Pasta, pizza and gelato, oh my! This spring, I planned a whirlwind trip to Italy with my friend Stassi. We visited 5 cities in 10 days… sometime soon I’ll learn how to travel slow! This was Stassi and I’s first time traveling together and it was a huge success. She taught me an important lesson in regards to travel photography – sometimes I find myself so focused on framing the perfect shot, I forget to photograph the funny moments, the people, the food… the real memories. I took her advice to heart.
And now our first city, Rome. So much history here! The Rome Marathon was happening on our only full day in the city but armed with Rick Steve’s guidebook, we saw all the major sights; Pantheon, Colosseum, Roman Forum, the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. And maybe because it was our first stop in Italy… or maybe just because it’s Rome? But we loved it.
We were up at the crack of dawn on our first day. I get up early normally but I blame this occasion on jet lag! One positive is we were out before the crowds. A nearly empty Trevi Fountain and Pantheon awaited.
The Pantheon is massive and one of the most well preserved Roman buildings. It was completed in 126 AD and almost two thousand years later, it still holds the record for the world’s largest unsupported concrete dome. The oculus at the top of the dome is open and allows in a beam of natural light but also water. It was raining the morning of our visit and there was a giant puddle on the floor inside that had been roped off. We were treated with a choir performance which echoed throughout the elaborate interior.
Next up was the icon of Rome, the Colosseum. We planned our visit for 4:00pm in the afternoon to avoid any hiccups from the marathon. A lot of the streets surrounding were closed to cars which made the walk from our apartment easier. Our timed tickets allowed us to skip the line and go right in.
The ticket to the Colosseum includes the adjacent Roman Forum which we absolutely loved! We stayed so long we were kicked out at closing. This was the center of day-to-day life in ancient Rome. These ruins served as a marketplace, meeting area and the birthplace of the Senate and Republican government. We did Rick Steve’s walk and read his captions along the way.
The cremation site of Julius Caesar. While wandering the Forum, I kept thinking how we learn Roman history in school and now I was seeing where it all happened. Quite surreal!
The next morning it was time for the Vatican. We crossed the river from our apartment and made the walk to Vatican City. A fun fact: Vatican City is an independent city-state within Rome, ruled by the pope. We mailed postcards here with the Vatican stamps, which are one of the city’s few sources of income.
When booking our trip starting in Rome, I didn’t account for the Vatican being closed on Sunday. Oops, silly me! So we had to squeeze in our visit on Monday morning before leaving Rome. Some incredible art is on display at the Vatican Museum but none more exquisite than the Sistine Chapel. Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside but wow what a sight.
We were glad to have Rick Steve’s book which details a shortcut for tour groups from the Sistine Chapel to the St. Peter’s Basilica. Now, we were not with a group but instead waited patiently for one to gather by said shortcut door and made ourselves blend in. The alternative would have been exiting the museum and walking 20 minutes to the main entrance of the Basilica, so we were happy to save ourselves some time!
St. Peter’s Basilica was built upon the tomb of St Peter, who was one of the 12 apostles and the first ever Pope. It’s regarded as one of the holiest Catholic shrines and pilgrimages.
Right outside the Basilica, we saw the Papal Swiss Guard. They are the smallest and oldest continuous serving military unit in the world. They’ve been guarding Popes since 1506. And in great outfits too!
Once inside the Basilica, all you can do is bask in the grandeur. The interior can accommodate 60,000 people, with colorful marble floors, mosaic artwork and intricate carvings. But the centerpiece of it all is the Papal Altar, with a 96 foot bronze canopy sitting under the 452 foot high dome, where only the Pope can celebrate Mass. Michelangelo’s famous carving, Pietà, is also on display behind bulletproof glass. After being damaged in the 1970’s by a tourist with a hammer, they aren’t taking any chances. It was carved from a single slab of marble and the only work he ever signed.
And we’ll finish Rome off with some pictures of the food! Because this might really be why you visit Italy. 😉 A few of my personal favorites; carbonara, tiramisu, pizza and pesto!