On Sunday, we set off for the Vatican. But before getting on the Metro, we decided that we'd better ask what time it stopped running, so that we would know when we needed to start heading back to our hotel. We were told that the B line runs until midnight or 12:30, but the A line stops at 9pm everyday. When we said that we had been surprised by that, they explained that there was work being done on the lines at night. Aha! (Of course, in my world, that information would have been posted in big bold letters on large signs posted all over entrances and exits of the metro stations, but, fortunately or unfortunately, this is not my world.)
As it turns out, we arrived at St. Peter's as the pope was giving the Sunday blessing from the Papal Apartment. We saw his arm through the window, but from where we were standing, we couldn't see much of anything else.
OK, I take that back, we had a pretty good view of what had to be at least 100,000 people standing in St. Peter's square. The square itself is immense, and it was literally packed with people-- It was well beyond the scope of any stadium or arena that I've ever seen.
We tried to go into St. Peter's Basilica, but they were playing a little trick on the tourists by rerouting the lines mid-stream, so that the line that we were standing in wound up emptying back into the square without getting anywhere near the entrance to the church. Rather than getting into another line that might also get rerouted, we decided to go to the Vatican Museum, which, as it turns out, is closed on most Sundays, except on the Sundays when admission is free, and the other Sundays when it isn't closed or free. I'm not sure how you're supposed to know the schedule in advance, but that's how it is...
...So we hopped back on the Metro, changed lines at the Termini station, and headed to the Colosseum. To avoid the long, long lines for for tickets, we joined a guided tour, which turned out to be pretty good.
They also included a tour of the Forum area, which was even more interesting. One of the main reasons that I've wanted to come to Italy for so long was to see where the Roman Empire began. Some of my favorite books are the First Man in Rome series by Colleen McCullough. She does a fantastic job describing what life was like in the last years of the Republic. The books tell the stories of Sulla, Gaius Marius, Julius Caesar, and Augustus with great detail and accuracy, especially Caesar's military and political career. So I really loved seeing the ruins and imagining how it would have looked 2000 years ago.
The tour wound up on the Palantine hill, and we wandered around for a while up there. It's a relaxing, peaceful break from the crowds and noise and heat of Rome-- It's easy to understand why so many "palatial" homes have been built there over the past two millenia.
From there, we walked down to Circus Maximus, and caught the Metro back up to the Colosseum. (OK, it's only one stop, but every little bit helps when you've been walking all day! And it was essentially free since we bought three-day metro passes when we first arrived in Rome.) We found a pizzeria for dinner, and then headed back toward the Forum to see it all again at sunset. The gates were already closed, but we were able to stand and look out over everything with the full moon in the background, which was a very different experience from walking down through it the valley in the heat of the afternoon sun.
As twilight set in and the lights came up on all of the monuments and ruins, we walked back to the Metro station.
We returned to our hotel and collapsed to rest our tired feet!