Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Rome - the city of a million wonders

Sorry for the lack of posts, but the wifi in my apartment in Rome never worked.  Here in Greece, I have fairly decent wifi but for some reason last night I couldn't get Blogger to work.  It froze up on me halfway through writing a post and then wouldn't let me back into the Blogger site at all.  It must have been a problem on their end, however, because I could get to anything and everything else online...just not the one place I really wanted to be in order to share several days worth of travels with you guys.  Oh, and I have so much to share about Rome!  It is an absolutely beautiful city and, like Amsterdam, a place where I could wander endlessly for days.  There are a multitude of things to see and do.  Around almost every corner is a public square and every square is a wonder of architecture and sculpture.  The streets are filled with artists of every sort.  And the food is delicious!  I had read somewhere that you couldn't find a bad meal in Rome if you tried, and I totally believe it. 

It was very, very crowded in Rome...the most crowded place I've been so far.  What I didn't know was that last week is a big traveling week in Europe.  Kids are out of school the week after Easter, and that's when Europeans take what was described to me as their "short holiday" of only 1 week.  Later in the summer they take their "long holiday" which lasts, on average, around 3-4 weeks.  We in the US could learn a thing or two from the European's idea of a vacation!

Although everything in Rome is gorgeous, I was surprised to find that my favorite place was The Vatican.  As you emerge from the metro station near Vatican City, you are immediately accosted by people wanting to sell you a "skip the lines" tour.  As you walk the few blocks to enter St. Peter's Square, you cannot avoid these extremely pushy vendors...it seemed as though there were hundreds of them and the cost of 50 euros was exorbitant since entry to both the museum and cathedral is only 16 euros combined.  I ignored them, as I planned to just purchase entry tickets and do the tours myself.  But when I realized the wait for entrance to the Vatican museum, which includes the Sistine Chapel, was 3 hours long and then the separate line for St. Peter's Cathedral was 2 hours long, I reconsidered.  I stood and looked up the street at all the various hawkers of tours, yelling and following people and trying to shove brochures into people's hands.  Ugh...I wanted no part of that.  Then I saw a young woman who was not accosting people, but just simply standing with a sign indicating a tour package for sale.  Her name was Franka and she was so nice.  She's originally from Nigeria but has lived in Rome for 8 years.  She has an MA in history, but is currently working on a PhD in economics.  I was happy to find that her tour was only 40 euros, and included skipping the lines, the cost of all entry tickets, and an English speaking guide named Antonella who took you through everything and communicated to you through a headset device so you could hear her easily over all the noise of dozens of other tour groups going through.  The tour group she works for also only does small tours of a dozen or less people at a time.  I saw many guides going through with probably 40-50 people at a time, so it was nice to be with a smaller group where you get individual attention (Antonella learned all our names), time to make pictures, and can ask questions.  Although it was a lot of money, it was totally worth it and I felt like I really got lucky with the tour I chose.

The Vatican is nothing short of spectacular.  My tour included the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Cathedral, and the grottoes underneath the cathedral.  The Vatican Museum is the second largest museum in the world, and houses one of the most stunning collections of art I've ever seen.  There are 54 galleries within the museum, all of them filled with the most impressive collection of paintings, sculpture, and tapestries imaginable.  I was happy to have a guide who could point out things of particular interest and tell stories about the collection along the way.  The final gallery on the tour is the Sistine Chapel, the walls and ceilings of which were painted by Michelangelo.  No pictures are allowed in the Chapel...in fact, it is forbidden to even speak inside.  People would begin whispering to each other, but guards would tell them quickly, and in no uncertain terms, to stop immediately or get out.  Antonella used a large laminated photograph to explain all the paintings we would see before we entered.  She also reminded us that just a few short weeks ago, the Cardinals of the Catholic Church were locked inside that very room to elect the new Pope.  She explained to us where the chimney had been set up (it has since been removed) to deliver the white smoke signaling to the world that a new Pope has been chosen.    

This may make me sound crazy to some of you (most of you already know I'm a little crazy), but as I stood in the Sistine Chapel taking it all in...the story of Moses on one wall, the story of Jesus on the other, mankind's creation depicted across the ceiling...I felt my eyes well up and tears begin to roll down my cheeks.  It's just so beautiful that I could not help being moved by it...and I'm not Catholic or even religious in any traditional sense.  It's just so magnificent.  The Creation of Adam panel depicting God passing life to Adam through the tips of their fingers stretching out to one another...it's exquisite.  And to think that Michelangelo created it while hanging upside down with paint dripping back into his eyes...what an amazing artist. 

After leaving the Chapel we went straight into St. Peter's Cathedral, which is also huge and incredible. It's like a museum itself, with works by Raphael, Michelangelo, and Bernini, just to name a few.  The canopy over the altar was designed by Bernini.  It is the largest bronze sculpture in the world and stands 98ft tall under the cathedral's dome.  It is here, under this canopy that the Pope performs holy rituals such as the Eucharist.                    

I loved every minute of my time in Rome and hope to return one day.  I have lots of pictures to share, but I am going to do them in separate posts and try to organize them by category.    

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