Thus far, we had appreciated the natural beauty of the island nation of Malta. We had gone to the Sicilian countryside. We had eaten the best pizza on earth. And, it was time to delve into the most amazing historic experience.
The ancient Roman times are fascinating, and I couldn't wait to be there. See it. Experience the places that were so advanced for their time. You don't fully appreciate Rome until you're there, in the middle of it.
The Disney excursions looked both overwhelming and underinclusive and expensive. Not their fault; it's impossible to see the highlights of Rome in one day, and doing it on a large tour bus didn't seem to be the right thing for us. We wanted the flexibility of being able to do things at our own pace if necessary. And we wanted to zip in and zip out without waiting for 87 other people to be done using the restroom.
We chose a private tour guide, Stefano's Rome Tours (affiliated with Rome Cabs). The company gets great reviews on tripadvisor.com, and they were easy to work with to set things up. To reduce the cost, we found another family on our cruise that also had young kids so we could split it in half. It worked out perfectly, and I'd highly recommend them.
We woke up early, and I popped two Excedrin Migraine, while I drank my coffee and we scarfed down bagels and fruit in the room. Jon also went up to the buffet for crackers and cheese, to bring with us. We met the other family and walked off the boat around 8 am. Our driver was right there with a sign with my name on it - it couldn't be easier. We got in his van, and spent an hour or so driving to Rome.
First stop was the Colosseum. The coolest thing about the history of Rome - is watching it through Lilly's eyes. Seeing her, at 5 years old, kind of know that this is important. Explaining to her what she's looking at. And her being genuinely interested in what she's seeing. Here she is when we got out at the Colosseum, taking pictures.
And sweet Lilly in front:
As we walked in, I explained to her where she was going - to a really old place where they used to have events, kind of like when you go to baseball games with daddy, or a Broadway show. And, when she held her ticket to get in, she told me that we were going to a Hannah Montana concert. Then she changed her mind and told me it was Mamma Mia.
Lilly Lou sitting on stones that are 2000 years old. Craziness.
Lilly's camera skills hard at work: otherwise there would be no pictures of just mommy and daddy.
Lilly, touching history.
Of course, before we left she not only performed an Annie Medley but also Mary Poppins' Step in Time. My opinion is, if Lilly had lived when the Romans did a couple centuries ago, she would totally have performed on that stage in the Colosseum.
Next we went to the Forum and walked around through a few buildings. Lilly found this "stage" and performed her dance class "Gummy Bear" routine. (Of course.)
Next stop, the Pantheon. Lilly danced with Minnie Mouse, performing "I don't need anything but you" from Annie.
And outside she switched to "Maybe" from Annie.
Then we went to the Trevi Fountain, where we all threw in coins to ensure that we'd be back to Rome. Lilly apparently loves Rome so much that she threw in almost every coin in Jon's wallet. First the picture that Lilly took of us...
I'd like to stop here to say what an amazing tour guide we had that day. Each place we went, he dropped us off right in front. A month before, they told us to get tickets to the Vatican and Colosseum in advance, so we wouldn't wait in line. When we got to the Colosseum, he walked us right to the front with our tickets and got us in, no problems. He would tell us what time to meet him after each place - 20 minutes for this, 40 minutes for that - and it was always the right amount of time. He'd be waiting exactly where he said, and gave good directions on where to go. He gave tons of history while driving around, and knew the answers to all our questions, whether it was history or coffee. He took short cuts throughout Rome, and went places that tour buses definitely can't go (and won't fit!). We definitely didn't walk very far all day because of all his tricks.
Next stop: lunch. Our guide took us to an Italian restaurant near the Vatican, and I don't know what it was called. I do know that it wasn't touristy - it seemed pretty authentic - it was relatively inexpensive, and the food was delicious. He walked us in, where they had a table reserved for our group - no waiting. Perfect, again.
The pasta in Rome was amazing. Not as amazing as my pizza experience the day before, but definitely the best pasta I've ever had. And the best mozzarella. Wow the food was exactly what Italian food should be.
Lilly liked the pasta...
We had each ordered beers with lunch, which hit the spot but were also leaving us a little drowsy for the coolest part of Rome (in my Catholic opinion)...
Lilly with the Sistine Chapel behind her.
Our driver had arranged in advance for a Vatican tour guide to show us around for 2 hours - definitely money well spent. She was an expert on everything there. She showed us so much in a short amount of time, and wove us in and around it all with no problem, even though we had Lilly in a stroller. (She fell asleep right after we entered the Vatican museums. Or, she peacefully took in each exhibit.) I was surprised how cool the Vatican is - so much rich history and religion, it was fascinating. And without a personal tour guide, I think we would have missed a lot of it - especially having the kids there - she gave us everything we needed to know and everywhere we needed to go. We went through the museums, the Sistine Chapel, a gazillion stairs (noteworthy because of the sleeping child), and finally into St Peter's, where Lilly woke up.
Afterwards, we had gelato and the driver drove us back to the port.
Overall it was an amazing day. Jon says it was his favorite day of the trip - we accomplished so much in a small amount of time. Reading history books is one thing, and seeing it come alive before you is just so interesting.