Tales of a wandering lesbian

Rome, day 2, part 2

Rome was fascinating.  I mean, really interesting.  One minute I’d be looking at ancient ruins and the next I’d be in the middle of a political demonstration.  Nuns and well-dressed priests bustled through the streets next to military personnel with machine guns.

As I walked from the Forum to the Pantheon, I enjoyed the opulence, the contradictions and the cacophony of the city.  In one square I found an armored mini-van (bigger vehicles aren’t really practical in the sometimes small streets.

Armored minivan

And next to the van a shop selling vestments and day-wear for the cosmopolitan priest.

Vestments Priest wear

The pantheon was my sightseeing destination, but first I would revisit the pizza place from the night before.  The same girl was working.  She recognized me and helped me pick out some meat-frea pizzas to try.  Today, it was funghi, and something with gouda cheese.

Pizza funghi Pizza gouda

Yes, yes, the mushrooms look slimy.  It’s possible my sister has now vomited from seeing the little funghi.  (Sorry, Cath.)  They were slimy, and the whole thing had a slightly acidic taste, but it was very interesting, and I was quite hungry, so I had no complaints.  The gouda pizza was yummy.  It had thin slices of zucchini under the cheese, and a nice, smoky flavor.  Plus, the crust itself is some of the best I’ve ever had.

I think maybe I overdid with the amount of pizza I ordered, or maybe it was the speed with which I was eating.  I kept catching the other diners staring at me as we ate together in the outdoor seating area.  I was hungry, and I had a schedule to keep.

Fortunately, the Pantheon was only about a block away.  The front columns of the Pantheon are each 40 feet tall and made of one piece.  They support an immense portico that leads to the interior of the church.

Pantheon portico

The interior is vast and sparsely decorated.  Tombs (including Raphael’s) ring the beautiful marble floor.  But the real show is above.  The oculus.  A hole in the roof that allowed the construction of the first-of-its kind dome, the oculus provides a pretty spectacular light show, casting shafts of sunlight onto the floor, or ceiling, depending on the time of day.

Oculus Dark oculus Oculus overhead

I have a picture form the University of Virginia that is strikingly similar.  Thomas Jefferson did a nice job with his translation.

Next on my list was a sight that could be explored over the course of years.  I was hoping to do it in an afternoon:  Vatican City.  I’d missed the Pope’s general audience, which was earlier in the day, but I thought I could make up for it by seeing the Vatican museums and St. Peter’s.  And so I started walking.

The Vatican is on the other side of the river from the Pantheon.  I’d made the decision early in the trip to walk to all of my destinations if possible.  I really enjoy seeing a city at street level.  There’s something about the sounds and smells that helps me get a feel for the place.  Anyway, it was a beautiful day for a walk.

View crossing Tiber

I lingered on the bridge and took time to fill my bottle at one of Rome’s friendly drinking fountains.

Dragon fountain

I caught a glimpse of St. Peter’s and headed around the walls of the city to the Vatican museums.  The 4 miles of museums closed first.  I’d be back for the big church.

St. Pete's Swiss guard Vatican walls

This was a museum like I’ve never seen before.  Because of the strange position of Vatican City, the museum is an entry point into the country.  That meant metal detectors, bag screenings and the like.  Then we all crammed ourselves onto escalators that took us up to the museums, bookstores and caffe.

The museums had quite a lot to offer, including phenomenal vistas,

St. Pete's from Vatican Museum Vatican globe Vatican view

fabulous riches (I’m pretty sure they have the actual golden fleece there somewhere),

Jason and fleece

and a nice share of irony.  I found it especially amusing to read the official Vatican descriptions of the Egyptian gods in the collection.

Heel licker Fresco Egyptian dog goddess

I spent my time in the Egyptian and Etruscan rooms, then wandered through halls of tapestries and super-old maps.  Along with 8 gazillion noisy tourists, I arrived in the Raphael rooms, decorated by the master and his students.  Here’s that painting of that arch from the Forum:

Raphael's arch

Okay, maybe it’s not the same arch, but it looks like maybe it could be.  I’m not so much a scholar in this area.  Regardless, both arches were quite beautiful.

After miles of walking, we came to the part most of the people were looking for – the Sistine Chapel.  There were handy little signs throughout the museums, directing us there.  The entire time.  From the first corridor of the museums.  It was pretty comical, actually to see people choosing their route based on the signs, because they were placed at every turn, and pointed in almost every direction.  There was no quick, direct route.  That left foreign tour groups and field-trips jostling to get to a destination that was about an hour’s walk away.

At this point, even I was duped.  I had found a private tour guide who was speaking to a couple of American ladies, in ‘Merican, so I stuck close and got a little extra info.  There were still a bunch of rooms of newer art.  You know, like Van Gogh.  Amazing stuff.

I was surprised that the Vatican allowed pictures in its museums.  I guess it would be difficult to control, given the volume of visitors, but I was still surprised.  The only place pictures were forbidden was in the beautiful, high-ceilinged Sistine Chapel itself.  The room was darker than I’d expected.  Know that probably sounds pretty ridiculous, but the ceilings were really high.  This is another time I didn’t bring the right gear.  My binoculars stayed at home while I craned my neck to see the famous room.  It was pretty cool.  The frescoes were gorgeous, but I was even more interested to find the hole in the ceiling where they put the stovepipe during the process of selecting a new Pope.

After checking out the frescoes, and watching a few friars doing the same, I followed the tourguide through the shortcut to St. Peter’s.  The basilica is essentially on the other side of the country, so the shortcut was a welcome escape from the long trek back around the city walls.

St. Peter’s, for all its opulence, is a really nice church, I think.  It had a nice feel.  A huge feel, but a nice one.  Its size is pretty much huge.  No, really huge.  I found out later that one of the big churches I’d been walking past, near my hotel, is the exact shape and size of one of the supporting columns inside St. Peter’s.

Being big means that it can hold a lot of things.  St. Peter’s has beautiful marble floors, a huge dome, an immense bronze canopy,

St. Pete's Marble Dome inside Bronae canopy

fancy tombs, St. Peter’s throne, and a really old statue of the man himself that’s older than the church.

FAncy tomb St. Pete St. Pete's throne St. Pete

I waited in line with the other people who were touching his toes, which sit at eye level.  They’ve been touched so many times that they’re shiny and look like they’re melting.  When my turn came I walked up, kissed his foot and immediately sanitized with my bath & body works cherry blossom hand sanitizer.  Why not, really?

At that point, I’d been on my feet for about 8 hours, and was beginning to drag a little.  I found a spot at the base of one of the supporting columns and squatted with the husbands who had been deposited there.  Consulting my guidebook, I discovered that the crypt gave free tours.  Excellent.  That was something I wanted to see.  I thought maybe I’d come back for mass if I was inspired after the crypt.

The sky was turning pink over the square.  I walked past the colorful Swiss Guard, and found Lady Justice (without blindfold) standing overhead.  Well, at least she wasn’t in the crypt…

St. Pete dusk Swiss Guard night Lady Justice

The crypt was interesting – sterile, but interesting.  There was lots of white marble, and reclining statues of dead popes.  A recording played over and over in different languages reminding people that this was a holy place, and inviting them to remain quiet for reflection.  Most interesting to me was St. Peter’s tomb, which is partially visible from the crypt and from the floor of the basilica, as well as the tomb of Pope John Paul II.  I grew up Catholic under the tenure of this man.  His tomb was brightly lit, very plain, and guarded by a sadly smiling guard who stepped over the ropes to touch holy items to the tomb, handed to him by passing visitors.  I looked in my bag, but didn’t quite think a hot pink pencil made the cut, so I passed nothing over to the dead pope for a blessing.

I returned upstairs too late for the start of mass, but I stood outside the ropes that kept the tourists separated from the worshipers and listened to the call and response in Italian.  Then I headed out.

St. Pete's night

The square was sparkling after dark, and the walk back was beautiful.  The night was clear and cold and gave fantastic views as I crossed the river again.

Tiber river view night

It was a long day of sightseeing.  I checked my watch.  I had two hours to walk back to the hotel and get ready for my dinner date.  He’d be arriving at 8 with his motorbike, and I wanted a little rest before the next adventure in Rome.

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December 14, 2009   2 Comments