The Vatican Museums with thousands of my closest friends
ROME DAY 4 Gelato: nicciola e ciaccolato (hazelnut, but I’m not sure I spelled it correctly, and chocolate)
Pasta: Bucatini alla matriciana (bucatini looks like spaghetti, but it’s tubular. The sauce is a thick tomato sauce with bacon. This is a traditional Roman pasta dish.)
This was the day we spent at the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. The experience, while visually stunning, puts a visitor on unavoidable sensory overload. All tourists are pushed through the same rooms packed shoulder to shoulder with people from all over the world looking at art from all over the world that spans 5000 years. Here is Sumerian writing from 3000 B.C. and an Egyptian stone coffin and mummy, both from about 1000 B.C.
As you can imagine, there were many, many statues on the tour. Below are two of them. Rick Steves tells us that Lacoon (on the left) was lost for more than one thousand years and when it was found, the unbridled emotion in it inspired Michelangelo's later work on the Sistine Chapel. The golden ceiling is the quarter mile papal map room. The walls feature maps of areas of Italy while the ceiling shows scenes in history from those geographical areas.
The map gallery feels like a long march of history and opulence until, just when you think you’d give your left leg for a place to sit down, you land in the darkened Sistine Chapel where the only sound is guards intoning ‘Silencio!’ (Of course there are no photos allowed.)
I was happy for this second opportunity to see the chapel because I wasn’t fully aware of what I was seeing the first time around. This time, I leaned back and appreciated the amount of time, thought and talent Michelangelo took in creating the many scenes and prophets he chose to illuminate in the ceiling. The gorgeous image of God extending Life to Adam and that of Adam and Eve sent from Heaven are incredible, but the Final Judgment that spans the entire wall behind the alter possesses a particular drama and emotion. First of all, I’ve never seen a Jesus depicted as so physically commanding. Making the judgments on all human beings in the world is a grim business and Jesus is determined in his role, deciding who goes up and who goes down. It was also cool to think that the popes had been there just a week prior deciding on the next pope. Even though I'm not Catholic, it seemed remarkable to me to stand in a room where important decisions were made. I didn't see where they let off the smoke signal, though. I know there is a chimny on the roof, but I didn't see a fireplace in the chapel.
One little sidenote — and I don’t mean any disrespect at all because Micheangelo was da man — but did you ever notice the biceps on Eve? Check it out sometime. She’s got some guns.
From the Sistine Chapel, we exited down a few steps an into St. Peter’s Basilica. Are there even words to capture this church of churches? Awe-inspiring in scope, for sure. Grandeur? No doubt. Standing in the entry way of the church, the window on the far wall above the altar is two football fields away.
The canopy (behind me in the photo below) above the alter is seven stories high, but it doesn’t seem so because the dome is 100 yards from floor to ceiling. Yeah, big church.
My two favorite things in this church are Michelangelo’s Pieta, so full of grace, emotion and beauty, that it brought tears to my eyes in a way that no Jesus on a cross could ever do.
My other favorite aspect of St. Peter's? The dome.
When we left St. Peter's hungry and tired, we needed to get Tom's bag from the 'gardaroba' - bag check. (Everything sounds better in Italian, doesn't it?) The guard told us to walk out of St. Peter's Piazza and turn left. Sounds like it's right next door, right? No. At this point it was raining and we'd left two umbrellas and one rain jacket in -- you guessed it -- the bag that was checked! We followed the Vatican wall, swimming our way upstream against the current of tourists, dodging the tour mongers every 10 feet ("You speak English? Tour the Vatican. No line!") We walked, I'm guessing, about 1/2 mile until we arrived back at the entrance to the Vatican Museums where the guard let me back in to retrieve our bag. I was afraid that I would be denied re-entry, but apparently we weren't the only ones who gotten mixed up. There were several others filing in behind me to gather their bags, too. We were all relieved to duck into a tiny pizzeria and sit down for a while before more walking back to the B&B for a much needed afternoon off of our feet.