Pope Benedict XVI Resigning February 28

Big news from Rome: The Vatican announced this morning that Pope Benedict XVI is resigning at the end of the month.

The last time a Pope resigned, it was in 1415—and the purpose was to end the Western Schism. (Three men were all claiming to be the Pope simultaneously. Things got confusing). This time, the 85-year-old Pope’s reason for his departure seems a little more personal. It’s most likely because of his health, which seems to have been deteriorating in recent months. You can read the Pope’s declaration of his resignation here.

The conclave will be held in March. For visitors to Rome, that means not only the excitement of the usual media hulabaloo, but also, of course, a chance to see the Sistine Chapel chimney puff out its famous white smoke, the famed sign that a new Pope has been elected.

How long will pilgrims, tourists and the merely curious have to wait in St. Peter’s Square to see white smoke? Who knows. But the past couple of conclaves have been relatively swift: Pope John Paul II was elected in 1978 after just two days, while the conclave for Pope Benedict XVI started on the evening of April 18 and finished the next day.

March’s conclave also means pilgrims will be coming from all over the world for the chance to be in Rome during the election of a new pope. So, a word to the wise: If you’re planning a March trip to Rome, book your airline tickets and hotel reservations now!

Where to Catch the Pope This Easter Weekend

Here in Rome, all eyes have been on Pope Francis I since his March election. Curious about the new guy in charge of the Vatican? This weekend, there are plenty of chances to catch a glimpse of him—from the Good Friday Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum to the papal mass at St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. For more (and on more events going on this Easter in Rome), check out my latest piece for BBC Travel.

Rome in Summer: Is Rome Hot? (And How to Deal)

When it comes to Rome in summer, let’s get back to basics: what the weather in Rome in June, July, August, and September is really like… and how to deal.

In this first installment of the Rome summer guide, you’ll find out about some surprising ways to beat the heat, why Rome’s water fountains are freakin’ awesome, which of Rome’s sights have nada shade, why dressing skimpily isn’t always the answer, and—of course—what that heat is a great excuse for (hint: it comes in a cup or a cone…).

Want to survive enjoy Rome in summer, at the height of its temperatures? Read on!

What to know about summer weather in Rome (caution: heat ahead)

Rome in summer? Hot? Um, yes (at least for this New England girl). Rome’s average temperature in both June and September reaches a high of 81° F. The heat peaks in July, with a high of 88° F. And August isn’t much cooler, at 87°.

Even if you’re used to high temperatures, in Rome, it’s especially important to keep the heat in mind. First, you’ll probably be walking much more than you would at home. Or trying to take more public transportation, which can be even hotter. (Some subways have air-conditioning that works, some don’t. Same for buses.)

(Looking for a cooler alternative to the bus or metro? Check out these 6 alternative modes of transport on a hot day!).

All of this brings me to my next point: Air-conditioning isn’t something to take for granted in Italy. So while your hotel probably will be air conditioned (although your apartment rental might not be—always ask in advance!), many small shops, restaurants, and even museums will be au naturel.

So be prepared. And don’t miss my post on five sightseeing strategies for beating the heat in Rome. (Stay tuned for upcoming posts on the best pools and beaches in Rome!).

Hot or not, don’t dress too skimpily

Yes, it’s tempting to rock booty shorts or a tiny tank top when it’s 85° in the shade. Try not to.

That’s because a major part of sightseeing in Rome in summer… is visiting churches. Far from just holy sites, they’re also some of the city’s finest repositories of art, archaeology, and history. Whether or not you’re planning on visiting a church on a given day, chances are you’ll walk past one that’s a gem. And it would be very silly to be barred from entering because you aren’t dressed appropriately.

Of course, it depends on the church. Most don’t have the staff to guard the priceless artwork, never mind throw out miniskirted tourists. Still, covering up is respectful. And, yes: It’s true that the guards at St. Peter’s Basilica flat-out won’t let you in if your shoulders and knees aren’t covered.

If you still have to go bare, then at least throw a couple of shawls or wraps in your bag so you can cover up if need be.

Luckily, there’s water, water everywhere (and I don’t mean the €3-from-a-vendor variety)

Put away your wallet, and step away from the guy hawking overpriced water bottles at the vendor’s stand. There are 2,500 little nasoni, or endlessly-running water fountains, around the city of Rome. As I’ve written before, the water is cold, clean, and, yes, perfectly safe to drink. So carry around a water bottle with you and just fill it up at the fountains, for free.

Walking around Rome’s historic center, and want to know where the nearest fountain is? Good news: There’s an app for that.

Baby, shade ain’t always easy to find

The heat is one thing. The sun is another. And it won’t be kind to skin that’s usually office- or home-bound.

Be especially sun-cautious if you’re planning to head to one of Rome’s shadeless sights. The first one: the Roman forum.

Yeah, all these buildings had roofs once. But not anymore. Make sure to slather on the SPF even more if you’re taking a tour: You might have to stand in a certain (and possibly shadeless) spot for a while, depending on the guide’s sensitivity to your sun needs interest in a given sight. (And if you have to get out of the sun, duck into the Curia or Temple of Romulus, or climb the tree-lined Palatine hill).

Another shadeless spot is St. Peter’s Square, if you’re standing in the line to get into the basilica. Bernini’s colonnade is fantastic, but it doesn’t do much for the poor souls forced to stand outside of its shade, in the middle of the square, waiting to get into the church.

So, again: Either prepare with sunglasses and lots of SPF, or figure out how to skip that line. And stay tuned for more about that—and why it’s something to think about even more in the summer months—in an upcoming post!

And just by the way: the heat is a great excuse for gelato

Enough said. (And don’t miss my post on where to find the best gelato in Rome).

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

Why These Catacombs in Naples Might Be the World’s Creepiest

I’m constantly telling people to visit Naples, and I’ve finally written about one of my favorite reasons why: the catacombs of San Gaudioso. While Rome has no dearth of spine-tingling sites (hello, Capuchin crypt), these catacombs — which include a gallery in which desiccated heads were attached to the walls… and portraits of the dearly departed frescoed around them — are, hands-down, the creepiest place I’ve ever visited.

The run-down: Like the spectacular catacombs of San Gennaro, the catacombs of San Gaudioso were first dug out in Greco-Roman times. They were used as an ancient necropolis and then — later — an early Christian cemetery. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because the catacombs in Rome have similar backstories, too). But after being inundated with the lave dei vergini (literally, the lava of the virgins; great name, right?) and abandoned in the 9th century, they were forgotten about. Until, that is, some enterprising Dominican friars decided to build a church here in the 17th century… and pay for it, at least in part, with their really gruesome fancy-schmancy burial practices. (So fancy, in fact, only nobles and high-level officials got the benefit of it. Really, who doesn’t want to be drained, beheaded and put on display for all eternity?!).

Read more over in my story on the catacombs of San Gaudioso for BBC Culture, and remember: You have been warned.

If you’re already sold and just need the details:

The catacombs of San Gaudioso are located in the Naples neighborhood of Rione Sanità. (If you go, don’t miss the equally creepy Cimitero delle Fontanelle). The entrance is at the Basilica Santa Maria della Sanità in Piazza Sanità. The catacombs are open from Monday to Sunday, 10am-1pm, but visitable only with a tour, which leaves every hour; the guides (who are super-enthusiastic and knowledgeable, by the way — not always the case in Italy!) speak English, so you can ask for an English-language tour. More info here. It costs €9 per adult, which also gets you entrance to the catacombs of San Gennaro (also a must-see).

Also: two facts about ancient Rome you probably didn’t know, why you should visit Rome’s only pyramid and some other reasons to visit Naples.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.