Yesterday, I decided to use my day off to go to Rome with a couple friends (for the purposes of this blog, I’ll call them the Canadian and Georgia Boy). We planned to go to the Vatican Museum in the morning (one of my friends had a brochure that advertised a tour starting at 9:15, before the museum is open to the public), so we got up really early to take a 5:57 AM train into Rome.
Unfortunately, when we arrived at 8:30, at the meeting point advertised in the brochure, there were no tour guides at all (this actually didn’t surprise me, since I had checked out the website on the brochure, which was nonexistent, and I had tried to send an email to the address listed on the brochure and it bounced back to me). Undaunted, we started walking around the line that had already spanned about two city blocks, even an hour and a half before opening. We figured there had to be some tour guides hawking the crowd, getting people to skip the line and go in the group entrance.
No such luck. We arrived at the museum entrance and found another line going in, this one clearly of tour groups, since many of them were dressed alike or had little walkie-talkies around their necks so to better hear their tour guides. That line wrapped around the city walls from the opposite direction than the general public line, so we decided to try to find the end of that queue and possibly get onto a tour there.
The tour group line was even longer than the public line, spanning about 8 city blocks. By the time we found the end, we were halfway around Vatican City from where we had started, and there were no tour hawkers to be seen. Frustrated, we decided to just walk the rest of the way around the wall to St. Peter’s Square (where the Pope comes out and blesses people on Wednesdays). We realized that since Vatican City is a different country than Italy, we actually walked around an entire country. What an accomplishment! But we still weren’t inside the Vatican, which irritated us.
When we reached St. Peter’s Square, we stopped to take lots of pictures. I remembered all my Western Civ classes in high school, where we learned that Bernini ushered in the Baroque era by building this oval piazza, a far cry from the classical straight lines and perfect circles. We decided while we were there to enter St. Peter’s Basilica, which houses Michelangelo’s famous Pietà (the first sculpture to actually show emotion on Mary’s face). After going through the metal detectors (we were entering another country, after all!) and passing the clothing police (those wearing tank tops and skirts or shorts above the knee were not allowed inside and had to wait sheepishly against the wall for their friends), we waited in another line to get into the church itself.
The Canadian saw a sign pointing to the tombs of the popes and noted that there was no line to go there, so we followed him down the stairs. We passed all sorts of sarcophagi and marble plaques of long-dead popes (and even not-so-long-dead: we walked by John Paul II’s headstone, decorated with fresh flowers and flanked by two guards who had roped off an area for folks to pray and mourn). We were kind of wandering from room to room until we found one room that had no sarcophagi at all, but whose walls and ceilings were painted with all sorts of Baroque pictures and designs. At the end of the room was a tiny, almost hidden, marble staircase, and the Canadian (those Canadians are so resourceful!) said, “Hey, this staircase isn’t roped off. Let’s see what’s up here.”
We walked up the stairs, and lo and behold, we were in St. Peter’s Basilica. How’s that for a back entrance?
The basilica took my breath away! Everything in the church is made either of bronze, gold, or marble. They allowed us to take pictures in the church, and it was hard to actually find one thing to photograph, since every inch of wall, floor, and ceiling was a work of art. I did manage to get some nice pictures, though, and I can’t wait to get home to put them all on my computer.
When we got out of St. Peter’s, we took a look at the public line for the Vatican Museum and saw that it had nearly tripled in size since we had seen it at 8:30 (it was close to 11 at this point). We regrouped and although the Canadian really wanted to see the Sistine Chapel, none of us really wanted to wait in line for hours for it. We decided to go across town to the ancient part of the city, since I really wanted to see the Colosseum.
Since the Canadian had already seen the Colosseum last week, he decided to hang out in the shade while Georgia Boy and I took the tour. Our tour guide was terrible! She spoke English, but her accent was so strong (I still couldn’t place it…it definitely wasn’t Italian) that even with the little walkie-talkies they provided, I couldn’t understand half of what she said. And whenever she tried to get dramatic, her accent got even stranger, and Georgia Boy and I kept giggling at her speech patterns.
Language barriers aside, I also feel like she was going through the motions in our tour. Having given tours myself when I was in Newport, Rhode Island (granted, I was in costume and in character), I know when someone is tuning out and just parroting facts. And boy, was she doing that. And most of the facts she gave us was stuff I already knew from taking 3 years of Latin in high school, so I was really bored. We had the option of getting a tour of the Palatine as well (that’s Caesar’s palace, the original one before Las Vegas), but both Georgia Boy and I had had enough of our tour guide, so we just wandered off to find the Canadian.
The sun was so hot and we found no relief in the shade, so we were all pretty cranky and not interested in walking around very much. We walked over to the Circus Maximus (where the chariot races were…think Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur). Unfortunately, the structure of the Circus Maximus is completely gone because in the Renaissance, the Roman citizens dismantled it to use the stones for houses. All that’s left now is a grassy knoll with a huge track, but if you’ve got a good imagination, you can figure out what things might have looked like. We took some pictures of the racetrack and Palatine Hill, and then we decided to call it a day. It was time to take the metro back to the train station and get on the next train back to Spoleto.