Rome Stories and Tips

Oh wait, it *is* another country

Sistine Chapel Photo, Rome, Italy

Today (Nov. 9) is a gruelling 3 hour tour in the Vatican museums.

We slept in this morning and didn't get moving until mid-morning. We walked to a Metro to take it to the Vatican where we are later to meet the tour group. We skipped breakfast and had an early lunch to fortify ourselves for the long tour through the museums and St. Peter's.

We were early for the tour meeting spot in Piazza di Risorgimento and decided to have gelato and sit in the sunny square. The gelato was beautifully creamy and the sun was warm. The square is just outside the walls of the Vatican City which is a state/country of its own. If we had been visiting anywhere in it beside the museums and basilica, we would have to go through passport control. I believe the official name of the country is the State of the Vatican City.

We met our group of about two dozen ended up being split into two, our group was guided by Sussana and the tour was given in Spanish and English. We had another of those radio thingys with a single earbud which worked better than the phone style receivers we used at the Colosseum.

We walked to the entrance halls of the museums where Sussana had the tickets printed. Up a flight of marble stairs out into a courtyard, We stood there for about a half hour while she explained the highlights of the Sistine Chapel and some of the more important panels along the sides including one or two by Boticelli, and some by (Perugino) one of which is very important as he was the first to use perspective in a painting.

She then talked about Michelangelo and the history and story behind his painting the chapel ceiling and the Last Judgement. It's interesting to find out the way the frescos are created (wet plaster, outline from a "cartoon" etched into holes, then filled in with paint). Michelangelo did the first three panels of the ceiling with one format, scenes from the story of Noah and the Ark but realized that from the floor the figures in the panels looked too small so he did the rest with fewer people and larger so they would be seen better from below. The last few panels were done without the cartoon outline, just straight painting onto the plaster. The ceiling panels are all Old Testament stories, no references to the Christian era at all.

Before we get to the chapel, we have to walk quite a long way, through several large galleries. A couple also have little gift shops along the side. We also ducked into one room that had high ceilings and was completely covered in painted scenes. It was very impressive. We weren't able to go into the Rafael rooms though. I guess it's just not part of the tours which are mainly to get you through to the Sistine and out again. There are 17 km of galleries and museums and I'm sure it would do you in trying to see it all in one day.

Finally we come to the main event. The Sistine Chapel. By now it's 4:30 and the light outside is fading into night. The windows in the chapel are blocked and only indirect light shows inside saving the paint from deterioration. For the first 500 years, this was used regularly as a church and centuries of smoke, candlelight, incense, oil lamps and people had coated the painting with soot and dirt. A Japanese company paid millions in the 1980s to have the artwork cleaned and it took something like 16 years.

The chapel is dim inside, partly because of the lateness in the day. We had 20 minutes to look around. You are not supposed to take photos even without a flash. That always annoys me because if there's no light, there should be no damage caused. You can take pictures elsewhere in the museums without a flash. Anyway, even though I shouldn't have, I still managed to sneak some stealth photos.

Our feet, legs and back were really taking a punishing through all this and we still had to walk all the way back up to the entrance/exit. We did get to walk down the spiral ramp/staircase though, which was neat.

After that, the tour is done and we had to walk all the way around to the Basilica on our own. We had to go through a security x-ray check and by this time I was a wreck. I told Graham to go ahead since I'd seen it and he hadn't and I'd catch up. By the time I dragged myself to the stairs to go in, he was already at the top. A guard noticed me and I must have looked pretty bedraggled because he offered me the chance to use a lift. The problem with that was that I didn't know where I would be inside and Graham wouldn't find me so I struggled up the stairs which were mercifully not steep.

The Basilica closes at 6 and we only had about 15 minutes by this time. We made sure to see the Pieta, my favourite ever. She's right by the entrance. We didn't go all the way to the Bernini bronze canopy but could see it. The ceilings are very high and the decoration is all very lavish mosaics, not paintings, plus all the statues.

It's the largest Christian church in the world and there are markings on the floor from the entrance showing you where the edges of some of the other large cathedrals and basilicas would reach, including St. Paul's London and the Duomo in Florence. I forgot to look for the markings to show Graham. He's not religious at all and though it's quite a sight to see, thought it was an awful lot of expense and effort to go to in order to build something dedicated to something that doesn't exist!

We left the building just before the six o'clock bells rang and saw a changing of the Swiss Guard in their colourful uniforms. When I say "changing of the guard", don't expect an elaborate ceremony like you might see in London. It's just 3 of them changing their posts with a bit of marching and such. We were there at the right time to see it and got some pictures.

I wasn't even sure I could feel my feet except for the pain radiating from them. Taxi time again. We saw a stand at the back of St. Peter's Square. One taxi drove up and we tried to get in but a group of people pushed past us insisting they were waiting first. Fine. Another one came and a woman grabbed that out from under us too. When I third one came, I was ready to fight for it. We didn't have to and got in.

After a rest of about an hour, we decided to go back to the restaurant down the road where we had that delicious steak. I enjoyed my meal just as much as the first time we'd eaten there, though Graham still thought the steak the other night was not to be bested. I made sure I had room for dessert this time and it was a little torte of ricotta and pears with a powdery top, presented on a plate with chocolate drizzles and a bit of whipped cream on the side. Heaven!

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