Walking was becoming our sole mode of transportation. On the way back to the hotel from the Trevi Fountain, we purchased tickets for the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica at the tobacco store – yes, that right, the tobacco store. That’s also where you buy tickets for the bus and subway. The shopkeeper also told us which bus to catch to get to the there so we were all set for the next day. The good part was that during our walk the view of the sun setting over the ancient sites was beautiful. At dinner I suggested we take a Taxi to the Vatican, it worked out well for going to the Borghese, and it was about the same distance. That was an easy sell.
Our tickets were for 10:30 and we arrived a little early so we roamed around St. Peter’s Plaza and watched some workers dismantling the Nativity scene and take the ornaments off the huge Christmas tree. It was quite and elaborate setup but if the Vatican can’t go all out who can. The time spent waiting was also another opportunity to people watch.There were people from all over, but the ones I like to watch are the Italians. Between their stylish clothes and their expressive way of speaking along with the hand gestures it was like watching a theatrical production every time a conversation broke out. At the appointed time we went to the spot where our group was to meet and a guide walked us to the entrance to the museums. That was the extent of the guide’s job, which was fine. What followed was a stunning array of archeological finds, a few mummies and a lot of sculptures and religious artifacts. I patiently worked my way through the rooms, always keeping my eye on the signs for what was ahead. There was a long room filled with frescoes of maps of areas of Italy over time. That was very interesting. But no matter what I was still holding out for the big one. We continued on, there seemed to be no end to the displays.
Another sign reminding us the use of cameras is forbidden and this is a sacred place was like a drum roll for me. We were about to enter the Sistine Chapel. The chapel itself was different from what I’d imagined there was dark wood along the walls with built in benches all around the circumference of the room. The chapel was long and rather dark, with an arched ceiling. I looked up and felt an emotional jolt. The colors were beautiful and the figures were so powerfully rendered that they had a presence all their own. Sitting in the corner, one of the figures seemed to be ready to step out of the fresco. As I continued looking I could see what I had recently read about. When Michelangelo reached the halfway point there was an unveiling, with the scaffolding removed so Pope Julius II could see the progress. When Michelangelo saw it from the floor, he thought the figures were too small. After that he made his figures larger, which when you look you can see how much more imposing the figures re closer to the altar.The wall behind the altar was amazing. We sat on the benches and just stared in awe.
After seeing the Sistine Chapel we continued on to a few more rooms before we decided to exit. I had wanted to see Raphael’s work but somehow we couldn’t find it. Maybe that we didn’t have a map had something to do with that. So Rick picked up his backpack and we returned our audiphones and out we went into the fresh air, another partly cloudy day in the 50’s. It was good weather for walking once again. Our other set of tickets was for St. Peter’s Basilica at 3:00 so we had time to find some lunch.
Just as the guidebooks say we headed off the main street in search of a place to eat. We found a little spot a couple of blocks away that had a sign saying it was recommended by Rick Steves and Frommers. That sounded good and in we went guided by a young lady standing outside inviting passersby to come in to dine. We walked down a few stairs and sat down at the table. It was a great choice I had spinach and cheese ravioli with a very light cheese sauce. The pasta was so light and delicious I wish I could go back many times again. Several locals showed up as well and it was clear they were all well acquainted, another good sign. I also had a salad, there was no choice of dressing she just brought the oil and vinegar caddy to the table. That was good enough for me.
Sufficiently rejuvenated we headed back to the plaza. I tried a few sketches of the basilica which were not very successful but kept me occupied while we waited our next tour. It was good we rested, part two had us climbing to the top of the dome. It was worth it, but a little tiring to say the least with Rick once again repeating the refrain of Rome, more stairs. Then to the inside and yet more amazing sites. There were marble columns and the marble floors and mosaic work covered the inside of the dome. Everywhere you turned there was more to be in awe of. But there was yet one more site here that I was very anxious to see – the Pieta by Michelangelo. No one could made a piece of cold marble turn into real beings like him. It sat enclosed in glass and shining brilliantly. I felt very fortunate to be able to see this stunning piece of art.
Once again I was being overwhelmed by everything I was seeing. It was getting late and time to think about heading back. And once again we considered our transportation options. True to form we opted to go it on foot. The thinking was we could always get a cab if we ran out of steam. As we headed out we passed by a couple of the Swiss Guards. These guys must get their pictures taken more than super models. But who can resist the Michelangelo designed uniforms? A few quick pictures of them and we were on our way. The thinking was maybe we can make it to the Pantheon on the way back. Once again though we were part of a Roman sunset that made the scenes even more beautiful. Turning around now and again to see it was part of the journey back to the hotel. We knew this was going to be a long walk but walking was also part of experiencing the city itself. And of course there is that “when in Rome” business. The only hazard of walking is that bit about not getting run over by a car when crossing the street. At least the bridge we took to get back across the Tiber River was for foot traffic only, it also provided a nice view of Castel Saint’Angelo. The walk was long, we did get to the Pantheon, and we did make it back to our hotel, how we did that, I’m not really sure.