An Afternoon in Vatican City

Our last stop on the trip was back in Rome for a day in Vatican City, after our drive from San Gimignano. We tried to get into the Vatican on our first day in Rome, but with hour+ long waits to just get into the walls, we decided to try again on our way back. Thankfully, we got very lucky and were able to walk RIGHT IN without any line at all (for the record this was mid-October, mid-day, on a Friday).

We were pleasantly surprised by how modern the Vatican Museum was, and quite disappointed by how little information there was available for visitors. You must pay to get in, which is understandable, however a map is not included in that fee. A map was quite expensive (at least the ones we found) but thankfully Rick Steves’ Rome 2013 guide was more than a capable guide for us, and a trusted travel companion by this point in our trip.

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The Vatican Museum is huge. Had we more time and energy, and maybe interest in art, we certainly could have spent the day in there. I think I was expecting more religious relics to be housed in the museum, but it was mostly an art museum, with rooms and hallways just packed with statues and paintings and murals.  Below I’ve included just a small fraction, but you’ll get the picture.

Disclaimer: for one reason or another Kyle gave me camera-duty for the day, so we’ve got quite a lot of photos of art to share from the Vatican Museum. These may not be SFW…

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Remind me offline to tell you about the fig leaves on the male parts. It’s a great story.

Prior to making it into the Sistine Chapel, the “main event” I’ll call it, there was the LONGEST map hallway. We spent a good 45 minutes in here. I left it at one point to find the bathroom and came back to Kyle only about 15 feet from where I had left him.

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The stairs out of the museum were quite interesting, and then there was me back outside of the big doors we had to get in through (which were by this point closed and locked for the day). Since we completely missed a secret passageway from the Sistine Chapel to Saint Peter’s Basilica, we now had to walk all the way around the city to get there.

DSC_1205 DSC_1229The line to get in was understandably ridiculous. So, we instead decided to just take a few photos of the outside as the sun set and we waited for dinnertime.  But then, something strange happened – the line went away! It was still moving into the basilica, so we hopped in.

We have at least 100 photos of the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica, below are just a handful. I really just wish the photos could do this justice, everything in here was so big, you couldn’t do much but stand in awe.

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And with that, I conclude our posts from Italy! I might decide to share a few more travel-points soon with photos that didn’t fit, but for the most part that was our entire trip.

We loved traveling abroad so much we’ve already got another one on the calendar – and it’s soon! I’ve had more than a handful of friends (one of which we’re going to visit) warn us that travel is addicting, I think they’re right.

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Florence in Two Days: Day 2

I can’t remember why, and it sounds absolutely ridiculous right now to say this, but the second day we went to Florence I was a total crab in the morning. Thankfully for Kyle, and everyone that knows me, it’s pretty easy to turn my frown upside down with a snack and a few shots of espresso. As it just so happens, in Italy there seemed to be an espresso bar (or three) on every block – have I told you that Italy was the perfect country for us to honeymoon? 

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So, once I was all hyped up it was time to hit the pavement. Our first spot was the Boboli Gardens, which are vast gardens behind the Pitti Palace (a Medici home). Although it was a little chilly out, and the gardens were not in bloom, the entire place was completely breathtaking – in size and beauty. Every turn was something new, the photos I’ve added below aren’t even a fraction of the gardens.
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We could have spent the day in the gardens, but it was time to move on out into the city. Look how tiny this car is – nuts! These were all over the place, along with scooter type vehicles that ran on electricity.
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Ah, the Uffizi Gallery … what an experience, I wish I had more photos to show you, unfortunately no photos was a strict rule outside of the sculpture hallways.  This was a sight to see in person, you’ll just have to take my word for it.
You could literally spend hours in here, unfortunately with our “Florence in 2 Days” ambition we had to do the highlights tour with our Rick Steves Guide to get through in a reasonable amount of time (also, thanks to the Firenze Card, we skipped the hour-long line to get in). If you’re not an expert in art (really, who is?) I highly recommend using either Rick’s guide, or another guide, for going through this museum, without it the museum would have been much too overwhelming and after a while it would have all looked the same.
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If I had to design a museum just for Kyle, I think it would be the Museo de Galileo. Not to sound like Stefon on SNL, but this museum has everything: maps, measuring tools, clocks – an engineer’s dream come true…
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If you ever go to this museum and find Galileo’s severed finger on display – PLEASE send me a photo. I actually did another half-lap around because I thought I missed it somewhere and all of the guidebooks claim it is in there.
The museum was closing, and it was then time for us to head back to San Gimignano for our nightly pasta, wine and gelato feast (yes, I think Italy might be heaven).

Florence in Two Days: Day 1

I couldn’t say enough times how perfect the location of San Gimignano was in Tuscany for taking day-trips, we were only about an hour outside of Florence – and we took advantage of this two days in a row during the week.

Florence was b-e-a-utiful, and there was so much to be seen and done we definitely could not have conquered the city in just the two days we had there. Thankfully, Kyle did his research and had for us two Firenze (Florence) Cards, which proved to be worth every penny and saved us a countless amount of time. The Firenze Card gave us access to almost all of the museums and sites with pre-paid admissions (they aren’t free like museums in DC) and let us skip the lines – if we did not have one, it would have been impossible to see and do all of what we were able to.

We parked the car outside the city walls, and walked into Florence over the Ponte Vecchio – which is an old bridge with stores along it, and was very crowded and a bit underwhelming (or overhyped) in my opinion. Regardless, there were some great views.

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The main piazza (from what I could tell was the main one), Piazza della Signoria, was outside of a fortress/palace/town hall, the Palazzo Vecchio, and displayed a large number of sculptures. The two below are my favorite, the one on the left, I believe according to Rick Steves, is one of the first pieces of art made to be viewed at any angle. The fountain on the right, I know nothing about, but I love the attitude in his face.

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Inside the fortress/palace/town hall, the Palazzo Vecchio, was more art featuring naked men (wahoo!), maps, and history of Italy and Florence. The sculpture below represents the triumph of Florence over Siena (thanks again, Rick Steves), however I think it just looks hilarious and confusing. Palazzo Vecchio - Florence over SienaPalazzo Vecchio Map Room

If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll recognize the style of the outside of the cathedral in Florence, it looks quite similar to the Duomo in Siena, Siena had built theirs to compete with Florence.  The inside, however, is not as decorative. Quite plain in comparison to Siena’s “cover every inch” decorating philosophy.
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We didn’t do any shopping in Florence at all, however there were quite a lot of stores (and adorable guard dogs). Florence shopping pup DSC_0860

As the museums were closing that evening, we walked along the river and scaled a very steep hill (maybe a mile high), with a fresh pizza and bottle of wine, in order to watch the sun set over the city. It was crowded up there, and we were sweaty from the climb, but it was worth it.   DSC_0878 DSC_0879 DSC_0887 DSC_0891 DSC_0894 DSC_0904 DSC_0906

I know I was there, and I took the photos, but I’m even now still in disbelief over how beautiful this city was. Anyone booking a flight to Florence right now? Take me with you!!

Short Trip to Siena

San Gimignano was perfectly located for day trips to other parts of Tuscany – one rainy morning we hit the road and traveled to Siena, about 45 minutes away. Siena was a great city I wish we could have spent more time in, but we had enough time to walk the streets window shopping, tour the Siena Cathedral (Duomo), and have dinner in the Piazza del Campo.

Here is Kyle, looking quite touristy:

DSC_0718This is the Duomo di Siena, which was definitely the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever seen, or could imagine. Every piece of this place is covered in art and history.  If you’re ever there, I recommend paying a little extra for the tour – there is too much going on around you to comprehend on your own.
DSC_0725 DSC_0727 DSC_0740 DSC_0741 Check out these floor tiles, throughout the cathedral there are flowers that look quite … 1960’s … and not 1300s. DSC_0743 DSC_0744At some point in history the city of Siena decided they wanted to expand the cathedral, and began work on the “new” cathedral which would have beed a major addition. It never went through, but in Italian fashion they didn’t tear down what they had built – so today you can climb up into the “front” of the new cathedral and look out on the city and beyond into Tuscany. 
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siena Piazza del CampoThe next post will be about our visit to Florence!

San Gimignano – Our Little Hilltop Home in Italy

Outside of the first and last nights we spent in Rome, we stayed the entire weeek in a lovely little apartment inside the walls of a medieval hilltop town – San Gimignano. The town is somewhat insignificant, historically, however by keeping low-key over the centuries it was able to remain structurally intact.  The town today is known for it’s many remaining towers, and I can’t remember anything else about it’s history … but they had some great gelato options, wine stores, little shops – what more could a honeymooning couple need?

We stayed in the Fattoria Guicciardini apartments, which were right inside the wall of the town and had a lovely courtyard. The apartment was stocked and the windows (fully equiped with throw-open shutters) looked out into a little road with shops and a small wine bar below.

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San Gimignano 1After seeing that last photo I’m reminded of all the old men who lived in this town. They’d walk around together all day, talking and arguing, then at night they sit together along the side of the road in little huddles eating gelato while they talked.

Here are some photos of the wall that surrounds San Gimignano, some areas around town town, and a few photos from the top of one of their tallest towers – which was the most terrifying of all the tower-climbs we did on this trip (who on earth thought it was a good idea to make the stairs see-through?) but well worth the view from the top!

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One night we had a real Italian night, after eating our weight in pasta and drinking enough wine to ensure a great time, we found this group of old men screaming at a soccer game. Perfect setting for eating our nightly gelato and pretending like we knew what was going on around us.

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Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day – the Rest of Rome

Who needs a nap when you’re in Italy? After the Colosseum we just powered through the rest of the day, staying up until the wee hours (maybe 9:30 – wild!) to get in everything we wanted to see. Do I recommend this? No. Would I do it this way again? Yes. After it was all over, it was nice to have said “been there, done that,” so we could get on to the more important parts of our honeymoon – wine and gelato.

For some reason I have yet to figure out, Kyle really wanted to see this fountain while we were in Rome. We got lost a handful of times on our way to find it, but once we did it was worth the trek (actually, I was in a haze of starvation and have no idea what it was like)! The Trevi Fountain‘s legend is that if you toss a coin in, you’ll be “ensured” another trip to Rome… we didn’t toss a coin in, I was too hungry and angry at Rome for making me walk so far to get here.

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After some dinner, I was in a better mood. After getting lost a handful of times (transitioning from a cell phone GPS to using a paper map in Italian is not as easy as we thought it would be) we had finally found the Spanish Steps. It was pretty cool and fun to sit and eat gelato while watching the men trying to sell laser pointers, flowers, and squeaky toys incessantly to anyone and everyone on the steps.

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Oh, and this was the first of MANY street cleaners we saw though out our trip. The Italians apparently take the cleanliness of their city streets quite seriously. I appreciate it. DSC_0502

After sleeping like babies, we got up and tried to make the most of our last few hours in Rome before we needed to head out. We had a fantastic breakfast with a view at our hotel, and then went on the rooftop with the camera, a tripod and the super-zoom lens to see what all we could capture of the city.   DSC_0521 DSC_0522 DSC_0536 DSC_0537 DSC_0567*

Across the street from the Colosseum is the Roman Forum, which is where we spent the morning. It was really neat but the entire time we kept asking “why didn’t anyone clean this junk up?” (just kidddddddingggggg…. but seriously, anyone else been and thought that too?).

There were some great views of the Colosseum, in case we hadn’t gotten enough pictures the day before.

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DSC_0591Goodbye Rome! We’re off to San Gimignano for the week.

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day – the Colosseum

Since our hotel was right next to Vatican City, our original plan was to take it easy on our first day and only see thing in that area (which includes: the Vatican and St. Peter’s), but we were so full of adrenaline it was decided that we must first head straight to the Colosseum and then do ALL of our Rome-sites in the next 24 hours, because, you know, it might not be there when we get back… in a week.

First, here are some shots of our first hotel room, at the Atlante Star, it was teeny tiny, but came with window shutters I could literally throw open to a beautiful view – what more could a girl want? Unfortunately Kyle had to deal with me reenacting my vision (where did I get this idea? Beauty and the Beast? Someone help me here).

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On our trip there were a handful of things I had always wanted to see, just to find they aren’t as impressive in real-life as they were in books and on Rick Steves. The Colosseum though, was every bit as impressive in person as you’d expect. It’s huge and it’s old, and they let people walk all over it and touch EVERYTHING (seriously, I could sit and touch anything I could reach). Where else can you go and touch something that was built in the first century AD?

Kyle and I were so overwhelmed (and in need of a non-public restroom) we stopped for a beer before going in. In Italy when you order a drink they always bring you a little snack! Sometimes it’s just chips or nuts, but often it’s both or something else completely.

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… this was “not crowded” due to being the offseason …

The line to get into the Colosseum was pretty long, so we skipped it by signing up for a tour – it was definitely worth the extra 5 Euro and learned a few facts we didn’t know going into it. One interesting point I remember – gladiators rarely fought to the death,  this is just something that’s played up in movies/TV.

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And, that’s it for the Colosseum!