After the chaos of the crowds yesterday, I was keen to give Rome the chance it deserved and really let myself fall in love with the city. Over a delicious breakfast, the plan was set that we’d head to Vatican City and try to see as many churches as possible during the day. It’s considered respectful in many countries to cover your shoulders and knees when visiting churches, and in many of the Roman churches there were actually signs to tell you about the dress code. I’d read that this was strictly enforced in the Vatican, and so decided it’d be a good idea to visit as many churches while I’d have knees and shoulders covered instead of being in a sleeveless, knees-bared dress.
Just a short 20-minute walk from our hotel, we were dodging all of the tour group sellers and making our way past the Castle of Angels and down the road that would lead us in to Vatican City. We’d spoken with the super helpful hotel receptionist before leaving, who had checked to see if there were any last minute queue jump tickets available. No luck, so we’d decided to just join the queue and enjoy the sunshine. What we hadn’t realised was that there are actually two queues to join – one for St Peter’s Basilica and one for the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel – and we learnt this from a super delightfully helpful tour guide seller who was in no way trying to get us to buy tour tickets from him for a mere €60 each. How kind of him to offer us such a bargain! It was even kinder of him to ignore me walking away, then follow me and to then ignore my requests that he leave me along. Repeatedly. Despite all this polite behaviour, I may have lost my cool and advised him which direction he should be heading.
Joining the extremely long queue in a bad mood and glaring sunlight was never going to be a winning combination. After 20 minutes the realisation came that we didn’t really know what we were queueing for and could be wasting our time for something that wasn’t high on the agenda. Cutting our losses before wasting any more time, we left the queue and decided to come back early the next morning. Aghh…another early morning! Nearing the end of the road, I decided to speak to yet another tour seller – am I crazy? – to find out what the deal was with queue jump tickets for the Vatican and Colosseum. Although it started well, he soon started to sound like a massive scammer when he advised that we couldn’t buy tickets directly from the ticket office, only from him. Hmm…
By this point, I was well and truly fed up. We’d been wandering around getting hounded by tour sellers, and I needed a break. Taking refuge in a café, a cold drink and a biscuit were just what was needed to make a decision. We bought queue jump tickets from the only company I had heard of before, who incidentally were much cheaper than the others, and made the long walk round to the entrance for the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. It may have been the timing, but there was actually no queue for us to jump. If anything, the queue for those with queue jump tickets was actually longer than people buying tickets there. Oh well, lesson learnt, and I was happy to have paid the extra few Euros just to stop us wandering around like lost sheep! Making our way in to the museum, I was starting to feel good. Here we go, Vatican City!
And boom. Dropped my camera.
Thankfully it wasn’t a huge drop, just enough to make the camera slow and give an error message each time it was turned on. Although annoying, it wasn’t enough to stop me taking photos, and we continued on to tour the Vatican Museums. After walking for what felt like miles – I think it may actually be…– we came to the Sistine Chapel. Directions were given to everyone entering the chapel to cover up, and I wrapped my scarf around my shoulders before being herded in. Packed in like sardines, it was difficult to be able to take the time to really appreciate the room and the importance of what goes on in there. It also didn’t help having someone shout over and over ‘SILENCE. EVERYONE, SILENCE’. It appears the irony was lost on them, and after looking around for a short time my crowd-hating self decided it was time to move on. And now for the tricky part. The shortcut!
The time spent in the queue for who knows what this morning had not been wasted, as I’d been furiously googling tips to skip the queue at the Vatican, and had found a few gems. One such gem was that tour groups don’t have to leave the Sistine Chapel and join the other queue for St Peter’s Basilica. Instead, they go through a wooden door which is a shortcut…a shortcut I wanted to make use of. Quickly slipping through with a tour group, we followed them down to the Basilica and could hear our feet screaming their thanks that we didn’t have to trek all the way back to join the queue in St Peter’s Square.
Before heading into the main Basilica, we opted to climb the dome and soak up the views over Rome. When presented with the option of €8 entry, or €10 entry with a lift to skip the first 200 steps, we opted for the lift. We’d definitely racked up enough exercise to not feel guilty about it, and once at the top of the lift we still had more steps to climb. Although the views from the dome are epic, the remaining stairs to climb are some of my least favourite, and I have climbed a lot of towers. As the dome is just that…a dome, the sides of the wall are curved. This means that for some parts, you’re trying to walk straight but having to bend your head so as to not knock it on the ceiling. Difficult, but fun and definitely something a bit…different.
Once at the top, we took the obligatory photos and were thrilled to have such amazing weather and be able to see so far. As usual, someone approached us to take their photo, and just as I lifted the phone to snap away, their mum called! First time that’s happened to me, and after passing on a conversation with an Italian mum, we waited for the conversation to finish before taking their photos and making our way back to the main attraction – St Peter’s Basilica.
The biggest cathedral in the world, this place is definitely impressive. Some parts were roped off to allow people to enjoy mass or their services in private, but we were able to wander around most of it and get a real feel for the size of the stunning building. As fans of Angels and Demons we were excited to be able to see the entrance to the undercroft that features in both the book and film. Of course, we weren’t able to go down there as it’s an important religious place, but we were able to go down a different entrance to visit the tombs. After touring the tombs, we took a few photos with the square, watched the Swiss Guard change and tried to hunt out the Angels and Demons spot in St Peter’s Square.
We planned to act on another of Mirko’s recommendations in the evening with a trip to Gioletti’s for ice cream. I’ll usually skip dessert, but after a tour of the Pantheon, some casual roadside ruins followed by a delicious dinner, with added cover charge and street performer, I couldn’t resist. With so many flavours on offer, I opted for a 2 scoop cone with caramel and vanilla, while my boyfriend opted for 3 scoops in a pot. Who gets ice cream in a pot?! Using a palette knife to spoon the ice cream in, we definitely got our moneys worth. We’d been recommended to eat in, but wanting another attempt to visit the Trevi fountain meant we took them to go and to try our luck once more at the fountain.
With a considerably smaller crowd, we were able to do the typical tourist tricks of throwing a coin – or 3… – into the fountain, have our photo taken sat on the side – yep, you do get a wet bum – and took a couple of cheesy couple selfies as the fountain was lit up in the background. Perfect! Deciding to push our luck, we wandered past the Spanish Steps on our way back to the hotel and found that the crowds were much lighter here too. After a few more photos, it was starting to get a bit chilly so we made the short walk back to the hotel to rest up before our last full day in Rome tomorrow.