To avoid the crowds of people at the weekend we decided that the best plan was to visit the Vatican and the churches on our first full day. We asked at the reception about getting to and from the city centre and it turned out the best bus to take was the number 86 as it stopped pretty much straight outside the hotel. Unfortunately once more we were given bad directions in that we were told to take the bus in the opposite direction – fortunately we were able to guess the correct direction because one passing bus which we missed said Termini. In Rome you have to purchase a €1 ticket before boarding the bus from a shop and have to validate it on the machine onboard. We never once saw a driver check passengers tickets but we decided not to take the risk and for each journey we took we made sure we’d got a valid ticket.
At the Roma Termini we switched to the Metro and took that as far as the Vatican Museum. I’ve heard a lot of stories about the pickpockets in Rome and so was very protective of my pockets – nothing was going to get stolen from me! The queue for the Vatican museum seemed incredibly long and we were outside in the scorching hot sun for around an hour. It isn’t a good sign when at 9am in the morning the temperature is already 24 degrees Celsius as you know it’s only going to get warmer. The entrance fee is €14 and once in there is plenty to see and photograph. One word of warning is that most places inside the Vatican they do not allow flash photography even though you’re likely to see others trying to get away with it. We started off with the Cortile della Pinacoteca where there is a lot of stone carvings depicting various biblical scenes. I’m not sure why, but half of this area was closed off at the time so was unable to see the statues that they have in there. Our next destination was the Sistine chapel which you get to by going through many other exhibits such as the map room. By the time we got to the Sistine Chapel I didn’t think it was anything special – sure the ceiling is a Michaelangelo painting, but by the time you get there it feels like just another painting.
Within 2 hours of entering the Vatican Museum we had seen everything which was open and so headed over to Saint Peter’s Square. It’s surprising how many people were out in the square considering the temperature by this point had soared to an amazing 41 degrees Celsius. To avoid standing outside too long in the sun we decided to instead get some food first in hope the queue for Saint Peter’s Basilica would shorten. The cafe we got food from was a really peculiar place – you had to pay a set amount and then decide what it was you wanted in that price range, however barely any of their food was priced up correctly which just made ordering near impossible. By the time we’d finished our lunch the queue for the Basilica had not changed so we joined the queue anyway. Just like the entry for the Vatican Museum, the Basilica requires you to go through a security point where they put your bag through an X-Ray machine and you have to walk through a metal detector; just like being in an airport really.
Inside Saint Peter’s Basilica I think it’s a more impressive sight than the Sistine Chapel. The current Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano took approximately 120 years to build and has the largest interior of any Christian church anywhere in the world. During the 1500’s the Basilica had fallen into such disrepair that the Pope at the time ordered for stones to be taken from the Colosseum to help with it’s repair. Underneath the Basilica is the Papal tombs where most of the Popes are buried, including that of Pope John Paul II who died in 2005.
After having done the Vatican and the Basilica we thought we’d done enough sightseeing for the day so headed in the approximate direction of the Termini but somehow managed to end up at the Colosseum. From the outside it kind of seems out of place with a busy road running past it, however there is a relatively peaceful square and green area to one side of it. The entrance fee was €12 but doesn’t take that long to look round – probably not that much longer than it takes to queue to get in.
It is unfortunate that so much of the Colosseum was damaged in the building of Saint Peter’s Basilica but at least they have done some repair work on it. As you go in you have to take a flight of stairs straight up to the spectator area where you can see down into the lower levels and the rooms which would have been beneath the arena floor. There is then a second set of steps further round which leads you back down to the ground floor; however there isn’t a way for tourists to get down into the hypogeum where they used to house slaves and animals. Normally there is a wooden walkway across the hypogeum so you can see down into it, however this was not there when we visited it. Outside the Colosseum is the usual swarm of souvenir sellers who hope to sell their wares to any passing tourists – there really are a lot of them here, as well as people who pretend to be statues.
We then made our way back to the Termini, once again heading in completely the wrong direction, fortunately we somehow managed to work our way back round in the right direction and found a tourist information place where we were able to get a free tourist map. By the time we’d found the tourist place we were practically outside the Termini so decided to wander around a little more to find somewhere to eat. At this next restaurant I tried some of the local lasagne and it was as delicious as you’d expect it to be though compared to elsewhere the service charge seemed a little “steep” at 15%. On the way back to the Termini we also spotted a Warner Brothers cinema which we thought might come in useful if we ran out of places we wanted to see.