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Castel Gandolfo: Vatican by train

13 Sep
One of the goals we have in staying in Italy for some time to come is to continue exploring our own backyard, i.e., Roma and environs. We’ve enjoyed some less-visited sights over the past three years, and continue to look for new ones. Afterall, una vita non basta!
St. Peteràa from the inside. A view from the garden, where the Pope takes his daily walk.

St. Peter’s from the inside. A view from the garden, where the Pope takes his daily walk.

Early last week a new tour was announced in the Italian press: Vatican by Train. That got Ric’s interest pretty fast. According to the press, the tour, called “Vatican by Train Full Day” would run only on Saturdays and the first run was September 12. We could be on-board for the maiden voyage!
Here’s what the Vatican website had to say
With the exceptional opening of the Barberini Gardens and of the Museum of the Apostolic Palace, the Pontifical Residence of Castel Gandolfo welcome the public at large.
Visitors who book the Vatican by Train will have access to the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Gardens and to the botanical and architectural wonders of the Pontifical Residence, known by as the “second Vatican”.
Further exploration revealed an ambitious schedule and the likelihood of a 13 hour day away from home, but we have time…. The schedule for the day broke down like this (wording from the Vatican website)
8.00 am: Avoid the queue at the entrance. Tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel with an audio guide;
10.00 am: Walking tour of the Vatican Gardens with an audio guide;
11.00 am: Departure from Train Station of the Vatican City State to Albano Laziale and transfer to the Pontifical Villas by shuttle;
12.30 pm: Tour of the Pontifical Villas (Villa Barberini) by tourist train with an audio guide;
1.30 pm: End of the tour and exit from the Pontifical Villas.
Free time
4.45 pm: Transfer from the Pontifical Villas to the train station of Albano Laziale by shuttle;
5.18pm: Departure from the Train Station of Albano Laziale to the Roma San Pietro Station
Beautiful lawns fall away toward teh train station. Hard to imagine all of this is inside Vatican City.

Beautiful lawns fall away toward the train station. Hard to imagine all of this is inside Vatican City.

Leaving home about 06:30, we arrived at the museum entrance a few minutes before 8:00, fortified by cappucino e cornetto at a nearby bar. It was clear lunch would be a long way off and we had miles to go before we ate. We were admitted quickly, as promised with our voucher. Exchanging it for tickets and an audio guide took a few minutes, but by 8:25 we were outside the Pinacoteca, which we had decided would be our focus.
There is no way one can “do” the Vatican Museums in less-then-two hours. A few people we spoke to later in the tour tried a mad dash to the highlights such as the Sistine Chapel and Hall of Maps, but everyone eventually realized this was not a best-of-the-Vatican tour.
Fountain in the Vatican Gardens, reminiscent of Villa d'Este.

Fountain in the Vatican Gardens, reminiscent of Villa d’Este.

Our decision to focus on the Pinocateca was fortuitous: We were completely alone for at least 20 minutes. Just Ric and me, fabulous works of art, and a dozen guards hunched over their smartphones. (Whatever did museum guards do before they had smartphones?) Some tour groups arrived, stopped at major works then moved quickly on. We took our time, saw the entire gallery, then had a brief rest before the garden tour. If you ever want to be alone in the Vatican Museums, head for the Pinocateca at opening.
Under clear blue skies and warm-not-hot sun we were escorted through the Vatican Gardens by a group of uniformed guides and a number of “suits” and journalists. The museum officials were shepherding the inauguration carefully, ensuring it went smoothly. And it mostly did.
Bougainvilla still in bloom, the Vatican Gardens.

Bougainvilla still in bloom, the Vatican Gardens.

Our garden tour was also audio-guided, and we had a wee map with audio points described, but it was difficult to know where our group of about 100 people was and when we should punch up each number. Still it was beautiful, not at all what I expected, and while not encompassing the entire tour (which according to the website is 2 hours long) it was a good overview.
We ended at the Vatican train station, a seldom-used and closed-to-the-public relic of a prior era. Thanks to Papa Francesco, more of the Vatican properties are being opened to mere mortals and the chance to take the train out of this station was a strong motivator for us.
Not the steam train the media portrayed....

Not the steam train the media portrayed….

We expected a steam train. All the news media featured a vintage train, but on arrival we found a modern Trenitalia train of the type used on the FR lines. It was fine, comfortable and air-conditioned, but not the historic experience expected. I have to wonder if there was another train that day, but all of the articles I’ve found were written before the 12th and so I think the pictures are “file photos” and certainly not from the event we attended.
We had a nice ride to the station at Albano Laziale, where buses met us and ferried us through narrow streets and up the hill to the entrance to the gardens. There, we boarded a trenino to tour the estate, again with audio guide. Absolutely stunning is all I can say. I had no idea Domitian had a summer palace here, but then why wouldn’t he? The history is, as with almost any grand villa in Italy, long and complex. What remains is a place of beauty comparable to Versailles. Some is wooded, some planted in formal gardens, and there is a farm. Did you know the Pope has a farm? Chickens, white goats, cows, bees: everything one needs in a self-sustaining estate.
Click on any photo to enlarge it or for a slideshow.
Wrapping up about 14:40, we had three hours of free time. We set off to find a restaurant along the lake, where we had lunched a couple of years ago. But wait, where the hell was the lake? Pulling up Googlemaps we found we were in Albano Laziale, not Castel Gandolfo. Duh! Not close to the lake, we started wandering the town, which was mostly closed for la pausa. Not a lot of restaurant options we could see, but peeking down a little alley Ric spotted a trattoria. From where we stood it looked closed, although someone was inside sweeping up. “Siete aperti?” I asked. “Sí! Accommodatevi!” We took a cute table on the patio just as a group of Americans we knew trooped in. They, too, had been surprised by ending in Albano Laziale. They had a reservation for lunch 3 km away in Castle Gandolfo! Feeling slightly less stupid for misunderstanding, we relaxed and prepared to enjoy lunch. We were fortunate to have a little family from the U.K. join us at a neighboring table and engaging in conversation we discovered they had expected to end the tour at the Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandolfo. Surprise!  Perhaps all of the English-speakers misunderstood? Maybe the Vatican website was less-than-clear? Nonetheless, I can highly recommend Trattoria Rosmarino should you make the trip to Albano.
Cin cin! At Trattoria Rosmarino. Highly recommend!

Cin cin! At Trattoria Rosmarino. Highly recommend!

A long lunch ate up the free time (pun intended). There are a number of ruins and sites in Albano for the more industrious tourist, but we had been on-the-go since dawn with not much energy left, so a luxurious lunch was perfect. Back on the shuttle bus before 16:30, we arrived at San Pietro Station just in time to get a train to the tram to go back home, another adventure in public transportation for us.
Isaac, our dining partner at Rosmarino.

Isaac, our dining partner at Rosmarino.

We were very confused about the relationship between the estate we toured in Albano and the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo. A little map-based research showed they are on the same property, but the gardens are accessed by the public through Albano, and the Apostolic Palace is at the other end, the north end, closer to the lake. One can visit the Apostolic Palace, any day but Sunday, and only in the morning, and apparently only through the month of October, presumably to be revived in the spring.
I suspect another day trip to the area is in our near future.
For more information on all of the tours, go to the Vatican’s Online Ticket Office. 
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13 Responses to “Castel Gandolfo: Vatican by train”

  1. kuriositea July 9, 2016 at 11:22 #

    This is a great day trip away from Rome…less crowds!

    Like

  2. John Henderson October 8, 2015 at 15:12 #

    I tell friends visiting Rome that they should take the Vatican Gardens tour. It’s the only real way to see what life is like in the world’s smallest country. Forget the flowers. Watch the priests play pickup soccer games and the nuns gossip under shady trees. I even saw Pope John Paul II cruise by in his Popemobile once.

    John Henderson
    Dog-Eared Passport: http://www.johnhendersontravel.com
    @JohnHendeRome
    Johnhenrome@hotmail.com

    Like

    • gooddayrome October 8, 2015 at 17:20 #

      I understand there is a tour that covers a larger area than we walked that day. I think I’d like to go back a few times a year. The gardens give a bit of a glimpse into a unique environment.

      Like

  3. Julie September 17, 2015 at 02:54 #

    “The Pope’s cows” – that has to be one of my favorite captions of all time!

    Like

  4. graciamc September 14, 2015 at 21:35 #

    What a great day trip! We’ll have to put it on our list…
    Thanks for another great post!

    Like

  5. Marcia Kakiuchi September 13, 2015 at 16:52 #

    That is quite interesting about the Pope’s farm. I loved that little white train taking you thru that area. And the long lunch…..that sounded so relaxing!

    Like

    • gooddayrome September 13, 2015 at 17:41 #

      I was sitting next to a little old Britich lady and she quipped, “Why he’s just like Prince Charles: Self-sufficient!” I wonder if those eggs make it to the guest house in Vatican City where Papa Francesco lives?

      Like

  6. marilyneb September 13, 2015 at 13:08 #

    This sounds like an amazing and very full day! More reason to return to Rome.

    Like

    • gooddayrome September 13, 2015 at 13:23 #

      Yes, another in a long list of reasons to return. My list gets longer not shorter, even though we live here! Thanks for reading!

      Like

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Things to do in Roma | gooddayrome - February 11, 2016

    […] The Vatican by Train  is an all-day event. You start with about 90 minutes to tour the Vatican Museums. (It is not enough time for the entire museum so you must pick a facet, a corner, and see what you can. We chose the Pinacoteca, which we had to ourselves for most of an hour.) Then you have a walking tour of the Vatican Gardens, which leads you to the San Pietro train station where you catch your private train to Albano Laziale and a tour of the papal estate there. You ride a train through these gardens as well. An audio guide is provided. […]

    Like

  2. A slice of the Vatican Museums | Minerva’s pencil case - October 11, 2015

    […] now possible to travel from the Vatican’s own railway station to Castel Gandolfo – that might just inspire me to go back to this sprawling and […]

    Like

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