After exploring the sights in Venice and Verona, we were off to Rome, the Eternal City, for our own “Roman Holiday!” We took the Frecciarossa train from Venice to Rome, and spent the trip admiring the views, reading our guidebook, and catching some sleep. Our hotel was only a few blocks from Roma Termini, the main train station in Rome, and after checking in, we set off to explore the great ancient city.
Heart of Rome Walking Tour
We took Rick Steves ‘s Heart of Rome walking tour our first afternoon, visiting the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and Campo de’Fiori square. The Trevi Fountain was so crowded we barely managed to squeeze through to toss a coin into the fountain and wish to return again to Rome someday. We made our way to the Spanish Steps, and took some time to sit and people watch. The Steps seemed to be a popular hangout for teens that crowded together smoking and drinking, as well for tourists snapping photos. We noticed some fellow tourists were also carrying Rick Steves guidebooks, seeing all the same sights we were visiting.
Our second day in Rome, we took the Complete Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy. We met early in the morning at the Piazza del Risorgimento before our group walked the few short blocks to the Vatican City. Our guide, Vincent, was very knowledgeable about the numerous works of art and statues we saw in the Vatican Museum. Before he became a tour guide, he helped restore the artwork himself. While touring the Vatican, I found myself wondering why the Vatican has so much artwork depicting and honoring Greek and Roman gods, and hardly any Christian artwork. Our guide told us that the Vatican has the largest collection of nude male statues in the world, and from what I saw on our visit, I would have to agree. One of the most popular non-Christian figures found nearly everywhere you turn is Bacchus or Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and drunkenness. Other oddities are a large collection of busts of the Roman emperor Hadrian and his male lover Antinous, and the multiple depictions of Greek gods and goddesses cross-dressing. There’s a statue of Bacchus dressed as a woman with clearly male parts, and a fresco of the goddess Athena on the ceiling looking suspiciously like a male. I was expecting a lot more Christian artwork in the home of the Catholic Church, but saw only a handful of depictions of Christ on an ancient tapestry as we neared the Sistine Chapel.
The closer our guide led us to the Sistine Chapel, the more squished like sardines we became in the huge hallways and galleries of the Vatican. We all made our way to see the wonderful works of Raphael in the “Raphael Rooms” and of course Michelangelo in the beautiful Sistine Chapel. There is no photography or speaking allowed in the Sistine Chapel, rules that are strictly enforced by Vatican officials and numerous signs with “Silence” in multiple languages throughout the Chapel. Violators may be escorted out of the Chapel, so be respectful, and follow the rules! It is also important to remember when visiting the Vatican to dress modestly, with knees and shoulders covered for men and women. What we didn’t know before our tour was that Michelangelo was not only a renowned painter and sculptor, but also an architect- he was one of the principle designers of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Our tour of the Vatican ended with St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world. St. Peter’s is absolutely stunning, from the beautiful marble floors to intricate mosaic vaulted dome ceilings. Crypts holding the remains of past pontiffs, some elaborately carved in marble reside inside the Basilica, and in the main crypt below. The Vatican City is one of the only nations to allow burials inside a church. Michelangelo’s Pieta mourns the death of Jesus behind thick bulletproof glass, and St. Peter’s Baldachin, a 66 ft. towering sculpted bronze canopy commands attention as it sits directly over the high altar, and St. Peter’s tomb below. If you are planning to visit the Vatican, I cannot stress enough how necessary a tour is. Not only do you get more information on what you are seeing from your guide, but your guide can get your group through the unbelievable crowds. If you’re set on muscling your way through the mobs yourself, do yourself a favor and get reservations in advance, and try to visit during non-peak hours.
Roman Colosseum and Forum
As long as the Colosseum stands, Rome shall stand; when the Colosseum falls, Rome shall fall; when Rome falls, so falls the World- Lord Byron
On our last full day in Rome we visited the Colosseum and Roman Forum. We had purchased tickets online in advance from the Colosseum website, and the ticket covered entry to both sights. While the Colosseum itself is easy to spot, finding the right entrance took some time, and we soon joined the crowds of people in line to see where gladiators had fought and died. We arrived early in the morning and only waited about 25 minutes in line to get in, which wasn’t bad when you consider how many thousands of people flock to see the sight. We did not take a guided tour, but listened to Rick Steve’s audio Colosseum walking tour. The Colosseum and Roman Forum are easy sights to see on your own, but be sure to buy your tickets in advance to avoid waiting even longer in line. The Colosseum is awe-inspiring, especially when you consider that it was built by hand in less than a decade, and its sturdy construction has allowed it to stand for thousands of years. The Romans believed in providing free public entertainment, public bathhouses and water. Entertainment was provided in the local arena, and Rome’s was built on a grand scale- the Colosseum. Over 50,000 people could crowd into the arena at one time. While other non-violent events took place in the arenas, blood was the name of the game; and both animals and humans died for the sake of fun in Ancient Rome. Gladiators fought gladiators, gladiators fought animals, animals fought animals, prisoners fought prisoners, and some were just executed. The Roman Forum just across from the Colosseum was the center of Ancient Roman life, and the large plaza held many important government buildings and structures, as well as temples and the local marketplaces. While the majority of the Forum is a crumbling ruin now, you can still see the small mound where Julius Caesar lays, once the Temple of Julius Caesar, and the statues around what was once the House of the Vestal Virgins.
After wandering through Ancient Rome, we needed to fortify ourselves with Roman cuisine. We headed for a restaurant our cooking class chefs had recommended, Sora Margherita, a small trattoria with delicious Roman pizza and pasta dishes. The menu is handwritten, the restaurant is tiny, and the waitress speaks limited English, but the food is fantastic and the portions are huge. I ordered the Bucatini all’Amatriciana pasta and the Mozzarella di Bufala con Prosciutto (buffalo mozzarella cheese with ham), and we shared a fried artichoke. For dessert, we got the Torta di Ricotta e Visciole (ricotta and sour cherry cake) which was enough to share, along with a half liter of the house white wine.
Of course, when in Rome, you must do as the Romans, and enjoy the delicious dessert that is gelato! We found one of the best gelato shops in Rome and ate there multiple times during our stay- the Gelateria S.M. Maggiore. The fruity and chocolate flavors were my favorite, although there were lots to choose from!
During our trip, we of course had to learn how to make our own pasta! Read more about our experience here. Rome is both a chaotic and exciting destination, and you can spend days there and still not see it all. Full of rich history and modern conveniences, Rome may be hectic, but is still as charming as it appeared in the hit film Roman Holiday.