We woke at 8.00 a.m. and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant before catching the metro to Ottaviano S. Pietro station so that we could visit the Vatican. Since 1929 the Vatican has been an independent state and is located across the Tiber river from central Rome. It was a beautiful sunny morning as we joined the crowds in St. Peter’s Square. The centrepiece of the Vatican is the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica built between the 16th and 18th centuries.
The queue to enter the Basilica seemed endless, snaking all the way around the square and more besides. It hardly appeared to be moving and the thought of spending about three hours queuing convinced us to just explore the outer parts instead.
We admired the Piazza San Pietro which is a large oval area built between 1656 and 1667 to provide a setting where the faithful could gather. It is enclosed at each end by semi-circular colonnades surrounded by a balustrade with 140 statues of saints.
We sat down on a bench to write some postcards, affixing Vatican City stamps to them before posting them in the Vatican post office so that they would arrive with the postmark of the world’s smallest state imprinted on them. Before leaving the Vatican we explored the roads surrounding the main square that were open to the public and spotted some Swiss guards in their brightly coloured uniforms of blue, red, orange and yellow giving them a distinctly Renaissance appearance. The Pontifical Swiss Guard is a small force responsible for the safety of the Pope.
Leaving the Vatican by a different exit, we walked towards the Castel Sant’Angelo along the banks of the River Tiber. The castle was built as a mausoleum for the emperor Hadrian and converted into a papal fortress in the 6th century. Strolling along the tree lined riverside path we had some splendid views looking back towards St. Peter’s Basilica. A little further along we walked over The Ponte Umberto I bridge near the magnificent Supreme Court building, where we continued our morning stroll on the opposite bank. Spotting a cafe, we paused for refreshing cups of cappuccino and some irresistible chocolate croissants.
From there, it was only a short stroll to the large Piazza Navona, one of Rome’s largest, most beautiful squares. Early on the Saturday afternoon of our visit, the square was crowded with tourists, street entertainers and musicians creating a lively atmosphere alongside the omnipresent street vendors trying to persuade passers by to purchase a fake handbag, a selfie-stick or some red roses.
Our route continued along more winding, narrow streets towards the Pantheon in the Piazza della Rotonda. There was a lengthy queue to go inside, but noticing that this was progressing quickly, we joined the end and within a few minutes we were entering the former Roman temple through its Greek inspired colonnade.
Inside the Pantheon, we marvelled at the opulent, cylindrical structure with its magnificent giant dome. Looking upward, there was a hole at the top of the dome, known as an oculus which lets natural light into the building.
Set into the walls are monumental tombs and shrines with an elaborate altar taking centre stage. There is currently no charge to enter the Pantheon but from early 2018 it is likely that a €3 entrance fee will be imposed for all visitors. The sun was beating down, reflecting off the nearby buildings so we paused to remove some layers before continuing to the Trevi Fountain. It took some time to edge forward to be able to see the fountain clearly but it was worth the wait as the largest Baroque fountain in Rome lived up to its reputation as being one of the most beautiful in the world.
After admiring the fountain and trying to capture its beauty on camera amid people wielding selfie sticks in front of us, we caught the metro from the nearby Barberini station to Termini.
Our plan for the rest of the day was to take a regional train to the town of Frascati. It was just as well that we had arrived at the station early as our train departed from Platform 18, which was located at the far end of the station taking quite awhile to reach. We travelled on a modern, regional ‘Jazz’ train which was quite comfortable and we were able to find seats on the upper floor for the 30 minute journey. Approaching Frascati we could see field after field of vineyards as Frascati is home to this Italian white wine.
The train terminated in Frascati and it was a steep climb up to the historic old town square which was dominated by its cathedral. Passing a Gelateria we couldn’t resist the temptation of buying some coffee flavoured ice cream cones to lick in the warm afternoon sunshine. It was pleasant wandering along the medieval streets admiring the faded grandeur of the town’s historic past.
The wealthy built villas here, the most impressive being the Villa Aldobrandini which dominates the Piazza Marconi. We had hoped to stroll through its gardens which are open to the public after picking up free entry permits from the nearby Tourist Information office, but were informed that they were closed at weekends which was a pity. Instead, we examined our map and made our way to the Villa Torlonia public park for a little look around there.
On the main terrace of the gardens we found the local fire brigade were holding a display of old fire engines and police cars, so it was an unexpected bonus to take a look at these vehicles. Moving on, we followed a path through the park which was actually more of a forest trail that looped back round to the entrance gates.
Leaving the park, we were beginning to feel thirsty so we wandered back to the old town where we found a cosy, small cafe for some refreshing cold drinks. Just as we were about to leave, a religious procession led by the Frascati Brass Band paused outside the cafe so we hurried outdoors to see what was happening. A short service was taking place but it seemed strange that they had decided to hold it on a narrow stretch of road and not continue slightly further to the cathedral. Glancing at our watches, we realised that we had only a few minutes to get back to the station for our return train to Rome. Hurrying along, we were just in time and it was just after 6.00 p.m. when we returned to Rome.
A rest in our hotel room followed before having dinner in a restaurant near to the PonteLungo metro station. Because it had been such a clear day the temperature had dropped considerably so we returned to the hotel for our coats before taking the metro back to the Vatican to see it illuminated and without the day time crowds. After taking a few photos we found a cafe for coffee and slices of tiramisu then crossed the river towards the Trevi Fountain which seemed even busier than when we were there at lunchtime.
From there we returned to the hotel from Barberini station where we were surprised to have to wait 15 minutes for a metro train at 11.15 p.m. Finally back in our room our feet ached and when we checked our phones we realised that we had walked 37,900 steps (over 15 miles) during the day!
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