Friday, August 10, 2007

Rome Day 2- July 25

I ran into a guy from NY who told me that you can get a bus to the Vatican and a day pass for only €4 for unlimited rides. Sounds like a good deal and easier on the legs, so I negotiate a purchase from a little convenience store down the street from the hotel and head to the Vatican.
I take a side trip to the Pantheon, which is stunning. It gives you a real sense of the power and technique of Roman engineering. It has been converted to a church dedicated to the Christian martyrs, so there is little of the original there. The kings Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I are buried there. There is very little of the original building left, I believe even the marble work is not original, but the overall structure is amazing and I guess we have to thank the church for preserving it.

I took another bus from the Pantheon to the Vatican. I did the obligatory wander through St. Peter’s square. I took a walk through the Vatican Grotto, where they bury the popes. The sarcophagi for many of the dead popes are impressive; several were reused Roman or medieval tombs. The tomb of John Paul II is simple in comparison, just a marble slab with his name. There was quite a large crowd hanging out there. Some praying on their knees on the hard marble floor, some passing rosaries to the guards (his was the only tomb guarded) to touch the floor.

Also in the Grotto is the “Tomb of St. Peter.” I believe they found the original tomb, with the body, not all that long ago. It is by far the most ornate; beautiful marble work, but covered in glass. I snuck a picture but I doubt it will come out.

The line through security had grown exponentially while I was in the Grotto, so I decided against going into St. Peter’s proper and headed to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. I had to leave Vatican City and walk around the walls to the other side of the city, which was long but worth it.

One piece of advice—Do not assume that if a sign is directing you to something in the Vatican, that you are heading in the right direction or are even reasonably close.

The Vatican Museum costs €13 to enter, but worth every penny. The art gallery was incredible. The range of the pieces and the beauty of them is really beyond description. I saw my first Di Vinci up close and personal. I was told by one guard that no photography was allowed, but another, half way through the gallery said it was OK, as long as there was no flash, so I went to town.
After the gallery, I headed toward the Sistine Chapel, which is at the end of a maze of rooms, all of which were impressive. On the way, I saw Raphael’s School of Athens up close. It is much larger than I expected and hard to take in all at once. The Chapel was everything I expected, but with a lot more people; we were jammed in shoulder to shoulder. The find of the afternoon was the Old Vatican Library, which was quite interesting, but my camera battery was low, so I was conservative with the pictures.

The bus ride back to the hotel was a disaster. I had to transfer from the 64 to the 62 bus, which took forever to show up. It took about 45 minutes to get from the Pantheon to the Hotel, by which time I was a soaking mess of sweat.

After a few drinks at the “Friends” outdoor café, I walked to the Spanish Steps again. That night there was a protest against the arrest of some Columbian human rights workers, so I joined in. The Columbian community in Rome know how to throw a protest—white flags and opera. The mass of people made the evening. A German woman with good English from Stuttgart offered me some pizza, which was very good. After getting a drink from the fountain, I headed toward Trevi, which is a really hopping spot. The fountain was not working, but the crowds gathered nonetheless. I walked to the nearby Cuba Café for some pizza and beer. The crowds were a lot of fun to watch, so I sat there for an hour and watched them go by.

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