We signed up to see the Vatican and the Colosseum on the same day. Which is ludicrous. But necessary. This is why espresso is the Italian drink of choice.
I warned you, you won’t see it all and you have to keep moving. Buying a tour is a great way to utilize time and stay disciplined. I would still be standing in the Vatican foyer staring at an urn if it weren’t for our tour guide, Leti. She got it done.
We dashed from our hotel that morning and caught the metro to the Ottaviano exit. At that point we were lost in a maze of wet streets with hundreds of other tourists, all searching for their particular group. If I hadn’t gone onto google maps at home and visually street walked the place, we never would have found it. You can’t do too much homework before a trip like this, because tour guides do not wait.
Leti led our earbud-fitted group of 25 through the mobs to the Vatican’s back door. It’s protected by a massive orange brick wall that goes to infinity in both directions, so you must wait in line with the other tour groups as each entrant is scanned for obelisks and other hazards to the Church.
The Vatican museums don’t open until 9am but groups can come in at 8:30. We shuffled along in line and unlike Disneyland, our entertainment began immediately. Leti told us history and interesting things about the Vatican while street vendors walked by shoving umbrellas at us. Yesterday, it was silk roses.
Street vendors are pickpockets in disguise. If you let them, they will shove a thing in your hand and then demand your money, even if you try to return the item. Hubby and I prevented this by holding hands. Also, yelling “Stop it!” seems to work. They are sworn enemies.
Then it started to sprinkle. We knew it might, but it doesn’t rain on the Metro and it doesn’t rain in the Vatican and the afternoon was supposed to be sunny. We huddled together for another twenty minutes before we were the begrudging owners of a black five-euro umbrella.
My hair was mostly saved.
We are now going to move briskly into and back out of the Museum wing, leaving photos below for you to stop and stare at and block the way for everybody else because how many people can you cram down the corridor without knocking over a priceless work of art? Answer: an awfully lot.
At the end of this corridor, and bypassing so many other corridors that your heart breaks from the missing of them, you arrive at the Sistine Chapel. Leti told us everything we needed to know before going inside, because you aren’t allowed to speak, take photos, or otherwise rumble in the Pope’s personal space. He has really loud guards in there, telling you so.
Stare up at the ceiling until your neck cricks. It is outrageously fabulous. You can identify most of what you see, just keep in mind that Michelangelo didn’t want this job in the first place and he mostly did the first few Genesis squares and let an army of other painters work out the rest. Michelangelo was a sculptor, not a painter. But when the Pope demands you do a job, when he makes you leave your home in Florence and move to Rome for years to do it, well, as an artist, you get a bit moody. You think thoughts.
When he painted the Last Judgement on the wall, he went ahead and put the Pope’s face onto St Peter. After all, the Pope was paying for it. But he also painted his enemy’s face into the corner of hell and his own face into the flayed skin of St Bart. Talk about a statement. But most of all, he painted all of the patriarchs as nudes. Very healthy nudes. When a religious eyebrow raised, he explained that…he was a sculptor. And this is how he rolled.
Much later, after Michelangelo died, painters were sent up there to add strategic little loincloth swags and later during restoration, most came back off again. Today, the mural is a bit of everyone’s opinions.
You also very much need to know that Botticelli, one of the painters on the team, had a pet chihuahua that was inserted three different places in the chapel wall murals. Because he could. I’m sure there were purse dogs in the time of Noah, I just can’t show you chapter and verse. And now the Pope has them.
St Peter’s Basilica is a kaleidoscope of color and gold and movement. It’s like walking into a huge, hollow layer cake that has too many frosting roses on it. At first, it’s sweet, then it’s hard to swallow.
The Pieta is there, a very early Michelangelo sculpture of Madonna and Christ, so early that he felt compelled to sign the thing, to prove he’d made it. It continuously floors me that flowing, rippling motion and emotion can be evoked from naked rock like this. Leti had to prod us forward, past the areas of other popes, the latest of whom was lying, mummified, in his glass coffin, still handing out benedictions. His waxy face peeking out from sumptuous robes had no life in it whatsoever. In the Vatacombs below, where countless other popes lie, you can get an idea of their visage from the likenesses carved on the tops or sides of their sarcophagi.
I’m not convinced a live performance after you’re dead is a better plan.
Finishing the tour brought us out to the edge of St Peter’s Square, but Hubby and I had one more item to cross off the List. We bought ten-euro tickets to climb the Duomo. You take a lift to rooftop level where you find yourself on a small piece of the ledge that runs back around the inside of the domed Basilica ceiling…so we could look down…so far down it made you dizzy…on the places we had just toured with Leti. Swirling tourists, chanting priests, flickering candles, arches full of color and golden light are all around you. An immense space overflowing with opulence. My home feels quite bleak in comparison, but what a thing to see.
We walked away and entered the Dome. Don’t do this big climb if you have issues with claustrophobia, because although the beginning was an open curved pathway painted gold, eventually you are in a narrow, tilting passage, and then you are in staircases twirling straight up and you are hoping the guys in front of you don’t stop because the air is getting tight and there is no going backwards and now it’s stuffy and where is the top of this thing? The return trip is in the opposite side of the Dome and both are one-way traffic only. It’s a commitment.
We enjoyed getting back onto the rooftop, because the Pope had kindly provided us with a souvenir shop and a snack shack right there, with a view to die for. Do you know what all of those saints parading around the edge look like from behind?
Hubby got a bevmo and I went next door and wrote five postcards (with Papal stamps) for the kids and left them for the flying nun to deliver. Below us, St Peter’s Square undulated with multitudes waiting to begin their visit. We strolled past them on our way out, pausing to take a photo of the guards. Honestly, who else gets to wear a uniform this awesome outside of Hotdog-On-A-Stick?
Back in our hotel, Hubby was grateful to put on shorts and let his kneecaps out for some fresh air. We headed to the metro, our new best friend, and sped towards the Colosseum and the Forum.
We left the umbrella behind.Let’s begin with the fine art: ginormous toes. Pedi time! When even ceilings make you gasp. The map room is this boring…! The Pieta is behind bullet-proof glass. The High Altar Bernini made. That’s the guy… Domes inside of domes. You could go on and on… From the Duomo top. St Peter’s Square is round.