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ROME (Roma)

and the VATICAN

Return to Italy

St Peter's Basilica, Vatican
St Peter's Basilica

Rome is the capital of Italy and has an urban population of more than 4 million.  The city was founded in 753 BC and is sometimes referred to as the Eternal City.  A popular myth is that the city was founded by Romulus and Remus, who were suckled by a she-wolf.  Rome was the center of the Roman Empire when Julius Caesar was assinated in 44BC.  The presence of the Pope was established in the first century AD and the independent Vatican City State was created  in 1929 within the city center of Rome.  Today the ruins of the Roman Empire and the presence of the Pope at the Vatican make Rome one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

Weather:

The weather in Rome is influenced by its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, which moderates the winters.  Summers are warm and dry.  Expect summer highs of 35 C (75 F) in July and August and average lows of 16 C (60 F).  In the winter months, the highs average 12 C (54 F), while the lows average around 4 C (40 F).  The winter months can be rainy and humid.  The perfect summer weather draws the heaviest influx of tourists.  Consider May or October for the best balance between of weather with lower volumes of visitors.

   

Colosseum, Rome, Italy

Colosseum

Transportation:

It's easy and economical to transfer between the Fiumicino (Leonardo da Vinci) International Airport and downtown on the Leonardo Express train, which runs every 30 minutes and take just over 30 minutes.  Don't forget to validate your ticket after purchase (it's a common procedure in many European countries, especially Italy).  A Terravision Shuttle Bus will cost less than half the train fare.  A cab will cost about 4 times as much as the train.  There are also shared transfers between the Fiumicino Airport and Central Rome.

The cruise terminal at Civitavecchia is more than an hour one way from downtown Rome by vehicle and is not close to the Fiumicino International Airport. Cruise passengers with only one day to visit Rome will be rushed in trying to cover the most basic attractions of the city.  For those who are joining or leaving a cruise, we recommend a taxi or pre-purchased transfer instead of the train to the city center and/or airport. Consider a Cruise Terminal to Central Rome transfer or a Cruise Terminal to Fiumicino International Airport.  Those who hope to save money by taking the trains between Civitavecchia and the International Airport will invest considerable time and trouble.  Cabs do not like to offer rides from the port to the nearby Civitavecchia station and after a local train ride to the city center for 1.5 hours, it's necessary to then backtrack somewhat on the Leonardo Express for another half hour.

The Leonardo Express terminates at the central downtown terminal known as Termini.  From Termini, there is an extensive network of efficient and inexpensive subway lines that easily take you to hotels, St Peter's & the Vatican, the Spanish steps or the Colosseum.  There's no sense of urgency on the metro subway, as trains arrive every 7 - 10 minutes.  Check out the Rome Metro Map.  The A Red line and the B Blue line intersect at Termini.  The Colosseum is on the B Blue line at the Colosseo stop.  On the A Red line, you will reach the Spanish Steps at the Spagna station and the Vatican at the Cipro stop.  Termini is also the main station for Eurail connecting Rome to the rest of Italy, France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia.

St Peter's, Vatican City

St Peter's

Attractions in Rome:

Things to see and do:

St Peter's and the Vatican  These two famous locations are side by side on the A Red line metro.  You can exit the Vatican to St Peter's.  There is no admission to St Peter's Basilica, but arrive early before the crowds build up.  See Michelangelo's Pieta, Bernini's design of the square in front of the church and visit the tombs of the Popes beneath it.  Hear the Pope's weekly message in the square with a Papal Audience Ticket and Presentation.  This ensures you obtain the required reservation for the free Papal Audience.  It's well worth making a reservation to the Vatican, so that you don't have to wait in long lines outside.  The Sistine Chapel is located here.  The Vatican Museum is too extensive to cover completely in a single day.  Take the opportunity to buy Vatican postage and mail a letter.

The Colosseum (Coliseum) and the Forum are located side by side on the B Blue line metro.  Avoid line ups and make a reservation in advance.  Come back in the evening to view the Forum from outside the grounds, even though it's closed.  The Forum includes the Palantine Hill.  Circus Maximus, the ruins of the ancient Roman chariot racing stadium, is located in this area between the Aventine and Palatine hills.   Immediately to the north of the Forum are the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II and the Piazza del Campidoglio on the Capitoline Hill.  To the west of the Forum is the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.  In the portico of the basilica, see the Mouth of Truth (La Bocca della Verita), which is a human face carved in a circular flat marble.

Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy

Trevi Fountain

Take an organized 4 hour walking tour of Rome's Squares and Fountains or head out by yourself from the A Red line Spagna metro stop near the Spanish Steps.  Sit for a moment with the crowds on the steps.  Then walk to the Trevi Fountain.  Throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain and tradition says this will ensure that you return to the city again.  The next stop is the Pantheon, built by Hadrain in 117AD as the Temple of All the Gods.  The Italian kings Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I are buried here, as well as the famous Renaissance painter Raphael.  From the Pantheon, walk to the Piazza Navona to see the 1651 Fountain of the Four Rivers by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  The final stop on the walk is St Peter's, but consider visiting the museum at the Mausoleum of Hadrian, also known as the Castel Sant'Angelo.

Borghese Gallery and Museum - See Bernini's famous sculpture of Apollo and Dapne.  Reservations are required.

Take a Crypts and Catacombs Walking Tour of the underground catacombs, Capuchin Crypt and the Basilica of San Clemente.

Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing Tour

Vatican, Rome, Italy

Vatican, most tours have left for the day 

Things to see and do near Rome:

Take a day trip to the Amalfi Coast

Naples and Pompeii Day Trip

Florence Day Trip

Tivoli Day Trip to Villa d'Este and Hadrian's Villa

Capri Day Trip

Assisi and Orvieto Day Trip

Ancient Ostia Half Day Tour

Rome Tours:

Hotels in Rome:

Booking.com Hotel Listings for Rome

Rome Fiumicino Airport - FCO (Booking.com) - including a list of hotels with a shuttle.


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A Day in Rome by Tim Anderson
I thought our B&B in Rome would be a challenge, but it turned out to be a very pleasant stay.  I had read on the internet that it was difficult to locate our B&B so I'd already done a lot of research, including Google street views.  Unfortunately, the first mistake I made was to think that the first plaza I arrived at was the Piazza Vortorino, but it actually was 3 blocks the other way.  I was becoming more confident of my Italian and after asking directions, we made it to the square.  The hotel entrance was a simple wood door beside the MAS store with the hotel name in tiny letters on the buzzer.  The staff person was eager to use her English and immediately gave us a map and directions on how to get everywhere of interest.  Everything was in walking distance, but with our new confidence on the subways, we used these to advantage too.  The room had free internet, very nice air conditioning and lovely cappuccino delivered to your room with breakfast each morning. 

Forum, Rome, Italy

Forum with Colosseum at top right

We walked 10 minutes to the Colosseum (Coliseum) and we were in among the hordes of tourists.  It was definitely a mistake not to buy tickets in advance and definitely a mistake to visit attractions around noon.  I understood that tickets were available at the Forum so we walked up there, but the line up looked too long.  The other entrance for the forum was closed to tickets.  We tried the Palatine Hill and the line there was longer than the Forum.  We bit the bullet and lined up, which took an hour in the hot sun and put us in to sun stroke mode before the sight-seeing began.  I'm never impressed by crowds, plus several others were sharing my complaint that the Forum map wasn't accurate.  Still it is quite impressive, no matter what your mood.  We then made our way to the Colosseum and noticed the line up had decreased significantly.  I was even less impressed with the Colosseum. I guess ruined buildings visited by hundreds of people don't overly impress me no matter how big they are.  Next we had to get out of the sun and a return to our B&B for several hours.  We asked about places to eat as everything in the square was boarded up like a massive economic foreclosure.  They told us it was afternoon and that everything closed at that time.  They suggested waiting until 8pm for dinner. 

Forum, Rome, Italy

Forum without tourists at dusk

When we got our energy back, we remembered the train station is a great place to find food and after a meal, we took the metro to the Spanish Steps.  This was more pleasant and also intriguing to see all the people who come just to sit there.  We then followed our map with difficulty to the Trevi Fountain.  It was pleasant in the shade of evening, but busy.  Then we went to the Pantheon and got seriously lost, despite the map.  Plus the Pantheon was closed.  We walked back to the B&B from there and had an unexpected pleasure.  Our route went past the Forum and the Coliseum, which were both now devoid of tourists.  We wandered the edges of the Forum and got great views of the empty spaces.  It was worth it to be there at night, when all the tour buses had left.  Very pleasing.  Try to plan to visit major attractions early or late in the day.

Spanish Steps, Rome, Italy

Spanish Steps

The next morning, after a lovely breakfast in our room, we took the subway to St Peter's Basilica.  This was really the highlight of our trip to Rome.  The basilica is magnificent and peaceful.  The tombs of the Popes underneath makes you feel its importance and the depth of time.  The main floor is immense and absorbs numerous lovely carvings and tributes to its Popes.  The church is active and a service going on added faint singing that echoed through the building and its various caverns.  I ended up taking two trips around and paused a long time to simply listen to the service.  Then we went up the dome (cupola) and this was great too.  It was an easier ascent than Florence, including a substantial elevator ride.  I had difficulty at the top, but overcame this and enjoyed the views and the refreshing breeze.  I had high expectations after that for the Vatican.  We had reservations booked on the Vatican site and it was wonderful to pass the crowds waiting in the sun and go straight in. 

St Peter's, Rome, Italy

St Peter's, typical of numerous life size sculptures

Strange Sistine Chapel.
Unfortunately the rest of our Vatican experience didn't match St Peter's.  It was our first guided tour of our vacation and it included almost an hour of pre lecture on the drawings of the Sistine Chapel.  The discussion was interesting, but my back was breaking under the strain of standing still.  Our own self guided tours go a break neck speed, not break back standstills, so this tour wasn't fun. T he four Raphael rooms involved lengthy descriptions of the detail in each picture too, but at least we were with the real pictures for that.  The Sistine involves discussion before hand as it is an active church and guides can't narrate tours in it.

Disputation of the Sacrament by Raphael, Vatican

Disputation of the Sacrament by Raphael, Vatican

After 2.5 hours we made it to the Sistine.  What a weird experience.  A large dank room crammed with people to every corner.  A uniformed official presided and continually made hissing noises at the crowd to maintain silence.  At times he would clap too.  The murmur from the crowd never ceased and quickly built to the point of another reprimand.  It reminded me of the Dog Whisperer or a lion tamer controlling animals.  When we finally got to the exit, a security guard waved his hand to indicate we could not leave, but did not speak.  We had no idea why we couldn't leave.  A loudspeaker announcement in Italian ensued.  I had the strangest sensation that the heathen had all been caged and were about to be dealt with.  Then someone in a wheelchair came in through the exit, making it clear why our exit had been denied and we were allowed to leave.  I went straight to confessional at St Peters.

The tour was over and we were on our own.  We next stumbled on the nicest piece in the museum in my opinion, which is a life size stained glass of mother and child.  After the disappointment of the tour, this item lifted my spirit and I wasn't ready to leave the Vatican yet.  We headed to the Etruscan Museum and something remarkable happened on the way. The crowds thinned and we started to have entire rooms to ourselves.  We wandered through the painting gallery and the Etruscan Museum.  We then discovered that the two large halls of statues, that were crammed with people and avoided on our tour, were now empty.  We strolled around as if we owned the place and I thoroughly enjoyed this time. 

Mother and Child, Vatican, Rome, Italy

Mother and Child

We walked to the Pantheon from the Vatican, crossing the Tiber with views of Hadrian's Tomb.  The Pantheon was interesting, but I went mainly because it peaked my interest due to the movie, Angels and Demons.  Rafael and Italian Kings (Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I) are buried there.  We wandered past the Trevi and the Spanish steps before catching the metro to our accommodation.


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