Italy with the Family Day 10: Holy Places and Memories

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July 3rd 2014
Published: July 4th 2014
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Andrew and Erika are very appreciative of this trip. They are extremely appreciative, for example, that I messed up the Pristine Sistine tour on our arrival morning so they got to come too. That tour was today. And wow, what a treat!

We met for breakfast at 6:30 which happened to be the same time as a large tour group was eating in anticipation of their departure. Breakfast here has been pretty relaxed but today was nutso. The poor girl trying to keep all of the people at tables and food refreshed had WAY more than she could handle. She finally called in back-up but even with that, it was insane. Usually the drill is that you tell the person in charge what your room number is and they check you off since not every room comes with free breakfast. We never gave anyone our room number today as we had to find a table and start eating and by the time the staff appeared, they were so busy with other things that no one ever asked. Breakfast was accomplished and at about 6:55, we were in a taxi and on our way to the Vatican.

Since there are 4 of us and the backseat only fits 3, and since I had the address of the meeting spot, I was elected to sit in front. N e v e r a g a i n. I mean-wow! It’s one thing to be in the backseat while the car is making the fourth lane out of two. It’s a whole different zebra to be in the FRONT seat watching that excitement unfold in living color. There was a time (or two or three) when the double lines that indicated ONCOMING TRAFFIC were right underneath my butt. And remember—I was in the passenger’s seat. We got out of the taxi and I said, “I had my turn. Next!” The family said, “Rough ride up front?” I said, “SCARY ride up front!” and explained what I had seen and experienced. Erika said, “Not me.” I agreed—this is a man’s job.

We arrived at the meeting spot at 7:15—10 minutes before official meeting time. We had opted to take a taxi as we have not had good luck navigating to meeting spots on time using public transportation. Apparently in this case, the taxi worked. We checked in and waited for the tour to start which it did, promptly at 7:25. There were four guides and ours was named Ufilli or something equally Italian sounding. She was a tiny little thing, probably 40ish, who wore olive-kakhi pants and orange shoes, shirt and hat. After handing out the radio ear-bud receivers, she whipped out a Japanese flag and off we went. Mark, Andrew and I had some good laughs remembering tour groups in Japan when the catch phrase was always, “Follow the frag! Follow the frag!” She told us several times that we were going to enter the Sistine chapel early and this was a big advantage because it was so quiet and that later we would pass back through it on our way out and we would see the difference. We walked to the entrance to the Vatican Museum and waited for about 15 minutes before the guards started letting people in. Ufilli handed us pictures of the Chapel ceiling and the mural of the Last Judgment and began to explain what we were going to see. She said, “The Japanese have the copyright to the Chapel so there are no photographs.” Someone asked why and she said that the Japanese had financed the cleaning and restoration of the Chapel in the mid-80s and in exchange, they have the copyright. Mark and Andrew immediately began joking about “The Sistine Chapel, presented by Fuji Film.”

Once through the metal detectors and ticket line, we were off to the Chapel. As I said, Ufilli was a tiny little thing and she could cut in and out of these crowds. The rest of us were lumbering along trying to keep up. She would say, “No rush, we have plenty of time. Let’s move along.” She had this way of saying “okay” that sounded like, “kai-a.” She would say, “This is important, you should have a look, kai-a? Now over here…” It was really funny. Somehow we all managed to stay together and after going up two flights of stairs and down one, we entered the Sistine Chapel.

I had been to the Sistine Chapel before but it has been a long time. Here are some impressions. The restoration makes a huge amount of difference. It is so clean and bright and the colors, though soft and muted, seem to pop off of the ceiling. The sense of depth that Michelangelo achieved is stunning, especially considering the size of the work, the detail involved and that he painted it lying on scaffolding flat on his back. The Chapel seemed smaller than I remember but more impressive than I recalled. Being there early without the every 5 minute announcements to be quiet was a real experience. There was a reverence and calm to the place that was breathtaking. Everyone enjoyed this immensely, and both Andrew and Erika said, “Thanks for missing the tour!” It was fun to do this with them.

After we spent about 30 minutes in the Chapel, we went into the Vatican Museum and did the speed walking tour. “You see this over here? Is good example. Take your time, kai-a?” and Ufilli was off. Somehow we kept up (bless that Japanese flag!), and she successfully showed us some of the highlights of the Vatican Museum in just over an hour. She said, “Is so much here, if you looked at everything it would take 7 days.” No doubt. That’s why you look at important thing drive-by style and keep moving. After we finished the Vatican Museum, kai-a style, we went down to St. Peter’s Basilica and entered there. Erika said, “Don’t you wish King of Glory were building this church?” I said, “We could have 8 worship services going on at the same time!” It is truly a stunning church, with ornate art and incredible architecture. The shrine built over the bones of St. Peter is a work-of-art in itself. The Catholics consider Peter to be the first Pope and what they believe to be his bones are buried there. We did not pay the extra entrance fee to see for ourselves but I am sure that SOMEONE’S bones are in that crypt, might as well be Peter’s.

After trying to take in the magnificence of St. Peters (it’s really too much), the tour ended and we spent another 15 minutes wandering around St. Peter’s and taking a few more photos. (The Japanese have no claim to St. Peter’s, much to the delight of Kodak, we’re sure!) Our last stop was the crypt which holds the burial spots of many popes (except Peter, of course. Separate entry fee for that.) We saw the tomb of John Paul I and many others whom we did not recognize, being not Catholic and all of that. Mark recognized a few names because he’s been around a little longer and, let’s be honest, he pays better attention. We excited the crypt on St. Peter’s Square and had a sit. I went to a gift shop and got a postcard for a “good” Catholic friend of mine, came back out and wrote the card and then bought a stamp and mailed it from the Vatican City post office. I said on the postcard, “If you were ever in Wittenburg, I would hope you’d do the same for me.” I’m sure she would. As we were walking out of St. Peter’s, Erika said, “I never dreamed when I was in art class in high school and we were learning about the Sistine Chapel that I would see it in person one day.” That made this MiL’s heart smile.

After a few more pictures (really, St. Peter’s is one of those places that you just can’t stop photographing) we headed off to take a cab to the Pantheon, a top site that Andrew wanted to see. The Pantheon is a huge domed building that was built as a “uni-temple”, for all of the Roman gods back in something like 80 BC. The engineering of this thing is so incredible. I remember studying it in art history class and being told that the design of the dome was such that most of the weight is born by the dome itself which is why the structure can be so tall. The ancient Romans were truly remarkable engineers. We asked Andrew how much of the math and physics the Romans understood about this stuff and he said some, but a lot of it was trial and error. Gotta hand it to a society that’s not afraid to try. We took lots more pictures in the Pantheon and then headed off to find lunch.

I went to Yelp and found a place called Maccharoni which had 36 reviews and 4.5 stars. Bonus was that it was close by as well. We walked over, got a table and ordered. Mark got gnocchi with pear and gorgonzola sauce, Andrew got fettuccini with pesto, Erika got gnocchi with tomato sauce and I got a pasta with olive oil, basil, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. Oh Mi Gosh—was this food good! We each shared around and marveled at the textures, flavors and delight of each dish. What fun!

Erika wanted to try some gelato so I Yelped that and found a good place about a 10 minute walk from the restaurant called, “Grom” which was the name of the second recommended gelato place in Florence. Don’t think they’re related, though. The gelato was delicious, not quite as good as what we got at Perche-No! in Florence but good. I had told the Young Elgerts that they had to order two flavors and Erika looked at Andrew, “Something more than just chocolate.” He said, “But chocolate is so good!” We actually each ordered chocolate and another flavor. Erika ordered chocolate and coffee, Andrew ordered chocolate and hazelnut, I ordered chocolate and stracciatella, and Mark ordered dark chocolate and pistachio. Yum all around!

We routed ourselves to the nearest bus stop which turned out to be about a mile away and since it was getting VERY hot and Andrew’s feet were beginning to really hurt, we cut bait on that idea and caught a taxi back to the hotel. The afternoon was spent catching up on blogs (for me), doing last minute laundry (for both Elgert families) and maybe a little napping. Hey, we were up early this morning!

This evening we had considered going downtown to get dinner but with an early departure tomorrow morning, we opted to do a neighborhood place again. We tried a café on the corner but their menu was really limited so back to Taverna Rossini. We sat inside tonight (new atmosphere!) and ordered something other that pizza (new taste sensations!) and everything was very good. Not as good as lunch but good nonetheless. Everyone ordered dessert and we had fun tasting those around. We laughed and talked and swapped impressions of the day. It was a great end to a great day.

After we got back to the hotel, Mark and I packed because tomorrow morning we are off to Barcelona and the reunion with the rest of the family. Can’t wait!


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