Our trip, so far, had already taken us to four different countries and ten different cities/towns/villages. We had already seen so many different historical buildings, mesmerizing natural terrains, and people from every culture and every religion. And, just when we think we’ve “seen it all”, we get to Rome.
We disembarked our ship in Civitavecchia and took a train to Rome. The train is super inexpensive (about 8 euro) and nice/comfortable enough to get there faster (it took a little over an hour, whereas a cab ride would have taken much longer and have been much more expensive). It was also a great way to see more of Italy!
When we got to the train station, we took a 15 euro cab ride to our hotel, Hotel Raphael, in Piazza Navona (historic center of Rome). Our first sights in this cab ride were of Vatican City, the Tiber River, and these charming little alleyways with hidden churches, restaurants, hotels, and boutiques. I knew immediately that I was going to fall in love with Rome, as I love to wander, explore, and come across surprises.
Hotel Raphael is a 5-star, posh hotel just minutes from everything. They blend old world Italian influence with that of modern-day conveniences. Our one-bedroom deluxe suite featured hardwood floors, a large living area, a spa bathroom, and a large bedroom. We were welcomed with complimentary champagne, hors d’ oeuvres, and bottled water.
Note that if you stay there, visit their rooftop, accessible only by stairs, via the 5th floor. It has 360 views of Rome and a lovely bar/cafe.
In addition to the stellar accommodations, breakfast (included) was an incredible international spread with fresh pressed orange and vegetable juices. We honestly didn’t want to leave!
Once we were settled in, we headed out on our first trek along the Tiber River to grab some food before meeting our tour guide. It was a little over a mile walk around the Vatican wall to get to the restaurant we would be meeting our guide. Caffe Vaticano had great food with sizeable portions however, if you can find something a bit further away from the Vatican, you will pay better prices.
We met our guide, John Tinto, at the Vatican Museum entrance. John has been a tour guide for close to 30 years and has worked with the “who’s who” of the world. He’s extremely knowledgeable and can go in-depth on just about any Italian subject. He’s a great story-teller, which means your tour “comes to life”, helping you to appreciate what you’re seeing. He also helps you to bypass extremely long lines and get you into things you may not have access to otherwise.
In four hours, we saw just a small portion of this country (yep – country number five for us on this trip). He took us to some of the more famous statues around the Vatican, sculpted by Raphael (who is entombed in the Pantheon), and of course, the work done by Michelangelo (also entombed at the Pantheon). We toured courtyards, private Pope chambers, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peters Basilica, and St. Peter’s Square. Although the frescos Michelangelo painted were incredible to see in real life, my favorite parts of the tour were the hall of maps and St. Peter’s Basilica.
St. Peter’s Basilica is larger than life – they say it is the largest Basilica in the world. If you have been to La Sagrada de Familia, one might argue that that is bigger (in height). However, there are 46 chapels in St. Peter’s, along with a number of staggeringly tall sculptures, columns, and even lettering that make it the biggest in the world. It was pointed out that the lettering around the inside of the Basilica came in at 11 ft. high. From a person’s perspective, standing on the floor, looking up, it looks much smaller.
(Mass at St. Peter’s)
In addition to this, there are many popes buried here, four of which have large shrines, one of which (John XXIII) can be seen in a glass case.
St. Peter’s shrine is understated, yet powerful. It is said that many people become emotional when they see it and break down crying.
If/when you take the tour, also note the doors closest to his shrine are only opened once every 25 years. From the outside, they look like locked doors but from the inside, it is cemented off.
From the outside of the Basilica, overlooking St. Peter’s Square, seeing the Pope’s balcony, also left an impression. To imagine over one million people in the square, waiting to see who the new Pope was going to be, had to have been an incredible experience.
- Rome Train Station: Do not receive help from anyone, no matter how official they look – they demand money from you.
- Taxis – It should be no more than 15 euro from the train station to Piazza Navona
- Make sure to have the name of your destination, as well as the address, handy. Almost everyone speaks English but oftentimes, the taxi drivers do not.
- Hotel Raphael is one of the best. Nightly rate for a Deluxe, one bedroom suite, is about 500 euro. However, booking.com might have better deals – search around!
- There is a biking/running path along the Tiber River, taking you past some amazing architecture. At night, it doubles as the epicentre for nightlife.
- Hiring an experienced tour guide to get you through Vatican City is the best way to go. Give yourself about 5-6 hours to really see it, and try to pick a weekday, to lessen the crowds. You can contact John Tinto through Through Eternity Tours.
- If you would prefer to see Vatican City on your own, the tickets cost about 16 euro per person (go here to book). Note that wait times can be up to three hours on weekends and up to two hours on weekdays. There are no places to bypass ticket lines and entry lines in this case.
- Women’s knees and shoulders must be covered in the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. No exceptions are made and they will turn you away. I wore a maxi dress and brought a scarf.
- Visiting Rome June – September is HOT. Make sure to carry sunscreen and lots of water! October – November are the most preferable months to go.