So today we “did” the Vatican. Like, the REAL Vatican. =)
We had a morning tour of the Vatican Museum, the Raphael Rooms, and the Sistine Chapel booked today. When they say book a tour and skip the line, they aren’t kidding! We walked past a line – in the early-but-still-pretty-darn-hot sun – absolutely infested with people accosting us along the way to recruit us for their tours, till I nearly wanted to punch one in the face – and the line just kept going and going and going…all on the way to our handy-dandy tour guide who would breeze us all right past it and into the front doors of the Vatican Museum. We found him across the street from the entrance…his group mingling with what seemed like dozens of others…no idea which foreign-looking person to ask to direct us to “our” guy…when suddenly someone pointed us to someone else with a clipboard, who found our names and directed us to Dara, from Dublin, who assured us we were in the right place, and, when I asked him if he knew everything, answered me with a steady “yes.” I liked him right away.
After fending off countless women selling scarves (for the inappropriately dressed to throw over their shoulders or wrap around their waists) and young men selling bottles of water, we breezed up the steps, through the doors, into the metal detectors, got our tickets, and were into the square overlooking the Vatican Gardens in a mere 30 minutes…and trust me, compared to the saps without reservations and skip-the-line tours, 30 minutes is breezing through!!
The gardens were beautiful…the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica formed a backdrop, mingling with the date trees and umbrella pines…I got a great picture. From there, into the so-called “Pineapple Piazza,” where there is a giant (rotating!) golden sphere, looks kinda like the Death Star, all mangled and pock-marked, with a sphere inside it, designed by the same guy who made the one in the World Trade Center and three others around the world. We saw some general old Roman papal stuff there, along with several boards set up on easels around the edges, for the purpose of allowing the guides to tell us all about the paintings in the Sistine Chapel prior to our entrance, since you’re not allowed to talk in there. I’d studied heavily last night all about the Vatican Museums and the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel, so I knew the general layout and the subject matter of the pieces, but it was still cool to hear this guy tell it…and I liked how they gave you a heads-up so that when you got there, you could just enjoy.
The Vatican Museums were kinda cool and kinda boring (there was this poor boy about six years old absolutely about to collapse from sheer boredom and frustration and exhaustion…you know how they get…you remember feeling that way…being dragged through all this dumb stuff for hours by his dumb mom and his dumb siblings when all he wanted to do was sit down and have gelato, for crying out loud…poor kid…I had to laugh, but felt awful for him…who brings a six-year-old here???). Lots of statues…many male nudes, and almost all of them fig-leafed or unmanned completely…though it seems on many that the berries are okay and only the twig has to go. Got a pic of one like that. Poor guys. There were whole hallways of statuary, and my Toy Story brain felt bad for all the sculptures that no one ever bothers to look at, lost in this endless gallery of what must be a thousand pieces…and all anyone cares about is the Greek Fertility goddess with the twenty-some-odd breasts hanging off her torso like so many lemons, and the giant, disembodied toe that was the size of my whole hand.
On to tapestries. Yay. Cool one of Jesus emerging from the tomb…his eyes and his whole body face you wherever you go.
On to lots of map paintings and ceiling paintings and all kinds of nondescript art I don’t know anything about and therefore am not impressed with.
On to the Raphael Rooms. Studied these last night. Was very excited to see the School of Athens…which is one of my favorites today. I like how he painted classical figures with his contemporaries’ faces, and yet, there seems to be no confusion as to who is whom. REALLY liked the symmetry of all of it…and the framing of the arches over Aristotle/Leonardo and Plato…and how he and Michelangelo hated each other till Raphael painted him into School of Athens…and how Raphael painted himself into the right-hand side, giving us that, “Yeah, I’m the schizz…” look…I just love it. =)
(skipping the modern religious art rooms ‘cause I thought they were awful)
And into the Sistine Chapel. I’m not sure what I can say about it except that it’s every bit as amazing as they say it is. I had to contend all day with awful, and I mean, AWFUL neck pains…strained something up past my right shoulder blade (prob Mom’s suitcase, or sleeping funny last night, or both) and can look up and/or to the right only with terrible pain…felt like art-tourist-roadkill…but toughed it out, ‘cause, hey, it’s the Sistine Chapel, man!! Gotta play through the pain! Can’t just come back next week, for cryin’ out loud! So I did. Got very, very frustrated at the fact that, though intermittent loudspeakers came on and asked everyone – in several languages – to remain silent and not take pictures, there were idiots everywhere being loud and taking frickin’ pictures!! It was all I could do not to throw elbows into their cameras and send them flying! I hate unfairly enforced rules!! And people who think they don’t apply to them!!
Heave heave heave. Okay, back to the Chapel. It was so huge. I tried to imagine the scaffolding, and Michelangelo painting it…begrudgingly…they say he wanted no part of it…and how he ended up with lifelong neck problems after four years of that…and how he painted the first three Noah scenes before he realized he was painting the people too small…and how much bigger Adam and Eve are in the next panel he did, being banished from the garden…and how much I love that M. painted Adam going for the apple, not Eve…and that the serpent has the body of a woman…and how I wish God’s finger actually touched Adam’s in the Creation of Man…and how sure I am that M. did it that way on purpose, so you’d feel that kinetic energy, that almost quality…and how funny it is that he paints God’s bare ass in the sun-and-moon panel…REALLY!! Michelangelo paints God mooning us!!! As he creates the moon!!! And how I want to know who every saint and prophet is in all the surrounding panels and what their stories are, and I want an up-close of all the angels on the columns in between…and I want to know what it was like when the cannon ball hit the Chapel way-back-when and the plaster from the Noah scenes fell to the floor and shattered and how they won’t touch M.’s work so they just leave the blank spot there…MAN IT’S SO FRIGGIN’ COOL!! You just have to see for yourself, if you haven’t.
My favorite in there is the Creation of Man. Can’t help it.
And then we went into the crypts…and saw the burial places of all the popes…and stayed a while in front of John XXIII and PJP II…he had a few roses on his, as well as two guards, while just around the corner, the window to Peter’s tomb had NO guards. Third apostle’s tomb…second in three days. I wonder if I’ll track down the other eight the rest of my life…or if they all exist.
Into the Basilica again. The forward part was open and we got to wander around the altar and see more than we could yesterday. The stained-glass dove window at the end wasn’t as brilliant today, as we were there at noon and the sun yesterday was low enough to shine right through it. My favorite parts of the Basilica are a tie between the statue of St. Andrew and the statue of St. Veronica, opposite one another. Andrew is usually one of my favorites anyway, maybe because his cross forms the Scottish flag, and also because we saw his tomb in Amalfi the other day…Veronica’s statue is so huge and windblown and alive and just kinda desperate-looking…I want her story. I looked for St. James, of course, but didn’t find him anywhere. Not sure he’s there. Also looked for the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela marked on the floor, but didn’t find it either. If it got overlooked in the sizing battle, I’ll be ticked.
We didn’t go up in the dome today. The lines were just too long. We’re thinking maybe Monday really early, before we go to Florence.
I really really want a book, like a coffee-table book, that shows every last thing in the Basilica and every painting in the Sistine Chapel and what they all mean and what all the symbolism is and who all the saints are and everything.
We hit lunch outside the Vatican at a place that called itself a “snack bar.” I got lasagna and Mom got a tomato filled with rice, and potatoes on the side – both microwaved – and she got a bottle of water and then we both got chocolate gelato – and the bill came to 47 friggin’ Euros!! We were PISSED. And in a state of shock. The gelatos were TEN BUCKS EACH. Don’t eat anywhere near the Vatican. Friggin’ rip-off.
As was the “hop-on-hop-off” boat cruise of the Tiber River. Took us forever to find it, and when we did, it went up the Tiber about half a mile, then turned around and went down about a mile and change, and then turned around and came back. We saw, like, nothing. And the heat and the midafternoon and the busy day had us both nodding off in the sun the whole time, listening to the canned tour on the headphones they gave us. Not worth the money we paid.
So we got off and wandered back toward the Vatican – I found a little wooden dove and a Tau cross and one of those cheesy little saint charms…mine has a picture of St. Jude (for my marathon) on one side and St. Peter’s Basilica on the other. It was cheap, but I’m going to carry it in my fuel belt pouch as I train and when I run the marathon. I like it. =)
Wandered wandered wandered…came upon the Trevi Fountain. GORGEOUS. Crowded. Huge. I threw a 10-cent coin over my shoulder to ensure I’d return to Rome, as the saying goes. Wandered from there to the Pantheon…it’s amazing too, of course. There’s scaffolding covering one half of the front. We didn’t go in – at this point, it’s like 7pm – but we sat down at a little wine bar on the square and ate lasagna and bread and killed a bottle of rose wine as we gazed at it. It was one of those experiences – like when I had champagne and chocolate mousse with my friend Rachel in front of Notre Dame. We both loved it. We expect to see more of it tomorrow on our Ancient Rome tour.
The tour picks us up at 7:45am, here at our hotel, which is awesome. It’s an all-day thing. After that, I’ll feel I’ve really been to Rome. We’re getting mission-critical for a laundromat. Funny thing is, if we were staying in a 10-Euro hostel, we’d have one for sure. But the hotel here wants to do our washing for us and charge us by the piece, and that’s no good after a week in Italy. We’re going to try to hold out till Florence (I bought socks today, haha), but we’re totally rationing clothing at this point.
We’re sitting in the hotel lounge as I type this. Mom has her Kindle on her lap and looks like she’s fallen asleep. The shower door has a leak and I flooded the bathroom this morning…she teased me about it all day till tonight, when she took a shower, and came down here to confess that it really does have a leak and we’ve had to ask for more towels to clean it up…along with another pillow for me so I can sleep and still be able to move in the morning.
And it’ll be an early morning. Once again, we’re inside 8 hours of sleep at this point. Time to hang it up and get to bed. Theoretically, I’m supposed to run tomorrow…maybe in the evening? Sigh. We’ll have to see. Maybe if we do the Basilica dome early Monday morning that will count instead….