What a whirlwind couple of days in Rome! We only had two days to pack in as much as we could and man, did we ever succeed.
After landing close to midnight, we climbed into a cab and were promptly created with Andrea Bocelli on the radio. It was pretty much the perfect way to be welcomed to the city. We headed straight to our beds once we were checked in as we had an early start with our Vatican tour on Saturday morning. Because we ended up landing late, we weren't able to get Roma passes at the airport so we tried to find the tourist information at the train station to pick them up but had no luck. We knew we'd have other chances in the day but it would have been nice to have the subway pass for the full day but in the scheme of things, it was a much smaller problem than we had faced with the flat tire. We got to the meeting place of our Vatican tour just at the right time.
The tour company we went with is a really popular one as they get access to the museums 1 hour before the general public. So the 8am tour is also a VERY popular tour to take. They were allocating people to groups as soon as they had them checked in and once a group was full, it left for its tour. It was a good way of handling it because the groups ended up slightly staggered for the tour. Our guide was Irina and she took us through the highlights of the museum, giving us great depth & detail on the things we saw. When I was in Rome with EDP in 2009, we did a Vatican tour that saw much more of the museums but in far less detail so this was a great balance to it. We learned all about the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael rooms, the Gallery of Maps, and the Belvedere Courtyard. The Gallery of Maps was a particular highlight for me as during my last tour, the gallery was so packed, you could hardly see the maps. On this tour, because we were in an hour early, we were able to see everything. After getting a good amount of time to drink in the Sistine Chapel, we headed into St. Peter's, which I did not get to see on my first visit to Rome due to an insanely long line to enter. And whoa, what a place! I think the most fascinating thing we learned was that there are no paintings in the basilica, everything that looks like a painting is a mosaic. Also, according to Irina, the gold band that runs high up on the walls is 10 feet tall and can fit two cars side-by-side on it. It didn't look like that could possibly be the case from where we were standing but it is an awfully large place.
Once our tour wrapped up, we had to hustle our way over to the Borghese Gallery, another new thing for me to see in Rome. We did manage to stop for some gelato on our way, which made this the second time I had gelato as my first meal in Rome so I think that's now going to be what I do every time I visit. We were also able to get our Roma passes, which made jumping onto the subway much faster & easier. The gallery was organized differently than any other I've seen, with timed entry at one of four times and a required time to be out (two hours after your entry.) It meant that there were a lot of people in the same spot all at once. There was a room just of Caravaggio paintings, which was both wonderful and terrifying all at once. Once we were done in gallery, we wandered through the garden grounds a bit, stumbling upon some sort of horse show, before we made our way back to the hotel to have a bit of a rest before heading out to explore the aqueducts, the thing I was looking forward to the most.
There are two aqueducts in the park that we visited - the Aqua Felice and the Aqua Claudia. Aqua Claudia is the more impressive of the two, which was commissioned by Caligula, taking 11 years and 30,000 men to build. And it's just sitting in a park for anyone to walk by. It's really quite wonderful, the park is massive and when we arrived late Saturday afternoon, it was full of picnicking families, relaxing couples, and kids playing games. All with the aqueducts as the backdrop. It's such an odd feeling to be so close to these ancient structures - Aqua Claudia is almost 2000 years old! And we were able to walk alongside of it from one end of the park to the other. So amazing.
Then it was back to near our hotel to grab dinner before collapsing into bed to rest up for another packed day on Sunday. The agenda? The Colosseum, Palatine Hill, the Forum, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Baths of Caracalla. Did we do it all? You bet we did!!
We were at the Colosseum right for opening, even arriving a few minutes early to be able to wander around. Again, I was struck by how close it is to the metro stop and how it's just THERE when you get to the top of the steps coming out of the metro. I was expecting it this time, though, so I was prepared with my camera right away. With our handy Roma passes, we were in a very short line and were inside very quickly. We were some of the very few that wandered through the museum portion of the Colosseum, which has so much interesting information, it's unfortunate more people don't take the time to go through. Then we just wandered around the upper level and then the lower level, taking it all in. Once we had our fill, it was off to Palatine Hill, wandering in and around as much as we could - including the Domus Severiana, giving us views of the Baths of Caracalla and Circus Maximus - something I don't remember EDP & I taking in when we were there. With the day really warming up, we were happy to have water with us and took full advantage of being able to refill our bottles before heading into the Forum. And oh, the Forum... Man, I love that place. We really took our time going through it, getting into all of the nooks & crannies to see as much as we could. I love how there are so many different monuments, all in different stages of ruins. It must have been amazing to see when everything was standing. I get such a surreal feeling standing amongst all of these monuments and temples and buildings that have been around for such an incredibly long time. We don't get that in Canada, it's so wonderful being able to experience it in Rome.
From there, we started making our way to the Trevi Fountain. I was armed with the map and amazingly, I got us there without getting us lost. I even managed to get us past Trajan's Column the Altare della Patria (which we did not climb.) We soon made it to the fountain and braved pushing through the crowd gathered at the top to get right down to the bottom to throw our Euros in. And to refill our water bottles again. Then it was on to lunch (pizza and Prosecco, the lunch of those who have already walked 10,000+ steps) before making our way over to the Pantheon, once again not getting lost! I love how there's that circle of sunlight on the floor coming down from the dome. Then, it was on to Piazza Navona to get some well-reputed gelato, which was delicious. With that under our belt, we headed towards the Metro, passing the Spanish Steps on the way - which I still think are incredibly overrated and happily, my sister agreed and said she did not feel the need to climb them. Which was excellent, though, she'd have been on her own if she did want to, I'd have stayed at the bottom to document her climb for her :P
Our last stop of the day was the Baths of Caracalla, another new thing for me to see. This time we did get lost. Well, not so much as lost as so turned around that we went in three different directions before I managed to get us on the right track. To my credit, I did promise that I'd manage to get us lost at some point during the day so really, I was just keeping my word. This is what happens when you let me navigate! The Baths were really cool to see. They haven't done much in the way of restoring them but have preserved what's there beautifully, showing the mosaic floors and displaying pieces of the mosaics that would have been on the walls throughout the various rooms. It was so much bigger than I expected, but it a wonderfully small site that you can cover in a very short time and has very few people so you don't have to deal with crowds. It was one of the highlights of the two days for me, for sure.
Then it was back to the area of our hotel to settle in for some dinner, which we did on a lovely patio not far from our hotel. We started off with a quart litre of wine each - it was cheaper than water, so we were just making an economical choice. Of course, those quarter litres disappeared rather quickly so we replaced them with fresh ones before dessert (tiramisu for my sister, tartufo for me and if you didn't see that coming, I don't think you've actually met either of us...) and finished things off with some limoncello. It was a really good way to end our two days in Rome.
Our flight home was entirely uneventful - a nice treat after our previous travelling days on this trip. And now, we're home with our memories and hundreds of photos. I always seem to take way more photos than I expected. Here's hoping it doesn't take me a month to get through them all!