“When in Rome” is a saying commonly used by people in order to suggest that you should adopt local customs and traditions, and even more often used to give you an excuse to really enjoy yourself. On many of our adventures across Europe, we have carelessly thrown out this phrase to justify getting that chocolate croissant, fried Mars bar, or extra beer. Well, this past weekend, we got to enjoy this expression to the fullest because, well, we were in fact in Rome! So while we were in Rome, we had to do as the Romans do. That meant visiting the Vatican city, St. Peter’s basilica, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and various wine bars and gelato shops.
We arrived in Rome last Friday around midday, and we met up with Doug’s best man, Justin, who had flown all the way over from Houston, TX. After figuring out transportation and checking into our hotel, first on the agenda was the Vatican city. The Vatican city is the smallest sovereign state in the world, which means it’s its own little country. I remember learning all about it in high school Latin class, and I’m pretty sure they taught us that people actually spoke Latin in the Vatican city. However, that was probably just to convince us that Latin was not a dead language and that we should continue studying it in school. The people in Vatican city were most definitely not speaking Latin. Maybe the priests still read manuscripts in it or say mass in it, but nobody speaks it! Dead language after all. What a disappointment.
Even though nobody was speaking Latin, it was still an amazing place to see. We went through the Vatican museum which eventually leads to the Sistine chapel. The museums were massive, and we opted not to have a guided tour, so we just admired the great works there.
We had some really good views looking out the Vatican museum windows. I even found a tennis court inside the walls of Vatican city! I think I was more excited about that than most of the artwork, haha.
The real highlight of the Vatican was the Sistine chapel. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures in there. This seems to be a common theme at all places of famous art works. Anyway, the Sistine chapel was a lot different than I was imagining. The word “chapel” makes me think of a small little church, and in my head, I was imagining this small little church as one that was completely round. However, the Sistine chapel is actually a quite large rectangle with an arched ceiling. Michelangelo’s works cover the ceiling and side walls and it is just magnificent. We listened to a Rick Steve’s audio guide about the chapel, and for about 45 minutes we were craning our necks to look at the ceiling. My neck was quite sore after that. I can’t imagine how Michelangelo was able to paint the ceiling in such a way, and to do that for years! Despite common belief, he did not lay on his back to paint, but actually stood up and leaned backwards. I guess they didn’t have health and safety or OSHA back then. Since we weren’t allowed to take pictures in the Sistine chapel, I took a picture of another ceiling in the museum.
As we were leaving the Vatican museums, we got to go down this cool spiral staircase. I thought it made for a cool picture.
After the Vatican museum, we headed next door to St. Peter’s square to check out the basilica. Apparently this is the biggest church in the world, and well, it was quite big!
We also did a Rick Steve’s audio tour in the basilica. Rick was basically our tour guide for our entire Rome trip. We would have been lost without him. Anyway, the basilica was massive. It’s hard to tell how big it is just by pictures, especially because there have been some architectural designs to help make the church feel a little more personal. For example, the statues that are higher up on the walls are actually a bigger size than the statues that are lower down the walls, so when seen from the floor, the two statues appear the same size and the church doesn’t seem so tall. Additionally, they put this big bronze canopy over the altar which helps divide and seemingly reduce the great height of the dome.
The church is built on top of St. Peter’s tomb, but the tomb site is way below ground and you need a special tour in order to see it. However, we did get to see the tomb and body of Pope John XXIII. He’s the Pope that initiated Vatican II, which was the series of reforms taken by the Catholic church in order to make the church more modern. It is why we don’t have mass in Latin today, but instead in the common language. Anyway, apparently in the year 2000, Pope John XXIII was up for beatification, and when they checked his body it was in such good condition that they decided to move it upstairs and put it behind glass. I thought that was a little freaky.
We also checked out more of Michelangelo’s work when we saw this statue of Mary holding Jesus. Apparently this statue was attacked with a hammer by some crazy guy, so it is now protected behind bulletproof glass. I thought that was interesting because another of Michelangelo’s statues, David, which we saw in Florence, had also been attacked with a hammer. Not sure what is going on with that?
Back outside the basilica, we admired the square for a while and re-hydrated with some holy water. No, it wasn’t actually blessed, but it was water from the Vatican City, so it’s got to be holy, right?
Friday evening we enjoyed ourselves with a traditional Italian meal, followed by some gelato. We ate our gelato while admiring the famous Trevi fountain. And we all threw in a coin to insure that we will return to Rome. Apparently, 3,000 euros can be found in the fountain everyday! Wow.
On Saturday we started the day by heading back to Trevi fountain to check it out in the daytime. It was on our way to the Pantheon, which was our real destination, so we stopped along the way. I actually thought it looked better at nighttime, but it was still cool to see in the light.
Then we made our way to the Pantheon. It is an ancient structure built somewhere around 100 A.D., and it is very well preserved. Today it actually serves as a church. The dome on top is just as tall as it is wide, so it is quite symmetric, and a very impressive engineering feat in that day.
After that, we headed over to Campo de Fiori, for the morning market. There were tons of venders there selling fresh produce, nuts, souvenirs, meat, and cheese. We opted for some freshly sliced prosciutto. Yummy!
Next up was a walking tour of the Trastevere neighborhood guided by our own personal Rick Steve’s audio guide. We probably wouldn’t have made it over to this neighborhood if it weren’t for his podcast, but I’m glad we got to check it out. It is a nice neighborhood with more authentic Roman life, and not as touristy. My favorite part was that there were tons of little churches and since it was Saturday, quite a few weddings were going on! I got to see a lot of wedding parties and brides! The first church was St. Cecilia’s, and it looked like a wedding had just gotten over. The bride and groom were out front taking pictures and the church was still decorated. Apparently this church has a two year waiting list to get married on a Saturday!
Another church in the neighborhood is one of the oldest in Rome and the first to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary: the Church of Santa Maria. It was really beautiful as well, and a wedding was just finishing up!
As you may have guessed, I really like weddings. Since Doug and I have been over here in England, we have missed quite a few of our friend’s weddings in the states, and we will be missing a lot more. I really hate missing these weddings, and it is probably one of the worst things about being over here. So I was really happy to at least see some of these beautiful weddings in a very historic part of Rome!
After we got some food, we headed over to Ancient Rome! The afternoon was filled with sight-seeing in the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine hill. It was really crazy how old all this stuff was, and it was cool to try to imagine yourself back in the Roman times. I would like to re-watch the Gladiator after visiting the Colosseum. The original floor of the Colosseum was made of boards covered with sand. That original floor is gone today, so you can see the underground passage ways where the gladiators and animals would get ready to go up and fight. On one end of the Colosseum, they have recreated the floor so you can get an idea of what it would have looked like.
We spent quite awhile admiring the Colosseum and walking all around. This and St. Peter’s basilica were probably my favorite two places in Rome. While we were headed to the Roman forum, we saw another bride! Wow, what a backdrop for some wedding photos!
The Roman Forum was really impressive with all its ruins and ancient stuff. Not quite as impressive as the Colosseum though. I enjoyed walking through and listening to Rick Steves (again).
Pretty much all of the stuff behind me was completely buried under dirt and filth and has been excavated.
After a long day of sight seeing, we enjoyed ourselves that night with some aperitivo, which we had discovered on our previous trip to Italy: https://schetzelsintheuk.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/venice-florence-and-pisa/. We also had an amazing dinner at Pierluigi, a nice Italian restaurant that I highly recommend. We had great service and food, and it wasn’t even that overly priced.
Sunday was our last day in Rome, but I feel like there was so much to see in that city that we could have spent an extra few days there. Good thing we tossed a coin in so that we will some day return to Rome!
We toured the Jewish ghetto, again with Rick Steves guiding the way. The Jewish ghetto is now a nice, trendy neighborhood with very high real estate values, but at one time it was a true ghetto where all the Jews were forced to live because they were seen as a threat to Catholicism. 4,000 Jews lived on only 7 acres, and these 7 acres were prone to flooding. Sounds like really horrible conditions. Nowadays, the area no longer floods thanks to some river embankments, and the neighborhood has a nice synagogue, as well as many kosher restaurants and cute bakeries.
During our walking tour, it actually started raining, so it wasn’t quite as pleasant as it could have been. At least we didn’t have to worry about flooding!
Next we made our way to the picturesque Spanish steps. To be honest, I’m not completely sure why these steps are famous, but we thought we would check it out. We read the plaque next to it and it said something like, “These steps were built to connect the church at the top of the hill to the square at the bottom.” Go figure… the steps were built to connect two things on different height levels… genius! I guess they are nice steps, filled with tourists, and surrounded by designer clothing shops.
We ended our trip with one more serving of gelato before we headed to the airport. Here is a collage of some of the yummy food we had in Rome. Yes, we were truly taking advantage of the “When in Rome” concept.
We headed back to Derby where Justin is staying with us for a few days so he can check out England. On Thursday Justin is headed to Paris for a wedding, and Doug and I are taking a long weekend in Portugal! Look forward to that post next week!