I spent several weeks in Italy and Switzerland this summer. I traveled solo, with a large group of family members, and with just my mom. There is stark contrast between group and the solo travel that I am used to. It is a wonderful lesson in patience and embracing a slower pace, which is perfectly suited for a summer Italian get away. This is Part I in a series on Italy and Switzerland summer travels.
Two days in Rome & The Vatican
I flew into Rome to quickly explore the city on my own before meeting up with my family. I’ve spent a few weeks in Italy a couple summers ago in Tuscany, Venice and Florence so I was eager to learn a little more about Rome as well. I knew I only have a brief period of time to see as much as I could, so I clicked in a mega score on my fitbit in the two days I was there. While visions of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday flashed through my mind I landed at the Rome airport ready for an adventure in the Italian summer heat.
I arrived at the Rome airport in the mid-morning and make a quick stop to the cell phone store in the airport to buy a prepaid tourist sim card for my iphone. The ticket from the airport to the Termini station in Rome was only about 14 Euro and an easy 30 minute trip on the subway. I checked in the Hotel Lux by the train station and got ready for a day exploring the city. I had bought tickets to the Vatican for the next afternoon and bought an open ticket to the Colosseum ahead of time to avoid the lines which I highly recommend doing.
I walked to Colosseum area from my hotel and found some incredible gnocchi for my first Italian meal. At the Colosseum I bought an audioguide and make my way around selfie central AKA the Colosseum. Not to sound annoyed by selfies, I love them, I take them but I have to say, travel since that little button on your phone starting turning the other way has certainly changed. Aside from dodging selfie after selfie I enjoyed learning the monumental history of the Colosseum. The Colosseum is built of concrete and sand and is the largest amphitheater ever constructed. Construction started in AD 72 and was completed in AD 80, that piece of knowledge makes standing in this sand colored mega structure can truly take you aback.
To continue my journey through time I made my way over to the Roman Forum, which is part of a combined Colosseum ticket. While I really enjoyed the Colosseum, it was the Forum that really impressed me. Let me put it this way, I went to the Forum in the middle of July in the hottest part of the day after being up all night on an airplane and I still thought it kicked ass. I arrived towards the end of the afternoon. The families around me were starting to crack at the seams with grumpy parents and whiny kids; this added to my amusement and a slight snarky grin on the my 30 year old childless face. (If you find yourself annoyed here, don’t worry I got my payback when I started traveling a few days later with a group of nine people).
The Roman Forum is a rectangular plaza surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of Roman life for centuries. I spent a few hours wondering around a little aimlessly and soaked in the ancient statues, buildings and relics. If you are a history buff this is a mecca and something that shouldn’t be missed.
After the jetlag started to show its ugly head, I made my way through the Roman streets making my way home with a few wine and gelato detours along the way. The best part of coming to Italy in the summer to me is the massive amounts of gelato awaiting to be consumed.
After retreating into my blackout curtained hotel room for a twelve hour snooze fest I woke up ready to take on day two in Rome. I had booked a ticket for the Vatican for that afternoon and slowly made my way from the train station to the Vatican on foot. The full benefit of this is that my google maps informed me that my route involved walking across a country border. Yes, while technically being the smallest country you could possibly walk to it did give me the ability to text Tommy and say, “what did you do today?… well I walked through two countries.”
Along the way I stopped at the Pantheon and the Trevi fountain hitting the main tourist sights I could on my short stay. The Fontana di Trevi, is the scene of Anita Ekberg’s dip in La Dolce Vita in Palazzo Poli. The plaza is full of tourists throwing a coin in a fountain to ensure another trip to Rome. A short walk from there led me to the Pantheon.
The Pantheon is a circular building completed in around 126 AD. The amazing part of the building to me is the coffered dome with a central opening to the sky. Thousand years after is was built it is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete domes. The sunshine shoots through the opening in the ceiling creating a reverse sundial effect. This allows the observer to stand in a massive enclosed structure and look up to the sky. The Pantheon has been used continuously throughout its history helping to make it one of the best-preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings.
The Vatican. Okay, so I want to speak words of praise here. And I really feel like I could IF I hadn’t gone in the dead of summer with a zillion other tourists in high season. I felt like a cattle being led through the Vatican museum in a herd. I walked to the Vatican and strolled around St. Peters square which ended up being my favorite part because I wasn’t in a ushered mass of other people. The square is a large open Piazza in the center of Vatican city. From this vantage point you can see St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican post and the lined columns opening to the square.
I rounded the corner and skipped the lines and got into the museums rather quickly with my pre-purchased ticket. Once inside though the massive crowds from outside I had expected to thin out remained. I am a fast walker and am know for cruising museums at accelerated speeds, so this was almost painful for me to be slowly herded through a massive museum. I quickly glimpsed the sistine chapel where no talking or photos are allowed making it one of the most peaceful moments of the whole Vatican experience. I posted a photo below not for its beauty but to confirm the insane number of people I walked through the Vatican museums with. It was lovely visit, don’t let this stop you but if you go in the height of the tourist season, you have been warned. My favorite part of the Vatican museums was the spiral stair case on the way out. It’s natural shape felt like the peaceful moment in the eye of the hurricane, which was my Vatican experience.
My last stop in Vatican city was St. Peter’s Basilica. This Basilica is free and doesn’t require a ticket but you have to go through security. The line to get in was long and completely in the sun however, once through the metal detector the crowd lessened I really enjoyed experiencing this massive church.
I made my way quickly back to the train station to pick up my checked luggage and hopped on a train to Florence for my Tuscany adventure with the family. Coming up in part II!