When in Rome…

Technically this was my second time in Rome, but since the first time I was there for less than 24 hours, I considered this my first real trip to Rome. The reason I planned my trip this way (starting and ending in Rome) was because when I decided to change my trip from two days to two months, it was cheaper to change the dates of my flight out of Rome (even with the added transportation costs to/from Greece) than switching my flight to go out of Athens. Plus it gave me a great chance to explore one of the great cities of the world.

I flew from Athens to Rome. When I flew into Rome the first time, we took a taxi to our apartment. However, since I was alone this time (and not so jetlagged) I tackled public transportation. Similar to Athens, the airport is about 30 kilometers from the city center. Both airports are easily accessible by train – however, the Rome (FCO) airport is a non-stop, 40-minute train ride to Termini Station instead of a multi-stop, hour and half to the Athens airport from Syntagma Square.

After arriving at my hostel, the first order of business was food. It was late afternoon so I decided to take it easy and wander around and see what there was to see. I ended up in the San Lorenzo area and figured it was time for a glass of wine so I ducked into a small bar for apertivo. Along with my glass of wine, there were a couple kinds of pasta, salads, bread and other appetizers available for an extra 1.50. The apertivo is a fantastic deal – especially if you are travelling on a budget!

The next day I headed  to Vatican City. The first thing I noticed after getting off the metro was the incredible amount of tour guides trying to drum up business. Many offer tours that allow you the opportunity to ‘skip the line’. However, being the low season, there wasn’t much in the way of lines, so even as much as I hate waiting in line, it wasn’t even close to being worth it (especially at nearly twice the price). Entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica is free, and I waited in line for about 15 minutes – roughly the same amount of time I waited in line to see San Marco’s in Venice.

St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City
St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City

St. Peter’s Square is an amazing place, so waiting in line wasn’t too bad. The church itself is beautiful, although it isn’t as ornate outside as some other cathedrals that I visited in Italy, although it is much larger than most of them. The square is surrounded by massive Tuscan colonnades, topped with In the center of the square is an Ancient Egyptian obelisk that is approximately 4400 years old and has been in Vatican City since 1586. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Rome and I enjoyed wandering around the basilica and the square.

Next stop was the Vatican Museums, which house the collection of the Catholic Church. Founded in the early 16th century, the Vatican Museums are actually more than 50 galleries, and 2013 was the 5th most visited art museum in the world. On the way to the museum, I was again assailed by tour guides begging me to go on a tour. These tour guides were the most frustrating thing about Vatican City. While they can be found throughout Rome, they seemed especially aggressive around the Vatican Museums. Again, while definitely busy, the lines weren’t terrible and nothing was too crowded.

The collection is amazing, with works of art from Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Caravaggio,  and lots of other well-known artists. Of course the main draw at the museums is the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s famous ceiling. This was the only place in Italy that I visited where the ‘no photo’ rule was strictly enforced. Along with art and other relics amassed by various popes over the past 5oo years, there are also papal artifacts, including stamps, personal effects and Popemobiles of all kinds – sedia gestatoria (gestatorial chair; a fancy throne used to literally carry the Pope on your shoulders), carriages and modern-era vehicles. After a few hours exploring the museums and grounds, I headed back into the city center.

The eternal flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The eternal flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

I wandered around and encountered Il Vittoriano, or the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II (Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II).  This this a massive monument built in honor of Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of the united Italy (1861-1878). Completed in 1925, according to Wikipedia it is 135 m (443 ft) wide and 70 m (230 ft) high – so yeah, it’s huge. All columns and statues and fountains and winding staircases and stark white marble, this structure is excessive and somehow perfect. I know it’s totally tacky and all dignified visitors and Italians hate it, but I actually kinda loved it. In the front, below a statue of the goddess Roma is the Tomb of the Unknown Solider that holds unidentified remains from WWI.

I went up to the roof to check out the best 360 degree view in Rome and was not disappointed. From the top of the Vittoriano you can see across Rome, including Ancient Rome.  There is also a great museum on the experience of Italian emigrants, including those that emigrated to the U.S. While I am a fairly typical American mutt, there isn’t any Italian blood in my family, but I still enjoyed this small museum. After this, I was exhausted and headed back to the hostel and to another amazing Italian dinner.