Friday, June 24, 2016

Our Roman Holiday - Part Two

Friday, June 24rd – The Vatican Museum and Roman Coliseum.
Our alarm goes off at 6:00 A.M. and we shower and dress quickly. The hotel calls for a taxi and minutes later we are zipping through an already warm Rome and by 6:45 we are deposited at the entrance to the Sistine Chapel. I have arranged for an “early entrance tour” with the tour company “The Roman Guy” and already there are groups of tourists with their guides gathering on the stairway across the street. We joke that soon there will be an ‘’early early entrance tour” for an “extra extra” charge. We sit at an outdoors tourist café and each order a cappuccino (mine a double) and share two toasted ham and cheese sandwiches.  By Starbuck standards, our espresso drinks are excellent but about as pricy and we pay the 30 Euro bill for our minimal breakfast and walk back to find our tour group. Booking a Vatican/Sistine Chapel/Saint Peter’s Basilica tour is complicated. There were literally hundreds of tour companies to choose from and pricing was varied vastly depending on the company, entry time and number in each tour. There is even a special private evening tour for some $3500 per person. 

View of Vatican City and Saint Peter's Basilica
Vatican Cafe

When our tour is over we will rate our guide as mediocre at best but twelve of us dutifully follow her to the snaking line in front of the museum and shortly after 8:00 A.M. we are gliding along the polished marble floors of gorgeous Vatican Museum galleries. Although there were many other early entry groups, the Vatican Museum is immense and for a delicious 45 minutes we have expansive views of the hallways and galleries mostly to ourselves. 

Vatican Museum Gallery Hallways

Marty, Vatican Museum

We wander through a hallway of tapestries, a marvelous cartography hallway and galleries of Greek, Roman and Egyptian sculpture. 
Cartography Gallery Hallway
Map detail

Art, Marty, John, Cartography Gallery

The walls and ceilings are frescoed, frosted and gilded and we crane our necks to admire the swirling scenes above us. 
Ceiling Fresco, Vatican Museum
Looking Up, Vatican Museum

The highlight is of course Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel where talking and photography are not permitted. Our guide briefs us prior to entry and we are allowed twenty minutes inside the Chapel where I desperately try to absorb and retain the genius of this place. The famous ceiling consists of nine panels of scenes from the Book of Genesis but it is the immense end wall with the painting of the Last Judgment that takes my breath away. The frescos have been recently cleaned and the colors are vibrant.  I’ve visited the Sistine Chapel several times before but my last visit was some thirty years ago and at that time, the colors were muted and parts of the Chapel were cordoned off with scaffolding. 
We continue touring the vast museum stopping to admire Raphael's famous painting of the School of Athens. 

School of Athens, Raphael

Battle Scene

Our three-hour tour includes and ends at St Peters Basilica, the largest Cathedral in the smallest country in the world. We circumnavigate the cool interior of this vast Basilica, admiring its opulence and gazing up at the immense dome. 

Crowds inside Saint Peter's Basilica

Saint Peter's Basilica

Interior dome, Saint Peter's Basilica
Angel, Saint Peter's Basilica

John wants to climb to the top of the dome but I’m not up to it in the heat and my still jet lagged state. When we exit, the heat and bright sunlight outside is a shock to my senses. I wait by a large drinking fountain, in the shade of a courtyard while John and Art make the climb. 
We head back to the Monti district and find a restaurant just around the corner from our hotel that seems to please all of us. Back at our hotel we take showers and a much needed two-hour siesta.
Panorama of the Roman Colosseum

When possible, we travel with the Rick Steve’s guidebook and he recommends purchasing the Roma pass, not so much because it can save some money but because it allows you to skip the lines and in the height of the tourist season, lines are terrible. At 4:30 we walk to the Colosseum, activate our Roma passes and skip the line. We are fortunate that there is room on the 5:15 P.M. guided tour that proves to be excellent. A young French woman, studying for her PHD in archeological restoration, leads our tour and afterwards we wander the perimeter of the adjoining Forum, which is closed for the day. 

John, Marty, Art, Roman Colosseum

Roman Colosseum

Roman Colosseum
Wedding Photos

Our guide has recommended two restaurants but we are unable to find either but leisurely stroll in the direction of our hotel in search of dinner.  We follow another suggestion and back track several block finding the suggested restaurant but they are fully booked for the night.  Once again, we end up at yet another second rate restaurant and order three prix fix dinners. The pasta course is good but my roast chicken leg and thigh is inedible and the salad is pathetic.  We are obviously not doing well in the gourmet department and it is the Campari Spritzers and a good and inexpensive bottle of a crisp white wine that saves the evening. 

Bistro Bar in the Monti District
End of the day toast
Although it is already late we have after dinner drinks at a colorful restaurant/bar in the Monti. Art orders another Campari, John a Negroni and I order another bottle of white wine to share. It is a refreshing blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio and the wine goes down like water on this still warm evening. We get to bed just before midnight.

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