Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Rome Day 4

Today we went to the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica and Square. Then we walked over to the Piazza Popola, down to the Mondo Pop store, across to Piazza Navonna and finally back to the hotel, getting there just before my feet fell off.

Our day started out with our tour guide, Laura D’Angelo, meeting us at the hotel. We called a cab and, when it arrived, found that it could only carry a maximum of four people, and we were five. While we were getting first into and then out of the cab, there was a guy on a motorbike impatiently waiting behind us.

He started mouthing off about his being in a hurry and us blocking the street and, initially, the tour guide tried to mollify him. He kept it up and I got into it, telling him to just shut up and go on his way. He told the tour guide, in Italian, he was going to slap her. We stood there yelling at each other and finally the hotel concierge came out and, along with the tour guide, told him he was a disgrace to Italy and to Italians. He eventually roared off on his little 150 cc motorbike, certainly more late to wherever it was he was going than he originally would have been.

The next cab came, a five seater. We jumped in and went to the Vatican. Judy had booked us a private tour, for which we were all grateful, especially when we saw the line of people waiting to buy tickets and the size of the tour groups once inside. The line of people was easily two hours long and the tour groups were of at least 30 – 40 people. Our little group of 5, including Laura the tour guide, was a blessing. An expensive blessing but one we all appreciated.

In the Vatican we walked through halls of walls of statues, across a courtyard as big as a baseball field and down staircases that 10 people could stand abreast on and still not bump into each other. In the courtyard we saw giant statues of peacocks and a golden globe with another globe inside it that was probably 20 feet in diameter. The peacocks symbolized all the good, religious things in life and the globe, a piece of contemporary art, symbolized the world being one.

We walked down halls of floor to ceiling tapestries, halls of frescoes and halls of pieces of statues from a thousand years ago. We learned that at some point an eon ago the statues had fallen, both from earthquakes or vandalism or both, and into disrepair. When one of the early popes had them fixed up for display, the guys working on them would say – that looks about right, and stick unrelated broken pieces together to form a whole. When our tour guide pointed this out to us it became easy to see that the parts forming the whole did not always, but sort of, match. I saw a statue of a dog, about 5 feet high, in which both front legs were different, not only from the body but from each other.

We saw fountains that looked like bathtubs, which we learned was from where the shape of bathtubs came from. But, I think, most historically, we learned that the Greeks were the originators of the art of sculpture and painting. The Romans studied and copied the Greeks. We saw various copies of statues and started to see the variations of them. One of the most famous is a torso, a giant statue of a person without his head, arms or legs from the knees down that Da Vinci refused to try to make whole. He said it was perfect the way it was. The torso then became the basis for many of the statues and paintings of Jesus. When you study the torso and it’s anatomical positioning then look at various works of Jesus, you can see how the later works were modeled after the original.

The Sistine Chapel, we learned, was built by the military. There is one entrance in and, at its other end, one exit out. This was done intentionally. The Sistine Chapel is where the Cardinals congregate to elect a new pope. The room is a square about 500 feet in each direction, the ceiling seemed like it was 100 feet high. DaVinci did all the work himself, as opposed to many other artists, e.g., Raphael, Bernini, etc. who hired helpers.

On the entrance wall is the painting of Judgement Day. The other three walls have artwork that I can’t even begin to describe, other than to say it was beautiful. Our tour guide explained it to us but it all ran together on me and eventually went in one ear and out the other. She was good, had a Ph.D in Art History, and had done her thesis on 19th century Italian art. For me, though, all I could do was take in the visual.

Next we went into St. Peter’s Basilica. We stood there in awe in this gigantic building. The requirement for its construction was that it had to be the biggest building ever – bigger than the Colosseum. The other, more modern restriction is that no church can be bigger than St. Peter’s Basilica. It is extremely hard to describe the Basilica. Tim and I both agreed that when we started to take photographs we first had to overcome the overwhelming immensity and artistry of the place. It was like there was so much to it you just didn’t know where to start.

To say the Basilica is huge is an understatement. Along either side of the main hall are large alcoves with statues that are easily 50 feet tall. One statue was that of King Constantine’s mother with a cross. The story is that she went to get the cross Christ was affixed to and brought it back for her son.

We then went out to St. Peter’s Square, looked around, took some pictures and even stood on the spot that makes the three rows of columns that ring the Square, which is really a very, very big circle, line up to look like one row. Leaving there our guide took us about three blocks away to a corner place for a lunch at an outdoor table that couldn’t be beat. Judy had a mortadella Panini. I had the Panini Colonna, which looked and tasted like Smithfield ham – only better, much better. It was at this place that I figured out the toilet flushing system.

At the public toilets we visited in various places there are two flushing buttons, a large one and a small one. I finally realized that for peeing you use the smaller button which makes for a smaller flush. The larger button produces a larger flush for larger loads.

After lunch we walked across northern Rome to the Piazza Popola. This Piazza was re-designed and enlarged by an early pope who was disgusted by the original one as it was sort of the entry into Rome from points north and he wanted it to look good to the travelers coming into the city. In the center of the Square was a tall obelisk that had been transported (stolen) from Egypt as part of the re-designing.

While we were in the square we watched a Michael Jackson impersonator for a while then headed down the Via to the Mondo Bop, a retail store that sold the type of underground art Tim really likes. He knew all the artists and their work; I bought a Stay Furry button to pin on my jacket. The four of us split up after that, Judy & I heading to the Piazza Navonna and them off to have an adventure of their own.

The Piazza Navonna turned out to be a tourist trap. It is so because of a large, beautiful fountain fed, as they all are, by the viaducts. Nevertheless, we ate supper there. Judy wondered why there were so few people eating then realized it was because it was only 7 p.m., too early for most Italians to eat. It was also not the best meal we’d had and we wrote it off to food for tourists. Any time the menu is written in several languages, Judy’d read, the risorante was really a restaurant and not an authentic Italian place to eat.

After eating we walked back to and over the Ponte Sisto and into Trastevere. Our tour guide had told us that Trastevere was to Rome what Greenwich Village is to New York. No wonder we liked the area so much. We got back to the hotel and I spent the next hour massaging my feet. Judy headed down to the dining area, where the wi-fi connection was, and checked on work work.

The next morning is to be a transition day. Done with Rome, we were taking the high speed Eurostar train to Florence for the next part of our journey.


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