Photography, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Italy – St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum

In September, I traveled to Italy for two weeks with some of my family, which included an 85-mile, 6 day self-guided walking tour through the Italian countryside. We also spent time in Rome, Venice, Florence, Pompeii and Naples. 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:

Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary
Doors of Italy
Exploring Rieti
Self-Guided Walk Day 1
Self-Guided Walk Day 2
Self-Guided Walk Day 3
Castello Orsini Hotel
Self-Guided Walk Days 4 and 5
Self-Guided Walk Day 6
The Colosseum and Exploring Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum
Pompeii and Naples
Venice
Florence

**********

Hey friends, I’ve been busy with a few back-to-back work trips and then the holiday, so I had to take a break from sharing my trip to Italy. But I am back and ready to go with my last couple of posts!

I left off sharing part one of our time in Rome. Other than the afternoon we arrived, we had one full-day in Rome for exploring and an additional morning.

My favorite part of our time in Rome was the Basilica. I am not Catholic, but I love the history, architecture and art! This was probably my hardest group of pictures from the whole trip to sort through because I took SO MANY.

We knew we wanted to go and have enough time to enjoy it so we got there right as it was opening and virtually did not have to wait in line at all! We were so glad that we did because by the time we left about 2 hours later, the line wrapped around the entire square. It is free to go in but there was a small fee if you wanted to take the elevator to the base of the dome instead of the stairs, and with a bum ankle after a days of walking I took that option without a second thought.

The Basilica’s history is a bit complicated so instead of trying to summarize it, I’m just going to include a great link here 🙂

As we were walking up to the entrance I turned to my cousin and asked if he recognized what music was playing over the loud speakers… it was the theme song from the Rocky movies, who of course is also known as the Italian Stallion. We thought that was pretty funny.

The first part of the trek up via elevator or stairs takes you to the base of the dome so you can see the dome’s artwork up close and also see down. I’ve always loved history and have a strong appreciation for art so this is the kind of tourist stuff that I love. It all was absolutely beautiful.

The next part of the trek up takes you to the top of the dome and that part was not easy! First, you wind up around the dome so as you get higher you are at a slant, and then the final part is a very tight, winding stair case. Plus there is no ventilation or moving air, so if you are claustrophobic or have asthma, it might not be for you. It made me a little nauseous.

But the views were SO WORTH IT. The top takes you outside and gives you a 360 view of the Vatican City and Rome.

For reference, in this picture above, the highest point you can go to is right below where the columns are near the top!

Once you visit the top, it brings you down to roof before you go the rest of the way down to walk through the inside. These are the back of the statues that you can see in my first couple of pictures from the ground.

Let me just say that the few pictures of the inside here to not do it justice for how vast and beautiful it is. Again, I am not Catholic, but I was in awe of the Basilica and how almost peaceful it was inside, despite the large crowd.

I highly recommend making this a part of your itinerary on a trip to Rome.

Vatican Museum

The Vatican Museum is a separate experience from visiting the Basilica and one that does have a cost. I can’t remember what we paid, but this was another case where we decided to pay a little more to “skip the line,” mostly because that was the only way we were going to get in. We didn’t know that on Sundays, which was our main full day for exploring Rome, the museum is only open on the last Sunday of the month. We already had other set plans for Monday, so before leaving Rome on Tuesday, we made a quick stop there in the morning.

This was because the Vatican Museum is home to the Sistine Chapel – most famous for its ceiling, painted by Michelangelo – and was near the top of my bucket list to see. I just couldn’t bear being so close and not making it happen. Thankfully my family agreed and we made it work. We did have a little time to enjoy a few other exhibits, but I didn’t take that many pictures because either the lighting wasn’t great or it was too crowded.

There isn’t any photography allowed in the Sistine Chapel and I actually appreciate that. Mostly of course because it forces people to actually just take it all in, and also because photography flashes and the wrong kind of light can actually affect the paint.

The Sistine Chapel was absolutely incredible, and even more amazing to think that Michelangelo didn’t even consider painting to be his top trade. It was super crowded but I tried to work through it as slowly as I could and just enjoy it. It was interesting to see what parts of the bible I could identify easily. I enjoyed it so much that I ended up buying a history book on it for my coffee table!

Alright, I’ll be back soon with my posts on the others cities we visited. For those who have been following along with each post, thanks for your patience!

Thanks for stopping by!

**********

And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Family, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Italy – The Colosseum and Exploring Rome

In September, I traveled to Italy for two weeks with some of my family, which included an 85-mile, 6 day self-guided walking tour through the Italian countryside. We also spent time in Rome, Venice, Florence, Pompeii and Naples. 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:

Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary
Doors of Italy
Exploring Rieti
Self-Guided Walk Day 1
Self-Guided Walk Day 2
Self-Guided Walk Day 3
Castello Orsini Hotel
Self-Guided Walk Days 4 and 5
Self-Guided Walk Day 6
The Colosseum and Exploring Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum
Pompeii and Naples
Venice
Florence

**********

After our self-guided walking tour ended, we still had about a week left in Italy. Our first night was in accommodations that were still a part of the tour, which was a nice hotel on Borgo Pio. This was a fun street very close to the Vatican with lots of restaurants that had tables set out in the street which was mostly closed off from cars. On our first night my Mom and I took some time to just walk round. For the two other nights we were in Rome we used VRBO to find a small apartment that could comfortably fit our group of seven. I’ve only used AirBnB in the past, but I thought we had a great experience with VRBO in Rome and in the two following cities we visited.

Other than the afternoon we arrived, we had one full day in Rome for exploring and an additional morning. I’m going to split up my pictures from Rome into two posts.

Along Borgo Pio.

I’ve always said that I could eat these kind of plates every day and not get tired of it, and after this trip that is definitely true!

The rooms in our hotel were all so different, but my grandparents had the best one. This is just a small glimpse, but essentially the whole room was painted like this! It was so pretty. And for my Grammy, who is an artist herself, this was a fun stay.

Grammy and Mom. Can you tell they are related?

We didn’t know what this was when we came up on it, but after some help from trusty Google, I think it is home to the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento (a research institute) and the Sacrario delle bandiere (an army museum). Regardless it was beautiful!

My Mom and Grampy decided to tackle these insane stairs while the rest of us went around another way. We thought we’d connect with them sooner, but it actually took them on a little detour through the Basilica Dell’ Ara Coeli.

Meanwhile, we hung out for a bit on the Campidoglio, a square designed by Michelangelo and lined with museums and a statue of Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor from the 2nd century.

This area is called the “Roman Forum” (forum meaning plaza or square) and holds the ruins of several ancient government buildings, including a prison and a basilica. This was a hub for religious and public life in ancient Rome. We didn’t have the time to explore this area and learn more about it, so it is definitely on my list if I ever go back to Rome. But it was still beautiful to walk by.

We didn’t do much planning ahead and arrived at the Colosseum in the early afternoon when there was already long lines, so we opted to pay a little more to “jump the line” with a small tour group. I know generally when traveling, people say to avoid things like this because that’s where you end up spending more money than you might have originally planned. We didn’t super plan out the second half of our trip after the walk because we just didn’t know what we would feel like doing and decided to take our second half of the trip day by day. So honestly, this option was the best for us. We decided we wanted to do a tour and paying to jump the line meant that we could do more later in the day. But I would say, if you were planning a trip just to Rome, or at least had multiple days there, buying your ticket online and/or going at a less busy time would be the better option.

Anyway, I thought the Colosseum was incredible and am really happy we did the tour. I felt like I remembered enough Roman history from school to apply it to what I was seeing and it just amazes me to see something built that long ago to be standing today and full of so many stories.

The Colosseum was commissioned around AD 70-72 by Emperor Vespasian as a gift to the Roman people and opened in AD 80 with 100 days of games, including gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights. After four centuries of active use, the arena fell into neglect, and up until the 18th century it was used as a source of building materials. Though two-thirds of the original Colosseum has been destroyed over time. It measured some 620 by 513 feet, had seating for more than 50,000 spectators and three stories of arched entrances supported by semi-circular columns.  (Source: www.history.com)

The “floor” of the area would have been level with where you see tourists on the opposite end of the photo. The tunnels and structures in the middle are where the slaves and animals were kept underneath the main level.

After the Colosseum, we walked over to the Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) which was beautiful! It is the largest Baroque (a highly ornate and extravagant style of architecture from the 17th to mid 18th century) fountain in Rome. The legend is that if visitors throw a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return to Rome. I think I had read that before our trip, but to be honest, by the time we made it here we were pretty worn out for the day and the crowd was pretty heavy, so we didn’t stay long. So hopefully I still make it back someday 🙂

I’ve read since then that the coins are collected each day and given to charity. I don’t know if that’s true, but that is pretty cool if it is.

Rome is such a beautiful city and we didn’t even scratch the surface of all the things there is to see and do.

I’ll be back soon with another post on Rome and our visit to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum.

**********

And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Family, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Italy – Self-Guided Walk Day 6

In September, I traveled to Italy for two weeks with some of my family, which included an 85-mile, 6 day self-guided walking tour through the Italian countryside. We also spent time in Rome, Venice, Florence, Pompeii and Naples. 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:

Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary
Doors of Italy
Exploring Rieti
Self-Guided Walk Day 1
Self-Guided Walk Day 2
Self-Guided Walk Day 3
Castello Orsini Hotel
Self-Guided Walk Days 4 and 5
Self-Guided Walk Day 6
The Colosseum and Exploring Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum
Pompeii and Naples
Venice
Florence

**********

The sixth and final day of our self-guided walk started in the Monte Sacro district in Rome and took us to the Vatican. It covered about 10 miles and even though we were walking through the city, our path still took us on the scenic route, along a bike path, around the second largest park in Rome and down along the river.

I realized pretty quickly that it was a good thing I had taken the day before off, because after the first 2 miles or so I was back to hobbling along. But there was so much to see on this day and it was interesting to see the city transition from just pretty normal, modern city surroundings, to the more historical “old” (and touristy) parts.

This is the Mosque of Rome, and is the largest mosque outside the Islamic world, Russia and India, making it the Western world’s biggest mosque. After some opposition, Pope John Paul II gave his blessing to the building project. It’s minaret approximately 1 meter shorter than the dome of St. Peter’s.

Just about the time that we all admitted that we needed a longer break we found this weekend market where we tried some fun, different drinks and enjoyed looking around. There were also some meat and fish stands.

This is the Milvian Bridge (Ponte Milvio), which has quite a bit of historical significance, including the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in AD 312 led by Constantine. That victory led Constantine to total control over Rome and the Western Roman Empire, and the issuing of the Edict of Milan, which officially recognized Christianity in the Roman Empire.

In 2000, the bridge began attracting couples who were inspired by Federico Moccia’s book and movie “I Want You,” and attached padlocks to the lamp posts of the bridge as a token of their love and threw the key behind them into the Tiber River. In 2007, one of the lamp posts collapsed under the weight of the the padlocks, so in 2012 they were all removed and the practice was banned. But it had already spread as a common ritual elsewhere in the world and we still saw a few padlocks here and there.

After the Milvian Bridge, we turned and walked down along the river for the remainder of the way. The guidebook told us that we would pass under six bridges and the seventh bridge would be the Ponte Sant’Angelo with five arches each topped with a statue of an angel. I was so excited to finally see this bridge!

We walked up the stairs onto the bridge and quickly saw our end mark, St. Peter’s Basilica just down the street to the left.

This was our “finish line” photo! It was quite the adventure walking some 85 miles through the Italian countryside and truly a one-of-a-kind experience (even without the sprained ankle). If you are interested in really seeing a country at its heart, aside from the tourist attractions, I highly recommend considering doing a guided walk of some sort. It was beautiful and humbling in so many ways and I am so thankful that I got to share this experience with my dear family. Though I don’t know who else really would have put up with my crankiness 🙂

This was the end of our walk, but we still had another week of our vacation in which we explored more of Rome and visited Pompeii, Naples, Venice and Florence. So I still have a couple more blog posts coming at you soon!

**********

And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Family, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Doors of Italy

In September, I traveled to Italy for two weeks with some of my family, which included an 85-mile, 6 day self-guided walking tour through the Italian countryside. We also spent time in Rome, Venice, Florence, Pompeii and Naples. 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:

Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary
Doors of Italy
Exploring Rieti
Self-Guided Walk Day 1
Self-Guided Walk Day 2
Self-Guided Walk Day 3
Castello Orsini Hotel
Self-Guided Walk Days 4 and 5
Self-Guided Walk Day 6
The Colosseum and Exploring Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum
Pompeii and Naples
Venice
Florence

**********

On our first day in Italy, while wondering around the town of Rieiti, which was the starting point for our walk, my Mom and I kept saying to each other, “look at all of the cool doors.”

A few days later I joked that I should do a “Doors of Italy” blog post because I was taking so many pictures of them, and Mom thought I was serious. So while the rest of my posts for this trip won’t really be organized by theme, but more by city or walking days, I decided that this would be a fun idea. Just for you Mom 🙂

I won’t sit here and claim that I know all that much about different types of architecture or its history, but I do believe it is its own form of art, and that I do have a deep appreciation for. I think a door says a lot about a home or a business, and so many of the doors in Italy had so much character. It made me want to more about the people who chose them, and lived and worked behind them.

I know that someday when I own my own home I’ll make sure my front door has a statement to make.

But for now I’ll just enjoy these ones.

I’ll be back in a day or two with another post!

Have a wonderful day!

**********

And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Family, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Italy – Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary

Ciao!

I’m settling back in to my normal busy schedule at home and have just started to dive in to the immense amount of pictures (and video!) that my family and I took during our two-week trip to Italy. My family included my mom, my Grammy and Grampy, my (great) Aunt Diane and my 2nd cousins, Ginger and Daryl.

By now, all friends and regular Instagram followers know that I went on this amazing trip, but I thought since what we were doing there was pretty unique that I would do a summary post to share a little background. That way, the rest of my posts can just focus on pictures and a few fun stories.

(L to R): Daryl, Ginger, Gloria (Grammy), Diane, Julie (Mom), Dave (Grampy) and me at St. Peter’s Basilica.

“One country, 7 family members, 6 days and 85 miles (56 for me). One sprained ankle, 2 bum knees, 1 broken tooth cap, a few dozen blisters and a few sunburns and scratches. Daily stops for gelato and Coke Zero, 6 fresh picked peaches from a generous farmer and a handful of apples from yet another generous stranger. Hundreds of acres of olive trees, a 4th century bridge, a 12th century castle and way more inclines than we were expecting. Getting lost 4 out of the 6 days. Lots of lizards, a few guard dogs and endless beautiful views. We were one big hot mess by the time we made it from Rieti to the Vatican, but we made it with quite a few stories to share.”

This caption from my social media post summarizes quite the adventure we went on!

For the first half of our vacation to Italy, my family did a self-guided walking tour from Rieti (north of Rome) over the course of 6 days back to Rome with our finish line being the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. Every time I share this I get quite a few raised eyebrows and lots of questions so here are the basics:

  • We went through a company called Hidden Italy that operates several guided and self-guided walking tours throughout Italy and Spain. Our walk was the last section of the Cammino (walk) of St. Francis.
  • In addition to the guide book, what we paid for included organized breakfast and dinner everyday and accommodations for 7 nights.
  • Also, every day our luggage was picked up by a transfer service and taken to our next accommodation for us. So no, we weren’t strictly living out of only our backpacks.
  • Our accommodations varied from hotels, agriturismo’s (bed and breakfasts), apartments (more AirBnB style) and a 12th century castle!
  • Our route took us on mountain trails, pedestrian paths and a few country roads. So with a few exceptions as we approached towns, we didn’t walk on major roads with heavy traffic.
  • Our guide book provided pretty detailed instructions as well as signs and color markers (blue and yellow that you’ll see in a lot of pictures) to look for. The guide book also provided a history lesson about each of the places that we stayed overnight and any historical markers along the way.
  • According to our guide book, our mileage ranged from approximately 8 to 16 miles a day for a total of 70 miles. We got lost a couple of times or took detours for food so our total mileage was more around 85 miles. Plus we are pretty sure there were a few places where the guide book was a bit off.
  • In regards to getting lost, it was a mix of our own faults and a few directions in the guide book that weren’t crystal clear. We found that as we went through towns that was always where the directions messed us up. But we always eventually figured it out.
  • The “walk” was definitely more of a hike on most days and we all agreed that overall it was much harder than the company advertised.
  • With the exception of a few protective guard dogs, we felt entirely safe the whole time and experienced quite a few acts of kindness from locals along the way.
  • Most of the walk took us through and had us staying in small towns that weren’t very touristy, meaning that there was a language barrier most of the time. But a smile and some patience usually went a long way.
  • The last day of the walk started on outskirts of Rome and led us to the Vatican.

The big headline about the walk that you may have already seen on my social media is that I SPRAINED MY ANKLE ON MILE 2 ON THE VERY FIRST DAY. I was concentrating on the guide book and stepped straight into a big pothole. It was a high sprain and since this is definitely not my first one I knew as soon as I went down that it was not good. So while my family continued on the walk, I waited 3.5 hours on a bench at a nearby water filling station we had passed for the Italian woman working there to drive me to our stop for the evening. She hardly spoke a word of English but another man there for water in the morning helped arrange it. About an hour in to my wait I heard a very familiar “hello.” It was my family, who discovered that we had originally went the wrong way when we passed the water filling station. Which is what I had said and was checking our guide book for when I stepped into the pothole. So if we had went the right direction in the first place my foot would have never found that pothole. The good news is that I made it safe and sound to the next bed and breakfast we were staying in but that experience just adds to the story. The Italian woman, Gabriella, started to leave without me until I hopped and yelled after her waving the piece of paper with the address on it. She drove a small RV (as a Criminal Minds superfan my radar was up!), we had to take a detour to make a bank deposit and once we reached the dirt road where the secluded bed and breakfast was, she didn’t think the RV would fit so I got out and hobbled the final mile. It might have been a little sketchy, but Gabriella turned out to be our Good Samaritan and will be a forever reminder of how important extending kindness to strangers is.

I rejoined my family and managed to hobble through days 2, 3 and 4, before sitting out day 5 so I could finish the last day (6) on the walk through Rome. I’ll be entirely honest, I have a pretty high pain tolerance but I was in quite a bit of pain and am pretty darn amazed that I was able to do what I did. By the end of day 4 my whole foot was twice as big as the other one which was also quickly covered in blisters from doing most of the work. My family insists that they didn’t think I complained too much all things considered but I know that I was pretty cranky overall and am really grateful for all of the grace they gave me. Unfortunately, it definitely put a damper on things at times and I can’t say that I’ll forget that part and remember only the good parts, but it does make quite the story!

OK, that’s it for my “summary!” I’ll be back to start sharing pictures and more about the rest of the trip soon!

Thanks for tuning in!

Update: Now that I am done blogging about the trip, here quick links to everything that I shared!

Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary
Doors of Italy
Exploring Rieti
Self-Guided Walk Day 1
Self-Guided Walk Day 2
Self-Guided Walk Day 3
Castello Orsini Hotel
Self-Guided Walk Days 4 and 5
Self-Guided Walk Day 6
The Colosseum and Exploring Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum
Pompeii and Naples
Venice
Florence

**********

And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala