On our second full day in Rome, we tackled the Vatican Museum. Taking on a museum of this size requires you to be in the right frame of mind – ready to do a lot of walking, waiting, standing, walking, waiting, standing….
Jono’s mom is an early riser, so she offered to get in line at 7:00 a.m. to hold a spot, and then we would join her later. Keep in mind that the museum opens at 10, and when she got there at 7 a.m., there were already a few hundred people in front of her. Unfortunately, there was a conflict with a tour group…
Which brings me to a quick aside about tour groups. There are a lot of them in Rome. A LOT of them. And most of them – not all, but most – are major pains in the ass. Talk about a herd mentality. Getting in the way of a tour group is a good way to find yourself finally figuring out what the sidewalk tastes like in Rome. They have their headsets on, and following the tour guide who has some sort of identifier that can be seen from the back of the group, and there is NOTHING that is going to get in their way. It doesn’t help that many of the groups are made up of pushy senior citizens who feel some sort entitlement to be treated special because they are old and tourists on a tour group that they paid too much for. And these aren’t just Americans. Tour group psychosis was felt from people yammering in Spanish, French, Polish, Greek, and several Scandinavian languages, not to mention Italian as well.
One brilliant idea that Sam, a Seminarian at NAC had was to get the same identifier (usually an umbrella or a kerchief tied to a stick, or in some cases, a giant plush flower) as a tour group, and then walk through the middle of a large group and see how many tourists you could get to break off. I will personally pay for the umbrella.
ANYWAY – back to our early morning encounter in the line for the Vatican Museum. Poor Linda (Jono’s mom) got pushed and shoved out of the way by a group of mean old Italian ladies (clearly keeping with the Christian spirit, mind you), and when we all showed up, she had been pushed in front of another tour group who was madder than anyone standing in line for the Vatican Museum should ever be because they thought she had cut in front. We showed up to find a woman with a wireless microphone and earphone headset saying we had to go to the back of the line. And you don’t mess with people who wear big headsets.
Anyway, after a fairly long wait, we got into the museum, which was gorgeous. And big. Really, really big. And unlike most museums, you can’t just wander from place to place. Since it is really several different buildings connected, everyone kind of follows the same route, making it one long shuffling walk, often putting you in danger of being run over by the aforementioned tour groups.
There are many spectacular works of art, from Caravaggio, da Vinci, Raphael and Titan. The highlight of course, is the Sistine Chapel, with the ceiling done by Michelangelo. To be honest, the Sistine Chapel was a bit of a anti-climatic moment. It was amazing to see the center piece, "God Creates Adam" in person, as it is one of the most iconic works of art ever created. However, the Church itself is a bit smaller than you’d think, there’s no seating and no photography of any kind allowed. The fact that it was done by Michelangelo while lying on his back is certainly spectacular and pain-inducing, but after spending three hours walking past every sort of painting, sculpture, tapestry and other work of art you could imagine, you’re pretty "art-ed out" at that point, and we were ready to just get out of the crowds.
By the end of the entire museum tour, I had a moment of intellectual conflict. I enjoyed seeing all those wonderful works of art, and was glad that I had a chance to see them. At the same time, I knew that it is the Catholic Church that owns them and they have parishioners all over the world who don’t have the financial wherewithal to eat three meals a day consistently, and parishes can’t turn on the heat in the winter for masses. And here there church sits, in Rome, with a staggering amount of incredibly valuable art. But at the same time, protecting this art – much of it Christian in nature – from the religious intolerance of the world at large, is why it is there in the first place. However, as times have changed, there are many museums and private collectors that could probably keep a lot of churches warm and worshipers fed if the Vatican parted ways with some of its collection. It is a philosophical debate with no clear answer, that is for sure.
After the Vatican Museum, we moved on to much more Earthly pursuits and had a hot dog panini, yet further proof that the Italians can make just about anything taste better. It is nothing more than a steamed hot dog split in half lengthwise, put between some ciabatta bread, and then grilled. However, the grilling makes it crispy and doughy and hot, and with lots of mustard, it was one of the best hot dogs I’ve ever had. Combine that with the Minute Maid Lemon-Lime juice drink we had discovered and it was a gourmet meal!
We then climbed on board a bus to Piazza Barberini and went to see the Crypt of Santa Maria della Concezione. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed here, which is a shame, since it isn’t every day you get to see the bones from 4,000 Capuchin friars arranged into works of art, furniture and altars. Without a doubt one of the most bizarre and creepiest things I’ve ever seen.
After a couple of days of Italian food and wine, we decided to also hit the Hard Rock Cafe, which was right in the area, pick up some souvenirs, have a drink and a bite to eat. It was a welcome reprieve with familiar surroundings and air conditioning.
The bus ride back to our hotel took us through these crazy alleyways that had NO business playing host to a bus, even if it was a small one. There was one moment that I was certain we were not going to make a turn and just wind up smashing through the front window of a small jewelry shop on the corner.
Dinner that night was at Antica Roma, located across the river from the bottom of Gianicolo Hill. We waited for a while for everyone to show up and I took advantage of it to take some interesting photos across the street from the restaurant, some of my favorites from the trip.
Dinner that night was excellent – we had pasta carbonara and arrabiata, followed by Tiramisu for dessert. Given my strong caffeine sensitivity, the cappuccino used in the Tiramisu actually kept me up for a good part of the night, giving me my one night of poor sleep while away.
That hardly held us back the next day, however, since we couldn’t exactly keep the Pope waiting!