Before we went to Italy, we talked to some of our friends who had traveled Italy quite extensively, asking for advice about where to go and how much time to spend at each place. The city that we were told to spend the most time in was Rome. We were told that there was a ton to see and do there so we allocated 3 days, a long time for us as we typically bounce around very quickly.
Flixbus from Florence to Rome
Similar to our trip from Milan to Florence, the train was quite a bit more expensive than the bus. While Megabus ran the route from Florence to Rome, we decided to try a different company to see if we liked it better. We booked with Flixbus, a German company with a similar business model to the Megabus.
I could not have been happier with our bus ride to Rome. The bus that we were on was brand new, comfortable, not crowded and had a very cautious driver. Our only issue was that the onboard wifi was not working. We both agreed we would ride Flixbus again later in the trip if they ran the routes that we were looking to take.
Once we arrived in Rome, we were surprised just how large the city was. Luckily, Rome has a very extensive public transportation system which was very easy to navigate. When we saw the subway trains we were somewhat surprised how much graffiti there was. I thought for a major city in Europe that they would be the same level of cleanliness as NYC or better.
Rome – Day 1
Rome wasn’t built in a day but we saw the highlights in a single day. While we normally would not try and cram so much into such a little amount of time when we had a decent amount of time in the city, we saw that the weather was not great the next 2 days. We didn’t want to miss out on seeing things that we wanted to see and decided to maximize the time with good weather.
Knowing that we wanted to see as much as possible, we woke up very early, and we were down in the dining room at 7:30am when our hotel started serving breakfast. After a quick meal we headed out to see the city.
Our first stop was to the Spanish Steps since we figured that even if we were there early, they wouldn’t be closed. That turned out to be an incorrect assumption. Who knew that stairs would have hours? It would have been perfect to get photos early in the morning as there were barely any people around.
While we were a little frustrated, it wasn’t a big deal that the steps were closed as they were doing some restoration work on them which took away from the photo anyway. Andy’s mom told us that restoration was underway when she was in Rome in November, but we figured by March the work would have been completed. We were disappointed, but figured that we couldn’t do anything about it and continued on our tour of Rome.
I didn’t expect too much from the Trevi Fountain, but it was my favorite place that we visited during our time in Rome. When we first saw the fountain I was shocked at the sheer size of it. For some reason I expected that it would be a lot smaller than it was.
Since it was early in the morning there were very few people around. In fact, the workers were vacuuming the money off the bottom of the fountain when we arrived. While we didn’t capture that funny moment, we were able to get a few pictures without many people around which was great.
Our next stop was a visit to the Pantheon. I was excited to see this as I had learned about it at some point in my schooling. Once we arrived I was a little disappointed. It was not nearly as interesting as I thought it would be.
The good thing was that the admission was free and there were not too many people around so we were able to see everything that we wanted to see quickly, take a few pictures, then leave.
Largo di Torre Argentina
When I was researching things to do in Rome I came across a lesser known attraction – Largo di Torre Argentina. I discovered that these ruins were where Caesar was killed which was interesting enough but when I saw reviews talking about all the cats around, I knew that we had to go.
Upon arrival I was pretty excited. There was really nobody around so I figured that we could get some really great pictures. Unfortunately, the only way to see the ruins which are set deeper into the ground than the sidewalk, was from above. You are not allowed to get close to the ruins and the fencing made taking pictures more difficult.
The on-site cat shelter that I read about was not yet open although there were a few cats roaming around, one of which was friendly enough to come over to get some love. We discussed coming back later in the day to pay a visit to the shelter but after so much sightseeing in a single day, we were too exhausted.
As we were walking, we passed a huge, pretty cool looking building in the Piazza Venezia, which was actually the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento. We took some quick pictures of the museum from the center of the plaza, but moved on as we were headed to the Colosseum.
Another cool thing that we stumbled upon was Trajan’s Column. I was impressed with not only the size of the column but also the sheer amount of carvings on it. After doing some research online I discovered that the carvings were a visual description of Roman history.
One of the sites that you can purchase tickets for in advance is the Colosseum. Since it was low season, we figured that it wouldn’t be too bad to get our tickets on-site to save the online booking fee. Once we arrived we were absolutely floored with how crowded it was.
We got in a very long line to purchase our tickets. During our time in line, there were tour guides selling their services. Interestingly enough, the setup at the Colosseum is that groups with a guide get immediate entrance but individuals purchasing tickets and going on their own have to wait in line. I didn’t really understand that logic, but knew that we did not want to pay more to have a guide. That didn’t stop others in line who bailed and ended up paying more for a guided tour. This benefitted us as the line got shorter each time someone left.
After standing in line for 30 minutes we purchased our tickets for 12E or $13.20 per person. We opted against going directly into the Colosseum as it was near lunch and we didn’t want to be rushed when we were there.
Later in the afternoon, after seeing a few more sites, we returned to the Colosseum. After standing in another long line to get in, we realized that there was a second line to purchase tickets within the Colosseum, not the ticket booth that we went to earlier. Fortunately we realized this before we were in line too long and quickly moved over to the purchased tickets line where we were granted entry.
Once inside we were kind of let down. Not only were there swarms of people which made getting pictures a little challenging, it was also very obvious that the Colosseum was restored to a point where it looked almost modern. This was frustrating for us as one of the draws of visiting historical sites is seeing what they looked like, not a perfect version of what they look like now.
Andy had seen some pictures of the Colosseum at night online and wanted to try and get the same shot. We returned in the evening when the building was lit up and were able to get some pretty good pictures.
Arch of Constantine
Right next to the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine. While it was pretty interesting, we were disappointed that there was a huge fence around it which made getting a good photo pretty difficult.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of Andy’s favorite things to do on vacation is hike up to scenic viewpoints. When we researched where a viewpoint in Rome was, we came across the Gianicolo Hill which is argued to be the best view of the city.
After a relatively easy hike up, we were rewarded with some great views. We were a little sad that there were quite a few people around which made getting a picture a little hard. It was then that I noticed that there was a second area a little further down which also had a view.
Once at the second area, we noticed that the view was actually better as there were not as many trees obstructing the view. After setting up the tripod, we were able to get some good pictures of the area.
Rome – Day 2
As was predicted earlier in the week, our second day was rainy. We took the opportunity to do some sightseeing inside instead of going out in the rain.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Rome without going to the Vatican. The manager of the hotel told us that the lines for the Vatican can get quite long and recommended purchasing them online to avoid waiting in a long line. While this sounded good, paying 4E or $4.50 above the ticket price of 16E or $17.50 seemed a little expensive.
Similar to our first day in Rome, we woke up very early and ate our breakfast as soon as we could. After a 20 minute walk to the Vatican we arrived and waited in line. The museum was not yet open and the line had not yet gotten too long.
After purchasing our tickets and going through security screening we took off towards the Sistine Chapel (which ironically is closed on Sunday, so make note if you plan to visit). We had seen quite a few large groups and wanted to arrive at the Sistine chapel as early as possible. Once we got to the chapel, we were somewhat disappointed – it was quite a bit smaller than we thought it would be and no photos were allowed. While Michelangelo’s paintings were beautiful, we had seen other churches with paintings which, to me, looked just as beautiful.
In our efforts to see the Sistine Chapel as early as we could, we moved rather quickly through the rest of the Vatican museum. There was quite a few religious artifacts to look at and I imagine if you are into art and/or religious history you could easily spend the day there. While we normally take a lot of pictures, we took very few pictures at the Vatican, opting to take in the moment instead of worry about the camera. Actually the only pictures that Andy took were of the large spiral stairs leaving the Vatican museum.
Rome – Day 3
Since the Pope lives in Rome, I wanted to see if there would be any chance that we could see him while we were there. I found a website which showed the Pope’s schedule and sure enough, he was giving an address on the Sunday that we were there. The forecast was for rain but in a fortunate turn of events, it turned out to be a beautiful day.
We wanted to get good spots so we could see the Pope and get some great pictures so we woke up early – again.
After going through security screening, we were in the Vatican Square. It was very early when we arrived and the address wasn’t until noon. This gave us the opportunity to get some great pictures of Vatican Square while there were very few people around. We then decided to go into St. Peter’s Basilica since our visit the day before was very crowded.
St. Peter’s Basilica
Andy joked that St. Peter’s Basilica better be a really good church because it’s arguably “the” church of the Catholic faith. Once inside it did not disappoint – it was extremely beautiful. We both liked that the admission was free, but it seemed no matter when we went, there were always tons of people around.
One of the most surprising things to me was just how many different types of marble, granite and other stone were used to create the church. Normally churches have only a few materials used in their construction but St. Peter’s had many.
La Pieta, a statue that Michelangelo sculpted is housed at St. Peter’s Basilica. Michelangelo was only 24 when he was commissioned to carve the statue. The job description for the carving was to create “the most beautiful work of marble in Rome, one that no living artist could better”. Until 1972 it was out in the open, but after a Hungarian man attacked it with a hammer 12 times, requiring an intensive reconstruction, it is now located behind bulletproof glass.
When we were outside of the basilica, we noticed that there were people out on the dome. We walked around a bit and found that we could go to the top of the dome for 6E or $6.60 per person if we took the stairs. The elevator was 2E or $2.25 more expensive, but after doing the walk, I’m not sure it would be worth it to anyone. There were quite a few stairs after the elevator so purchasing the elevator ticket only saves you from walking up ⅓ of the stairs.
Andy and I are both pretty fit people and the weather was somewhat cool. That being said, the walk up to the top was more challenging than we had envisioned. The staircases were tight, there were lots of spiral staircases and the stairs were not all level or even. At one point on the walk, when the ceiling was slanted, I started to feel like I had vertigo. On top of the physical demands, there was little to no airflow in the stairwells. We both got pretty warm which made us wonder just how hot it gets in the summer.
Andy thought one of the coolest parts about the climb to the dome was when you enter the catwalk inside the dome. You can look down and see all of the people walking around inside the church, but you can also look up at the amazing artwork inside the dome. Along the walls of the catwalk are very intricate mosaic tile images that are made of thousands of small pieces of tile. Andy took pictures of a couple far away and some close-up to show the detail.
Once we reached the top we were rewarded with some pretty beautiful views of Vatican City. While there was a fence around the dome, we were still able to get some great pictures through the slats. On the way down we stopped on the roof which had some pretty great views of the dome. After getting some pictures we headed back down.
The Pope’s Address
We were now ready to get in a good spot to see the Pope speak. Originally we believed that he would be on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, but after seeing the security guards keep pointing to another building, we learned where he would be positioned.
We saw a large TV camera and decided to wait nearby with the thought that it had to be one of the best places to go to get the best shot. As we waited the entire square filled up with thousands of people. There were flags, people cheering and large groups singing – everyone seemed to be in great spirits.
Right on time at noon, the Pope began his address. I was wondering if the loud group would be quiet during the address and was shocked when it was absolutely silent when he began talking. Everything was in Italian so we didn’t understand anything, but it was cool to hear nonetheless.
Once the short address finished, we headed back to our hotel. After 3 long days that all started very early in the morning, we were looking forward to relaxing. We knew that our time in Athens would be tiring and wanted to go in as refreshed as possible.
I liked Rome more than I liked Florence but it still wasn’t as great as I had envisioned in my mind. There were a lot of things to see and do, getting around was easy and the people were friendly, but it was also very crowded and expensive.
Similar to Florence, we had disappointing food. No matter what we tried or where we went, nothing was ever as good as I had been lead to believe it would be. To make things more frustrating, since we didn’t have a kitchen we had to go out to eat for every meal which lead to a constant frustration.
If you plan to visit Rome, I recommend getting up early to see the sites. In a city where there is seemingly always tourists around, the only way that we were able to avoid masses of people was when we were out very early in the morning.