Breakfast at the hotel
This morning I was up by 6:30 and the kids were ready by 7:30. That was quite a feat!! The hotel breakfast is extremely weak... instant orange juice, mediocre coffee, bread, butter, jam and rolls plus carefully controlled croissants (one per a customer) that weren’t too tasty either.
We were at the Vatican Museum by 8:30. I read that if you're not there early you might as well not go, and I took this seriously. Good thing I did... the line was already enormous. Incredible. And with no organization whatsoever. (Later when we exited we saw that the line was about four times longer.
So, if you go to the Vatican Museums try to book your tickets in advance over Internet - and if that doesn't work, get there early. You will save yourself a lot of time!) Surprising that an attraction that sees over 4 million visitors per year (and pockets over 60 million Euros per year in admission fees) isn’t able to organize queuing.
Wall of Vatican City
We got in the line, dealt with the numerous people trying to cut.... (the trick seems to be to shout “grupa, grupa!!” and cut in front of everybody. Actually it was kind of comical. Every few minutes someone would come barging through, cutting in front of everyone while shouting "grupa, grupa!" Resistance would have been futile! The grupa people were too numerous!! I figure "We’ll all get there eventually.
" So, what the heck, look at the bright side - I have some extensive quality conversation time with my kids!! “Eventually” ended up being about an hour and a half later. Not so bad actually: we had an interesting conversation and we met some friendly people in line as well. Plus the kids took tons of pictures (we’ll have to see exactly what all of those pictures are of!).
Just a fraction of the incredible line to get into the Vatican Museums.
The Vatican Museum is definitely worth all the aggravation of the lines, the unfriendly guards and unhelpful staff in general... Really.
You just have to be sure not to forget your blood pressure medicine and maybe a drink would be helpful too! Seriously now, I don’t understand why people who so obviously don’t like people look for employment in tourist attractions! It also makes little sense that such a universally popular and widely visited museum isn’t more didactic and user friendly. I understand that dealing with tourists all day, every day must be tiring, but come on! they’re getting paid for the job. Most of the guards are just standing around talking in groups or on their cell phones anyway. We didn’t suffer rude treatment, but I observed other people being treated rudely by staff, guards and even tour guides!
Entrance to the Vatican Museums
We walked through the Egyptian museum, the Roman museum, an Etruscan art museum, the Apartments decorated by Raphael, the geographical map gallery, the tapestry gallery.
... we walked for miles in there... (I read that there are over 7 kms of corridors) finally reaching the magnificent Sistine Chapel. There were so many tourists inside that we were being driven like cattle by the angry guards, but even that couldn’t spoil seeing the fantastic works of Michelangelo. The vast quantity of priceless treasures and works of art here is mind boggling.
Medusa! Don't look!
We stayed in the museum until mid-afternoon when we decided to leave and find a place to sit down, have lunch and relax before continuing with our visits. Before leaving, however, we went to the Vatican post office inside the museum and bought a postcard and stamp. It was very sunny and warm - a beautiful day. We had lunch at a place called “Ristorante - Pizzeria Taverna Lino” which is another of dozens of places to eat close to the Vatican that prey on tourists.
The waitress was very nice - really friendly. And the food was ok- nothing fantastic, but OK. Cleanliness is iffy here at this place best. Aside from ourselves, people at the surrounding tables had to ask the waitress to please change dirty silverware and glasses. What really bothered me about the place is that they automatically tacked on a 15% gratuity as well as an additional 6 Euro cover charge. This is common in touristy areas of Rome but the ethics of the practice are highly questionable.
We had a plate with Parma ham and cheese and then we had pizza (except for Alex who had pasta). We got to talking with a nice American couple who were at the next table.
They had had to sleep in their car the night before as they couldn’t get a room. This holiday weekend is definitely a crowded one here in Rome and I am glad to have made arrangements well in advance.
Vatican Museum - Map gallery
After lunch we made our way to St. Peter’s Square and Basilica. Again, lines! LINES!! LINES!!! (more grumbling, sorry!) Our first line took us through security (sad that this is necessary, but after someone took an axe to the Pieta years ago they understandably have to be careful about just who is visiting the place and what they may be carrying. A second line got us into the crypt with tombs of the popes.
We saw John Paul 1, John Paul 2, Paul VI and many more. They don't do such a good job of maintaining much of a spiritual atmosphere (for the most part) down in the crypt. And frankly, it's more the staff and guards spoiling the atmosphere than the pilgrims and tourists... There was a huge group of people gathered in front of JPII’s tomb, many crying. Lots of flowers, cards and other things left by people are scattered all around and over the tomb. The only interruption to the peaceful atmosphere down here are an extremely loud taped message warning people not to take pictures and occasional shouts of the guards when they think someone actually is taking a picture. I really don’t understand the hubbub about picture taking. OK, maybe they want to sell pictures as souvenirs upstairs (so much for Jesus throwing the vendors out of the temple!). The best thing they could do is just dim the lights, prohibit flash photography and stop all of the shouting.
Matejko - Jan III saving Vienna from the turks!
Once we had seen the crypt, we headed upstairs to the enormous basilica itself where we spent quite a long time looking around. We saw Michelangelo’s Pieta, Bernini’s baldachin (made with bronze taken from the pantheon) and took a good look at the cupola decorated by Michelangelo as well. Something is going on here tomorrow, so some of the areas were roped off and couldn’t be visited. Those things were definite highlights, but the huge structure itself is awesome. As we entered St. Peter’s Basilica clouds started to cover the city, the wind started to howl and thunder began to rumble (a sign, perhaps?). Soon it was pouring rain and was a good time to be inside the church.
When the rain let up we exited and walked around St. Peter’s square and looked at the Swiss Guards in their flamboyant uniforms. Alex says that they look like buffoons! Some were definitely posing! ;)
Just as quickly as the storm came up, it blew over and the Sun came out. We walked from St. Peter’s Square down Via della Conziliazione to the St. Angelo Castle and the St. Angelo Bridge with Bernini’s sculptures of Angels on it. We found a restroom in a park next to the Castle (not such an easy feat - finding a bathroom in Rome!) and looked around the Castle and Bridge taking a lot of pictures.
We didn’t go inside to see the exhibition inside the Castle and continued winding our way through city streets until we reached Piazza Navonna where the Brazilian Embassy is located. Just before the plaza we found a great place for Gelato called “Frigidarium”!! At Piazza Navonna we saw some impressive fountains - especially one that represents the four major rivers on the four continents known at the time it was built. A procession was going on at one end of the plaza - a bunch of priests, followed by an image of the Virgin. It reminded me of Holy Week in Spain. We continued from Piazza Navonna towards the Pantheon.
The Pantheon is another one of those places in Rome that you somehow stumble upon and kind of takes your breath away! It’s incredible, and more so when you think that it was built nearly two thousand years ago, is enormous, required some extremely advanced construction calculations and techniques.
.. and so on and so forth! Their building techniques allowed for this cupola to have resisted 19 centuries without need for reforms or replacement. It is the first example of a pagan temple being converted to a Christian church. It was originally built as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome, and was rebuilt circa 126 AD during Hadrian's reign. We weren’t able to go inside (a mass or some other religious service was going on) but we were able to take a good look inside what is Rome’s best preserved ancient structure.
Our trip to Rome wouldn't be complete without some pizza!
From the Pantheon we walked to the Fontana di Trevi and then to the Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps which were so full of people (and flowers) that you couldn’t actually see them! In front of the Spanish Steps is Via Condotti with upscale shops.
Along the way, throughout the whole afternoon we stepped into a number of different churches whose names I didn’t write down. One, an Eastern Church was really beautiful and smelled strongly of incense. Eventually we walked all the way up Via del Corso to the neoclassical Piazza del Popolo which was laid out between 1811 and 1822.
St. Peter´s Square and Basilica
I pointed out the Egyptian obelisk of Rameses II from Heliopolis which is in the middle of the square. Time to show off to the kids! (I did my homework beforehand!!) The obelisk, known as the obelisco Flaminio, is the second oldest and one of the tallest obelisks in Rome. It seems like there are Egyptian Obelisks in the majority of squares here! This obelisk was brought to Rome in 10 BC by order of Augustus and originally set up in the Circus Maximus.
It was re-erected here in the Piazza by the architect-engineer Domenico Fontana in 1589 as part of the urban plan of Sixtus V. We also checked out the twin Baroque churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (1681) and Santa Maria in Montesanto (1679), begun by Carlo Rainaldi and completed by Bernini and Carlo Fontana. When we took a close look at the “twin” churches we could see that they are not actually copies of one another, as they would have been in a Neoclassical project, have a number of variations which, I read, corresponds to the Baroque way of doing things! It took me a few minutes to revive the kids after that discourse!
By then it was almost 8:30 p.m. and we had been walking for over 12 hours. The four of us were a little tired. We tried to look around Piazza del Popolo for someplace decent for dinner (Carla’s last dinner here in Rome with us since she has to leave tomorrow) but didn’t find anything that looked appealing, so we got into the Metro at the Flaminio station and headed back to Termini and the area around the hotel where there are numerous trattorias and restaurants.
... We ended up at a place called “La Caffetteria di Tudini” where the food ended up being good! We had a platter with Italian cold cuts and cheeses and then had pasta. Again, they tacked on a 15% tip (they shouldn’t call it that ��" a tip is something voluntary!!!) and a 6 Euro cover charge. It would be nice to find a place where the price you see equals the price you end up paying. After dinner we went to the hotel and were all asleep (except Carla who read for a while) right away.