On the second day in Italy, this was our original plan,
- 3 hours in Vatican Museum
- 2 hours in St. Peter’s Basilica
- visit a few other churches nearby
But of course, our actual plan turned out to be something different and when we woke up that morning, we didn’t realize the surprise awaited us that day.
After reaching the Frascati train station, we bought the tickets from a café inside the station and boarded the 7.30am train. After the 30 minutes train journey to Roma Termini, we took the local metro from Roma Termini to Battistini. When we saw nuns getting out of the metro station with us and a group of nuns on the sidewalks, we realized that we got off the correct station! 😉
The Vatican Museum is a few blocks away from the metro station and we stopped at Tavola Calda coffee shop on the way. We said “due cornetti e un cappuccino, per favore” (two croissants and one cappuccino, please). I hate cappuccino in the U.S, so I didn’t get it. But, after taking a sip from my husband’s cup, with no second thought I ordered one for myself. So foamy on the top with perfect consistency and I was drowning in the smell of the fresh coffee beans.
I had been reading a few Italian words and said “molto bene” (very good) to the waiter. With a smile he responded, “Prego” (welcome). We paid 3 EUROS for a cappuccino and cornetto. We later realized that the standard prices are about 1 EURO/cappuccino and 1 EURO/cornetto. If you pay anything over that, then you know that you are being ripped off.
While walking to the Vatican Museum, there were a number of people on the roadside, selling tickets to the museum and Sistine Chapel. We had already booked our tickets online well in advance. The lines to the museum were unbelievably long; without a reservation, one would be standing in the line for at least an hour or two.
Luckily, the lines with reservation are much smaller and we went inside to the ticket booth to exchange the print-out of the confirmation page for the tickets. When I was in the ticket booth, an Italian tour guide picked up a conversation with me, asked me where I was from and said “Welcome to Italy”. Looking around, there are so many beautiful statues around and we had not even entered the museum yet! But we had to stop to admire the intricacy of the beautiful carvings. I got an audio tour for 7 EUROS and we started walking around the museum.
Vatican Museum is one of the best places we have been to by far; we specifically were in awe of the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek and Roman statues. Just admiring how beautifully intricate and flawless these status are, will take hours! A few of the popular ones are Laocoon, Apollo Belvedere, Belvedere Torso, etc.
Then we entered the Sistine Chapel; the paintings in the ceiling are done by Michelangelo himself and apparently it took him four years to complete it. Absolutely mind-blowing paintings with a culmination of Renaissance, showing the creation of the world. Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed inside the Sistine Chapel and it is important to maintain silence and dress modestly. Even the stairs to exit the museum are impressive.
Our plan was to finish the Vatican Museum by noon and go for lunch. By 12, we were not even half way through the museum exhibits. It was 2.30pm by the time we got out and we were ravenous. After searching for a few restaurants in and around, we decided to have lunch at Taverna Antiche Mura. Luckily, the restaurant was not too crowded and we were seated immediately.
After looking at the menu, we ordered a focaccia with rosemary and olive oil and four cheese gnocchi. When the focaccia was placed on our table, it looked and smelled like the pane (bread) had been prepared fresco (fresh). The gnocchi was fresh, just melted in our mouths and the cream wasn’t heavy at all. Just flawless! What we just needed to treat our taste buds and fill our empty stomachs. It rained cats and dogs while we were in the restaurant, but the sky cleared up just after we finished lunch.
After a sumptuous lunch, we walked to St. Peter’s Basilica. The place was insanely crowded and a few streets were closed with cops around. We weren’t sure if this was how crowded the basilica normally is, or if any special event was going on.
A part of us thought we’ll come to the basilica the next day or the day after, but we just continued walking. There were so many people thronged in the piazza in front of the basilica and there were cops everywhere. One of the cops said the Pope is expected to arrive 3 hours from then. Ohh wow, ok this was a one-time opportunity to see the new Pope and we didn’t want to miss it.
So, we sat in the crowd amongst million other people and waited in the hot sun for three hours! I didn’t mind that, but I was really annoyed and disgusted by the obnoxious smell of cigarette smoke lingering in the air. There was some dance performance near the church entrance and we were so far away from it that we had to see it only on the huge display screens set up. “That’s how we are going to look at the Pope” my husband said.
After a long wait time, we suddenly heard the crowd cheering up and we saw the Pope standing on a little truck and waving at the crowd. We saw him just 20 feet away! Wow, that was epic! Something to remember this lifetime!
After seeing the Pope, we started walking towards the Metro Station and decided to stop at Old Bridge for a gelato! Old Bridge is very popular and there is always a long line outside. I got a large cone with 4 different flavors and my husband got a medium one with 3 different flavors.
This was soo yumm! By far, the best gelato we have eaten! With big cones of gelato in our hands, we walked to the piazza nearby and sat on one of the benches to lick the melting gelato. This was our dinner really. We filled up our water bottles from the water fountain nearby and returned to the hotel.
All the time, we couldn’t believe we actually saw Papa Francesco and felt blessed that day!