Battling Crowds during a Mother-Daughter Long Weekend in Rome
Back in August, when I just came back from my fabulous travels to Quebec in Iceland, I was telling my Mom about the great time I had.
She listened and then told me, You go, my dear daughter, go and travel – for me, it’s too late, but you go!
That shocked me.
What did she mean it was too late for her? Did she really think there would be nothing of that kind in her life ever anymore?
My Mother - My Hero
My Mom is 71 years old. She used to be a teacher and a scoutmaster, more an unofficial social worker than anything else.
When she was young she used to hike – also by herself – in the mountains. She was a fierce and strong woman. She had a very harsh childhood, being an orphan born in a DP camp right after the war. Tough life didn't make her bitter or depressed - but dedicated to the work with kids, being well known for a special ability to work with so-called "difficult youth".
She should be retired by now but she still works. Unfortunately, her pension is really low and even though I help her, it’s not enough.
The shock of what she said got me acting. Right then and there I opened Skyscanner and started to look. I knew that the 1st of November is a state holiday so I thought it would be a perfect time to go for a trip. I started to look for cheap flights around Europe hoping for a nice long weekend getaway.
When I asked my Mom if she wanted to go to Rome, she didn’t know what to say. I told her the price of the tickets and she commented that it wasn’t all that bad. I think she assumed it was just impossible. Now, she started to have hope. I booked the tickets right away which is really unusual to me!
Mother & daughter for the first time in Rome
Two months later – we were off to a weekend in Rome for the first trip together since times of my childhood.
As both of us have never been to the Eternal City, we wanted to see the most famous spots: Colosseum, Pantheon or Vatican.
I also knew it was a must to try a real Italian pizza. I found a gluten-free place and we went there every day for pizza, then pasta and tiramisu. Wonderful!
I knew there would be tourists but I hoped that so late in the season it would not be too bad. How wrong I was!
Visiting Rome: Welcome to the Introvert's Hell
Anyone who visits my blog knows already that I am an introvert. I also suffer from anxiety triggered by social phobias. Crowds are very far from my vision of ideal travel conditions.
And the crowds were everywhere.
Silly of me, I thought that if I got my Colosseum tickets online, getting in would be a breeze. There was a long line waiting to exchange my online tickets for paper tickets.
Then we had to wait in a very long line of tourists assigned the same entry time as we were.
My Mom’s health is far from perfect – she has a lot of issues with her spine and legs. Two years ago she underwent a spine surgery which is held now with titanium screws and rods.
Line, after line, after line...
She cannot walk for too long but what is the worst for her is standing. It was excruciating for her to wait in line. Finding a bench or even a rock to sit on was not an easy task.
Once inside, I couldn’t properly enjoy the ancient site because of all the people around me.
Pushing, shoving, touching… it was a nightmare!
But the place was stunning. I was surprised though that it didn’t exactly wow me. It made a much bigger impression on me from the outside than inside.
Arc of Titus and the power of history
We went to the Forum Romanum ahead of our visit to Colosseum. We spent too much time on the Palatine Hill and only briefly run through the Forum Romanum, which was a shame. But I saw what was the most important to me – the Arc of Titus.
You might not know but I have an MA in Jewish History and Culture. I am a Jewish Educator with a particular love for history.
Photos of the famous Arc of Titus and the image of sacking Jerusalem can be found in every history book on ancient Jewish history.
It’s one of the most beautiful ancient artworks and at the same time, one of the saddest images – the holy menorah (candelabrum from the Jerusalem Temple) carried as booty from burned and destroyed Jerusalem.
This time I could see it with my own eyes. It spoke volumes. More than other ancient buildings – this depiction of a moment in history was much more real. I asked my Mom to take a photo of me – I wanted to have a proof I was there, right next to it.
I, a modern Jew, was standing right next to an image of a pivotal moment in the Jewish history… I am sure people who created it believed they were to portray the end of the Jewish people and the eternal triumph of the Roman Empire. And yet, here I was – a modern Jew, while the Roman Empire was nothing but ruins.
Awe and beauty - Pantheon
Pantheon – now that made a striking impact on me!
For the first time, we saw it in the evening. We flew in and had still a few hours to walk around Rome. I knew we were going in the direction of the Pantheon but when we finally hit it – I was awed.
It was already closed by then but maybe that was better.
I could take my time to just watch the exterior. I had no idea it was that big! Photos indeed can’t fully show its size.
I loved the touch of cold stone, polished to perfection by centuries of wind and people touching it. The color of the stone, emphasized by strategically placed halogens, contrasted beautifully against the dark skies.
The next time we went there, during a day, we could enter. After waiting in line, of course, thankfully not too long. The interior was a pure marvel. Simple, raw, powerful. I don’t think there can be anyone who is not moved by a visit to this place.
Skipping one line to wait in three more - Vatican
The next morning we planned our visit to the Vatican. I didn’t even think to do some extremely early visit – I am not a morning person and I didn’t feel like getting up really early.
You don’t really have to buy tickets to Vatican, as the entrance to the Basilica is for free. But there are very long lines to get through security. You can buy a “skip the line” ticket to cut through this part.
When I saw the line, I considered giving up completely. Then, I thought of buying this “skip the line” ticket, even though it was seriously expensive.
It’s good that at the office they told me that my Mom, as a handicapped person, can have a special access. She had the ID stating her mobility-based handicapped status.
I was so relieved we could skip this line! Just to stand in another one – this time, to get inside the Basilica. Then – to buy tickets to get to the dome, and to an elevator getting us there.
But it was worth it.
The architects and artisans who created this building knew how to make an impression. Everything inside screamed at you – the size, the gold, images, sculptures…
There was no modesty in there whatsoever.
I couldn’t help but think how many hospitals could be built with all of it.
Getting up to the dome required climbing a lot of steps. I was worried how my Mom would do – but she managed. The stairs up the dome are very narrow but there are sometimes small niches with windows – my Mom could stop at them or even sit for a few minutes.
Still – it was not a small thing to get up there. But once you are at the top – the views are an appropriate reward for your efforts.
Rome from the Basilica's Dome
We had two more “must see” points – the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.
The Seventh Circle of Introvert's Hell
When we saw both of them, we took photos, dropped coins in the fountain and run away. The crowds were scary!
Sea of bodies moving, pushing shoving outstretched arms with selfie sticks in your face. *Shudders*
The Great Synagogue and old stuff everywhere
The first night in Rome we also saw the Great Synagogue. There isn’t much left of the old Ghetto but it is well worth seeing the synagogue. It’s a beautiful building making a strong impression.
We walked around the area and loved the small streets and ruins popping everywhere you looked.
We actually had a running joke with my Mom, where we simply started to call all the ruins “some old stuff”. There was the smaller and bigger “old stuff”. The “Big Old Stuff” was Colosseum of course.
We were amazed how many random ancient columns, pieces of buildings and other ancient-looking buildings were at every step you took.
I loved wandering through streets, aimlessly, turning this way or that way, discovering charming cafes and old churches. My Mom was hunting Smart cars as she dreams of having one (there are so many of them in Rome!) and I was always on a quest to find more window shutters.
The need for vacation after vacation
I came back home exhausted. The constant presence of people – even my Mom, was tiring. I had no time to myself and I don’t think I could have survived a whole week of such people-infused site-seeing.
I want to take my Mom again somewhere – maybe in the spring. But I already suggested to her that maybe the next time could be somewhere in Nature…
If you want to read and see more photos of the particular “old stuff” – check soon, I will be making separate posts for Colosseum, Vatican, and the Pantheon, as the hundreds of photos I've taken scream for their own "me" time.