The Vatican

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July 18th 2015
Published: May 24th 2017
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We have booked a morning tour of the Vatican. We need to be there a bit before 8am, so it's another early start after a long day yesterday. We are both feeling a bit tired. It's really hot again, and Issy says she's feeling the heat more here than she did in Marrakech.

We arrive outside the Vatican Museum and already there are long lines to get in. Fortunately we've booked a group tour so we jump to the front of the queue. Before we left home everyone warned us about the queues and the advantages of booking on-line; I'm glad we listened. The operators here seem to have mass tourism down to a very fine art. Our names are ticked off as we arrive, and we're told to stand in a very specific place. Our guide then hands out head sets so we can hear her as she talks into a microphone. She carries a flag so we don't lose her in the crowd, which is a wise move given she looks like she's about 4 foot 11. Her name is Elizabetta and she tells us that she's an archaeologist.

We start with the Museums. They are huge, and Elizabetta tells we only have time to see the highlights. She gives us an overview of Michelangelo and his painting of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo sounds like he was an interesting character. She tells us he was very grumpy, and always worked alone. He was also notable for wearing the same old boots 365 days a year, and for not washing nearly often enough. He didn't want to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel because he said that his expertise was in sculpture rather than painting, but he was eventually bullied into it by the Pope. He wouldn't let anyone see his painting until it was finished. One night a cardinal went into the Sistine Chapel without Michelangelo's permission, so Michelangelo 'rewarded' him by painting his image into the Last Judgement showing him with donkey's ears, and with a snake wrapped around his body and biting his testicles. Rafael was Michelangelo's sworn rival and was also a colourful character. He was a serial womaniser and not surprisingly died of syphilis at only 32. I‘d always assumed that all these famous painters would have been solid, respectable citizens, but it seems that nothing could have been too much further from the truth. A lot of the early popes weren't all that saintly either. One of them was notable for murdering his rivals, and a lot of them also had children, which they passed off as nieces and nephews.

Everything here is very old, and Elizabetta says that in Italy anything produced after the 17th century is considered modern. By that definition the whole of Australia post-European settlement is modern, including Captain Cook and all the early explorers. We passed a building site on the way here to the Vatican, and it seemed that when they dug it up to put in the foundations they found some ancient ruins. I suspect that if you tried to plant a tree in your backyard in Rome you'd probably find an ancient ruin.

We reach the Sistine Chapel. This is beyond spectacular, particularly Michelangelo's ceiling, and the piece where God and Adam almost touch fingers gives me goosebumps. There are very strict rules in the Chapel. No photography is allowed, and you're not even supposed to whisper. It's packed, and there are police trying to keep everyone moving through. People seem to have short memories regarding the no talking rule, so every five minutes or so the police make an announcement to remind them. There's then silence for about a minute until everyone forgets again and starts talking, and the whole cycle then restarts.

We move through into Saint Peter's Basilica. This is also beyond spectacular. The famous Michelangelo sculpture, The Pieta, is behind bullet proof glass after someone attacked it with a hammer a few decades ago. It seems hard to believe that Saint Peter is actually buried under the altar here.

The drivers here are all mad, and I break into a cold sweat when I remember that in only a few days now we'll be hiring a car. Elizabetta tells us that as pedestrians we should assume that all drivers want to kill us. Stopping at red lights seems to be optional, particularly for motorbikes, and you take your life in your hands if you assume anyone is going to stop for you at pedestrian crossings.

We awake from our siesta and set off for the Castel Sant'Angelo which is near the Vatican. We decide we'll try to get there by bus. I look at a website for some clues on how to do this. It says not to bother with the route map, as this is too confusing. Instead it suggests that you just turn up at any bus stop and catch a bus that looks like it might be going in roughly the right direction. We try this, and it seems to work. We do however look like stupid tourists, and a helpful local has to show us how to validate our tickets after seeing us struggle to do it ourselves.

The Castel was built in around 135 AD by the emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for his family. It was later used as a castle by some of the popes, and is now an excellent museum. We get great panoramic views over most of Rome from the rooftop.

Issy's supposed to be our Italian expert but it seems that her Italian may be a bit rusty. I notice she's struggling to remember some of the basic phrases that tourists need to know, such as where's the toilet, and can you please bring me two beers. We stop for some drinks and fruit at a cafe near the top of the Castel. While we're there, someone at another table drops a beer glass and it shatters everywhere. The waitress calls out to one of her colleagues for help. Issy says that she recognises the words 'dustpan' and 'shovel'. I thought she'd studied from a book called Italian for Tourists, but I'm now wondering whether she might have picked up Italian for Cleaners by mistake.

We leave the Castel and walk along the banks of the river to the Museum of Leonardo da Vinci. This is jam packed with machines invented by the great man, including such diverse things as pumps, bicycles and cannons. It seems that he was a genius at just about everything he touched, which included a wide variety of disciplines ranging from painting to engineering. The museum includes some of his writings. Near the end of his life he wrote that he thought that God would be a bit disappointed with him because he didn't make the most of his talents. I'm not sure quite where this leaves the rest of us.

We walk up into the Borghese Gardens where we get great views over the city at sunset. We get lost in the Gardens, before eventually stumbling across the metro which we use to get back to the hotel. The stations all seem to have exotic names including Circus Maximus and Colosseum, which somehow sound a whole lot more exciting than Flinders Street and North Melbourne.

We have dinner at one of the many pizza and pasta restaurants on an island in the river right near the hotel. I'm not sure I'll be able to eat pizza again when I get home after trying this. The crust is thin and crispy, and they hold back on the cheese, which is just how I like it.

I'm suffering from blogging fatigue. I know that I need to blog every night before I go to bed, or I'll get behind and never catch up. Between looking around and blogging there's too much to do. Sleep is suffering. Issy offers to take over blogging for a few days, but I decline her kind offer. I quickly change the password just in case she‘s tempted to try; I'm way too worried about what she'd say about me. As I write this, Issy is half asleep and telling me to put the blog away. I think that maybe I need a break from blogging. Hopefully I'll feel better tomorrow.


20th July 2015

Dave, are you aware you can drink the water coming out of the fountains in Rome? Cool and clean. Perhaps avoid drinking the water IN the fountains, but have a crack at the stuff coming out of the Lion's ..... It beats paying for bottled wat

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