For our fourth and final day in Rome we decided to fill in all the gaps. Try to see everything we hadn’t yet seen so that we could leave Rome satisfied we had done the city justice. I can say with confidence, we have.
This was the main thing I missed last time I came to Rome so I was thrilled to have time to do it now. After a breakfast of pastries provided by our hostel, we set off towards the Termini to pick up the metro to the Vatican. The Vatican is on the red line, and you’ll want to get off at Ottaviano which is 6 stops from the Termini. No matter the distance, it’ll cost you 1.50€. We jumped off and waded through the masses of people trying to sell tours/skip the line passes/pure scams and finally joined the end of the long queue into the Vatican. We joined at 11am which I can tell you is not a good time to join because we queued for 2 hours. I think you’re better off going early (8-9ish) or queuing right in the middle of lunch (1ish). The student ticket for the Vatican is 8€, I believe the normal adult ticket is 16€ but I’m unsure.
We got inside and I decided to take this opportunity to send my postcards – even though I’ll probably arrive before they do – so that they would have a Vatican stamp. They look very cool. And I got to push them through a fancy letterbox named ‘Vatican City’. Another country crossed off my list. This is when it gets both wonderful and tiresome. We followed the people towards the Sistine Chapel, and the signs tell you where you will pass on the way. The route through the Vatican is beautiful, passing through gloriously decorated rooms with original ornamentation and features including marble columns and mosaic flooring. It was all incredible to behold as an architecture student. Our favourite game was guessing if some of the ceilings were carved in relief or whether they were just painted. Either way they were all stunning.
We saw domes galore. Almost every room featured an elaborate dome which rivalled any I’ve had the pleasure to see before. It was completely spellbinding. We took the walk slowly and frequently stopped to let huge tour groups go past. They seemed to somewhat rush it so I personally wouldn’t choose to do a tour, however it would have been great to learn more about what I saw.
There were lovely courtyards, sculpture rooms and tapestries along the way, interspersed with the maze of elaborate architecture. Theses were some of my favourite spaces and we took time out to enjoy them fully. I love the room with Italian maps on tapestry and shows how the typography of the country has changed over time.
Before culminating in the Sistine Chapel, the route takes you to some modern art, which was unexpected. There were sketches and paper cuts from Matisse, along with many other artists work. There was also a room with an interactive film piece which was quite interesting to watch people take part in. It definitely wakes you up before the end.
Finally, the procession of rooms ends. You arrive at the steps to the Sistine Chapel. This is where in my opinion the tour is at it’s best and worst. The chapel is one of the most beautiful examples of art and architecture in the world. It’s huge in scale and dwarfs those straining to look up at Michelangelo’s ceiling. The painting is like nothing you will ever see in its technicality and pure volume. It’s a sight to behold and I will never forget those images swirling around in my brain. Obviously, I don’t have any photos.
As for the experience? It was below par. You are herded in like sheep and ordered to press yourself up against the hundreds of other spectators like sardines to fit more people in. The guards are constantly shouting at people to be quiet and stop taking photos, which are forbidden. It should be a sombre experience to enjoy the space and the beautiful paintings covering the chapel, but the amount of people and the commands from the guards do take away from it. That would be the only criticism I have of the Vatican. I still think it’s one of my favourite things I’ve done in Rome, but it’s very touristic and I felt the experience doesn’t do justice to the art, architecture and artefacts in the Vatican.
We sat outside in the gardens to eat lunch and watch the pigeons. They are very entertaining. The sun came out especially for us and we soaked up our surroundings.
Piazza San Pietro
We left the Vatican and turned back on ourselves to visit the space we have learnt so much about on our history course, Piazza San Pietro. It did not disappoint. The vast space curated by the colonnaded oval and short trapezium elegantly holds hundreds of people and directs you to the star to the show; St Peter’s Basilica. It’s a beautiful space that we spent some time relaxing in before moving on. I would’ve liked to sit here for hours reading and people watching, it’s a great space.
Castel Sant Angelo and the River
We then headed straight down the road leading away from St Peter’s towards the Castle and the river. We stopped to admire the Castle for only a second, I suppose this is something I’ll do if I come back (there’s always something). The river walk is lovely and we stayed on the Vatican side for a few bridges worth. We crossed to re-visit the site for our project (which I may write about in another letter).
Next stop: ice cream. For those of you who are eager readers, you’ll know I go this from my favourite gelato shop – Frigidarium. My ice cream was just what I needed to provide my body with enough fuel to get through a late afternoon walk and sight seeing.
Piazza del Popolo
The one place we hadn’t really explored was the Piazza del Popolo which seemed incredibly stupid as architecture students in Rome, so we headed here. From the Piazza Navona it’s a very simple route that passes through the theatre …. and the modern ….. The area after also seemed very nice with posh shops and restaurants galore. Very enjoyable to walk through. The piazza was stunning in the late afternoon light, where the …. was set on fire. The square was a lovely place to spend time in so we sat for about an hour resting our feet and watching people being unhappily sold roses at astronomical prices. The police rocked up and suddenly there were no more roses, funny right? Unfortunately, the view from the piazza was incomplete because one of the monumental churches splitting the 3 roads into Rome was blocked off with scaffolding. It was such a shame not to see it in its glory, but it’s still beautiful.
Piazza di Spagna and dinner
We took the left road forking out from the piazza and headed more-or-less straight down towards our hostel. We passes the Spanish steps once more and some of our other favourite places we’ve got to know on this route. Before collecting our bags from the hostel we had a slow dinner at La Famiglia (a restaurant we have now been to 3 times) which was great as always. We had buffet antipasti and bread to start and I followed this with a lasagna and was completely stuffed after. The food was great and the service even better. The food, 2 cokes and a decent tip for my favourite waiter only set me back 20€ – almost unheard of in Rome. Thoroughly recommend!!
We stopped off at the hostel to retrieve our bags from the locker and happened to arrive during happy hour so we sat and had some wine and chatted to some travellers. We met 3 German girls who were very nice – the wine, not so nice. We headed to the Termini station an hour early for our overnight train to Turin to be safe. Boy am I glad we did. Slight cock-up, our fault entirely, our train was not due to depart from the Termini. Instead, we had to get the metro to Tiburtina, which luckily only took about 15 minutes and then got our train on time. The stars really did align for us last night – we are too lucky.
I’m writing this at the end of our journey, of which I am glad to say I slept through most of. The train is very comfortable and I got a full nights sleep I would say. I can’t wait to arrive in Turin, check into our airbnb and get some food in me. Right now it’s incredibly foggy but I’m hoping the weather will improve to do some exploring later.
I’ve rambled enough. I hope some of this was informative, and the rest probably useless but possibly enjoyable?
Have a great day everyone!