Rome 2.0 and The Vatican

“Possibly [confusion is popular] because Romans have never come to terms with not being the center of the world; indeed, they seem sincerely to believe everything in the world still revolves around Rome. Not an unjust claim, considering the brilliance of the Roman Empire.” — Isabella Dusi, Vanilla Beans and Brodo

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When Jeff and I visited Rome for Easter 2014, we were new to the traveling game. Pre-booking tickets and planning ahead was not on our radar, so we did not get a chance to see The Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. I deeply regretted this misstep in our planning. So, going back to Rome while we were so close was a no-brainer.

We took the train direct from Florence to Roma Termini Station, which took just about two hours. From where we disembarked, we were on the far north-east side of the city, very close to our hotel: Hotel Borgia. We usually use AirBNB for our travels, but when we only stay for one night, we go for a hotel. And this one did not disappoint. Perfectly located, this place was such a nice, luxurious place to stay with a full complementary breakfast that had such a spread, we thought for sure it couldn’t be free.

But enough about the hotel. We had come back to Rome with a mission.

In our new wisdom, we booked our tickets months in advance for The Vatican Museum. We walked in and through all of the security checkpoints, and were immediately presented with a gorgeous courtyard.

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A thing to note: if you want to get inside St. Peter’s Basilica, arrive early. It is open from 7a-7p, but the line for security wrapped around the entire square. We did not go inside the famous church, but maybe we can make a third trip to Rome in the future.

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Vatican City is too ripe with history to try and condense it to a mere paragraph. So, I’ll just mention a couple of interesting things about it. Vatican City has its own government, police force, and is the only independent state not included in the United Nations. But also, it is the only “country” in the world that does not have a chicken coop to raise chickens. So there you go.

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Inside The Vatican Museum, we noticed a lot of the marble statues on display were also in The Uffitzi Gallery in Florence. We weren’t sure if they were all originals or if someone had the copy and weren’t telling us, but the art was gorgeous nonetheless.

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The Vatican Museum was a maze. We actually found ourselves covering familiar ground as we circled through the exhibits. But what made that also easy was the amount of people crowding the ornate hallways. We were being pushed, shoved, and carted from room to room without a chance to really observe and take in the surroundings.

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“Tourists…are merely doing the hokey pokey: putting their right foot in and taking their right foot out; calling themselves world travelers while experiencing very little.” — Rolf Potts

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Each area was dedicated to a certain era, and we were quite surprised to see some of the artifacts housed in the walls from ancient tomes to mummies to modern art. I guess what we were expecting was something out of Angels and Demons with the chrome cases of The Vatican Archives, not another regular museum with more clay pots and mummified remains.

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But the tour continued to lead to the creme de la creme: the Sistine Chapel. We were finally ushered into this massive room with an equally massive crowd. It made it difficult to look up when you were constantly looking at who bumped into you. There are no pictures allowed, and the security team is vigilant with that rule. There is also supposed to be complete silence. It is, after all, a place of worship.

A priest stood in front of a microphone urging everyone to remain silent, but his words went only noticed for a full thirty seconds before whispers became conversation. Much like the finger of man stretching for God, respect for what the room is and represents was just out of reach.

Jeff and I stared at the glorious artwork for as long as our necks could support. We were in awe of the 3D effect of the people and the sheer realism of their expressions. The Creation of Adam was just one small part of the whole ceiling. To really marvel at the majesty is only to see it in person; hopefully in the off-season. This room, alone, made the trip back to Rome worth it.

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After we enjoyed a fabulous meal in Trastevere, Jeff and I made our way toward Torre Argentina: the famous ruins where Caesar was famously murdered. What the ruins are now is a cat sanctuary. Dozens of stray cats have taken over the space and roam freely. They are taken care of my a special society, so they don’t go hungry. Most of them are friendly and allowed us to pet them.

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Excavated in 1929 as a part of Mussolini’s rebuilding efforts, the multi-level temple found about 20 feet below the current street level. While looking out, you would think this was a hole in the ground, so it is quite extraordinary to see that Rome has literally built upon itself over the centuries.

We continued our walk through the city and let our memories carry us from place to place. We found ourselves among more ruins at sunset just in time to see the bats take flight against the pink sky.

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Rome had us for a few precious hours, but I am so glad we went back to see The Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. Next week is the last city we visited on our Italian tour: Venice.

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