Europe tour day 2: Rome

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Coliseum, Rome
Coliseum, Rome
We started out early on our second day because we had a whole day planned, but like our first day,  we didn't accomplish everything we set out to do.

One of the reasons why I insisted on not getting a tour package (but this does not apply to everyone!) is because I wanted our family to enjoy Europe at our own pace. Of course the downside were the stressful moments when we didn't know how to get to our apartment when we first arrived, and which bus/train to take to get to our next destination.

But thankfully, my sister and I finally figured out Rome's public transportation system on our second day in Rome.

And also, shoutout to the super nice driver in Rome who didn't fine us and dropped us off at the Vatican even though we didn't have a bus ticket and we didn't know you can't pay the bus driver. So pro tip: Buy a bus ticket at the kiosk before riding one.

I received a very wonderful tip-off from a Kiwi I work with, which helped me rearrange our tours. She said (pro tip) the best time to go to mass at the Vatican was at 7am where several priests held masses at the little chapels inside the Basilica, in different languages. She was right.

St. Peter's Basilica in the morning light
St. Peter's Basilica in the morning light
We arrived late and the first mass we saw ongoing was in Spanish, but the guard wouldn't let us enter the chapel anymore. We rushed to the opposite side where an English mass was just starting.

Morning view from the entrance of the Basilica
Morning view from the entrance of the Basilica
Attending mass that early was such an incredible experience. No long lines and hardly any tourists so it wasn't as overwhelming. I just wish tourists would turn off the sound from their cameras/phones when inside churches because it gets terribly distracting during mass.

Plus, the St. Peter's Basilica looked incredible in the morning light.

This morning mass at the Vatican was also memorable for me because I got two usually-stoic Swiss guards to say hi back!

I was sprinting towards the Vatican when I passed a Swiss guard at his post, and I waved a cheery Buon giorno! He stared at me for a beat then smiled so quickly, I would have missed it if I wasn't looking.

Serenade on the train
The second one was at the Swiss guard who was guarding one of the doors where no one can enter, but since it was so quiet, I just smiled and waved at him. He looked around him before nodding at me. That was nice of them. I didn't expect them to say hi back, but I was just feeling so energetic and happy that morning because hello, I'm in Rome!

After the mass, we went to the Coliseum. I scheduled our trip there early in the morning because (pro tip) every first Sunday of the month, the entrance is free. The line was quite long, and there were a lot of other tourists on the train, but we quickly got in line outside the Coliseum, and after ten minutes, we were inside. Holy guacamole, I was at the Coliseum. This was the stuff of my dreams.

It felt so weird to be at the Coliseum. I felt sad because I felt the history of the place even though it hasn't been used for such purposes in thousands of years. I could just imagine the horror and blood and gore that happened so many times, and it made me shudder.

But at the same time, I was happy because I saw the Coliseum, which was something I only ever read about in books and not something I actually thought I'd get to see. Heck, my whole Eurotrip was like a dream.

Arcibasilica di San Giovanni in Laterano
Arcibasilica di San Giovanni in Laterano
Afterwards, we rode the wrong bus. A helpful Italian guy noticed my confusion and, in a halting mix of English and Italian, explained to me that we have to walk back where we came from and take the opposite bus. This was definitely one of those moments I saw the frustration in my parents' faces, wondering why in the world they let me navigate! But our destination was worth it: Arcibasilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, which is actually the papal seat of Christianity in Rome.

Amazing detailing
It is one of the grandest and most beautiful churches I've ever seen. The statues of the apostles on top were life-sized and carefully crafted. I felt so small.

Truly, the churches in Italy have the best artworks. Pro tip: Beautiful artwork from the best masters can be seen for free decorating the churches in Italy.

Afterwards, we crossed the street to the Scala Sancta. The Scala Sancta is a small chapel where the stairs from the palace of Pontius Pilate that Jesus walked on during His Passion, and St. Helena, Constantine's mother, brought them back with her when she went looking for the Holy Cross. Since Jesus walked on it during His Passion, these steps are considered holy/sanctified.

The only way to go up the Scala Sancta is on one's knees. Literally. You cannot stand up and just kneel on the second step. You have to push and propel yourself forward. It was one of the most painful things I've went through in Rome. Imagine going up 28 steps of stairs on your knees? It was a miracle none of us fell down. At first, I was so excited but when I was almost at the top I wanted to cry, because I knew none of the pain I was feeling could compare to the excruciating pain Jesus went through out of love for me. Thank you, Lord Jesus!

The Scala Sancta
The Scala Sancta
Once I got to the top, the pain was gone. There was also the revered Image of the Most Holy Saviour just across the top of the stairs, which is believed to not have been painted by human hand.

Afterwards, we crossed the street to an authentic Italian trattoria, which, based on their food preparation, served us meals bought pre-packed from the grocery and heated via microwave. It was affordable but the taste left a lot to be desired. I immediately grabbed gelato from the next homemade gelateria we found a few steps away, which was one of my best foodie decisions.

Next, we walked all the way to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, a Papal major basilica and the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome. It is also considered a UNESCO world heritage. And when I saw the beautiful Church, it really is worthy to be considered a world heritage.

Santa Maria Maggiore
Santa Maria Maggiore

Marble step of Bernini
Bernini!!! Yes, I'm a fan of his.
One of the earliest depictions of Mary as Theotokos.
After touring the Maggiore, it was about 3pm and we were so exhausted, but we didn't give up. We took the train to our next destination, the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, which Constantine founded on the spot over the burial place of St. Paul. And we even saw the where St. Paul's tomb was found, as well as his chains when he was imprisoned in Rome.

St. Paul's tomb
St. Paul's tomb

After taking lots of pictures, papa said we didn't have to go to Via Appia anymore since we already went to St. Paul's Basilica, and I was so happy because I felt my feet were about to fall off. We took the train and got off at Piazza Bernini, which was the closest train station on our way to the Trevi Fountain.

Another of Rome's numerous beautiful fountains
But on our way to Trevi, we kept stopping because I led my parents right through a shopping street, and there were numerous affordable beautiful Italian-made leather bags. And of course, papa's trip wouldn't be complete if he didn't get a shirt from every city we went to. He actually bought the most number of memorabilia out of all of us! His pack light motto served him well.

Al fresco dinner in Rome
We decided to eat dinner before going to the Trevi Fountain because I was hungry, so I chose the nearest restaurant I could find. We dined al fresco, and the waitress kept bringing us bottles of water, which I later realized is a no-no because (pro tip) you can ask for free table water. But I was so thirsty and so tired that I just paid for them.

Everything was still so surreal at that point. I knew I was in Rome but a part of me felt like I was still dreaming.

After dinner, we then walked the short distance to the Trevi Fountain, which was quite a disappointment because there was a huge acrylic glass barrier as Rome's most fountain was being rehabilitated. But I managed to find a way to get a good, clear shot (meaning I asked a very tall and complete stranger to take a photo over the barrier -- dad was like, what you did was so dangerous!!!), and here it is!

Trevi Fountain under construction
Trevi Fountain

1. Ask for tap water when dining in Italian restaurants.

2. Buy your transportation tickets before going on trips. Rome has a transportation pass you can use on buses and the metro, with set number of days.

3. Try to attend the 7am Sunday mass at the St. Peter's Basilica. It's the best time to visit. :)

I hope you'll enjoy your trip! All photos are unedited. I don't know how to use Photoshop! Please don't use my images without permission.

Read about my Eurotrip!
Rome day 1
Florence day 3-4
Pisa day 4
Venice day 5
Innsbruck day 6
Munich day 7-8

Other links you might find helpful:

Getting ready for Europe  |  Preparing your Schengen visa requirements  |  Booking your hotel and plane fare  |  Filling out the Schengen visa form  |  How to apply to the Italian embassy thru Via  |  Cross-country train travel in Europe

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