Italy – Touring Rome + Vatican

We made a rookie mistake on our tour to the Vatican. Let me back up. We had decided to pay for a private tour of Ancient Rome (Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Pantheon). The best way to visit the sites is to pre-buy tickets to avoid the long lines of buying them at the point of interest. We had planned to do an early morning tour of ancient Rome, then go to Vatican City late afternoon. The morning tickets were sold out at the Colosseum a week in advance so we chose the afternoon and looked for Vatican City museums tickets and by then, the early morning tickets were sold out as well. We bought midday tickets and it was ridiculously full! We should have not pre-bought our tickets, then showed up early to buy the tickets on site. It’s a rainy Saturday morning. I kind of doubt there would have been the thousands that were lined up outside at noon.

Vatican City is the smallest country in the world, at a little over 100 acres. 

That said, this was the one place in Italy that we toured for art. And there are miles of it, collected by the popes over the centuries.


Mosaics made with thousands (millions?) of tiny tiles.

As Lois said, “we pretty much had the place to ourselves.”

The vast amounts of details was incredible! This is the maps corridor. Meanwhile the ceiling is up there doing it’s thing.
A floor-to-ceiling map of Italy.
The Egypt Museum had some interesting (and several thousand years old) pieces.

Chariot on display

Rick Steves has an app with audio tours of many popular sites in Italy (and other countries as well). We used it here but it was a little hard to use in the more congested areas. Some of the rooms like the Raphael rooms were much smaller than the corridors and we didn’t take the time to hear all he had to say about the paintings.

The School of Athens — This painting is unique in that the artist included himself and several other of his contemporaries as models. The man in the bottom center who is sitting with his head on his fist is the artist. I think the man in the center with the orange robe is Leonardo da Vinci

Everyone once-in-a-while we’d catch glimpses of the vast gardens, which we didn’t have time to tour.

The Sistine Chapel was quite something to see!

Touring the Sistine Chapel was quite interesting. It was quite full and since it was a church, they wanted silence. That’s a bit hard to do when it’s packed with hundreds of people, some leaving and some coming in constantly. 

We (sadly) did not have enough time to see any more of Vatican City. We were tired and hungry and needed to eat lunch before going across the city to meet our tour guide that afternoon.

We made an effort to see the giant spiral staircase before we left. You have to go through the gift shop to see it, when you’re leaving the museums.

We ate a delicious meal outside but under a canopy, protecting us from the rain.


Proscuitto with mozzarella cheese.


I had heard of Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper) before I went. I tried it here and it was delicious! It’s a simple pasta made with a sauce made from boiling down the pasta water in a skillet, then adding cooked pasta and pecorino cheese (sheep cheese) and lots of fresh cracked pepper.


On to Ancient Rome Tour ……

We found our tour guide and she decided to head to the Palatine Hill are 1st. 

I don’t begin to remember all the history we were given. There are so many different things that happened in different centuries on or near the same sites.


If I remember correctly, the ruins above were from the temple of Vesta, home of the vestal virgins. 


The Arch of Titus was built by his brother to commemorate his victory in destroying Jerusalem around AD 70.
Here you can see the Romans taking away the menorah.


The Colosseum was brought on a mixture of feelings. The architecture aspect of it is awe-inspiring but the violence and death that was it’s feature, left us with a heavy feeling.

The Coloseum had 4 floors, each with 80 arches and held 50,000 people. There was a canopy across the top, operated by sailors. They say that Colosseum could be filled and/emptied in a hour’s time. 

We had told our tour guide back we were communicating with her about hiring her, that we would really like to have the undground area included. I’m not sure what happened, if she forgot, or was distracted with moving, but we did not get to see this. This would be where the animals, gladiators, and other people who were sent to the arena were kept before they made their appearance. There was so much blood shed that between fights, they would have to bring add clean sand.


As mentioned in my last post, the Pantheon was on our tour plan with the tour guide. When we arrived, they were not letting anyone inside. After inquiring around, we found out that there was a service and all tourists had to wait until it was over. 

It is a massive building and an architectural wonder. According to, The rotunda measures 43.2 metres in diameter which is exactly the maximum height of the dome, itself a perfect hemisphere. At the very top of the dome is an opening to the sky (oculus) which is 8.8 metres in diameter and has a decorative bronze sheet frieze. The dome is made from a light tufa and scoria (a type of pumice) mix of concrete (caementa) and its interior is further lightened by five rings of 28 coffers which reduce in size as they rise towards the centre of the dome. These may have been originally covered in bronze sheets.

It’s been in continuous use for over 2,000 years. 

We were some weary pilgrims when we made it back to our apartment that night! The fitness apps/smart watches said we had walked 10 miles that day.


We wanted to attend Mass at least once in Italy so the next morning, which was Sunday, we went to San Giovanni (St. John) in Laterno, which was and still is technically the Pope’s church, though practically speaking, St Peter’s Basilica is.

We had to go through security to enter.

There were not many in attendance but according to their website, they were expecting a group of 1,000 pilgrims from Peru for the 4:00 PM Mass.

One of the side chapels, this one the most ornate.


We headed out of Rome Sunday around noon. That gave me exactly 3 days (The other ladies only had 2 days) to see as much as I could see.  Which was a lot, and yet barely scratching the surface. 

2 thoughts on “Italy – Touring Rome + Vatican

  1. Lewis overholt

    Can you imagine doing your tour to these ancient sites with 30-48 Menno’s?
    My best description is to “be on a slow moving, wide mass of humanity starring at the ceiling- -simply lifting your legs as you are gently shoved forward like a human beltway.
    GOD HELP anyone that was claustrophobic! You either try desperately to get used to it – or die trying & getting shoved/carried ahead by the masses!
    Usually we tried to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon!

    (Pick pockets about everywhere–did you encounter any?
    Usually they are very friendly, HELPFUL young men, that are SO happy to RELIEVE you of excess baggage.
    Even our Tour Operator “got taken” after warning ⚠️ us all to protect our precious purses!
    Sounds like you had a “gung-ho-time!

    1. Marylou Hershberger

      We were super cautious of our bags in the crowded areas. The only time I was suspicious of someone was the last night in Italy, we were back in Rome and were walking along along the street and a young man “kind of” bumped in to one of the girls when the street was not crowded at all. We wore our bags in front when we were in any place that was likely to have pick pocketers around. I usually tried to steer clear of the “friendly, helpful” young men trying to sell bracelets, etc in the streets. Human beltway is a good way to describe it. I can’t imagine going with a big group. Staying together with 5 of us was interesting enough!

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