Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica

9/11 Remembrance: I am actually entering this post on 9/11/11 and must take a moment to honor those who were victims of 9/11/01, whether they were workers in office buildings or firefighters who were bravely attempting to save them. A special and heartfelt thank you to those who continue to work diligently and tirelessly to do everything possible to keep the people of our great country safe from evil. We owe you.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Summy brought our breakfast at 8:30 a.m., and we opted for languishing in relaxation mode this morning, which meant writing in my journal and answering some emails. As I catch up on the journal writing, I already have regrets about one aspect that I neglected to fully capture during this trip. I wish I had taken a photo of every meal we have eaten, preserved a description of exactly what our food selections were (including the wine details) and the name and address of each location where we dined. It is so easy to become caught up in the experience, that it makes it difficult to remember to stop and take a moment to jot down and/or photograph those important bits of information. I have included several restaurant names in my blog, but not so much about the food, wine, ambience and other particulars of the wonderful dining experiences.

Most of my food comments revolved around everything being "delicious," but that isn't very helpful to people who might be planning a trip to Italy! If I am ever fortunate enough to chronicle another fabulous European trip, I would be certain to include more information in this area. Marianne and Laura photographed their breakfast tray at Caesar House one morning, so at least I can share this.

Our adventures of the day began with a subway ride on the Roman Metro (Metropolitana) to an area across from the Vatican Museums, our designated location for meeting the Angel Tour guide. We weren't exactly certain what to expect from Rome's subway system, but we found it to be inexpensive (1 Euro), the stops easy to understand and recognize and very clean. There are two lines on this Metro system--the Red Line (A) from Battistini Terminal to Anagnina Terminal and the Blue Line (B) from Laurentina Terminal to Rebibbia Terminal. One vital piece of information you need to acquire in advance is which line your destination happens to be situated on and at which stop you need to exit. Armed with these clues, we managed remarkably well!

Killing time before our tour, we window shopped, ate lunch at another outdoor cafe and were approached by sneaky handbag vendors who were trying to avoid the police. They would hide behind or between vehicles and then approach the dining tourists when the coast was clear. They weren't very open to negotiation on the prices, however. Laura tried her best to bargain with one, and he wasn't having any of it. He just wanted to hurriedly conduct his business and move on so he could evade the police officers who were nearby. We saw one policeman literally chasing one of the vendors on an adjacent street. It reminded us of buying merchandise from the cage-front New York City Canal Street shops that suddenly close when the police are in the vicinity. Instead of working in actual stores, these merchants are carrying as many handbags as they can drape up and down their arms and alternate selling their wares with spontaneous games of hide and seek.

We met our guide Joanna, and in our group were couples from London and Long Island, New York. In the locations we are touring today, there is a specific dress code for women. Shoulders are to be covered and knees are not supposed to be visible. We knew this in advance due to Marianne's thorough research, so we were prepared. First on the agenda was the visitor-accessible parts of the Vatican.

We were told that the Vatican was established as a separate state and has its own post office and zip code. It also has its own police, diplomatic corps and army, which includes Swiss Guards. These Guards wear colorful uniforms, which are said to have been designed by Michelangelo and have remained the same for five centuries.

Joanna was a sweet, personable guide who really knew her subject backwards and forwards, inside and out. She was easy to understand and gave us so many tidbits of information that we wouldn't have otherwise discovered on our own, so we were thankful that Marianne had found Angel Tours during her advance investigation. This was a 3 1/2 hour tour beginning at 1:00 p.m., and I have to tell you that trying to take it all in was somewhat overwhelming. The Vatican Museums contained such amazingly detailed artwork and sculptures that I could visualize returning here someday just to absorb it all...slowly, deliberately. It's difficult to walk along, craning your neck to view the intricacies of these elevated, venerable works of ceiling art and not become dizzy--or perhaps that's just me. Some would say that I was already dizzy before I arrived in Italy.

In the Sala Rotonda, we saw, in the center of the room, what is reported to have been Emperor Nero's enormous, ornate bathtub.

We were taken to St. Peter's Square, the Pope's audience area, and although there were only a few tourists wandering about, it is easy to imagine the multitudes that would be present if the Pope was appearing today.

We moved on to the Sistine Chapel, where we learned a great deal about Michelangelo's works in general and then heard about his famous art in the Chapel. The collection began with a team of famous painters who were commissioned to create the twelve frescoed panels depicting the lives of Moses (left) and Christ (right) and were completed in 1482.

The ceiling was originally painted as a blue sky with golden stars before a reluctant Michelangelo was given the task of painting the Chapel ceiling, which he worked on from 1508 through 1512. He considered himself to be more of a sculptor than a painter and was resistant to undertake the Sistine Chapel job. He did comply, however, and this venue contains his famous work, The Creation of Adam, among many other Biblical scenes. He was in his sixties when he painted The Last Judgment (1535-1541) on the altar wall. The detail in these works in mind boggling and almost overpowering. It is difficult to imagine an individual tediously and meticulously painting all of these scenes.

Our last stop was St Peter's Basilica, which took more than one hundred fifty years to build. Its dome was created by Michelangelo and can be seen from most every location in Rome. Once inside, this site seriously felt like a genuinely holy, sacred place--likely because St. Peter was martyred and the Apostles buried here. We all shared a moment of silence and said a very special prayer for our friend, Liz. She would love being in this church with its historical Christian depth. The structure is enormous, and looking up at the ceiling makes one feel almost lightheaded. As I turned and saw the rays of sunlight illuminating the room, I knew that this would be a scene that would remain with me for many years to come.

We stayed in the same vicinity for dinner, choosing Il Papalino for our incredible dining adventure. Because patrons are encouraged to linger, we were there until 8:50 p.m., at which time we discovered that the subway system stops running at 9:00 p.m. No problem. We knew we could just call for a taxi. Our waiter was unable to reach a cab for us and suggested that we take the bus. We found out which bus we would need (#40) to weave our way back to Via Cavour and our comfortable hotel, and we had no trouble locating the bus stop. With virtually no waiting, there was bus #40--just as big as an elephant right before our eyes. This was pretty easy! There was just one minor problem though. They won't sell you a ticket after you get on the bus, so we had to find a ticket machine. There happened to be one very close by, so we dashed over to it so we could quickly buy our little tickets and be on our way.

Unfortunately, nothing is quite so easy. Our first issue was that all of the directions for purchasing a ticket were shown in Italian. The bus driver looked over at us and could easily see that having tickets in our possession was not going to happen any time soon, so off he drove. Great! How long would we have to wait for the next bus if we ever figured out how this machine works? Laura was able to decipher how to buy a ticket, discovering that they were 1 Euro each. We all had 1 Euro coins except Marianne, whose only coin was 20 cents. We began to scramble and dig in our handbags to come up with enough coins to reach 1 Euro and buy her ticket. We kept feeding in all of the coins we could locate, and just when we thought we were almost successful, the machine rejected every coin we had inserted. They poured out like the payoff from a winning spin on a Las Vegas slot machine. Sharon and I couldn't restrain our laughter. One by one, Laura calmly and carefully reinserted the coins into the sensitive machine and finally--out popped the ticket!

Carefully grasping our tickets in hand, we were ready and eager to board the next bus to Palazzo Venezia. It was very dark, getting rather late, we were in completely unfamiliar territory, and we had once again been walking all afternoon and were totally fatigued. When the next bus arrived, Laura politely asked the driver if this bus was going to Palazzo Venezia, and because her pronunciation wasn't perfect Italian, at first he said, "No." Then he repeated it HIS way, which honestly didn't sound much different from Laura's version, so we knew we were on the right bus.

Our next challenge would be: how would we know when we reached our stop? Obviously, the obnoxious bus driver wasn't going to give us a hint. Laura began studiously reviewing her trusty map to see if we could find a landmark that would tip us off that we were close to Palazzo Venezia. A kind gentleman with an American accent took pity on us after observing our consternation and asked us what we were looking for. Laura told him, and he said that it was the very next stop. He also said, "Go ahead and step on up to the door to be ready to exit. The driver won't wait for you to get organized." He was Angel #2, sent to us at precisely the right time to help us. Thank you once again to God and to our faithful friends and family who are thinking of us and praying for our well being. They must know that we are occasionally in need of these angels!

Our evaluation of public transportation in Rome was: you either have to have a good sense of your bearings for riding the bus, or you need to get to the subway before it stops running at night. People perpetually walk in Rome. And when I tell you that there are a ton of stairs to climb, I am not exaggerating. Here are just two examples:

At this point, we were beyond ready to crawl into our beds and sleep well. Tomorrow will be a day that I've been looking forward to since I discovered in a Rome guidebook on my Nook a not so widely known site that I can hardly wait to locate. Our tour guide today wasn't even aware of it, but when I told her the history and details, she said she would definitely be going there tomorrow to check it out for herself. I know it will be amazing!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment