That next morning, we got up early and headed out. Grabbing a quick breakfast at a local cafe, we then boarded the Rome subway and headed over to the Vatican. Coming out of the station and back into the sunlight, we were disheartened to see a massive line, looping around the block, to get entrance to the Vatican museums. Turning down an exorbitantly priced tour that would, however, have gotten us past the line, we decided to head into the Piazza and then Saint Peter’s itself.
Coming through the line of columns surrounding Piazza San Pietro, I was once again struck by just how huge the Vatican is. The enveloping line of massive columns, four deep, topped with hundreds of statues and the millenia old obelisk in the center are enough to strike one dumb with amazement. Add to that the solid marble mass of the basilica rising at the end of it all, and you have easily the most impressive sight I’ve ever seen in my life–until going inside, that is. We quickly hopped in the line to get inside, moving with surprising quickness through the security line, and then headed into the basilica proper, stopping for a moment to look at the Swiss Guards standing stone still in another entrance.
We entered the Basilica of Saint Peter, and I was as awed as I had been the first time I’d seen it. Rising to seemingly impossible heights, with ornate decoration covering every surface, the scale and magnificence of the place is unmatched. Everywhere you turn, the sheer size of the basilica astounds; the cherubs on the wall that look small and cute are actually eight feet tall. Every available surface is covered in decoration, and the sculptures and paintings (now mosaics, replaced to protect the originals) read like a who’s who of Renaissance masters. Michaelangelo’s Pietá, sitting in an alcove all to itself, is predictably crowded by visitors peering at it’s lifelike mastery from behind the bulletproof glass, erected after a vandal attacked the statue with a hammer in 1972.
We continued wandering toward the other end of the church, ending in the center, peering at Bernini’s massive bronze baldachino and the huge dome, the first dome to take the crown from the dome of the Pantheon, which was the largest dome in the world until St. Peter’s. The baldachino, reaching toward the skies, is made of solid bronze, and required so much bronze to make, that they had to melt down the bronze tiles inside the Pantheon to build it after exhausting all of Rome’s bronze supplies. After walking around and back down the other side, still gaping at the size of it all, we went back out the front and got into the line to climb to the top of the dome. We waited for about an hour for our chance to climb the dome, but it was all worth it. We filed in around the side of the basilica, climbing to the first level, which affords views into the basilica from the cupola of the dome. Here one realizes just how huge everything is, seeing the size of fellow visitors in comparison to details that looked small from the floor. Then it was back up the staircase towards the top, this time between the interior and exterior wall of the dome, with the walls curving around you and throwing off your balance making it hard to walk. Eventually you come to the top, and are rewarded with expansive views over all of Rome, extending all the way to the snow capped mountains in the distance.
From there, we headed down and out, deciding that we unfortunately didn’t have the time to wait in line to see the Vatican museums and their treasure troves, which also unfortunately meant that we wouldn’t get to see the Sistene Chapel. Despite my protests, we ate lunch at one of the tourist cafes near the Vatican and ate the most overpriced, poor quality food I’ve had the misfortune to eat, with the worst service I’ve ever had. After discovering that we weren’t about to spring for delights such as their €8 a scoop gelato, they ignored our table, being slow to bring anything we asked. Our glasses were dirty and still had lipstick stains on them, the food was bland, and after waiting for 30 minutes after asking for the check, I had to track down the waiter and demand it from him.
Next stop was the Pantheon, just a few blocks away. On the way we stopped to admire Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers, one of the most amazing fountains I’ve ever seen. After I quickly walked around the Pantheon and saw Raphael’s tomb, something I’d somehow missed the last time I was there, we wandered around the corner down a back street to find Della Palma, an excellent gelateria that I had visited last March when I had been here. The gelato was just as spectacular as I remembered. I had four scoops–mandarin orange, strawberry, and two of mango, my favorite gelato flavor. All were incredibly intense, mixing the perfect amount of sweetness and tang, with strong flavors that just exploded in your mouth. Absolutely worth a visit.
The next morning, New Years eve, after yet another spectacular meal in a local trattoria the evening before, we headed to the Colosseum in a light rain. Unfortunately, the Colosseum doesn’t afford much to the repeat visitor, so I somewhat ambled along behind everyone while the others took it all in–though I did notice many more details than I did the last time I was here, when we had been rushed through it. Afterwards, we walked back to our hotel around the corner through the parts of the Roman Forum that had been closed due to the late hour the day before. It’s a very impressive thing to see the incredible engineering that went into these things, two millenia earlier. Once back in our hotel, we packed our bags and caught a shuttle to the airport for the very reasonable sum of €55 for 5 people and bags, all the way to Fiumicino. Not bad at all. The flight to Stuttgart was on the budget carrier German Wings, and was very uneventful, and mercifully short.
As always, more pictures in the photo gallery, and check out my Flickr page for even more…