18 days. 6 countries. 1 bag: Rome (days 3-4)

When I only have a day or two in a new city—US or abroad, I always accept the fact that I can't see everything.  It's just impossible.  Instead, I have a personal "rule" that I go by: Spend half a day hitting the "must-sees",  a local restaurant for dinner, and do one nightlife-oriented event (bar, club, activity, etc).  In my original plan, for our 2 days pre-cruise, I wanted us to see St. Peters in the morning and Rome cultural sites in the afternoon on day 1.  The next day, take a day trip to Florence, and be back for dinner in Rome by the evening.  
Flying into Rome; my day 4 outfit; what's that arrow doing there? Looking down Via del Corso while standing in front of the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele at sunset. 
What really happened was this: our flight got in at 9a, we were at the hotel by 11, we didn't leave till 1p, we ran to the vatican for our pre-booked St. Peter's tomb/Scavi tour at 2p, finished by 3p, grabbed a late lunch at 4 (but why was it getting so dark already?) got back to the hotel by 5ish - took a nap  which turned into a looooong nap that caused us to wake up at 9p, look at each other, then fall back asleep for the night lol (our day did start at 3am to make a 6a flight out of Gatwick- I should have known better!).  On day 2, we nixed Florence and walked around Rome for the entire day.  Plans are great but be flexible!  It is a vacation after all!
One of my favorite sculptures on the entire trip: The statue of Laocoön and His Sons. The expression, strength, and movement captured in marble is amazing. There are sculptures everywhere in this city - each a work of art.  Not gonna lie - for some reason the vatican walls always made me flashback to the scene of Tom Cruise scaling the walls in Mission Impossible.  I was on the lookout for broken utility trucks! Bottom right corner: silence in the Sistine Chapel!!!  yeah we know there are no pics allowed but seriously, any photos no matter how professional, just doesn't do the real art justice. 
Some tips: 
  • You can totally walk rome. Wear comfortable shoes
  • The vatican is a must see.  The guidebooks are right about the vatican museums/sistine chapel - you could easily spend an entire day there.  The scale and detail is hard to describe and just doesn't translate via photo or video. It is massive and breathtaking.  It is recommended you prebook tickets. I hadn't actually planned to go to the Sistine Chapel (just wanted to see St. Peter's - it's free to enter) so I bought tix online at the hotel right before we left to go there.  Ended up, I didn't need to - the lines were nonexistent.   
  • I prebooked a tour of the Scavi - Vatican Necropolis.  Think of it as a behind-the-scenes tour of the vatican.  Only 10 people go at a time and it's totally private.  Our tour guide's knowledge was good but his english was pretty bad and he also really liked playing with his laser pointer so it's a hit or miss on this one.  It's amazing to travel underneath this massive complex and see how everything has been built above these tombs.  Do I recommend?  If you have limited time in Rome (say, hours), I say skip.  If you have a few days, I recommend. Securing tickets is odd - I filled out a form with my travel dates, scanned it in, and emailed the Papal office, waited, was sent a date that fit in my time slot, sent a credit card info, got confirmation via email, reconfirmed it (odd i know), then had to go to office to get tickets.  I did a lot of researching to figure out where to go and what to do but its only as I write this post that I found a site giving straightforward personal account of the process. Read here.
  • Which leads me to another tip - visit Rome in mid-november, and if you can mid-week: there were hardly the long lines I was reading about.  Yes, there are still tourists, but not enough to cause waits. Also - even though it's chilly it wasn't hot nor was it cold.  I wore leggings, sperry topsiders (comfy!), a dress and leather jacket and scarf.
  • People swear by this and I concur: ditch the tour guides and download Rick Steves audio tours to your ipod/iphone/mp3 player. We used it for seeing the sistine chapel, pantheon, st. peters, as well as additional sites on our whole trip. It gives you enough context to appreciate the art you're looking at but is also fairly quick commentaries and you go at your own pace. I don't know how to fast forward a tour guide!  

Highlights from the vatican museums and making our way down the streets of Rome

  • I knew no Italian but I got very comfortable saying ciao (hello/goodbye)graczi (thank you), and prego (you're welcome). When traveling I attempt to use the native language. Attempt being the key word here!  I always feel like people are more likely to help you out just because you're trying.  Also, using your hands and pointing to your maps, pics, etc will take you far.   
  • We didn't get a ROMA pass b/c everything was walkable or free - we only had a few hours so didn't need entrance tickets (except for Vatican Museums)- i just wanted to SEE the colosseum, SEE Trevi fountain, SEE the Pantheon (though it was free to walk in).  
  • Our friends said to stop wherever you can and get pizza and gelato - OFTEN. So we did.  I like to pick the places that have locals which are usually off the main streets. 
  • I read a lot about pickpocketing to get me nervous about it but then again I see they write about that for visiting NYC which is totally not on my radar. I will just advise to use common sense.  Carry/wear pockets and bags with zippers, travel light, and just try to blend in. 
  • I usually try to use my credit cards whenever I can so as to limit the amount of cash I carry on me.  But ATMS are hard to find and not all places (especially local food ones) might not take credit cards so you'll have to pack some dough.  
  • Wi-fi and Skype are your friends. I will do a future post on tech and travel.
  • And don't be afraid to wander!  Roman streets are a maze so we resolved to just wandering in the right general direction rather than what google map directions is saying what to do. Believe me, you'll go crazy trying to stick to this street and turning left at that street.  Just go in the direction, twist and turn wherever you feel like it.  You'll stumble onto piazzas, little neighborhoods, and shops which is the beauty of it all so just take it all in.

I brought a sketchbook with me on the trip since drawing forces you to really stop and look at things. I make my sketches in 5-10 minutes. It's a nice break to have when you've been walking everywhere.  Top: Colosseum; Trevi Fountain; St. Peters at night from Day 3 right after our Scavi tour.
Our evening on Day 4 warrants its own post (I smile just thinking about it) so check back soon for the recap! 
Rome wasn't built in a day but we saw most of it in 24 hours!  Above: our walking route.

Outfit recap: 
Day 3: Jeans, biker boots, orange striped shirt, cardigan, leather jacket
Day 4: Leggings, Sperry Topsider loafers, Navy Blue striped dress, cardigan, leather jacket.