Italy. It’s been on our bucket list. We finally checked it off this past summer when Ralph and I celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary in Rome! We stayed for 10 days and would have loved to have stayed longer. All in all, we visited enough places, saw enough historical sites, ate enough Italian food, drank enough Italian wine, walked a lot, and had an incredibly great time.
After a quick check in at our BnB the morning that we arrived in Rome, we google-mapped our way to Piazza di San Pietro to see the Pope at His weekly public audience. We did not have a ticket.
Tip #1: You can email the Vatican to request for a ticket months in advance. You have to pick it up at their office the day before. This will allow you to go closer to get a better view of the Pope.
Tip #2: Ask for directions. Don’t be afraid to ask the bus driver or even other people around you if you are heading the right way. Listen to others who might be talking in English and ask them if you are on the right bus:-) . It worked throughout our time in Italy.
It was a 2-bus ride to where we could walk the rest of the way to the Vatican. We arrived at St. Peter’s Square just before 10 am and it was practically empty. We were expecting it to be brimming with people. Instead, we were greeted by an empty plaza. We soon found out that the Pope was out of town for the week. It was a big let down but we quickly got over it! We were in the Vatican after all!
Tip #3: Check to make sure that the Pope is in town:-)
We asked a Japanese tourist to take our picture at the entrance to the Vatican museum. We had a 2 pm entry time with our Omnia Pass guide to enter the museum and skip the lines. It was well worth it. We didn’t purchase the guided tour but a guide brought us in and through security. Once inside, we were given passes to present at the entrance and were were on our own. We had downloaded Rick Steve’s guide to the museum but we didn’t listen to it. We just read the labels on the walls:-)
Tip #4: if you want to get your picture taken, be on the lookout for young tourists who are themselves trying to take selfies and offer to take their picture for them. They usually offer to take yours in exchange. It’s a win-win for everyone!
There was so much art to see inside the museum that it one will need at least a week just to through the museum. This is nothing even near a 1/1000 of all that there is to see inside. This was a tapestry hung on the walls inside the museum. We noticed that the windows were open and it was a bit warm inside. We wondered it’s effect on the tapestries.
Look up on the ceiling and turn to the walls. Every room and hall in the museum had painted ceilings. They were all beautiful. I”m sure they were painted by famous artists including Michaelangelo and Bernini. Just amazing to see masterpieces in situ by artists that we only read about or learned about in Humanities classes.
Check out the vintage monstrances and oil and water vessels. They are as ornate now as they were many years ago. As Catholics, we were both in awe with the beauty of the art and church artifacts and depressed by the wealth that the church had acquired, some under spurious means, hundreds of years ago.
I thought at first that as soon as we entered museum that we were in the Sistine Chapel. Duh. I kept reading signs – “to Sistine Chapel”. We went through many turns and through hallways, up stairs and down stairs and somehow found our way to the chapel.
Ralph and I stood in awe once we stepped inside the Sistine Chapel, staring in amazement at the art on the walls and ceilings inside this holy place. A guard yells occasionally to tell everyone to be quiet and remind us of no photography, We said a short prayer inside as we stood angling our necks to look up and etch in memory the beauty and history before us. The one thing I remember locked my eyes on was the name Ezekiel!
Next stop was St. Peter’s Basilica. These Corinthian columns at the facade of the Basilica are huge! Honestly we were not “impressed” when we first saw the Basilica from afar as we entered the square. Up close, it is spectacular. St. Peter’s Basilica took 150 years to finish. Looking at the intricate architecture and size of the basilica, it is understandable that it took this long! Catholic tradition has it that the tomb of St. Peter, one of the twelve apostles, is found under the high altar of the basiica. Popes are interred here for this reason.
What a blessing it was to stand inside this historic This was such a view to behold with the light shining through the glass ceiling and illuminating one of the altars inside. God must have been telling us “Welcome!”
I wonder what it would be like to read during mass at this ambo. I will probably be swallowed because that thing is huge!
One of the sculptures housed inside is Michaelangelo’s “Pieta”. It depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus Christ. You can almost feel the deep sorrow that a mother feels when she loses a child.
You will also see inside the Basilica the tomb of Pope John Paul II tomb. The floor was being remodeled when we visited that we had to go back in to see it. Thankfully, it is free to enter and since were there late in the afternoon, there were no lines and the crowds had thinned out.
Next stop! The Colosseum. This is me outside the Colosseum. For security reasons, there is a wired fence around the structure. In fact, when you enter, there is an airport-like security. We purchased a Roma Pass with our Omnia Pass and it includes 2 free museum entries and 72 hours bus pass. We used our to enter the Colosseum and the Roman Forum for free.
This was at ground lower level of the Colosseum. Picture this with the floor still in place. Gladiatorial contests were held here in 72 AD. Earthquakes and stone-robbers had led to it’s current condition.
I don’t know how large the Romans were in those days, but these stairs were tough to get up and down. You had to really take long strides to get up each step.
We were not sure what this large block of rock was used for but just check out how massive this is. It is one single piece. Can you imagine how long it took for them to carve this out from some quarry and transported to this place? How did they even move this piece? Just amazing.
Ralph just kept comparing his body size to the columns or walls around the Colosseum. You really just couldn’t quite grasp the size and grandeur of the place.
After the Colosseum we walked over to the Roman Forum. This is where the ancient government offices were located.
One should have a great skill to picture what this whole area looked like abuzz with government officials and shops surrounding this center part of Rome.
I took this picture not because I wanted to share this place but because of the trees. When we first arrived in Rome, I immediately notices these spindly trunked and top heavy pine trees. I have always seen them in movies such as the Ten Commandments and Moses. They are iconically Roman.
After a few blocks, we made our way to the Pantheon. It is an ancient Roman temple and is now still a working church. It is located in Piazza della Rotunda.
And Ralph continues to show relative size:-) It is said that it take 8 outstretched arms to circle around each column.
Since this is still a working church, there were chairs were adorers could sit down and pray while behind them are tourists busy looking up at the dome. The dome is unique in that it is the world’s unreinforced concrete dome. In the middle of the dome is an opening called the oculus.
Saint John the Lateran Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in the city of Rome and is the cathedral church of the Diocese of Rome. It houses the ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. Entry to the basilica was free as part of our Omnia Pass. We arrived just before lunch and the place was not busy as all.
The Trevi Fountain. Don’t be fooled by this picture. I had to crop the lady sitting next to Ralph. It was packed when we got there. We had almost just a couple of minutes to sit down, shamelessly ask someone to take a few shots of us and the we had to leave. We also tossed a coin over our left shoulder to ensure our return to Rome in the future.
It is such a beautiful fountain. If you went in the summer like we did, you will see the crowds first before you see the fountain. Just excuse your way through the crowd to get to the bottom of the steps and find a spot to sit on. We wanted to return at night before headed home but were so tired. We will simply have to go back!
Piazza di Spagna is found at the bottom of the Spanish Steps. There are 135 steps that connects the Spanish embassy to the Church of Trinita dei Monti.
On a cool fall or spring day, it would have been great to simply sit and people watch. However, on a hot July mid afternoon, we could only sit long enough to have someone take our picture.
These are “twin” churches at the entrance to the Piazza del Popolo. To the left is the Santa Maria in Montesanto church and to the right is the Santa Maria dei Miracoli. Both of theses churches were built in the early to late 1600s. In between the churches is Via del Corso, the shopping street in Rome. It is lined with shops, lone musicians playing classical or pop music.
At the southern end of Via del Corso is Piazza Venezia. You will immediately stand in front of the imposing Palazzo Venezi . This is also the end point of the tram that we take form our B&B in Trastevere. Behind the palazzo are the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. This place is a rotunda and is constantly bustling with cars with Italian drivers just zipping by.
I had not heard of Trastevere until I started planning our trip. I immediately fell in love with the place that we decided to make this our base for the first 3 days in Italy. Trastevere has a bohemian, funky, and colorful flair that adds to the beauty of the place. It is home to artisan shops, trattorias and B&Bs. The Piazza Santa Maria is abuzz from the young crown who come to hang out and enjoy a walk around the city.
Walking to our B&B from the tram, we came across this gelateria. We had our very first Italian made gelato here. I just love the quaintness of this place. The gelato was so good. I know there other better ones around Italy but for a first-timer, we couldn’t tell it was inferior from the others.
Just look at that picture of yummy goodness. I had the pistachio and salted caramel in a waffle cone and Ralph had pistachio and coconut in a chocolate dipped cone. It was perfect after a hot tour of Rome earlier in the day. Each cone cost 3.5 euros.
One of the things that I loved when walking around Rome and other places in Italy, is the outdoor seating at restaurants. It just feels so inviting. At meal times, the laughter and chatter carries and can be heard before you can see the place.
Dotting the city are these water fountains. They provide cold, clean drinking water directly coming from the Italian Alps.
Tip #5: Bring an empty water bottle and carry it with you.
Our first two full days in Rome went by fast. We didn’t visit all of the places we wanted to visit. We will have to return to visit Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori, Gianicolo Hill, and Galleria Borghese. We would also go on a Food Tour or a Cooking Class. If I do return to Rome, it would be in the cooler months. July in Rome is much like July in Florida -hot and humid!
We returned to Rome to take our flight back home. We had already visited Assisi, Florence and Venice. We wanted to visit other places that we had missed earlier but were so exhausted. Instead bought a bottle of wine from a corner store and drank wine in plastic cups in our B&B. We had an early wake up call for our train to the airport so we signed off early after packing our luggage. I am now planning my next trip to Italy!
Have you visited Rome? If so, what are your favorites?