Gap Year Days 34 – 39
Our arrival from into Rome Fiumicino Airport was blissfully uneventful. We relied as usual on Google maps to get us to our hotel. Take a train, then a bus! All was going well, until it was time to get on the bus. We couldn’t find the bus stop! Google told us it was right at the train station, but we couldn’t find it and no one else seemed to know either. Eventually we stumbled across it, after doing a few laps around the station. We watched as a few other buses came and went, and noticed there was no way to buy tickets on board. Simon went and searched for somewhere to buy tickets, and luckily arrived back just as our bus pulled up. We struggled aboard with all our luggage – to join half of Rome on the bus!
This was the most uncomfortable bus ride we have had. Everyone was jammed in, and if we even moved slightly our backpacks would collide with someone. We were standing and blocked the aisle, so every time someone needed to get off they literally needed to push their way past us as we couldn’t move. We were just hoping like crazy that the crowds would thin before we got off. They did a little, but boy, were we glad to be off that bus! The worst part? It had taken us about ninety minutes and €9.50 each to get to our accomodation. While checking in, we saw there was a direct airport bus that stopped about 250m up the road for €6. A coach that stores the luggage underneath and the passengers travel in comfort. We live and learn!
We were staying at Hotel Colors in Rome on the recommendation of a friend. Most people stay in the Termini area of Rome near the main train station, but Hotel Colors was instead nearer the Vatican. It was still in an area with lots of places to stay and great facilities, and it meant our walk to the Vatican was only a few minutes.
Once settled in we went looking for food. MacKenzie wanted pizza, and who am I to argue! Pizza is probably my favourite food – there’s not much better than a great margarita – and that is exactly what I got! Pizzas in Rome come with a very thin base, and they tend to come in only one size. While I couldn’t quite eat a whole pizza, between the four of us we demolished four whole pizzas! We were hungry.
The next day our plan was to visit the Colosseum. I had done some research this time, and bought tickets online in advance. These gave us skip-the-line access to the Colosseum and also access to the Roman Forums and Palatines for €12 each. We planned to do a guided tour at the Colosseum, but we would book it when we arrived rather than online. To try to avoid the crowds we would visit the Colosseum later in the afternoon after spending a couple hours exploring the forum and palatines.
We took our time getting to the Colosseum, winding our way through the streets of Rome to see some of the other sights along the way. The Trevi Fountain was on our path, and I have to say, it was not what I was expecting. I’ve seen photos of it many times, but still I was not expecting it to be joined to the building behind it. I thought it was in the middle of a large piazza. So imagine my surprise to find a small square accessed by narrow laneways. And everywhere there were people! The place was packed! I was so astounded by the number of people crowded into this space. The fountain was lovely, but the crowd was more fascinating.
We wriggled our way into a decent position, and took the required photos in front of the fountain. then extricated ourselves from the crowd. We had no issues, but I can see this is a place visitors could become an easy target for pickpockets. It would pay to be very careful here.
We made our way to the Colosseum as the sun crept higher. It was out in full force today, and I was sticking to the shady sides of the streets to keep out of it. I burn way too easily to walk in the sun. As we made our way past the Colosseum to the Forums, we noticed the line seemed short. There was only a brief hesitation before we changed our plans and joined onto the end of the line. In only five minutes we were through the security check point, and the ticket barriers. Why is it that as soon as I buy skip the line tickets I do not need them?
Inside the Colosseum we bought tickets to one of the official guided tours. We had time to look around ourselves first before starting the tour. The Tour itself had just enough time to look around, and enough information to be interesting. The guide was an archeologist himself, so was very knowledgeable
At the end of our tour we asked our guide for a recommendation for lunch. He gave the name of a place and pointed us in the right direction. For probably the first time ever we found the place easily. It was of course too good to be true, as it was closed! We grabbed lunch nearby and contemplated our next move. It was hot outside, and the forums had little shade. In the end we chose to go there anyway, so we didn’t have to come back to this area tomorrow. To cool us down, we grabbed our first gelato in Italy.
One of the great things about Rome is they have water fountains everywhere in the streets, so it is easy to refill water bottles as quickly as they are emptied. These fountains were the original water supplies to everyone in the city when homes did not have running water. They were also a good place to splash some water on our faces when we got too hot. We made very good use of these everywhere.
The ruins of the Roman Forums and Palatines, while interesting to look at, would probably have been better to see with a guide to get some more information. We have seen quite a few Roman ruins before, so had already learnt a lot about them, but still, it would have been nice to have particular parts pointed out. At the top of the Palatines we were treated to a view over what was once the Circus Maximus, a stadium holding about 250,000 spectators. Now it was being decked out in the pink colours of the Giro d’Italia winners jersey, in anticipation of the arrival of the race into Rome.
We spent about 60-90 minutes wandering around the ruins before our walk back to our accommodation. On the way back we took a different path, finding some other impressive buildings along the way. We walked over the historical St Angelo’s Bridge towards the impressive Castle Sant’Angelo. We didn’t go in because it was closing time, but we decided to try to get there if we had time. To console ourselves, we bought our second gelato in Italy.
We had only one goal in mind the next day – buy an extra suitcase so the kids could take home their shopping as well as all the winter clothing Simon and I had brought that we didn’t need anymore. I hadn’t noticed anywhere to buy them yet so we googled! Seriously, what did we do before Google??? Not surprisingly there were some places in the shopping centre below Termini Station, so that was where our meanderings needed to take us.
Our walk took us through more streets of Rome that to our Aussie eyes were endlessly fascinating. We just don’t have old stuff like Europe does! I hadn’t planned on seeing the Spanish steps because I had heard they were just that – steps – but our path took us right by them. I can tell you, that yes, they really are just steps! With hundreds of tourists on them trying to take selfies. The fountain at the bottom was more interesting. It always surprised me to see people drinking from water features just like the other water fountains, but in Rome, it’s perfectly okay.
The suitcase hunt was a challenge. Everything was a lot more than we wanted to pay. In the end I mentioned I had seen a street stall with them across the other side of where all the buses park. Success! €20 for a hard, carryon size suitcase. Definitely my recommendation if you need something extra to take home your shopping, but you already have plenty at home so just want something cheap!
In the evening Simon, Bailey and I went out again to see the Trevi Fountain all lit up. Surely the crowds would be less? No, I was wrong! In fact, I think it was even more crowded. It was a nice walk though, and its always good to see a city at night to get a completely different perspective.
I often try to book accommodation that has breakfast included. One of the things that has surprised me in Italy though, is that none of them so far have started breakfast before 8am. This means that by the time you have had breakfast and made your way to the attraction you want to see for the day that the lines are already long! The Vatican Museums opened at 9am, but by the time we got there around 9:30 the lines were already long. Sigh! Why didn’t I buy skip the line tickets here not at the Colosseum? The only good thing was thanks to the Vatican City’s towering walls, we were well shaded, and I was able to use the time to draft almost a whole blog post on my phone!
By waiting in line our entry fee was €16 each. Once inside, the museums are a little confusing. We really weren’t sure where to start. Once we got into the swing of things, we just followed the crowd. The least crowded area was the Carriage Pavilion which I found strangely interesting. Here there are many vehicles that the various Popes have used for transport over the years. There are saddles, litters, carriages and even cars, including the one Pope John Paul II was in during his attempted assassination.
Once back in the main building, there is art for miles. Most of it is stunning, but not being an arty person, I sometimes felt like it all began to look the same. For example, it was impressive seeing these huge rooms of marble statues and carvings, but l quickly got bored of looking at them individually.
Soon enough we were swept along with the crowd following the signs to the Sistine Chapel. The buildings became fancier and I could barely drag my eyes down from the amazing ceilings! Expectations were building, and I was wondering if the Sistine Chapel was around the next corner! No, it was quite a procession, sometimes down quite narrow corridors and staircases, to get to there.
Finally, with another glance from security at the doors, we were in the chapel. And you know what? It was nowhere near as impressive as the rooms leading to it! I must be in the minority since so many people like it, but I found the colours garish and the hotchpotch of pictures on the ceiling confusing. I had imagined the iconic finger-touching picture to take up most of the ceiling, but in reality it is only a small section in the middle. Maybe this is why they don’t allow photos, they don’t want the world to know it’s not amazing. I am glad I have seen it though, even if I wasn’t amazed!
After extricating ourselves from the museums, we went to get pizza. I had read about this place called Bonci, that has traditional pizzas bought by the slice. It wasn’t too far up the road, so we went there for a late lunch. The pizza looked great! We had no idea what was on it, and just pointed at ones we thought looked good. They cut it with scissors and weighed it, charging by the kilogram. It was reheated for us, and we stood outside with the crowd. All was going well, until I pointed out to Simon that his tasty looking pizza had tripe hiding under the cheese and toppings! Well, he didn’t want to eat it after that! The one I had had potatoes on it and was good!
We trekked back to our accommodation for a rest. I had read somewhere that St Peter’s Basilica was closed between 4 and 7pm on Fridays so we thought we would head back there at seven for a look. I have no idea where I read that though, because on doing a double check, it wasn’t the case, it actually closed at 7pm. So we quickly head back to the Basilica (luckily only a few minutes walk from where we were staying) to discover, yes, you guessed it, a big long line! It went half way around the edge of the piazza in front of the church. Nothing for it but to get on the end, especially since Bailey really wanted to go inside and this was her last night in Italy.
The line actually moved relatively quickly and by 5:30pm we were inside. Entrance is free, but as always, there was the airport style security to get through. I was really hoping to climb the dome, and I knew that entry for that closed at 6pm, so we immediately rushed to the ticket office for that. I planned to climb the whole 551 steps ourselves (all that pizza and gelato needed working off!) which would cost us €6 each, but by the time we got to the front of the line we were no longer allowed to purchase that option and instead had to pay €8 and use the lift. This meant we only had to climb 320 steps. After getting our ticket we had to get in line for the lift. We didn’t realise how close we were to the cut off, with only five people let through after us before they closed for the day – it was still only 5:45pm. Honestly, we could have climbed up the additional 231 steps quicker than it took us to get to the front of the lift line!
We began our ascent at a bit after six o’clock. The steps are narrow and curve up the inside of the dome in some places, so it is impossible to stand upright. It is all worth it in the end though, with stunning views over Rome once we reached the top. We got a few photos, and began the climb back down, knowing that we wanted to also look inside the main part of the Basilica before closing time. The great part – the lift down opens up almost right in to the church! Perfect.
We have seen a lot of different churches, cathedrals, basilica’s etc on this trip, and St Peter’s is the biggest of them all. They all have something impressive about them, and are memorable for different things. St Peter’s was not the most beautiful, but it definitely impressed by it’s size. It’s huge. The dome towers above the ant-like people below. There are so many areas off to the side that are bigger than whole churches in other places. Did it feel spiritual? Almost! I’m not sure though whether that is the place itself, or because we were there only minutes before closing and the crowds were non-existent, so we really did have a chance to enjoy our surroundings.
The kids last dinner in Rome was as it should be. In a little outdoor cafe, eating pizza and pasta and drinking wine. Of course it was followed by more gelato on the way home.
Finally the day had come for the kids to fly home and leave us. They were both holiday’d out and ready to get back to their lives. Thanks to frequent flyer points, Bailey had been able to afford a business class flight home from Rome. What they didn’t know was that I had also booked business class for MacKenzie. Business class is more fun when there is someone to share it with!
Emirates business class includes chauffeur transfer to the airport. When I booked the chauffeur drive, there was clearly a glitch in the system as I received a notification saying the car would be there an hour later than what I had asked for. A quick phone call to Emirates fixed this, and two cars arrived at the correct time.
It was pouring with rain when we left. Simon and Bailey jumped into the first car, and about ten minutes later MacKenzie and I jumped into the second one. Google had told me it was about 40 minutes to the airport. We were stuck in traffic for the first section – we went past the Vatican Museum lineup, and I thought how I was so glad we had been the day before! Standing in the rain would not be fun! Our driver made up for the delay on the motorway though – he got the Mercedes up to 160km/hr! I didn’t see a speed limit, but MacKenzie said she saw 80km.
We were duly dropped off in 40 minutes. But where were Simon and Bailey? We waited and waited. Eventually I called, and they were stuck in traffic. It was an hour later before they arrived. Lucky I had included an extra hour, which at the time I had thought would be lounge time for the kids!
We waltzed up to Business Class checkin, and I was expecting MacKenzie to twig immediately. Bags got checked in, still no questions from the kids as the “Priority” tags were put on MacKenzie’s bags too. I get handed the boarding passes, and get given instructions to the lounge and we head off. I hand the boarding passes to the respective kids, and they barely look at them. It’s not until a few minutes later that Bailey asks her sister where she is sitting. Kenz hands over her boarding pass, and Bailey says “Hang on, this says business? And your seat is right next to mine? Are you in business too?”. And finally MacKenzie works it out!
Simon and I caught the cheaper, closer shuttle bus back to our accommodation this time, and didn’t do much for the rest of the afternoon. I could feel myself coming down with a cold, and wanted to rest up before going to Naples the next day. We did indulge in some lovely seafood just up the street for dinner though. One of the best pasta’s I’ve ever eaten.
The next day it was our turn to pack and move. Our train from Rome to Naples awaits!
Via Boezio 31, Vatican City – Prati, 00192 Rome, Italy
€138 per night for a quadruple room with breakfast.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.