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Trip Report Apr 2011

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Illinois
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Trip Report Apr 2011

A little delayed, but here's my report from my trip in April 2011 with my 13 y/o daughter and 70ish y/o mother. I will post the report as replies to this as I get them done. At some point, I'll put a link in the trip report sticky.

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1. Re: Trip Report Apr 2011

First some general info and observations. My daughter and I have been to the UK and France several times, but this was our first trip somewhere that we don't speak the language. Well, daughter doesn't speak French. I'm certainly not fluent, but took 5 years of it in high school a million years ago and know enough to get by. My mother's only overseas trip was to Paris in 2009. She conveniently used to teach French, but I guess since she's my mother that was probably 2 million years ago. This means that I may compare things in Italy to things in the UK and France, just because those are the parts of Europe I've experienced.

My mother walks pretty slowly and has some trouble with stairs, so I would think most people who aren't in walkers and don't use wheelchairs could walk what we did in the same time or less (a lot less if you're good walkers), so keep that in mind when you look at our walking times.

I was surprised to find that I could understand a lot of people speaking in Italian from my French knowledge. I knew they were both Romance languages, but didn't expect to understand so much. My daughter takes Spanish in school (she's maybe 2nd or 3rd year high school level) and found she could understand a lot too. Italian seems to be somewhere in between the two. Some words were more like Spanish and some were more like French. I did also have a semester of Spanish in college and help my daughter study it, so that may have helped my comprehension (I had 3 years of German too, but I don't think that added anything.)

We found the Italian people to be very friendly. My daughter thought they seemed really excited to talk to her in English (she learned Inglese, and said every time she said it they got excited and talked to her in English.) She thought they were friendlier than the French, but I think that the French culture might just be more reserved, as I did not think that the French were unfriendly in any way. However, they did seem friendlier when they were speaking French than when speaking English, although it seemed that many of the Parisians we spoke to spoke better English than many Italians we spoke to (fewer people spoke English outside of Paris in our experience.) That was kind of a convoluted sentence, so just ignore it if it doesn't make sense.

We could just about always find someone who spoke enough English to help us with anything we needed help with, and people were always happy to help.

We did better with crossing the streets than I expected. I decided that the commonly heard advice to cross with a nun was not really helpful, as there was not usually a nun there when we wanted to cross. There were a few streets with walk lights, but mainly you just had to cross. No one hit us or honked their horn at us, so I guess we did ok. It kind of reminded me of the zebra crossings in London but less organized. At the zebra crossings in London, if you stop at the entrance to the crosswalk, traffic all stops for you while you're still on the sidewalk. In Italy, they either stop for you in the crosswalk or go around you, but you have to be in the middle of the street already. I think you could stand on the sidewalk all day and no one would stop. My daughter and I adjusted better than my mother, who I think was still nervous about it even at the end of the trip. Of course, she would have more trouble dodging a car too.

Illinois
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2. Re: Trip Report Apr 2011

Day 1 – Sat 16 Apr

We arrived in Rome at about 10AM (our flight was about an hour late.) We did not have any problems with FCO airport, all our luggage arrived, and passport control was the quickest I’ve ever seen. They didn’t ask us any questions, and I don’t think they even stamped our passports. It took less time than when security looks at it in Chicago. We had booked Rome Cabs for our transfer to our apartment, and I was glad because I really didn’t feel like negotiating trains or buses.

We stayed in the Red Apartment at Residenza Giubbonari in Campo dei Fiori and really liked it. I’ll try to post a separate review of the apartment. Rome Cabs was fine. The driver was polite but not amazingly friendly or over the top. However, we didn’t really try to talk to him either as we were all tired. The transfer was 50 Euros. Interestingly, our street (Via dei Giubbonari) is a pedestrian only street, and we had been informed by Cristina (the owner) that our taxi would not be able to take us all the way to the apartment. She even sent us directions on where to have them drop us off and how to get to the apartment from there. I had dutifully sent this info to Rome Cabs with our reservation (which I made online with no problems.) However, the driver dropped us off at the door. I guess that taxis (and Rome Cabs, who I don't think are actually taxis) can get some kind of permit to drive there. I guess either he had that or he just drove there anyway.

Check in time for the apartment was not until 3PM, but since our apartment was ready, Cristina let us check in when we arrived. I had already told her we would be arriving early, but I called her on arrival to let her know the plane was late using my cell phone from Call in Europe, which was no problem. We paid cash on arrival, which I got through AAA (which actually uses Wells Fargo.) They mail it to you and charge it to your credit card. We got a discount for this, but I lost some of that in interest when Citibank put the transaction through as a cash advance instead of a purchase. It says on the Wells Fargo site that it is normally charged as a purchase, so I didn’t check right away, which I should have done. I had to do it in 2 purchases since we needed over the maximum they would send at one time, and the second time I used my USAA card and it was charged as a purchase, so I recommend checking with your bank if you plan to do this. I liked paying with cash as there was no deposit, so if there was a problem with the apartment, we didn’t lose any money. It does require carrying a large amount of cash with you though, which I don’t normally do.

Anyway, after we checked in and rested for a little while, we went out and walked through Piazza Navona to the Pantheon (getting gelato on the way.) For this and most of our trip, I ripped out the relevant pages from the Rick Steves Rome guidebook and carried them with us as I hate carrying guidebooks. We also used the DK book, which has better pictures but less practical information. I couldn’t quite bring myself to rip that one up. I’ll have to get more ruthless, I guess. I’d guess it took us maybe 20-30 min to walk to the Pantheon. We enjoyed the Pantheon, but in retrospect it’s kind of a blur due to fatigue at the time. I had thought about going back, but we never had time. There was going to be a service at 5PM there, but we decided not to wait for it. I would have liked to attend, but we were all tired and hungry.

We ate lunch or dinner or whatever meal it was at a restaurant on the Piazza della Rotunda. I know you’re not supposed to eat on tourist squares, but we did it all the time and thought the food was fine most everywhere we ate. We’re not foodies, though. Most times we ordered either a prima piatto or secondo piatto each and found that to be plenty. Sometimes we got an antipasto. We found that the antipasti were generally really only enough for one person. We sampled each others’ meals but didn’t ever share a meal. We never got cheese or dessert. Occasionally we got coffee/tea. I found the tea in Rome to be perfectly fine, but maybe a British purist wouldn’t. Sometimes it was loose leaves and sometimes tea bags. My daughter LOVED the coffee. She’s been saying how much she liked it ever since she got back and how she won’t ever be able to drink American coffee again. She doesn’t actually get coffee much here, but I let her get it in Rome since we were on vacation (but usually at lunch.) She got café macchiato and espresso and liked it. I guess young teenagers don’t drink coffee much in Rome, as the servers usually seemed surprised she wanted it. (Or maybe that she did and we didn’t.)

Anyway, after dinner we were pretty tired and went back to the apartment to hang out until bed. On the way we stopped at the Tourist Info Booth at Piazza Navona and bought Roma Passes. They advised us not to start them until Monday as Sunday was still cultural week and everything was free or cheap (can’t remember which now.) I guess we got back about 6PM or so.

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3. Re: Trip Report Apr 2011

Oh, almost forgot. We also went to the grocery and got staples for the apartment. We didn't cook but bought cereal, milk, beverages, etc. My daughter and I did this while my mother rested in the apartment. We tried the bakery but had a little diffculty there. We just wanted a loaf of bread, and I saw a sign over the loaves of bread that said something (I can't remember now, daughter might but she's in bed) Classico which sounded like regular bread, so I asked for that. However, that turned out to be some sort of sweet bread with nuts on it which was on the shelf above the sign. Oops. The woman didn't speak English and in my jet lagged state I couldn't remember the word for bread (which I had learned before our trip.) I was trying to point to what we wanted, but she wasn't getting my gestures. Fortunately, another employee who spoke some English stepped in and asked me about 3 or 4 times if I wanted bread. After I said "Si" all of the times, they gave us the loaf of bread, although the woman kept telling the man that wasn't what we had asked for (which was true, but it was wrapped in plastic, and I hadn't touched even the plastic, so didn't feel obligated to buy it.) So much for my nonverbal communication. At least we got the bread. Apparently we should have asked for bread. I was going by the French bakery rules, where there are 20 million kinds of bread and you have to ask for the right one (they're better labeled there, though). Apparently in Italy, you only need to ask for bread.

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4. Re: Trip Report Apr 2011

Day 2 – Sun 17 April 2011

Today was the day we were supposed to go to the Appian Way. We decided to walk down past the Circus Maximus to the metro station there where we were supposed to be able to catch the 118 bus to the Appian Way. We left the apartment around 10AM or so (later than planned, but we were on vacation and everyone was tired from the travel), and started walking. On the way we were delayed by walking through the Theatre of Marcellus, which is a ruined Theatre I had never heard of until we walked through it. It was built by Emperor Augustus and dedicated to his nephew (Marcellus) who died at age 19. Apparently after that it was a fortress, then a palace, then apartments and workshops. There are also some columns there from the temple of Apollo. It was really pretty, with flowers (including poppies) growing among the ruins. Probably not worth a special trip, but only 5-10 min walk from Campo dei Fiori.

We made it as far as the Circus Maximus (I think we got there around 11 or 12), but then we got distracted again. They were having reenactments of gladiator fights, ancient Roman dances (one by the Vestal Virgins), and a fight by the Roman Legions against some sort of barbarians. We didn’t get all the details, as the announcements were all in Italian (go figure), and I found that my Italian understanding did not extend to Italian over loudspeakers. I guess this was maybe for Cultural Week. It was free to sit on the hill overlooking the Circus and watch. There were some people down on the flat part sitting at tables. I don’t know if that cost money or not. My daughter was really interested in this, so we grabbed a comfy seat on some sort of curb type thing at the top of the hill and watched. This went on until about 5-6PM, so it was too late to go to the Appian Way, but I think this was cooler. We ate our bread and cheese for lunch, and we had brought a bottle of water too. I was glad we had brought it, as I didn’t see anywhere to eat. (Although there were some tents set up at the end of the Circus, and I saw some people eating gelato, so maybe you could buy food there.) Sitting was a little hard for my mother, as she has trouble getting up from the ground and our curb was only maybe 8-10 inches high, but she got up with our assistance.

Afterwards, I checked our trusty map (we used the Streetwise map of Rome, which got us everywhere except it doesn’t cover the Appian way and doesn’t have a bus map) and saw that it wasn’t too long to the Colosseum and Forum area, so we decided to walk back that way. We were going to do a guided tour the next day starting at the entrance to the Forum, so I decided this would be a good opportunity to check it out in advance. I remembered that there were public bathrooms at the Colosseum. We found them, but they closed at 1710 (I think, I remember thinking it was a strange time), so we just kept going. There were quite a few restaurants on Via Cavour, but my daughter didn’t like any of them, so we headed back to the apartment. I’d guess walking from the Circus Maximus around past the far end and up past the Colosseum and Forum and then back to Campo dei Fiori took us about 2 hours or so. Maybe a little longer stopping to look at things. We walked past Piazza Venezia on the way and saw Mussolini’s balcony (which doesn’t take very long, but was one of the things I wanted to see.) We also saw the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from the bottom of the steps of the Vittorio Emmanuele II Monument. I wanted to see it up close, but didn’t have the energy to figure out where the entrance was. (It was fenced off on the Piazza Venezia side and I didn’t see a gate.) I’ve been to the American, British, and French ones, so wanted to see the Italian one, but we never did get around to figuring out how to get in. I stopped at an ATM in Piazza Venezia to get more money, as we had used most of what we brought on the apartment and had the tour the next day which we had to pay cash for. If you head away from the Vittorio Emmanuel Monument, there's a bank on the right at the far end of the Piazza with an indoor ATM. I like the indoor ones as it seems like you are less likely t get pickpocketed or whatever. I think it was a BNL Paribas, which we thought was the one Bank of America told my mother she could use with a lower rate than other banks. My credit union doesn't care, they don't charge me any fees. :-)

We headed back to the apartment and grabbed dinner nearby. Oh, sometimes we got a pizza instead of a primo or secondo. It was also plenty. It would have been enough for 2 but we never did try to share. Pizza in Rome comes uncut. At first I assumed it was like Paris (where it also comes uncut) where you cut off bite size pieces and eat them with a fork. This causes you to eat less pizza as you get tired of cutting and stop eating before you eat too much. However, later on the trip, we saw a lot of people cutting larger pieces and then folding them in half so there was crust on the top and bottom and eating them sort of like a sandwich. They were speaking Italian, so I figured it was culturally acceptable. It makes eating the pizza much easier.

We then had gelato and headed back to the apartment. (I think it’s a law that you must eat gelato at least once a day when in Rome.) It’s way better than ice cream. I personally liked the combo of strawberry and banana best, but my mother and daughter said lemon was the best. We weren’t so adventurous in our flavor selections, but they have a lot of choices. We pretty much just went wherever we were. Mostly they were set out on trays in a glass case. I saw one or two places where they were in cardboard cartons like ice cream, but we didn’t eat at any of those. They looked too much like Baskin Robbins and not as cooly Italian. We never had any bad gelato (in our opinions.)

We really didn’t do much at night on this trip. Sometimes we didn’t eat until fairly late (finishing at 8 or 9 is late for us), and after all the walking we were pretty tired (especially my mother), so mostly just went back to the apartment. It was really nice to have a living room to hang out in rather than just a hotel room.

Illinois
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5. Re: Trip Report Apr 2011

Day 3 – Mon 18 April 2011

Today we had scheduled a private tour of the Forum, Palatine, and Colosseum. I figured this was a good day for this as a lot of museums etc. are closed on Mondays. We used Daniella Hunt of Mirabella Urbis tours for our tour. Her website is www.rome-tours.com and she was excellent. For the 3 of us, it was 65 Euros per hour. (Pricing and details of her qualifications are all on the website.) She had gotten excellent reviews previously on this forum, and I have to agree. She is an American who went to Rome to study and (I think) married an Italian and is still there. She is really enthusiastic about ancient Roman history, and very knowledgeable. She made the tour a lot of fun and we learned a lot more than we would have if we went on our own.

We met at the Forum entrance at 9AM. We used our Roma passes, and Daniella bought her own ticket. We spent most of the morning at the Forum, but spent some time on the Palatine Hill as well. We saw a lot (but not all) of the Forum and then on the Palatine we saw the Domus Flavia, Domus Augustana, the stadium, and the Palace of Septimus Severus. We didn’t see the hut of Romulus, which I would have liked to see, but I think we might have seen more if we could have walked faster. That was another place I thought about going back to but never had time. We were also limited on time for the touring, as we had a 1:40PM appointment at the Colosseum for the tour of the hypogeum and upper levels. We grabbed lunch at a sandwich place on Via Cavour, which was very good (and easy to order since Daniella ordered for us in Italian), and then headed for the Colosseum.

We did the underground tour with Daniella as well. We had to pay some extra for that, but it didn’t add up to too much more than doing it with the Colosseum except of course for Daniella’s time. If I recall correctly, it was 40 Euros for access for all of us to the extra areas of the Colosseum, and we would have paid 9 Euros each for the Colosseum tour. We also paid 15 Euros for Daniella to make the reservation for us. We could have reserved on our own, but I figured 15 Euros wasn’t that much compared to our trip and it saved me the trouble of figuring it out and the possibility that I would mess it up. We had a staff person of some sort who accompanied us around, but she didn’t really do any guiding (well, she and Daniella talked a lot in Italian about where we could go, but I didn’t get much of it.) There were quite a few stairs on this tour, but there is an elevator available that the Colosseum person took my mother in while the rest of us took the stairs to get to the top level (I think it started in the underground level, but we may have had to go up some stairs to get to it). I don’t know what the rules for it are, but I guess the Colosseum guides would use it too. We were authorized 20 minutes in the underground, 20 min in the arena, and 20 min in the 3rd level, which is reportedly the same time as the Colosseum tours are supposed to take. I think we followed this pretty well, but I didn’t feel like they were watching the seconds.

We finished the Colosseum part of the tour about 3:40, if I recall, and paid Daniella in cash for the time plus Colosseum fees at the end. I can’t remember the exact total now, I think maybe 450 Euros. It was expensive, but we all thought it was worth it. I don’t think we would have gotten nearly as much out of the Forum on our own. I wasn’t paying attention, but my mother said she saw some of the Colosseum guides and they were reading off a paper when they did the tours. Daniella did not have to do this. She does tons of other tours in Rome, and I would have loved to do some others, but my budget didn’t stretch that far, especially since we had another full day guided tour scheduled out of Rome. All our correspondence was by email, and she was always very prompt to respond. Usually the next day, but sometimes it was a couple of days. She even was on vacation during some of the time we were setting this up (I know she went back to the US once) and responded during those times too. Looking back, it looks like we confirmed our booking at the end of Jan. I don’t know if she would book up if you waited longer than that.

Afterwards, we just walked back to the apartment (another time we passed the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier without the energy to go up the stairs to see it,) and had dinner near there. Oh, a tip about the Vittorio Emmanuel Monument. Do not sit on the curb or the steps in front of it. My daughter did it the day before while I was walking down to find the ATM, and a policeman told her to get back up (in Italian). She seems to have a habit of being chastised by foreign officials. At the Rodin Gardens in Paris, she touched some grass that had a sign saying keep off the grass and a security man yelled at her in French. I don’t think she knew that “keep off the grass” meant “don’t touch the grass.” I think she thought it meant “don’t step on the grass.” She said it looked so soft she wanted to touch it. Oh well, at least she didn’t get arrested anywhere. ;-)

Marysville
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6. Re: Trip Report Apr 2011

Wow! Great trip report:) You have covered so many basic ways to make the most of your trip to Rome. So refreshing.

Illinois
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7. Re: Trip Report Apr 2011

Thanks. I try to put in info that will help others planning trips. Sometimes I write them each day, especially on solo trips, but this one I'm reconstructing from memory. I write them in a word file, and then I can go back later and read them, and it's almost like reliving the trip.

I did forget on our arrival day, we originally walked down to the Tiber. It reminded me of the Seine in that it was down below street level with stairs going down, but seemed dirtier. The stairs and area along the river smelled of urine, and I saw some fecal material on the stairs going down. We arrived (I think) in between the Ponte Sisto an dthe Ponte Garibaldi (looking at the map, we were just wandering at the time), and it looked like the area near Castel St Angelo might have been nicer, but we didn’t actually go down to the river anywhere else. This might be something to keep in mind if planning to walk down to the river, if there are nicer places to go down to see it. I don’t really know. We had thought about going to Castel St Angelo or St Peter’s this day, but we were so tired, I think what we did was better.

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8. Re: Trip Report Apr 2011

Day 4 – Tues 19 April 2011

Today we were supposed to go to Pompeii, but that didn’t work out as daughter did not get up early enough. I woke her up but she just kept going back to sleep. She was the one that really wanted to go, so I finally gave in and just let her sleep. She slept until 11AM. Later she said I should have pushed her more to get up, but we did eventually get to Pompeii. This threw a wrench into our scheduling plans though.

Anyway, daughter finally did get up, and we decided to try to go to the Vatican Museums. I had intended to buy tickets in advance but was waiting to see what the weather was like as we also had day trips that we wanted to do on sunny (or not rainy) days. Cristina had offered that if we bought the tickets and forwarded the email she would print it for us and leave it under the door. Alternatively, we could use the computer in her office in the building to print them. As it turned out, however, that was not needed.

We decided just to walk. We got some take away pizza for lunch which we ate while walking. I think it took us about 1 hour to walk to St Peter’s Square (maybe that was to the actual vatican museums which are 10-15 min further.) We saw St Peter’s from the outside and continued on to the museums. Our trusty Rick Steves guidebook pages gave a way to estimate the length of the wait (I think it was 10 min per 100 feet), and I walked down and estimated the wait to be 60-90 min. The line went from the door down the street and around the corner and then maybe 300-400 feet after that. There were a bunch of people walking up and down the line offering guided tours to skip the line. I figured it would cost us €40-60 to skip the line, which didn’t seem worth it, so we waited. There was no line that I saw for people with advance tickets, but I didn’t follow their marked off place all the way to the front, so there may have been some waiting. I think we arrived about 2 or 2:30 PM. I’d guess we got in about when I expected, between 3:30 and 4. This would not be enough time if you really wanted to see the museums (they close at 6), but our main purpose was for my mother to see the Sistine Chapel.

We mostly just walked through the route they had marked off for you, which pretty much followed the one on the RS pages. We stopped to look at a few things, but mostly just walked through. We got to the Sistine Chapel, and found some seats on the benches along the edge of the raised up area you come in on (I think this is where the altar is – the end with The Last Judgement on the wall). This turned out to be a good place to sit as the guards make all the standing people keep moving until they get down the stairs, so there were not as many people standing in front of us there. We were able to sit and look as long as we wanted. Somehow the Sistine Chapel was not as impressive as I imagined it to be. The paintings were beautiful, but it seemed very dark in there (maybe to preserve the paintings?) and it was very crowded. When my daughter couldn’t take it anymore, we walked down to the other end. I saw the entrance directly to St Peter's for tour groups. There was a guide checking to see if you were on a tour, but I think we could have walked out on the other side of the door from him without him noticing. However, none of us are really good cheaters and we would have had to stand there and discuss it as my mother and daughter had not been forewarned of this possiblity, so we went out the door we were supposed to.

We had time to grab a beverage and some chips for my daughter from the cafeteria. She wanted hot chocolate, but when I asked the man there, he just said “no.” I don’t know if they were out, didn’t want to deal with it, or just only serve it when it’s not so warm (although coffee is just as warm and they were serving that), but she just got a soda or something. You ate out in a courtyard which was nice enough and got you a look at the outside of some of the buildings. There were some tables, but they were full, so we just sat on a bench. Around closing time the guards started herding everyone out, so we left too. In retrospect, it worked out fine for us. I’m sure we missed a ton of stuff in the museums, but daughter did not want to go to a lot of museums, and I’m not a huge art museum fan, and don’t really know what I missed, not being any kind of art expert. If I went on my own, I might do a Context tour or something like that so I learned more about the museum, but with our group, I think this was fine. We probably would have looked around more if we had more time, but no one felt that they were missing anything, and the Sistine Chapel was what my mother wanted to see the most. It was hard to see much in most of the rooms anyway due to the crowds. It was more crowded than the Louvre when we were there, and way more crowded than any of the London art museums I’ve been to. It was similar to the crowding at Monet’s Water Lilies at the Orangerie in Paris, but still worse than that. (Of course, this is only based on the days we were at each place.)

By the time we got back to St Peter’s Square, I guess it was about 6:30PM, and that seemed too late to see St Peter’s, so we decided to have dinner and call it a night. Also the grocery store by our apartment closed at 8:30 and we needed to restock our supplies.

If you want to see the Vatican museums, I would allow at least another 2-3 hours, and if you know when you want to go, I’d buy the tickets online in advance to skip the lines. A tour would depend on your interest level, but I think this would be a place that would be likely to benefit from one (although I’d do a small group), especially if they take you off the route followed by everyone else (I don’t know if they do that or not.) It didn’t seem like the signage was really good, like I never saw a sign for the Egyptian Rooms, but the planned route did take you through most of the highlights. I think you would either need a good map or a guide to know where you were going.

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9. Re: Trip Report Apr 2011

Day 5 – Wed 20 April 2011

Today all my pretrip research to figure out what was open what days and what was closed on Easter failed me. However, it worked out fine in the end.

Since we had a day trip planned for Thursday, we decided not to attempt Pompeii today. (I’ve been trying and trying to figure out how many i’s there are in Pompeii, and I think I just figured out that there’s one in the modern town of Pompei and 2 in the ancient town of Pompeii.) Instead we decided to go to St Peter’s. I completely forgot that it was Wednesday, which is the day of the Papal audience. So we made the trek down to St Peter’s Square, and noticed that it was really crowded…

Anyway, we hadn’t been planning to attend a papal audience, but since we were there, we decided to stay. I thought you were supposed to have tickets for the part with the seats, but my mother asked one of the Swiss Guards, and he said to just go in and sit down. Good thing, as I wouldn’t have wanted to stand the whole time. There were 3 sections of seats. One up in the same area as the Pope’s podium (I assume for the important people), one at the front of the square, and then another one behind it. We were in the one farther back, maybe 10 rows back from the walkway between the two. It’s very hot sitting in St Peter’s Square in the sun, so if you are smart enough to plan this in advance, take lots of cold water. I did see signs for toilets, but we didn’t follow them, so I have no idea of the condition of them. We waited what seemed a long time. I thought it was supposed to start at 10:30, but I think it was later than that. There were a bunch of college age looking kids there and they kept starting to clap and standing up, which made everyone else stand up, but then there was nothing happening. I don’t know if they were excited, or enjoying the reaction they got. Anyway, the Pope finally arrived in his Popemobile. He actually came down the walkway between the two sections. If we had known, my daughter could have gone up to the barrier and taken his picture from right up close (this didn’t seem to be prohibited or anything.) Hopefully this will help someone else. We felt like you really needed to go twice if you wanted pictures, once to figure out where he was going to be and then the second time to get your picture. When he went by, everyone stood up on their chairs. I could see ok since I stood on my chair too, but my mother was not comfortable standing on a chair, so she couldn’t see much. I recommend if you are someone who doesn’t have the mobility to stand on a chair, that you sit near the barriers either in the front or on the side.

Anyway, he drove (well, rode) along that walkway and down along the side of the barriers and around to the other side of the square and then up to his podium. We could see him on the podium, but he looked really far away. They have big screens set up and you can see whoever is speaking on that. First some priests (cardinals? We’re not Catholic, so I’m not trying to offend anyone here) read a reading from the Bible (I think) in multiple languages. I know we heard Italian, French, German, and Spanish, and there were a couple that we didn’t know what language they were. Then the Pope gave his address in Italian and then a shorter (it seemed) address in several other languages, one of which was English. I found even this hard to understand, though, as his English is heavily accented. After that the priests/cardinals announced visiting groups from the various countries. I think there was going to be another blessing after that, but many people were starting to leave, and we decided to leave too in order to avoid the onslaught of leaving people at the end. It seemed sort of disrespectful to leave early (I wouldn’t do it in church), but so many people started to leave that we finally decided to.

From here we were going to go inside St Peter’s, but it was only about 11:30 or 12:00 and one of the guards said it wouldn’t open until 1PM, so we decided to go to Castel St Angelo. My daughter loved this. I was kind of surprised that there was a fairly long line for it, going about 1/2way across the Ponte St Angelo. Somehow I hadn’t expected it to be crowded. I don’t know if it was because it was Wed, because it was the week before Easter, or if it’s normally like that. We still had our Roma Passes, but they didn’t enable us to skip the line. (Well, there was no one to ask, and most people in line had the passes.) One guy did come up and push his way in when we were entering, but he was the only one I saw. There were a couple of military members outside, I presume for security. My daughter was interested to see that they had feathers in their hats. I don’t know if this is standard Italian military uniform, or if it represents some particular unit.

Anyway, we got in, and at the ticket window there was no scanner for the Roma Pass. The woman asked us where we had used it (only at the Colosseum/Forum combo so far), and I think she wrote something on it, but I didn’t look at it to see as it was only good through this day anyway. We really enjoyed wandering around the building. There were quite a few signs in English explaining what you were seeing, and on the roof there were signs with maps to indicate what buildings you were looking at. There are really good views from the top. There are lots of stairs to climb and ramps to go down and arrowslits to look at. We found some holes aimed downward that we decided would be good if you wanted to pour boiling pitch on someone. There’s a restaurant near the top that we ate lunch at. They have table service, which was not obvious to me at the beginning. We got pannini, which were ok but not great. This was one of the few places we didn’t really like the food (the other being the restaurant at Pompeii), but the atmosphere was great. Our table was in front of an opening that looked out at St Peter’s, and there were vines growing overhead to provide shade. We really enjoyed sitting there, but maybe it would be better to just plan on drinks or a snack instead of a meal.

We spent several hours there, and it seemed like we saw most of it. After that we went back to St Peter’s. My daughter and I wanted to go up in the cupola. The security line went out across the square, but it moved quickly and I think we only waited 5 or 10 min. I’d guess it was about 4PM when we got in the line for the cupola, which did not move quickly. I did not see a separate line to climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator, like they have at the Eiffel Tower, and I think the elevator was only 1€ more, so I don’t really see a reason to climb the stairs unless you like to climb stairs. Anyway, we made it through the line. I guess that was maybe an hour or a little less, I’m not really sure. I could swear I had read either on this forum or in a guidebook that you could go up the elevator and then not climb up the stairs to the dome, but that does not appear to be the case, at least no one but my mother seemed to be doing it. When you get up the elevator, you’re on the roof of the basilica, and I didn’t see any way just to go back down, and I think when we came down we were on the other half of the roof. I don’t know if we had wandered around if we would have gotten to the other half or not. Anyway, my mother went back to the elevator guy and asked him if he would take her down, and we agreed to meet at the obelisk when my daughter and I came back down.

I was glad my mother didn’t try to climb the stairs. She climbed the stairs at Notre Dame a couple of years ago, but I think she’s gotten worse at stairs since then. Also, these stairs are different. The first part is not bad, and you come out right against the wall of the dome, so you can see the mosaics up close. Looking at the tourist info at www.stpetersbasilica.org it looks like you are supposed to go up to there and then there is a coffee shop somewhere, but I didn’t see it or any signs for it. Apparently that is where my mother was supposed to wait. I don’t remember going through it on the way down either though, so I don’t know how we would have found her again. Maybe one of the experts knows?

After this part, the stairs get interesting. At one point they were actually slanted, and they got narrower and narrower. Some people had to duck their heads at some points as the ceiling got lower too, but I could stand up the whole way (I’m about 5’4”.) My daughter and I did not have any trouble with the steps, although I did note that there were not very many places to rest. There were a couple of places where there was a window and you could step out to the side, but I don’t recall really any place to sit down. We did stop at some of the windows, which were cool to look out too. You do have a good view of Rome from the top, but it was very crowded and hard to walk around up there, so we didn’t stay too long. You could see some of the Vatican Gardens from there, and it kind of felt like you were spying on the Pope. (Not that we saw the Pope, I just figured they were his gardens.) You can do a tour of the gardens, which I think I might like to do, but I don’t think my daughter would have liked it, and I was afraid it would be too much walking for my mother.

We got back down from the dome at about 6PM. You come out in the basilica, near the exit, but there’s no reason you can’t walk around to the entrance, which is what we did. We were really impressed with the basilica. My daughter said that if she went to church there, she wouldn’t have run around and played. (She used to go early with our neighbors who were in the choir and had to practice, and the kids would run around and play tag in the church when they got there early. She didn’t run around during services.) I was disappointed that the center aisle was blocked off where they have markings showing the size of other famous cathedrals, as I would have liked to see them. Again, I’m not sure if that’s a regular thing or not. I think actually all the pews were blocked off, maybe in preparation for all the various services for Easter? I wasn’t trying to sit, though, so maybe you could get to some of them. We walked around for awhile, and then headed out to the obelisk in the square to meet back up with my mother. We spent about 30 min in the basilica, and I’m sure there were things we didn’t see, but at least I feel like I’ve been there and gotten an idea of it. We worried about looking around without meeting my mother, but I really wanted to see it. Fortunately, she had looked around when she got down from the roof, so we all got to see it. I might have spent more time if I were on my own, but I like to just wander around places slowly. I didn’t really feel rushed, but I think if you had an audioguide or something, it would take longer as you would take time to listen to explanations of things. For dinner, we went back to a place that my daughter had wanted to go to for lunch because they listed steak on their menu, but they had said they were full. Unfortunately, they didn’t have steak on the dinner menu. I guess it was only for lunch, so we had roast lamb, which was very good. Interestingly, we ate the bread whenever we were served it, and were never charged. Maybe it just depends on the restaurant, as I’m sure I read that there was sometimes a charge for bread, so I was kind of expecting to be charged.

We had a day trip the next day, and we were supposed to get a BIRG ticket for it. I had been told we could get it at any tabacchi, but we stopped at about 5 of them on the way back to the apartment and none of them sold it. I had it written out, so I don’t think it was a language thing. I ended up just buying 3 bus tickets so we could get to Termini and figured we’d get a ticket there.

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10. Re: Trip Report Apr 2011

Wow - Great TR with lots of information. The next time I go to Rome I am going to hire a guide like you did to see the Colosseum.