A week before Easter we returned to Rome to begin the next stage of our slow journey home. We had planned a week here, before going on to Naples and eventually to Sicily, a region of Italy that almost every Italian we've ever met has directed us to visit, so we dare not ignore this advice.
But first to Rome. We decided not to try and do it all as we've been to Rome in the past. Instead we had only one must-see on our sightseeing list - the Sistine Chapel, as neither of us had managed to organise a visit there on previous trips.
On our first day we wandered along the Tiber from Trastevere to the Vatican. The six deep queue encircling the enormous piazza in front of St Peter's stopped us in our tracks. We quickly abandoned plans to pop in for a quick visit. On we walked to the Vatican Museums. But there we found that the queues were even longer. We had been under the misapprehension that we were visiting Rome in the "off season", but in Rome there really isn't a quiet time to see the most spectacular sights. So we made a plan to avoid the queues.
|Beating the queues. 7.30am at St Peters.|
St Peter's opens from 7am to 7pm everyday from April until September. So later in the week, on a chilly, but beautifully sunny morning, we got up early and arrived there just after 7.30am. After a five minute wait we proceeded through security and walked straight into the magnificent basilica.
We discovered that this is when the real church business happens. All the small chapels and side altars were occupied. Mass was being said in so many different languages that we lost count of them. Not only were there groups of pilgrims from around the world, but there were also well-dressed Italian families attending anniversary Masses to remember their deceased family members. And there was the touching sight of an elderly priest celebrating Mass alone, until a young nun stepped up to ask if she could join him in prayer.
Meanwhile in the centre of the cathedral the cleaners were hard at work polishing and preparing the altar for Holy Week.
By 9am the cranes and cleaners had packed up, the groups of pilgrims had finished their prayers and the ropes cordoning off the side chapels, and Michaelangelo's Pieta, had been taken down. As we left the basilica, the quiet hush of the business part of the day was coming to a close.
Outside we saw that a long queue had already formed and was snaking halfway round the piazza. Feeling hungry as we'd skipped breakfast, we then congratulated ourselves with a cappuccino and a cornetto crema in a nearby bar, following one of the healthy eating rules taught to Italian children - remember, sweets only for breakfast.
Then it was off to see the Sistine Chapel where beating the queues was even easier.
Rather than stand out in the sun for three or four hours, we simply booked on line. The ticket allows entry at a specified time so there's no need to queue. CLICK HERE for more information.
As we walked past block after block of people waiting, we were puzzled as to why so few took the online option. Hard copies of tickets are not necessary, so a screenshot on the ipad with the barcode of the receipt was all that we needed to show before we were issued tickets at the empty counter. It was only 4 euros extra for each ticket to 'skip the queues', and in our opinion, it was the best value of anything we did in Rome.
Inside the Vatican Museum there is no way to beat the queue to see the Sistine Chapel, but as individual visitors we wove our way through the tour groups and eventually joined the throng milling about in the chapel. It was much larger and brighter than either of us expected. Spectacular and well worth visiting, but no pictures to see here as they are forbidden, although that didn't stop others from clicking away, and then being hounded by security.
The rest of the Vatican Museum was also memorable. It would be very easy to spend a day there and not see everything. After a long day of sightseeing I had only one thing on my mind when we left the Vatican. Gelato, of course.
Our apartment was conveniently located just down the street from Fior di Luna, one of the best gelaterias in Rome. From behind freshly whipped tubs of delicious looking gelato, Luca explained why they only serve their gelato in cups.
Taste test summary
On Luca's recommendation I chose the flavour of the day, Duetto. It was a combination of pistachio and hazelnuts with a thread of chocolate swirled through the gelato. For my second scoop I had to try their version of Nocciola as it has become my standard. Both scoops were studded with nuts. I love any gelato with an added crunch of nuts, and the crisp shards of chocolate, well that was just "icing on the gelato"! Although the flavours were strong it wasn't an overly rich gelato. I prefer my gelato not too creamy, so while dense in flavour and texture it didn't have a 'fatty' feel in the mouth. But I did miss the experience of eating from a cone.
Gelati ranking *****
Very, very, very good. I'm sounding very professional these days, don't you think? Must be my two years of practice.
Fior di Luna is a tiny shop which you could easily walk past in the early afternoon, but by 4pm it's easy to find. Just join the end of the queue. Yes, the queue will be out the door, though the wait will not be nearly so long as for St Peter's or the Vatican Museums. Or you can skip the queue by visiting between 2 and 4pm in the afternoon when most Romans are recovering from lunch.
via della Lungarina, 96
Open from 11.30am till midnight in the summer.
Più avventure romane a venire.