I woke to the sounds of the early morning hustle wafting in with the breeze. It seemed as though I lay my head on the pillow only moments before, but alas, that was not the case. It was a little before 6 AM and we had a date with the Vatican in a little over an hour. My little twin bed was pure bliss but I dragged myself out of bed, trading a cotton heaven for the Sistine Chapel.
We rode the metro from the Repubblica station across the river to the Cipro, walking through several neighborhoods on our way to the tour meeting point. The tour was the Pristine Sistine tour with Walks of Italy, and our guide, Tanguy, was funny and knowledgeable in art history. He entertained us with stories as we walked towards the Vatican Museum entrance. The walls surrounding the Vatican were like a Medieval fortress soaring towards the sky. Tanguy’s specialty is art history, and he gave us an enormous, almost overwhelming, amount of information during our several hours at the Vatican.
While the entire Vatican City is awe-inspiring, the restored Sistine Chapel is breathtaking. The colors are vibrant and vivid and the frescos are simply stunning. It actually moved me to tears, and I wandered in awe for about 20 minutes with my head turned towards the heavens, taking in every detail. Standing in a room with as much religious prominence as the Sistine Chapel, under artwork of such greats as Botticelli and Michelangelo, for the first time truly defines a once in a lifetime moment.
Most surprising was the scores of people that, in spite of the warnings, were determined to take photos and could not resist the urge to chat. I realize the temptation is great, but this place is more than the artwork lining its interior, it also holds a special religious significance to the Catholic Church. When the Vatican says “no photos” and “no talking” it is not in jest. “Secret Service” looking guards approached noisy patrons and all but tackled and removed cameras from those unable to resist the temptation to snap photos. And really, don’t you want to take in that splendor and live in the moment? If you need a photo, pick up a postcard in gift shop. It will be better than any photo you’re going to take anyway.
The rest of the Vatican Museum is opulent, filled with Papal collections dating back over 500 years: gilded tapestries from the 1500s, Greek and Roman statues, historical artifacts, paintings by famous artists such as Caravaggio, da Vinci, Rafael, and Titian, the Gallery of Maps, ceilings trimmed in gold, and floors inlaid with semi-precious stone mosaics. No surface is left without ornamentation. In all honesty, there is waaaaay too much to absorb in that short amount of time. By the time we made it out of St. Peter’s Basilica, Juston and I walked over four miles since we left our hotel that morning, including riding the metro. Our tootsies were tired! One thing to know about Rome: wear comfortable shoes and eat whatever you want. You’ll walk so much you’ll burn off the calories. Mangia!
The rest of our day was spent rambling along the streets of Rome, dodging cars and Vespas, eating and exploring. Have I mentioned the hills? Rome is a hilly city. Every day was a glute workout, tightening my buns with every step. Romans are lean, undoubtedly due to hoofing it around town every day.
Something caught my eye as we walked down one of Rome’s streets. A bright blue, two seater bicycle rested outside a restaurant and the doors were wide open and inviting. The Cantina e Cucina Pizzeria, near the Piazza Navona, was probably one of the more touristy places we ate given the amount of travelers frequenting the cantina. We didn’t care. We were walked out and hungry. And as everyone knows, 20 year olds can live on pizza. Not surprisingly, we ordered pizza. And a bottle of moscato. The piping hot pizza Diavola was brought to the table a short while later. The crust was thin, the pepperoni was spicy, and the mozzarella was cheesy. It was everything you look for in a good pizza, tourist spot or not. We munched and drank until only crumbs and empty glasses were left and moseyed our way down the street.
We walked off our pizza and wine stupor on our way to the Piazza Navona and stared in wonder at another Bernini creation, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers. I know the guy had some help, but I still can’t imagine how this man [Bernini] created numerous intricate sculptures, fountains, and architecture across Rome when I can barely clean my house, wash laundry, and comb my hair in a weekend.
What struck me the most, being from a relatively young country [the United States], was the age of the architecture in Rome, spanning centuries, assembled in a collage of styles and mediums to create the most awe-inspiring views. Each sight was more breathtaking than the last. The Pantheon, one of the most impressive architectural feats in Roman history was awe-inspiring.
Perhaps the most disappointing on our walk was the Spanish Steps in the Piazza di Spagna, which were closed, save a narrow fenced passage. I realize that old stuff needs a facelift to keep it looking youthful. I think about getting a facelift myself at least a few times a year to keep me from crumbling. It still made me sad that I couldn’t see it in all its glory in person.
One of the more unusual fountains, the Fontana della Barcaccia or the Fountain of the Ugly Boat lies near the base of the Spanish Steps. Indeed it resembles a boat, although an attractive baroque boat as opposed to an ordinary one. This too is a Bernini, but this time it was Bernini’s daddy that created this unusual sculpted fountain.
I don’t know about you, but getting up with the chickens, or in this case the service workers hustling in the early morning, and walking all day while jet lagged makes you sleepy. Those crisp sheets and cushy bed called me saying “come take an afternoon siesta…” Is that even a Roman thing? Perhaps my brain thought we were in Spain. Nevertheless, a nap is exactly what we did, only to emerge refreshed a short while later with food on the brain. Or was it the stomach? Either way, there were more eats ahead!