After a long night seeing the sights of Rome, I slept hard and was surprisingly refreshed when I woke up at 7:00am to get moving for my Vatican tour. I threw on some clothes and headed out the doors (all 3 of them) to the Metro station by the Colosseum. At this point I felt I had the Metro pretty well figured out and moved through the station like a local. I managed to catch a subway right away and it whisked me off to the Vatican.
Once I got to the Ottavia stop, I hopped off and followed the instructions to get to the meeting point. Because streets are not always clearly marked, and because there are usually 5 or 6 of them branching off in every direction, navigating to get to a particular point can be very difficult! With a few pauses to reorient myself, I made it to the meeting point without too much of a delay. Upon my arrival I was awarded with a bright blue box to wear around my neck and a neon green headphone so I could hear the tour guide, a small middle-aged Italian woman who rolled every “R” even though she was speaking nearly perfect English. She was very patient with what turned out to be a challenging tour group.
With all the information and sights to see, it’s easy to get lost in awe and photography. On several occasions she had to stop the tour briefly to allow people to catch up. About halfway through the tour, she began continuing on and those of us who were paying attention managed to stay with the group.
We made our way through the vast art galleries full of sculptures, tapestries, mosaics, and beautiful architecture. The amount of information she gave us was too much to absorb, but I did learn some fascinating things. For example, many of the sculptures were inspired by Greek sculptures. Greek sculptures are known by their very simple, elegant design, and contain the entire body with the idea of representing an idea. Roman sculptures are much more ornate and usually go no lower than the chest and are designed to show exactly what the person looks like. That’s how we know what some of history’s most famous individuals looked like.
Some of the art was absolutely fascinating and I was so thankful I had paid to do a tour, otherwise I wouldn’t have gained as much from the experience. There became a point, however, that my late night, early morning and history lesson were too much for me. I intermittently began to drift off. All I really remember is sitting down with the group “learning” something about Michaelangelo. Needless to say, I had seen enough of the art galleries and was ready for some food and the main event: The Sistine Chapel.
Finally we made our way to the Sistine Chapel. There was a little cafe just before the entrance and we were given 15 minutes to grab something and proceed into the chapel; we were given specific instructions regarding meeting time and location. I waited in a long line that didn’t move for about 5 minutes and decided I would rather spend my time looking at Michaelangelo’s handiwork. I can eat a croissant anywhere, and another hour of starving wasn’t going to kill me. I entered the Sistine Chapel and was surprised. I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t what I expected! Not that it was a bad thing! It was unbelievable! Everything was so perfect! One thing I remembered from the ins and outs of my nap, was that one half of the chapel represented the Old Testament of the Bible while the other side represented the New Testament. The colors were brilliant and it was without flaw. Though no pictures are allowed, I snuck into a crowd and snapped a few. Sometimes being a petite little shorty has its perks.
The meeting time approached and everyone was at the correct location… except for two trouble makers. A man and his daughter from San Francicso were nowhere to be found. I didn’t like the guy from the beginning, solely because he was from San Francisco. (If you were a Royals fan in 2014, you get this). Ok, so that’s not entirely true, but he was kind of a creep. He immediately came up to me and started giving me his life story at the beginning of the tour, and continued talking even while the tour guide was speaking. I thought it was rude, but what I really thought was rude, was when our guide went to check on something and he began to give us his own tour of the Vatican. Anyway, our tour guide had to go look for him and his daughter who spent an additional 10 minutes looking at the Sistine Chapel while we impatiently waited for them. He was apologizing profusely upon arrival back to the group and said he’d just lost track of time. I agree the art is fabulous, but I doubt he was that lost in it. They probably waited in the cafe too long.
Finally we were able to move on, and our tour guide was boogying to make up time. If you stopped to take a picture, you better make it a fast one. In fact, a couple from Oklahoma had just gotten married and were enjoying Rome before going on a Greek cruise. I was talking to the girl and we were taking pictures. Her husband had continued with the group. We suddenly realized we’d been left so began to hurry back. Her husband had waited so we would know where to go. He informed us the tour guide had asked if everyone was there, and when he replied “no”, she said “ok” and kept going! I don’t blame her! I’d be annoyed, too!
Moments later, we arrived at St. Peter’s Basilica. It was majestic and elaborate. I remembered feeling of the presence of God I had experienced when I walked into Sacre Coeur in Paris. I expected I would have the same feeling. I mean St. Peter’s is the place for Catholocism!!!!! Unfortunately, there were so many tourists that it simply felt like another tourist atrraction instead of a House of God. Nonetheless, it was beautiful to see. I saw tombs of previous Popes, one of which was exposed because when his body was excavated, it was nearly perfectly preserved, with the exception of his face, which they recreated with wax.
I saw St. Peter’s tomb, and many more statues and mosaics of religious significance. There are no paintings in St. Peter’s Cathedral – only mosaics. As we were learning about various things, we noticed our group of 11 only had 10. Yes, the creepy man’s daughter was nowhere to be found. He looked like a chicken with his head cut off as he informed the tour guide he would go look for her. She kindly told him she would be continuing with the tour and where he could find her. The tour continued for another 5-10 more minutes and then we concluded in St. Peter’s Square, where she pointed out the balcony the Pope comes out on when he is first elected.
While I enjoyed the experience, I was delighted the tour was over. I was ready to get back to my Airbnb and pack, and I wanted to get to Roma Termini with enough time to eat and feel organized. I walked a long, hot walk back to Ottavia station, hopped on the subway and was joined by 2 guys from my group. They immediately expressed their annoyance with the man and his daugther. I guess the tour guide and I weren’t the only ones! These men, from Australia, had been traveling together for a week and were leaving for a Croatian cruise that afternoon. We had a brief friendly conversation and then parted ways to continue our travel adventures.
I got back to my studio apartment and packed quickly. I efficiently navigated public transportation to Roma Termini and had an hour to spare, so I purchased a panino and some water. I’m lucky to be getting in a bottle a day, but I’m so conflicted about drinking due to the concern of not having an available restroom. Where’s a Foley catheter when you need one? I’m kidding… kinda.
I boarded the train and enjoyed a quiet, hilly Tuscan train ride. It was relaxing, and though I was sad to leave Rome with so much more to see and do, I found myself getting really excited for a new city! When I first planned this trip, I debated between trying to see as much as possible or spending worthy amounts of time in a few cities. I, of course, chose the former and have questioned that decision on numerous occasions since arriving here. I would have liked to have spent more time on the Amalfi Coast, and I would’ve been happy with another day in Rome. However, there is something exciting about moving on to the next new thing. It’s like Christmas – you don’t know what you’re going to get. I found myself smiling out the window, gazing at the Tuscan hillside and for the first time, felt completely happy with my itinerary.
I knew I wanted to see a Tuscan hill town, and had originally wanted to go to Lucca. However, when I found out I would have travel companions, I had to change my itinerary and go to Siena instead. While Siena appeared to have some sights to offer, I really hadn’t been that excited about it, and considered skipping it and just spending an extra day in Florence. I then realized my hotel was not refundable, nor was the train ticket I’d already purchased, so I continued my journey as planned.
So. Glad. I. Did.
When I arrived to the Siena train station, it looked dirty and run down. Then I crossed the street, and suddenly everything looked so much newer and cleaner. I knew I was not walking up that hill, though!!!!! Holy moly, it was straight up. I had to find a different way. I thought about a bus, and quickly vetoed that idea. I considered a taxi, but decided I was too cheap. I walked into a building and saw a couple escalators. I decided I could at least be increasing my altitude while making a decision about how I was going to get to my hotel. As I topped one escalator, there was another, and another. Ten escalators later and I was at the top of the hill! Even better than the stuffy funicular!
I stepped outside and there was a beautiful view of Tuscany. I snapped a picture and then started moving toward the city center.
I found out if I turned airplane mode off, but kept my cellular data off, I could still track my location without using any data. I had previously mapped my hotel and left it on my maps. When I got to the top of the hill, I mapped my location and was easily able to move myself closer to the red pin! I’m really starting to get the hang of all this!
It seemed I walked forever, but at least it was a slow downhill. Soon I reached my hotel and was greeted by a very nice Italian woman who also acknowledged my Italian name. I beamed with glee as I responded “si!” Being a proud Italian is just in our blood. I don’t know why other Italians are proud, but for me, I have so much respect for my grandparents, great aunts and uncles passed, and those family members that are still kicking, that it makes me feel blessed to have their Italian blood running through me. Thanks, Dad!
I was shown to my room that had the unexpected aroma of marijuana. Somebody had a good time in Siena, and while I didn’t intend to smoke, I knew I’d have a good time, too. She left me to unwind, and after familiarizing myself with the room, I stepped out onto the roof terrace where I was awarded with a beautiful Siena rooftop view with the basilica demanding my attention from the top of the hill.
I was about to go back to my room to grab my computer so I could catch up on blogging on the patio. Suddenly I heard thunder in the background. As with the 2 times before, I convinced myself it would pass. As with the 2 times before, it did not. I retreated to my room and it began to pour. It poured and poured. In fact, it poured so hard and for so long, I had to close the shutters as too much water was coming in onto the floor. Since I couldn’t explore the city, I decided to work on my blog a little more until the rain let up, at which point I would go find somewhere to eat. I blogged and blogged… still raining. I blogged some more… still raining. I blogged some more… still raining and then the wifi went out. I looked at the clock and it was 8:00pm. While my stomach had been uncomfortably empty for some time, I really didn’t want to go out in the downpour. At this point, with no internet and starving, I decided I was just going to take my chances. I put my sweater on and put my scarf over my head. I walked to the front entrance, at which point I was greeted with a flood. I guess when you’re on a hill, the water has one way to go…. doooooooown. The water was flowing turbulently through the narrow city street, and pouring off violently to the next downhill street. I remembered there was a restaurant right around the corner that I could see just below my window, but I’d have to run through the giant waves to get to it.
A group of people were also at the entrance, and seemlingly less motivated than me to get out in it. I finally decided it was now or never. I jumped out into the rain and was immediately drenched from head to toe. Because the streets were flooding, I missed the nearby street as the water appeared to be going into a drain. I kept running and realized I’d passed it but I was almost to the next street so I kept on going. I got to the end of the street and could either go left or right. However, everything was closed! Every business had an iron gate over it. I guess when it rains in Siena, you just go home. Then, like a mirage in a desert, I saw one buisness with lights on.
I busted in and took all 8 patrons and the 2 restaurant owners by surprise. For a moment I was embarassed, but then I reminded myself of something I decided days ago. I’m never going to see these people again and I don’t care what anyone thinks of me. If I want to eat by myself in a restaurant while completely wet, then I’m going to do it. The man behind the counter immediately approached me with a handful of paper towels and started patting my head! I’m continually met with such kindness in this country!
I was shown to a table and handed a menu that was completely in Italian. My dad had told me there’s less English the further north you go. I could tell a little about the options – primarily what they were, but nothing about what they would look or taste like. Perfect! A new adventure! Bring it! I decided I was safe with water and wine, bruschetta, soup and meat. I could not have been more pleased with my selections! For wine, they had two options: house red or house white. When it’s hot outside, I usually like a nice chilled white. Since I was already chilled to the bone, I decided I’d go with a red to warm me up. It did not disappoint. One of the best wines I’ve ever had!
I was brought a plate of several bruschetta. I could pick out certain flavors, but overall I have no idea what I ate. The soup had coppola and onions in it – very good. The meat was simply a tray of pork… all different cuts of meat. Some of them were so hard I couldn’t cut throught them, and I left a couple slices of one in particular because it was simply too difficult to chew!
One by one, the patrons of Da Trombicche began to trickle out. Italians tend to eat late, but it was even getting late for them. I paid for my meal and the owner offered me a complimentary liquor before I left. So good!
The storm had passed and the newly bathed streets glared brightly under the street lamps. I enjoyed a peaceful, solitary walk back to my hotel, and went to sleep looking forward to plans of exploration the next morning.