Day 3 Roma - St Peter's Basilica, Hadrian's Villa & Villa D'Este

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April 23rd 2015
Published: April 24th 2015
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This morning the forecast suggested that there might be some rain later in the day so we set out with our umbrellas ... just in case. We left the hotel just after 8.00am heading for St Peter's Basilica. Our route this morning took us for an early morning stroll through the Piazza Navona. What a difference it makes to walk the streets and piazzas of Rome in the early morning; there's hardly anyone else around to get in the way!! Without all of the crowds that descend on the square later in the day were were able to photograph the Fountain of the Four Rivers that surrounds an Egyptian obelisk in the middle of Piazza Navona and the 17th-century Baroque church Sant'Agnese in Agone.

Aiming to arrive at St Peter's Basilica before the hordes we continued on our way. We made it to St Peter's Square before 9.00am and joined the queue to go through security screening. At this hour the queue was quite reasonable, not like the ridiculous queue that confronted us just after lunch time on Monday! It was still just short of 9.00am by the time we had been screened so we were very happy to have spent only 15-20 minutes in the queue. If you haven't booked in advance, arriving early in the morning is the next best way to avoid spending hours queueing.

Before attempting the climb up the dome of St Peter's I decided to visit the ladies. OMG I just can't seem to manage European toilets. I put my paper in the bowl and flushed and the paper stayed right where it was in the bowl. Bugger, that's when I noticed that the bin in the cubicle was for toilet paper not feminine hygiene products as I had assumed. Oops!! I managed to sneak out before the toilet attendant worked out who stuffed up the plumbing!!

We were thrilled to be able to buy our Cupola San Pietro without queueing. Just about everyone else must have been going into the Basilica first ... or maybe a lot of visitors don't realise that it is possible to go up into the dome? Either way it was to our benefit as we were able to proced straight from the ticket office to the lift. We decided to spend an extra €2.00 to take the elevator to the roof level and save ourselves 320 steps!!

After our brief elevator ride and before we climbed to the dome, we stopped in the viewing gallery inside the dome. What a shame that it is completely enclosed with a wire mesh fence that is more than two metres high. You can only look down into the basilica through the fence and even looking up to the dome the view is partially obscured by the fence. Is it to stop people from jumping or to stop them from throwing things down into the basilica? It is so frustrating that such measures have to be taken because people are idiots.

After our brief stop in the gallery it was time to climb the 551 steps (of ever diminishing size and increasing steepness!) to the top of the cupola. Being fitter than some we made it pretty easily to the top and stepped out onto the viewing platform. Wow, this was real bucket list stuff. When we visited Vatican City in 2001 we only had about three and a half hours so all we managed to fit in was the short Vatican Museums tour, which included the Sistine Chapel, and the interior of St Peter's. So, we have been waiting 14 years to return to St Peter's to climb the cupola! We really enjoyed the fabulous views over Rome and it was really interesting to see the roof features that provide light to the beautiful domes within the basilica.

We were amongst the first people to arrive on the dome viewing platform so we were able to move around the narrow walkway quite freely. Unfortunately more and more tourists were arriving all the time so it rapidly became more and more difficult to complete our circuit of the dome. And it's not just the number of people up there ... it is the sheer stupidity of some of them. Like, der, you have a back pack on and you take up twice as much space as you normally do, make allowances!!

Then there was the guy who just couldn't take enough photos of his daughter ... with his back to the Rome panorama that was the whole point of climbing 551 steps wasn't it?? And that was when he wasn't letting her climb on the ledges around the inside of the dome walk so that he could stand in prime viewing positions and catch her???!!!???!!!???!!! I know we don't have much experience with children but, seriously, is the cupola of St Peter's Basilica the place to be photographing and playing with your daughter ad nauseum?

On our way back down, we noticed a girl depositing a postcard in a mail box on the roof of St Peter's. Oh, wow that is such a touristy kitsch thing to do, we had to think quickly about who we know who would appreciate a post card postmarked St Peter's Basilica. We have one friend who will be receiving said post card one day soon. Well we trust that Poste Italiane and Australia Post will get it there!!

The lift back down to ground level delivered us into St Peter's Basilica. Sometimes when you go back to places they just don't seem as big as you remember. Not so St Peter's, which seemed even more vast than we remembered it. It truly is one of the most impressive and breathtaking structures we have seen.

After we had had our fill of the interior of the basilica we headed back out into St Peter's Square where all the people who slept in were queued up for a long, long wait to be admitted. The queue was even worse today at 11.00am than it was on Monday afternoon extending about three quarters of the way around the square and then sort of turning down through the centre of the square. We reckon that anyone joining the end of the queue would be standing out in the sun for a couple of hours at least.

With time to spare until our pick up at 1.30pm for this afternoon's tour to Villa Adriano and Villa D'Este we started strolling back towards Hotel Regno. For no particular reason that we could discern there were World War II jeeps and some 'Dad's Army' types in the Piazza Giovanni XXIII near Castel Sant' Angelo. There was a sandwich truck nearby so we bought a panini to share on park bench near the castle.

We were passing the Palazzo Madama, the home of the Italian Senate, at noon and, rather fortuitously, got to see the changing of the guard. This was on a much smaller scale than the changing of the guard at a royal palace (e.g. Buckingham Palace) with only five fresh guards replacing five guards coming off their shift. Still, we did get to see soldiers wearing helmets trimmed with feathers and carrying machine guns go through their changeover manoeuvres ... and photographed them shamelessly like tourists!

We stopped in at the supermercato to buy some more water to take back to the hotel. We only had about half an hour to fill in before heading back downstairs to wait to be picked up. Right on the dot of 1.30pm our ride arrived. It turned out to be shuttle bus that took us to the Green Line Tours office where we transferred to a coach. Not much can be reported about the coach ride because we both spent most of the trip asleep!!

Our first stop was at Hadrian's Villa where our guide Antonio escorted us around the site. After we had walked up the hill Antonio pointed out the facilities for anyone who needed them. While we were waiting for those 'spending a penny' an older gentleman in the group asked Antonio if we would be returning the same way because he had to leave his wife behind because she couldn't manage the hill. Then he demanded to know what he was going to see if he kept coming along with the rest of the group. I don't think Antonio could believe it and he struggled to explain that he would be seeing Roman ruins. Our thinking was more like - um, you booked a tour to Hadrian's Villa did you not know what that was when you booked it? So grumpy old man No.1 stomped back down the hill to wait with his wife!

After that little hiccup Antonio took us to see a model of the site which was really interesting. Yet another Roman site that must have been a-may-zing when it was constructed for the Emperor Hadrian as his country retreat. Unfortunately he had to travel quite a lot in his job and he had little time to actually enjoy his villa in the hills outside of Rome. When he was there though he enjoyed feeding his enemies to his pet crocodiles ... when he wasn't bathing in one of the many Roman baths dotted around the site that is!!

From the model we were taken to see the ruins of many of the structures that Antonio had pointed out to us on the model. Oh for a Tardis to take us back to get a glimpse of how it used to be!! With no Tardis available we had to make do with Antonio's animated and enthusiastic description of the various buildings and what they used to look like and how they would have been used by Hadrian and his staff and guests.

Back to the coach and on to the Villa D'Este. On the journey between the two sites Antonio provided commentary in English and (we think) Spanish. When we arrived at Tivoli grumpy old man No.2 ripped into Antonio with a complaint which Antonio and his colleague did their best to defuse. Not speaking either of the other languages involved (Italian/Spanish?) we don't really know what the problem was, but there was no mistaking that the body language was quite aggressive. We think the complaint may have been along the lines that Antonio's Spanish commentary was considered inadequate?? Anyhow, we've not ever seen grumpiness like this when we have taken tours in the past.

From the coach, Antonio walked us around to the entrance to the Villa D'Este where he explained that in the 16th century, Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este had much of the marble and statues in Hadrian's Villa removed to decorate his villa nearby. So many architectural wonders were broken down and recycled into new structures during times before their historical and cultural significance was appreciated!

The palace and garden of the Villa d'Este in Tivoli is considered to be one of the most remarkable and comprehensive illustrations of Renaissance culture at its most refined. Its design was considered quite innovative when it incorporated many architectural components such as fountains and ornamental basins into the garden. A unique example of an Italian 16th-century garden, the Villa d'Este became an early model for the development of European gardens.

After Antonio's overview we were left with only 50 minutes to explore the gardens which made it quite a rush. Once again it was a good thing to be (relatively) young and fit because the gardens are very steeply terraced with the largest and most impressive fountain located right at the very bottom of the garden!! Phew, we made it all the way to the bottom and back to the top again in the allotted time. We even managed to fit in a gelato while we waited for the stragglers to return to the meeting point.

The coach had us back in the city by about 7.00pm and we were able to be dropped off quite near Trevi Fountain which was quite handy for us as it is only a short walk from there to the Via del Corso and the Hotel Regno. All in all an interesting afternoon enjoying some sites out in the countryside.

Tonight we thought that we would venture over to the piazza near the Pantheon for dinner. Hmmn, the food was delicious, but was it €25.00 more delicious than Wednesday night's meal? The thing is that the extra euros are to pay for the location and/or the view rather than the food!

Steps for the day 22,365 (15.23 km)

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