Rome, Italy

[ 0 ] July 29, 2011 |

When in Rome…

Pat and I arrived in Rome, Italy and forced ourselves to pause for the weekend to plan the next few legs of our journey and to catch up on logistics and laundry. We’ve realized it’s quite difficult to make ourselves slow down long enough to plan and blog… but necessary and beneficial! We joke that we need to keep a voice recorder with us so we don’t forget any of the good stuff… It just may come to that.

Vatican Museums

On Monday morning we started our blitz tour of Rome, Italy at 8 AM with our sweet Texas friends Michael and Stephanie Schiltz. Michael and Stephanie were on vacation for a few weeks in Europe and were kind enough to share their time in Rome with us. It was such a treat to have friends around to share all of these amazing experiences with, and to just plain hangout with. They are an amazing couple with such a fun and loving spirit about them. We had a ball together.

We began early at the Vatican Museums in an attempt to avoid the line. Unfortunately it’s summer in Italy so there’s no luck totally avoiding lines. (Traveler tip: go around 1PM, people are either leaving the museum to eat, or eating. No one was in line when we walked out around that time.)

The Vatican Museums consist of multiple galleries. There are so many there is hardly any way you could see it all in once visit. We made a pass through the Pinacoteca, the Museo Pio-Clementino, and the Stanze di Raffaello (Raphael Rooms).  We then made our way to the pinnacle of the museums- the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel houses two of the world’s most famous works of art- Michelangelo’s Genesis (Creation) on the barrel-vaulted ceiling and the Giudizio Universale (Last Judgment) on the end wall.

Sistine Chapel - Genesis

Photos and speaking are not allowed inside the chapel, but we decided to ask for forgiveness and captured a quick shot on the way out.

As we exited, we spotted some Swiss Guardsmen to take a photo with.

Swiss Guard

We also had our first free refill of the day. What I mean by that is that there are fountains all over Rome with fresh drinking water spilling out. The water comes from the underground reservoirs and is totally potable. No excuses for not being well hydrated while in Rome. We also found these handy for hand or foot washing as needed.

Roman Water Fountain

We made a quick stop by a store location of the company Michael works for and as well as Michael making a good contact, we left with an extensively labeled map and legend of must eat, see, and do tips -custom designed by two lifelong Romans.

We spent the evening in the heart of Rome.  We enjoyed some people watching on the Spanish Steps and got a quick picture in the sinking ship fountain “Fontana della Barcaccia.”

Sinking Ship Fountain

We walked to the Piazza della Rotonda and found a restaurant right in front of the Pantheon with a table outside in the square.

Pantheon at night

After dinner we made our way to one of Rome’s most beautiful sights, the Trevi Fountain, and tossed a coin in to ensure a visit back to Rome.

Trevi Fountain


Tuesday morning we began at St.Peter’s Basilica. The first basilica was built on this site by Rome’s first Christian emperor, Constantine, in the 4th century. Over time it fell into disrepair and efforts were eventually made in the 15th century to restore it. The new basilica took over 150 years to complete. The dome of the Basilica was designed by Michelangelo. He took over the project in 1547 when he was 72 years old. Inside the basilica are many spectacular works of art. Michelangelo’s sculpture Pieta, is located inside at the beginning of the right aisle.

Saint Peter's Basilica


After a quick lunch we were in need of a caffeine jolt before moving on, we headed to “Sant ‘Eu Stachio Caffe” for “the best coffee in Rome.” Pat and Michael ordered the Gran Café con Panna and Stephanie and I headed across the street for gelato.

Best Coffee in Rome



That afternoon we walked to the Colosseum for a photo op. Pat and I decided to wait to do the full tour of Ancient Rome (Colosseum, Arco di Costantino, The Palatine, Roman Forum, Imperial Forums) until our next visit planned for August. So more to come on that…


We spent our afternoon visiting with Francesca Digaspare and her boyfriend in the Piazza del Popolo area of Rome. Francesca was a high school exchange student in Lenoir, NC in 2006. She was good friends with and graduated with my brother Jordan. We met Francesca a few times years ago and were so happy to get to see her again. It was really nice to have a local Italian show up around. She took us to the “Giolitti” the “Best Gelato in Rome” and told us the story about the name. One of the previous Italian Presidents loved to go to this particular shop for Gelato so they ended up naming it after the President “Giolitti.” It is located just around the corner from the government building where the President had his office.

Best Gelato in Rome

She also took us on a walk from the piazza up the back side of the Park Villa Borghese for a panoramic view of Rome.

Pat, Al, Francesca

That evening, being pretty exhausted, we decided to take it easy and meet up with Stephanie and Michael in the quiet gardens of the Park Villa Borghese for a picnic supper. We picked up some paninis, sweaty meats, cheeses, and olives and headed off for a relaxing night. We ended up all getting in a fountain we found in the middle of the park before lounging out until the wee hours of the morning.


Having already hit a lot of Roman highlights, Wednesday we decided it was appropriate to take a half day trip to the beach. Just a short train ride away, and we were at the Mediterranean Sea. We went to Lido di Ostia beach, ate more paninis, walked on the nice sandy beach and enjoyed the sun and water.

Lido di Ostia Beach

Our last evening together we decided to go out with a bang. We found information for a performance of Swan Lake set with the Baths of Caracalla as the backdrop.

The Baths of Caracalla are public Roman baths built between AD 212 and 216. The site is also used as the backdrop periodically for professional performances of opera, ballet, and theater. With hopes of getting tickets we showed up at the box office two hours early to wait. We were the first in line and serendipitously met a lady named Elizabeth also waiting to see if tickets were available. We were very lucky and ended up being able to get five amazing seats together. Having some time to kill before the performance, we visited and snacked with Elizabeth. She is from Baja, Mexico and is a retired teacher and superintendent on vacation with 5 friends for a month.

Outside the Baths of Caracalla

The ballet was beautiful. There was a full moon and such a dramatic scene all around us. A perfect evening in Rome.

Swan Lake Performance

We said our bittersweet goodbyes and parted ways with Michael and Stephanie after the ballet. Pat and I decided to walk most of the way home that night. In the dark we strolled past the Circus Maximum, saw large groups of Italian friends having midnight picnics in a park and dodged packs of Vespas as they bulleted past us.

St. Peter's at night

For the week we were in Rome, we stayed in a really nice B&B close to St. Peter’s Basilica (Vatican City) which is a bit outside of the historical center. Public transportation in Rome isn’t the best. The metro system only has two lines and not many helpful stops. They are working to add a third line, but currently the addition is only causing more trouble since the metro closes at 9:30 PM on weekdays. There are a few infrequent night buses, but we didn’t have very good luck dealing with the drivers of those late at night. There was absolutely no English spoken, no route map, and no apparent desire to assistance you.

Vatican City

Rome was the first and only city we have had to use a taxi. Staying where we did, we ended up using a taxi daily to get home. Francesca told us every time they try to improve the metro system they start digging and end up finding more undiscovered ruins which then stalls the project and the improvements.

At the end of the week we took a train to Florence, rented a car and headed out to discover Tuscany.



Things to do before returning to Rome/ Florence/ Tuscany:

Re-watch Ben Hur

Re-watch Gladiator

Re-watch Under the Tuscan Sun

Read about the Medici family


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Category: Alison's Blog, Blog, Destinations, Featured Posts, Italy

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