6 unmissable foodie spots in Seattle and around+2 bonus outside of Seattle

One city I visit often, and love keep going back to is Seattle in Washington state in the Pacific Northwest. Over the last 2 years, I have been here multiple times and tried multiple cuisines… ranging all the way from roadside food trucks to romantic fine dining.

Cheat days are thrown out of the window in Seattle. 
Seattle has a temperamental weather. That’s the reason, it has a lot of places serving desserts, pastries and everything sweet. Well it rains one moment, gets gloomy another. What better way to uplift your spirits than a bite into a scrumptious chocolate croissant. Needless to say, everything is accompanied with coffee-you are in Seattle, what do you expect?

Some of these places, have become my absolute favorite and I go there it every single time I visit.

I have made a list of restaurants and cafes you should definitely try when you next visit Seattle.


1. Sweet Iron Waffles     (map)

This one restaurant, I definitely go to every single time I visit Seattle. I save my cheat day for that. Naah, I just go!!!
They have a variety of Belgian waffles from sweet to savory and from plain ol’ to ice-cream sunday waffle. They are a locally owned business and use natural organic ingredients. This gives them brownie points in addition to the fact that they are absolutely delicious. They also have takeaway waffles, coffee and juices in addition. The space is a little small, but worth visiting to see them create these mouth-watering gourmet waffles. 
Range: $

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Banana flambe waffle


2. La Creperie Voila        (map)

This creperie right in the heart of downtown on Pike street has a totally Parisian flair to it. Mind you, it is on Pike street and not in Pike place market.  There are innumerable French restaurants in Seattle, but this one stands out with their fast service and delicious food..
Their dark chocolate crepe is to die for. Right in the center of the crepe is a dollop of dark chocolate truffle which melts in your mouth. Heaven!!!! A savory crepe that I have enjoyed here time and again, is the one with roasted sliced chicken-a very humble counterpart of the jazzy chocolate crepe.
There is no formal seating as it is an outdoor stand. You can either eat your food sitting on the chairs on the pavement or inside in the convention center which has formal seating for these outdoor restaurants.
Range: $

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Chocolate crepe

3. Caffe Ladro      (map)

There are multiple locations of this cafe in downtown Seattle. There was one, right next to our hotel in downtown on Pine street. 
This cafe opens early. The barista is super nice. Fast service and delicious coffee. That’s all I ask at 6 o’ clock in the morning before I head out to my adventurous day in East Washington. 

Range: $ 


4. Moore Coffee Shop      (map)

The cutest presentation of coffee in a small crowded coffee shop is what describes this beautiful artsy cafe!!! The barista behind the counter are funny creating art and making us smile in our busy schedule. Their artistic touch to a mere cup of coffee makes you want to visit them again and again. Their hot cocoa is just as amazing. You can either try to find a place in their tiny packed cafe or just take a to-go. Oh and their coffees are accompanied by a delectable piece of dark chocolate. Definitely must try!!!

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5. Sweetgrass food Co.    (map)

This is a great place to get your early morning healthy fix. It is a hip breakfast place which opens at 7:00 am and perfect for some rich sumptuous oatmeal. I can’t believe I am saying delicious oatmeal, but seriously it is. My honey loves going there every morning when he is working in Seattle. Plus side, it is a totally Instagram worthy place with bright white interiors, small plants all over the place. They have a variety of fresh smoothies, amaranth grits (they are lovely too-can you believe it???), granola, chia pudding and what not. If that is too healthy for your taste, they have cookies, coffee and also cocoa mousse-which by the way is healthy because it has avocado in it. That’s a win-win if you ask me!!! Well, don’t ask, just go there and see it for yourself. 

Range: $$

6. Breakfast at The Georgian   (map) 

If you want a lavish breakfast, think – whitewashed tablecloths, walls and ginormous chandeliers, then Georgian is the place to be. It can be a breakfast date place. Oh why yes, that is a thing. They have a great selection of breakfast foods, that look and taste good. They also have a breakfast buffet, but I have never tried it. It looks good though. They have a great selection of fruit preserves, jams, honey to go with your toast.

I go here for breakfast at least once every time I can go to Seattle.And you should too!!!

Range: $$

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The Georgian
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Egg white omellete
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Omelette with yogurt parfait

The next two restaurants are outside of Seattle, but still a great find. A local friend recommended these restaurants to us.

The Guilt trip

As the name suggests, this place is a total guilt trip.  But still eat here guilt free and burn it off the next day. Anyone who is just visiting Seattle, should definitely try this place for their delicious Indian cuisine. It is in Redmond, Washington about 20 minutes from downtown Seattle. Their “chhole-bhatura” was seriously the best one I’ve had in United States till date. I wish I had taken a picture of their bhatura which was the fluffiest bhatura filled with cheese. The chhole were perfectly cooked and amazingly flavored.

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The Guilt trip-the entrance
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Chicken roll

But their show stealer was their “malpua”. Malpua is a pancake but better. It is dipped in sugary syrup and covered in powdered pistachio and almonds. It is D.E.L.I.C.I.O.U.S. Yes, just know it from the number of dots I have, how delicious it would be. Mouth-watering, melt in your mouth, heavenly malpua. If there is only one thing you can have here, then have the malpua. You will not regret it.

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The delicious “Malpua”

Aahar Indian eatery

This little hole in the wall eatery in Snoqualmie, Washington is a gem!!! With traditional Keralite cuisine it excels in its seafood preparation!! All seafood entrees come with rice which is traditionally eaten with the curry in Kerala in India. There is usually a long wait, but they will give you the beeper and while you are there, you can check some other cute shops they have around there.


In the cold, rainy weather of Washington, the piping hot curry is a heavenly delight. They have a lot of vegetarian options also such as dosa, uttapam and their stuffed idli is so mouth-watering . When you first get seated, they serve you a bowl full of tangy, hot rasam. While the taste of rasam is still lingering on your tongue, your appetizers are presented. Service is fast and efficient.


And yet again, their filter kaapi (filtered coffee) is the best you’ve had. This is a special type of coffee made using a special metallic container. This container has 2 parts, one that holds the coffee grounds and another that will hold the strong decoction that gets brewed in the top container. There is a sieve in between the containers that lets the brewed coffee percolate into the bottom container.  (From this you may have understood about my love for coffee…check my other blog for more coffee love Not just your regular cup of coffee- Coffee Culture in Italy)


These are some of the restaurants that I absolutely love in Seattle and other neighborhoods in the area. I will keep updating this list as and when I visit Seattle, to try more places and cuisines.

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Not just your regular cup of coffee- Coffee Culture in Italy

“I love coffee” is an understatement. I live coffee. Yes, I can have coffee any time of the day, anywhere, and of any possible type. My favorite has been mocha for years, until I was introduced to Macchiato. So when I was off coffee for a week (trying to be caffeine free), I got beautiful dreams of the delicious aroma of coffee, swirling milk in the magical cups, drinking it to my heart’s content. That’s when I decided, I had to write about the Italian coffee culture. 

Delicious coffee in Positano-Amalfi coast


Coffee is big in United States. But I am not a Starbucks’ fan at all. Well, except Starbucks Roastery in Seattle. That is not a regular Starbucks coffee shop. Their menu is different, keeps changing and is delicious. Usually I prefer local coffee shops to these chain cafes.

So, naturally being a coffee lover, I was extremely excited about Italy. Their coffee culture is quite different than US and they have some of the best coffees that you can and you should experience on your trip to Italy. There are numerous coffee shops all over the cities, railway stations, shopping centers etc. I have listed some of the major differences in their coffee culture below.

Coffee served only in coffee cups



– The barista culture is completely different in Italy. They are fast, efficient and totally no-nonsense. 

– Mostly you are going to have the coffee right there at the bar. 
There may not be chairs and tables set out. As soon as you reach the bar, the barista sets a saucer, spoon and sugar bowl in front of you. Once they take the order, within a matter of minutes, the cup is set right on your saucer. You pay for it, drink it, and get out of there. 

– Italians love coffee and they have it after every meal. 

Italian coffee is to be enjoyed right out of the little cup they serve it to you in. And if you want to be any closer to Italian culture, have the coffee right there and DO NOT ask for a to-go coffee. That is totally American. You will get a look from your barista…!!!
Only train stations may have to-go cups.


Train stations have coffee to-go


This is how the usual routine goes..

1. Early morning starts with a cappuccino or caffe latte or latte macchiato with a pastry or scone. Any milky drinks are to be savored in the early morning at the time of breakfast. 
If you like chocolate, go for caffe Marocchino-coffee lightly dusted with cocoa. 


Caffe Marocchino-coffee dusted with cocoa powder



2. No milky drinks after 11 am. Italians consider having milky coffee after 11 am to be bad for digestion. Milk is heavy on the stomach late in the day. 

3. Afternoon
Like I said earlier, Italians love coffee. Afternoon coffee is basically right after lunch. This coffee is usually a shot of espresso, had standing at the bar talking to colleagues, friends or the barista
Having milky coffee past noon is considered too heavy after meals.


A shot of espresso right after lunch is a must



4. If espresso is not your thing, caffe macchiato is a good alternative. It has just a splash of milk with espresso, so it is okay to have after lunch.

5. If you like your coffee a little boozy (with some % of alcohol), go for the caffe corretto, which means “corrected coffee”.

6. Do not say, “I want a latte”. Unless milk is what you actually want to have. Latte means milk and if you ask a barista for latte, you will get a glass of milk. 

7. If you go to Venice, do have coffee in the historic coffee shop “The Florian”. Make your visit to Venice worthwhile, by at least going there once for a cup of coffee. I say once, because their coffees are expensive compared to what you get in other cafes. 
This coffee shop opened in the 1700s. How many times do we actually get to go to a restaurant that is from the 17th century. 


17th century cafe-The Florian



8. You get a great cup pretty much anywhere from gas station to free standing cafes. Be wary of touristy areas where there is a heavy flow of people. They may be selling mediocre coffee at an exorbitant price just for their location.

9. Your coffee will cost more if you drink it sitting down. 
If you are going to be sitting in the restaurant, you have to pay a coperto cover charge. 




So if you are Italy for your big trip, don’t forget to enjoy that little precious cup of coffee. 

And oh, about being caffeine free for a week-nah!!! I am heading right now to my kitchen for a steaming cup of espresso!!!! La Dolce Vita !!!!

Venice-A dreamy, floating city

Venice or Venezia requires no introduction. For all travel lovers and romantics, this is on their must visit places. I am a hopeless romantic, so

this dreamy destination was on the very top of my Italian itinerary.

Venice is in the northeastern part of Italy’s Veneto region and is made of more than a hundred small isles.

You can reach Venice in about 4 hours train ride from Roma Termini in Rome reaching Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia. Or you can also fly to Marco Polo airport and take a train from the airport. We landed in Rome first, so we took the train.

Boarding the Trenitalia

The train ride is amazing in itself taking you through the interior country-side of Italy. Book your tickets in advance through Trenitalia’s website or Italo which is another train service.
Trenitalia’s website is quite easy to use. We had a hard time booking tickets online for Italo as they would not take our credit card information for some reason. You can also buy tickets at the railway station.
(Tip: Always book you hotel/airbnb closer to the train station to make it accesible via foot and save time for taking a cab/public transportation).

As soon as you step out of the train station, you will be welcomed by the beautiful and enormous Grand Canal. Normally,when you step out of a train station, you see buses, cabs. But here you see boats and gondolas. The only means of transport in Venice is through the waterways. You can either take a private water taxi to reach

Water taxi outside the station

your accommodation or the public water taxi called vaporetto.  
(Tip: Vaporettos are way cheaper than the private water taxis or the gondola. Check their schedules for exact timings. You can also buy their 1 day or multiple days pass for easy commute.)

They operate till midnight so if you are staying in the neighboring islands, you can still take their last ferry.

There are a lot of things to do, places to visit and experiences in Venice.  We spent 3 full days in Venice and I think it was a good amount of time to spend and to experience this glorious floating city. I have listed some of the things that I loved doing.

1. Staying in Murano

We decided to rent airbnb in Murano instead of the main island. It did make commuting a little bit tricky, but since we had the daily vaporetto schedules on hand, it was easier to plan than one would think. Murano is much less commercialized and less touristy than the main island Venezia. 

 

Murano

2. Glass works in Murano

While you are in Murano, go to any of the various glass factories spread all across the island. The hand blown glass is an age old art. The workers create beautiful objects from a blob of molten glass. They make vases, jewelry, idols, boxes…the list is endless. They have to be so quick as well as careful doing it, you can only imagine their precision. If you are staying on the island, you can go to these factories early before hordes of cruise-ship tourists flock the factories.

Get yourself a beautiful souvenir and support local business. Most stores also ship, so you don’t have to worry about carrying a fragile item in your checked bags. We carried only two cabin bags and two personal bags, but still were able to bring back of lot of these pretty glass souvenirs. (Tip: Look for the heart shaped seal guarantee for handmade glass in Murano.)

There are numerous restaurants dotting the canal-side in Murano. Here you will find more of an authentic experience than the main island. Luscious seafood, freshly cooked delicious pasta and you have the perfect Italiano experience.

Delicious pasta in Murano

 

Street in Murano

3. Burano

Burano is a floating town reached by vaporetto from all the adjoining  islands. It is characterized by fishermen’s colorful houses and family owned shops making hand made lace.
This is a beautiful place to wander in the afternoon to see the artists making the lace scarves, curtains and so many other beautiful creations.

 

The work scene here is so lively with ladies sitting outside shops showing their artistic craftsmanship.

 

Colorful fishermen’s houses dotting the canals of Burano

Their butter cookies are also famous- have some with their local coffee!!!

Colorful houses in Burano

4. Venice

You will get a glimpse of the beautiful Venice when you first step out of the Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia. Just wander on this island. Do not have a time table when you are here to truly experience the city. Walk through the narrow alleys to find amazing houses, restaurants, art galleries… and you can stay out until late at night.
(Tip: If you intend to stay on this island until late at night, book accommodation on the main island itself).

The canals in Venice

There are a lot of sights you can visit here some of which I have recommended below.

-Piazza di San Marco is a huge city square surrounded by long buildings on three sides, a clock tower on the other side. However, the centerpiece of the Piazza is the Basilica di San Marco or St Mark’s basilica.

Piazza di San Marco-St. Mark’s square

 

In the evenings, there is live music in the Piazza where you can enjoy some apertivo. An apertivo is a quintessential Italian experience that you should not miss especially in Venice where you are at the very heart of Italian culture. You are surrounded by Italian art dating as far back as 8th century. So an apertivo experience should be on your list. Make sure to know if you are getting charged to be seated outside where they have the live music. Usually there is a cover charge called coperto.

Apertivo

 

 

Florian cafe-open since 1720

An apertivo is a light meal and drink that you have before dinner time to stimulate your appetite for the upcoming dinner. You have great small size options for food and beverages. They don’t replace your dinner but just stimulate your appetite. Apertivo formed an important meal for us as we would jump from restaurant to restaurant to try their specialties. In this way, we could enjoy food in various restaurants than a full meal.

Live music in the Piazza while you enjoy the apertivo

 

There are a lot of restaurants in the more famous areas of Venice such as the Piazza, Ponte di Rialto and others. But I would strongly suggest to go interior in the alleys to find a more authentic and less commercialized place. As I said earlier, Venice restaurants can be quite touristy and expensive for what they are serving, so look out for those hole in the wall restaurants that won’t break your bank and give you more of an authentic experience. You may have to go a little out of the way to find these little gems, but I promise you they are worth the experience. One that I particularly loved was the ‘Enoteca al Volto’. It is usually crowded inside, so take your food and sit by the canal with your food and drink.

 

Piazza di San Marco

Also, if you have a sweet tooth like me, the Tiramisu in Venice is just as beautiful as the sound of it. Tiramisu is said to have originated near Venice. So this delicacy should not be missed during your visit to Venice. Don’t fall into the tourist traps with exorbitant prices for this super delicious and mouth watering delicacy. A recommended place is I Tre Mercanti with a variety of flavors such as pistachio, passion fruit in addition to the classic coffee, for this Venetian delight.

-St Mark’s basilica

In Venice, you are surrounded by massive art history. St Mark’s basilica is the epitome of Venetian art history. It shines high above the Piazza di San Marco with its gilded mosaics on the facade and also inside. The intricate designing leaves you awestruck.

It is noteworthy that a lot of the relics here have been brought from various countries such as Istanbul, Egypt amongst others.
You are prohibited from taking pictures in the Basilica. (Note: Dress code is reinforced with clothes covering up to the knees and shoulders covered also).

St Mark’s basilica in the background

To see beautiful views of the canals and the floating city head to the top of the Basilica. You need to buy separate tickets for that which also includes the museum located at the top of the Basilica.

-St. Mark’s bell tower

You can visit this tower for fascinating views of the lagoon. However, there are long lines here to get to the top. You can also buy their front of line tickets so you can get to the top earlier.

Bell tower at St. Mark’s

 

Ponte di Rialto or Rialto bridge

This bridge is of historic significance and a beautiful spot which offers expansive views of the Grand Canal. Be wary of the hawkers trying to sell roses especially when they see couples. Don’t fall for their tricks, unless you really want to buy roses for your loved one.

View from the Rialto bridge in the evening

 

 

 

There are also a lot of local artists here who sell their paintings. Some of them were exceptionally beautiful. Most of them have the Rialto bridge depicted in their paintings.

There are again several restaurants lining the canal here. We stopped here for some afternoon coffee while we explored the surrounding area. Sitting by the canal watching the gondoliers singing for the tourist couples/families/friends in their beautiful gondolas and wading the waters of the Grand canal is a great way to spend some time people watching.

Shopping early morning at Rialto market

 

 

We also went there for their early morning Rialto market experience also called Mercati di Rialto. The stalls are located alongside the Grand canal near the Rialto bridge and you will find the freshest of seafood, vegetables and fruits being sold here at fairly low prices. If you have booked airbnb and wish to cook your own food, no better place than this to buy your supplies.

-Doge’s palace or Palazzo Ducale

The Doge’s palace opens at 8:30 am and so I would recommend getting there early, as tourists crowd it later. If you are interested in art history, this place will truly blow you off with its elaborate designing. You can buy the tickets beforehand as well.

Doge’s palace

 

 

The Doge’s palace was the centerpiece of the political and public life of Venice for a long time. When you enter the palace, you are transported to the early Eleventh century.

One of the rooms in Doge’s palace

Although a lot of renovations have been done since then, you can’t help but marvel at the unmitigated beauty of this place. There are various court rooms, office of the senate, and interestingly the prisons.

 

Stairs at Doge’s palace

 

 

 

A walkway to the prisons

There is a small bridge that gives you a glimpse of the Venetian lagoon. It has been named “Bridge of Sighs” as it was from here that the prisoners would pass to serve their sentence and this was their last view of the beautiful city of Venice which they would probably never see again.

View from the Bridge of Sighs-This would be the last view of the lagoon for the prisoners

 

A small trivia which I found quite interesting. A local we met in Venice told us this story.
There are two columns in the Piazza di San Marco which locals believe should not be crossed. It was a public execution spot and Venetians believe that if you cross the columns, you will end up have a similar painful death.
Well, one thing I knew for sure, I was not going to cross those columns during my stay in Venice…;)

 

View of the lagoon from Doge’s palace

 

-Gondola ride

A trip to Venice cannot be complete without a Gondola ride except if you have been to Venetian in Las Vegas and done a gondola ride there. No just kidding.

A gondola ride can be memorable but a rather expensive one. It is about 80 Euros for 40 minutes of Gondola ride and that too at regular hours. Peak hours are in the evening just before sunset when it is anywhere from 100-150 Euros. Also, if you want your gondolier to sing for you, it can add to the cost. Whatever you choose, you should finalize the amount before stepping into the gondola as you may be susceptible to fall in a tourist trap here.
Choose the Grand canal and the Rialto bridge as your route. Usually the smaller side canals may be not be as clean and also the buildings may be really old. But they are quieter, if that’s what you prefer.

The gondolas in the Grand canal

Venice backdrop and the love of your life with you is a perfect setting for a romantic Italian song as you cuddle with your honey in the Gondola.

Dreamy Venice

 

Certain faux pas to avoid while enjoying your Venetian experience.

1. Please do not sit on the stairs near the canal or the bridges. There have been reports that locals hate it and, it spoils the true nature of the experience.

2. Do not feed the birds in the Piazza. It is considered a public offense now and you may be cited for the same. Plus, it is not safe for the birds to be fed food.

3. Wear comfortable clothes. I know the sound of Italy vacation especially Venice makes you want to wear your best dresses and stilettos. However, new generation Italians are style savvy but still prefer comfortable clothes and shoes. Yes you can be stylish while wearing flat ballerinas. My favorite flats to wear in Italy were Tieks. They are super cute, come in variety of gorgeous colors and perfect for a casual to a more elegant outfit as well.

4. Do not buy fake leather goods. You will find a lot of flagship stores for famous brands from the likes of Roberto Cavalli, Jimmy Choo amongst others that are cheaper in price than you can find in the US. However, there are many other stores that have very high quality leather bags, shoes that you can buy. These are still expensive as you have to pay for high quality leather.
I particularly loved the brand Cromia which I stumbled upon in Venice and ended up getting a beautiful Saffiano leather satchel.
5. Carrying heavy luggage.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to pack light for traveling in Europe in general and specifically in Venice. The entire city is made of cobbled stone and if you have heavy checked-in luggage, it will be a tiresome experience to keep pulling the bags on the uneven paths, small alleys and through the boats.
We just had 2 carry-on luggage and a hand bag. You can also avail of the station’s service to leave luggage at the station to be picked up when you are ready to leave to your next destination.
Save your back and your vacation from getting ruined by having to carry massive luggage.

I will recommend to anyone who wants to truly experience Venice, to stay there at least for a few days, take time to assimilate its beauty, its history and its culture.


Vatican in 2 days! What to see, what to wear and money saving tips!!

Set dramatically across from the mighty Tiber River, is a country that is mightier, more beautiful and more historic than history – The Vatican.
Vatican City is a country in Europe and it is the smallest country in the world. It may be small for a country but has enormous history behind it.
It is also the house of the Pope and is a headquarters of the Catholic Church around the world.
A believer or not, no trip to Italy can be complete without visiting The Vatican!!


However, visiting the Vatican City can be a daunting experience if you are not used to walking for hours, or you are not familiar with its ancient past. We walked 25-30,000 steps almost every day while we were in Italy. Vatican was going to be no different. 




Number of steps walked in 1 day in Vatican

In addition to that, I did not have much idea about its history. So, I was a little skeptical when I decided to add Vatican to my Italian itinerary. I am not a person who likes to visit museums and art galleries  as I believe the true culture of the place is reflected in the living-breathing people surrounding you, and not in the artifacts laying in the museums for years.



However, Italy and Vatican are rich in art history. So I would be missing out on the essence of the place, if I did not visit the museums and the architecture. Art is the has a great influence on the Vatican culture and Italian culture. Hence, it was imperative to visit these places.

So, I had to come up with a plan wherein I would be able to enjoy the experience and also learn something about this place. I was definitely not taking the guided tour, because I need to explore a place on my own time.

Well… Rick Steves comes to the rescue. He is an American travel writer who writes about European travel from the eyes of a local. Additionally, he has a mobile application called Rick Steves Europe. It is a life saver. It gives you information in detail regarding any place you want to visit in Europe and it is free to download. He gives detailed step by step and interesting information regarding all that is on display in the museums in the Vatican, specially without being boring. He makes it engaging with conversations with another person, some jokes while giving information among other things. All you need to do is download the app, plug your earphones and get going. You can also get paid audio-guide tour, but this one is free, so save some Euros there, would you?

As far as commuting in Rome is concerned, you can use the commuter buses, or you can buy the Hop-on Hop off buses. I personally love walking in new cities as much as I can because there are a lot of sites you can miss when you are in the bus.
However, be careful about using the public transportation, there can be a lot of petty thieves hanging out in the buses. Considering it is Italy, they are always well dressed and may be hard to tell. (Tip: It is better to use an ‘under the dress wallet for valuable items and for ladies. If you are carrying purses keep them in simple sling bags and definitely no backpacks.)

Another important point to consider is your outfits you will be wearing. In the basilica, it is expected that you dress modestly with dresses covering your knees and shoulders covered also. Also, it rains at random times and so you may want to carry a poncho or umbrella. 

Queue outside St Peter’s

I would recommend you to start your day by visiting St. Peter’s Basilica or Basilica di San Pietro. Late mornings, afternoons and evening there are lines everywhere and you could spend anywhere between 1-3 hours standing in the line. 

When you make your plans for visiting the Basilica, make sure you check the hours. Most importantly, it is closed on Sundays except last Sunday of every month when it is open until noon. You don’t want to lose your precious travel time especially if you are going to be visiting only for a few days. 

The Basilica opens at 7:00 am but the dome opens a little later. One guard told us, it opens at 7:15, at 7:15 someone told us it would open at 7:30 am. Finally, they started letting people in at 7:45 am. There is no fixed timing when it actually opens. If you reach too early there are some cafes that open as early as 6:00 am and you can enjoy some delicious coffee and pastries there before starting your day. 

St Peter’s square at mid-day


Do not go to inside the basilica first as the 
line to the dome gets longer later on. We reached there at 6: 45 am and there were already a few people ahead of us. Most people go into the basilica first. 

Facade of St Peter’s basilica
St Peter’s basilica 













The path becomes curved as you reach near the dome




We started toward the dome first. There is also an elevator that goes halfway up toward the dome. It costs about 7 Euros for the elevator which goes half way and then the stairs and 5 Euros for the stairs only option. I would recommend taking the elevators as it saves some time. 





View of the cupola during the climb up the dome

It a vertiginous climb upstairs with round stairs, and they tilt at angles once you reach closer to the dome. That might make you dizzy, so take breaks.
Also, take a look at the cupola from the inside on your way up.


       

Also, the path becomes narrower and narrower which at one point lets only one person through the path.



However, once you reach the top, the cool breeze of Vatican hits your face and you are rewarded with resplendent views of the Vatican and Rome. You can even see the Vatican gardens at a distance. On one side you can see the Piazza di San Pietro or St. Peter’s square

View of St. peter’s square from the dome



 

No superlatives could do justice to the magnificence of Piazza di San Pietro. Go here to watch the sun rising over the city. 

The Apostles placed right on top of the Basilica




Sun rising over the St Peter’s square-taken before the climb to the dome



After you are done assimilating the beautiful view from above the dome, head downstairs to the Basilica itself. At the entrance, you can look at the sunlight cast on the obelisk in the plaza giving it a surreal appearance.

The Basilica is the site of St Peter’s burial. Saint Peter was considered the greatest of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.  If you were stunned by the sheer vastness of the Basilica from the outside, be prepared to be even more captivated by the magnificence on the inside. 

St Peter’s basilica on the inside

As you enter, you will immediately see the world famous Michelangelo’s Pietà created in the 14th century. It was created by him at the age of fourteen. 

Michelangelo’s Pieta

This Basilica is filled with a lot of Renaissanceand you will be amazed that without the modern advancement, how they created such a masterpiece. It is a sight to behold to watch the work of Bernini, Michelangelo and Bramante – all extremely notable renaissance artists. 

Bernini’s bronze Baldachin

St Peter’s statue-note the right foot has become smooth due to pilgrims touching and kissing that foot



There are a lot of other artists that have contributed to the design of this enormously beautiful building. There is a vast history which cannot be surmised in a few words. The structure is so huge that the Statue of Liberty is said would fit easily inside it even with the pedestal and her torch. It runs the length of two American football fields. 

Bernini’s Baldachin 


 

You can also visit the Necropolis here. The Necropolis is the burial site of St Peter below the basilica (Tip: If you wish to visit the Necropolis, you need to make advance booking months before your visit, so plan accordingly. You have to make reservations with the excavations office by emailing at this address with the number of people intending to attend and also the dates:  scavi@fsp.va.)

The reservations can be hard to get, so plan ahead of time.


View of the cupola from inside the Basilica



The Vatican grottoes are the burial sites of other popes and can also be visited. Again, you can visit the grottoes when it is open to the public. When we visited, it was closed to the public and hence we were not able to see it.

The grottoes can take a few hours to visit. Plan the rest of the day accordingly. It is better to visit the Basilica on one day and the Vatican museums and Vatican gardens on another day. As I mentioned earlier you can easily walk around 30,000 steps in a day and it could be really exhausting if you try to cover everything in one day.

Outside the Basilica, you see the famous Swiss guards. Their uniforms are very interesting and makes me wonder if they would be able to run in those…!!! 😉 These were designed by Michelangelo back in the days

The Swiss guard


Also, check out the Piazza in the evening. It looks surreal under teh dark blue sky!! After an exhausting day, enjoy a nice Italian meal before heading to the hotel. Make sure to get enough sleep as you will be spending an entire day again next morning to visit the rest of Vatican.



Piazza in the evening



Next day we decided to head to the museums.
A point to note – museums are closed on Sundays except last Sunday of every month. The last Sunday of every month the entry is free. However, that means there will be a lot of rush and longer wait times. I would rather spend the 17 Euros and go on a weekday. Check the website
http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/info/tutti-gli-orari.html
for hours, fees and closures for the year.




The famous spiral stairs in the Vatican Museum


When I am on vacation, I have no problems getting up at the break of dawn. When I am home, I can’t get up even after 10 hours of sleep. Since the museums open at 9 am, you can use the earlier free time, to visit the Tiber river and adore the Basilica in the morning sky. You can go for a jog through the city and experience the buzz of the local life before tourists take over the streets. 

I would recommend reaching the museum a little earlier than the opening hour since the wait times may be longer especially during the months of July through September when the schools are on summer break. At the same time, be wary of certain tour agents roaming on the streets telling you there are long lines and that you can pass those lines by buying their front of line passes. We met a lot of people on the streets who would follow us all the way for a few blocks trying to sell us the front of line passes. 

Even though the lines may be longer, they go fast and once you are on the inside you can be on your own. This time too, I did not go for a tour guide since I wanted to explore it at my own pace. I used Rick Steves’ application again to visit and learn about all the artifacts in the museum.


The hallway between the Musuems

Sculptures in the museum were made during Medieval times
Another statue in the Museum


Pinacoteca

The Pinacoteca holds about 460 paintings from the Medieval periodI spent around 3 hours in the museums. I’ve read, people spend longer times. In the beginning, I did not even think I would be spending that much time, however, the history of the place is so intriguing, you can’t help but get absorbed and transported to the Renaissance period. 

The walk through the museum takes you through the famous paintings, sculptures and tapestries of various renowned artists from the Renaissance period such as Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael.

Raphael’s painting-School of Athens
Apollo Belvedere statue

The famous Belvedere torso



The highlight of the visit is the Sistine Chapel. It has been recreated in a lot of movies, so I had seen it on screen. But, to see it in real life was a mesmerizing experience. Noteworthy and what draws a lot of attention is the Creation of Adam and the Judgement day painting. The intricate detailing of human forms reflects mastery of Michelangelo. You can spend 1 hour just in the chapel while following the instructions and detailed explanation for each painting by Rick Steves. The officials were prohibiting tourists from taking pictures inside the chapel.  However, constantly looking up at the frescoed ceiling can be a real pain in the neck – quite literally. This makes the physical therapist in me wonder if Michelangeloand his artists had a lot of neck and upper back problems.

Anyway, moving from there, you can see some more tapestries, artifacts and finally make your way out of the museum and head to the Vatican gardens.

Resurrection of Christ in the Tapestry hall in Vatican Museum


The Vatican gardens seen from the Museum

Vatican gardens are worth visiting for their lush greenery and beautiful views of the St. Peter’s basilica. However, you need to book a tour and you cannot enter the gardens without the tour. There is a bus tour also that you may want to consider if you have a time crunch. The bus tour is an audio tour and you cannot get off the bus during the tour. The layout of the gardens is beautiful and the walking tour lets you explore it better than the bus tour.

Pope’s room-with the lit window

Also, when the Pope is in town you can be on the papal audience list which needs to be booked way in advance. He addresses the audience in the St Peter’s square. However, that happens only when the Pope is in town. However, those days it can be really crowded. In case you decide to do it, get the advance tickets and be there hours before the actual opening to get a good seat.





If you are going to be visiting both Rome and Vatican – which I am assuming you would be, then try getting the Omnia pass. It gives you an option to visit a lot of attractions in Rome and Vatican with fast track entry. Also, it allows free entry in a few locations and of course the public commute is included. Overall, you can save a lot of money by using the Omnia card. 

Also, try to have your meals packed with you when going to the museum. The restaurants around the tourist area are expensive and provide mediocre food. Grab sandwiches from a local cafe instead.

I know, there is a lot to do and see in the Vatican. There are a lot of night tours, secret tours and what not. If you have the time, go for it. But, you can see all the important sites in two days.
One thing is for sure, once you are in the Vatican, you will be transported to another world, as I did!!!



Photo courtesy and copyrights: Adwait Paranjpe