The Italian Job: A Quick 3 Days in Rome
Thanks to Dan’s favorite hobby of flight hacking, our trip to Eastern Europe included a short three-day layover in Rome (and saved us $50 each on flights from Tel Aviv to Warsaw)! We arrive after midnight, per the typical terrible scheduling of cheap flights, but we easily find Mario, our Airbnb host, and rest up for a big day of sightseeing. In the morning, Mario gives us the important details: how to use his espresso machine and recommendations for a self-guided walking tour of the sights.
Walking around a city for the first time is one of my favorite things about traveling, and Rome is especially beautiful for walking. Our neighborhood is Trastevere, and I’m sure I still can’t pronounce it correctly. It’s full of fountains, cafes and street vendors selling very Italian things like pizza, pasta, espresso, wine, scarves, and leather accessories. It’s blissful. We cross the Fiume Tevere (Tiber River) and start near the Giardino degli Aranci and surrounding churches for a beautiful view of the city and of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. The buildings, streets, alleyways, and especially the Circus Maximus (an ancient Roman chariot racing stadium) all feel just like I expected Italy to feel like – historical and charming.
Our host gave us a great tip at seeing Rome from a unique perspective. This morning we walked up to Avenue Hill to get a one-of-a-kind view of the Vatican’s Saint Peter’s Basilica through a keyhole. It was quite impressive!
The Colosseum and Roman Forum
From the Circus Maximus, we head toward the must-see sights in the old city. The first stop is the Palatino ticket office, because of Mario’s suggestion to buy a ticket there which also gets you into the Colosseum. It’s a good thing we did, because our 10 minute wait was nothing compared to the line at the Colosseum – well over an hour for the same ticket we just waited ten minutes for! We debated telling people in line this tip, but if we were in their position we’d probably be skeptical so we didn’t bother, but I’m making up for it by telling you now.
The ruins of the Colosseum are amazingly preserved and really interesting to wander around, even through the swams of tourists. I bought a little guide to the sights of Rome, and with that together with the amount of descriptive signage, I didn’t feel like I missed out by not hiring a guide.
Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica
For our last full day in Rome, we booked a tour called Art and Faith of the the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. Because there is so much to see in the Vatican City complex, I figured the tour would give us the highlights so we wouldn’t be wandering around wondering what we were looking at. Our guide is an art historian, and gives us great background and insight on the museum and its works to start the tour. We then wind through Pio-Christian Museum, the Gallery of the Candelabras, the Gallery of the Tapestries, the Raphael Rooms, and the Gallery of the Geographical Maps.
Finally, we come to the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s masterpiece ceiling and an often-cited reference for the possibilities of human achievement. The best part of the Sistine Chapel as a tourist attraction is that talking and taking photos are prohibited. Guards patrol the crowd, shushing someone every few seconds. So instead of looking through a sea of camera phones, like at the Mona Lisa or any sunset ever, we are free to admire the artwork as is meant to be admired. And it really is incredible. It really is amazing the difference not allowing cameras can make on how peaceful and enjoyable an attraction is. We left the Sistine Chapel wishing more places would have this policy.
Our tour and trip end fittingly at St. Peter’s Basilica, which we started our trip by admiring from a distance. We look out over the square under the balcony where the Pope stands for most important addresses. The columns and marble, together with the rounding-in of the walls make the people in the vast square look tiny.
Inside, I’m blown away by the beauty, which surprised me since I’ve seen so many churches lately. I learned that most all of the art and the architecture was designed by Michelangelo, who was still working on it up until his death. The light, the golden touches, the art and sculptures are all like nothing I’ve seen before.
Now that we’ve seen the highlights, we definitely have to come back to explore more of this amazing city!
“There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish…” – Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator (2000)