9/15/10 (Day 14)
We woke early today and had our usual breakfast at the hotel. Today we were meeting a tour group at the Vatican at 9:30am, a good 30 minute walk from the hotel. This is the same tour guide we somewhat followed in Ancient Rome yesterday.
On the way to the Vatican, we had the opportunity to cross a bridge decorated with statues lit golden in the morning light.
Since today was Wednesday, the Pope would performing his weekly speech to the general public. Our tour was to start with the Pope and then continue on to the Vatican Museums, ending at St. Peter’s Basilica. Wednesday’s must be popular because our tour group was well over 50 people in size. We had to practically run following Ian, our tour guide, to get to the area in which the Pope would speak. Today he would be speaking indoors rather than the usual outdoors, so we all had to send our bags through security. This meant the line was long to get in. However, we did get in, and now we can say that we’ve seen the Pope. Well, at least Mark has seen the Pope. I looked at the picture he took over the heads of all people in front of me. =)
After we got our photo op, we headed back outside to wait for our group. Around 11p, we scrambled after Ian around the sides of the Vatican wall and entered the Vatican Museums. Here we were outfitted with our radios. This is the most awesome touring Italy is these radio systems for tour groups. We’ve seen them and today is the first time to use them. Basically, each person of our group is outfitted with a radio receiver with headphones and our guide has a microphone transmitter that sends his voice to our ears. Now, he can talk quietly in the exhibits and we can all hear him perfectly wherever we are. I am in love with this system and can’t figure out why the big tourist sites in the US haven’t picked up on it yet.
The Vatican Museums were jam-packed with people! There was so much to see. Our tour guide took us to the best pieces on a quick 3-hours tour of the place. We learned a lot about various pieces of art including all the symbolism in the paintings as well as who each person was and why they were painted just so.
We were surprised to note that the Vatican, a city of only about 800 people receives 10,000 visitors daily. The Vatican Museum is actually the only museum in the world (or maybe Europe) that is completely self sustained through ticket sales. All other museums rely on donations.
We also finally learned why all the piazzas had Egyptian obelisks. After invading Egypt, the Catholics brought back the obelisks to display in their cities. The one in front of the giant St. Peter’s Basilica is 3000 years old and the oldest in Rome.
Since silence was required in the famous Sistine Chapel, multiple information panels with photos of the ceiling and walls lined the courtyard in the museums. Here, tour groups could stop and learn about the chapel before going in. Pope Julius, II forced Michelangelo to paint the ceiling against his will. This is the first painting Michelangelo every did. Everyone thought it was going to be rubbish because he had never painted before and actually M. thought this was a conspiracy against him so that everyone would think his work was rubbish. However, as we all know, the work turned out to be fantastic. Michaelangelo’s knowledge of the human body helped him paint the fresco ceiling in a unique way that no other painter had tried before. All the people were lively, muscular, and life-like. In fact, Rafael, after seeing M’s work decided to copy his style.
We saw several works by Caravaggio and learned that his unique method of making white paint look whiter than anyone else’s involved lots of lead. So, Caravaggio’s rather crazy life-style was probably due to lead-poisoning.
The Vatican Museums allowed photography inside which made the whole experience much more interesting to me as I could find ways and places to take photos of the art. Both Mark and I were surprised to see galleries containing Greek sculptures of gods and goddesses in a Catholic museum. There were also full galleries of animal statues.
Our guide was very interested in the Fibonacci sequence and talked a lot about how the numbers present themselves in nature. I think he could have done a whole seminar on just Fibonacci.
The gallery of maps was amazing as it was a long, ornately decorated hallway with gold ceilings and walls painted with many maps. The maps painted here were very accurate, amazingly, and the guide joked that this was the first Google Earth. It was about at this point in the tour where the radio receivers became absolutely essential to hear the guide. The hall was packed with people and we all moved as a herd of sheep or cattle would. Our group was strung out through the hall and we could tell our guide was 1 or 2 rooms ahead of us.
Photography was not allowed in the Sistine Chapel as the rights had been sold to some Italian network, but it was quite amazing to be inside. It was a lot smaller than I would have expected it to be. I was most impressed to learn that the fresco on the front wall was drawn so that all the figures in the painting would be the same size and look down on a person standing on the alter. If you looked at the painting from a distance, the figures on the bottom were smaller than the ones on the top. But, on the alter, everyone was the same size.
Michelangelo liked to take his frustrations out on people through his art. So, many places our guide pointed out where M had painted in a figure of someone with whom he had a vendetta against painted in a negative light.
The tour ended behind St. Peter’s Basilica and we were left to explore that great church on our own. We started by climbing the 551 steps up to the very top of the dome to get a glorious panorama of Rome and the Vatican. Since the climb up was along the dome, many times we had to lean to the side or duck as the walls started curving towards us. The view at the top was fantastic as no building in Rome is allowed to be taller than the Basilica. We managed to squeeze our way all the way around and get plenty of photos.
By now it was about 4 in the afternoon and we took a fairly quick tour of St. Peter’s Basilica before heading out to grab some food. Thankfully the hotel breakfast has been rather filling. We were able to find a pizza snack bar on the way and sat down to munch on our food. It seems like every where we look there is a pizza snack bar or a gelato place. The pizza from the snack bars isn’t always great Italian food, but it’s fast and it’s filling. It was interesting here as we paid per gram, so we told the guy what size slice we wanted and then it was weighed and paid for.
We walked back to the Piazza Navona. Along the way, we stopped at Gelateria del Teatro, a gelataria recommended in an article sent to me by my friend, Christy. I finally was able to get the gelato places into my iPhone so we could find them as we traveled. The gelato here was indeed fabulous and not quite so touristy as the other gelato places. Thank you Christy!
The rest of the evening wasn’t very eventful. We spent some time at the hotel and then ate dinner in the Piazza Navona at a wonderful place where the pasta was made fresh every day. I had the tastiest fettuccine alfredo I’ve ever had and Mark had delicious ravioli.