Posts from the ‘Italy’ category

Inside Rome, the Vatican, and the Sistine Chapel

Today’s Itinerary

By Jacob Aldridge

Gianluca* is on time this morning! That’s a near-miracle of Italian train travel, which is fitting we we segue from Ancient Rome yesterday into ‘Religious Rome’ today – we have an 9.30am tour at the Vatican Museums, and a short walk through the older part of town with one stop en route.

Inside the Pantheon, Rome

The tight, circular interior of the Pantheon makes it a tough one to photograph

First stop is the Pantheon, as ancient as it religious. Strictly speaking it’s a Catholic Church (and free to go inside), but it was built by the ancients in 128AD as a temple to all gods (pan-theon). Raphael’s renaissance tomb is here, as is the more recent resting place of Vittorio Emanuele II and his son Umberto I. But most breathtaking is the large hole in the centre of the domed ceiling – ancient climate control at work, and surreal as we watch a light rain shower fall through the roof into the quiet space below.

Next we cross over the Tiber River, and into Vatican City – a sovereign country in its own right, though with a population of barely 800 and a 10:1 male:female ratio. The grandiose St Peter’s Square is calling us for an embrace, but for now we loop around to the right.

The Vatican Museum tour takes us through just some of the priceless art accumulated by the Catholic Church over the centuries – old masters, tapestries, and sculptures all feature, as does Pope Paul VI’s modern art collection that the Vatican guide and Gianluca both agree is ‘skippable’. The tour ends in theoretical silence inside the Sistine Chapel – when Cardinals meet here to elect a new Pope they probably make less noise than the whispering tourists here today! Interestingly, some people who have misheard the name try to find “the 16th Chapel”, wondering where the other fifteen must be hidden. The chapel is the pinnacle of Michelangelo’s career, despite his personal dislike for painting (which might explain why he painted himself as the flayed St Bartholomew in The Last Judgement fresco on the altar wall.)

Sistine Chapel Ceiling

Davidlohr Bueso’s photo of the Sistine Chapel ceiling – note how many of the figures, particularly the oracle Sibyl in the green, appear 3-Dimensional. CC License

Gianluca takes over again – most tourists spill out from the Sistine Chapel (an exit different to the entrance we used two hours ago) and head from here back to the main square, and the already hour-long queue to enter St Peter’s Basilica. Instead we turn to the right, and the much shorter queue to climb the cuppola (dome). With gelati as an excuse, we avoid the escalator and walk up the ramp, where we are suddenly greeted by the breathtaking spectacle up close inside St Peter’s Dome, the largest of its kind in the world.

Looking down over St Peter's Square

From outside the Dome of St Peter’s Basilica, over the Square below. On some days you can see tourists lined back into the Square waiting for entry.

Vatican Post Office

Posting a letter with a Vatican City stamp

On the external rooftop, with views over the private Vatican gardens, we take five minutes to grab some postcards – this is the only official Vatican post office, for those philatelist friends!

Inside St Peter's Basilica

As ornate as it is enormous, St Peter’s Basilica remains the largest Christian church in the world. Photo by Randy OHC, Licensed under Creative Commons

 

 

 

And then, just as we wonder whether the outside queue is really worth joining, the steps back down take us directly inside the Basilica. Michelangelo’s La Pieta is a must see (to the right inside the main door) but is just one altar in this glittering gold structure. We gawp just like medieval pilgrims must have done.

Seeking a late lunch (even by Roman standards), we avoid the tourist fare close to the Vatican and instead follow the river down to Piazza dell’Ara Coeli, where the pasta and red wine options are plentiful. Then, of course, it’s afternoon coffee time, and while there are cheaper cafes available Gianluca likes to take his guests to Caffe Barocco inside the Piazza Navona, where an espresso (definitely not a cappuccino after 10am!) combines with the many tourists milling around three recently restored fountains.

Piazza Navona

The Piazza Navona boasts a long, oval shape as a result of its original purpose as a Chariot race track

Our time in Rome is drawing to an end. As we head for the airport train and an evening flight to the Viennese Christmas Markets, Gianluca provides a final local’s tip: Fassi Gelati on via Principe Eugenio, near the train station. “Try the rice pudding gelati, and you’ll be happy,” are his final words.

The train line from Roma Termini to Fiumicino Airport is perhaps the most reliable in all Italy, and before we know it we’re checked in on our 8.15pm Air Berlin flight to Vienna. We land on time, and our car transfer is waiting to take us to our hotel in the centre of the old town. Tomorrow will be Vienna.

Thankfully, there’s a coin in a fountain ensuring that we’ll be back to Rome.

Want to Go? Need to Know…

    • Vatican Museum Tours cost €32 and are best booked in advance at mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/MV_Home.html
      (They are closed Sundays, except the last Sunday of the month which is free!)
    • Capuccinos really are a breakfast drink (and don’t come with chocolate on top!). This is a good thing
    • In warmer months, try a Caffe Freddo – usually an espresso poured directly over (or blended with) ice cubes
    • Booking is not really necessary on the airport train, but if you plan to use the left luggage service at Roma Termini give yourself time for the 30 minute queues
    • Stay up to date with a free subscription to our daily destinations email

 

What are your Rome tips? Be sure to share this page or add your comments below.

Ancient Rome in a Day

Today’s Itinerary

By Jacob Aldridge

Welcome to the first day of our Every Daydream. Over the rest of infinite time we will travel together to all of the world’s best holiday spots, travel off the beaten track, and most of all let locals be our guides. Every day we will pursue a real experience – and it’s actually possible to follow the Every Daydream around the globe in real time because every flight, every destination, every recommendation is genuine and connected.

On this Wednesday, we awake in Rome, ‘the eternal city’ being an appropriate starting point for our endless holiday. Already we can hear the bustle of the Via del Corso outside our hotel window – a key reason why we booked ahead at the Hotel Regno. After breakfast we’re supposed to meet Gianluca, who lives just outside of Rome – but he’s sent a text to say that his train is running late. First rule of travelling through Italy by train – Trenitalia timetables are a guide, at best!

The Colosseum Exterior

Built between 70AD and 80AD, Gladiators have been replaced by a papal ‘Stations of the Cross’

Gianluca’s plan was to make today about “Ancient Rome”, so he’s sending us ahead. He tells us to make the 15 minute walk south along the Via dei Fori Imperiali to the Colosseum. We could join the queue, but for only a few extra euros he suggests we look for one of the many guides touting their services for group tours of the Colosseum and the nearby Palatine Hill.

We grab one who feels reliable – and also buy the before-and-after book that they’re selling (on sale, of course!). Moments later, we skip past the queue and into this nineteen-hundred-year-old monument. Originally built to host gladiatorial fights (including mock sea battles – the stage, partially rebuilt in 2001 could be flooded without impacting the gladiator and animal enclosures still visible underneath), it’s remarkable that just a few hundred years later the entire population of the defunct Imperial city could have fit inside.

Both here and as we walk through the ruins on the nearby Palatine hill, home to Emperors and the wealthiest of Rome’s families and the finest of the city’s seven hills, there is clear evidence of the decline in fortunes after the city was sacked, and the Empire lost. Not even the Colosseum was spared as desperate locals took apart ancient structures to use the stone and marble in the construction of their homes.

Inside the Colosseum

The partially rebuilt stage sits above the rooms and corridors where Gladiators waited

The Vittorio Emanuele Monument

The Vittorio Emanuele Monument, also known as ‘The Typewriter’

Gianluca is there when we exit the ruins. He points to the nearby Vittorio Emanuele Monument, a palace built to honour the king who united Italy again in 1861. He calls the white behemoth ‘the typewriter’, and walks us up the stairs. “This is the best view in Rome,” he extols. “It’s the only place where you the typewriter doesn’t get in the way of the view!”

Time for gelati, so we are whisked past the Trevi fountain (“too crowded, we’ll come back later”) to the Spanish Steps. Named for the Spanish Ambassador’s residence, a gelati and a rest stop here (if you can find space – Europe’s widest staircase is always crowded!) is on every list of things to do in Rome.

Looking up the Spanish Steps

If you find a seat, grab it – and enjoy your gelati as shoppers and tourists go by

We could spend a few hours in this area among the best shopping in Rome, but Gianluca has two secret spots he prefers to show off. The first is a nondescript ruin on in Torre Argentina square (where via Florida meets the trams of via Arenula) – full of cats thanks to a local charity, this is the actual floor on which Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March, 44BC. (Shakespeare moved the location to the Senate steps, because he had set design to consider.)

Nearby, across a field and close to the Tiber river, is the small church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Tomorrow is a day for churches – today we come to put our hand inside the mouth of the Bocca della Veritá. Made famous by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn on their Roman Holiday, the actual origin of this lie-eating piece of stone is confused at best.

Gianluca leaves us here with clear directions to cross the nearby bridge to the Trastevere district for dinner at any of the restaurants along via di San Francesco. He also points out that the Trevi fountain is less than 100 metres from our hotel, for when we return from dinner.

Bridges over the Tiber River

Bridges over the Tiber River to the Trastavere district are beautiful – but beware of pickpockets on narrow footpaths

Trevi Fountain

Tourists throw coins into the Trevi Fountain – one to return, two to find love, three to find marriage

And sure enough, by 10pm the fountain is almost deserted. We turn our backs, take our photo, and each toss a coin into the fountain. This assures us that we will return to Rome.

Of course, we’ll be back here again tomorrow.

Want to Go? Need to Know…

  • A combined Colosseum and Palatine Hill ticket costs €12 – if that’s all you want, buy it from the Palatine Hill entrance and skip the Colosseum queue
  • Most of the tours we’ve heard of cost €18-20 – normally, touts are to be avoided but we’ve experienced good value in this instance
  • Blue Ice is a decent chain-gelati store you will encounter, but feel free to try as many local places as you can
  • The Bocca della Verita closes as early as 4pm in the winter – Audrey Hepburn fans are advised to prioritise this stop!
  • Take extra care when crossing the river – Bridges are hotspots for pickpockets
  • Trevi fountain coins are collected by the charity Caritas
  • Stay up to date with a free subscription to our daily destinations email

 

 What are your Rome tips? Be sure to share this page or add your comments below.

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