Dec. 2019 – Rome and the Vatican City

I’d have to put Rome pretty high on a must-see list, there’s just so much history and so many stunning sites! So if you’re at all thinking it’s someplace you’d like to see, just book it. Being this was my second time in the city, the first with a nice camera, I had a shortlist of places I wanted to photograph. But I also planned to just cruise the city taking in all the Christmas decorations and enjoying the time since I had seen a bit already.

St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City was one of the places on my list… being the crummy tourist I am though I wasn’t sure I’d make it inside this trip, the buildings and piazza are gorgeous and my main objective anyway. But everything lined up one day (it was kind of amazing, the only time I’ve seen it with basically no line), so I went in and have to say; it is quite the spectacle. I’ve been to a fair amount of churches, but this one is something else. There’s a grand feeling you’d probably expected, but I don’t know you can actually prepare yourself for it. I didn’t go up to the top or do any of the extras, just the free walk in the Basilica and crypt. I definitely thought about going up in the dome for the view, but decided against because of the time of day and weather; maybe another time…

While taking some pictures near the exit of the Basilica I overheard a guide talking about how it used to be free to go inside the Colosseum and they only charged for Palatine Hill and the Forum but when the Colosseum became the thing everyone wanted to see they started charging and the others are now kind of looked at as the “extra” to the ticket by many… they also mentioned how underwhelming the Colosseum is compared to Palatine Hill and the Forum. I couldn’t confirm or debunk this from some searching online, but I do wish I had heard this before I went… I’d recommend not spending too much time in the Colosseum, especially during the shorter days of winter when they close earlier. It’s an incredible structure and something worth seeing up close, but I think seeing it from outside is actually a better view. A standard ticket gets you into the Colosseum (scheduled entry time), Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum (no schedule for the hill and forum) only on the same day, though you can do them in 2 consecutive days with a certain ticket. (Ticketing is a story on its own really; all I’ll say here is to be sure of what you’re buying, and when buying online read all the fine print, on ALL pages. My miss was that you have to have a guide to see the Arena Floor… I guess it’s normal to bring your own guide because they sell tickets that require you to have one with you; maybe I’d have known this if I was a better tourist, haha). Unless time is not a concern, and there’s a lot to see in Rome, I’d opt for more time in the Forum and Palatine Hill (great views of the Colosseum from there too); it’s a pretty big area with quite a bit to see. I’d love to hear your thoughts; have you been, where would you spend the majority of your time?

Other sites like the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps are cool, but they’re so crowded I just can’t recommend them very highly. Now that they don’t let people sit on the Spanish Steps it was nice that you could get up or down a lot easier, but it’s still ridiculously packed in the square at the bottom. I liked the Pantheon a lot though, even with the crowds around it; the building is just awesome! The area around the Villa Borghese has a lot going on too. The greenery is nice to stroll through taking a break from the city, there are a few museums, at least one fountain, monuments, and a gallery just to the north. The Piazza del Popolo is off to the west of the Villa Borghese park, which is a large square great for just hanging out and people watching. Circus Maximus is pretty much just an empty lot with a little archaeological site at one end. The history of the site can make it a powerful place to visit for some though. There are so many places to see I could just ramble on… what are some of your favorites, or least favorites?

The public transportation system in Rome is supposed to be pretty good, but I’ve only taken buses to get to and from the train station. If I make it back I think I’ll make a point of using the system a little more, there’s plenty in the outer reaches of the system I haven’t seen at all anyway. I should also try out the hop on hop off buses; they’re usually a really good way to see all the major sites and get familiar with a city. Uber Jump bikes were a new one for me that I used a little during this stay. They’re a lot like the scooters you see all over most cities (good and bad there), but these are pedal-assisted electric bikes that can get moving pretty fast with very little effort. It took a little getting used to, but I thought they were fun and convenient. 

Of course, there are a lot of food options in Rome and in large part, it’s fantastic! I love that fresh pasta was pretty easy to find, sometimes you will even see it being made out front during the slower time of day. It’s surprised me that in some parts of Italy it’s hard, or even impossible, to find. The pizza was very good in most places, but by the slice, it wasn’t great every time. By the slice, it’s usually sold by weight around Rome, and in addition to quality varying, I had good and bad experiences with this weight part too. One place gave me a slice for around $2 and another was about $5 for pretty much identical slices. Inflated prices are unfortunately something you need to keep an eye out for anywhere though, especially tourist destinations like Rome. To round out my personal favorites, gelato (all sweets really) and espresso were excellent all over the city. 

Rome Italy

Vatican City

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