Today’s post is the first of my Italy 2018 travelogue stories. The remaining four travelogue posts will be published before the end of March.
My 2018 trip to Italy began on an unexpectedly good note, though it wouldn’t be long afterward before things went a little awry. With my backpack fully loaded I waited outside at my local bus station for the Skyride bus to Denver International Airport (DIA) and when it arrived the driver let me board without paying the normal fare. I don’t know why but as he loaded other peoples’ luggage into the bus he told me to just get on and not worry about it. Maybe he was being generous because it was cold and a bit snowy that day. As the bus approached the airport I made sure to salute the Blue Demon Horse (if you don’t live in Colorado you can be forgiven for not knowing about the demonic stallion outside of DIA) and upon arrival I went inside to find my parents who had just flown in from California a few minutes earlier. We then had to get to the Lufthansa desk for our flight to Munich, which took longer than normal because of construction that was going on at the airport terminal. Despite the construction the airport was still operating pretty well and after we checked in we got through airport security without any problems. Then we just had to wait.
We would end up waiting longer than anticipated. Our flight to Munich boarded on time but we would depart late. The primary reason was the weather, which had turned bad on our departure day. Seriously, if you could have seen the weather forecast that week you would have noticed that the days leading up to the day of our flight were fine, as were the days after it, but on that one Saturday a storm passed through Denver. The storm didn’t drop a lot of snow, but it released enough to require all planes to get de-iced before departure. On top of this, some sort of problem caused the pilots to pull the plane off to the side for an hour. They never told us what it was, other than to say that a light had come on in the cockpit. When we finally took off we had been delayed two hours and this would result in us missing our connecting flight in Munich. Prior to this I had never missed a connecting flight on an international trip or had any major problems when flying overseas, so I guess I was overdue to experience this kind of setback.
The flight across the Atlantic was otherwise uneventful and I spent most of my time watching movies. I let me parents take the two seats by the window since this was their first overseas trip, though they couldn’t see much since most of our time in the air was at night. When the plane got close to Munich the flight staff read out all the flights that passengers were getting placed on since we all were going to miss our connecting flights. A lot of other people on the place were also going to Rome with us and we were told to visit the Lufthansa service desk once the plane landed. An audible collective groan echoed through the plane upon hearing that announcement. I’ll admit I was a bit upset but my parents were taking the situation very well. At the Munich airport we got our new flight plans. First we would be flown to Frankfurt and there we’d be put on a plane to Rome. Had we made our original connecting flight we would have arrived in Rome in the early afternoon but now we’d be arriving in the evening. There was nothing to do but just roll with the punch and wait for our new flights. As a side note, I can only image that the flight we missed from Munich to Rome was at least half empty due to how many people on our flight were supposed to be on it. Soon our new flight took us on the short trip to Frankfurt and not long after that we were on a plane to Rome. The end of our little flying adventure was in sight.
For our first time in Rome we would be staying at an apartment near Campo de’ Fiori that I had rented on Air BnB and our host had made arrangements for a private taxi to pick us up at the airport. Upon landing in Munich I had let our host know about our delay and she graciously made an adjustment to our pickup time with the taxi company. Our driver was waiting for us in the arrivals areas of Fiumicino Airport in Rome and this was the very first time in my life where I arrived at an airport and someone was waiting for me with my name on a small placard. Before leaving my dad made a cash withdrawal from an ATM and I picked up our pocket wifi device. We then headed out with the driver to his car and started down the road to Rome. Our driver was an Aftro-Cuban man who had moved to Italy years ago and deftly navigated traffic as we sped down the highway and into the city. Along the way he also pointed out some of the city’s famous landmarks that we’d be visiting later in our trip. It was well after dark when we were driving around Rome so we couldn’t see as much as during the day but we passed fairly close to the Colosseum/Palatine Hill area and we saw the dome of St Peter’s Basilica across the Tiber River. As our driver skillfully dodged traffic I was reminded of a fact that I had learned back in 2012: Rome is a chaotic place and operating there means getting comfortable with chaos. To the city’s credit I think it’s a little less chaotic that it was in 2012 but if you’re used to calm and efficiency then you might be taken aback by everyday life in Rome. When we got to the apartment we unlocked the door using the instructions our host had left us and set all of our stuff down. My parents were tired from the long day but we went back outside for a short while to get dinner and buy some food at a convenience store before we retired for the night. We had made it to Rome and tomorrow we would begin our sightseeing.
In the morning we got up late and ate breakfast in the apartment. My parents are the types that need some coffee in the morning and there was an Italian coffee/espresso machine in the kitchen but it took my dad a few attempts to figure out how to properly use it. We would end up not leaving the apartment until roughly 10:30am, which is something I try to avoid when I travel solo. My travel style is normally waking up early and making the most of every minute of the day but this time I was traveling with my parents and I had to accept that they didn’t travel the same way I did. Most days on this trip we wouldn’t leave until around 10:00am and on one day we wouldn’t leave until almost noon.
When we left the apartment we first passed by the morning market at Campo de Fiori and then went north up to Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, a major east-west street in central Rome. We then followed the road eastwards until we arrived at Largo di Torre Argentina. There’s an archeological site there with Roman ruins, as well as a colony of cats, though we didn’t see any cats when we were there. After grabbing a few photos of the ruins we continued on foot eastwards and soon came to Piazza Venezia at the foot of Capitoline Hill. On the southern side of the piazza is the Victor Emmanuel II Monument, a giant block of neoclassical white marble that is a memorial for the first king of unified Italy. Due to its color, locals sometimes refer to the monument by nicknames such as “the wedding cake” or “the dentures” and even though I like the grand feel of the structure I have to admit that it looks a bit out of place in the city. My dad and I got a few photos of the monument from the north end of the piazza, navigating busloads of Chinese tourists in the process, and then we went down to the southern part of the piazza and walked past the monument to get onto Via dei Fori Imperiali, the street that led straight down to the Colosseum.
Before heading down that road we briefly detoured to check out Trajan’s Column and the ruins of Trajan’s Market. Trajan’s Column depicts the story of Emperor’s Trajan’s victory in his war against the Dacians in a series of carved images the spiral up the column, while Trajan’s Market was the world’s first shopping mall. The ruins of the market are closed to visitors so after getting a photo we returned to Via dei Fori Imperiali and kept walking towards the Colosseum. On our right side we could see bits of the Roman Forum, which we’d visit soon enough. On our left we passed a few replica bronze sculptures of famous Romans and I posed for a photo with one of them. A light rain had been coming down since we detoured to Trajan’s Column/Market and Rome was now looking visibly wet. Before arriving at the Colosseum we went into the Roma Tourist Information office nearby it to purchase our Roma Passes. These passes would get us free entry into two attractions, discounts at other places, and give us unlimited usage of Rome’s buses and subways for the remainder of our time in the city. You need to do a fair amount of sightseeing to justify purchasing a Roma Pass but I’d make sure we got our money’s worth over the coming days. As we exited the tourist office the rain came to a stop and we soon arrived at the Colosseum.
Since my last visit to Rome in 2012 I had forgotten where the entrance was for people with the Roma Pass but one of the tourist info/tour group sales people that loiter around the outside of the Colosseum pointed us in the right direction. After getting through the security checkpoint we went up the stairs and started with the indoor area of the upper level. There’s a museum up there with a history of the Colosseum and models of various important buildings from throughout the Roman Empire. We then stepped out and took in the view of the Colosseum itself. Even though 2,000 years of corrosion and stone robbing has largely ruined the Colosseum it’s still a sight to behold, especially on the upper level where we were. By some estimates this stadium might have been able to hold as many as 80,000 people and on a few occasions the floor area was flooded for mock naval battles. We did a full circuit around the upper level of the Colosseum, stopping regularly to take photos, and then headed down to the ground level. Down there you can get a closer view of the basement levels beneath the floor where gladiators, prisoners, wild animals, and others awaited their time to appear before the crowds (and probably die). Tour groups were at the Colosseum in force that day so at times we had to wait while crowds passed by.
After leaving the Colosseum we walked towards the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, stopping briefly at the Arch of Constantine, which is the largest triumphal arch in Rome. The arch commemorates Emperor Constantine’s victory over his rival Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD, though there’s a theory that the arch was actually built by an earlier emperor and Constantine merely had the facade reworked to his liking. We then made our way up the Via Sacra road to the east entrance of the Forum. The rain started coming down again as we approached the line to have our Roma Passes checked and after we were inside I stopped to put on my rain jacket. When you enter the Forum from the east side the first thing you reach is the Arch of Titus, which was built in honor of the Roman general who crushed the Jewish rebellion in the 1st Century. If you look on the underside of the arch you can see Titus’ men carrying a menorah that symbolizes the war booty taken from the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. From the Arch of Titus you can either go straight ahead to the Roman Forum or turn left and go up Palatine Hill. We opted to go up the hill and then come back down to the Forum afterwards. Palatine Hill used to be where Rome’s imperial residences were built and we get our modern word “palace” from the name of the hill. Like the Forum below it, there’s not much up on Palatine Hill and you have to use your imagination to mentally reconstruct it. On the other side of Palatine Hill you can look down on the empty field that used to be the Circus Maximus, which allows you to check that item off your sightseeing list without actually wasting any time down there. For me the most notable part of Palatine Hill is the remains of an emperor’s personal racetrack that you can find in the southern corner of the hill. We then came back down the hill and after getting a few photos from an overwatch point we started walking through the Roman Forum. Long ago this was the heart of Rome and victorious emperors and generals would come marching through here after successful military campaigns. The ruined nature of the Forum means that there are few intact buildings and it’s unfortunate that most of this historic part of Rome has been lost. We made our way steadily through the Forum from one end to the other, all while the rain kept falling. I could have done without the rain, but on the plus side I think it kept some of the tourist horde indoors that day. At the west end of the Forum we started up the ramp that would take us up Capitoline Hill but we found that exit was closed so we came back down and wound up leaving the Forum through the north exit.
To finish up our first full day in Rome we made our way around to Capitoline Hill and once at the top we went into the Capitoline Museums. It was nice to get out of the rain and we spent about two hours looking over the museums’ collections of Greek, Roman, and Renaissance sculptures and artwork. In one of the larger rooms you can find the original version of the Marcus Aurelius statue that is outside in the middle of the hilltop piazza. When we finished with the museums and came back outside it was after dark and still raining. If we had been there earlier in the day (and if it wasn’t raining so much) I would have suggested to my parents that we also check out the church that’s up on Capitoline Hill or maybe the city hall but it was a little late for that. I got a photo of the piazza before we descended Michelangelo’s staircase to the bottom of Capitoline Hill and then we started on our way back to the apartment. If I remember correctly we stopped for dinner at a pizza shop near Largo di Torre Argentina. We also picked up some more food at a Carrefour Express grocery store immediately north of Campo de’ Fiori and my dad and I tried out a small ice cream shop a bit south of the apartment.
The next morning my parents got up pretty late and we wouldn’t get out of the apartment until almost midday. I seem to be blessed with the ability to rapidly adjust to major time zone changes when I travel abroad but my parents were still getting used to the shift from being in America to being in Italy. After that day, however, I think their internal clocks finally synchronized with Italian time and they started waking up at normal hours. For breakfast I prepared some scrambled eggs with diced prosciutto while my parents readied the coffee and a few other things. It’s easy to slack off on your protein consumption while traveling and I tried to do my part to make sure our muscles were getting what they needed to keep us on our feet all day.
Just down the street from our apartment the morning market at Campo de’ Fiori was still going on when finally headed out for the day. This time we actually stopped to look around for five minutes but we didn’t buy anything. There was a lot of produce being sold that day, along with flowers, spices, and all sorts of other things. Campo de’ Fiori translates to “field of flowers” and the name comes from the fact that until the 1400s it was an undeveloped field. If you visit Campo de’ Fiori and look at the structures surrounding the square you’ll notice that there isn’t much in the way of architectural harmony between them—a result of there never being a formalized style or code for the buildings that were constructed there. In the middle of the square is a statue of Giordano Bruno, a heretical philosopher who was burned alive in the square. I like to call him “Darth Giordano” because he looks kind of like a Sith Lord.
From Campo de’ Fiori we then moved north to what’s possibly my favorite square in Rome, Piazza Navona. As you can probably guess by the shape, Piazza Navona was built on the site on an old Roman stadium. At the end of the 1400s this area started transforming into the square we know today and in the 1600s famed Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini built the square’s centerpiece, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi fountain. The fountain has four sculptures representing four different river systems from around the world and atop the fountain is an Egyptian obelisk. If you examine the fountain you’ll see that one of the sculptures appears to be looking at the nearby Sant’Agnese in Agone church and freaking out. There’s an urban legend that says that fountain sculpture is recoiling in horror at the sight of the church because Bernini wasn’t friendly with one of the architects who designed Sant’Agnese but this story is not true—the fountain guy is panicking because if you look above him there’s a large snake. We went inside Sant’Agnese briefly and then meandered about Piazza Navona until it started to rain again. Unlike the previous day, the rain was coming down hard and my parents and I took shelter under the outdoor umbrellas of one of the restaurants on the square. For about five to ten minutes we just stuck around until the rain started to die down and then we began heading east.
We walked through central Rome until we next came to the Pantheon. Located at almost the very center of the city, the Pantheon is one of the best-preserved Roman structures in Europe and as a nice bonus it is currently free to visit (though this might change in the future). The Pantheon was built on the site of an earlier temple in Rome and was dedicated to all the gods of the Roman Empire. It’s not certain exactly when the Pantheon was finished but it is believed to have been sometime around 120-126 AD during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. Atop the Pantheon is a concrete dome that remained the largest in the world until the Renaissance. A thirty-foot oculus in the center of the dome is the only source of outside light for the Pantheon’s interior—aside of course from the light that can enter through the front doors—and it’s kind of mesmerizing to look up into it. While you’re gazing upwards you’ll also note that the underside of the dome is coffered, which is a clever little design choice that both reduces the weight of the dome and serves as decorations. Whereas most Roman buildings have been ruined, destroyed, or remodeled over the past 2,000 years, the Pantheon has survived largely intact because it has been in continuous use since it was first built. In 609 AD the temple was officially converted to a Christian church and these days the Pantheon is still used for church services on Sundays but otherwise it is primarily a tourist attraction. Inside the Pantheon you can find the tombs of a few famous Italians and the pews by the altar are a good place to rest if you’re getting tired from sightseeing around Rome all day.
Outside of the Pantheon we stopped for a minute to eat a quick snack and then I suggested that we take a brief detour to a small square directly southeast of the Pantheon. There you can find an somewhat unusual sight—a obelisk with an elephant statue at its base. The elephant was designed by Bernini but may have been actually sculpted by his assistant. The church that fronts the square is Santa Maria sopra Minerva and we went in for a short visit. No photos are allowed inside the church so I can’t show you what it looks like but I can say it’s fairly dark and the ceiling is painted dark blue with gilded stars. I remember visiting this church in 2012 and I think I referred to it as the “Church of Darkness” because there isn’t much light inside it.
After leaving the church we headed northeast towards Trevi Fountain. The rain had been coming down off and on since we had left Piazza Navona and as we approached the fountain I could feel the sky starting to drip again. We arrived at the fountain in time to grab a quick photo of it before the rain resumed and we took cover under an overhang. My dad and I ventured out into the rain to get a few more photos of the fountain and my mom joined us as the rain began to let up. Normally Trevi Fountain is packed full of people sitting around and tossing coins into the fountain’s pool but nobody wants to sit on wet concrete so the crowds were thinner that day.
At that point we had a little discussion of what to do next and we decided to go north up to the Spanish Steps area. As we got close to the steps we stopped first at the next-door Piazza Mignanelli, where there’s a Valentino store. We didn’t go in—we’d look really out of place in a shop like that—but my mom is a big fan of Valentino and she did some window-shopping. Then we went around the corner to Piazza di Spagna where the Spanish Steps are located. The steps were built in the 1700s to connect the Trinità dei Monti church at the top with the “Spanish Square” at the bottom. The square holds Spain’s embassy to the Vatican, which is why both the square and the steps are called “Spanish.” At the bottom of the steps is the Fontana della Barcaccia, or “Fountain of the Longboat.” The fountain was built about 100 years before the steps and a local legend says that the inspiration for it came from a boat that washed up in the square when the Tiber River flooded. As we started walking up the steps the rain started coming down hard again and we first took shelter under an overhang at the top of the steps before going into Trinità dei Monti to wait out the storm. In 2012 when I was previously in Rome the church had been closed to visitors so this was my first time going inside it. Unfortunately photography was not allowed inside Trinità dei Monti. When it looked like the rain was beginning to let up we went back out and made a run for the nearby metro station. The metro station entrance next to the church was sealed off for some unknown reason so we went all the way back down the stairs to the entrance around the corner from the longboat fountain. Thankfully the rain eased up as we descended the stairs and we could dry off once we got inside the metro station.
We rode the metro to Termini Station and before leaving we took a seat at one of the food court restaurants in the metro station to eat some sandwiches that my mom had packed for us. Normally when I travel I only eat twice a day—usually skipping lunch so that I can sightsee nonstop from morning to evening. That sort of schedule doesn’t work well for my parents so we’d be eating three meals per day throughout the trip. The tricky thing with packing your own lunch, however, is finding a place to eat it, and some cities are easier than others to find a good spot.
With our little meal done we exited the metro and came up to ground level. The plan was to visit the National Museum of Rome, which is right outside of Termini Station and in a building called the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. I had visited this museum back in 2012 and I thought I remembered exactly where it was but that turned out not to be the case and I embarrassingly led my parents on a fifteen-minute walk in a giant circle while we tried to find it. Of course, the building is actually in plain sight on a street corner and we had walked right past it. The National Museum of Rome is full of Roman sculptures and artwork. Among all the statues you can find the most complete version of the famous Discobolus statue, (aka the Discus Thrower) which was originally a Greek design but Roman aristocrats had a love of all things Greek and the statue was copied many times over. If you go down into the basement you can also find an exhibit with an extensive collection of Italian coins from the past 2,000 or so years. The sun had gone down by the time we exited the museum and we walked across the street to the bus station outside of Termini to catch a ride home. Being Rome’s central bus station, you can find a bus to just about anywhere in the city from there and we soon found the appropriate bus to drop us off not far from Campo de’ Fiori. We were going to be waking up early so we didn’t do much else that night before going to bed.
The reason we were getting up earlier the following morning was because we had a 9:00am reservation at the Borghese Gallery up in the northern part of Rome. For breakfast that morning we took the suggestion of our Air BnB host and went to a pastry shop around the corner from our apartment called Nona Vincent. We each got a different breakfast pastry and my parents had some espresso (while I just drank water). Then we caught a bus that took us across town all the way up to the park where the Borghese Gallery is located. The Borghese Gallery used to be the residence of a Roman Catholic Cardinal named Scipione Borghese who was a major art patron and collector in the early 1600s. Cardinal Borghese’s collection includes works from Titian, Raphael, Caravaggio, Peter Paul Rubens, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, among others. My parents and I showed up outside the villa at 8:30am and once they let inside we had to check all our daypacks because you’re not allowed to carry any bags into the gallery. There wasn’t too much to do while we waited for our time slot to begin so my mom had another coffee at the gallery’s cafe. About five minutes before 9:00am we got in line with everyone else and when the time came we went up the stairs to the first floor of the Borghese. Once again, my nemesis, the “no photos” policy, struck me down and I can’t show you anything inside it, but I suppose a quick Google Images search will solve that problem. Even with the mandatory reservations system there were still a lot of people inside the gallery with us and if you visit the gallery yourself it’s a good strategy to immediately move forward three or four rooms to stay ahead of most of the crowds. Work your way from there around the first floor, then go up and explore the second floor, and by the time you’re done up there you can come back down to the first floor and enjoy those first few rooms that you skipped when you initially entered the gallery. We spent almost our entire two-hour slot inside the gallery looking at all the art that Cardinal Borghese had collected and then came back down to the ground level to collect our bags.
It was now about 11:00am and we decided to check out more of the park that the Borghese Gallery is located in before moving on towards the Vatican, which would be our final destination of the day. There was a sculpted garden around the back of the gallery and a couple of people with small dogs were hanging around back there. We then slowly wandered in a general western direction through the park, stopping to eat lunch at Piazza di Siena and checking out a pond with small Greek-style temple in it. Exiting the park, we came down to Piazza del Popolo, a large square that is located right next to what used to be the old northern gate of Rome. If you arrived in Rome from the north in the old days this square would be the first thing you saw after entering the city walls. The obelisk in the center of the square was shipped from Egypt to Rome in 10 BC and originally was erected over at the Circus Maximus before it was moved to Piazza del Popolo in 1589. After arriving at the square I really ought to have used my phone to see about taking a bus the rest of the way to the Vatican but instead I decided we’d just walk the rest of the way there. This would mean we’d see more of the city up close, but in retrospect I shouldn’t have done this because it would put more strain on my parents and mean that we arrived at the Vatican later in the day.
After grabbing a quick photo of Piazza del Popolo we continued our trek on foot and crossed the Tiber River to the west side. Then we made our way down to the Italian Supreme Court building and then onward to Castel Sant’Angelo where we stopped outside for a rest. Castel Sant’Angelo used to be the mausoleum of Roman emperors but in the 1300s it was converted into the pope’s personal castle where he could flee whenever Rome was being sacked by invaders. It’s an interesting place to visit but we didn’t have time to go inside and once we felt rested we got up and headed over to Via della Conciliazione, the street that leads straight to St Peter’s Square and the gateway to Vatican City.
As we steadily walked down the center of Via della Conciliazione the distant St Peter’s Basilica grew steadily larger. Throngs of tourists were streaming both towards and away from St Peter’s Square along the street and people selling guided tours in every major language were busy working the crowds. At the end of the road we finally crossed into Vatican City and officially were not in Italy anymore. St Peter’s Square is one of the greatest squares in Europe and for a lot of people it is the natural starting point for touring Vatican City. The obelisk in the center of the square was imported from Egypt in 37 AD and it was moved to its current location in 1586. An old church legend says that St Peter was executed at the place where the obelisk used to stand in Rome. The colonnades extending out from St Peter’s Basilica around the square are meant to feel like arms coming out of the church to embrace the worshipers who would gather here. On most Wednesday mornings you can attend a Papal Audience at St Peter’s Square (advanced tickets required) to see the pope delivering a short sermon, followed by prayers and blessings. My parents and I had arrived at St Peter’s Square too late in the day for this so we missed out on getting a photo of Pope Francis or his famed Popemobile. We spent a few minutes in the square taking photos but we didn’t linger too long before heading to our next destination.
Following the old walls, we walked to the north side of Vatican City to reach the entrance of the Vatican Museums. We got to the entrance sometime around 1:30pm and were able to walk right in without waiting in line. Generally speaking the lines for entering the Vatican Museums are at their worst in the morning hours and during peak tourism season it’s suicide to show up before noon. We were visiting in November, however, so the crowds weren’t as intense as in the summertime. After purchasing our tickets we started our tour of the museums and we’d end up seeing almost everything they had to offer. Being the most powerful institution in Europe for many centuries, the Catholic Church acquired an extensive collection of art and antiquities from across the continent, and even from other parts of the world. In some ways the Vatican Museums are sort of like the Louvre, in that there’s a ton of stuff to see, but unlike the Louvre, however, the Vatican Museums have a lot of bottlenecks so be prepared for some sections of the museums to get packed with visitors. If you’re running short on time or just getting impatient there’s a shortcut you can take to the tour route’s climax at Sistine Chapel but if you have the time I’d suggest not taking it and seeing all that the Vatican Museums have to offer prior to it. I’d also recommend not skipping over the small section of modern art that immediately precedes the Sistine Chapel. Most people seem to walk right past this part but it’s got some good stuff. When you finally reach the Sistine Chapel you have arrived at the highlight of your tour. The interior of the chapel is covered in frescoes painted by various Renaissance artists with the most famous part being the ceiling paintings that were completed by Michelangelo in early 1500s. That ceiling is regarded as one of the greatest works of art of all time and don’t be surprised if you walked out of the Sistine Chapel with a little neck pain from staring upwards for so long. To ease things a little there are benches along the sides of the chapel and my parents and I snagged a spot on them to take a rest while taking in the sights around us. Be warned that photography is strictly prohibited in the chapel and there are plenty of staff on patrol for people trying to sneak photos. When you’re done with the Sistine Chapel you can take either the group exit or the individuals exit and if possible I always recommend taking the group exit because it allows you to take a shortcut straight to St Peter’s Basilica. The only reason to take the individuals exit is if you checked a bag at the Vatican Museums front desk, or if you just want to see whatever is left in the museums. My parents decided that we’d take the individuals exit and we saw some more kind of interesting stuff but after seeing the Sistine Chapel none of it felt all that notable. The one good thing about taking the individuals exit is that there’s a cool spiral ramp at the end that takes you back to the museums entrance.
When we came out of the Vatican Museums we made our way back towards St Peter’s Square. The sun was going down at this point and by the time we got through the security line for St Peter’s Basilica it was getting dark. That didn’t take away from the experience of walking to St Peter’s Basilica, which is an awe-inspiring moment regardless of what time of day you do it. You can tell that the church is big when you’re standing outside of it but it’s not until you go inside that you start to understand the sheer size of it. The interior of St Peter’s is nearly 700 feet in length and the canopy over the main altar is 96 feet tall. Only a few other churches that I’ve visited can compare with St Peter’s in terms of the sense of wonder you get from stepping inside, with the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul being probably the strongest competitor (and yes, I’m aware that Hagia Sophia is no longer a church). The three of us split up inside the church with an agreement to meet back at the front when we were done and we wandered around for at least half an hour inside St Peter’s. I spent much of that time trying to take photos that captured the immense size of the church and since we were visiting late in the day the crowds were starting to thin with each passing minute. When the church staff turned off the light over the main altar I knew it wasn’t long before the church closed and little while later I met my parents back at the front. As we walked out I saw two of the Vatican’s famed Swiss Guards standing around in their colorful attire and snapped a photo before we went back out to the main part of St Peter’s Square. These guys have been guarding Vatican City for centuries and even though their outfits look silly I wouldn’t be inclined to mess with a guy holding a halberd.
To get back to our apartment we went to a bus stop just south of St Peter’s Square and caught a bus that passed right by Campo de’ Fiori. We picked up a few more things for dinner at a grocery store and later that night I went back out on my own to get some photos of Piazza Navona at night. My main focus was the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi fountain and since I had brought my little Gorillapod with me I tried my hand at taking several long exposure photos of the fountain. It was a little hard to tell if they turned out ok but after I got back to America I was pleased to see that many of them were good shots. This was the final night in Rome and we’d soon be leaving the city to continue our trek across Italy.
On our final morning we packed up our stuff to prepare to depart Rome. Somewhat awkwardly, the apartment owner’s cleaning person showed up a little before we actually left to gather the bedsheets and towels we had used. For breakfast we went to Nona Vincent again and I tried out some different pastries, including some tasty cannolo ricotta. When we left the shop we passed a large group of high school students on their way to class and we couldn’t help but notice how many of these kids were lighting up cigarettes. Smoking is a lot more common in Italy, and Europe in general, than in America and Rome in particular has a lot of smokers. Back at the apartment we grabbed our bags and I sent our host a thank you message for letting us stay in the apartment. We then set out to spend a final hour visiting the nearby area again before heading to the train station.
For that last bit of sightseeing we did a final visit to Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Navona. Darth Giordano was still keeping watch over the square and the morning market was operating as usual. Piazza Navona was much the same as we had seen during our first visit but it was now much nicer since it wasn’t raining this time. Clearing skies and bright sunlight made for better photos than our first visit though it also meant lots of other people were visiting the square too. It wasn’t long before we had to leave and when that time came we went down to Largo di Torre Argentina to find our bus to Termini Station. My dad and I each withdrew some cash at an ATM before the bus arrived to make sure we had enough spending money for the next few days.
The bus to Termini weaved its way through Rome and passed by a couple of places we had visited previously such as Capitoline Hill. As it steadily navigated Rome’s traffic I was thinking about how if I was still in my college days I might have been ok with the thought of living in Rome but now that I’m older I’d prefer some place that’s a bit less chaotic. Living amongst so much history would certainly be cool, but the noise, traffic, and lack of living space would eventually get to me. At Termini the bus emptied and we made our way across the bus station and taxi area to the entrance. Stepping into the modern interior of Termini almost felt almost like jumping forward in time after having spent a few days wandering around a city full of structures that are a few hundred to a few thousand years old. We arrived at Termini with plenty of time to spare and my parents bought some coffee on the upper level of the station while we waited for the train board to refresh and tell us what platform to go to. A couple of minutes later we had our platform number and we made our way down to the train. Security at Termini was a bit tighter than I remembered it being in 2012 though it’s still isn’t anything like the security checks at an airport. We had to show our tickets before being allowed onto the train platform but otherwise we got through without incident. Once on the platform we boarded the train, found our seats, and then settled down for the ride north. Next stop: Florence.
Thanks for reading today’s post. I realize that I went kind of overboard with this one and made it significantly longer than what I normally publish on this website. Don’t worry—the other four travelogue posts that I’ll publish over the next two months won’t be anywhere near as long as this one.