I was slow to stir on the morning of Monday, May 11, 2009, after the brutal walking schedule that Chris and I had endured the day before as we traveled on foot across the entire city of Rome. But there were still lots of things to see during our limited two-day stay in the city, so up I was at about 6:15, showering, dressing, and packing everything that we had into a backpack that it was my turn to carry for the day. We had received a breakfast voucher from our San Jouan B & B to use at one of two cafés; we chose the Caffè Velluti, which was just down the road from our lodgings.
This breakfast wasn’t even in the ballpark of the European buffets that I had grown accustomed to when traveling to Europe the previous Summer. In fact, it was simply a sandwich of your choosing and a glass of juice. I chose the egg salad. We finished up and caught the 7:30 train from the nearby Manzoni station which would take us near to our first stop of the day: Vatican City.
Chris and the breakfast-time blahs
At 110 acres and a population of 900, Vatican City is smallest country in the world both by size and population. It is almost completely walled-in with the exception of St. Peter’s Square. Although minuscule, it still counted as a visit to another country. By the way, Chris had already informed me that a visit to San Marino was out of the question – so I had to settle for adding just two countries to my resumé during this trip.
Outside the walled-in Vatican City, on the road to the Vatican Museums
Vatican City is obviously the home of the Pope and the central authority of the Catholic Church. We had basically two things to see here, the first being the mammoth Vatican Museums. These museums are so vast and amazing that mere words and pictures will simply do them no justice. The 54 galleries housed within these building contain the art and historical collection of the Roman Catholic Church. Many works have been amassed to be displayed here while others – such as the world-famous Sistine Chapel were created within the walls. The Museums celebrated their 500th anniversary three years ago.
We arrived at the Ottaviano train station at around 8am and worked our way to get into the long lines to get into the museums. The doors opened around 8:45 and we were quickly ushered in, plunked down our 14 Euros and began our trek through the long halls of the museums. The photos below indicates some of the many highlights found in the Museums.
Outside the Vatican Museums
The museums didn’t just contain artwork as this Mummy of a Woman from Thebes circa 1000 B.C. illustrates
Your garden variety statue from 130 B.C., the Antinous-Osiris excavated from Tivoli, Italy
The Vatican Museums or bust!
The statue of Laocoön and His Sons, notable as the piece that is considered the origin of the Vatican Museums. It was discovered in a Roman vineyard and purchased by the Pope on the recommendation of Michelangelo. The museums grew from there.
The Belvedere Torso, dating to the 1st Century B.C. Michelangelo was asked to complete the torso, but declined, instead using it as a model throughout the Sistine Chapel
Inside the Gallery of Maps, painted by friar Ignazio Danti in the late 1500’s. I understand that Ed enjoyed this room.
With the map of Italy within the Gallery of Maps
The four Raphael rooms contain frescoes painted by Raphael in what were originally designed as the papal apartments of Julius II. Perhaps the most famous of these works is The School of Athens as seen above
The last of the 54 galleries is the world-renowned Sistine Chapel, so named as it was Pope Sixtus IV who had restored the chapel about the thirty years before Michelangelo’s paintings were completed in 1512. The chapel itself was bigger, more open, and better lighted than I had envisioned it. No photos of any kind were permitted in the chapel, so therefore I had Chris take one of me inside of it. I also snapped a quick shot of the famous Creation of Adam portion of the ceiling, located in the dead center of the room.
Signs throughout the Vatican Museums promised that the Sistine Chapel was fast approaching. This was the final one.
Inside the Sistine Chapel with a scofflaw cameraman
The Creation of Adam. It’s blurry, but it’s mine.
After Chris and I finished up at the Sistine Chapel, we moved on to the Pinacoteca Vatican, which housed another huge collection of artwork from painters such as Michelangelo, Raphael, and Fra Angelica. It was here that I feel like I really began to make a connection with some of the artwork and it didn’t hurt to have Chris, who has been growing ever-more knowledgeable about artwork since marrying that Sarah girl, explain a lot of the symbolism. I was especially fascinated by the attributes of the various Saints and how they would re-occur throughout many different works.
Famous works by Raphael in the Pinacoteca Vatican included The Coronation of the Virgin, Madonna of Faligno, and as seen above Transfiguration
Descending the spiral stairs on the way out of the museum. Chris stood at the top and whispered against the wall and I could hear him all the way at the bottom
Obviously I have only scratched the surface of the many things to see inside the expansive Vatican Museums but I hope this gave everyone a representative look at the many things to be found inside. We left the museums around 11:10, with the exit bringing us back outside the walls of the Vatican. We worked our way around them to the entrance at Saint Peter’s Square. On the way, I stopped at a souvenir shop to get a couple magnets as close to the country as I could get.
A half-hour later we were entering the enormous majesty of St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world by volume, length, and area. Completed in 1626 after 120 years of work, Catholic tradition hold that St. Peter’s burial site is in the tombs below the altar. An obelisk which stood in the Circus of Nero at the time that St. Peter was martyred, was relocated and now stands in St. Peter’s Square.
Outside St. Peter’s Basilica
Needless to say, the inside of the St. Peter’s was quite impressive. Markings on the floor indicated the length of other large churches throughout the world, with St. Peter’s obviously out-measuring them all. Throughout the church were many impressive and famous works of art as well. Such as…
Michelangelo’s La Pietà, depicting Christ in the arms of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion
St. Peter’s baldachin, sculpted in bronze by Bernini, and marking the spot above where St. Peter is believed to be buried
Statue of St. Peter enthroned, attributed to late 13th century sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio. The feet of the statue are nearly worn from people touching or kissing them
After browsing the church, visiting the baptistery, and admiring the length markings on the floors for about a half-hour, we headed over to the entrance to the dome to prepare for our ascent to the top. There were two options to get up there: 1) Pay 5 Euros and climb all 551 steps, or 2) Pay 7 Euros and take an elevator for the first part and climb the remaining 320 to the top. Being wussies who were feeling a wee bit worn out, we opted for the second choice.
Engraving memorializing all of the Popes since the very first one, St. Peter
Overview of the interior of the church, with the markings down the center indicating the lengths of various large churches around the globe
The dome of St. Peter’s
The view from the top was quite obviously amazing, looking out over the Vatican and Rome, but the journey up there was quite claustrophobic as we circled the leaning walls of the dome. You could really tell which side of the dome you were on! (to coin a popular phrase). In addition, the crowds at the top were much too dense for this small area, so Chris and I merely grabbed a few photos, circled around, and then began our descent. We opted not to visit St. Peter’s Tomb below the basilica, which contains the crypts of many of the Popes.
Looking down into the church from the interior of the dome
The view from outside the dome
Chris and I had worn jeans this morning, not knowing if our shorts would be permissible inside St. Peter’s. By this time, we were roasting after being in close proximity of so many stupid tourists. So after descending the dome, we changed into our shorts inside one of the restrooms, which in fact Chris was more than familiar with from a previous incident that had taken place there…which I will not go into.
We grabbed a few photos outside the basilica and I even got one with the Swiss guard, the official officers of the Pope since the 15th century. Unfortunately they are not permitted to pose for pictures, but did allow me to take the one below.
I think I actually might look tougher than the Swiss Guard
Chris and I getting in St. Peter’s Square getting ready to exit the Vatican. In the back ground is St. Peter’s Basilica and the obelisk which ‘witnessed’ the execution of St. Peter
As we exited the Vatican and walked down the Via della Conciliazione, Chris thought that we might still be within the border of the Vatican and that we might take the opportunity to eat in a different country. Turns out that, despite the fact that the foreign embassies to the Vatican lined this street, we were really back in Rome. So the meal that we had at Don Chisciotte Universal Bar (seafood risotto for me) was both the worst tasting and most expensive of the trip. But we were close to the Vatican!
If you look carefully amidst the umbrellas, you can spot St. Peter’s
The next stop of the day was a brief – and rather silly – one. As a fan of Morrissey, I was aware that his Ringleader of the Tormentors album was recorded in Rome and in the song You Have Killed Me, he mentions Piazza Cavour. So naturally I wanted to see it. Also naturally – it was completely fenced in and under construction, so I all really got to see was the sign indicating it. Good enough. Incidentally, the next track on the album called The Youngest Was the Most Loved begins with the sound of an Italian police siren, so every time I heard this unique sound – which was frequently – I broke into this song. Just one of the many catch phrases (alongside son of a biiiiitch! and of course the tried and true That’s what she said) that were already haunting our travels.
All I got to see of the Piazza Cavour
The one good thing about seeing the Piazza Cavour was that it brought us nearby the Castel Sant’Angelo, which had served as a mausoleum, then a fortress, and now a museum. It also factors heavily in the new book and film Angels and Demons – which I have not yet seen.
The Castel Sant’Angelo, taken from the Ponte Sant’Angelo
Also taken from the ponte (bridge), overlooking the Tiber River
It was about 3pm as we crossed through the Piazza Navona, a former Roman Circus. I stopped for a photo op with Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) from 1561 – then we headed over to the Pantheon. The Pantheon really fascinated me. Although we had seen many items and ruins from the Biblical era, this was the only one that was still completely intact and still functioning.
Fountain of the Four Rivers
The Pantheon was built circa 126 as a temple to all of the Roman Gods, and thus is the oldest large-scale dome in Rome. It has been used as a Roman Catholic church since the 7th century. Among the many interesting things to see inside the temple is the grave of the artist Raphael, who died in 1520. The Pantheon is simply an amazing icon of Rome.
Outside the amazing Pantheon
Lecturing the good people of Rome at the altar of the Pantheon
The grave of Raphael
Nearby the Pantheon is the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. The exterior of this church was less than impressive, but inside is one of the most important churches in Rome. Completed in 1370, it was here that Galileo Galilei retracted his scientific theses for which he was tried. The body of Saint Catherine of Siena also is entombed here. All except for her head, that is. Among the other treasures inside the church is the Michelangelo sculpture Christ the Redeemer.
Outside the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, sitting atop Bernini’s Pulcino della Minerva
With the headless Saint Catherine. Stay tuned to future Italy postings to follow the trail of her head.
With Michelangelo’s Christ the Redeemer
Attempting to infiltrate the basilica’s advanced security system
En route to the world-famous Trevi Fountain, we made a quick stop at the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola. I must admit that by this point in the day’s journey, I had become both tired and nearly immune to the fascination of any church or piece of artwork. So although this church surely merited more attention, I merely took a gander at the most notable aspect of the church – the fake dome. Although it admittedly looks to be real dome from the viewpoint of the parishioners, it is actually a perspective painting. Of course from the other end of the church, it looks ridiculous.
Looking like a real dome from the congregation angle…
…but not so much when looking at it dead-on
A photo interlude: a postcard stand between Sant’Ignazio and the Trevi Fountain yielded two familiar faces
The Trevi Fountain was the last stop of the day in central Rome. It was big, beautiful, and wet as expected, but severely marred by the incredible number of tourists flocking around it. These folks obviously don’t know to make way for the Catsafterme staff when they visit. Chris gave me three coins to throw in the fountain and captured a magnificent shot in which you can actually see all three coins leaving my head. But those blasted tourists forced us into an area that wasn’t properly lighted, so although you can see the coins, you can barely see me!
Check out the Three Coins in a Fountain coming from my hand
A sunnier pose, but now out of coins – and still the tourists are here
We would have been done in Rome, had it not been for one last location on the south side of the city that we had missed the day before. This was the La Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth) marble image made most famous in the film Roman Holiday. You know the one…where Gregory Peck puts his hand inside and surprises Audry Hepburn with ‘no hand’ when he pulls it out. Thought to be created in the first century – possibly as a manhole cover (!) – it is now located in the portico of the Basilica Santa Maria in Cosmedin. So Chris and I, who had had our fill of walking, took a bus from the Trevi Fountain area to a stop close to this location. And we took our pictures without paying the suggested 50 cents. Italy had gotten enough of our cash that day.
Chris was truthful
I was a liar
We walked to the train stop near the Circus Maximus (which we had visited the day before) and took the train back to the main train station. We caught the train around 5:15 and made the two-hour journey back to Florence. Along the way, we met up with quite a cast of characters including a Japanese family who giggled incessantly with a guy wearing a shirt that said Todays Everything with Peaceful Giggle Love (we would have quoted this throughout the week had we ever been able to remember it), a preppie with an iPod, a loser who asked us to get him into America, and man who fell asleep smiling.
This smelly associate who had no ticket to be on the train begged Chris and me to find him passage to America. We declined to put forth the effort
We rolled in around 7:15 and walked back to Chris’ apartment. Sarah and their roommate Kellin had arrived back home that day from their field trip to the Marches. We were home for all of fifteen minutes before we all headed out to dinner to bid farewell to one of their classmates named Lara who was leaving the next day to return to her hometown around Detroit. Also joining us was their friends Tom from Schenectady and his girlfriend Teresiana. We dined at Osteria de’ Benci and I had the spaghetti carbonara, some gorgonzola cheese, and the community wine. It was a nice dinner in the open air and it was also nice to meet Chris and Sarah’s friend. Only one patron tripped over a chain on the sidewalk and was nearly decapitated so it wasn’t too bad.
Back at good old Via Malenchini 1, headed up the stairs to Apartment 4
Chris and Sarah and the future baby – reunited after their weekend travels. The future baby went with Sarah because she’s attached.
Tom from Schenectady, Teresiana, Chris, Sarah, Kellin, Lara, and me
Sarah and I had considered grabbing a gelato, but we had both had such an exhausting weekend that once it got to be after 9pm, we were both ready to skip it and head back to the apartment to turn it. It would be Sarah’s turn to take me around Florence the next day while Chris returned to work. Without the intense pressure of this taskmaster, we’d be free to take it slow – at least for one day.
Italy will continue with a walk through Florence…