A Travellerspoint blog

Vatican Museum and St Peter's Basilica in Rome

Day 25 - Saturday 23rd July 2016

sunny 29 °C

Our first full day in Rome, we had booked guided tours for each of the 3 days we'd be here. I've been told by many that the queues and people at the major attractions in summer are crazy, you could wait hours in a line, just like we did in Florence to see the Statue of David. Today we woke fairly early and ate cereal we had purchased last night. My daughter that was here a few days ago had a good suggestion to see some of the major sights early morning to beat the crowds. After breakfast we walked to the taxi rank but seeing as it was right near Piazza Navona we went there first to take some photos. It was pretty deserted apart from a handful of people so a good time to take pics.

We had booked for a 9am Vatican Museum and St Peter's Basilica tour, we grabbed a taxi for the short ride to the meeting point for the tour. Already at this early stage there were people everywhere, lots of groups of young people too who I would suggest were here en route to World Youth Day in Poland in a few days time. One group that was always around us were youths wearing the Italian blue soccer jersey with the number 1 on the back with the name Francesco over the top. That wasn't their favourite player - Francesco was referring to the Pope himself, Francis. We got going but soon realised that crowds would be the order for this entire tour. The tours start in spot and end in another, it is all one way traffic. Pity the person who tries to walk back as they will get mobbed.

We all had audio guides that were tuned to our tour guide Gio (female) so we could always hear her. We went through the crowded foyer and soon were on our way. Gio told us that the Vatican museum holds the second largest collection of valuables after the Louvre in Paris. We started by going into a courtyard in front of the Pope's summer residence. A little later on we were going into the Sistine Chapel but as talking is not allowed she showed us parts of the chapel via pictures and explained all about them. She gave us detailed information on who Michaelangelo was, his traits and habits and explained how he worked 12 hours a day for four years to paint that chapel.

From here we ventured into the museum proper, down magically ceiling-painted hallways looking at priceless tapestries and work of art, through the Hall of Maps and glimpses of the Papal gardens. We were taken through numerous rooms whose walls were adorned by works of art of famous painters, most notable Raphael. We were shown the stairs and doors to the room where the conclave is held - where the bishops from all over the works meet to elect a new Pope. Soon we entered the Sistine Chapel - crowded with people but had ten minutes to admire it. You could spend hours there as the ceiling and all the walls were painted and with so many figures and stories it was an amazing spectacle.

Once outside we gathered to enter St Peter's Basilica - the largest church in the world. We were told 180,000 people could fit inside, it had many naves and was crowded with tourists. Gio took us firstly over to the right where behind bullet proof glass was Michaelangelo's first major work - the sculpture of La Pieta. People crowded to see it, and It was behind glass as a few years ago a mentally deranged man jumped over the fence and started breaking off bits with a hammer. The church was something so surreal, from the giant dome to the huge bronze canopy that hovers over the altar. The home to the Catholic Church was right here, as St. Peter is buried beneath and he was the first ever Pope and also the disciple of Jesus.

Our tour ended in the basilica but we were free to roam around inside in our own time. We spent about an extra hour, looking around, taking pictures and I got to rub St Peter's statue. Once we were done we headed outside into St. Peter's square, itself can also hold 180,000 people. It was hot and humid and as we took pics we could see dark clouds behind the basilica dome. By now we were hungry so set off down the street looking for a place to eat. We found one on a corner, it had no aircon so sat outside where they had mist coming down from the shelter to cool us off but it was turned up high so I was actually getting wet clothes from it. Even under shelter I got rained on.

After lunch we walked a short distance to the Castel Sant Angelo, featured in the movie "Angels and Demons" along with other parts of the Vatican. We saw a couple that were married that day taking pictures, certainly had lovely background setting of the basilica and the bridge opposite the castle. We mulled over whether to go and explore the castle and go up high but we were pretty tired from the tour, we decided to give it a miss. We walked along looking for a certain street that supposedly sold antiques and such, having found the street we saw most shops were closed as it was a Sunday afternoon. We continued on foot until we eventually walked all the way back to our apartment.

My cousins who we had spent the week with in Tuscany had arrived today in Rome and were staying just a few hundred metres away from us. We had touched base with them today hoping to meet for dinner but they were meeting relatives that lived in Rome so we decided tonight to eat very close by at Ristorante Lagana. Vicky had wanted to eat here as the name is similar to what was her maiden name. The food was nicer that last night's dinner, just as expensive but at least you don't mind paying when the food is good. We decided to walk a few blocks after dinner to digest a bit. We walked up to the river where we could hear loud music, must have been a band or entertainment over the other side as we couldn't see them. We made our way back around the apartment but then we were struck by another looming disaster involving a key (after the car problems in Canneto).

We tried to enter our apartment but the top lock wouldn't turn left to spring open the door. It seemed jammed, we were able to unlock the bolt but the last turn to open the door wouldn't budge. We tried for about 20 minutes, it was now past 11:30pm and I was sweating madly in the hall trying to get this darn thing to open. We tried everything - pulling the door, pushing etc while turning, fast and slow, everything! I thought how great this is - stuck outside and unable to get in. What made it worse was that I needed to get to the toilet! We walked back down to the restaurant as it was only a few doors away so I could use the toilet. We sat there ringing the lady who had given us the keys but she wasn't answering. We were calling for half an hour and nothing. Not wanting to spend the night on a deserted street in a strange country, we rang my cousin to see whether we could crash in their room for the night. They were still out walking so we had walked over to their place and waited outside. We kept ringing the lady still no answer. It was getting close to 1am by now, my cousins turned up and I said to them I've never been more happy to see them! We explained the situation, then all of us walked to our place.

As we got there the lady finally called us back, only to tell us that she lives 1.5 hours away and the only advice was to try and turn the key whilst holding it just out a little. My cousin and his wife's cousin from Rome came up with me, we all had turns once again. Just to prove it wasn't just us the others couldn't get it opened either. After they both tried i had another go, this time doing it very slowly and it worked! Unbelievable after so much effort we got it opened. I rang the lady and told her we were OK, I was so thankful we had somewhere else to sleep just in case, as we had asked a couple of nearby hotels and they had no rooms. A stressful end to an already tiring day, it was nearly 1:30am before we had calmed down enough to get to bed.

Posted by Ace from Oz 21:11 Archived in Italy Tagged vatican st_peter's Comments (0)

Lipari to Rome

Day 24 - Friday 22nd July.

sunny 28 °C

Only a few hours of sleep last night, up before 5am as we had a schedule of various forms of transport to hit today as we were traveling from the island to Rome. We quickly packed up the ancestral home of my mother, waved goodbye to the awesome views and took our luggage down to Canneto. We were aiming to catch the 6:10am bus over to Lipari to catch then the 7am hydrofoil across to Sicily. The man I hired our car met us there and my aunt also came down to say goodbye. We were on our way.

We got to the dock with time to spare, both grabbed a pastry and a coffee and waited. The hydrofoil was a few minutes late but we were off the island and by 8am had arrived back at Milazzo in Sicily. We then caught a taxi to Milazzo train station, we had booked seats on the 9:37am train to Rome. We got there an hour early, sat on a deserted station for most of the time then a few people came closer to the train arrival time. The train was late 15 minutes, but once it arrived we jumped on with our luggage. The seats we had booked had someone in them - apparently people sit anywhere as the trains are never full. We sat in the last row as there were 3 seats and left our luggage behind the 2 seats in front and left so we could keep an eye on them, and stored our hand luggage above.

The trip was going to be 9 hours, so plenty of time to rest and catchup on the travel blog - which I did. The train has a short trip of about 30kms to the tip of Sicily to Messina. The train drops off passengers then backs away and moves onto a ship that takes the entire train across the Strait to the mainland. First time I've ever seen that happen. We were able to get off the train as they cut all power and aircon and could go up the deck to get fresh air. By now I was hungry as I'd been awake over 5 hours and only had a pastry to eat. I bought 2 arancini and a drink and that hit the spot.

The train disembarked off the boat, getting on and off the ship was a lengthy process for the train. It took about two hours to get from our starting point to the mainland whilst only covering 30km. Once we took off the trip was quite pleasant. The track follows the western coast of the mainland up to Naples. We got to see lots of water, beaches and resort towns all with people swimming. The water looked so inviting, shame we couldn't use any of it.

The train had only a few stops spread throughout the journey. It had a longer stop at Naples but from there it was about two hours to Rome. Given the train was delayed from the start it made up lost time and we arrived in Rome just after 6:30pm. First time in over a week we were suddenly hit by crowds and hotter weather. Getting a taxi was fairly simple, only a short trip later and we arrived at our accommodation. Here in Rome I chose an apartment which I thought was a bed n breakfast, but the front door was locked and had no idea how to get in. I called up the contact who was actually in the apartment and she came down to meet us.

Quaint little one bedroom flat, very neat and had aircon! I was sweating carrying up the luggage as the room was on the second floor (no elevators) and it was so steamy. But we were here, had a chance to rest a few minutes then shower and go out for our first taste of Rome.

First noticeable thing about looking for a place to eat dinner is that the menu prices here are a lot higher than anywhere else in this trip so far. We walked a couple of short blocks, found a place that looked nice and we ate there. It had good ratings on Trip Advisor, but I was disappointed as the entree we shared and my main meal were too salty. It wasn't cheap either but that was a sign of things to come. Just so we wouldn't eat and go to bed we walked over to Piazza Novona, it was buzzing with people and artists selling stuff. We thought it was too busy and too dark to take pics, we just wandered around a little and came home. A long day of travelling so naturally we were both tired and had no problems falling asleep.

Posted by Ace from Oz 14:50 Archived in Italy Tagged rome lipari canneto Comments (0)


Day 23 - Thursday 21st July 2016

sunny 30 °C

After all the planning to get here and the absence of 47 years since I was last here, today was our last full day here on the island. It was to be a rest day, other than packing to leave for tomorrow it would be a day to relax on the beach. We were in no rush so took our time getting up and having breakfast. My aunty had come up to the house by bus to do a few chores, one of which was picking a few capers off the tree that Vicky did with her.

We headed off to Lipari as we wanted to buy our tickets for the first hydrofoil off the island tomorrow morning at 7am. After this we headed back to Canneto beach, we were told the swimming and snorkelling is better at the far end so we looked for a place to park there. On the beaches here people rent out beach umbrellas and sun lounges, we'd never thought of paying for one but asked how much they cost as it was going to be a hot day so shelter would be needed if we were to stay there a while. It was 12 euro for 2 lounges, an umbrella, the wifi password! and we had use of a fresh shower - that's a rarity. We sat and relaxed and swam and the water was so clear. We saw a few fish and all up we spent around five hours there. Much longer than I had expected as there were a few things I had wanted to do.

We headed to Tano Bar as I had to have a granita from here, everyone has told me it's the best on the island. Was pretty much the same as others, but I was thirsty and had two. We then popped into the supermarket to buy snacks for our trip tomorrow as we'd be travelling by train to Rome and needed to bring enough food for the day. I had two other things I really wanted to do so we rushed back up the to cemetery in the village up the mountain so I could see the graves of my aunt and uncle I forget last Sunday. Then I pulled over and showed Vicky the house my dad and grandparents lived in - sadly when my aunt and uncle died a while back my cousin then sold the house. We dashed back home as time was passing, we had wanted to pack before dinner but now it was already 7pm and we hadn't showered yet.

Dinner for the last night was again at my cousin's house, she had two visitors this time though. Would have been nice to sit and chat quietly with my cousin one last time but as other people were there it was difficult. Dinner was some tender chicken drumsticks and pieces roasted and roasted potatoes. We sat and chatted a while after dinner, but then another lady arrived and pretty soon the majority were in their own discussions in Italian, it was probably best for us to say our goodbyes as we still had to go home and pack. I said goodbye to my cousin and hoped we'd see each other soon and her health continues to improve. We got home and started arranging things for the morning - we aimed to drop the car off down in Canneto and catch the 6:10am bus so we had little time in the morning. We packed up, Vicky did some mopping and went to bed but by now it was already midnight.

Posted by Ace from Oz 13:11 Archived in Italy Tagged canneto Comments (0)


Day 22 - Wednesday 20th July 2016

sunny 28 °C

After our big yesterday our next two days would be spent on the island. Today we planned to drive around the island once more like we had done with the kids on Sunday, but this time stop and swim at a few spots. We were in no rush so took our time waking and enjoying the view at breakfast again. We jumped in the car and went to Lipari - we decided to drive in the opposite direction to Sunday. The first place we'd try to find is a beach mentioned in the Lonely Planet book, Valle del Muria. We found it after stopping at the lookout to Quattrocchi, we had to drive down and park the car at a point then had a steep downward walk to the beach. Along the path we saw people coming back the other way and they said it was disappointing, didn't look clean. We decided to venture down anyway.

The beach looked nice but certainly parts of the water didn't. There were only two people on the beach other than two guys who had a bar set up that were selling food and drinks. We had a quick dip in the water, lay a short while on the rocks then headed back. Going uphill was harder for sure. We then drove further along, found a high spot where we had a great vantage point of the island of Salina nearby. Sadly we weren't going to have time to get there, maybe next visit.

We drove further along into Aquacalda, we decided to stop here for lunch. We saw a restaurant as part of a hotel straight in front of the beach so ate there. A little expensive for lunch but what the heck, enjoy the holiday I say. Departing from here we continued around the island, and this time we found the point where they called Spiaggia Bianca - we think, in any case we parked and walked down a steep slope to a beautifully clear beach situated straight in front of the disused pumice factory. Snorkelling here was lovely, it was getting into the late afternoon and when looking down you could see the rays of sunshine coming from behind your head into the water like miniature headlights. We stayed here a little while soaking up the sunshine and the scenery.

We headed home to shower and change as we had been invited to eat at my cousin's house. We got there and Vicky did a load of laundry in her machine to take back home later and hang up as there is no machine in the house up the mountain. We ate some nice octopus and fried little fish and of course her husband Giuseppe kept topping up our glasses with wine he'd acquired from Sicily. The wine makes me tired, we chatted a while but they have dinner very late here in Italy, it's not unusual to eat dinner around 9pm. We fought the tiredness as long as we could but then said our goodbyes and headed back home.

Posted by Ace from Oz 13:02 Archived in Italy Tagged lipari aquacalda quattrocchi Comments (0)

Archeological Museum of Lipari and Panarea and Stromboli

Day 21 - Tuesday 19th July 2016

sunny 28 °C

Woke early this morning as the kids were leaving us and heading to Rome on their own. We had booked them on the 7am hydrofoil out and they then had a 9:37am train from Milazzo station for a 9 hour ride to Rome. I carried their suitcases up the lane beside the house to where we'd been parking the car, it's all uneven stones so pulling them on the wheels would probably cause damage so I carried them. After two trips to the car I was sweating even though it was only 6:15am. I dropped them at the port with time to spare, headed to Canneto as my aunt asked me to drive her up to the mountain.

I got home and had a leisurely breakfast, enjoying my coffee with the amazing view from the house. We had booked an afternoon/evening boat trip for today departing at 2pm from Lipari, and on our agenda was to visit the archeological museum here in Lipari - so many have told me how amazing it is and it houses some of the oldest pieces ever found by man. We took off after breakfast with all our gear we'd need for the later cruise and drove to the museum. We found an open all day parking area, we'd leave the car there until night and headed inside. The museum is spread over a few buildings, one is dedicated solely to the volcanic studies and specimens of the region, lots of interesting information on each of the islands there. There was an empty church, but my favourite here was the cathedral of St Bartholomew, the patron saint of the islands. Beautifully painted and adorned, we could take photos anywhere and even allowed behind the altar. As a child my mum used to get me to put a picture of this Saint up against the window during a lightning storm to protect us. His statue shows him holding a sword in his left hand and she used to say he'd cut the lightning with it.

One building here housed hundreds of clay vases and other items rescued from shipwrecks found in the regions over hundreds of years. We saw pieces of cannons from the 17th century Spanish wreck, literally thousands and thousands of exhibits. Pieces of rock and metal dating back up to 5000BC, Greek tragedy masks, lots of sarcophagi, tombstones with Greek inscriptions. We had allowed three hours here and the area isn't that big but there is just so much to see, we had to rush the last few bits as we wanted to sit and have lunch before our boat trip.

We went to the car to grab our gear and walked around the walled area that encircled the museum and the churches to the marina over the side. We found a place right by the marina so we could eat then scoot over. The boat trip we booked was to take us to the two furthest north islands of the group. We boarded and sailed, firstly around the other side to Canneto to pick up more passengers, it then cruised by Spiaggia Bianca then headed north to Panarea. It took about 30 minutes and the first stop was a small bay where we anchored and could jump in and swim around. I think I heard them say in Italian on the speaker it was a UNESCO listed sight, name was Cala Junco. The water was so clear, we were deep but I could see the bottom clearly with my snorkel gear, but saw no fish however. We climbed back aboard then headed to the dock where we all got off. There isn't much to do here, we had 1 hr 15 min to look around, so we started walking. One thing very noticeable are that most of the buildings are white, the streets we walked in were narrow laneways so no cars evident but instead saw several golf motorised carts. We found a little bakery in a laneway and had coffee and a pastry each. We then just sat in the shade near the dock, I had my customary granita to cool off, then headed back on to the boat.

Our skipper then set course for the island of Stromboli, the furthest of the Aeolian islands and one of the most active volcanos in the world. It hasn't had a major eruption since 2005 but it is continually smoking and spitting fire. The cruise is sold to you on the hope you get to see some fire as the sun sets. There were lots of tourist boats trying to dock here, once we got on land we had about two hours to roam around. Not a lot to do other than eat or drink or swim - we headed for a spot on the beach and relaxed and swam a while. We weren't that hungry to have a big dinner after our pastries in Panarea but once we set sail from here it would be three hours before we got home so we stopped at what seemed a popular place and had a pasta each and a mixed drink each also (and used the wifi!).

We boarded at 8pm where our boat took us around the tiny rock island of Strombolocchi - "the eyes of Stromboli - named as it has a lighthouse on top. Coming south from Naples it's the first sign of islands so the lighthouse is very important and was manually run until recently when it became automated. I haven't mentioned but the whole time we've been on the cruise the water has been a little rough, hasn't made the experience pleasant but at least I wasn't unwell. Anyhow this tiny rock was beautiful to see and there was a rocky outcrop up top that resembled a seahorse when you saw it from the right angle.

By now the sun was slowly setting and the orange and red of the sun as it slowly sunk down into the water was beautiful. We'd all sat on the top open deck of the boat for this part as we slowly inched past the volcano, willing it to produce some magic. Sadly we didn't get to see anything other than a spurt of steam down low near the water. The island has residents on one side but on the other side is all lava, evidence of the eruptions making a black lava section of the island.

After marvelling at the sunset but disappointed in the lack of volcanic activity, the boat headed back to Lipari. This took over an hour, we docked sometime after 10pm and made the long walk back to the car. We weren't too tired so we drove to Canneto and popped into Bar Papisca for a snack and the wifi of course. It was nearly midnight when we got back home and soon hit the sack.

Posted by Ace from Oz 12:59 Archived in Italy Tagged stromboli panarea Comments (0)

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