Popes have too much time and money on their hands…

Yesterday was quite a day.  As usual, I was up and out by 07:00.  I was the only person in the bar for breakfast, so I ate quickly and headed over to the train station to catch the Metro.  I was on a mission to get to the Vatican at a decent hour, avoiding the colossal wait that I had been warned about.  I arrived around 8:20 and the Vatican doesn’t officially open until 09:00.  I thought I had made good time, until I realized I was waiting in line about a block from the entrance with hundreds of people before me.

I did have a great time chatting with Кармилла и Татяна (Carmilla and Tatyana), two very interesting ladies from Russia.  They had just finished at uni and were traveling through Europe. They very graciously helped me with my Russian and the wait went by quickly.  Then the line began to move.  The doors had opened and I was on my way in.  By 09:30, I had stored my backpack in the guardaropa, or cloakroom, and was beginning the long trek through the many corridors of the Musei Vaticani.

After the first hour, I began to get a bit jaded thinking, “This tapestry looks like that painting… Where’s the Sistine Chapel?” and so on.  Don’t get me wrong.  The many pieces contained within are quite amazing, but there is only so much the mind can handle at one time before getting burnt out.  But I trudged through the centuries of art to finally arrive at the Sistine Chapel.  It was phenomenal.  The famous ceiling, as many know, was painted by Michelangelo.  The walls, however, were painted by famous painters of the age, including Raphael. The main tiles of the ceiling depict the creation of the Earth, the creation and fall of Adam and Eve, and the story of Man’s continued fall. It culminates in a panel of drunken Noah.  Apparently, Ol’ Mickey meant for his work to be a warning to mankind and was well versed in biblical lore.  È mangifico, but would have been much better if the guards hadn’t needed to shush the crowd every few minutes.  You’re also not allowed to take photos inside the Chapel.  For once, I complied.

After leaving the Vatican via an awesome staircase, two and a half hours after entering, I encountered a massive entrance line.  Those poor souls had to wait in the heat and humidity. O well… the early bird gets the worm.  I headed around the corner to St. Peter’s Basilica and Piazza.  It was a truly breathtaking sight.  To stand next to something so monumental, constructed so many years ago, is belittling.  But it also reminds me that the popes sold indulgences to pay for its construction… Shame on them!  Of all people, they should know that you can’t buy your way into heaven. The wealthy people they finagled money from were clearly not aware of this fact.

I entered the line to climb to the cupola – all 551 steps to the top.  It’s a good thing I’m not a smoker, or I never would have made it. My poor feet were already crying by the time I reached St. Peter’s, and then I put them through that?  I’m not sure when they’ll forgive me.  However, the view of the entire city of Rome in 360 was well worth the climb.  After climbing down, I wandered through the Basilica. Aside from papal tombs and impressive artwork, I found Michelangelo’s sculpture Pietà. It was even better than books could ever convey.

Having spent the entire morning in the Vatican City, I decided it was time to sally forth.  I grabbed some amazing pizza on my way to Castel Sant’Angelo. Originally Hadrian’s Tomb, it was turned into a Papal fortress with a covered corridor connecting it to St. Peter’s. It was also used as a prison for a period of time.  Going into Hadrian’s tomb was pretty cool, in both senses of the term.  The walls are so thick that they prevent most of the heat from entering and keeping the rooms within quite cool.  It was a nice retreat from the heat of the day.

I then proceeded to see the Mausoleum of Augustus, which was still pretty neat even though it was gated off. Having seen my fill for the day, I turned my weary feet in the direction of the nearest metro station. I made it back to the hostel and relaxed/charged my camera until just before 20:00 when I went just next door for dinner.

Let me just tell you – I would move to Rome for the food alone. I don’t know how I put it all away but I had the most excellent meal of my life.  It started with Bruschetta Pomodoro, which is toasted Italian bread topped with chopped tomatoes, minced onion, black olives and drizzled with olive oil. Then I had Insalata Caprese – slices of tomato and water buffalo mozzarella topped with basil and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. This was followed by Ministre di Pasta, a vegetable soup with fresh penne boiled in the broth of the soup. Now to the first course – spaghetti all carbonara: spaghetti in a cream sauce tossed with bacon, parmesan cheese, and egg.  The bacon, what we call cured ham or Canadian bacon, added a smoky aftertaste that was fantastic. The second course was Pollo Arrosto – roasted chicken, but the best roasted chicken I’ve ever had.  I washed it all down with half a bottle of the delicious house white wine, made by the family owning the restaurant, and walked away extremely satisfied and quite tipsy.

I walked to the train station after dinner and hopped on the metro back to St. Peter’s, from which I began my night tour of the city.  I made it around to all of the monuments, taking some great photos, and made it back to the hostel by midnight to crash, recharging for the next day.

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