I arrived in Rome via train, then wandered the streets near the central station until I found an affordable hotel that had rooms available. I felt a little overwhelmed as I read about all the things to do, but once I got my bearings it proved to be an impressive city. I started in ancient Rome, wandering the Forum, exploring Palatine Hill, and visiting the Colosseum. Another day I walked to the Vatican City and visited their amazing museums. The rest of the time I spent wandering around somewhat randomly, seeing what I could find.
May seems to be a good month to visit Rome, as for the most part the crowds weren't too bad. This wasn't true for the Vatican museums where I was quickly overwhelmed by the seemingly endless masses of people. By the time I'd worked my way through the lengthy halls of paintings and entered the Sistine Chapel, though quite impressed I was equally interested in just getting back outside and away from the crowds.
The Roman Forum was the center of ancient Rome, and it's now possible to explore the ruins which proved a fascinating way to spend the morning.
This massive structure was built by Emperor Vespasian, and opened by his son, Emperor Titus in 80 AD. The opening "games" lasted for 100 days, a bloody event that included the slaughter of an estimated 5,000 animals. These "games" were later topped by Emperor Trajan who held "games" for 117 days a couple decades later, which included the killing of a reported 11,000 people (mostly slaves and criminals), and an equal number of animals.
Inside the Colosseum
I was thankful for my guide which told me not to bother standing in the lengthy line leading into the Colosseum. Instead I headed down to the Palatine where I waited in a line of about three people and quickly obtained a ticket good for both sights. The Palatine Hill was massive, and ended up being more interesting to explore. This photo shows the interior of the Colosseum, with seating for approximately 50,000 people.
The Pantheon looked big from the outside, but was even more impressive inside looking up at the massive dome (the largest masonry vault ever built). It was built in 120 AD by the Emperor Hadrian as a temple dedicated to the many Greek gods (In Greek, pan means "all" and theos means "god"). It was turned into a Christian church in the year 608, and indeed there was a mass going on when I went inside.
There are countless narrow streets meandering through Rome, fun to walk along and explore. Cars and mopeds tend to zip by at crazy speeds, but they somehow manage to avoid hitting pedestrians. Crossing streets requires a little faith, as the cars don't really slow down until you actually step in front of them. The more timid can stand waiting for someone else to step out first, then quickly follow behind while traffic is stalled.
I stumbled into this famous Roman fountain while wandering aimlessly. It was surrounded by massive crowds, people lined up along its waters facing away from it and throwing coins into its depths over their shoulders. Evidently this is done to ensure that you will return to Rome. (for years it was said the coins were donated to charity, but it turned out a man was actually fishing them out for years.) The fountain was designed by Nicola Salvi in 1732.
The Tiber is the third longest river in Italy. On the far side you can see St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City.
St. Peter's Basilica
This Basilica is absolutely massive. It also attracts massive crowds, though the lengthy line leading inside moves relatively quickly. I explored around the outside first before deciding to be a sheep and follow the crowds inside, without really knowing where I was going. I ultimately ended up in a crypt underneath the Basilica where they bury popes, including most recently Pope John Paul II. I also saw the crypt rumored to contain the remains of Saint Peter. From the crypt I climbed up into the Basilica itself, exploring its impressive collection of artwork, including Michelangelo's sculpture, Pieta.
I was quickly informed that photos were not allowed, even without a flash, after snapping off this flashless photo of Michelangelo's "The Last Judgement" on one of the walls of the Sistine Chapel. For the previous couple of hours I'd been walking down lengthy hallways in which they had allowed flashless photography (which most people rudely ignored, snapping of flashes constantly), hence my convenient confusion. The Sistine Chapel lived up to its promise of being impressive. By this point I was primarily looking forward to getting back outside and away from the crowds, but I couldn't help but stop and gawk for quite quite a while.