We opted for an overnight flight into Rome, which was a good plan but awful execution. The flight was completely full, and I was in a middle seat. I kept trying to sleep, but those seats are so incredibly uncomfortable that it was impossible. I did some reading, but spend most of the ten-hour flight just wishing it were over.
Though it was miserable, I don’t know that I would make a different choice in the future since it allowed us to maximize time on the ground. When we landed at 11:00 AM (Rome-time), Evan and I were both in that zany space where you’re too tired, and also a little frantic about being in a foreign country without language skills. We breezed through customs and made it past our first challenge: effectively purchasing train tickets at the correct time to the correct place. Fortunately, we just needed to get from the airport to Trastevere, a growing neighborhood just outside Rome proper where our hotel was located.
Hotel is an interesting descriptor- our place was more like an Air BNB. There were only three or four rooms, and the proprietor lived offsite. I wasn’t clear on any of this when I booked, but I dind’t mind the set up; the only challenge we had was contacting the owner when we arrived, so we could check in.
After getting into our room, showering, and resting a minute, Evan and I were ready to start seeing Rome. We’d only alotted one full day in Rome, which ended up being dedicated to the Vatican, so this travel day was our best chance to see much of what Rome had to offer.
Fortunately, our room was located right on a bus line. We bought tickets at the Tabbachi shop downstairs (1.5e each, and I don’t think we ever actually validated them) and rode it to the Colosseum. It was enormous, and we started to get a sense of what it would be like to be a Roman citizen, going about your modern life in the midst of all of these historical artifacts. I can still barely wrap my mind around it.
We left the Colosseum and headed to St Susanna church, where we needed to be at 5:00 to pick up our tickets for the following day’s Papal Audience. Luckily, before we left we had downloaded major city maps to my ipad so, even though we didn’t have data or cell service, we could still track our location on the map. I also starred all of the places we wanted to go, which made it easy to figure out directions.
From St Susanna we walked to the Trevi fountain, which was gorgeous and completely jam packed with people! I pulled out my brand-new selfie stick, which mortified Evan, and documented our time there. Next up were the Spanish Steps, which were actually closed for renovation. They opened the last day that we were in Italy, but that first day we had to be satisfied with seeing them through flexiglass.
Finally, our Rick Steves guide insisted that we stop by the Pantheon, and I’m glad that we did. Like much else in Rome, it is breathtaking in it’s scale and the art it contains. Also, there was an orchestra playing that evening and the sound was amazing. We left to catch the bus back to our room, grabbing some mediocre pizza on the way.
Day 2 in Rome was all Vatican time. I’m Catholic and I’ve always dreamed of seeing the Pope in person, so it was important to me that we make it to a Papal Audience, if at all possible; fortunately, the timing of our vacation was perfect for this! The Pope begins speaking at 10, but we’d been told that most of the seats fill shortly after 8:00. When Evan and I arrived at St Peter’s square around 8:30 or 8:45, we found that this meant that most of the good seats (near the pathways for the Pope mobile) are taken–there were plenty of seats still available.
We found seats as close to the aisle as possible, and the Pope began moving through the crowd around 9:30. We ended up being about 20 feet from the Pope, and I of course burst into tears 🙂 After 30 minutes of waving and kissing babies, Pope Francis began his service.
The thing about the Papal Audience is, if it were just in one language, it would be about 10-15 minutes. But since there are so many languages that it’s translated into, it ends up being about an hour and a half. Most of it I zoned out on, and just thought about how lucky Evan and I are. In the English portion, the pope blessed us and extended the blessing to our families, and blessed our relics. That was really everything I was hoping for!
After the audience ended, we grabbed lunch before our tour of the Vatican Museum. I was really excited to go through the museum, and couldn’t understand why Evan was not–he’s usually all about history! Apparently, he thought the Vatican Museum was just a collection of Papal relics…like, ‘here’s the pope robes through the years’. I’m not kidding, that’s nearly verbatim what he said after.
Instead, it’s a museum of all of the riches that the Vatican has…acquired…through the years. There is such much art through such a variety of media. My favorite part was the painted hallway, and Evan’s was the map room.
By the end of the tour we were kind of worn out, but we still needed to make it through St Peter’s Basilica. Friends, I don’t know how to convey the magnitude of insanity that SPB is. It’s enormous, first of all, and all of the detailing is insane. Also, it holds the remains of JPII, which I found very moving for whatever reason.
If ever you find the opportunity, do go into the dome. The climb is ridiculous– narrow, and steep, then leaning as you get further into the dome, then at the end there’s this portion that’s a tiny spiral staircase, with the steps so steep you have to use a climbing rope instead of a handrail. Finally, after all this, you find yourself at the top, in the fresh air, looking out over all of Vatican City and into Rome. It is magnificent.
Whew. After that long day, we were so super exhausted. We found a bus back to our rooms, relaxed for a minute, then went out for pasta and wine. Rome was a whirlwind for us, but we knew it would be. Next up, we make our way to Venice for a few days of adventuring!