Henry Poon's Blog

Vatican City and Rome (Day 1 and 2)

Day 208

On Thursday, the day before we went to Rome, I learned from a colleague at work that the organization that ran the U-Bahn would go on strike on Friday. Knowing that we had to go to the train station the next day, we had to figure out an alternative route.  It just so happened that the nearby town of Ditzingen was only about 3 km away and from there we could take the S-Bahn (these ones weren’t on strike) to the main train station.  It took about 40 minutes to walk there, but it was necessary.  Along the way, we walked past a bunch of farmland that connected the two towns.  It seemed like we didn’t have to walk very far to reach the rural area.

We arrived at the main train station about an hour earlier than we needed to be so we just sat down for beer before beginning our trip.  Our train to the airport in Baden-Baden took about 2 hours and flying to Rome from there took about an hour and a half.  We arrived at the hostel pretty late in the evening, so we didn’t do much sightseeing except go to the nearby Piazza della Repubblica.  Since Rome was so hot, we were sweaty all over and it made good sense to take a shower when we got back to the hostel.  The worst part about it was that the water was freezing.  For some reason, the hot water didn’t work.  We talked to the reception about it and they said we’d have hot water by morning.

We didn’t get hot water in the morning either.  I followed my friend’s strategy for taking cold showers that he used during this stay in Uganda.  It pretty much worked by standing in the cold shower for as long as possible and then getting out.  It was really uncomfortable.  I didn’t really feel clean, but that had to do.  When we got ready, we took the metro to Vatican City and that’s where the real sightseeing started.

When we got on the metro at Termini Station, we couldn’t help but notice these people standing against the wall of the metro tunnel in the area where people got on the train.  It seemed as if these people were scoping potential victims for pickpocketing.  My friend let me borrow a pouch that I could tie around my body and was hidden under my shirt, so I wasn’t worried about getting pickpocketed.  I noticed that these people kept staring at other people as they walked by.  It seemed super suspicious to me.  In order to avoid these people even more, we boarded the metro at the end of the train, where there’d be the least concentration of people.

Vatican City

When we walked out of the metro and walked toward St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, we could see into it a little bit, and it kind of prepared us for getting our minds blown when we saw the whole thing.  From the plaza, we could see the Apostolic Palace and St. Peter’s Basilica.  As I expected, my mind was totally blown away by how awesome the place looked.  We proceeded to the line up to see the inside of the basilica.  At that time, I thought the line up we were at was for the Vatican Museums, but apparently that was somewhere else.  It was only after we waited in line that I realized that we were in the wrong place.  We had an online reservation for 11 and we only figured out where we needed to be at about 10:50, so in those 10 minutes, we walked about a kilometer around the outside of the Vatican in the burning heat just to make that deadline.  We got in though.

We had bought tickets for the Vatican the day before so we didn’t have to wait in line for tickets when we were there.  Even if it cost us an extra 4 euros each, it was totally worth it.  The line up looked like it was going to take hours.

Inside the Vatican Museums, it looked like people just wanted to see the Sistine Chapel and the other exhibits didn’t really interest them.  I can understand since a lot of the statues and busts that they showed there are of people that are of no particular significance to most people.  Most people probably don’t even understand the paintings everywhere.  I know I don’t.  To me, these exhibits just look really cool and that is about it.  I don’t know the history behind them at all.  Maybe the only painting there that I sort of knew was the one of Euclid.  The painting of him showing off geometry in the street is in pretty much every single math textbook.

The museum was set up such that there was a linear path for everyone to follow and near the end of the path would be the Sistine Chapel, the highlight of the visit.  In this part of the museum, guests were not allowed to take any photos and also had to be silent in the area of worship.  Most tourists obeyed these rules except for a select few who insisted on taking photos (myself included).  Every now and then the guards would call out for everyone to be silent and many guards patrolled around the crowd telling people to put their cameras away.  I too got caught by one of the guards when I tried to take a photo, but all he did was tell me to put my camera away.  Some tourists though, kept using the flash and made it so obvious that they’re taking photos.  Little do they know that they were slowly destroying the paintings.  At least I know how to take photos without the flash.

On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, was the famous painting of the Creation of Adam where God can be seen giving the spark of life to Adam.  I was surprised that this painting blended in so well with the others.  I had originally thought that this painting would be much more prominent.  It seemed that way because the painting was so famous.

After finishing up the Vatican Museums, we went back to St Peter’s Square to see the basilica.  By now, all the tourists were out and about and as a result it took us about an hour of waiting in line to reach the security checkpoint for the basilica.  It sucked because it only took us about 15 minutes when we were there earlier.  We had pretty much already waited, but were forced to wait again.  We found that the church required a certain attire to get in.  People wearing shorts, tank tops, and short skirts weren’t allowed in.  Luckily, I had jeans on and that was allowed (although it was awful wearing them in 30+ Celsius weather).

The wait was worth it though because St. Peter’s Basilica was the best church I had ever seen.  When we got inside, we immediately noticed how beautiful everything was decorated.  To make it all better, the position of the sun was just right so that the light shone into the church as glory rays.

It seemed like every single part of the church had some sort of decoration.  There was hardly any section of white space.  There was always a statue or some sort of engraving.  I was totally blown away by this sight.  I tried my best to capture the beauty of the glory rays.  In the ray of light, I could see small particles of dust floating around that I never managed to capture with my camera.

The sight of this church instantly made me believe that the look of all the churches I’d seen to simply be inferior.  It’s almost as if I no longer see a point in visiting any other church when I know that this one is just going to be the nicest looking one.

Walking through the Town in the Evening

After leaving the Vatican, we went to the Spanish Steps to meet the walking tour that we learned about from our hostel.  The tour wasn’t very good for me since I had so much trouble understanding the tour guide’s English.  He didn’t speak very loudly either.

From the Spanish Steps, we walked to Piazza Navona. Along the way, we saw some Roman ruins and also the most beautiful fountain ever – the Trevi Fountain.

The Roman ruins we saw were of the Pantheon and the Temple of Hadrian.  Over the years, much of the Temple of Hadrian had collapsed and the only remaining parts were just the pillars. 

Next was the Pantheon.  We couldn’t go in at the time because there was a service going on, but we went back later once it ended. 


Our next stop was the Piazza Navona, the location of a very beautiful city square.  It was surrounded by very traditional Italian architecture and a very beautiful church with an Egyptian obelisk in front of it.

Once the tour ended, we went back to the Pantheon to wait for the service to finish.  We knew when it ended and timed it so that we only had to wait a few minutes.  Many other tourists knew this too, so the crowd of tourists just waited outside and just stormed in when it was time.  When we went in, the smell of incense was still in the air and it gave the Pantheon a good smell.

After all the walking around we got really hungry and ate at a restaurant in the nearby city square of Campo de Fiori.  At that restaurant, we got to try some delicious Italian pasta and beer.  That beer tasted so good at relaxing.  Definitely needed after walking in the baking heat all day.

After eating, we revisited some of the sights along the walking tour at night before heading back to the hostel.  The next day, we would visit the Coliseum and the surrounding Forum Romanum.

More photos here

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