Thursday, June 30, 2011

What a Trip: Rome if You Want To - Part 1

With Florence behind us, the train rolled into Roma mid-day Friday, ready for 4 days of fun and relaxation before we made our way back stateside and back to the daily grind.

Suspicion arose as we walked into the lobby of our hotel. The rate was comparable to the bed and breakfast tiny boutiques that we were finding on tripadvisor and stayed in in Florence. This was a full fledged hotel - with a card key to the room instead of a real key and everything. Did we misread our confirmation? Was the price we thought was for the 4 night stay actually for just one of those nights? Confirming at the desk after a bit of panic helped ease our minds that the Grand Hotel Palatino just gave us a really good deal - 20% savings for that 4th night!

Checking in and getting settled over, it was time to explore! Our location was centralized to pretty much everything we needed access to: Colloseum was a short walk away, the train station was a straight shot up Via Cavour, the train we could take the next morning to the Vatican was behind the hotel by a few steps. We found a section of outdoor restaurants near the hotel as well that overlooked a fountain constantly overrun with people hanging out, drinking beer from the tiny shop nestled between the restaurants and generally enjoying life. Some pretty good people watching ensued.

Our first restaurant in Roma started a trend for Bob - I think he ate pizza for every meal! I treated myself to a four cheese wonder, while Bob got a proscuitto filled pie.
The next morning we were up bright and early to take the train a few stops over to Vatican City. I had purchased tickets online ahead of time at the suggestion of others and was glad I did. We booked our tickets for 10am and aimed to get to the Museum by 9:30. The line for groups and those who needed tickets was immensely long (the preceding link contains a photo of a line to show an example). I couldn't help but wonder, how have all these people not already seen the Vatican? But of course, I was there too for that reason. On a sidenote, I always think the same thing if I happen to be walking around and not at work in the middle of a weekday, "Who are all you people? Why aren't you at work? Are you all bartenders and students?" They are probably asking the same thing of me.

Instead of a guided tour, we paid 7 euro each for an audio guide. This guy was amazing. Our headphones worked so we didn't have to spend the whole time holding them up to our ears which was also a plus. I was amazed at how many pieces throughout the museum had numbers associated with an explanation. The Sistine Chapel and Raphael Rooms had at least 15 minutes each of stories to share.
The Vatican Musuem ended up being one of my favorite parts of Italy. Not for the slow moving, there is a lot of ground to cover. We were there for about 3 hours total and I know we missed whole sections and did not use the most efficient route - even if our little audio guide map had a suggested route spelled out! We ended up taking a shortcut to the Sistine Chapel so we walked through it earlier in the day. Then when we went back to the rooms we had missed we ended up having to go through the entire shortcut again. We probably looked like the most art-hating disinterested people as we sped through Michaelangelo's masterpiece our second time around!
Our 10am arrival was smart indeed, while we were able to navigate pretty easily during our first hour, here was the scene by 11:30. The early bird does get the worm.
While I can't share any photos of the Sistine Chapel - I don't want to think about what would have happened to me had I broken the no photos rule - here's a couple to share. The Map Room was a den of paradise for a travel geek like me. I heart maps.
And with Egypt top of mind we got a kick out of Anubis dressed in Roman clothing.
I almost blinked and missed the famous staircase! Designed by Momo in 1932, the staircases going up and going down form a double helix by twisting together.
After a brief lunch break, we headed away from the museum and into St. Peters Square and the Basilica. The Egyptian influences are rampant, with obelisks seemingly everywhere! Is it horrible that I kept looking for Angels & Demons clues?
Heading inside, the scale of the Basilica hits you like a ton of bricks.
And then there it is right in front of you: The Baldacchino.Bernini's masterpiece towers over the altar and the ancient tomb of St. Peter. Decadent.
A quick glimpse of the Papal Swiss Guard. Reading the wikipedia entry on the Swiss Guard (so you know its accurate), these uniforms weigh at least 8 pounds and are very complicated to make because of their renaissance style. Definitely not camoflauge.
With the Vatican behind us, we spent the next few hours rock climbing, saving whales and sky diving. Oh wait, I mean we went back to the hotel to take a nap. The difference between our Egypt leg and the Rome leg was that we left ourselves time to relax as opposed to filling the entire day and evening with tours. It was a vacation after all.

Dinner that evening once again proved we were not ready to leave Egypt behind us!
Rather than make this post 100 pictures long, I'll chunk it up a bit. Next up will be the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Spanish Steps and more ruins than you can shake a stick at.

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