Europe 2013 – Rome & the Vatican

by Diane on 25/11/2013

Italy was amazing, and since we did a day trip to Pompeii, which was the absolute highlight of the whole trip, I’ll need to split this post in two – Pompeii simply deserves its very own page!


So let’s start with Rome. We were still traveling with Helen, and I had managed to score a super apartment right at Campo de Fiori. It was super central, all major attractions could be reached by foot, and when we were greeted by the rental agent, he started pointing out the value of some of the antique decorations. Ummm, yeah… not really our thing, and knowing that some of the china was worth a few thousands Euros freaked us out a little. We put some of them out of reach, so that we couldn’t accidentally knock them over. But apart from the fear of damaging something perceived that valuable, the apartment was great.

I should probably explain that this isn’t the typical holiday Kai and I would usually have. Normally we go to places that are not necessarily overrun by tourists, or we go outside of the main touristy seasons. This was the first time ever we went somewhere we could expect masses of tourists doing what tourists do. And hell, we learned a lesson from it. We can now definitely say that this is not our thing. But I guess if you want to see Rome, there is no out-of-season, and you just have to live with it.

Here’s what we did in Rome:

Largo di Torre Agentina or as we called it: ‘The cat place’. It’s the location where Julius Caesar was assassinated, and it’s now a cat sanctuary.

Altar of the Fatherland Big building, free museum inside, interesting enough. We had a great coffee (something fancy with cream and hazelnuts) on the roof there.

Colosseum One of the must-visits of Rome. You can’t have been to Rome and not visited the colosseum. Unfortunately around 10,000 other tourists felt the same, so we ended up booking a tour that got us past the gates with only ten minutes waiting time, instead of two hours. The cutting of the waiting line is probably the only good thing that can be said about this tour, but that alone made it worth it. Tick on the list of Rome attractions to be seen.

Trajan’s Market An early version of a shopping mall. Not much left, but with a little bit of imagination you can make it come to life in your head.

Palatine Hill & Roman Forum Lots of ruins, very little signage. Without a guide or at least an audio guide it’s hard to know what you’re looking it. And here we found out that Helen and I don’t mind not knowing what all these pillars and broken down walls once were, but Kai does. At some stage he just had enough and went back to the hotel, while Helen and I continued wandering for a little while.

Giolitti ice cream parlour A fun and interesting challenge in ice cream purchasing. You buy a ‘ticket’ for your gelato at a booth in the front of the shop, kick and shove your way forward through the crowds, fight for someone’s attention, shout the flavours you like at them and hope they have it (because there is no way you can see the display through all these people), grab your cone and run out. Then you can enjoy really, really awesome gelato in the sun. Hmmm, gelato!

Pantheon Another church. This time a round one, without any corners. There are a lot of churches in Rome.

S Maria Sopra Minerva Oh look, another church. Can’t remember any details of this one.

Capuchin crypt The capuchin monks have built a great little museum, highlighting the history and background of their friar. They show a little video on book restoration, which I found particularly interesting. But the real reason to go there is to see the fascinating artwork they’ve created with the bones and bodies of monks that lived and died there between 1528 and 1870. I’ve read in one of the travel guides that you should go after dark, when the displays are only lit up by candles and no daylight makes it into the room. Sounds amazingly creepy… Definitely worth a visit!

Spanish Steps & Trevi Fountain  Whoaaah… tourist attack! There were soooo many of them, getting brought in by busses, jumping in front of the attraction, having their photo taken, running back to the bus. Not really our thing, but if you’re in Rome, you can’t go home and say you haven’t been to the Spanish Steps. We survived.

Trastevere Nice little suburb not too far away from Campo de Fiori, Kai and I went there just for a little walk and some ice cream.

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Vatican City

We had initially dedicated one full day to going to the Vatican, again because it’s one of the things you can’t just ignore if you’re in Rome.

Disclaimer: I’m in no way religious at all. I personally see religion as something that was very, very important at times when people couldn’t explain the world, but I think its place in a modern day society is limited. I do have some issues especially with the catholic church and their views on certain topics, such as homosexuality, abortion etc, but I do think that the current pope is the first in a long line of catholic leaders who might actually have the right attitude to make a difference. These are my views, and I respect your views if they are different from mine. I just thought I’d start off with this, since my experience of the Vatican is probably heavily influenced by my personal believes.

Getting to the Vatican isn’t very spectacular. We took a bus, it stopped at an underground bus stop, and when you walk out you’re in the Vatican. Signage isn’t very great, so it took us a while to find out where we were and where we wanted to be. We walked past the endless line of people queueing up to enter St Peter’s Basilica, and walked on towards the museum. On the way we stopped for a bit of shopping; Kai got a retro Casio digital watch. How cool is that?

Luckily we had pre-booked our tickets to the museum online, but our dedicated time slot wasn’t quite up yet, so we decided to have ice cream in the sun while waiting for our turn and being glad that we didn’t have to line up for two hours to get in. We weren’t able to print our tickets at the apartment, so we had learned the appropriate phrases in Italian to explain to the guard why we didn’t have any paper tickets, but this turned out to be unnecessary, since they can now read barcodes from mobile phones. Handy.

Generally I like museums that focus on a single topic or era, where I can dive deep into the subject. The Vatican museum covers everything – ancient art, egyptian, contemporary – whatever you can think of. Which in itself is quite ok, since it was what I expected. What I didn’t expect what the overwhelming, and in fact quite sickening wealth on display. The Vatican museum isn’t just about showing off some great artwork, it’s about the unbelievable richness of the catholic church. It’s not enough to hang paintings on the walls, no, the walls itself have to be covered in gold too. I’m pretty sure that if the Vatican decided to sell a tenth of their collections to a private collector, they could end world hunger. But you don’t even have to go as far as trying to solve world problems, they could simply start spending this money on their own enterprises, such as aged care, schools and kindergartens, that struggle to provide excellent services because of funding issues.

So while I really enjoyed some of the artwork (I even bought two post cards of paintings I really liked, and I always love sculptures of angels – “Don’t blink!“), this realisation left a bit of a funny feeling with me.

After having seen the main part of the exhibition and the Sistine Chapel (I’ve seen much more beautiful churches during this trip) we went back to Italy to have lunch. From there on Kai and I went shopping for boots and presents, while Helen went back to see St Peter’s Basilica. I didn’t really feel like looking at even more organisational wealth, and it’s just another church after all.


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