Rome – The Eternal City
We had decided to go on a cruise that left near Rome and we figured why not hit a few of the sites in Rome before the cruise. This is part one of our European vacation; Rome, and Mt. Vesuvius with ancient Pompeii. Part two is the actual Greek Islands cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas, to check out Part Two, Click HERE!
The planning stages of this trip stared 11 months prior to the actual trip. It was broken down to a few steps: Airfare, Lodging, Transfers, Tours, and Everything Else
Our cruise was leaving out of the Port of Civitavecchia on June 18th at 5pm. We knew we wanted to do the sites for a few days prior. Well once the airfare was available we snatched a direct Philadelphia to Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport. Airfare to Europe in the summer season can be tricky. We planned on leaving on a Wednesday night, we checked for the flight the day before just to see if it was cheaper. It was $600 more per seat. So that was settled. We knew when we were leaving and we knew when after the cruise we wanted to come home. It was time to plan lodging.
Granted this wasn’t a budget trip per se but we had to save a lot to go so it was decided to check out all options. After an extensive hotel search we opened up our criteria to renting a flat (apartment). After checking out Airbnb.com, I found it. It was in the area I wanted, it was a simple flat with a balcony and it had the million dollar view of my all time favorite Roman building, the Pantheon, oh and it was available! The name of the flat was Casa della Rotunda Roof terrace. The place is listed about 4 different times by 4 different people on Airbab but in the end the same apartment management company is ultimately responsible for it’s maintenance and upkeep. The main point person up until check in is Alessia. She answered my concerns and any additional questions. She will give you the contact information of the check in person, which is normally Francesca. I had texted our flight and contact information to Francesca two weeks prior as instructed. Also because our flight arrived at 0905 and check in wasn’t till 3PM we asked if we could drop our bags and go and explore the city till the flat was ready. So this was all prearranged.
This was our first Airbnb experience and overall it was very positive. The key is clear communication and realistic expectations.
Ok, let’s talk about the flat. After getting dropped off in the Piazza della Rotunda, (The square of the Pantheon) I called the contact number for Francesca, she was waiting in the lobby of the hotel. Hotel? I thought you said you were staying in an apartment. We are. The flat is located on floor 6 over top of the Pantheon Royal Suite hotel. The building has a 2 person elevator which goes up to floor 4. The last two flights of steps, all occupants are required to walk up.
We were able to drop our bags in a closet under the stairs. There were other bags there and hotel staff had the key so I felt good leaving them in this secure location. Francesca told us to return at 2pm and we then the flat was ours. We then went on to do some freestyle sight seeing, had lunch and returned on time. Francesca opened the closet, we retrieved our bags. Mrs. Cookingyo and her took the lift with most of the bags, and I huffed the stairs with the rest. The flat number is 23. It is a big green door. Once you unlock it you enter the flat.
The Casa della Rotunda roof terrace flat is very basic. As you enter there is a small dining area, directly on the left is a small European kitchen with a tiny refrigerator, gas stove, and a sink. Basic kitchen wares are supplied. Continuing forward there is a living room which gets plenty of light from an air/light shaft which contains some utilities. A basic couch with a coffee table and a modest TV complete the room. The unit has 2 Air Conditioning units; one in the Living Room, the other in the master bed room. As you leave the living room there is a basic bathroom which consist of a shower stall, a sink, a toilet, a large towel rack and a bidet. Finally there are the two bedrooms. On the right is the smaller bed room with 2 single beds. On the left is the master with a larger queen-ish sized single bed. In the master bed room there is a simple TV, plenty of wardrobes and the exit to the terrace. The terrace is the star of this flat. Not because the actual terrace is special. In fact it is not. There are AC units on the left but on the right there are a couple of steps to a platform with a small table with 2 chairs that over looks the Piazza della Rotunda, the Pantheon, and in the distance the top of the Victor Emmanuel II Monument nick named “The Wedding Cake”
The plaza below is bustling with activity, early in the day till well after midnight, but you could not hear that activity from the plaza below. It is great to people watch from above; to see the lines to get in to the Pantheon, the people sitting by the fountain, those dining below, or walking with a gelato. Heck, even those pesky gypsies selling their stupid rubber band led rockets was interesting to watch. Our favorite time in this flat was drinking beers while watching the hustle and bustle below.
Real quick, the pros and cons to the Casa della Rotunda roof terrace flat.
Pros: Million dollar view, comfortable beds, quality air conditioning, plenty of storage, TV, a working kitchen
Cons: The walk up, small fit and finish issues, a slow draining shower, no laundry
Check out is 10 AM
I’ll be honest, the idea of getting from one place in Europe to another with luggage can be a little disheartening. I lived in Germany for 3 years when I was in the service and had a car, but I wasn’t afraid to pack back it using mass transit and just winging it. That is great when it’s just you. Add real luggage, and we aren’t talking a 20 pound back pack but over 150 pounds of stuff for the 3 of us. The logistics get a little more fishy. I wanted simple, and there is absolutely nothing simpler then a car service. After numerous searches and a big time recommendation from RCperiscopers.live admin KCJarvis, I chose Romecabs.com. Simply put the drivers were very punctual, they didn’t drive like asshole Roman cabbies, and the vehicles were all extremely clean Mercedes vans with plenty of room for bags and like 7 passengers. We had three segments.
FCO to Rome
When we landed at FCO, the driver was waiting past customs at “the meeting spot” with a sign with our names on it. He had a baggage cart, he wouldn’t let us touch our bags again till we arrived at our destination. He spoke enough English to point out some of the sites to include the Walls of Rome, The ruins of the Circus Maximus, the Forum and the “Wedding Cake”. He dropped us and our gear off as close to our flat as possible, at the taxi stand in front of the Pantheon. Rome Cabs has you pay the driver in cash when the trip is finished, they also offer an option to prepay via PayPal. Our flat was three doors down. The cost was $50 Euro for all of us.
Rome to Port of Civitavecchia
We decided that we wanted to be on the ship at the first opportunity so we decided to be picked up in Rome at 0930. Check out was 10 AM so it seemed like a good time. We arrived downstairs in the Plaza around 0910. The driver was already there. He asked if we would like to get breakfast first or were we ready. We purchased a couple of soft drinks while again, the driver handled the bags. The hour and a half journey to the Port of Civitavecchia was relaxing, the driver every once in awhile asked if the car temperature was good and we were dropped off just a few feet from the luggage valets at the Port. We paid the driver, and walked our bags in to the terminal were they were taken by terminal employees. The cost was $140 Euro for all of us.
Port of Civitavecchia to FCO
Getting off the ship and to the Airport to get home was always my worst worry. I knew the ship docked around 5 AM but I was so used to the don’t book a flight before noon mantra like there is in Miami for example. When we booked our original flight it was taking off at 1350 hours. A few months later the flight was cancelled and we were booked on an 1125 flight. So I had a little angst. Not to worry. Self check outs were walking off the ship by 7 AM. We scheduled a 0730 pickup. There is no customs getting off the ship. You just grab your bags and go. So after breakfast we grabbed our luggage, left the ship and at the end of the terminal the driver was waiting with a sign. Same as before the bags were loaded and off we went. We left the Port around 0720 and were getting in to airport right around 8 AM. The only piece of information the drive needs to know is which terminal. Most outbound US flights leave from terminal 3. But check with your airline to confirm before booking RomeCabs. The cost was $140 Euro.
Ok enough back story, let’s talk about Rome. I’ll break this down by how we did it. There is a little overlap because of the free time we had on day 1.
Day 1 – Free Styling
360 Photo of the Piazza della Rotunda click HERE
After we landed, and arrived in Rome but before our check in at the flat we explored Rome a little. Since our flat was overlooking the Pantheon and in the Piazza della Rotunda, that was the obvious choice.
The Pantheon, is a former Roman Temple to all gods. It was later converted to a church which it still remains today it is also known as Church of St. Mary and the Martyrs. It is a beautiful building with the main focus point being the giant hole in the dome known as the oculus. Noted people buried in the Pantheon are the first king of a united Italy, King Victor Emmanuel II, and the Renaissance artist Rafael.
360 Photo of Pantheon Inside click HERE!
360 Photo of Pantheon Portico 360 click HERE!
Just a short walk from the Piazza della Rotunda through side streets and past large Italian Government Official buildings is the Piazza Navona. The plaza is a long and wide plaza that originally was the location of the Stadium of Domitian which was dedicated in 86 AD, and used for athletic events. Later it was turned in to a large public plaza in the 15th century. Many fine examples of Baroque Roman architecture are located here to include the three main fountains and the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone.
The church of Sant’Agnese in Agone is absolutely gorgeous and I recommend to visit it.
After we finished checking out the Piazza Navona we started walking towards to the River Tiber, ducking in tiny streets till we eventually popped out of the St. Angelo Bridge. We crossed the river and enjoyed the view of the Castel Sant’Angelo. We grabbed some shade for a few minutes because the temperature had already reached 90 degrees in mid day. We then walked towards St. Peter’s Square and of course had buy and to mail a post card from the “Post Office” a.k.a. the trailer off to the side.
It is important to realize that Rome has many fountains which as the Romans say “is good water”. Buy a big bottle of water from a store, drink it and fill it back up with the free water throughout the city. No need to purchase from the gypsies and their cohorts who are looking to see where you pull your money from. This is especially important around any of the major tourist traps.
Our free lancing time in the morning and early afternoon was growing short. It was almost time to check in at the flat and we needed to walk a bit. We did grab a bite to eat at a small cafe called Al Braciere at Via della Chiesa Nuova, 12. We had the Lasagna and Ravioli. The Lasagna was good, but I highly recommend the Ravioli with the great pesto sauce. Oh my the sauce, along with that perfectly cooked ravioli, it was divine. Of course I can’t actually find the pictures taken of the great food put here are a couple of the table, (Ha! Ha!)
After lunch we strolled back over to the Piazza della Rotunda and officially checked in and unpacked. We were given a map of the area closest to the flat. I thought I would share it. There are numerous cafe’s and restaurants with in just a few blocks. We didn’t get to truly explore Rome’s nightlife but we did eat out every night. The best advice I can give is read the menu’s. If the atmosphere, the menu, and the price seem good to you. Then go for it.
Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps
360 Photo of Trevi Fountain click HERE!
After a nice mid afternoon rest we headed out with the goal of hitting Trevi Fountain, and The Spanish Steps. The walk over from the Piazza della Rotunda in theory isn’t that far. Not having a 100% grasp of the streets of Rome…. Well let’s just say we had a nice tour of the surrounding areas. We stumbled across the Column of Marcus Aurelius and the Palazzo Chigi. We eventually landed at Trevi Fountain. The Trevi Fountain is always crowded. If you want to throw a coin or just want a picture without a 100 people in front of you just gently walk through people to get to your goal. Watch your pockets and enjoy the unobstructed view.
To see the full sized photo Click HERE! 11mb
We wandered around a little maybe even got a little off track, with the help of Google maps we soon made our last goal for the day. The Spanish Steps.
360 Photo of the Spanish Steps click HERE!
We walked down the Via dei Condotti and it’s high end shops till we were close to our final destination for the night.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat, had gelato and headed back to the flat to enjoy the plaza at night.
Day 2 – Mt. Vesuvius and Ancient Pompeii
We had decided that on one of our days we wanted to tour Mt. Vesuvius and Ancient Pompeii. Mrs. Cookingyo booked a few months ahead the:
Full Day Pompeii Tour from Rome with Mt. Vesuvius Volcano
360 Picture of Piazza del Popolo click HERE!
The tour meets at the Piazza del Popolo, which was about 20 minute walk from our flat by the Pantheon. You meet by the obelisk at 0730 and then you walk with your guides past the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, which contains the Chigi Chapel that was featured in Dan Brown’s novel “Angels & Demons”. Next you go through the Porto del Popolo across a crazy double intersection and then a short walk up to the Tour Coaches which are parked on Viale Giorgio Washington.
The drive to Mt. Vesuvius takes a few hours. The guides give a little background on the formation of Rome, the volcanic regions that are outside of the city and then let you rest till a mandated stop in Cassino. The rest stop has free bathrooms, and hot Cafe or cool soft drinks are available for purchase. Then we continued south passing over the tree lined ancient Via Appia before arriving near Naples and the base of Mt. Vesuvius.
The bus driver did a great job of climbing up the hill and dodging little cars in his way. The ride up is interesting. It is a mix of nice Resort like compounds and vacant almost bombed out structures that have been empty awhile. There is artwork that has been carved and sporadically placed along the route and finally the bus reaches the base of the park. The guide hopped out got our tickets and away we were. There is the usual trinket sales, a port-a-pot that cost 1 Euro and right before you entered there was a guy with hiking poles you could rent.
360 Photo of Mt. Vesuvius click Here!
The actual trail is a soft volcanic gravel, that starts off at like a 30 degree angle and switchbacks a few times. There is a hand rail and a couple benches along the way. There are plenty of vistas for taking pictures of the sea, or Naples, or the backside of the mountain. Eventually you come to a steeper section.
It is about 45 degrees and it goes straight up to the first gift shop. This is the point that you are on top of the mountain. The climb up to the next two isn’t as steep as you work your way around the rim of the volcano. The views get better at each stop. At the third and final gift shop you can see the Island of Capri at the end of the Gulf of Naples. Not only are the views outside the volcano interesting but the actual crater is fascinating. We were told that the volcano prior to 79AD was 3-4000 feet higher then it is in the present. We were given like an hour to explore before we were due back at the bus. Each of the gift shops had trinkets, soft drinks, post cards, I know stamps and a post box were also located at gift shop number 1.
We assembled at the base of the entrance loaded back on the bus and we were off to our next stop which was a pizza lunch at a restaurant outside of modern Pompei. We spent around an hour eating individual pies. There were three choices: Marinara (tomatoes, oregano, olive oil, and garlic) Traditional Margherita (tomatoes, olive oil, fresh buffalo mozzarella and basil leaves), or a white pizza that was creamy, cheesey and had bits of ham mixed in. We each got a separate pie and they were all delicious. Also included was a house salad and your first beverage. We got beers and the Bubs got a Pepsi. Others at our table had wine. Later the drink guy came by again and we grabbed an additional Pepsi. The cost was around 4 Euro. After lunch we had full use of the restrooms to get cleaned up. Then our bus met us out front and we headed to ancient Pompeii. (notice modern Pompei is spelled with one “i” and ancient Pompeii is spelled with two.
We arrived at the base of the site. Our meeting spot was in front of the little trinket market. We were given our radio sets and there was a specialty Pompeii guide who led us in.
Special note: Children must be either free or heavily discounted at these ancient spots in Europe. This was the first of many times the children were pulled aside and the ticket issuing office had to physically see all the children prior to entry.
We walked in as a group and the guide gave us a basic history of the city to include why certain things were engineered the way they were. Our first stop was the quadriporch, an area around the gladiator quarters, then we headed over to the small theater.
360 Photo of Pompeii Small Theatre click HERE!
We took a stroll up the street seeing the different shops. The guide explained why the streets were submerged and told us about the stepping stones and there corresponding gaps for horses and carts. We then headed up the street to a house of a wealthy household. There were frescoes still on the walls. And there was this wicked lions head table.
Our next stop was to the Terme Stabiane – Scavi. Here they had examples of painted cement, This entire complex is an example of an early Roman Bath with its different chambers. The guide informed us that the price of admittance was very reasonable so that most citizens could afford it and after business hours in town that the baths were the hopping social place to be.
Lupanar – brothel
Our next stop was the original whisper alley. Vicolo del Lupanar, where we walked through to the largest brothel in Pompeii. The Lupanar is very well preserved, with it’s 10 cells. The frescoes presented were a literal menu of services that could be performed. Pompeii was a port town with sailors from all over paying a visit and the frescoes were a way for both parties expectations to be met. Of special note the building has 2 stories and there is an overhang. The upper rooms were rented out. The extension on the side of the building allowed a couple of more rooms to be installed, thereby increasing the building owners profits. A side benefit was an overhang when it rained while waiting for your favorite prostitute.
We then walked up the main drag, via dell’Abbondanza which went to the forum and eventually the docks.
360 Photo of the Pompeii Forum click HERE!
Our last main site of interest was the Pompeii Forum. In modern times there has been added additional artwork and sheds to hold bulk artifacts but otherwise, it is the Forum. There is an excellent view of Mount Vesuvius not too far in the distance. There are arches, the remnants of a Roman Basilica. We were give some time to explore and take pictures. Then it was time to leave the historic site.
We were given time to get trinkets and refreshments. I highly recommend the lemon slushies. They were very refreshing during a very hot day. We walked back to the motor coach as a group, and off we were. We had an addition rest stop at the Cassino rest stop. Eventually the motor coach arrived back in Rome where the trip began. The total length of the tour was 13 hours. A very long day but well worth it.
We walked back to Piazza della Rotunda, and decided to get a bite to eat in the plaza, and have a small beer or two.
Day 3 – Morning – Extended Ancient Rome Tour – Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill with Home of Caesar Augustus
Our third full day in Rome was to be our busiest. We had two tours planned and only a couple of hours between tours and then we had the logistics of getting to each spot . The first tour was with Dark Rome / City Wonders (Same company, they just extending tours outside of Italy and renamed the company). We met on the second level of the Subway right outside on an outcrop which overlooked the Coliseum. Our tour started at 0830. So we were in the Coliseum before the major crowds came.
Our guide was the knowledgeable and flirtatious Emanuela, She is an archeologist, and has a wealth of knowledge to give. She would give us some history then allow us a few minutes to take some photographs. The only downer was the pace of the tour was very brisk and it would of been nice to do some self exploration but the guide made it very enjoyable.
360 Photo of Coliseum Upper Deck click HERE!
360 Photo of Coliseum Arena Level click HERE!
Our next stop was in the to the Forum and Palatine Hills. One note, Our guide did tell everyone to watch their valuables as we were walking past the Arch of Constantine. We were going through a known pick pocket hot spot with lots of gypsies and fast hands and she wanted to make sure we kept all our stuff.
The Roman Forum
We followed the guide to the Roman Forum, she got our tickets, again we had to do the show the children to the ticket counter game. We went through security and we were given a few minutes to self explore because our tour of Emperor Augustus house had to begin at a certain time. Also since it was really hot, it was a good time to water up and make sure our bottles were topped off at one of the free fountains. I did check out the Arch of Titus while we had the break. The most fascinating portion is the relief of the sacking of Jerusalem, and the carrying of the Menorah, from the Temple.
Our appointment time came and our small group was escorted up the Palatine Hill, past the ruins of Domitian and Titus houses. Then we went down a pathway of a pre-Roman settlement to get to a locked gate. The representative unlocked it and then we went in to an climate controlled “building”. This enclosed space was part of Emperor Augustus house. It wasn’t a large palace, and in fact the reason it still exist is because the top layer was plowed over to build Emperor Domitian palace. The ruins have been painstakingly uncovered and preserved. There are fresco which still have vibrant color and are full of symbolism. If you ever get the chance to take a tour of the Caesar Augustus houses, please do. They are not seen by many but they should be.
360 Photo of House of Augustus Click HERE!
It was nice to have an hour in the climate controlled portions of this tour. Next stop was the Open Roman Forum. We were told some of the history and shown why and how some of the buildings and monuments were still standing. For example the large Bronze doors on the Temple of Romulus are still around because the temple was incorporated in to the Basilica of Sts. Cosmos and Damian. By the way we were told the original locks still work.
The tour ended in front of the ruins of the temple of Julius Caesar. Like I said earlier. The tour and guide were great but I feel I need to do both the Coliseum and Forum again on my own. This way I can hit the sites again at a leisurely pace.
After we finished up the tour we had about two hours before our next tour at the Vatican Museum. We walked back to the flat passing numerous statues and the The Victor Emmanuel II Monument or the “Wedding Cake.” Then we cut through some back streets and popped out in the Piazza della Minerva which is pretty much behind the Pantheon.
When we got back to the Piazza della Rotunda we were hot and starving. We went to the little shop two doors down from our flat and got THE BEST Panini sandwiches. The Antica Salumeria is a great place to grab a sandwich, but they also have other deli staples. We bought beer, soda, and snacks here during our stay. Seriously if you are in the Piazza della Rotunda, stop in. You can thank me later.
After eating lunch and freshening up and enjoying the nice cold air conditioning we started out journey to our last tour in Rome. Mrs. Cookingyo was pretty beat from the heat and it was agreed that we would take a Roman Taxi. We walked the half block to the taxi stand. (By the way, if you want a taxi in Rome, flagging them down is no use. Go to the nearest taxi stand and they will hook you right on up). It took about five minutes and the 5 or so groups in front of us were all going to their destinations. We were up. I showed the driver were we needed to go, and off we were off wizzing through the back streets of Rome till we popped out of on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. Before you knew it we were across the Tiber, a few more back streets and then we hit a wall of traffic. We were a block away. The driver asked if this was close enough, and it was. Our fare came to around 8 Euro, we paid the driver, gave him an extra Euro and we skirted out of the vehicle.
We still had a half hour before our Vatican Museum tour. We watered up. There is a free fountain right across the street from the entrance in front of 106 Viale Vaticano. My family sat on the steps across the street from the Vatican Museum, which was the meeting place for our tour. We checked in and waited for our tour to begin. A couple of points. We were told that shorts and exposed shoulders would prevent you from gaining entrance to portions of the museum so we wore long pants and collard shirts in the 90 degree heat. It turns out that the fashion police is a little more lax. Woman can not have bare shoulders but a light weight cover up was cool, and gents were getting away with cargo length shorts. So as long as you didn’t dress like you were going to a Richard Simmons work out you seemed to be good.
The gypsies were more then happy to sell you water, cover ups, selfie stick or whatever. Again, please don’t support them, do business with a local retail shop.
We were also told big back packs were verboten. Well that was a stretch. If you were backpacking Europe then yes, those big daddies are a no go. Schoolbook sized are fine. I normally carry my big DSLR in the backpack. It was recommended to me that it was going to be too crowded to effectively use the big camera. So all shots from the Vatican Museum were shot with an Iphone 7. Looking back I could of still used my DSLR, and recommend if you don’t mind carrying the weight then go for it. On the flip side, I did take a boat load more of 360 photos with my Insta360 nano camera.
OK let’s talk about the experience of the Vatican Museum. We booked this tour like the others through Dark Rome / City Wonder. It was an English guided tour. They give you the radio headsets so you can hear the guide. We left the steps across the street and went to the group entrance. I guess when everyone has priority no wait access then no one has it. The soldier told our group tough bananas you can wait with the rest of the groups. So we had a 15 minute delay getting in to the security / ticket area.
This place is an absolute mad house. Once again the children had to be paraded up to the counter to prove that they weren’t short adults trying to pull one over on the museum. Finally the group was assembled and we walked up the stairs and out of the chaos. Our guide reminded us that we were in a foreign country. The smallest in fact, and it has about 500 resident who are either priest or nuns. So the Vatican has the lowest birth rate in the world 0%.
We went through he official turn styles and our tour began.
We started off checking out the rides of the Pope’s from antiquity to more recent in the Padiglione Delle Carrozze. There were horse and carriages, limousines, the popemobile that St. John Paul II was riding in when he was shot and even the last Volkswagen Beetle ever produce, which was given as a gift to JPII.
Next we went to the Courtyard of the Pigna, or the Pine cone Courtyard. There is some restoration currently going on behind the Pine cone. Also there is also a piece of artwork which is a sphere that is identical in size the the sphere above the Rotunda on St. Peter’s Basilica.
Next we went upstairs to the galleries. The guide pointed out the Egyptian galleries, but then informed us there wasn’t enough time to visit them during the tour and they would be closed by the time the tour was done. We were a little bummed but we kept on going up. A big highlight in my opinion was the Map Room.
360 Photo of a Statue Gallery Click Here!
360 Photo of Tapestry Gallery Click HERE!
360 Photo of Map Gallery Click HERE!
Next stop was the Papal Residence and the Rafael rooms. These were painted by the Renaissance master Rafael, Raffaello Sanzio daRaffaello Sanzio da Urbino.
full size picture here 9.2mb
360 Photo of the Papal Residence Click HERE!
360 Photo of Rafael’s Papal Paintings Click HERE!
After the galleries, our next stop was the world famous Sistine Chapel. Be aware that this is where the fashion police would most likely to bust you if you were out of regs. Also, absolutely no photography, video or even cell phones out. Quiet is a must. The guards would should “SILENCE” every couple of minutes. There are a couple of benches that line each side of the chapel. Most people are standing together like sardines, and every couple of minutes the guards kick out a group of people for being there too long. Was it worth it? Yes, in my opinion, because seeing the work of Michelangelo with the Last Judgement, and the Ceiling in person is a bucket list item. Our guide gave us some time to spend in the chapel. Afterwards we headed down the backstairs that bring you out in to the courtyard between the Papal residence and St. Peters Basilica. We then had a quick tour of the front of the Basilica, and our tour concluded right outside the main entrance.
We said goodbye to our guide, and went over to the entrance for the line to go to the Cupola. We barely made the cut off. It closes right after the Vatican Museum but before the Basilica. There are two options 551 Steps from ground level or pay a couple more Euro and take the elevator to shave 200 steps off the climb. If you are claustrophobic, or your heart is weak, or your balance sucks. I would recommend passing on this adventure. Now essentially the elevator takes you to the level of the base of the dome. This in itself is an amazing sight.
Now the real work out begins. You slowly start taking stair after stair, occasionally a little window will pop up for a place to pass a slow poke, grab a breath or just enjoy some fresh air. This continues for awhile. Then you seem like you are walking at an angle because the ceiling is angled and the dome is sloping. Finally you hit a giant metal set of stairs. The prize must be close. Well kind of. There were a few more switch backs stairs and then a spiral staircase which doesn’t have an inner railing but does has a knotted rope, and then you reach the best view in town. The Cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica. Congratulations!
Full Resolution 33mb is HERE!
We then made the slow trek down the stairs, and I took all 551 steps down. From there we were ushered right in to the middle of the Basilica, right by the place they were taking confessions. We did a quick run through the Basilica. Making sure to see the Pietà and the tomb of Saint John Paul II.
As we exited St. Peter’s Basilica, we passed the Swiss Guard, the protectors of Vatican City dressed in their traditional garb.
We made a slow walk out of Vatican City, stopping by the gift shop on the right flank for mementos. We walked to a taxi stand on the edge of Vatican City and took a relaxing, and by relaxing I mean we did not die during the taxi ride, back to the Piazza della Rotunda. We decided to have dinner in the plaza one more time. Whereas it wasn’t the cheapest meal, it was the closest restaurant to the flat. I had the carbonara, which was served in a stainless skillet. It was very good, again I still preferred the Cookingyo.com Chicken with Pasta and Carbonara Sauce but it was the best Spaghetti Carbonara I had in Europe. We then went back to the flat and packed. We enjoyed a few more beers on the balcony overlooking the plaza. I can’t 100% put in to words how magical the feeling you get but it is a memory I will keep till the end, yeah it was that special. The next morning we woke up, got washed, ate the last of our pop tarts and away we went to our next adventure. Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas and her 7 night Greek Island adventure, check it out HERE!