Europe, Day 7: Vatican City, Rome and Trastevere

by Jenn (eating bender) on May 17, 2013

Previous recaps:

Following our wine happy trip to the Trevi Fountain, we returned to the hotel and promptly fell asleep in preparation for a big day of walking. We began the next morning with a complimentary breakfast – almost all hotels in Italy seemed to have them – from Hotel Napoleon. I decided to go with the scrambled eggs, sausage and a sweet bread made with chocolate chips.

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Plus a cappuccino. Just as I suspected, it was as tasty as the ones I’d had in Sorrento.

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Following breakfast, we hopped on the metro train that was literally steps from our hotel and took it from our stop, Vittorio Emanuele, toward Vatican City. And just like that, we were in another country. I purchased tickets to the Vatican Museum in advance, which made entering a breeze.

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We decided to make our way toward the Sistine Chapel right away, but had no idea how many rooms there were between the starting point and the chapel itself. They were so unique that we took our time exploring each one. The ceilings alone were enough reason to stop and look up.

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The room above is called the Gallery of Maps and contains a series of painted topographical maps of Italy along its walls. The maps were based on drawings by friar and geographer Ignazio Danti.

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The rooms also had a lot of relics, books and artifacts preserved by the Vatican.

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It was truly gorgeous and a treat to see the work done by artists such as Raphael. It made me appreciate the grandeur of what was to come even more. Finally, we arrived at the Sistine Chapel!

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Technically my picture is contraband, but I honestly did not see the signs banning photography until one of the guards came and pointed it out to me. And there was no flash, so no ceilings were harmed. We sat inside the chapel for almost half an hour listening to our podcast and learning more about the different depictions. I left with so much respect for Michelangelo. Did you know that he actually painted the ceiling standing up, rather than on his back as some sources claim?

He was literally arching his back and reaching up with his arm all day for those brush strokes and would often end up with paint in his eye. It takes a certain level of dedication – and craziness – to do that over a period of four years!

After exiting the chapel, we went down a funky spiral staircase that was designed in 1932.

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We walked along the wall of the city until we reached Saint Peter’s Square. The loud cheers and large crowd told us that something was going on – and suddenly Pope Francis appeared on the television screens! Turns out we had arrived just in time for his weekly audience. You can see him sitting down directly in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, looking out at all of us.

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Although we weren’t sure what was being said, it was fun to watch the crowd go wild. There were a lot of women – appropriate since we later learned this particular audience discussed the “fundamental” value of women in the Church – and a lot of Argentinian flags!

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I took a short video at the end of the audience. Originally I thought it was Pope Francis who was leading the group in song, but it was brought to my attention by Hil that that may not have been the case because he really doesn’t sing. Still very cool. You can view his entire talk here.

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Since St. Peter’s Basilica was closed while the audience was finishing up, we decided to grab some lunch and come back a little later. We walked along the Tiber, taking in the gorgeous day.

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We passed by the Castel Sant’Angelo, which was once the tallest building in Rome.

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Our lunch destination was Pastificio, a delicious homemade pasta shop that offers generous portions for a mere four euros. Every day there is a line, and they sell until the food runs out.

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You can eat at one of the small tables inside or take your lunch to-go. We opted for the latter, knowing that there was a prime seating area less than a block away: the Spanish Steps!

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We found our place among the tourists and pigeons, enjoying our pasta while taking in the scenery. I went with a cheesy variety that had thick penne noodles and a peppery seasoning.

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Once we had finished lunch, we continued our climb to the top of the stairs…

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…and looked backward at Rome.

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We decided to continue walking down Viale Gabriele D’Annunzio toward the Villa Borghese gardens. The overview of Rome from this angle was truly impressive and made us realize just how far we’d hiked already – and the day was only half over!

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As for the gardens? Serene, peaceful, beautiful – I would use pretty much every positive adjective to describe them. Busts of notable Italian figures line the walking paths, and as we could tell by the many families who were there, it was a great place for kids to run around.

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We strolled for a bit, then found a park bench in the sun to relax on for a while.

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It was so warm and comfortable with the sun beaming down on us that Bobby fell asleep! I nearly did, too, but thoughts of pickpockets kept me conscious. In all seriousness, our time inside Villa Borghese was another top highlight of the trip.

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From Villa Borghese we walked through Piazza del Popolo, a large urban square that was apparently the site of public executions up until 1826. I loved how vast it was.

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We decided to head back over to Saint Peter’s Square, but had to make a pit stop along the way when I saw “fresh candy” in the window! If you’re wondering what in the world fresh candy might be…that’s a good question. It’s a bit of an oxymoron, but hear me out.

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Bobby was a bit confused when I used the term, but I suppose in my head I meant that it was the kind of candy that sits in bins that you’re able to select yourself, rather than the bagged candy that has already been prepackaged and sealed. Whether that makes candy “fresh” or not is debatable, but it became a running joke for the rest of the trip. We picked up some yummy blackberries and raspberries (Erica, I seem to recall you being a fan of these, too).

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And we picked up some of the prepackaged stuff – these were called “puro frutto” and were hard candies filled with pureed fruit pulp including apricot, cherry, plum, blackberry, raspberry and peach.

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Snacks in hand, we made our way back to St. Peter’s Basilica and its large bronze doors. The center door dates from 1450 and is considered the first Renaissance work in Rome.

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The door furthest right is called the “Holy Door,” and is opened only during the Holy Year (every 25 years, on Christmas eve). The last time it was opened was in 2000. The Pope strikes the wall three times with a silver hammer and the door opens, welcoming pilgrims to pass through.

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Once inside, we took in the grand view of the nave (central hallway). Pictures can’t do justice to how massive St. Peter’s Basilica is! Even the exterior doesn’t give it away. The inside is truly impressive – my camera seemed to think so, too, as there was a halo effect in almost every picture.

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The golden dove window at the far end was two football fields away from where we were standing.

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The bronze canopy over the altar is seven stories tall, and the church covers six acres.

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The dome of St. Peter’s is higher than a football field on end – 430 feet from floor to top. Michelangelo began working on the dome in 1546. When he died nearly 20 years later, he’d completed only the drum of the dome, which is the cylindrical base up to the windows. The next generation of architects used his blueprints to finish the masterpiece.

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The altar and its bronze canopy – Bernini’s Baldacchino – were truly spectacular. Roughly 23 feet below the marble floor at this spot is the tomb of St. Peter, the foundation upon which the church was built. The main altar is used only when the pope says Mass.

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There was so much to see and learn about. We also got a glimpse of Michelangelo’s Pietà.

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After covering every corner, we headed back to Rome for a gelato break. My friend Hannah had recommended checking out La Gelateria Frigidarium, which in addition to offering a plethora of flavors will also dip your cup in white or dark chocolate.

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I ended up going with the dark chocolate dip over vanilla, strawberry and caramel. Perfection.

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Thanks for the great tip, Hannah! With our sweet teeth satiated, we had enough energy for one final exploratory adventure around the neighborhood of Trastevere.

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We began by crossing the Ponte Cestio onto Isola Tiberina. During times of plagues and epidemics, the sick were isolated here. Today the island has a public hospital favored by women for childbirth.

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Once we had crossed over the bridge we visited Chiesa di San Benedetto in Piscinula, a square famous for its church bell tower. Dating from 1069, it’s the oldest working bell tower in the city.

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I loved the greenery on the exterior of all the buildings. Trastevere is a very quiet neighborhood with a lot fewer tourists, so you get the feeling that you’re seeing how the people of Rome really live.

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We passed under a low arch, which is how these buildings were connected in medieval times.

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We also saw a school from the Mussolini era.

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The Church of St. Cecilia was eclectic with its mismatched columns recycled from pagan temples and a medieval bell tower with an 18th-century facade. The church is dedicated to Cecilia, patron saint of musicians and singers, which makes it popular for weddings.

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We also visited the heart of the neighborhood, Piazza di Santa Maria. The Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere is considered the first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

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The portico is decorated with ancient fragments carved with Christian symbolism.

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Our dinner reservations were right around the corner at Ai Bozzi Da Giovanni, a recommendation from Danielle (thank you!). We arrived a little early but they seated us right away.

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We started out with – can you guess? – the house wine, which came in a bottle this time. Phew.

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It was once again delicious and reasonably priced. I wish they had house wines here!

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For my entrée I chose a seafood risotto, which was warm, rich and hearty.

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Bobby went with a lobster seafood pasta, which turned out to be crab instead of lobster, but he still enjoyed it. We soaked up the chance to sit and reflect on another busy but very fun day.

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We crossed the Tiber heading back to the hotel with St. Peter’s dome looming in the distance.

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Our time in Rome was almost over, but there were still a few surprises in store for us before we said goodbye completely. After all, we had to drive again in the morning…

Abrazos,

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 BroccoliHut May 17, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Wonderful recap! My parents recently announced that they’re going to visit Italy at the end of July, so I plan on sending this and your other three Italy posts to them–I’m sure they’d love some recommendations for places to check out!
Oh, and that chocolate-dipped gelato has me swooning! YUM!
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2 Jenn (eating bender) May 21, 2013 at 10:47 am

Thanks, Caroline! I hope that my posts help them figure out a few places to visit – we definitely would recommend everything we did. They will have an amazing time!

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3 Megan (Braise The Roof) May 17, 2013 at 3:51 pm

I love how much history you’re including in these recaps- very educational. ;) The Vatican and Villa Borghese gardens were definitely my favorite part of exploring Rome – they are truly gorgeous. You guys really knocked the sightseeing out of the park on your trip!
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4 Jenn (eating bender) May 21, 2013 at 10:48 am

Haha! I am such a history nerd that I can’t help it. ;) I agree with you on the Vatican and Villa Borghese. We truly lucked out with being able to see as much as we did in a short time!

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5 Cara (Twinthusiast) May 17, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Ahhh, Rome is so great. Can’t wait to get back there someday. By the way, I’m halfway through Villa Triste and really enjoying it.
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6 Jenn (eating bender) May 21, 2013 at 10:48 am

I’m so glad that you finished and loved Villa Triste. Can’t wait to chat about it with you!

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7 Melissa @TryingtoHeal May 17, 2013 at 4:18 pm

I am speechless over your trip to Rome! So many beautiful places that you got to visit, and so many that were on my bucket list! You planned this trip out so well!!!
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8 Jenn (eating bender) May 21, 2013 at 10:49 am

Aw, that is truly the best compliment – thank you, Melissa!! Can’t wait for you to cross all of these places off your list!

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9 Erica May 17, 2013 at 4:51 pm

omgosh! Those are my favorite candies in the whole world! Those ceilings are crazy. Amazing the amount of time that must have gone into all of them. dark chocolate dip over vanilla, strawberry and caramel? droool.
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10 Jenn (eating bender) May 21, 2013 at 10:49 am

I thought they might be your favorites! :)

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11 blueberryhil May 18, 2013 at 9:13 am

Beautiful photos. Rome is one of the places in Europe that I would most like to visit.
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12 Jenn (eating bender) May 21, 2013 at 10:50 am

I would definitely recommend having it high on your list! There is so much to do – we could have spent even more time there!

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13 Michelle May 20, 2013 at 11:05 am

Wow, you two are having an amazing sight seeing vacation. There is so much history all over Europe, I wouldn’t no where to start a vacation. Looks like you did a very good job. By the amazing photo’s of your whole trip, Pompeii, Rome and Italy are definitely on my bucket list. Thank you for sharing your adventures.

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14 Jenn (eating bender) May 21, 2013 at 10:51 am

Thank you, Michelle! So glad you’re enjoying the photos and posts. There really is so much history it’s hard to pick where to visit. But the good news is that you can’t really go wrong, either! :)

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15 Shannon May 20, 2013 at 6:41 pm

love it! and i never saw an italian place with a gelato dip, nice :)

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16 Jenn (eating bender) May 21, 2013 at 10:51 am

It was definitely a big plus! :)

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17 Keegan May 20, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Wow this is quite a trip! What have you thought about the Italian food over there vs. back home? Notice many differences?
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18 Jenn (eating bender) May 21, 2013 at 10:54 am

Great question, Keegan. I think there are definitely similarities in some of the “staple” dishes (ravioli, lasagna, etc.) but in Italy there are also a lot of pasta varieties that are not necessarily on the menus here – different sauces, eclectic ingredients, etc. And if you don’t speak the best Italian (like us), you don’t always know exactly what you’re going to get. It definitely makes for some interesting meal decisions. :)

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19 armida trentino May 31, 2013 at 7:25 am

Vatican city best place to explore
St. Peter’s Basilica best place ever seen in my life….It is the world’s largest church, is the center of Christianity.It took more than hundred yrs to built the span of it.what you think about this famous exotic and adorable attraction.There is so much to learn from the history of Vatican city.I had seen all the attractions in Vatican city by referring the link placed here.

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