8/31/09

Italy #10

When last we left my intrepid story, Keven and I had just bid a fond farewell to his family. We were leaving La Marche, bound for Rome. The train ride through the mountains was beautiful, and I got to see much more of the countryside then when Valentino's father drove us and I slept most of the way. After some confusion at the train station--we had expected the proprietress of our bed and breakfast, Julia, to meet us there, when in fact she was going to meet us at the actual bed and breakfast--we settled into our room.

Julia knew we were in town for only a brief amount of time and showed us a guerrilla-style tourist approach to the city: where the underground was and how it worked, the location of major attractions, and when they were open. Because the Vatican Museum was going to be closed on Sunday, we made that our priority. We packed only what we needed and set off on foot. It was misty, later turning quite hot, but very good weather for sightseeing.

Before we found the entrance to the underground, we stumbled upon a church called Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, off the Piazza della Reppublica. I say "stumbled" because it wasn't on any of the tourist maps, and yet it was utterly beautiful. This just shows the depth of historical and cultural landmarks available to see in Rome, that a church any other town would consider its centerpiece is just something we saw on the way to the subway. Inside, I saw my favorite piece of art from the entire trip--and keep in mind I saw original works by Michelangelo, Picasso, and Rafael. Called "Angelo della luce," the haunting angel was unveiled in 2001 by sculptor Ernesto Lamagna. I sat and looked at it for the longest time. Such movement! So creepy!!

We arrived at the Vatican shortly thereafter, grateful that the Roman underground is easy to use. American and British college students were hawking tours that guaranteed we'd be inside the Coppola within a matter of minutes, rather than hours. Somehow this seems like a scam so we stayed put in line. Turns out we were right; we did the entire tour from top to bottom in a little over three hours without needing to pay any extra tour fees.

Let's just say that St. Peter's Basilica rocks. It is absolutely unbelievable. The size, the ornamentation, the history--incomparable. (Although, having given the Washington Monument a hug, I must note that St. Peter's obelisk doesn't top George's huge phallic goodness!) Did I mention that I had broken my toe during our last day in La Marche? It was swollen like crazy, and I was wearing flip-flops to get around because I couldn't wear shoes. So when we climbed to 551 steps to get to the top of the Coppola, I did it barefoot. Vatican dirt on my soles!

I'm fine with heights. Keven is not. So he sat in a corner while I took pictures from the top of the Coppola. The claustrophobia of climbing up inside the dome, with its arching stairways and very tight corridors, did in his head. But how could I climb all that way and not take pictures??

After descending all 551 steps, we found ourselves in the main cathedral. I had worked as a docent for a Vatican exhibit in Cincinnati several years ago, getting to know the history behind this great building, but seeing it in person was overwhelming. And there were the random bits of Michelangelo everywhere!

After a lovely, quiet, shaded lunch of pizza and ice cream, we headed over to the Vatican Museum, which houses not only every work of art ever produced ever, or so it seemed, but also the Sistine Chapel. You could tell it housed the Sistine Chapel because just about every room in the museum had an exit sign that said "Sistine Chapel" with an arrow. It was sort of like all street signs pointing to Rome! But after our 50th room of art, we were beginning to doubt its existence.

As an indicator of where Keven and my interests intercede, and where they do not intercede with those of the general public, we spent a great deal of time in the Vatican map room. This is a colossal hallway with 25 foot ceilings, along the length of which were floor-to-ceiling maps from the papacy of Urban VIII. We spent ages trying to identify what we were looking at, why the geography and armaments would be portrayed in a particular way--where history meets geography and politics. The tour guides zipped on past us, probably under a time limit to get to the mystical Sistine Chapel! But we were studying maps. Here we found our new sister-in-law's hometown, Cerreto D'esi.

Eventually we reached the Sistine Chapel. And yes, it was breathtaking. There are no words to describe the magnificence of what Michelangelo accomplished. However I will apply the following words the experience of being there: loud, crowded, chaotic, and exhausting. I was reminded of our visit to the Louvre in Paris when several hundred people crowded around the Mona Lisa. The touristy "I came, I saw, I took pictures" phenomenon stole some of the grandeur and added a great many headaches. We soon moved on, which seems unfortunate.

After another hour of priceless works of art, we were done in. We found our way back to the underground and got off at the Spanish Steps. It just so happened that a local fire brigade was giving an outdoor concert, so we bought some gelato and settled in with the rest of the appreciative audience. Later, after getting cleaned up, we headed out for dinner. I must say that the farther we got from La Marche, the more "American" the Italian food became. It was still good, just not unforgettable. At the end of our exhausting, priceless day, we slogged home to the bed and breakfast and crashed.

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