Roman Holiday 2014
My wife and I went on a wonderful trip to Rome over a long weekend at the beginning of April, 2014. The main attractions in Rome, except maybe for the Vatican City, were within walking distance from each other. We stayed close to the Termini Station and packed a hiking backpack to avoid having to lug or pull a suitcase along the busy and cobble stoned streets and alleys of Rome…and glad we did.
Rome has many historic and picture-worthy sights that my wife and I took almost 1,000 pictures between the two of us. It seems that every corner or every alley presents a majestic church, a towering obelisk or monument, a quaint piazza, a relaxing fountain, or a main tourist attraction…it became difficult to contain ourselves and prevent from taking lots of pictures during our relatively brief stay.
On our first day there, we explored the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Ancient Rome, as well as a walk towards the Vittori Emanuel II monument and Capitoline Museums. There were long lines into the Colosseum and we were so glad we purchased “skip the line” tickets online via the following website: http://www.coopculture.it/en/colosseo-e-shop.cfm. The tickets were €12 each with a €2 processing fee but well worth it to avoid the long queues. The ticket is valid for two days and gets you admitted into the Colosseum and Ancient Rome / Roman Forum. If you are “thrifty” like me, just download Rick Steves’ app on your iPhone and use that instead of paying for a guided tour.
The Colosseum was awe-inspiring (come to think of it, Ancient Rome and Vatican City evoke similar emotions and transport you back in time). We could not help but imagine the spectacles held there hundreds of years ago. Images of the movie “Gladiator” come to mind as well as images of the chariot races at Circus Maximus (which today is just a flat unassuming ground southwest of the Colosseum). Walking along Via Sacra in the Roman Forum, you hearken to the days when emperors, magistrates, centurions, and Roman citizens took the same steps. You try to soak it all in, but the images, the ruins, the history can be just overwhelming. And that was just the first day!
On our second day, we started out early towards Vatican City via bus from Termini Station. One way bus tickets cost €1.50 per person and good for 100 minutes if I recall correctly. We also bought “skip the line” admission tickets via: http://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets/do?action=booking. Tickets cost €16 each with a €4 sales fee…well worth it. We reserved a 0900 individual tour of the Vatican Museums and we leapfrogged probably over 500 hopeful visitors waiting to get into the Vatican Museums. I think it was Spring Break for many American and German kids as we saw a bunch of them during our visit to Rome. Even with the early start right as the museum opened, we still had to contend with a lot of visitors, especially those who were part of the big tour groups. We didn’t plan on spending half the day in the Vatican Museums and were only going to target certain museums and the Sistine Chapel but there was so much to see…oil paintings, Egyptian and Greek sculpture, tapestries, ornate ceilings, Egyptian relics…but of course the pièce de résistance was the Sistine Chapel and the glorious frescoes adorning the ceiling and the walls that took Michelangelo over 4 years to complete. We were fortunate enough to gets seats against the wall of the Sistine Chapel and craned our necks up towards the ceiling in awe while listening to Rick Steves’ narration. There in the middle of the Sistine Chapel was the fresco depicting God the Father in all his glory reaching down towards Adam as a scene of creation in Genesis. On the altar wall is the large fresco depicting The Last Judgment. Too bad we couldn’t take pictures. We were surprised to see that the Sistine Chapel was actually quite small compared to the grand Saint Peter’s Basilica or even Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice.
The Vatican Museums were a vast complex of museums and internal courts. If you have limited time to explore and you like certain works of art and sculpture, I suggest you not miss Pinacoteca (to see works from Da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Raphael), Museo Pio Clementino (stunning sculptures) and possibly Apartamento Borgia (for amazing frescoes and artworks) leading into the Sistine Chapel. If all you wanted to see was the Sistine Chapel, then you should be able to head directly to it upon entering the museum.
Saint Peter’s Square and the Basilica were awe-inspiring spectacles on their own, befitting the religious center for all Roman Catholics. Strict dress codes are enforced for the basilica and neither short skirts nor shorts are allowed inside the church…so it is advisable that women bring a light shawl to cover up especially in the warm summer months where one expects to dress down. We went to the Vatican on a Saturday so we didn’t see the Pope who appears in public during Sunday mass and on Wednesdays…so if you are there on a Wednesday, check your schedule to see if you can fit a viewing of the Pope. Expect large crowds at the Vatican on those days…probably larger than normal.
The Michelangelo-designed Saint Peter’s Basilica was grand, opulent, and constructed to inspire awe and reverence upon those who enter its doors. The scale is just massive and colossal. It was said that Michelangelo proved his skill as a sculptor with works like the Pieta and David…his talent as a painter with the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel…and now his gift as an architect and builder with Saint Peter’s Basilica.
We rounded out our second day with a visit to Castel Sant’Angelo which paled in comparison to the Vatican attractions. On the third day, an early Sunday morning, we walked to Trevi Fountain to avoid the crowds. We then continued our walk to Spanish Steps (popularized by the movie “Roman Holiday” starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck), Colonna di Marco Aurelio and the Egyptian obelisk in Piazza Montecitorio, the Pantheon, Chiesa San Luigi di Francesa, Piazza Navona (stopping for lunch at La Scaletta degli Artisti), then Campo de Fiori. We headed back to the Pantheon as our earlier visit was cut short with the crowds ushered out to make room for mass about to be held.
A wonderful visit to Rome…one we would not soon forget.
– We flew from Venice/Marco Polo to Rome Fiumicino as opposed to taking the train as previous research revealed that train tickets cost as much if not more than round trip plane tickets
– From Fiumicino airport, we took the Leonardo Express train to Termini Station (€14 per person per trip) and just walked to our hotel. We bought the train tickets at a stand-alone dispenser before we walked down towards the train station which avoided the long lines for tickets. Leonardo Express takes about 30 minutes from the airport to Termini station.
– We were warned about pickpockets while in Rome but we didn’t witness any during our stay. We took precautions (wore money belt where we kept cash and our passports) and avoided carrying a bag or a large purse in packed buses. We mainly walked so maybe that’s why we didn’t see any petty thefts going on.