“Yes, I have finally arrived to this Capital of the World! I now see all the dreams of my youth coming to life… Only in Rome is it possible to understand Rome.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
We arrived at Roma Termini Station around 10:45pm, and took a taxi to our hotel in the Jewish Ghetto section of Rome. This neighborhood was established in the 1550s, and is one of Europe’s oldest Jewish communities. We chose the area because it is full of delightful restaurants, beautiful architecture and cultural gems, and is one of Rome’s best-kept secrets.
Our hotel, HT6 Hotel Roma, was lovely. Even though it was a bit further away from the center of the city, we loved that it was so close to the Tiber River and Trastevere. Our room was spacious and clean, and the bathroom had these multicolored lights which were cool. The free hotel breakfast was also better than most of the ones we had in Italy. What we liked the best about the hotel was their exceptional customer service. Everyone, from the front desk personnel to the kitchen staff, was so friendly and helpful. They definitely made our stay extra special.
The next morning, we woke up early to attend the weekly papal audience with Pope Francis in the Vatican. Since it was our first time there, we decided to take a tour with Dark Rome who provided ticket pick-up and an English-speaking guide during the tour. FYI, tickets to the papal audience are free but since we didn’t have time to pick them up ourselves, we decided going with a tour company was the easiest way to go. During the tour, Dark Rome also provided each one of us earphones so we could hear our guide’s commentary over the roar of the crowd. Even though the audience was scheduled to start at 9:00 am, we were instructed to meet at St. Peter’s Square at 7:45 am so we could line up early and get good seats inside the theatre. If you ever wanted to take pictures at St. Peter’s Square sans the masses, go there early in the morning. The square was (almost) empty at that time.
I was a little miffed about having to wake up so early, but boy was I glad we did. Even with the early meeting time, the lines were already wrapping around the walls of the Vatican by the time we got in line. Our expert guide gave us little tidbits about the papacy, the Vatican, and Rome while we were waiting. The pope usually has his papal audience in St. Peter’s Square but I guess because of the scorching temperatures outside, it was held in the Paul VI Audience Theatre that day. Temperatures in Rome can go up to the high 80s or low 90s (°F) in the summer. Yikes. Upon getting to the front of the line, we had to go through security checkpoints manned by the Swiss Guard. The Pontifical Swiss Guard is over 500 years old, and is one of the oldest standing military units in the world. It also happens to be the smallest army in the world with only about 110 to 125 soldiers and officers serving at any given time. Despite the small size of their army and their super colorful outfits, the guards are highly trained and deadly . . .and I guess very patient as they have to deal with thousands of tourists every day who go to the Vatican to see the pope.
We ended up getting inside the theatre around 8:30 am. We were able to get seats towards the middle, which wasn’t bad considering how many visitors and pilgrims were in attendance. As we still had a while before the audience started, our guide proceeded to give us more tidbits about St. Peter and the cathedral, as well as the origins of the Christian Church. Pope Francis and his entourage came out around 9:00 am. The entire audience lasted about 1 ½ hours, and included prayers, songs, a brief homily, and blessings, all in different languages. Pope Francis also took time to bless those in attendance and any religious articles that were brought. We were glad we were able to take part in such a holy and spiritual experience.
After, we had just a little under an hour to get lunch so we decided to eat at a nearby family-owned eatery instead of walking to FaBio as originally planned. Unfortunately, we couldn’t remember the name of the place, but it was nice to sit down to a simple but good meal after the hectic morning we just had.
The next item on our itinerary was seeing the Scavi or Necropoli di San Pietro. We were able to get tickets to go on a special tour to see the excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica. They only have a limited number of tours a day with a maximum of 12 participants per tour to “preserve this exceptional historical, archaeological site”. Appropriate clothing should be worn, out of respect to the holy place. Also, backpacks and cameras are not allowed inside so we couldn’t take any pictures. They do have a deposit area for belongings that is free of charge. We were able to take a few photos outside while we were waiting for the tour to start. As a tip, do not take this tour if you are claustrophobic or have breathing problems because it gets very cramped and humid underground. My husband, who is 5’11”, needed to bend over to get through some places and there were moments when we felt like breathing was a little difficult. The entire tour takes about 1 ½ hours, and is led by an expert tour guide employed by the Vatican.
The necropolis under Basilica di San Pietro was only discovered around the 1940s, but archaeologists determined that it dates all the way back to the 4th century. The area is not only a burial ground, it also holds the temple of Emperor Constantine who was Rome’s ruler at the time. We were also taken to a small gold-adorned chapel, and were told that this was where all new popes say a prayer before being announced as the new head of the Catholic Church after papal conclaves. Most special of all, the tour took us to the tomb of St. Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus. This is reinforced by ancient graffiti that was found in the area that translates to “Peter is here”. We only got a small glimpse of the real tomb since it was behind protective glass, but it was still a pretty surreal experience! It is said that the Scavi tour is one of the most exclusive in all of Rome, and we’re so glad we were able take it. Make reservations immediately as soon as you decide to go since tickets do sell out months in advance. The tour ends inside St. Peter’s Basilica. We were in absolute awe when we finally saw the inside of the church, but we’ll talk more about that in a later post. We noticed a post office a few steps away from the church doors, so we went there to send some postcards to our families before heading to our next stop.
Castel Sant’Angelo is down the street from St. Peter’s Square. This present-day museum was built in 123 AD by Emperor Hadrian as a tomb for himself and his family, but he died before construction was completed. According to legend, the castle was named as such after the Archangel Michael appeared at the top of the castle in 590 to end the plague which had spread in Rome. Over the centuries, it has served as a mausoleum, fortress & military outpost, papal residence, and treasury. While there, go around the luxurious papal apartments and see the medieval weapons that are found around the area. Most importantly, don’t miss going up to the terrace to enjoy panoramic views of San Pietro, Ponte San’t Angelo, and the rest of Rome while the huge metal statue of the Archangel Michael watches over you. Spectacular!
The Ponte Sant’Angelo was my favorite bridge in all of Rome because it was just so pretty. It was built in 136 AD by Emperor Hadrian to connect his mausoleum to the rest of the city, and was originally called Pons Aelius. It was later called the Bridge of the Holy Angel after the statue of Archangel Michael was erected on top of Castel Sant’Angelo. The 10 angel statues on the bridge were added much later, including 2 that were created by Bernini himself – the angel holding the Crown of Thorns and the angel holding the INRI sign. Unfortunately, those 2 were transferred to the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte and replaced by replicas after the pope at the time deemed that they were too beautiful to be left outdoors. Some locals today call this the Bridge of Angels because of these beautiful sculptures decorating its sides. At the end of the bridge, the statues of the apostles Peter and Paul can be found. They were placed here in 1534 to commemorate the death of 172 pilgrims who died on the bridge in 1450 after a railing collapsed when a panicked crowd tried to get away from an out-of-control horse. A sad history for such a beautiful place.
We walked across the bridge and headed towards the Pantheon. On the way, we saw a lot of charming alleyways and old churches. There are so many things to see in each corner, street and square in the Eternal City that we urge you to walk from one destination to another, if possible. You really will find the most amazing things this way.
The Pantheon was built between 118 and 125 AD, and is the best preserved ancient building in Rome. The current structure was built by Emperor Hadrian as a temple dedicated to the pagan gods of Rome to replace the original Pantheon built by Marcus Agrippa in 27 BC that burned down in 80 AD. It is used today as a church, and is a popular tourist destination in the city. In addition to the famous dome with the oculus, check out the tombs of Italian kings Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I and the famous Renaissance painter Raphael inside the Pantheon.
La Maddalena Trattoria and Il Gelato di San Crispino
We decided to eat dinner after we saw the Pantheon since we were a little tired from all the walking. We found a restaurant close by, La Maddalena Trattoria, that seemed like it was a popular choice with the tourists. It is located right in front of the Santa Maria Maddalena church, and was just a small distance away from the Pantheon. We realize that choosing a restaurant based on how packed it is could go 1 of 2 ways: either they do serve delicious food so a lot of people go there to eat or it is so close to popular tourist destinations that it doesn’t really matter what the food tastes like, it’ll be packed anyway. We took a chance, mostly because we were starving, and were pleasantly surprised. It actually wasn’t bad at all, especially for a place that some people might consider to be a tourist trap. The best part? The restaurant was a stone’s throw away from Il Gelato di San Crispino which, according to TripAdvisor, has really yummy gelato. Yet again, TripAdvisor did not disappoint! Try the ginger & cinnamon flavor or their most popular one, the San Crispino.
Hands down, Piazza Navona is the most beautiful square in all of Rome. Our jaws literally dropped when we turned the corner and walked into the square. The shape of Piazza Navona stems from the Stadium of Domitian, whose ruins lie underneath. In the past, great chariot races were held here. Today, the square is filled with shops and restaurants, and is one of the most popular spots in the city to hang out and people-watch. It was so romantic, especially with the beautiful fountains in the center and on both ends of the square. The one in the center is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or the Fountain of the Four Rivers, which was sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, one of the most celebrated sculptors in history. The fountain depicts gods of the great rivers in the four continents that were recognized back then by the Renaissance geographers: the Ganges in Asia, the Nile in Africa, the Río de la Plata in America, and the Danube in Europe. It is magnificent, and definitely one to see when visiting Rome. There is a church in front of the fountain, Sant’Agnese in Agone, which was unfortunately closed when we were there. I was able to visit that church a few months later, and was also surprisingly taken aback by how pretty it was inside. Make sure to check it out if you are in the area.
We loved Piazza Navona so much that we ended up spending more time in the area than we had planned. Since it was getting late, we decided to forego the rest of our itinerary and just headed back to the hotel. On the way, we passed by Largo di Torre Argentina, a square with Roman ruins that was home to about 250 stray cats. We avoided the park since Michael is allergic to cats, but cat lovers will definitely want to take a look at this park. We also passed by the Fontana delle Tartarughe (The Turtle Fountain) which is a cute little fountain found in the Jewish Ghetto. When we got back to the hotel, we noticed that the restaurants in the area were still filled with people eating dinner and having fun, so we decided that we definitely needed to check the area out before leaving Rome. More on that on a later post. Our first day in the city was a huge success! We had such a great time exploring Rome, and were really excited that we had a few more days to go around the city.
We had to change some of our plans due to lack of time but if anyone wants it, we will be sharing our original itinerary for our first day in Rome below, including opening hours and admission fees to the various tourist sites as well as walking directions from one spot to the next. We would love to know if it helps you during your trip. HAPPY TRAVELS!
Itinerary PDF: The Traveling Route-Rome 1
Filter: Snapseed HDR Scape