Rome, first few days-Sunday October 17, 7 am
The flight was as uncomfortable as I thought it would be, it’s just too long to sit. And yet here we are. We have a wonderful little apartment with 2 bedrooms/2 baths and a little kitchen, plus access to a courtyard for dining al fresco. We can hear the church bells of San Clemente calling everyone to worship, but it is generally very quiet-especially for a being in a busy city.
Friday late afternoon/evening, after our long trip and checking in to the apartment, we explored our little neighborhood. (By the way, we are here with Mark’s parents and it is the first time to Rome for all of us but Sandy, who was here when she was around 16 years old, and she doesn’t remember much about it.) We shared a couple of pizzas at a nearby shop, grabbed a few groceries and then retired early, a little after 7, since we had been up for about 35 hours and were exhausted. Yesterday morning we were out the door by a quarter to nine and we met our guide for the day at the Piazza di Colloseum, which is a few blocks from our apartment.
Pina was fantastic! She helped us get our ‘Roma Pass’, which gets us in to a few museums for free and for discounts, plus gives us free access to all public transportation while we are here. All for only 25 Euros each, which is a really good deal. We walked all day and saw the Coloseum, Roman Forum, Arch of Constantine, Old City Hall, New City Hall, Pantheon, Palatine Hill, Piazza Navona, Campo dei Fiori, and so much more… We had a little lunch and bussed over to Vatican City. Did you know that it is a separate country? The Vatican has its own government, postal stamp, currency and you have to show your passport to get in at certain points. There are 2 points where you can enter without your passport due to an agreement the Pope made with Mussolini (he started out with good intentions… he just got mixed up with the wrong friends!) We toured some galleries and then we entered the Sistine Chapel. I was actually in the Sistine Chapel!
The ambience in there is awful, the guards keep shushing everyone because they want silence, plus they have to keep telling everyone to stop taking pictures. We lucked out and found spots on the bench along the wall, which is really nice since you are looking way up, even if you just want to see the walls of the chapel. The ceiling is so much more than I thought it would be… and the Last Judgement on the back wall… there are no words to describe it. It took my breath away. Michelangelo painted the ceiling-it was his first attempt at painting. He was 23 years old and a sculptor, which is really obvious in his work. 26 years later he was asked back to do the back wall and he decided to depict the Last Judgement. It is really amazing, so huge! The walls lining the chapel on either side depict the life of Jesus, and the life of Moses. Many other artists did these walls, including Bocelli, Perugina and Signorelli, and they are wonderful works as well.
After awhile we went out with the massive crowds and down into the basilica of St Peter. It is the largest in the world and the sheer mass of the place is overwhelming. It is a sight to behold and as we walked towards the alter Pina told us that every square inch of the place is mosaic or sculptor, not one drop of paint or fabric, which is why we could take pictures if we wanted to. As we looked at all the works of art everywhere I kept asking her ‘really?? That one is not paint? are you certain?’ and she kept laughing and telling me that she could assure me it was not paint. We wandered all around and finally we were there. In front of me was the work of art that I have dreamed to see more than any other. Since I was 16 years old in my first art history class, and Helen Bedtelyon put up the slide of the Michelangelo’s first Pieta. It was behind plexiglass and we weren’t all that close to it and yet being that close made me weep with pleasure. I am still in awe of the fact that I was there. It is one piece of marble. Again, I have no words for this… it was a highlight of my life. And since I saw his final Pieta (The Deposition) last year in Florence, quite by surprise, I am fulfilled in that area for certain. Absolutely amazing.
We made our way back to our neighborhood where we met Doumina (our tour coordinator) and Giacomo (our friend from Parco Fiorito in Cortona) who surprised us by being in Rome. We will see Doumina again on Wednesday and we were so lucky to be able to visit with Giacomo since he is already gone for the season at Parco Fiorito. Giacomo lived in Rome for 10 years and gave us a dinner recommendation near our apartment. It was perfect! We had a wonderful meal in a neighborhood osteria, where they were as friendly as can be and the food was typcial for this region. Sandy had minestrone that tasted so fresh of the vegetables! Don had a gorgeous roasted 1/4 chicken and a salad. Mark and I shared Baccala, the salt cod this area is famous for, prepared in a tomato sauce. We also had an artichoke that was prepared in lemon and herbs, the flavors were wonderful together. We ate Spaghetti Carbonara, which was one of the things I wanted to try most in Rome. Everything was delicious, the house wine was fantastic, and we wish that same place was open tonight.
I have to get into the shower so we can head out for a quick breakfast, then to explore more and get the papal blessing at noon in St Peter’s Square. We aren’t sure what is in store for the day but we know the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps are going to be a part of it. It is 11 at night for you, so sleep well and we will tell you more later.
Ciao for now!