This was to be the day for all things holy, as we were to be visiting Vatican City, the seat of Roman Catholic power. As such, we were sure to dress appropriately, with dresses of modest length and cardigans to cover our shoulders in the basilica. Vatican City was a relatively easy metro ride from our stop–a mere 15 minutes–and it wasn’t long before we were walking towards the wall of the tiniest state in the world. It was pretty much a perceptual onslaught of tour requests, so I was getting the sense that it was going to be a well-touristed day. We followed the droves of people through the walls and turned the corner, only to be immediately presented with St. Peter’s Square and Basilica. It was gorgeous and sweeping, although I was immediately drawn to the insane crowds of folk milling about and the extremely lengthy line going into the basilica.
After we determined it was in fact the correct line, we hunkered down for our wait. In fact, the line was moving at a fairly decent pace. The sun was sweltering, but we followed the example of the people in front of us and used our umbrella to keep us cool (which we’d brought as the forecast had threatened thunderstorms). Despite a line that stretched probably halfway around the square, we made it through in probably 20 minutes. It helps that you don’t pay admission, though you do have to go through a metal detector and x-ray your bags. We soon spotted a pair of Swiss guards in their multi-coloured finery. We donned our respective coverings and started sweating away as we entered the basilica. I’ve definitely had the pleasure of visiting a few places in the world that were breathtaking, and I think I could add the interiors of the St. Peter’s Basilica to that list. That moment you step in and stare in awe at the sheer size of the place (I wondered at the time and later confirmed that it is in fact the largest church in the world). I suppose it helps that I had no preconceived notions about what it would look like. Thankfully, the enormity of the place meant that the crowds of people could disperse through the space.
We walked around and marveled at the soaring ceilings, ornate detailing and the massive statues of saints dotting the basilica. There seemed to be a large crowd amassing in front of a barrier around the altar, and I was a bit worried that that would be as close as I could get. I later determined that these barriers were in place to allow several dignitaries to pass through, at which point they were removed and we were allowed to move more freely. We took our time admiring the paintings and sculptures, sweating away (we had no idea how someone could survive mass in this space without overheating).
Once we’d had our fill, we made our way back out and went in search of something to eat. We had a bit of time to kill before our booked ticket times for the Vatican Museums. We did a bit of wandering and managed to find an outdoor table along the wall of the city that was a little bit off the main thoroughfare and thus eminently quieter. We grabbed our usual combination of a 1 L bottle of fizzy water and a half liter bottle of wine and shared a vegetable pizza (which had the bizarre distinction of being the first I’d encountered with peas on it). It was a solid-tasting pizza, and we were soon on our way, though not before a young gentleman who had been admiring Angela at another table had the waiter send her a note expressing his interest and asking her to give him a gift (her Facebook). She pocketed the note, and we left without another glance, though it did give us a chuckle later on.
We made our way around the outer walls of the Vatican Museums and headed up to claim our ticket. I’d expected some kind of line, but we literally walked up to an agent, had my phone scanned and got our tickets. From there, we were into the museum. This is not to say there weren’t loads of people milling about, particularly large tour groups, squeezing there way through galleries. The frenzy of folk did make it a bit more challenging to actually enjoy the art work, but I spent most of my time looking up anyway. I’m a sucker for ceilings, and every ceiling in this place was ornately painted. My favourite room was probably the long hall of gorgeously painted ceilings and painted maps of all the regions of Italy lining the walls. One thing I’ve noticed about how they paint their ceilings here is that they also paint on mouldings and bas reliefs in incredibly realistic detail. They create the effect that they look like they’re three-dimensional.
Eventually, we made our way to the big ticket item: the Sistine Chapel. I was disappointed to learn that we weren’t allowed photos (though perhaps I’m not really surprised). Guards ushered you into the chapel, and you stood, shoulder-to-shoulder, gazing upwards. It is a truly beautiful ceiling and much higher than I was expecting. The painted wall behind the altar, The Last Judgment, is particularly impressive in its detail and scope. Angela had gone to Catholic school growing up, so she was able to fill in some of the story behind the different vignettes depicted on the ceiling. Once we’d had out fill, we moved on. The remaining rooms were all beautiful in their own right, but we were both becoming a bit overwhelmed by the sensory overload–room after room of fabulously ornate ceilings and antiques. When we finally exited, we sat outside for a bit to get some air and gather our bearings. My legs/feet were feeling pretty destroyed.
We heard back from the restaurant I’d emailed that morning that our reservation would be for 9:15 pm, so we had a fair bit of time to kill. I suggested perhaps doing a bit of shopping and then heading back to the apartment for a bit of a rest before dinner. We decided to walk from Vatican City into town, so we headed out of the museum and down the main street leading away from St. Peter’s Basilica. We passed by the Castle of the Holy Angel, which was originally the tomb of the Roman emperor Hadrian. From there, we crossed Pont Sant’Angelo, which afforded a beautiful view across the Tiber River to the Vatican. We made our way through cobbled streets lined with antique shops and boutiques to Piazza Navona. Angela and I both were thinking of picking up a piece of art to commemorate the trip. We browsed several stalls, which had very nice pieces though somewhat generic-looking. We both settled on more contemporary-looking pieces–modern re-imaginings of Rome. Now I just have to find a place to put it! Since we’d bought extra transit tickets in the morning, we hopped on a bus to head back to the apartment, only to discover, much to our chagrin, that you could in fact buy bus tickets on the bus. Our transportation mishaps of the previous evening were all for naught it would seem. We were very relieved to relax for a couple of hours and rest our tired feet.
We prettified ourselves up and caught the bus back to near Campo de’ Fiori and navigated to the restaurant, Ditirambo. It was a darling little place with low-beamed ceilings and brick archways. We perused the menu, which had a interesting mix of Italian classics and some more innovative dishes. We ordered half litres of red and white and settled on antipasto della casa. When it arrived, it was a fascinating array of items, including ricotta mousse with mint, what was likely steak tartare with some kind delicious creamy cheese on top, deep fried fish, pastry filled with potato and rosemary, salami and prosciutto. It was a decadent first course, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. For our mains, Angela went with ravioli with spinach and ricotta, and I opted for a vegetable lasagne with smoked cheese and courgette flowers. One thing I’ve noticed about the menu options in Rome, a conspicuous lack of poultry. There are simply no dishes with chicken it would seem. Occasionally something will turn up with duck breast, but it’s really just beef, pork, veal and fish. Nonetheless, both our meals were divine–mine was just perfect for me, creamy and cheesy and filled with vegetables I actually find appealing (mushrooms, eggplant, etc.). It was so good that I was able to actually finish it, though we were definitely stuffed. We couldn’t resist ordering dessert and shared a delicious tiramisu, that we almost finished. We waddled our way to the bus stop and giggled our way home on a very bumpy bus ride over cobbled streets (especially entertaining on a full stomach). It was a wonderfully relaxing end to a whirlwind of a day.