Thursday, April 19, 2012

World Travel - 100 Days Abroad (Part 2)

World Travel - 100 Days Abroad (Part 2)This second article in a series of articles titled "World Travel - 100 Days Abroad" includes tips and information from our vacation days in Rome...

Cashing traveller's cheques

There are quite a few places advertising that they change traveller's cheques. We had AMEX ones, as they do not attract any surcharges - $1000 means $1000. We went to the AMEX shop at the Spanish Steps. Never again. My recommendation: find another way to get cash. The queues in the AMEX shop were insane, and we checked a few others over the next few days in case we had just been unlucky - nope they were just as bad. We stood in line for an hour (it wasn't a very long line - maybe 10 people in front of us). The aircon was hopeless too so we were standing, dripping, with a bunch of other hot smelly people, and the kids were not happy.

After all that wait, our transaction took about 3 mins.

Alternative ways to get cash

Wwe found that most ATM machines would happily allow us to withdraw cash from our credit cards. Even with a surcharge of $5-10, that still beats standing in that AMEX building!

The Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps always has heaps of people sitting on them. When we were there the building at the top had construction happening to it, so the view wasn't very good for us. However, they are what you'd think - a flight of steps, so don't expect too much! From there it's a resonable walk to Piazza del Popolo, then the Villa Borghese, which is a park. That was very relaxing, there's a gelato cart there, a lovely place to chill out for an hour or so.

Vatican

Go early! We caught the train after breakfast, arriving about 10.30am, and I'd suggest an hour earlier whould have been much better. Follow the signs to the Musei Vaticani, if the queue is short, go for it. If the queue is long, consider that there are usually short (or no) queues after about 12pm. So go to St Peter's first. There will be a queue there as well to go through the x-rays and clothes police, but it moves pretty quickly.

Tombs of the Popes. This is very interesting. There are a lot of popes buried here (but not all of them) and quite a few of the names we couldn't read. The most special and emotional was, of course, Pope John Paul II.

As Pope John Paul II had died recently when we were there, they had 2 guards by it as people crowded around. They had a special area for praying. No flashes were allowed (although they didn't seem to worry about this at any of the others). It was a very simple tomb, set into the ground, with candles lit beside, and some people had left flowers. Just around the corner was St Peter's tomb. This also had a special praying area.

Back into the basilica, and the basilica's museum (EUR5 each adult). Quite an interesting place, they have audio guides - you wear headphones and enter the number of the thing you're looking at into a handset, and it talks to you about the item.

Outside, visit the Vatican Post Office to get some unique stamps for your postcards.

Vatican Museum: You may be approached by a tour guide at the basilica, who will offer to take you to the museum - when we were there the guide wanted EUR37each (including the entrance fee, EUR25 per adult for the tour), however they can't jump the queue! They claim they can get into the basilica through "a back way". We declined, so we have no feedback for you on that.

Inside the museum you head for the Sistine Chapel, following the signs. Don't hold your breath: the signs don't lead you immediately to the chapel, but took you through several other areas first. Take a camera! The ceilings of most of the rooms are very beautifully done, some with paintings, some with gold artwork.

After about 2 hours of wandering, you finally make it to the Sistine Chapel, along with about 1000 other people. It will be packed, hardly any room to move. You are not supposed to take photos, or videos and you are supposed to talk quietly. Of course with that many people, the talk is in fact quite loud and there are guards that keep shushing everyone. There are also guards running around stopping people from taking photos (probably only the ones who use flashes, or who are really obvious about taking their photos). A few people were escorted out - they probably hadn't heeded the message. If you are suttle about it, the other tourists will make a wall around you so the guards don't see. Funny how these things happen.

We spent about 20 minutes in the chapel. It was a lot smaller than I imagined it would be. While the art work was good, it wasn't quite what we had expected. It took at least another half hour to get out of the museum (we kept stopping for photos).

To prepare for the next stage, we bought the Lonely Planet Italy book and the Michelin Guide - Hotels and Guesthouses for less than EUR100 (for a double room). Those books are excellent, if you have not pre-booked all your accommodation.

1 comment:

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