A Bounty of Overwhelming Glory at the Vatican Musuems- Vatican City, Italy

There are hundreds of places I’d love to see before I shuffle off this mortal coil, some of them as specific as single bookstore in a city and some as all encompassing as a whole continent. Rapa Nui, Singapore, St Petersburg, Prague are just a few, and Vatican City was up there among the very top, at least until I was able to mentally marked it off. It was as amazing as i’d ever expected it to be and to say i’m not already planning a way to go back and be able to spend a solid week just walking through the museums lengthy corridors would be an enormous falsehood.

Full disclosure- if you’re looking for a post about the history of the Vatican, it’s influence and the way it differentiates from the Holy See, you probably would do well to click elsewhere.
I thought long and hard about how I would put together these photos in a blog post, both because I don’t consider myself a Christian and because i’m not a person who can easily walk the line between fawning over the gorgeous architecture and the millions of wondrous treasures housed here while also remembering the at times incredibly bloody history of Catholicism.

So, rather than a blog post full of travel writing, think of this as my photo journal of my visit to the Vatican Museums.

At times you look up so much, you almost forget to look around you, and that would be a monumental mistake, given all the cabinets that line the miles of corridors here filled to almost overflowing with relics, art, items of curiosity and just literal treasure. 

If you take a tour of the Vatican Museums or even if you go independently, you will also most certainly end up visiting the Sistine Chapel. If you noticed, there are no photos of it here in this post and you might be tempted to think we didn’t visit it but the truth is with the tour we took, we visited it twice. Once before general opening hours and where we got to sit for almost an hour marveling at it’s beauty and speaking in hushed tones when we spoke at all and again later when we were doubling back on our way to St Peters Basilica . There are no photos however, because I didn’t take any as it’s forbidden to take video or photographs and considering where we were, it wasn’t hard to follow that rule, no matter the temptation.

I would highly recommend allocating a full morning to visiting the Vatican Museums and St Peters Basilica and wearing the most comfortable shoes you own as there is just so much to see and an enormous space to see it all in. Be prepared for crowds but know that there is more than enough to see to make it worth it.

~m

Wonder and Incredible Views in the Boboli Gardens- Florence, Italy

Though the Palazzo Pitti is a great place to visit all its own, the reason I picked it over the Uffizi Gallery was because of its gardens. The Boboli Gardens to be exact, located just behind the palace, were established in the 16th century by the Medici family, though there have certainly been many updates and renovations since then.

We were incredibly lucky and managed to visit on a day with crisp cool weather, beautiful blue skies and a minimum of crowds and spent more than a couple of hours walking around, not only because of how immense the area is but because of how incredibly relaxing it was just to explore all the areas, it felt like you never knew what could be around the corner- perhaps a marvelous fountain, an impossibly stoic statue?

Up a staircase, to where and what? Why not go and find out?

Incredible views of the countryside and more of the gardens! The best part of visiting the Boboli gardens was feeling a little bit like a kid and getting the chance to pick any direction and just go off to explore and discover.

And of course, no matter how lovely the gardens, it was the statues and the amazing views of Florence that just really made it all that much more spectacular.

We finished up the trip by wandering up a little hill and discovering yet more incredible views. It honestly felt like there was no where you could go in the gardens where you weren’t rewarded for your curiosity.

We stayed in the gardens until about 5:00pm, and then exited to sit and linger in the front of the palace where many other people had just plopped down to rest and hangout before figuring out their plans for the rest of the afternoon. Our own plans at that point where to make the return walk to the train station where we would catch the ride that would take us back to Rome, but for the time before that walk was started, was just sat there outside the Palazzo Pitti and enjoyed the lingering remains of the day, people watching and feeling ever so reluctant to leave this beautiful city.

~m

The Incomparable Palazzo Pitti- Florence, Italy

One of the Florence’s largest architectural monuments, the Palazzo Pitti seems doomed to be forever eclipsed by the Uffizi Gallery and the Palazzo Vecchio, even while very much holding its own in regards to beautiful art and history. The fact that tourists seem to forget about this palace (or maybe it’s the slightly drab exterior that does it) worked out perfectly for me and the bf however, and we bought tickets and were inside in a matter of minutes.

There is just so much to see here, the galleries divided like so: Museum of Costume and Fashion, the Royal Apartments, Palatine Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art, and the Treasury of the Grand Dukes.

We had planned to see the vast Boboli Gardens afterwards and then cross back over the Arno to the other side of Florence to visit the Uffizi Gallery, so we only toured the Palatine Gallery and Royal Apartments, but I would genuinely love to go back and see everything one day.

The crowds were minimal apart from some small tour groups and there were plenty of moments where we had whole rooms to ourselves, the decadence of that experience almost too great at times- imagine yourself surrounded on all sides by lush gorgeous paintings, evocative sculptures, tall incredibly ornate ceilings and the realization you’re standing in a building that’s been around since the 15th century.

From a window on the first floor, a view of Florence over the Grotto steps you even further back in time.

Amid the rooms full of rosy peach tones and gold accents, the room spilled with deep, vibrant emerald was one of my favorites.

I don’t know how long exactly we stayed inside, maybe two hours? It felt both a good while and like no time had passed when we made it back downstairs and into the fresh crisp air and streaming sunlight. After a quick stop to retrieve the bf’s backpack from the cloakroom and stow away the books and souvenirs I had purchased (of course), we got out the separate tickets we had purchased to enter the Boboli Gardens (just an extra 6 €) and headed that way with much eagerness, because the way I saw it, if the interior had been so splendid, I couldn’t wait to see what kind of beauty the gardens would hold.

~m

The Walk to the Palazzo Pitti- Florence, Italy

After leaving the Florence Cathedral and having re-energized ourselves with coffee and pastries, we headed on our way to the Uffizi Gallery. Afterwards the plan was to cross the Arno river via the Ponte Vecchio and finish up the day at the Palazzo Pitti.  We were a little worried the weather would turn ugly as we had a couple of stop planned along the way and while we had already endured 3 days straight of rain in Venice with no problem, we didn’t want to do it again in Florence.

Thankfully by the time we reached The Basilica di Santa Croce, the skies had cleared up again to picturesque cloudy fluffs with brilliant blue beneath.

Completed in the 14th Century, Santa Croce is the principle Franciscan church in Florence and is also the largest Franciscan church in the world. While we had been planning the way we would walk to the Uffizi Gallery, we had seen this church as kinda on the way and figured, why not stop by? We didn’t go inside but even just getting a chance to see the beautiful exterior was worth the detour. We sat down on one of the many benches around the square and eventually, only a bit reluctantly, made our way to the next stop on our walking tour, the Palazzo Vecchio.

The town hall of Florence, the Palazzo Vecchio is an immensely interesting building thats bursting with history but this was another place we decided to save for a later visit. One of the reasons for this is we’d seen a couple of interesting historical  residence/art museum type buildings already in Venice and we were sure the Palazzo Pitti would have enough to hold our interest in this regard (spoiler alert: it 100% delivered on that). From what i’ve read, the best way to visit the Palazzo Vecchio is to take a tour as there are many rooms and halls that are only accessible via guided tour so, definetly something we put on the list for a longer return trip.

The exterior is incredible in it’s own right and just next to it is the Loggia dei Lanzi (also known as the Loggia della Signoria as it’s on the corner of the Piazza della Signoria where the Palazzo Vechio is situated)  which is an amazing open-air sculpture gallery. Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to visit the Palazzo Vecchio, I can’t recommend enough to at least pass by the area, especially if you’re headed to the Uffizi Gallery as it’s a straight shot from there.

After leaving the dramatically beautiful statues behind, we made it to the Uffizi Gallery and were confronted by a rather huge line. We had expected this one however and had previously discussed that if the line here was incredibly long, we would head to the Pitti Palace first instead and finish up the day at the Uffizi Gallery when we came back. This was mainly because I was more keen to seen the Boboli Gardens of the Palazzo Pitti than any art held inside the gallery and so, we kept walking on towards the Arno river and crossed the Ponte Vecchio to the other side of Florence.

Taking our time, we made it to the Pitti Palace by around 1pm that afternoon and found no line to get inside- fates way of telling us we had made the right choice by coming here first maybe? Either way we happily headed inside to explore the opulent interiors.

~m

Il Duomo di Firenze and David- Florence, Italy

Our first day in Rome and what do we do? Where do we pick to see, in a city overflowing with a bounty of historically interesting and arrestingly beautiful points of interest?

Why, none of them of course. Instead, we headed off just a little after sunrise via Metro to the train that would take us to Florence.

When we had first started out making plans for this trip, I had asked the bf what cities he wanted to see in Italy and his first question had been, “Which one has Michelangelo’s David?”. And so, we bought a day trip train ticket from Rome to Florence so that we could fulfill one of his bucket list dream items- seeing the statue in person where it’s housed at the Galleria dell’Accademia.

I didn’t have many expectations of Florence and in truth I didn’t think I would find much to catch my interest, but by gods was I proved resoundingly wrong. Starting at the unexpected overwhelming beauty on display at our first stop of the day at the Galleria dell’Accademia and moving out onto the streets of Florence itself to find the Florence Cathedral, I found arresting views and points of marveling interest around almost every corner.

We had gotten skip the line tickets for the Galleria dell’Accademia because every single book or website we had looked through had suggested this (and really I can’t recommend it enough because if we hadn’t gotten skip the line tickets I think we would have been in line to get in for well over an hour) but we hadn’t thought to do the same for Il Duomo di Firenze, mostly because we just didn’t think it would be busy enough to warrant it.

Once again, Florence turned those expectations upside down.

The line for either entrance was massive and we were approached by a friendly tour guide who was still selling tickets for skip the line tours later in the day, which were very tempting. We still had about 3-4 other places we wanted to see though, and at this point I had decided that we would most definetly be coming back to Florence again and for longer then the length of a day trip. With that in mind, we declined to buy tickets and just enjoyed the incredible view of the exterior.

One of the largest churches in the world, the Florence Cathedral- in Italian Il Duomo di Firenze – is also a very prominent landmark of the Florentine skyline and later in the day we would actually get a chance to see it from a much different angle, from across the river while we rested in the Boboli Gardens of the Pallazzo Pitti.

With one last lingering look, we ducked into a nearby coffee shop to fuel up before we made our way towards the next couple of stops on our Florence day trip plans.

~m