Michelangelo, DaVinci, Boticelli – what do they all have in common? They were all dreamers and artists inspired in Italy. The entire country is a rich blend of historical and modern culture, and while I was on vacation to this beautiful place I found myself contemplating how to share my experiences with my friends and family at home. I could have just posted a selfie with the Colosseum on social media to brag: “look at where I am (and where you are not!),” but it gave me greater satisfaction to explain where I was and why it was significant. With this extra effort I could transport my loved ones with me instead of just boasting about my vacation.
My journey started in Rome, continued to Florence and finished in magical Venice, but the experiences that I personally found most inspiring were in Rome. High speed trains whiz by 2,000 year old ruins, and a population of almost 3 million people harmoniously live side by side with artifacts like the Colosseum and the Pantheon. Visiting the Colosseum, ascending the Holy Stairs, and marveling at the Sistine Chapel were my some of my favorite experiences.
The Colosseum is more magnificent than can be imagined just by looking at photos. Outside, the structure is enormous, but tour the inside to be even more impressed by the ingenuity of the Romans with the tunnel and elevator system under the raised floor of the arena. It’s over 1,900 years old and is still structurally sound enough to have an average of about 10,000 tourists clamber over it every day! With that many visitors, the entry lines are long, but the ticket line can be skipped all together by either purchasing the ticket at Palentine Hill, which is just a couple minute walk away with no line, or opt for the Roma Pass. The Roma pass is good for either 72 or 48 hours, and the 72 hour pass provides free admission and skip the line access for the first two sites along with discounted rates for all sites after that (free admission and skip the line access for the first museum only with the 48 hour pass). For a special treat, stroll by after dark to see the floodlights illuminate the façade.
Right across the street from the beautiful papal basilica San Giovanni in Laterano (St. John Lateran) are the Holy Stairs (or Scala Sancta), but this site is often skipped by the hordes of tourists because there are no big signs to indicate what is in the modest building. Therefore, there is no long line to contend with. The Holy Stairs were walked up by Jesus as he was on his way to trial in Jerusalem, and they were brought to Rome around 300AD by St. Helena, the mother of Constantine (the first Christian emperor of Rome). The ascent up the stairs can only be done on one’s knees, and it takes more than a few minutes because it is customary to pause on each step to say a prayer. This historically significant attraction is an awe-inspiring experience and is definitely worth a stop.
A quintessential trip to Rome isn’t complete without ogling the renowned Sistine Chapel. Unfortunately it will seem like every other tourist in the city will be there at the same time as you, but to skip the line that is hours and hours long, just make an online reservation. It’s really that simple. Skip the line and tour the wonderful Vatican Museum that holds the art collected by all of the Popes. The last stop is the Sistine Chapel. Once Michelangelo’s masterpiece is seen in person, it’s easy to understand why Pope Paul III fell to his knees before The Last Judgement. It’s so beautiful I wanted to take a picture, but photos aren’t allowed, so rather than committing a sin in the Pope’s chapel, I purchased a print in the giftshop (from a nun no less). My favorite tip in all of Rome is to exit through the group exit at the back right by attaching to the end of a tour group. The normal exit is to the left, but this secret outlet leads straight into St. Peter’s Basilica without walking the 30 minutes around the Vatican walls or waiting in line!