Piazza San Pietro in the Vatican

Italy by Bus

Day 3

Saturday, June 2, 2001 - Tour of Rome, Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, Basilica di San Pietro, St. Paul's, free time, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps


Rome sightseeing The Forum, Colosseum and St. Peter's Basilica highlight our morning sightseeing. Later, you're free to explore the city further -- visit the amazing Catacombs or indulge in people-watching in the outdoor cafes of the Via Veneto, Piazza Navona and Piazza del Popolo. Don't forget to throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain to ensure your return one day. (BB)

Optional Excursions

The Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Paul 'without the walls'. We admire the artistic masterpieces collected and commissioned by the Popes in the Vatican Museums.We see the famous Gallery of Maps and the Tapestry Gallery and then wonder at the masterpieces in the Sistine Chapel. Take your time -- Michelangelo spent 11 years in the preparation of the vault and altar wall! Then to the more ancient part of the city and the impressive Aurelian Walls to see the Roman Baths of the Emperor Caracalla -- setting for the 3 tenors' concert in 1990 -- and the Pyramid of Casius Cestius. finally we visit the magnificent church of St. Paul 'without the walls', founded by Constantine the Great in 324 over the tomb of the Apostle Paul.

Evening Tour: Fountains and Dinner A lighthearted introduction to the "Eternal City". Make sure of a safe return to Rome as you toss coins in to the Trevi Fountain. Drive along the glamorous Via Veneto - famed as the setting of "la dolce vita", and the splendour of the monuments in magnificent Piazza Venezia. Then relax and enjoy a typical Italian meal with drinks included.

Rome Siteseeing

Our schedule today included lots of sights in Rome and the Vatican, but was rearranged by a National Festival.

Reschedule due to the Festa Nationale de Republica

Marco had explained yesterday that the schedule for today was going to be messed up because of the "Festa Nationale de Republica", the national celebration of the republic. This was going to include a parade in the morning down the street that the forum and Colosseum are on. As this would have normally been the first place we went in the morning, it will require him to come up with a plan to get everything in, and work it around all the festivities.
As you can see from the itinerary on day three, the included sightseeing normally takes place in the morning, and the optional excursion would normally follow that. However, the new schedule will be as follows:

  • The people choosing the optional tour that includes the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel would be doing that portion of the tour first thing in the morning;
  • Then the rest of the group would meet up with us as we leave the Sistine Chapel to go to the included part of the tour to St. Peter's Basilica;
  • The people taking the optional would then leave on the bus for the rest of the excursion;
  • We would meet up with the rest of the group again as we made our way to the Forum and Colosseum.

Normally, Marco would have just scheduled the optional excursion for the following morning, before leaving for Sorrento. However, that would be Sunday morning, and the Vatican Museum is not open on Sunday.

This will not be the only time that Marco has to pull off some magic, as you will see.

This is another reason that I was glad that we decided to take the Sistine Chapel optional excursion. Normally, there would be the included sightseeing in the morning, and then you would have the rest of the day to do what you want if you didn't take the optional excursions. However, the modified schedule would mess that up somewhat, and give you smaller chunks of free time.

Optional and Included Tours

Those of us signed up for the Sistine Chapel optional excursion had 06:00AM wake-up calls, breakfast at 06:30AM and had to be on the bus by 07:00AM. The few people who did not sign up for this optional excursion had a later wake-up call and breakfast.

One thing that Marco marveled at, and surprised me also, was the punctuality of everyone on the tour, right from the beginning. And it carried through to the end of the tour as well.

Photo of Entrance to Vatican Museums in Vatican City Entrance to the Vatican Museums in Vatican City.

Antonio brought us across the city to the Vatican area. We then followed Marco as quickly as possible to the entrance that tour groups use to enter the Vatican Museums. Getting up early and hurrying to the entrance paid off, as we were the third tour group in line. You can see from this photo how close we were. We had to wait around for a while, but as we waited, many more groups showed up. The line quickly extended around the corner behind us, and we can only imagine how far beyond that.


As we waited, our tour guide for the day's tour in Rome, Carlo, arrived, as did a group of people distributing the whisper devices. These were like little walkie-talkies with earphones. We hung the unit around our necks and put the earphones in our ears. The tour guide had a similar unit with a microphone. These devices worked pretty well as long as you were relatively close to the tour guide. As we made our way through the museums, we were somewhat strung out at times. When you were near the end of the line, it was a little hard to hear the tour guide. And if he was talking while he was around a corner from you, you could not hear him at all. Later in the day, he had problems with his, and we gave up on them all together.

But they were indispensable when we were in the Sistine Chapel. There were people in there constantly shushing the crowd to keep the noise down, but the tour guide could still talk softly and we could all hear him.

Vatican Museums

I am certainly not going to try to describe what we saw here. We did see the Gallery of Maps and the Tapestry Gallery, as well as some areas that were used as living quarters at various times. We could take photos in the museums as long as we didn't use a flash.

Photo of A ceiling in the Vatican Museums This is a photo of a portion of the ceiling in one area of the Vatican Museums.

The next two photographs were taken as we made our way from the museums to a living area of one of the Popes.

Photo of Vatican courtyard - parking lot Vatican courtyard - parking lot.

Photo of Vatican courtyard - flyover

In this photo are some military planes that were part of the festivities going on in the city, trailing green, white and red smoke, the colors of the Italian flag.

The Sistine Chapel

At this time of year, the place was quite crowded. Lots of people talking all at once. As I mentioned, there were people there whose job seemed to consist of trying to keep the noise down.
We entered the chapel through a door at the altar end of the chapel. The tour guide started by talking about the paintings lining the area about two-thirds of the way up the side walls. After they were finished, the ceiling was just blue with gold stars. Then the Pope forced Michelangelo to paint the ceiling, but did not dictate the theme. The ideas were all his. The guide began talking about the ceiling at this end on the chapel, then moved to the other end of the room to talk about that portion of the ceiling. Then he moved back to the altar end of the room to talk about the wall behind the altar, which Michelangelo was made to come back and paint about 23 years after he finished the ceiling.
No photos could be taken in the chapel.

Photo of Sistine Chapel ceiling Randy's photo of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Photo of Exit from the Sistine Chapel

Randy took this photo of the area where we exited the Sistine Chapel, made our way to St. Peter's Basilica and met up with the rest of the group.

The exit that you would normally use from the Sistine Chapel would take you back through the museums, and then you would have a long walk to get to St. Peter's Basilica. Tour groups use a different exit which takes you out next to St. Peter's.
In Randy's photo here on the left, you can see where we exited from the Sistine Chapel. On the right is St. Peter's Basilica. When you walk through that arched walkway, you come out right in the front of the basilica.

St. Peter's Square -- chairs St. Peter's Square.

This photo was taken from the front of St. Peter's, as we came through the arched walkway above, looking out toward the piazza. On the right you can see a portion of the canopy where the Pope will sit. To the right of where I took this photo is the front of the basilica.

St. Peter's Basilica

Once we left the Sistine Chapel, we met up with the rest of the group and began the portion of the included tour of St. Peter's Basilica. Michelangelo designed the transept, altar area and dome of this building. Here we could take photos even with flash. One thing that was very impressive was that there are no paintings in the Basilica. All of those images that look like paintings are actually mosaics. The next few photos are views inside the basilica.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica, Karen Karen in St. Peter's Basilica.

In the background you can see the bronze baldacchino by Bernini, begun in 1624 and inaugurated on St. Peter's day in 1633.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica
Inside St. Peter's Basilica.
Inside St. Peter's Basilica
Inside St. Peter's Basilica.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica
Inside St. Peter's Basilica.
Inside St. Peter's Basilica
Inside St. Peter's Basilica.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica
Inside St. Peter's Basilica.
Inside St. Peter's Basilica
Inside St. Peter's Basilica.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica
A detail inside the basilica.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica
Another view inside the basilica.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica

The Throne of St. Peter, one of Bernini's most sumptuous inventions. A truly marvelous machine, built around the old wooden chair which a pious tradition says was used by the apostle Peter.

The tour of St. Peter's Basilica started to the left as we entered the basilica, and went on around until we came to the Pieta, which is to the right of the front doors.

Michelangelo's Pieta Michelangelo's Pieta.

Swiss Guards
Swiss Guards

As we left St. Peter's Basilica, we saw two Swiss Guards controlling access to a drive to the left of the Basilica.
These were the only Swiss Guards we saw while we were there.

Fountain in St. Peter's Square Here you can see the left side of St. Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro) and the obelisk.

Fountain in St. Peter's Square Fountain in St. Peter's Square.
In this photo you can see the right side of the square. In both of these photos you can see Bernini's collonade.

Front of St. Peter's Basilica St. Peter's Basilica.

Here is a photo of the facade of St. Peter's Basilica. You can see the covered area set up for the Pope.
Because of the last minute decision to change the design of St. Peter's from a Greek cross to a Latin cross, the nave of the basilica was elongated, which obscured the view of Michelangelo's beautiful dome.

We spent a few minutes in St. Peter's Square. You can see the chairs that were set up for the festivities that were going to be taking place here later in the day.

Then we went to a small restaurant where we had a light lunch and a short break on our own.

Karen and I walked back to St. Peter's Square to the Vatican post office. There she bought a postcard and a Vatican stamp and mailed it to herself, so that it would have a Vatican postmark on it.

St. Paul's 'without the walls'

The people on the optional excursion then boarded the bus again, and Tonino drove us to St. Paul's 'without the walls'. (This does not mean the church doesn't have any walls. As Trafalgar is a British company, this is the English way to say that it is "outside the walls".)

St. Paul's without the walls St. Paul's outside the walls.

St. Paul's without the walls, and our Roman tour guide.
St. Paul's without the walls, and our Roman tour guide.

In the photo on the left you can see our Roman tour guide for the day, Carlo.

Interior of St. Paul's
Interior of St. Paul's

Interior of St. Paul's and the mosaics inside the church.

Courtyard and convent at St. Paul's Courtyard and convent at St. Paul's.

Baths of Caracalla and the Roman Pyramid

From St. Paul's, we drove past the Baths of Caracalla, and then stopped long enough for people to get off the bus and take some pictures.

The Baths of Caracalla
The Baths of Caracalla
The Baths of Caracalla.

Then we drove past the pyramid shaped tomb of Gaius Cestius, a Roman tax collector who worked in Egypt and decided that he would build himself a pyramid to be buried in.

Colosseum and Roman Forum

After that, we drove to the Colosseum/Forum area, where we met up with the rest of the group again, near the Arch of Constantine, which you can see in Randy's picture, and continued the part of the tour which is included in the tour package.

Randy's photo of the Arch of Constantine Randy's photo of the Arch of Constantine.

The Colosseum

This photo was taken as we walked from the bus, past the Colosseum, to the Palatine Hill, which overlooks the Forum.

Overlooking the Forum
Overlooking the Forum

Overlooking the Forum A portion of the Basilica of Constantine
Overlooking the Forum The Temple of Venus and Roma

These are photos of the ancient Roman Forum as seen from the Palatine Hill. I had thought that we were going to walk through the Forum, but all we did was stand here while Carlo told us about the Forum.

The Colosseum as we walked back from the Forum

From the Forum, we walked to the Colosseum, which is nearby, and which we had passed as we walked to the Palatine Hill. Unfortunately, the tour does not include going inside the Colosseum, but I knew this before we got here.

Looking through an arch into the Colosseum
This photograph was taken through one of the arches looking into the Colosseum.

Randy's photo inside the Colosseum taken a day after the tour

Randy and Lynda stayed for a few days in Rome after the tour with Hal and Patt. One of the things they did is go back to the Colosseum and go inside. Here is one of the pictures he took there.

Free time

When we left the forum/colosseum area, we were taken back to the hotel, where we had some free time before the evening optional excursion. Some people went to their rooms to rest, others did other things. Karen wanted to walk to the Hard Rock Cafe that we had passed last evening on the drive down the Via Veneto. She wanted to get a Hard Rock t-shirt from Rome for her daughter Sandy. We talked with Marco and determined that it was within a short walk from the hotel, so we set out.

Part of our route was the same route the bus took last evening to get to the restaurant. We walked past the ancient Baths of Diocletian that Marco pointed out last night. A portion of the baths in this photo was converted into a church by Michelangelo.

A portion of a Roman bath converted to a church by Michelangelo A portion of a Roman bath converted to a church by Michelangelo.

A 2500 year old section of a Roman wall

Here is a photograph of a portion of 2500 year old walls of Rome. This is situated right next to the Termini train station. I walked through the station looking for an Internet cafe that was supposed to be there, but never found it.

So we made it to the Hard Rock Cafe and bought the t-shirt, along with a few other things, including a shirt for me. We got back to the hotel in plenty of time to get a short rest before we were off again.

Evening Tour: Fountains and Dinner

The bus left the hotel at 5:30PM for the evening optional excursion. Dinner was at the Hostaria Unione Sarda. There was wine, bread and a basket of salami, pepperoni, etc. waiting for us on the table, including a salami from Marco's home region, the Marches (Marche).

Us at dinner on the optional excursion the second night in Rome
Us at dinner on the optional excursion the second night in Rome

In the photo on the left is the entertainment for the evening. On the right is Karen and me in the restaurant. One thing to notice whenever you see a picture of any of us at a table, is the number of glasses in front of us. Most of the time, there was not a problem with finding some wine to drink.

First we had eggplant, zucchini, cooked cabbage, hot salami, cooked peppers, homemade mozzarella and ricotta cheese. Then they gave us clean plates with bowtie pasta and sauce, followed by ravioli and ziti, also with sauce. Then another clean plate with chicken, veal, lamb and pork. For desert I had tiramisu (not as good as the first night) and Karen had cheese cake, which she says was very good with a taste of lemon, and was like a cake that had cheese in it.

After the meal, there was coffee, and your choice of Grappa, Amoretto or Limoncello. On Marco's recommendation, most of us tried the Limoncello. It was OK, but we would have some better Limoncello tomorrow. Once the dinner was over, there was a rose for each of the ladies in the group.

I guess you're supposed to wave your napkin when they sing Arivederci Roma

In this photo the singer was singing Arivederci Roma, as this was our last night in Rome. I do not know why everyone is waving towels around, but it seems like the thing to do when you hear that song. There was also a guy with him who went around pinching ladies on the behind. I guess they wanted to keep the Italian legend alive.

Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps

From the restaurant, we went to the Trevi Fountain. On the way, Marco explained that you can throw up to three coins. One coin ensures that you will return someday; two coins means you will get married; and three coins means you will get divorced. Here we are, throwing one coin each into the fountain. (I assume Karen only threw one coin.) You have to throw the coins with your right hand, over your left shoulder. (Marco took this picture for us.)

Here we are throwing our coins into the Trevi fountain Here we are throwing our coins into the Trevi fountain.

Detail of the statues in the Trevi fountain In this photo of the Trevi Fountain you can see some of the detail of the statues.

A wider view of the Trevi fountain In this wider shot, you can see the whole thing, and the crowd that gathers around it.

The Spanish steps at night From the Trevi Fountain, we walked past the Spanish embassy to the Spanish Steps.

From there, we took the bus back to the hotel to end our second night. We went to bed around 11:00PM.


Marilyn and Beth

Commentary from Marilyn and her daughter Beth about their Best of Italy tour, September 7-20, 2001, reproduced here with their permission.

Day 3, Sunday, 9 September, 2001 - Rome Siteseeing

For those who chose the optional (Roman highlights $52 pp which is a two parter this morning and the next morning) we were up and gone by 7:30 am.
[NOTE from Lee: the reason this optional was a two parter on this tour was because the Vatican Museum is closed on Sunday, so that portion of the tour had to wait until Monday morning.]
Breakfast at the San Giorgio was cereal, rolls, ham, salami, cheese, scrambled eggs, juice, coffee & tea. Cream for coffee is served hot in Italy.
You could sit anywhere on the bus. I like the front seat for the view, but the back seats have more room. Our bus had 2 exits one in the front and one in the middle which is nice for getting on & off.
We went to visit the Catacombs and the Pyramid of Casius Cestius. We then met up with the people not on the optional tour and went to visit St. Peters Basilica, you had free time to have lunch and shop at the Vatican shops. After that we went to the Colosseum and the Roman forum. You had free time there and were able to go inside the Colosseum. It cost extra around $6 pp.
We got back to the hotel around 4. You were on your own then, unless you did the optional dinner.
We left around 6, again you sat whenever you wanted to. This was $52 pp and included a 4 course dinner, unlimited vino and a singer/guitar player. We also drove around and saw the sites at night and then went to Trevi fountain. We got back to the hotel around 10:30.

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Contents © Copyright 2001 Author: Lee Briggs except where noted. All rights reserved.