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I was in Rome and I haven’t seen the Pope

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It always concerns me  to visit places which are recognized as the kings of the world tourism. Not just because of the mass of tourists which are undoubtedly going to be everywhere, never mind if it is the one thousand years old monument or a shoddy shop with souvenirs made in China.

The basic problem before deciding to visit cities like Paris, London, Berlin and especially Roma when you are European (this is the perspective I can speak from) is that either you will hide that fact from your family and friends or you will never get rid of millions of “useful” advice from people who, for God’s sake, have never really been to this place; unless you will present a complexed city plan to prove that you are surely not going to lose any super-important place. Tell me dears, why are we always a walking city guide of all European capitals despite the fact we have never seen any of them? Or maybe it is just our Polish national feature.

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Situation is getting particularly difficult if you go to Roma and (I wish I am not too strict) if you are Polish. What I mean is the undead question which became almost a Polish saying: How is it possible to go to Rome and do not see the Pope? Well, it is not difficult to guess that seeing the Pope is not particularly easy nowadays but this sentence has a deeper meaning which is represented by extremely long list of absolutely “must see” places and people who have never been in Rome can somehow describe it much better than me who actually was there.

So to conclude: I was in Rome and I have not seen the Pope. And you know what? I do not feel like I wasted my time.

Vatican City – the biggest surprise… or maybe not really ?

To be honest I was not really keen on visiting Vatican after hearing that the price for which my friends bought their tickets was about 30 euros per person. But even if I am rather the one who avoid all those places and monuments classified  as “must see” I would be really ashamed to come back and tell my family that I haven’t visited Vatican. I am not able to say if that is how it looks like in another countries, but in Poland it would be seen as almost the crime. So with a lot of concerns I spend 20 minutes choosing and buying tickets online.

As I expected, I wasn’t pleasantly surprised.

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Even though my boyfriend  does not share my opinion, the only good point of this trip was almost one hour which we spent in tram which crossed a beautiful district with some massive villas placed in the enormous park.

When we got to the place, tragically late like always, I quickly turned right following the instructions from the ticket. I couldn’t believe my eyes (ok, I know it’s a bit fetched) when I saw the queue in front of the doors. I can swear I have never seen  such a long one in my life (maybe except of then the photos of queues during communist times in Poland) It would be at least 5 hours of standing in the rain, outside. Really guys, we have ben gifted by the beautiful amazing tool called internet, I highly recommend to use it. You can really safe a lot of time thanks to this because for those who had the tickets bought online, there was the other way near to the queue, so we got inside in about 3 minutes. After crossing the security safe-check we finally managed to get in. But, to be honest, not even 15 minutes passed, I could not wait for the moment to get out.

No, it is not Vatican. It is Poland few decades ago (during communist times) But I do not see the big differentce to be honest. Source: www.pigout.pl

Don not think I am an ignorant telling this. In a contrary, art and history, both things that Vatican should be the heart of, are my passions and a field of my studies. But even seeing the most famous painting and other pieces of art  collected in the Vatican Museums, even the Sistine Chapel lose their beauty being closed behind a gold cord (not if I was against protecting the pieces of art, not at all) and surrounded by thousands of tourists speaking loudly, making photos on every step and listening to the guides, which are in amount of at least 10 in one room, each speaking in different language of course. This “special atmosphere” makes a person like me want to run away as quickly as possible.

But nothing surprised me as much as the St. Peter’s Square (which I was so fascinated so see…) , where it is just impossible to get in without special safety control machine like at the airport. While on the square itself, you can only cross by the special paths for tourists designated by a wooden fence and in the crowd not even a bit smaller than in the Museums.

I understand the necessity of protecting the place which can be the potential aim of the terrorist attack as well as the monuments and paintings or the border of the country which is the Vatican by special control and, in result, collecting money to repay it.

So, without questioning the organization of Vatican tourism, I’m happy to say I am never going to visit this place again.

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Coffee, Pizza and Panini – why there is nothing better in the world than Italian cusine

Since I accidentally got fascinated in Italian language after watching one Polish film (long story…) I am learning Italian with a private teacher who funnily is a real bilingual Polish-Italian born in Rome. It was him who told me that Italians (or maybe rather Romans because as my Italian friends keep reminding me – there are no “Italians”… Which is not surprising in the country which has almost two thousand years of the strongly separated identity) drink coffee in one of the omnipresent bars as the substitute of breakfast. So what I figured out is that instead of those super-touristic and, in consequence, super-expensive coffee bars, there have to be some small, familiar ones where you can get cheap and real Roman (oh yes, Roman, not Italian) coffee. It was a bit difficult to find one as we did not know the city at all, but we managed to do so. Or at least I think that the bar hidden in the small street with the excellent coffee and as small prices that it was surprising even for me (and I have to remark that my country does not belong to the expensive ones) was the one we were looking for.

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But it is not just the coffee that makes Italy the paradise for the coffee-addicts  like me but also their amazing take-away which makes Rome the only place where there is almost no McDonald. It is understandable, because how can restaurant like McDonald compete with Italian  national take-away which is million times better, fresher and of better quality?

In Italy you can find thousands of small restaurants and bars which are an absolute phenomenon for me – they are a sort of  combination of grocery store and fast-food restaurant. As well as buying some more or less traditional products like in a shop there are mostly a few restaurant tables where you can sit and eat a piece of pizza or choose one from the unbelievable variety of panini which is served warmed in advance by the shopkeeper. It is an excellent way for a small snack during visiting the city. And, needless to say, you can never have too much of Italian food, it’s just impossible.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT

I come from the city were public transport is quite well organized. And since we became European Capital of Culture 2016 it has became even much more “international” (which means that they read “Main Railway Station” and „Botanical Garden” in English, not just in Polish but it os still something, right…?) In Wrocław you can buy tickets in the machines which are located in every bus and tram by just your credit/debit card in any currency, and the instruction can be presented in one of the four languages. Furthermore, on every station its name is presented on the screen in the bus/tram and the speaker says the name aloud too.

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So having such a convenience in my daily life I met some difficulties with adapting myself to the public transport in Rome which is a city surely not designed to have a smoothly functioning public transport. There are a lot of short and narrow roads here which turns every 20 meters by every possible angle so the trams are small, and in addition almost always crowded. And even though I have no idea why it is exactly like this, but they really are extremely slow.

I had the misfortune to experience the biggest error of the Roman transport on my way from the station to our flat… We got the tram line and the name of the station in SMS. I was pleased to realize that the first tram stop we reached after leaving the bus from the airport was the correct one. However, the good impression disappeared when after 5 minutes in the tram I noticed one abnormality – there was no screens with the name of the stop and no voice telling me where I am… Moreover, there was no way to see the name of the stop outside the tram without getting out quickly on every single station. With a big help of one Italian woman who unexpectedly understood some English and few others who didn’t understand it at all (which was less surprising, though) we managed to leave the tram on the right stop. However, in spite of crossing this route every day we made a mistake at least once or twice when we were coming back home at the night. Well, maybe remembering only that “we should leave when we see the park outside of the window” wasn’t a particularly brilliant idea in the city which has so many parks….

The conclusion is that… there is strictly no way to find a system of finding the good station unless you are able to force your way through the crowd to quickly jump out of the tram on every station to see the name of the stop (which is almost impossible in the darkness) or you know by heart every street in Rome and you automatically connect it with the name of the stop.

Or you just have to accept that it is Italy and you just have to get used to. Benvenuti in Italia!

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THE FRESH FOOD MARKET

My second favorite place in Rome is definitely a local fresh food market in the residential area we lived in . It is just one more place where I felt absolutely enchanted by this climate that you can find just in Italy and which is undoubtedly irreplaceable.

The market like this is mostly open from the morning until 12:00. The stalls are bursting at the seams of all possible products from the second most tasty bread in the world (sorry, Italy, France win in this area) through the traditional Italian ham sold in big packs looking like a leg of real animal to the best fruit in the world. There is really no better place to eat fruit than Italy. Local sellers offer the biggest variety of meat and sea food that I have ever seen in one area and which is three times bigger than in the most specialized Polish shops.

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Colorful pasta in every shape – in Rome you can find it in almost every shop!

 

We got to the stall to buy the bread. The show keeper was smiling as gaily as if the second Christmas this year have just been announced. She gave us bread and asked in Italian if we studied here in Rome which we happily managed to understand with my weak Italian. We paid and entered a new alley where I spent 5 minutes observing enormous stall of the sea food. The variety was so big that I could not even name some of the products.

That was one of the most beautiful and touching experience I had during this trip. I saw so many smiling, happy, shining people full of joy in such un unexpected place. Travel guides and agencies don not speak about it, do they? Maybe that’s the reason why I don’t buy them.

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COLOSSEUM – mainstream or not ?

Maybe I am wrong but I think The Colosseum is supposed to be even more touristic place than Vatican City as far as it is one of the most recognizable monument in Europe near to the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Big Ben in London. So as well as the ancient Roman Forum placed on a (breathtaking) square near to the Colosseum which is the most magical place in Rome by the way (at least in my opinion); I must confirm that I was pleasantly surprised by this monument placed on the top of the “must see” list of Rome.

 

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All of these three mentioned objects have one common feature. They are, as we say, on the “open air”. It is like a touch of history that starts exactly on the border of the pavement. There is no glass barrier, no gold cord, no guard every five meters…

Of course there is an option to get inside both the Colosseum and Roman Forum. The square in front of the Colosseum is also a bit touristic but happily we managed to find a small road bypassing the biggest crowd.

Every time on the early evening I was there to sit on the crash barrier and observe this ancient ruins sinking in the dark….

Roman Forum is placed just under the slight hill in the city center. You can observe it from the small balcony near to the renaissance church but you have to look carefully cause the path is a bit hidden. In the night outstanding, time-worn arc in the central point make you feel like if you have just moved two thousand years ago.

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I have visited (small) part of my continent, I affirm. I’ve seen some cities with the ancient or medieval history with the full testimony for their giant heritage. But I’ve never seen the city as breathtaking as Rome was for me once I saw it. There is no place as preserved, like if the history as it started has never moved forward.

To conclude, Rome which for me stays an undoubted capital of Europe, is the most incredible living museum I have ever seen. And the only museum that has ever made me feel like a living witness of the history I once learned in school.

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43 comments

    1. Thank you 🙂 I found it the best possible description… We use this expression quite often in my mother tongue 🙂

  1. It sounds like Rome made quite an impression on you as it did with me when I first visited 20 years ago (ouch!). It sounds like the Vatican has got worse in terms of numbers of tourists and procedures. I didn’t really enjoy it either and like you preferred the markets and less obvious tourist attractions. I can’t wait to return to Roma next year. There’s just something about that city that pulls you in.

  2. I know that the Vatican is loaded with tourists, but despite the crowds I still found it pretty magical!! I absolutely hate guided tours, so that part was terrible but the place itself was incredible.

    1. All at all I’m happy to hear that someone had different (positive) experience 🙂 Probably it depends on a lot of personal aspects. For example, I enjoyed Paris a lot while a lot of the others hated it. And finally it’s also touristic, crowded, mainstream etc…

  3. Maybe your network is so obsessed with the Pope because there was a Polish one for so long. The archbishop of NYC is from my hometown and my mom always ask if I go to the church to see him. Umm…never. Families can be like that. Sorry you had so many disappointments in Rome. I haven’t been to Italy yet, but I still hope to make it one day!

    1. You surely should ! And even though the Vatican was really a dissapointment, the city itself compensated me this 🙂 And I think that it’s because Poland is a very religious country and, possibly you are right, we are attached to the papal state as John Paul II is still one of the most important heroes of our country.

  4. I loved your description of taking the metro – “we should leave when we see the park outside of the window” wasn’t a particularly brilliant idea in the city which has so many parks…. Yes, I can see that being a problem! How many times did you get off at the wrong stop?

    1. I think two or three… Before we realised that in front of the stop there is not just a park but also an abandoned petrol station on the other side 😀

  5. Oh the food and the coffee in Rome is spectacular! Your pics of the market brought me right back to the many markets we bought from and got me so hungry! I love Tome!

    1. Thank you 🙂 It’s a very big compliment for every writer 😀 And, as you probably guessed, I encouraged you to visit Rome and the Italy itself. Trust me it’s worth it!

  6. It’s true, the Vatican gets a little difficult to enjoy when you feel like one of the cattle. However, when in Rome, it’s almost a sin to not see the Sistine Chapel’s glory. I’m definitely not a line up kinda gal. Never would I line up for anything, so the tip of buying online is great. Another one is to hire a guide who can help bring you straight in and tell you all the tales behind the walls (and ceiling!).

    TheWanderlusteur.com

  7. Great title! I loved the Vatican and Rome too, but it was pretty quiet when we went so that made it more appealing. Oh, the coffee in Rome is amazing and the food too – we had an amazing sandwich there that I still think of daily

    1. Thank you 😀 Could you imagine I was inspired by one elderly woman in the bus who said that her son had been in Rome and he hadn’t seen the Pope… And that’s how I’ve chosen the title 😀

  8. I loved Rome when I was there last summer, and you’re right that their fast food is amazing. I ate all kinds of terrific pizza and panini and spent very little money. I also agree that the public transportation is ridiculous. I just walked everywhere. That way I could burn off some calories from the pizza and I didn’t have to navigate the subway.

  9. I guess everyone experiences Rome in a different way: I had the opposite – I loved Vatican museums and I was hurrying to get out of Colloseum! I think it’s great to buy a combination ticket for it and Forum Romano. I thought that forum was an amazing place.

    Great tip to book tickets online, you should totally mark it bold 😀 we did that and it saved us so much time!

    You photos made me miss Rome so much!

    1. Thanks 🙂 Actually I didn’t enter Forum Romano and the Colosseum. I just observed it „from the street”, I rather try to avoid getting inside different monuments/museums unless I can be sure it’s almost empty 🙂

  10. I felt exactly the same at the Vatican. Very underwhelmed, and annoyed at the number of tourists. My favourite thing to do in Roma is get lost down backstreets, stumbling upon amazing cafes and restaurants. Oh and let’s not forget the amazing antipasto deals!

    1. Thanks, soulmate 🙂 I still feel like I haven’t discovered enough cafes, restaurants and streets.. I think I have to go back again 😀

  11. Nice post!! It will be really useful for my visit to Rome, which I plan for this year. I’m moving to Italy in a month 😀

    1. Wow, so jealous 😀 I’m happy that you found it helpful 😀 PS I also wish to move to Italy one day! Great decision 🙂

  12. I love Rome, especially if you go outside the main tourist season. It made me really interested in Ancient History, you can feel it all around you. And so much off it was terribly brutal. Thank you for a lovely post, it reminded me that I must visit again.

  13. I totally agree with you on the Vatican – I was raised a practicing Catholic, and I was very excited to get to the Vatican. I was hugely disappointed, mainly because of the ridiculous crowds of tourists which completely ruined the experience. It’s become too much of a tourist trap to maintain any of the solmness or magical awe which it once would have held.

    I’m glad I went, because I like experiencing things first hand and making my own opinions, but I would definitely advise other people not to get their hopes up when visiting.

  14. It has been quite a few years since I went to Italy, and I don’t think the security or lines were as intense as they were during your visit! But I do agree it’s underwhelming (perhaps because I’m not Catholic?). I did find that the cute cafes and plazas of Rome are much more charming!

  15. I went to Rome quite a few years ago and did not see the Vatican. II did see the Colosseum and think that it is most definitely worth it. Thanks for sharing :).

  16. Rome truly looks amazing!! I hope to visit this fall. Thanks for sharing this with us — your photos are beautiful! 🙂

  17. I really loved my visit to Rome. But hated the public transit! It’s just not a city built for it. The congestion was insane. Despite it all, I would go back in a heartbeat. Live you said, it’s a living museum 🙂

  18. When I visited Italy nearly over 10 years ago I didn’t get as far as Rome, but it’s a good excuse to return. I wouldn’t be too pushed if I didn’t see the Vatican but would definitely have to see the Colosseum. I have a friend who studied classics and has visited Rome a good few times.

  19. I’ve spent only one day in Rome, and we didn’t see the Pope either. 🙂 We didn’t go into Vatican City for the reasons you mentioned — very expensive and very crowded. I’d like to see it some day, but I’m not fond of the long lines or jostling with people to see things. I do want to go back to Rome, though. I’d love to just wander the city, see the historical sights, but also to enjoy the markets, taste the local flavors and people watch. Your photos really make the place come alive!

  20. It’s refreshing to hear a different perspective on Rome/The Vatican than the typical „oh it’s so magical!” I love history, but it’s never been anywhere the top of my list to visit because of my expectations being pretty much what you stated. The problem with super famous places like this for me is the crazy crowds and tourists. I don’t do well in lines, or trying to force my way to the front of a crowd in order to see something worth seeing.

    1. Exactly 🙂 That’s why I wasn’t so keen to visit Rome in reality… But I’m in love with Italy so I decided that I really SHOULD visit the capital. And so I did. But honestly, except of all I’ve written I enjoyed it, in the contrary to what I had expected.

  21. Vatican is quite amazing. I had a great time exploring Rome – I wish I was a travel blogger then and could jot down my adventures 🙂

  22. I’m sorry you didn’t have a great time at the Vatican – I had the opposite experience..Despite being busy I thought it was pretty amazing. The whole city is really though – between the food and the history, I absolutely loved it!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Cassie 🙂 It’s always interesting to read other point of view. I’m a big enthusiast of European history so places like the Vatican have an important place in my heart … that’s why it always hurts me so much to see that there is nothing of this „trace of history” in them anymore. Well, time is passing and the world is changing 😀 Probably old-fashioned people like me should finally accept it…

  23. Hi Ula,

    I really love your honesty and how it does not align with what other people think. I have read other posts about Vatican and usually they writers focus on all the good things about it. It is awesome to know that someone disagrees and thank you for explaining why. Amazing post and photos. Thank you!

    Zaria

    1. Hi Zara
      I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed reading this article ! I always try to be honest in my descriptions to give me readers the real view on what I’ve seen and experienced 🙂

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