This is where our European vacation was nearing to the end and I felt like we had only scratched the surface! The previous week relaxing and exploring the Amalfi Coast was just what we need to rejuvenate and come back to Rome for a few more days. We had a couple of places we were going to visit before we went home. This time around, we stayed closer to Termini station, which is the main train station in Rome. It was much more convenient for us – closer to shopping areas, food and transport. It made it easy for us to catch the metro and train to get to a few of our final destinations.
We arrived back in Rome in the afternoon and had the evening free. We decided to explore the neighbourhood and find a place to eat lunch. We found ourselves on the Piazza della Republica, a semi-circular piazza and is one of the busiest roundabouts in Rome with a fountain called the Fountain of the Naiads whichwas a little controversial in it’s time due to the statues of nude water nymphs. From this square starts one of the main streets of Rome, Via Nazionale.
We walked along Via Nazionale, window shopping and taking in the busy-ness of Rome again after our restful week down the Amalfi Coast. The next morning we had a day trip to the Vatican Museums – or so I thought! We had to meet at 10am so we planned our trip, ensuring we knew what time to leave our hotel to catch the metro and walk to our meeting place. We woke up, had breakfast and made our way. We found our way to the meeting place and then I asked my husband what date it was when I realised it was for the next day! We took the metro back to Piazza della Republica and made our way to Termini train station.
We wanted to fit in an impromptu day trip to Florence instead. We weren’t sure how to purchase our tickets but as we were making our purchase, a man came up and showed us how to book and pay, which I did by card. He then proceeded to walk us to the platform as our train was due to leave in 10 mins. As we were walking to the platform, he asked my husband if he could be paid for helping us, my husband checked if he had any cash on him as we tended not have cash on us or very minimal. He pulled out a 5 euro note, gave it to the man who thanked us and left. Apparently this happens frequently, one of my husband’s work colleagues had the same experience except he paid by cash and as the change was being dispensed, the lady who helped him took the change and walked away. They were helpless to do anything and had to catch their train. So, please be careful when people offer to help you without you asking. It is a nice gesture but not so nice if they walk away with your money.
We got on the train which was quite clean, comfortable and fast – the train reached speeds in excess of 200km/hr! I had been told that Florence was beautiful so we were excited to be on the way! We enjoyed watching the Italian countryside change as we headed further away from Rome. Florence is 274km north of Rome, the train trip takes about 1.5 hours so it was a pleasant journey to and from Rome. There are an average of 35 trains a day between Florence and Rome which made it easy for us to catch a train for our impromptu day trip.
When the train arrived, we disembarked and eagerly walked out of the station to explore the beautiful city of Firenze! Only when we walked out of the station and onto the street, we were underwhelmed to say the least. My daughter and husband both said to me “I thought you said it was a beautiful city?”, to which I replied “I have never been but that is what I’ve been told!”. We walked along the road adjacent to the train station trying to get our bearings and decide which direction we should head, we found the CitySightseeing bus office and walked inside to grab a map to help us work out the direction we should take.
As we were walking back in the opposite direction, we happened across a small non-descript Chinese take away restaurant and since we hadn’t had a decent Asian meal for a while, my daughter asked if we could eat there as she felt like having a noodle dish. It turned out to be one of the best Asian meals we had in Italy! Fuelled by our lovely meal, we headed out towards Piazza Santa Maria Novella. It took our breath away and realised this is why Firenze is described as a beautiful city! The first thing we saw was the beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria Novella – we all gasped in awe at it’s beauty and splendour! The exterior is painted in the Al Fresco style so the colours are still quite vibrant. We visited the little chapel and enjoyed walking around the garden – this definitely confirmed we had made a good decision to jump on a train to Firenze for the day – even though it was unplanned, unlike our other day trips.
After being taking in the beauty of this Piazza and Basilica, we headed down one of the narrow streets leading off the Piazza to see where that would take us. We got to the end of the street and when we looked up, what we saw literally took our breath away! It was the majestic Duomo! We all gasped when we saw the Duomo, we thought we were in awe when we saw the Basilica but the Duomo was another breathtaking moment! Words cannot describe it and I feel the pictures we took do not do it justice. The best way is to see it with your own eyes, if possible!
After taking in the Duomo, we decided to keep walking and take in the sights as we walked around. The city did not disappoint – we came across piazzas with Michelango’s statues, taking Street Art to a new level! We walked past the Da Vinci Museum, Ponte Vecchio, Uffizi, Palazzo Vecchio and many other piazzas! We perused some stores, markets and shops along the Ponte Vecchio. We had gelato in the Piazza Santa Maria Novella before returning to the train station for our return trip to Rome. We had seen so many wonderful things in Firenze and yet there were still more things to see! We’d have to leave it for another time – I’ve shared photos of some of the wondrous sights we encountered in Firenze. We decided next time we come back to Italy, we would say a few days in Firenze to see things we didn’t get to fit in like Piazzale Michelango, Palazzo Pitti and many more! We would also plan to visit Pisa, Venice and Milan if we stayed in Florence! There is so much to see but we did not have enough time! We thoroughly enjoyed our day trip and returned to Rome buzzing from a great day!
The next day we got up early, had breakfast and headed out to the Vatican city! This time, it was the correct day and we were excited about this tour as it would be our last official tour as our trip was coming to an end! We had a tour of the Musei Vaticani , we entered via the Museum entrance and our tour guide sat us down to provide us with information about what we’d see, the story behind the paintings of the Sistine Chapel and what to look out for in the paintings. We were advised no photos were allowed in the Sistine Chapel but we had plenty of time to stand, and look up and admire the artwork and find the things our tour guide had pointed out to us. I feel photos would not do it justice anyway – the Sistine Chapel is an absolute marvel that you must see with your own eyes!
We passed through the Vatican gardens which housed some amazing sculptures and artwork – one of which is a golden sphere in the Courtyard of the ‘Pigna’ – Pinecone Courtyard by an artist named Arnaldo Pomodoro. Our tour guide demonstrated how you can move the sphere and it will spin, it is called Sfera con Sfera which translates to Sphere within a Sphere. We walked through the Vatican museums, the museums are composed of several sections:
– the Gregorian Etruscan Museum
– the Pinacoteca
– the Missionary-Ethnological Museum
– the Raphael Stanze
– the Sistine Chapel.
They are all amazing in their own right! We found the galleria-delle-carte-geografiche (Gallery of Maps), was amazing! The gallery houses hand-painted aerial maps of Italy and the amazing thing about them is the fact that in those days there was no physical way of capturing an aerial view of Italy!
I have include some of our photos of our Vatican City tour – we enjoyed taking it all in with our eyes! We learnt the Vatican City has it’s own postcode and you can send a postcard from the Post Office there! My daughter sent one to her classmates and I sent one to my mum, both of which arrived weeks after we had returned home! The history surrounding the Vatican being it’s own city within a city is based on Mussolini needing to have favour with the Catholic Church who were quite powerful at the time. Maybe that is why there is credit in the saying “Politics and Religion do not mix!”.
Inside St.Peter’s Basilica there is a giant bronze altar under the dome. There is also a statue of St.Peter where you can touch the foot and pray for his blessing. There is a long line but it moves quite fast. His foot is worn down from the many people who have touched his foot – me included now! All in all, we were amazed but a little put off by the opulence. Although, we were grateful for the experience to be able to see it all with our own eyes. We were amazed by the sheer size and vastness of St.Peter’s square when we came out of the Basilica which marked the end of our tour. All in all, it was a very educational day, steeped with history, scandal and intrigue!
We also learnt that even though the dome of St.Peter’s basilica was large, the biggest one in Rome belongs to the Pantheon. This led us to our last tourist attraction visit in the city of Rome. We headed off in search of the Pantheon! On our search for the Pantheon, we walked through the narrow streets of Rome and was amazed to be standing in front of a temple that was built in the 2nd century! It is reported to have been built between 118 – 125 AD! We joined the long line but it moved quickly to get a glimpse of the interior and see the largest dome in Rome! There is an inscription above the entrance to the Pantheon. The inscription reads:
“Marcus Agrippa son of Lucius, having been consul three times made it”.
Being able to see the Pantheon before we left Rome was a great way to cap off our visit to the eternal city. We were sad to come to the end of our trip but we had seen, learnt and experienced so much! We are truly grateful for this experience, standing and being in the presence of such historical sites. This trip was one that I never thought would happen so we could fully appreciate the experience enabling us to Laugh.Love.Live to the full!
Thank you for coming along the journey with us and apologies for the delay in posting the last part of our European Vacation! I’ve included some photos we took in and around Rome below. We definitely have plans to visit again and also hope to visit other European countries – exploring, learning and experiencing live history in person. I hope you have enjoyed our journey as much as we did and may you get to have a similar experience. Peace and blessings!