When in Rome...
Rome may not have been built in a day, but you can certainly walk it in one. Just be sure to wear comfortable shoes.
We arrived at Roma Tiburtini on a high speed Italo train from Naples just in time for dinner, and transferred to another train that would route us to Roma Termini. The train was packed with locals making their evening commute.
From Roma Termini, we walked the short distance to our boutique hostel called Blue Hostel. The accommodations are tucked away inside an older building that reminded me of a school. Up the stairs and down the hall is a large apartment that hosts several renovated rooms. Our room was very comfortable and the rain shower head was especially appreciated after our long travel day by boat and train. We had dinner at a cafe just outside our hotel and then prepared for a busy day ahead exploring the Roman ruins.
The next morning we walked over to the Roman colosseum at 7:00 AM. I couldn't believe how quiet and peaceful the boisterous city had become. We entered the colosseum at 8:00 AM feeling like we had the place to ourselves compared to how many people were there when we left.
I can't stress how important it is to buy your tickets online and go either very early like we did or late in the afternoon before it closes. Around 9:00 or 10:00 am we saw the large tour groups begin to descend on the stadium and the line to enter would have driven me crazy.
Gratefully, we were able to explore and take pictures without the crowds. It was also eery to walk around something so ancient when it was this quiet.
Next we walked across the street to the Roman forum, which is really cool. The forum is like a campus of ancient ruins that used to host major public events.
We left the Roman Forum around noon and found that we were hot and starving. The sun had fully risen and it was about 95 degrees outside. Our next stop was the Pantheon so we started walking that way and stopped at a pizza restaurant that had the most amazing salad with buffalo mozzarella cheese.
On the way to the Pantheon we passed the Altare Della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), the Trajan column which depicts the Emperor Trajan's victory over the Dacians (Romania) in 155 carved scenes, and several performers and vendors selling souvenirs.
The Pantheon was crowded but easy to walk through. After a quick visit, we turned down another street for some of Rome's most famous gelato, and I have to admit it was the best I've ever had. I always get the coconut and it was divine. Try the gelato from Grom, Giolitti, or San Crispino and you won't be disappointed.
Our next stop was the Trevi fountains which unfortunately were closed for construction. A couple on our Capri boat tour warned us ahead of time, so we at least knew to expect it. On a positive note, that just means we have to go back to Rome!
Finally, we headed to the Spanish Steps, where you can get your Bachelor fix. I think I was offered no less than ten roses by ten different vendors and they were quite pushy.
After eleven days in Europe, we were pretty tired of pizza, bread and pasta, so we celebrated our last night in Rome at the Hard Rock Cafe. I swear chicken fingers have never tasted so good! When we told the bartender we are from Houston, he said "Uh oh, Houston! We have a problem!" So I guess he's heard of us...
The following morning we stored our bags with the hostel owner and took the train to Vatican City. We started at the Vatican Museum which hosts a large collection of ancient artifacts. My favorite was the Egyptian mummy exhibit. Humans used to be way smaller!
After the museum, we walked over the St. Peter's Basilica. We had bought our tickets online, but there was still a bit of a line. I don't believe we had to wait more than thirty minutes though. Be sure to remember to cover your shoulders and knees!
Also, if you want to climb to the top of the dome, try to go early and get in line for the cupola (on the right) before going into the church. In our case, the line was already far too long to make it worth the wait, but the view is spectacular! I am definitely sorry I was not able to capture this perspective.
If you are Catholic, going to St. Peter's Basilica is a really big deal. I grew up in a non-denominational church, so Dan had to play tour guide again and point out all the significant details for me.
We also enjoyed getting to see the famous Sistine Chapel. It was strange to see the famous ceiling by Michelangelo, because there are no lights, so you stand in this dimly lit room packed with other tourists and try to make out the different stories in the painting (check out the Rick Steve's guide). We're so used to see the vibrant digital image of the ceiling.
It was only lunch time, but we were pretty tired and ready to go home. We picked up our bags at the hostel and then took the local transit train to Rome's largest airport Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino (FCO). We checked in at the Hilton Rome Airport (thank you Hilton Honors points!) for our overnight stay before a 7:00 AM flight the next day. The great thing about this hotel is that it is connected to the airport via covered walkway, so you do not need to worry about arranging an early morning shuttle. We ordered room service and enjoyed an early bedtime.
The next morning we took an easyJet flight to London Gatwick. Then we took the National Express airport shuttle to London Heathrow. I loved being back in London even if only for a few hours. Our bus driver reminded me of the Knight Bus driver in Harry Potter with his accent and personality. From Heathrow, we flew home with British Airways. It was an eventful flight but that's a story for another time.
We loved our time in Europe so much, we've already been back. I can't wait to share more itineraries with you.
Where's your favorite place to go in Europe?