I had the chance to spend a few days in Italy three weeks ago. This being a beauty blog, let me first tell you they have three fabulous Sephora outlets in Rome and some great regional brands, about which I will talk in a few days.
Why "fabulous" Sephora? Because they give more GWPs than the Dubai branches (who give more freebies than most other countries) and because they had a whopping 20% discount sale (off EVERYTHING) going on when I was there! The day I first hauled, I thought my bill would run up to a four-digit sum, but it only came up to three-digit figures after the discount.
And the soaps! There were so many varieties of Roman soaps! I bought a dozen or so and exceeded my baggage quota.
But Italy wasn't all about Sephora and makeup. I have some 30GB of (medium-sized) photographs from Italy alone. I'll show you a sample selection. Warning: Picture-heavy post!
Check out a few of my favourite sights, snacks and shops in Italy.
San Pietro, Vatican City. The largest church in the world. You can see Michelangelo's famous dome further below.
St Peter's Square. These are the seats where thousands - yours truly included - sat to meet the Pope on a Wednesday morning (queued from 6 a.m.).
The dome overlooking the square, with St Peter's Bell (the small dark square pictured just to the left of the dome). This is the northern Pope Innocent fountain, built in 1490.
Bernini's bronze canopy on the High Altar above the tomb of St Peter - you can see the tomb itself from the crypt, but cannot photograph it.
Swiss guards in front of the famous bronze doors. You can either request a Papal audience ticket here or arrange it via your local parish OR your government. I got mine through the Santa Susannah Church.
Entrance archway to the Apostolic Palace (above the bronze doors in the previous picture).
Michelangelo's La Pieta. Now behind glass because a vandal damaged Mother Mary's nose.
Pope Francis in his Popemobile. This was after he passed me, waving. If you ever want to attend a Papal audience, PLEASE ONLY SIT NEAR THE BARRICADES, AT THE EDGE OF THE ROWS. That way you can see the Pope at a distance of three feet. It was a sister at the North American Pontifical College who shared this gem with me - all thanks to her, for, without this info, I would have sat in the middle of nowhere and barely seen the Pope.
Take a closer look at St Peter's Bell on the top left corner.
The path to the Sistine Chapel. Photography is not allowed right inside the ambulatory itself, but I did feast mine eyes on Michelangelo's Last Judgement and The Creation of Man.
Can you spot the Battle of Ostia by Raffaello in this collage?
It is on the third row, to the left.
Inside Vatican Museums. You need a week here alone. I booked online and avoided the few-km-long queues. I think I saw only about 1% of the whole thing, judging from the guide book.
The little-known Storia e Magia, tucked away in Via Ottaviano, is paradise on earth. The whole place is divided into six sections - LOTR/Hobbit, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Star Wars and Assassin's Creed, and one for ancient/medieval civilisations. I bought Arwen-themed jewellery, Bilbo's sword Sting, the One Ring, 3D posters, a map of Erebor, and a bunch of other memorabilia, and now regret not cartloading a large model of Mount Doom and a full-sized suit of the Knights Templar back with me.
Il Colosseo. Beware the blokes in gladiator costume who ask if you want to take photos - they charge a whopping 20 euros (and lend you a helmet that spreads dandruff, as I can testify)! You're better off buying other souvenirs or ices in the heat.
The Forum (and a bit of the Palantine).
Domus Augustea (House of Augustus Caesar a.k.a Octavian) in the Palantine
From across the Isola Tiberna (island formed by the river Tiber).
Mosaic above the altar in San Paolo Fuori le Mura. There are four Papal basilicas in Rome: San Pietro, San Paolo, San Giovanni Laterano and Santa Maria Maggiore. You need to see all four for the trip to be complete.
Mosaic in the beautiful Santa Maria Maggiore. You insert a euro and press a switch, so the mosaic lights up for a minute.
Ancient Pegasus lamp found in the Crypta Balbi theatre.
There are 13 obelisks in Rome, of which eight were brought from Egypt. I had fun spotting them all.
Bernini's Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in the Piazza Navona. The four rivers/river gods represented are the Ganges from India, the Nile from Africa, the Danube from Europe and the Plate from Argentina.
Band in front of the Apostolic Palace, Vatican City.
A couple of works by Raffaello and Caravaggio are inside the Basilica Sant Agostino. Unfortunately, these pictures are taken from the doorway - I was not allowed inside because my dress did not have sleeves and I did not have a scarf/shawl of some kind handy.
Exploring the Crypta Balbi.
Lupa, Romulus and Remus in the Capitoline, alongside a very sunkissed sleepyhead.
How come Bernini's Medusa looks so woebegone? I thought the Gorgons were fearsome?
Fragments of Emperor Constantine's GIANT statue at the Capitoline. Can you imagine how gargantuan this must have been? The broken kneecap alone came right up to my waist.
San Giovanni Laterano. No, it wasn't cold; they don't let you inside with sleeveless clothes so I had to shell out for a scarf.
Sephora near the Spanish Steps. This is the biggest Sephora and spans two floors; one for makeup and one for skin care, with a mezzanine floor for hair care. More about Sephora Italia in another post.
Sephora at the Termini Station forum. This was my favourite Sephora where GWPs and staff were concerned. Plus, I stayed exactly two minutes away from here and popped in every evening.
Pyramid of Cestius.
I shall argue until my last breath that the finest pastas, pizzas and tiramisu are only to be had in Italy. IDK what they do to get this sort of exclusive, delicate flavour there, but I've eaten Italian food in a dozen countries and nothing even comes close to this. NO one cooks like the Italians. I ought to know; I over-ate three times my normal portions and gained 4kg from the trip despite all the walking I did.
One of the best restaurants ever.
Of course there had to be THIS restaurant near the iconic Spanish Steps! Food was all the more delish when you could stare at Signor Greg P.!
The incredibly crowded Spanish Steps. Misnamed - the French were responsible for the steps!!
There are a gazillion more photos of a lot of other monuments and landmarks but that is for another day. And, I did not take some key photographs - either because it was forbidden, or I forgot my camera, or I simply gazed at the "subject" - the Pope (waving at me) and the Palma Elder painting of Christ and the Adultress (and a bunch of other paintings in the Capitoline) are key examples. The eyes of Christ in that painting were haunting and sort of "bored through".
Argh, I miss Italia despite the mad crowds, the touristy atmosphere, the terrible metro service (they even had a strike one day) and the pickpockets. I miss the churches, the food, the art and the people in shops saying, "Prego." I miss Raffaello, Bernini, Michelangelo and Da Vinci's works looking down at me everywhere. And I miss the Sephoras and their unexpectedly generous GWPs. I miss the amazing Italian sandals. I miss seeing the Tiber. I miss remnants of ancient Rome and early Christianity peeking out at me in every nook and cranny.