Breakfast with the Pope and dinner with Carlos... same same but different!
25.04.2016 - 25.04.2016 12 °C
When in Rome…you must see The Vatican!
Today was a very special, very early start, on account of having breakfast with the Pope! That’s right, a super-early morning (in the rain) of touring The Vatican museum, Sistene Chapel, and St Peter’s church. I’m not much of a morning person, as anyone who’s ever seen me pre-midday can attest, so it’s a pretty concerted effort to wake up in a foreign city, get across town, and be standing bright-eyed (I’m lying, obviously) and coffee-infused by 7:30am in the morning. But indeed, I did achieve this mean feat, and I’m glad I did, because the midday crowd attempting to visit The Vatican was no doubt still twiddling their thumbs at 6pm, and it’s not even peak season! My advice: book an early morning guided tour, suck up the 15 minute wait to get through security, and marvel in the serenity.
We had a delightfully knowledgeable guide, who led us through the previously private courtyard, now adorned with a giant bronze ball statue from a modern artist, which at a slight push spins on its axis. It is apparently the same size of the bronze ball atop St Peter’s church, which is amazing given how large it is from a few feet away. The artist had wanted to achieve an interaction between the church and the people, which is why the statue was developed as one which could be touched and manoeuvred by those who chose to get up close and personal.
Next stop was the start of the vast collection of statues accumulated by the Vatican over the centuries. One which stood out was called ‘The Torso’, an armless, legless, headless…torso (who would have thought), which was the subject of Michelangelo’s cogitations in his later years when in residence at the Vatican, and is thought to have inspired the pose of ‘The Thinker’, and possibly Michelangelo’s ‘Adam’ in the centre of the Sistine Chapel.
Some of the most precious statues according to our guide, were original Greek marble statues, one of which had its hand retrieved by an archaeologist many years after the discovery of the main body of the statue. Another was an original bronze statue (many bronze statues were melted down for their valuable metal), dug up during a city excavation for a new road. One of the most well-known to me, at least, was ‘The Discus Athlete’, no doubt from some high-school art studies back in the hay day. We passed statue after statue, in various rooms, including to my shock and horror one of a small boy strangling *gulp* a goose (!), and incredible floor mosaics of fine detail, and the porphyry sarcophagus of Helena and Constantina, the mother and daughter of Constantine the Great, although the contents had been lost for hundreds of years.
Next in our tour of the Vatican Museum was the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche, or the Corridor of Maps. It was spectacular! An ornate ceiling stretching for more than 100 meters, and surrounded by early representations of the maps of Italy, complete with individual scales, and detail of some of the historic events of the areas.
Obviously, you cannot visit The Vatican without a walk through the Sistine Chapel, and after a short break for coffee and brekky, it was next on our agenda. The ceiling of the chapel represents nine scenes from the book of Genesis, including the creation of Adam, which is the most famous image from the ceiling. With the description from our guide, it is subsequently a breathtaking piece of artwork to see first-hand, despite the continual barking orders of security…”no photos”…”no phones”. Slight interruption to the serenity. The alter wall, also painted by Michelangelo had quite an interesting story: apparently, he’d painted the majority of the figures nude, but after his death, and at the instruction of one Pope or another, drapery was painted over…ahh…the nudie bits to increase their modesty. Looks like I’m not the only member of the wang-police!
St Peter’s church, the largest church in the world for a time I believe, was next stop on our Vatican tour. Having seen several churches already throughout Venice and Florence, there was initially some thought that perhaps they would be similar. But the mammoth scale of St Peter’s shadows even St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. Apparently 2016 is a holy year, and as such pilgrims from around the world are flocking to the Vatican to enter St Peter’s through the ‘holy door’, which is at other times closed. There were throngs of people flocking to walk through the door, and even the guide had trouble navigating us to a suitable entry. We walked through getting an explanation of some of the funeral memorials of important people, or those who dedicated their lives to the church, and there were even some woman that made the grade, which would have been unusual for the time. A princess who relinquished her throne in favour of her church to which she was devout, and another princess who dedicated her army to the church’s cause, thus winning a war. We saw two of the mummified popes who were on display, which I had not previously known about, one of which had requested he not be mummified, but who had become a ‘saint’ after his death, and apparently had been ‘miraculously preserved’ given the years which had gone by since his death. Also extremely interesting was the paintings, which were in fact recreated as incredibly detailed mosaics with the purpose of lasting ‘forever’.
We exited the church, and the tour concluded in St Peter’s square, which is actually oval shaped, to give the impression that the church is ‘hugging you’. A seriously impressive part of ‘Rome’, and overall despite not being a religious person, an extremely worthwhile experience to put on the bucket list.
The tour over, it was back to La Forchetta for lunch (this time the ravioli with walnut sauce, a free entrée of zucchini frittata (he must have thought I was wasting away), and a quarter of the world’s largest tiramisu before naptime.
Marta had left this morning, so Carlos and I headed out for a night on the town for dinner and to see the Trevi Fountain (with my new shoes!), and whatever other key sights I had so far missed in Rome. We walked back towards the Quattro della Fontana (the intersection with the four fountain statues), and navigated to the Trevi Fountain to see it in the daylight. Some token tourist snaps and video tossing a coin into the fountain over the shoulder were mandated, and thus it was cemented that I would return someday.
Headed to dinner at the most incredible restaurant nearby and had one of the best meals so far (think that I’ll be saying that a lot over the coming weeks!). Steak with pepper sauce, cooked absolutely to perfection. Carlos couldn’t stop moaning in delight! And fettucine with wild boar ragu, also delish (but Carlos reckons he’s had better). Complimented with a litre and a half of the amazing house red, and chased with the panna cotta which was ok. Our table mates sitting next to use, Willie and Rob, even let us try their fried artichoke entrée (amazing, crispy, like chips), and their tiramisu dessert. They were from…somewhere in America, and we all strolled back to the Trevi to see it in the dark of night. The other scam on ‘Scam City’ was for ladies looking at the fountain alone at night, a handsome Italian man would sidle up and proclaim how beautiful the fountain is. “Isn’t it romantic?” “Fancy a drink or dinner?” And the poor girl would wake up the next morning with a bill on her bedside! And hence, after our little side trip to see the fountain, I couldn’t stop singing “I’m just a gigolo, everywhere I go…” which contributed to a general night of breaking out into conversation-appropriate songs!
We said goodbye to Willie and Rob, and headed to the next fountain, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini, also spectacular, and then bumped into the Pantheon (as you do in Rome!). Which was lucky, because I hadn’t managed to get around to seeing it yet!
The night ended with me in excruciating shoe-pain, singing ‘On an evening in Roma’ in a little piazza with a final carafe of red wine before heading back to the hostel for the final Roman sleep!
Vatican statues observed – thousands!
Meters of incredible corridors of maps – 121
Minutes in the Sistine Chapel – 12
Minutes getting a snack and coffee – 14
Mummified Popes – 2
Church-hugs – 1
Conversation appropriate songs – 8
The sheer delight in the world’s most perfect pepper steak (and associated moans)…priceless!