Category Archives: rome

Rome, Part 2

How many of these does the Vatican Museum need? Spare some miniature mummies for the rest of us!

How many of these does the Vatican Museum need? Spare some miniature mummies for the rest of us!

My next day in Rome wasn’t even spent in Italy. Instead, I took the Metropolitana di Roma to the world’s smallest country: Vatican City.

Emperor Tiberius in a hall of Roman art in the Vatican Museum.

Emperor Tiberius in a hall of Roman art in the Vatican Museum.

Soon I was part of a large crowd and even if I hadn’t been able to see the top of St. Peter’s, I still would have known I was going the right way based on the frantic walking and guidebook checking all directed at its dome. My first stop wasn’t the church, but the museum. I’d heard horror stories about the lines at the Vatican, but I only waited in line for five minutes at the new millennium door of the Musei Vaticani (Vatican Museum).

Laocoön!!!!

Laocoön!!!!

Overwhelmed barely describes how I felt in the Vatican Museum. Awe struck, vanquished, staggered, stunned, maybe describe how I felt after winding up those spiral staircases. I knew that the collection there was impressive, but it seemed endless. Hall after hall of Roman art, each piece seeming somehow familiar. It had been a few years since I took a classical archaeology course at Oxford University, but I still found myself remembering the marble and gods. The one I was most excited to see was the Laocoön, which to my shock was displayed in an outdoor courtyard. It was covered by an overhang, but still, this is the sculpture that started the Vatican Museum, the one piece of Roman art that had more influence on the Italian Renaissance than any other. I’ll just have to assume the Vatican knows what they are doing. Although as my tour guide from the day before said, we’re being let into the Pope’s private art collection, so it’s arranged more to impress guests than art historians.

Hall of Maps in the Vatican Museum.

Hall of Maps in the Vatican Museum.

After endless Greek and Roman sculpture, a hall of beautiful and intriguing maps, and rooms painted by Raphael, I was finally heading to what’s probably the most famous of all the rooms at the Vatican City: the Sistine Chapel. I’d thought the rest of the museum was crowded, but that was nothing compared to the chapel. I managed to move into the middle of the room among the flashing cameras and prone people (both supposedly forbidden) to look up at the ceiling. Adjectives probably won’t describe it. Maybe I’ll compare it to seeing a celebrity in person and the shock of what they actually look like (shorter, more wrinkled) along with the awe at being in their presence.

Popemobile at the Vatican Museum.

Popemobile at the Vatican Museum.

After surviving the Sistine Chapel, I got a slice of pizza at the Vatican Museum food court. I like to think that because of my attempts at Italian, they gave me the most giant slice of vegetarian pizza on the tray. Or maybe they were all giant and I was just delirious. But there was still more of the museum to see, and I would like it to be known that I went into every single gallery I could find. The paintings, the Etruscan art, the early Christian art, the modern art, even the room full of popemobiles. Where is my certificate of achievement in travel?

Piazza San Pietro

Piazza San Pietro

There was still the other behemoth of the Vatican City to visit, so I met up with Mari and Natalie at a fountain in front of St. Peter’s. There was no line here either, although when I came back to go up the dome, I would see that this had just been luck.

Inside St. Peters.

Inside St. Peter's.

If you’re wondering where all the marble and bronze on the Roman ruins went, this is it. I don’t think I’ve been in a church more demanding of reverence. Popes and saints by Bernini and Michelangelo stare down from the walls as believers and tourists swirl around you, their languages mixing into one low roar. The basilica is built over what is thought to be the tomb of St. Peter, the first pope, and you can still see his grave through a door under the altar. I also saw it when I went into the crypt, where most of the popes are also buried and Pope John Paul II is attended by guards and praying nuns.

Swiss Guards in Vatican City.

Swiss Guards in Vatican City.

Remember Le Suisse from Valence? I got to see his inspiration in the form of the Swiss Guards.

After a day at the Vatican, I was exhausted and retired for an evening accompanied by red wine.

Rome, Part 1

It seems like absolutely ages ago that I was in Rome, but I’m going to post about it all the same. I hope I haven’t forgotten too much to tell the story. On my first day I flew from Lyon to Rome and then successfully navigated to my hostel. All the Italian I knew was from the phrases I’d downloaded to my iPod and all my information on what to do in Rome was contained in a tiny guidebook completely written in French. I was set up for potential disaster, but the trip was far from that. That first evening I didn’t do much, just met up with two friends who were also staying in Rome and had some pasta and then red wine at the hostel bar.

I woke up early the next morning and decided my first destination would be the icon of Rome: il Colosseo. However, being that this was my first day, I got a little over confident with my free hostel map and ended up going in the completely wrong direction. I think I ended up at an old city wall, but I’m still not exactly sure. Anyway, I did eventually make it to the Colosseum and dodged the fake gladiators to get inside. It was spectacular. I had downloaded an audio tour to my iPod, so I wasn’t completely lost, and there was a cool exhibit on the history of the Colosseum on one of the floors. I wish that it was possible to see a bit more of it, although I would soon see many pieces of its former marble scattered around the city.

After my personal tour through the Colosseum, I met up with Mari and Natalie (both assistants in France, from England and Scotland respectively) at the Arch of Constantine. While waiting for them, I took the first of many portraits of strangers that I would take in Rome. Apparently I am completely nonthreatening and don’t look like I’ll steal your camera. I hope they turned out.

We bought some much needed pizza and bottles of water at a bakery before going to Palatine Hill. I mention the bottle of water because this turned out to be the only one I had to buy, as Rome has drinkable water everywhere. Even the water that comes out of the spouts in the fancy fountains is okay to consume. It was amazing, especially as the sun never stopped shining and there was limited air conditioning.

Palatine Hill was very cool, although I was glad there were so many walking tours in English and French for eavesdropping because it was hard to work out the imperial buildings from the ruins. The legend is that Palatine Hill was where the twins Romulus and Remus were kept alive by the wolf in a cave. Eventually in their story, Romulus kills Remus and it is from his name that Rome gets its moniker. Due to this, Palatine Hill was the most prestigious of the seven hills in Rome and was where many of the emperors had their palaces.

We got some gelato and then there were the first of many church visits. I stumbled upon San Pietro in Vincoli, known for its statue of Moses created by Michelangelo. It also contains the above relic, St. Peter’s chains, which give the church its name.

Then I saw St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs, which has, in addition to this rather unsettling angel, the meridian line of Rome. The basilica was built over what used to be Roman baths.

That evening, we took a free walking tour that started at the Spanish Steps. It covered all the big piazzas of Rome and gave me a good idea of the city, which would come in handy later when the ticket machines in the metro wouldn’t take my money or card and I had to navigate the streets.

From the Steps we made our way to the Trevi Fountain (where we threw coins over our shoulders) and then to the Pantheon, which was just as amazing as it was made out to be. We ended up at the Piazza Navona and then headed to the Piazza di Fiori and had dinner outside. I had a pizza. Yes, for the second time that day. This would be a trend.

From there we walked back through the piazzas we had just visited, starting with the Piazza Navona. The Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of Four Rivers) by Bernini was even more stunning with the lights and shadows.

The Temple of Hadrian was also beautiful in the dark. It’sthe remains of the old temple built into a new building, but at night you can almost imagine the modern fading away.

The Trevi Fountain wasn’t any less crowded at night, but more atmospheric. Rome is definitely a city to experience by both day and night.

Wow, I did that all in one day! No wonder my feet were tired. I’ll post more about Rome soon!