I believe I mentioned in my last entry that it’s hot in Rome. Well, the first day was nothing compared to the second day in which, because we were going to the Vatican and it had dress requirements, I was wearing a maxi dress that basically felt like wearing a blanket.
However, before we get to that, we’ll start with the basics. Our day began in the breakfast room of the hotel. Located right next to the roof garden, it had sweeping views of the rooftops of Rome. I cannot say enough good things about the Marcella Royal Hotel where we stayed. The rooftop garden was lovely, the breakfast was plentiful and the rooms were nice and modern – and, most importantly, air conditioned!
I love European hotel breakfasts. I started my routine of eating toast with salami and cheese, and a coffee every morning.
Our first order of business following breakfast was to get to the Vatican so we could pick up our tickets using the vouchers we had purchased before the trip. We had originally planned to get on the subway, but we decided to get some exercise and walk it. Rome is a fairly easy city to walk. The Vatican was far, but it was an easy walk, especially since we were better able to follow the map. And walking allows for so much more sightseeing than taking the subway or cabs does.
We could tell we were getting close to the Vatican when the crowds started thickening, but once we arrived, the crowd was like no other. It was hot and congested, and there were official employees telling people where to go and what to do, and it was all very confusing. One of them took me and Sarah under his wing (and took quite a liking to Sarah, I might add), and showed us where to pick up our tickets and recommended that we upgrade to a tour to avoid the lines for the Sistine Chapel. We took his recommendation and after a bit of confusion after he left us with the Spanish-speaking tour, we found the English one and headed inside.
If you’re hoping that booking a tour will help you avoid the crowds, you would be incorrect. It avoided lines, but that was about it. The Vatican museums were insanely crowded, and I have to admit that this always mars my experience in a place because I get so focused on how “people claustrophobic” I feel that it’s hard to enjoy what’s around me because I just want to keep moving to a place where there are less people. It was also not air conditioned, and while some placed offered a cool breeze, the amount of people just made it seem even hotter most of the time.
I have to say that the art was impressive, even though I am usually not a fan of religious art. I feel like our tour only touched the surface of what the museum had to offer, and it would’ve been nice to wander around on our own and see whatever we felt like seeing. Even so, we saw impressive tapestries, statues and decorated ceilings. I was particularly impressed with the ceilings.
Because we were on a tour, we got a back entrance to the Sistine Chapel. Had we not done this tour, we would have had to stand on a very long line waiting to get inside. It was the one air conditioned room in the Vatican however. And everything you’re heard about the Sistine Chapel? True. It’s completely worth the crowds to see it. There were no pictures allowed in the chapel so you’ll have to rely on my severely lacking description since I have no idea how to discuss art and still sound like an educated individual. I never really studied it so I can’t attest to the painting style or anything like that, but it was incredibly impressive. The figures in the painting almost seemed to be jumping out like a 3D effect as you looked up at it, and the sheer size of it was what made the whole thing even more awe-inspiring.
The tour ended at the chapel and the guide led us outside, right at the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica. After looking out over the Vatican courtyard, we went into the basilica, which was HUGE. As I heard a man on line a few days later trying to describe it to his lady friend (I’m making no assumptions here; they may have just met on the line): “It’s big. Like imagine the biggest church you’ve ever been to and this is bigger. When you walk inside you see how big it is and you like ‘woah, that’s big.'”
Maybe not the most eloquent of descriptions but it made me laugh when I heard it and, truth be told, it’s pretty accurate. Everywhere you look in the basilica you see something new: from the marbles columns, to the statues to the ornate ceilings and domes. It’s definitely a must-see if you ever find yourself in Rome. Plus, it’s big.
Although the basilica wasn’t air conditioned, it was out of the hot sun and therefore cooler than outside, so we stayed there for as long as possible to take in all the splendor. Eventually though, we had to make our way back out into the hot sun. At this point in the day, I was hungry and just looking forward to a place to sit down and rest my feet for a while. We had done a ton of walking already and knew that we had to get back to the hotel (yes, we were being extremely stubborn about not taking cabs or public transportation, both for our own exercise purposes and to save money).
One of the things I really wanted to do was visit the neighborhood of Trastevere, for no other reason than I had seen pictures of it and thought it looked charming. It was located on the same side of the Tiber river as the Vatican so it seemed like a good opportunity to walk in that direction. I knew we’d be able to find a cute little cafe or something to eat there, so we decided to ignore our aching feet for the time being and walk along the river until we found it.
It was an easy walk, and staying on the shady side of the street next to the river offered a little bit of breezy relief from the heat. We did stop to rest at a few points, and made sure we were staying hydrated as we were going along.
We wandered into Trastavere, and the first thing we wanted to do was eat. We found a nice pizza place, which was probably one of the most authentic Italian places we ate at the whole trip. The waiter spoke only Italian, but we managed to communicate in our terrible halting Italian/English mix (I find pointing at menu items to be the best thing when it comes to restaurants). I got a pizza with buffalo mozzarella (another new favorite food), and it was amazing. Not quite as amazing as the pizza the day before, but still really, really delicious.
A little explanation for that second picture above: this was the sample table of food outside the restaurant, where a bird was helping itself to the pizza they left out.
We ate leisurely and enjoyed the chance to sit for a while, and then we wandered Trastavere, looking at the streets, the graffiti on the buildings and viewing the main church in the area – the Santa Maria. Otherwise it was just a pleasant, leisurely sightseeing stroll. Much of Trastavere is houses and restaurants, so there wasn’t much to do; thankfully Sarah and I both appreciate the art of just walking around new cities and getting lost looking at buildings. I ended up leaving our map at the table when we left the restaurant, so we had to grab one at a tourist stand so we could find our way back to the hotel.
Because we were getting drained from the heat, we decided it was time to head back to the hotel, with a plan to get gelato along the way. We actually ended up back by the Pantheon, since we knew there were tons of little fancy gelato shops over there. Today’s selection was caffe espresso and mint chocolate chip. Both were incredible, but the mint chocolate chip was refreshing in the heat.
We walked back to the hotel, old hands at the way back at this point and stopping at a pharmacy to pick up some ointment for my heel, which had developed a mega-blister from all the walking (and my own stupidity for putting a gel insert into my shoe that made it fit tighter; had I just left the thing alone, the blister never would’ve happened!). After a brief rest, we decided to enjoy some time out on the roof garden. The clouds were rolling in and catching the sunset light, constantly changing shape and color. We got drinks and some light appetizers… and attacked by bees.
Okay, so that’s exaggerating. None of the bees actually stung either of us, but as soon as our food and drinks arrived, so did the bees. They seemed to come out of the woodwork trying to get our meal, and it made the whole thing very stressful, which was unfortunate since I enjoyed that roof garden so much. We tried everything to make them go away – putting the food further away from us, switching tables, but in the end we just ate very quickly and headed back to the rooms.
Back in the room, I had to stretch my legs. Though it was nice to get some walking in since we’ve been eating so much, our walking did take a toll. I was a little concerned that the blister I got on my heel would impede our walking the next day, but thankfully – as you’ll soon see – it didn’t.