Rome Day 14 / Vatican (part) II

We started out with our usual nice breakfast after sleeping in a bit – no need for the alarm today! At about 9:20 we ventured out into the cold and took the A Line only three stops to Leplanto and walked only about three blocks to Via Cola di Rienzo for some shopping. After discovering prices about what we’d pay in the mall at home (which weren’t great) I did find one shop called Chopin which had reasonably priced ladieswear. The overly-attentive saleslady spoke very good English and helped me pick out several cute outfits to try on. I ended up with a pretty black, white and red printed skirt and red top, plus a khaki green blazer/skirt suit that went very well with the same red top – all for only about €112.

We continued along but decided that there were really no other outstanding bargains to be had and brought my packages back to the B&B before stopping at a place a few doors down for lunch. I had some very good margherita pizza (this time with crust a bit thicker, but crispy on the bottom) and Terry opted for a “Kebap” which is basically a takeoff of the Greek gyro. This streetside cafe is owned by a middle-eastern guy and the music playing was, well, wierd. It was sort of this screechy, high-speed, whiny middle-eastern music – not what you’d expect to find in the heart of Rome. Terry pointed out some elaborately-decorated opium pipes “decorating” a high shelf on the wall. Interesting – and they didn’t have any dust on them either.

Next, we ventured on to the 492 bus and got off only a few stops away to wait in the long, long, long line for the Vatican Museums. As discouraging as it looked, the time span from when we stepped in line to when we entered the Vatican’s security gates was only about 40 minutes. Admission tickets were just €13 and the audioguides which later proved to be invaluable were only €6.

After climbing several stairs we entered the Egyptian museum which I did not have access to on my previous trip. Its exhibits included a mummified woman from 1000 BC – yes that’s right, 3000 years old! It was kind of creepy and kind of fascinating at the same time. The same exhibit also housed some elaborately-painted sarcophagi and stone letters from ancient Egyptian times.

The next set of rooms included several Greek and Roman statues. Actually saying “several” is an understatement – more like hundreds, maybe thousands! Some of them had a distinct history (such as at least two works we saw of “the Nile”) but most of them were more anonymous than that.

After making way through this exhibit, we moved on to the long halls that would lead us to the Raphael rooms – these hallways were all painted floor to (and including) ceiling in elaborate frescoes. Our first grouping was of several “old world” maps, followed by a tapestry room which included a magnificent rendering of Christ – his eyes follow you as you walk down the hallway.

The Raphael rooms were beautiful and elaborate (as the rest of the Vatican Museums of course) and I was surprised to learn that he (and apparently Bernini) was little more than an art director. He was hired by the Pope to design artworks for each room and usually hired workers actually performed the brushwork. (Side note: Michelangelo painted all of his own works) Here is where the audioguide really came in handy – it was fascinating to learn about each separate painting rather than just taking it in and looking at all the pretty pictures without having a clue as to their history or meaning. One in particular that stands out is in the Constantine Room where Raphael painted a crucifix aglow with light, and a shattered Roman statue in pieces on the floor. This work depicts Constantine’s movement to leave behind the paganism of the former Roman beliefs and the beginning of their move to Christianity.

I looked at my watch and saw that we only had an hour left before the Vatican guards would kick us out of the museum, and since I was already out of their good graces from last week, Terry and I practically jogged through the ten or so rooms of “Modern Religious Art” which honestly was nothing special in my opinion, before finally reaching the Sistine Chapel.

As this was my second visit I couldn’t help but compare my previous experience of being there with just 60 people as opposed to several hundred as we were today. Still, I was very happy to be sharing the experience with my husband who, although his knee and ankle were swollen and sore, obviously was able to appreciate these works as much as I did. I again found the audioguide to be extremely helpful in explaining several of the stories behind the works, and it served as a good tool to appreciate them one by one instead of just seeing a large room all painted with two hundred or so different scenes. I especially liked the way it broke out elements of the Last Judgment though with over 300 persons depicted it could have taken hours to go through it all!

We opted to walk home rather than try and find the bus stop and it ended up to be not that far anyway. It also allowed us another stop at Millennium Gelateria where this time I opted for the Choco-orange mixed with Bounty (think Mounds candy bar) flavors. We ate these walking back to the B&B and I finished mine just in time to unlock the front door. My left hand was near frostbite but it was one of the rare occasions when I actually didn’t mind being cold, that’s how good this stuff is. Gosh, I wish someone in the US could figure out how to make this stuff – though maybe it’s better for our waistlines and cholesterol levels that no one has perfected the Italian recipe!

Back at the B&B I worked on writing my travel journal while Terry read for a little while, then we went out to eat at La Rustichella as recommended by Rick Steves. The place is just next door to Millennium but we managed to resist the temptation to visit for the second time in one day. I had a steak which they prepared specially for me with a “salad” (meaning a few lettuce leaves) and French fries. It wasn’t the best steak I’ve ever had but then Italians aren’t really known for this dish, are they? Terry had some items from the buffet which were primarily seafood and he said they were really good. In fact, this was probably our favorite dinner spot yet.

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