Italy: Rome

We hadn’t been to Italy before, and it was one of the two target countries for us on this leg of our journey. We will be house and pet sitting in Canalicchio, in the Umbria region of Italy, for about 3 weeks. Before our sit started, we planned for a few days of sightseeing in Rome.

Warning: This is a mega-post. And it’s a bit late. Rome wasn’t written in a day. 🙂

There are so many iconic places to visit and things to see in this city. Our AirBnB was in a residential area, about a 15-minute walk from Vatican City.

General observations

  • We appreciated decent drinkable house wines by the 1/2 litre for €4 (about $6 CAD).
  • We enjoyed the warmest weather we’ve had since September. And we were very happy we were not visiting Rome in the summer (both for the heat and for the crowds).
  • Motorcycles and cars line every street. Street corners are parking lots. smart cars squeeze in, perpendicular to the curb, between parallel-parked cars. Motorcycles park on the sidewalks (sometimes in officially lined spaces). They also seem to operate under different rules, pulling to the front of waiting traffic, riding on the sidewalk as they park or leave from their parking space, and ignoring lights as long as they see it is safe to zip across an intersection.

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Day 1: A walking tour of the old city

We picked a starting point, and a few sites within walking distance from there, and set out on foot, free to wander alleyways and roam streets as much as we liked. We were also supported by self-guided walking tours and site descriptions compliments of the Rome Toolkit.

About 30 minutes from our accommodation, we started our tour at the Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti (AKA the Spanish Steps), which connect the Piazza di Spagna at the bottom with the church of Trinità dei Monti (Trinity of the Mountains) at the top.

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From the top of the steps, you have a wonderful view of some of the domes of the city.

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Our next stop was Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain). Though the stairs were busy with people striking their best poses for photos and selfies, the piazza at the fountain seemed doubly overrun. But, since people came and went quite regularly, it was easy enough to catch a decent view of this aquatic sculpture.

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We could see on our Google Map that the Pantheon was quite near, so off we went. Neither of us could have described the Pantheon before we saw it (this probably sounds shocking to some but, as mentioned in a previous post, we’re not great history buffs). But you don’t need a history degree to know you’ve come across something significant.

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After the Pantheon, we walked through the cobbled streets heading toward Piazza Navona. We saw an interesting open doorway, and ducked in for a sneak peek of what turned out to be Sapienza, the University of Rome.

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The Piazza Navona (Navona Plaza) is long and narrow, with a fountain at either end and another in the centre.

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From here, we headed back to the square near the Spanish Steps so we could take the Metro for a few stops to save our weary legs.

Day 2: St. Peter’s Square

We weren’t sure how much of the Vatican City we would be able to see in a day, but we decided to start with a walk to St. Peter’s Square. Though many would aim to be there during the Pope’s address, we were happy not to have to endure the crowds.

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I felt quite inadequate as a photographer next to this fellow

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Once there, we noticed a growing line and found that it was the security line to get into the basilica. We joined the queue and waited for about 40 minutes to be scanned and allowed into this colossal and opulent structure.

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A colourful Pontifical Swiss Guard

When we left the basilica, we thought we’d try to walk into Vatican City for a stroll (not having a clue what this might entail, or if it was possible). Not realizing that the entire area was walled, with only one public entrance, we turned right and ended up circumnavigating the entire city-state, which we wouldn’t recommend. You climb a lot of stairs and hills, and then come back down, views on one side are quite blocked, and the walls are all you can see on the other. The only entrance is to the Vatican Museums for ticketholders. We decided to wait for our next free day, book online to avoid the line-up, and start fresh.

Day 3: Vatican Museums

We booked a 9:30 start, downloaded the Rick Steves Audio Europe app (free) and his Vatican Museums walking tour onto both of our phones, packed our earphones, and walked to Vatican City. Getting in was quick and easy, and the security line was reasonable. Once in, we plugged in our earphones, synchronized our audio tracks, and let Rick and his co-narrator talk us through. We really liked the tour–it provided enough information to keep it interesting, skipped a lot of detail that would have had us nodding off or fast forwarding, and even provided a few humorous anecdotes that had us laughing out loud.

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The Hall of Busts

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Each room offers new surprises. This rotunda is filled with giant statues around the perimeter, mosaics from 3rd-century baths on the floor, and an enormous Egyptian-sourced Imperial Porphyry basin at its centre.

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The hall of maps

P1270366Our final room was the Sistine Chapel, where photography is prohibited. The chapel is just a large room, really. But with walls and ceilings adorned entirely with Michelango’s work, it is an incredible sight. Rick walked us through the key panels and pointed out the stories they told, making it much more meaningful than had we completed the tour without our trusty guide.

We had been looking forward to seeing the picturesque winding ramp, and were disappointed as we headed toward the exit that we had missed it. And then, there it was, just behind the gift shop and the main way out.

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After a lunch break, and having enjoyed Rick’s tour so much, we decided to follow another one through the city. We had seen many of the sites in the second half of this tour, but were happy to make brief stops again to hear the commentary.

While looking for our lunch stop we discovered that Rome was overrun with folks clad in red–their insignia identified them as Italian Red Cross members. Our curiosity got the best of us and we asked one young man what was going on. A large contingent of volunteers from around the country had been selected to attend a private session with the Pope, where they heard him speak about humanity and immigration, among other topics.

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Campo de’fiori: A busy market square by day, meeting place by night
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The French San Luigi dei Francesi (Church of St. Louis)

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There are obelisks and giant monuments everywhere

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Day 4: Colosseum and Forum

Our final touring day was for the Coloseo and Forum. We hadn’t booked ahead, so decided to line up at the Forum first. One ticket (€12) can be purchased at either site and is good for both–they are adjacent to each other. The line for tickets took about 30 minutes, and then the line for security another 15 or so. (Remember, we were visiting in winter. Book ahead online at other times to reduce wait times.) Having enjoyed our Vatican Museums tour so much, we had downloaded Rick Steves tours to get us through these two sites as well.

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Colosseum

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View from the Colosseum to the Forum

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Ken’s day out

As has become the custom, Ken heads out for an exploration or hike when he can on my working days. In Rome, he took himself on a riverside walk and explored some areas we weren’t planning to get to.

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A temporary ice rink behind Castel Sant’Angelo, once a castle, now a national museum

 

And that was it for us in Rome … at least for now.


TripBits

  • Flight from Dubrovnik to Rome: Booked through Iberia, operated by Vueling. €121.24 for both of us ($185.50 CAD).
  • Transportation from the airport to the city: We took the train, which is easily accessed from the airport, to the Roma Termini station. Not pre-booked. €14 per person. From Roma Termini, Metro trains go everywhere. Following our host’s directions we managed to catch the correct one for the 6 stops to our accommodation. €1.50 per person for a 100-minute ticket.
  • Pantheon: Free to enter. There will be many people about touting their tours (with an archeologist), for €10 or so. We had enough information for our purposes from online sources, so we were happy just to walk in and experience it.
  • St. Peter’s Square and Basilica: Free to visit, with extra charges to climb the cupola and to visit the Tesoro di San Pietro (St. Peter’s Treasury).
  • Vatican Museums: Book online to bypass the line-ups (€17 + €4 for online booking).
  • ItaliaRail Lounge: When we purchased our train ticket from Rome to our next destination, we were offered the ItaliaPass at a discount (1 year for €15). It mostly offers discounts on tours, etc., throughout Italy, which we weren’t interested in, but also provided access to the ItaliaRail Lounge at Roma Termini station. Since we knew we’d have a couple of hours to kill on our final day, and we would be leaving from that station, we decided to purchase the pass. The lounge is a fair walk from the main terazza, but did offer a quiet place to hang out (we were the only ones there) with WiFi. The refreshments on offer were coffee, juice, pop, beer, and a few packaged snacks.

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