Day 2: I’m in awe of you, Vatican…

_DSC0437It was a blessing that our time in Rome kicked off to a very good start. By the end of the day, I was falling pretty hard for Rome’s charms and quirks. If only I knew how much it had in store for me during the next few days.

Our second day was entirely dedicated to exploring Vatican City. Before I visited, I had read a few bits about Vatican and got a basic understanding of what it’s and what’s special about it. We weren’t able to catch the Line A train, which is the metro from Rome to Vatican City because the whole line was shut down that day due to union strike. If we had been up at 7AM, we would certainly have walked all the way from our B&B. Generally speaking, it’s quite walkable from most places inside of Rome to Vatican City, maybe from 30 minutes to about an hour if you walk at a moderate space. I can envision how nice the walk would be on a bright and breezy day, especially if you start early in the morning.

Since we set off rather late, we took the bus (any of the following works: 64, 60 or 40) to save time. (Note: the crowd on any of those buses is next level cray cray, so be super beware of pickpockets. We were extremely lucky to grab the last two seats on the bus, but still held our bags like our babies the whole time.) When we arrived at Vatican, the mis-en-scene was unsurprisingly chaotic. It it hadn’t been for the unwavering conviction that reservations would walk us through the doors in 5 minutes, I’d have easily turned around and walked straight back to the apartment.

Here’s my tip on how to beat the crowd. Three main things to do in Vatican are: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Museum and Sistene Chapel. Since the entry to St. Peter’s Basilica is free of charge, you can’t make reservation and have to queue up if you start your visit there, which is something I strongly dissuade you from doing. Instead, book your tickets to Vatican Museum in advance online HERE (there’s a 4 euro reservation fee on top of the ticket, but it doesn’t ask for immediate payment) and walk straight to the museum. Don’t even bother with St. Peter’s Basilica at this point. With a printed reservation in hand, you walk a different line, meet and greet the security guards and get inside the museum in less than 10 minutes. Pretty sweet, huh? Once inside, the process is simple and self-explanatory.

I’m one of the people you know who are easily smitten with beautiful and shiny things, but I had seen a fair share of those when I lived in the States throughout the years. Now, it takes much more to impress me than, say, 5 years ago when I was a lowly kid from the third world. However, let me say right off the bat that Vatican Museum was the most extraordinarily beautiful, grandiose and opulent thing I had ever seen in my 24 years of existence up until that point.

(I saw two other equally magnificent works of art and architecture in France later, but the first time is always the most unforgettable.)

I tried very, very hard to capture a fraction of its magical beauty, but realized right away that no camera even the most expensive and state-of-the-art one can do the beauty of this place justice. It’s that mind-blowing. You have to see it with your own eyes. I’m not going to inundate you with information about its history because I’m no authority on it, and all the information is readily available with just one google click. But here comes the visual proof that I’ve been to Vatican.

_DSC0173 I think this is the most austere ceiling decoration. I know you can’t believe it. I couldn’t myself either. _DSC0182Julius Caesar, is that you?
_DSC0184 A lot of statues don’t have eyes. This one is an exception…_DSC0189 Ornate wall decorations._DSC0201The most splendid ceiling decorations and paintings in the whole wide world…
_DSC0206 _DSC0216 _DSC0235 _DSC0237 A tiny part of a painting. The hair, the skin, the nose, the wrinkles, the mole…are all too real that I truly felt I was seeing real people in front of me…_DSC0241 _DSC0266 _DSC0277A sneak peak of the parking lot in the backyard. I was experimenting with miniature photography in case you’re wondering why it looks like toys. _DSC0267 Vatican Museum is as much about architecture in and of itself as it’s about arts. _DSC0286 _DSC0298 We spent 3 hours inside the museum, which barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer. But it was still one of the most visually intense 3 hours of my life. Talk about beauty overload. The exit of the museum is right next to the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica, so voila, you can walk right into the church.

Before you do that though, I’d strongly urge you to do a little bit of cardio by climbing up to the Cupola (the Dome) of St. Peter’s Basilica (the cost to climb up by foot is 7 euro, I believe. 8 euro for elevator if laziness gets the better of you). The Cupola gives you a 360 degree view of Vatican City and Rome from afar, which is absolutely wonderful. I like to think that God appreciated our efforts in climbing 320 steps to the top of the dome even after walking for 3 hours inside the museum that he blessed us with the perfect weather– mildly sunny and windy. I have a sweet spot for panoramic views, so I literally snapped pictures non-stop the whole time I was up there. These are for you:

_DSC0303 _DSC0323 _DSC0327The interior of St. Peter’s Basilica is the ultimate sight to behold. It’s largest church in the world and took some of the greatest minds Italy has ever had more than 100 years to complete. Its enormous interior is the opulent and seamless combination of architecture, arts and engineering. I don’t always buy into the must-dos and must-see, but this is undoubtedly an absolute must.

_DSC0346 _DSC0347 _DSC0352 _DSC0353 _DSC0372 Nice attire, right? I took 3 pictures of him at different angles, and he had one of the most stoic facial expressions. Seriously, he didn’t even blink once. _DSC0374Our 4-plus hour visit to Vatican basically ended there. Next time I’m in Rome, I’ll certainly pay Vatican another visit to for more quality time.

It was almost 5.30-ish when we got back to the apartment for a quick change before heading to dinner in Trastevere neighborhood, which is on the other side of the river and known for its “narrow cobbled streets lined by medieval houses”. It is not a heavily touristed part of Rome, and thus has quite a local feel to it. A lot of artists, foreign expats and famous people are supposed to live here. I’d liken Trastevere to West Village in New York City so you have a better grasp of what I’m talking about. We decided to walk from our B&B, which took slightly more than 30 minutes. The direction was as straightforward as it could possibly be. On the way, this happened…

The calm before the storm…_DSC0391Trams in Rome. Famous for being not really reliable, but I like how they add some personality to the city. It reminded me of San Francisco, actually.
_DSC0401Here is Trastevere. I oohed and ahhed the whole time, but the streets weren’t filled with people, so there was no one around to throw me some despicable look. Whatever. Trastevere is the reason why I’m head over heels in love with Rome. It’s empty yet lively and romantic. If I were to settle in Rome, this is where I’d want to be. _DSC0404Say hello to my future apartment…_DSC0409 _DSC0413

The restaurant we chose is Luce 44. I came across this restaurant on a A Dusty Olive Green, a blog by local resident in Florence. We arrived a bit too early as we were caught in the rain. Thus, we were the only ones there. Maybe that was why the service was excellent? The food was delicious. I ordered a simple, no-fancy beef dish that I was told is often enjoyed by Romans, which turned out to be surprisingly similar to the one we make here in the third world. But the tenderness of the beef and the flair that wine and lemon lent to the dish give our local one a run for the money.

At the end of our dinner, the owners of the restaurant insisted that we try their wine and dessert (both of which were free of charge as they loved our story about how we found their restaurant). The food was not the best I had in Rome, though it was pretty high up on the list. But what really won us over was the extraordinary service. Oh the simplicity and romance in its decor gives off a light-hearted and pleasant ambiance, which I love.

_DSC0417 _DSC0419 _DSC0428 _DSC0431On our way back, we experienced one of the most magical moments in Rome. I know from my experience of taking sky photography that sunset is most glorious when preceded by a downpour, so I sort of guessed that it would be beautiful. But, I definitely wasn’t ready at all for this next level of drama and gorgeousness. All occurred in the span of 15 minutes.
_DSC0437After crossing the Tiber River, we were debating between going home or quickly dropping by Trevi Fountain, one of the most famous landmarks of Rome. We actually did pass by Trevi Fountain on our first day during day time, but were so turned off by the uncontrollable crown and chaos there that we just walked away. I figured evenings would be a better time. It was much, much better than in the morning for sure, but still wasn’t as peaceful as I had hoped it to be.

As a tourists’ ritual, I did toss a coin into the fountain and made a wish but now I don’t think it’s gonna come true. As the traditional legend has it, if visitors throw a coin into the water, they will certainly get to return to Rome in the future. I did throw a coin but asked for something personal that has nothing to do with returning to Rome. Well, I should have known better.

_DSC0459Wandering the streets of Rome at night. One of the most romantic things to do, albeit a bit sketchy because more often than not, there wasn’t a single soul on the streets except for two exotic animals exported from Asia. Haha. The perfect way to end the day, though.
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