Arriving at Rome Central Station (Roma Termini) is a bit like having someone throw a bucket of ice cold water in your face.
You might believe that anyone who takes a quiet and peaceful 3 ½ hour train journey from Venice to Rome might display a shock response when arriving at the frenetic Roma Termini Station. Do not be misled. Roma Termini is the crazy homeless woman dressed in a tutu shouting obscenities to everyone and no one in particular; a stark raving mad lunatic; easily distracted and almost impossible to navigate.
With great, and by great I mean an absurdly enormous amount of running up and down platforms, communication failure and the odd push and shove by churlish Romans, we finally took a breath as we sunk into our seats of the metro train en route to our hotel. The reek of pee and general filth ensured that it was one breath we immediately regretted. It had taken Rome less than an hour to get us on our very last nerve.
Finding our hotel was much easier than finding the train we needed to take to get there and a simple five minute walk from the St. Pietro Station had us checked in. On our entire trip this hotel was by far the most disappointing in terms of both facilities and service, but it was chosen for its location and that at least turned out to be most convenient; an easy two minutes’ walk from the Vatican and the metro bus which stops right in front of the hotel had us across the Tiber River and into the Historic Center of Rome in about ten minutes. Which is exactly where we headed after dropping off our bags.
We alighted in front of the San Giovanni dei Fiorentini and I would like to say that we strolled down Via Giulia in the direction of Piazza Navona in search of a romantic trattoria for dinner. What we actually did was try not to get ourselves killed in evening traffic; death by Smart Car narrowly escaped.
We finally settled on a teeny pizzeria in a side street slightly off from the Piazza Navona, and calmed ourselves with a carafe of utterly smooth house chianti, a deep base anchovy pizza for me, and a mushroom pizza for Dear Husband. I am not sure if it was the wood fire warmth that rose to my cheeks from that pizza, or if it was the tomato base – the colour of summer’s ripest sweetest tomatoes – which clashed beautifully with the salty anchovies; but it was a most welcome meal which calmed and soothed my nerves. That pizza will forever be the very best pizza I have ever eaten.
Seduced by the pizza and the wine, we were able to adopt a more leisurely pace and strolled our way along to the Piazza Navona and its menagerie of fire throwers, hawkers and spray can artists, all of whom shamelessly peddle their talents to tourists. An evening flurry of activity which takes place under the watchful eye of couple of rather large naked men who sit atop the Fountain of Four Rivers.
Saturday morning dawned and Team Taylor was uncharacteristically Carpe Diem by 8 am for our date with Pope. We arrived at the Vatican a little earlier than our booking. We were deeply grateful for the extra time because we used most of it to find the correct queue to join. (I will share all important tips on Rome in part 2.)
Dear Husband grew up Catholic and the Vatican, as I would presume it does for many Catholics, holds special meaning for him. We had opted for the self-tour with audio of the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. In a word, visiting the Vatican is breathtaking. Sadly, I completely lack the artistic vocabulary to describe its beauty and history to you in a way that might do it justice.
But imagine if you would, that you find yourself in a room that appeals to your visual senses. Wherever you turn your eyes, they are met by vibrant colour and ancient artistry in every form, paint; sculpture, tapestry to name a few. Feel the weight of the beauty of everything you can see as being so powerful that it overwhelms you. Now imagine that you walk through 54 of these rooms and that the last, The Sistine Chapel, is the most wonderful of all. You leave spent. And that is a visit to The Vatican.
We spent four hours at the Vatican. By the time we reached Saint Peter’s Basilica we were already an hour past our planned itinerary. We had to drag ourselves out of there for fear of not making all the other sights we had planned for the day. I would strongly suggest allowing yourself a full day at the Vatican if you are:
- Catholic and interested in joining mass or prayer.
- Have a deep interest in the fine arts and / or history.
- One of those people who have to listen to every single clip on the audio handset.
In the next post, Rome (Part 2) we explore the other must see sights in Rome and I share my top travel tips for visiting the Eternal City.