Today was the first day we really wished we had planned a bit better on this trip. We’ve intentionally kept this trip from becoming itinerary-driven by only planning out one day in advance. We wanted it to stay restful, and not always feel like we had to meet our next wicket. Today, though, we arrived at Saint Peter’s Basilica hoping to be able to attend Sunday Mass with the Pope only to find out a few things:
- Although there is no charge to attend, you do still need a ticket, and those tickets are snatched up fast.
- Although the Vatican website lists several Masses throughout the day, the Pope is only at the first couple on Sunday.
- There are about 40,000 other people that also want to attend Mass with the Pope, and they’re thronging around the square, hoping just for a sight of him.
We showed up around 11:00AM to find the square cordoned off with police checking bags for everyone entering. We made it through the line and into the square just to find another line forming to get into the inner square. At this point we still didn’t know that we weren’t going to actually get anywhere, so we joined that line, went through metal detectors and bag scanners, and found ourselves in the right side of the square, again cordoned off from the other areas. We were able to watch the end of the Mass being broadcast on huge screens in the square, but that was about it. We were about to leave and explore more of the city when our quick phone-research indicated that the Pope gives a short message and blessing from the balcony of his residence at noon on Sundays. We waited around for that, and although we couldn’t see him very well, we did get a picture or two, and were able to hear him quite well thanks to the loudspeaker system set up in the square.
We decided to arrange our visit of the Basilica (and the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel) for the next day instead, bought tickets for that online to make sure we weren’t out of luck again, and then headed to the rest of the city.
We passed by Castel Sant’Angelo on our way out of the Vatican, but with the crowds lining up for tickets, elected not to tour inside. We had a light lunch just across the River Tiber at a place called Cassandra Sri. It had a nice outside patio to eat at, but was crowded with somewhat obnoxious tourists, and was overpriced. The food was OK, but not what we’d come to expect in Italy thus far, so we only ate enough to keep us going for the afternoon, and moved on.
One of the amazing things about Rome is that you can wander up to a random city square, and find four or five really cool things to see there. We didn’t get the name of it, but that’s how we found the gorgeous church in the pictures above. We spent an hour walking around inside admiring the art and architecture before moving on.
Next stop was Piazza Navona for some photos of the fountain and Sant’Agnese in Agone, and then it was off to the Pantheon, which was high on my list of places to see. Originally a temple to “every god”, built by Emperor Hadrian in 126 AD over an earlier temple from 27 BC, in the 7th century it was converted to a Christian church by Pope Boniface IV and dedicated to “Saint Mary and the Martyrs”. It is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, and it’s structure is wonderfully proportioned. I’m kind of an architecture nerd, and this building was pretty neat to see.
At any rate, Naomi had soon seen enough, so we continued on our exploration of the city with a stop at the Fontana di Trevi. It was just as crowded as everything else in this city, but people were friendly. We heard after we’d already left from some friends that this place has a great night-time scene as well, so next time we’re back in Rome we’ll have to check that out.
Our next stop took us through the heart of ancient Rome, along the Via dei Fori Imperiali, or Road of the Imperial Forums. Much of the original city has been excavated here, and there’s a ton of cool stuff to see. We were pretty focused on getting to the Coliseum, so we didn’t stop for as long as we wanted to, but it was pretty neat to see. You can easily conjure up a vision of what it was like 2000 years ago by walking along this road and seeing the ruins.
The Coliseum was our final stop for the day, and incredibly cool to see in person. We got all the obligatory pictures of the side that’s still mostly intact and then headed inside. If you’re short on time in Rome, we think you can safely skip this inside tour. It was OK, and if we had a week in Rome we’d probably still have done it, but on a limited timetable, it’s just not worth it. It looks a lot bigger from the outside, and there’s not much more to add by going in. A few cool archeological exhibits, and you can see how the seating area was laid out, and what was actually under the floor (spoiler: cages for animals and slaves, and training rooms for gladiators), but that’s about it.
We were pretty dead by this point, so we hopped on the metro to get back to where we had parked. A few notes about this:
- Not sure if it’s a usual problem, but none of the three ticket machines were accepting bills, and we had to buy a water to get enough change in coins to purchase our fare (€1.50 each).
- The map inside the train shows a stop that’s labeled as Vatican, but that’s actually not the closest one. Go another stop further, or just trust what Google Maps is telling you. We ended up walking an extra 15 minutes to get back to the parking garage near Saint Peter’s Basilica.
It wasn’t all bad that we walked the extra distance, because we were able to get some pretty neat photos of the sun setting behind the Basilica. At this point we knew we needed at least one more day to be able to see the Sistine Chapel (very high on Naomi’s list), but were torn about extending further. There is so much to see here, and even a week probably isn’t enough, but we have a lot of other destinations that we need to see. We decided to come back through Rome on our return trip once we’d covered some other important places, and see some more of it then.
We obviously have a ton of photos from our time in Rome, but this post is getting too wordy already, so we’ll just leave a few here for you to take look at while you wait for our next trip installment.