog for promotional codes.
2. Scavi Tour -- I really really recommend that people take the time to do the Scavi tour. There is virtual tour on the Vatican's website. Please note that the Scavi tour is NOT the same tour as the one that allows you to see all of the past Popes' tombs. That level is one level above where the Scavi tour takes place.
3. Underground Tour -- The Colosseum sells this tour directly through its ticket vendor online. There are also tour companies that give this tour. We opted for the Colosseum's tour as the timing worked out better for us.
4. If your DCL Rome day is on a Wednesday, check the Vatican website to see if there is a Papal Audience that day. If so, either go to the Vatican really early, or go really late. Either way, you will NOT be able to get into St. Peter's at any time before 1:00 p.m. So if you're using the Rick Steve's trick to get into St. Peter's by exiting through the group door, keep in mind that the group door could very well be closed if you don't time your museum visit correctly. St. Peter's square is also insanely crowded during and immediately after the Papal Audience (I got to St. Peter's square at 12:45 pm and the crowd had just dispersed). Plan your route and potty breaks accordingly.
5. A special shout out goes out to Angel Tours. I didn't use them this time, but I did the 1st time I was in Rome as a "walking" tour through the Vatican. Angel Tours hires art history students studying in Rome. All of their guides are native English speakers. Originally, Angel Tours was going to send us a guide to walk with us the entire day (for a very reasonable fee). Because we ended up wanting to do the Underground Tour and the Scavi Tour, we didn't have the need for an all-day guide. If this is something you're looking for, contact Tatjana at Angel Tours. She initially helped me plan an itinerary and was very communicative throughout the process.