Friday, August 30, 2013

The Vatican Museum and St. Peter's

Our second full day in Rome we had set aside for seeing Vatican City: the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica.

We took a city bus to the Vatican and got a quick glimpse of the Palace of Justice
and Castel Sant'Angelo on the way there.

Our museum pass in Paris may not have been worth much for skipping the ginormous security lines at Versailles, but for the Vatican Museum our Rick Steves advice paid off big time. I had made reservations and bought tickets in advance online, so we got to skip the huge ticket line to get in that stretched for blocks and blocks.

The museum was filled with specimens from the Egyptians to Romans to modern Europe: sculpture, painting,objets d'art, elaborately decorated rooms and ceilings, you name it.

One room was filled with sculptures of only animals. I thought my kids would have gotten a kick out of that. 
 "When I was a young warthog....."

The highlight of the museum (and probably the whole day) was the Sistine Chapel. We spend probably 40 minutes there, jammed in with wall-to-wall people (and security guards-- occasionally blowing their whistles to say "Silenzio!" or stop picture-takers). It really is magnificent- a masterpiece on all levels.

The museum ended with a collection of religious paintings. My favorites were some of the more modern pieces, including a rare Pieta by van Gogh and a Marc Chagall.

By the time we finished the Vatican Museum it was time for lunch. I knew of a "close by" pizza place I had read about on an app that was supposed to be open in August. Yep, it was time for another one of Karen's wild goose chases. I led Megan around the walls of Vatican City, down a long random street in blistering August heat and through a residential neighborhood down a narrow back alley of stairs.
Finally between several hard-copy maps of Rome, the "City Maps2Go" app on my phone (which could be used offline) and google maps (which I couldn't use for directions without using super-pricy data on my phone but I could use to pinpoint where I was on the map) we managed to find our way through a mostly-shut-down (typical for Rome in August) neighborhood to Pizzarium for our lunch.
They had a thicker-crust pizza than is typical for Rome --- and way more toppings. One of the highlights was the pizza with kale, pinenuts and canteloupe.
By this time we were tired from our much-longer-than-expected trek to find a not-so-easy-to-find place. So we took a cab back to St. Peter's Square and waited in the long line to see St. Peter's Basilica.
 The line went fairly quickly and before long we were past the imposing Swiss guard

and even more imposing security line

and were face to face with Michelangelo's dome
and Bernini's baldacchino --a giant bronze pavilion covering the altar that attempts to diminish the disparity between the enormous size of the building and the tiny human people celebrating mass within it.

We saw (at least what could be) the bones and burial place of St. Peter (the dates of the body line up but they don't really have any clear way to determine if it was St. Peter. People from 100 A.D. believed that it was....) 

We basked in the enormity of the largest (or second-largest if you count the Basilica of our Lady Peace in Africa) church in the Christian world.

We even accidentally managed to capture a few crepuscular rays of light in a really bad picture of me. (Thanks, Wikipedia, for making me sound smarter than I am.)
We ended our visit with Michelangelo's Pieta, now encased behind bullet-proof glass after a crazy came in and starting hacking at it several years ago.

All of this grandeur worked up an appetite for some culinary grandeur-- and a nap-- so we headed back to our hotel via the Gelateria San Crispino. 

After enjoying some amazing Caramel Meringue Gelato (I thought of you, Jared and Camryn) we collapsed in our hotel room for a much needed rest. After a sufficient nap and rehydration we headed back out to our favorite nightspot, the Piazza Navona where we got some delicious cheese and Italian charcuterie for dinner at Cul de Sac.
We finished the day with yet another gelato-- this time at Giolitti's: the same place where they stopped for gelato in the film Roman Holiday. 

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