Rome Vatican

This was the 1st trip that we planned since arriving in the Netherlands. We went to meet Shikhar & Sree and they asked us to join their Rome trip, so we did. Since we booked later, we did not get the same hotel & return flights but we were nearby so we managed accordingly.

Day 1 – 2 April 2022

We woke up early morning to catch our flight to Rome. After check-in, we had some time so we waited for Shikhar & Sree near the gates. When the boarding started, we found out that our regular cloth masks won’t work & we would have to buy FFP2 masks to board the flight & visit any place in Rome. Sree & I decided to wait in line while Rishi & Shikhar went to buy the masks from the vending machine inside the airport. After a lot of waiting, we were finally able to board the flight just because it was a bit delayed.

We then bought a train ticket to go to the city from the airport. By the time we reached the station, the train left, so we had to wait for the next one which would start in 45 minutes. So, we decided to have a small breakfast before leaving. After travelling for almost an hour we reached the city centre & from there we walked to our respective hotels to keep our luggage in the room.

We checked in and left the hotel by 12pm. We mostly walked to all of the destinations. Every turn of corner had a pleasant surprise for us. So apart from all the destinations, we also clicked lots of pictures on the way every day.

We walked to Pizza in Trevi for lunch which was in front of the famous fountain. This place had been recommended to us by some friends who had already been to Rome. We ordered a ham & a chicken pizza and a lasagna. Chicken pizza was bland but ham pizza was good. I did not eat lasagna as it contained beef.

After lunch, we went to the Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) which is an 18th-century fountain designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Giuseppe Pannini and several others. It is famous for its intricate artwork decorated in the Baroque style. According to legend, tossing one coin into the Trevi Fountain means you’ll return to The Eternal City (Rome), tossing two coins means you’ll return and fall in love, and tossing three coins means you’ll return, find love, and marry. Luck or no luck, the money goes to a Catholic charity to help the poor and homeless. I tossed a coin to the fountain too, so *fingers crossed*.

We then walked to the Pantheon which is a former Roman temple and since 609 AD, a Catholic church (Basilica di Santa Maria ad Martyres), on the site of an earlier temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD). It was rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian and probably dedicated in 126 AD. Its date of construction is uncertain because Hadrian chose not to inscribe the new temple but rather to retain the inscription of Agrippa’s older temple, which had burned down. The building is cylindrical with a portico of large granite Corinthian columns (eight in the first rank and two groups of four behind) under a pediment. A rectangular vestibule links the porch to the rotunda, which is under a coffered concrete dome, with a central opening (oculus) to the sky. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. The height of the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 43 metres (142 ft). It is one of the best-preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings, in large part because it has been in continuous use throughout its history: since the 7th century, it has been a church dedicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs but informally known as “Santa Maria Rotonda”. Sree had already booked tickets with an audio guide for Pantheon, so we spent around an hour inside the pantheon learning about its history and admiring its structure.

The square in front of the Pantheon is called Piazza Della Rotonda. In the centre of the piazza is a fountain, the Fontana del Pantheon, surmounted by an Egyptian obelisk. The fountain was constructed by Giacomo Della Porta under Pope Gregory XIII in 1575, and the obelisk was added to it in 1711 under Pope Clement XI. Since it was Saturday, it was very crowded and we could not get a single picture without random people photobombing.

We finally walked to Piazza Navona which is built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian, built in the 1st century AD and follows the form of the open space of the stadium. The ancient Romans went there to watch the agones (“games”), and hence it was known as “Circus Agonalis” (“competition arena”). It is believed that over time the name changed from avone to navone and eventually to navona. It features important sculptural creations: in the centre stands the famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers (1651) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, topped by the Obelisk of Domitian, brought in pieces from the Circus of Maxentius and the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone by Francesco Borromini, Girolamo Rainaldi, Carlo Rainaldi and others. Piazza Navona has two other fountains. At the southern end is the Fontana del Moro with a basin and four Tritons sculpted by Giacomo della Porta (1575) to which, in 1673, Bernini added a statue of a Moor, wrestling with a dolphin. At the northern end is the Fountain of Neptune (1574) also created by Giacomo della Porta; the statue of Neptune, by Antonio Della Bitta, was added in 1878 to create a balance with La Fontana del Moro. Since I had to go to the washroom, I saw the southern fountain on the way. We also went inside the church for a bit.

By the time we came out of the church, it was raining. We took out our rain ponchos and started walking back to our hotel. We even got stuck near the Pantheon for a while when it started raining hail which forced us to stop & find shelter. When the hail stopped, we started our walk again. When we reached the hotel rooms, we were so tired that we slept till 8pm.

When we woke up, we decided to go for dinner in a nearby restaurant. We walked across the street and went to Alla Bracioleria and ordered Pizza Napoli and Amaro Montenegro. Both the pizza and drink were delicious.

Day 2 – 3 April 2022

We woke up early again and got ready for the day. We had our guided tour booked for 8:30am and had to meet up 15 minutes before.

The 1st destination of the day was Colosseum which is the largest ancient amphitheatre ever built and is still the largest standing amphitheatre in the world today, despite its age. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian (69–79 AD) in 72 and was completed in 80 AD under his successor and heir, Titus (79–81). Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96). The three emperors that were patrons of the work are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named the Flavian Amphitheatre by later classicists and archaeologists for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum is built of travertine limestone, tuff (volcanic rock), and brick-faced concrete. It could hold an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 spectators at various points in its history, having an average audience of some 65,000; it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles including animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Roman mythology, and briefly mock sea battles. When we reached the Colosseum, we contacted our guide and got the audio devices and joined the group. There was a huge line as the ticket counter was closed later than usual. While waiting in line, our guide told us all about the history of the Colosseum. When we finally got our tickets and got inside, our guide explained the architecture and design.

We then climbed the Palatine Hill which is one of the most ancient parts of the city and has been called “the first nucleus of the Roman Empire.” The site is now mainly a large open-air museum. From the start of the Empire (27 BC) Augustus built his palace there and the hill gradually became the exclusive domain of emperors; the ruins of the palaces of at least Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD), Tiberius (14 – 37 AD) and Domitian (81 – 96 AD) can still be seen. We were able to see lots of excavated rooms and open gardens with a private amphitheatre. From the top, we could see an excellent view of the city. The guide also pointed out the place where Julius Caesar was stabbed which we could visit while returning. The place was quite underwhelming where he was stabbed, burned and buried.

By the time we came out of the premise, we were hungry. So we searched for a restaurant with good ratings nearby. We went to Alle Carrette and ordered Pizza and grappas. The pizza was tasty but the grappa felt like we were drinking the whole bottle of Homeopathic liquid medicine in one go.

After lunch, we walked to the Victor Emmanuel II National Monument or Vittoriano which is a large national monument built between 1885 and 1935 to honour Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy. From an architectural perspective, it was conceived as a modern forum, an agora on three levels connected by stairways and dominated by a portico characterized by a colonnade. Because of how large it is (135 metres wide and 70 metres high) the building was also given several nicknames, ranging from the wedding cake, the dentures, to the typewriter. We slowly climbed up and enjoyed the wonderful view. There was a ticket for going to the top of the building by elevator. The counter was closed and there was a huge line waiting to get the tickets. We didn’t want to wait too long, so we didn’t join the line.

In the morning, the Colosseum was too crowded so we couldn’t get a good picture. So we decided to go back. On the way, we picked up an electric scooter using dott and rode to Colosseum. This time the Colosseum was not as crowded so we were able to get good pictures without a lot of people photobombing.

By the time we were done, we were very tired. So we decided to ride back to our hotel and rest for 1 hour. There were electric bikes also available in the app. We unlocked 2 bikes and started our ride back to our hotel. After riding for a few minutes when we were going uphill, Rishi realised that his bike’s electric functionality was not working. So he went back and parked the bike and then picked up another bike while I waited on the side of the road. All this wasted a lot of time. Dott provides a 20-minute ride for a reasonable price but after the 20 minutes are over, the prices rise very quickly. Ride time for the bike I was riding came to 40 minutes and we almost paid double the amount for the entire ride.

We started again from our hotel at 7pm to see the sunset which was at 7:30pm. The bikes that we had parked near our hotel were still there so we picked them up and rode to our destination. The dott bikes can only be parked in a few selected parking locations decided by the app. So we had to go in search of the parking area nearby to park our bikes. Due to all this delay, we missed the sunset.

After walking from the parking lot we finally reached the Spanish Steps which are a set of steps in Rome, climbing a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church at the top. The monumental stairway of 135 steps (the slightly elevated drainage system is often mistaken for the first step) was built with French diplomat Étienne Gueffier’s bequeathed funds of 20,000 scudi, in 1723–1725, linking the Trinità dei Monti church that was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France and the Bourbon Spanish Embassy at the top of the steps to the Holy See in the Palazzo Monaldeschi at the bottom of the steps. The stairway was designed by architects Francesco de Sanctis and Alessandro Specchi. Even though we missed the sunset, the view was lovely so we didn’t regret climbing up. Sree & Shikhar were late, so we sat and waited for them on the steps for a while.

When it was dark and they didn’t arrive, we decided to visit the Trevi Fountain because wanted to see it at night with all the lights. The fountain was as crowded as ever but we luckily found a good seat so we sat there and enjoyed the captivating view. We had informed Sree & Shikhar that we were going to the fountain, so after their Spanish Steps visit, they joined us at the fountain.

After enjoying the fountain we decided to go for dinner. We walked and saw a guy performing mesmerisingly on his violin and we stopped and listened to him for a bit. We also crossed the Pantheon on the way to the restaurant.

We had eaten a lot of Pizza in the last 2 days, so we wanted to try some pasta this time. We found a restaurant called Osteria da Fortunata which had a very high rating on Google and was also recommended to Sree by a colleague from Rome. The place serves handmade authentic Italian pasta. Our Indian taste buds did not like it as much as we had expected from the reviews. We had also ordered too much and finally could not finish the entire thing.

Finally, we rode back to our hotel on electric bikes. The electric bikes were fun to ride on plain roads but not on bumpy roads and ended up giving me backache. Half the streets in Rome are cobblestone roads which look awesome but it is not great for riding bikes.

Day 3 – 4 April 2022

We got ready and left our room at 10 am and met Sree & Shikhar near the metro station. We then took a bus to the Vatican where we spent our entire day. Vatican City is a city which is also the smallest country in the world about which we had only read in the GK books earlier. It is a city-state surrounded by Rome and is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. It is home to the Pope and a trove of iconic art and architecture.

We reached St. Peter’s Square which is a large plaza located directly in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Both the square and the basilica are named after Saint Peter, an apostle of Jesus considered by Catholics to be the first Pope. At the centre of the square is an ancient Egyptian obelisk, erected at the current site in 1586. Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed the square almost 100 years later, including the massive Doric colonnades, four columns deep, which embrace visitors in “the maternal arms of Mother Church”. A granite fountain constructed by Bernini in 1675 matches another fountain designed by Carlo Maderno in 1613. There was a huge line for entering the basilica and we had our tickets for the museum at 1pm, so we decided to go to the basilica after the museum.

Since Rishi & I had not eaten breakfast, we decided to find a cafe. I wanted to eat in Vatican City so that I could check that off as something we did. We found a cafe called Cafe Marcelletti just outside St. Peter’s Square. We sat and ordered Panini and tea. While waiting, I opened the map and found out that we were not inside the Vatican but in Rome. The border of the Vatican was the courtyard at that point. So, we technically did not eat anything in Vatican City.

After breakfast, we decided to click some photos with the basilica before proceeding to the museum. There were a lot of people in line and also a huge police car blocking our view, but we clicked pictures anyway.

We then walked to the Vatican Museum which is the public museum of the Vatican City. They display works from the immense collection amassed by the Catholic Church and the papacy throughout the centuries, including several of the most renowned Roman sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world. Pope Julius II founded the museums in the early 16th century. The Sistine Chapel, with its ceiling and altar wall decorated by Michelangelo, and the Stanze di Raffaello (decorated by Raphael) are on the visitor route through the Vatican Museums. There are 24 galleries, or sale, in total, with the Sistine Chapel, notably, being the last sala within the Museum. Since we had bought the skip the line tickets, we did not have to wait to get in. We did not have any audio guide included in the tickets as we had expected, so we proceeded to see the museum with only the map of the museum. The museum was grand and captivating. By the time we were done with the tour, we were exhausted. There was a cafeteria near the exit of the museum but we were not hungry, so we didn’t eat there. I think this was the only place to eat inside the Vatican.

We then started our walk back to the basilica. On the way, we stopped at Old Bridge Gelateria for some gelato. This shop was also not inside the perimeter of Vatican City.

When we reached St Peter’s Basilica, the line was quite small compared to the morning. As soon as we entered, we saw a person about to put barricades near one of the doors. Rishi was walking fast and he was past the barricade. The person saw that we were together, so he let us in. We realised that we were the last people allowed that day to go to the top of the dome. We waited in line and bought the elevator tickets which took us halfway to the dome. We then had to climb around 300 steps in a narrow passageway. The dome of St. Peter’s rises to a total height of 136.57 metres (448.1 ft) from the floor of the basilica to the top of the external cross. It is the tallest dome in the world. Its central dome dominates the skyline of Rome and the view from the dome is exquisite. We hogged the perfect spot for a long time and clicked loads of pictures. We were so captivated by the view that we only came down when they announced that they were about to close the dome.

We finally reached Saint Peter’s Basilica (The Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican) which is a church built in the Renaissance style located in Vatican City. Designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Peter’s is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and the largest church in the world by interior measure. The entire interior of St. Peter’s is lavishly decorated with marble, reliefs, architectural sculpture and gilding. The basilica contains a large number of tombs of popes and other notable people, many of which are considered outstanding artworks. Sree has visited a lot of churches & basilica since coming to Europe and she was also mesmerised by the grandness of the place. She said that no church or basilica would ever impress anyone as much after visiting this stunning basilica.