Monday, July 30, 2012

Day 12: Off to the Vatican!

On Thursday, we took time getting out of bed and laid there for quite awhile.  We ate our bananas for breakfast that we bought the day before at the market.  We had already made online reservations several weeks prior to visit the Vatican at 12:30 pm.  I wasn't sure if this was a great time or not, as I heard that the lines for the Vatican can be crazy long, but I did know that this would avoid the busy tourist groups and cruise ship clutter that frequent the Vatican in the morning.

I had done some research- using our very unreliable Rome Pass map and on the internet and thought I had found a bus that would take us to the back of the Vatican by the museum.  This bus was supposed to stop at Colosseo according to my map, so I urged Sam to leave by 11 am since the Vatican was sort of far away, and I had no idea how long this bus ride would take.  However, when we got to the Colosseo stop. of course the bus we wanted was not listed.  This was frustrating and caused some tension so we kept walking up the Via del Corso, with hopes that we would eventually see the number we wanted.  However, by the time we had already walked down to the Piazza Venezia, we still had not passed a single stop with that number listed (and it WAS listed for several stops on our Roma Pass map!).  Here we stopped and looked at the map and decided to start heading west.  We decided that we would just walk, as time was getting short and we did not want to waste it waiting for a bus that we were not sure would get us where we wanted to go.  In retrospect, this is one of the times we should have used the Metro (also covered by our Roma Pass).  It is not a very extensive system, but we could have hopped on the blue line at Colosseo heading north and then switched to the red line at Termini and taken it all the way out to the Vatican.  This would have been our best bet.  Oh well, we continued to walk...quickly.  we finally saw the angels adorning the bridge leading to the Castel Sant'angelo so I knew we were getting close.  However, little did I know that once you cross the bridge and are walking up the road that leads to St. Peter's you still have to walk a pretty far jaunt behind St. Peter's to get to the museum entrance.  And I wasn't sure of what I was going to find when I got there.  I have heard horror stories of lines that take hours- even for those with reservations.  However, once we arrived, I was incredibly surprised to discover there was absolutely NO line! I guess 12:30 (actually about 12:40 by the time we arrived) on a Thursday is a good time to go!  We walked right in. 

The Vatican Museum displays works from the immense collection built up by the Roman Catholic Church throughout the centuries. It is rumored that many pieces were acquired as Christianity spread throughout the world and artwork was "confiscated".   The Vatican Museums include sculpture, many tapestries, paintings, but it also includes many, many ornate chapels and rooms commissioned to various artists.  
Within the Vatican Museum
"The Nile"- one of my favorites that we saw! 
One of the most famous sites here is the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo.  Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed in this area, but I found these photos online.  We listed to Rick Steves audio tour as we gawked at the masterpiece from below.  We were lucky enough to get a seat on a bench and chilled there for about a half hour or so while we listened to the story painted by the great artist. It is a fascinating story, and you may want to read about it here

After we were done in the Sistine Chapel, we exited through the back door on the left rather than continuing through the small amount of exhibits and rooms left in the museum.  Sneaking out this back door (and this was really NOT a big deal- almost everyone was doing it.) is a big time saver, as you can directly enter St. Peter's Basilica from behind rather than waiting in line again out in front of the church.  After we exited, we saw a sign that pointed to an area where you could go to the top of the cupola at St. Peter's so we decided to do this next.  They give you two options.  1) Walk all 320 stairs for 6 Euros or 2) Pay 7 Euros to take an elevator about a third of the way up.  We chose option number 2 and it was still a lot of stairs!  Once we arrived at the top there was some spectacular views!  However, Sam and I agreed that we enjoyed the dome in Florence a tad bit better- just seemed older and more interesting. 

The view of St. Peter's Square from the top of the cupola!

After descending from the top of St. Peter's cupola, we entered Michelangelo's church itself. St. Peter's was actually built atop the supposed crucifixion and burial site of St. Peter, apostle to Jesus. Read more about the history and significance of St. Peter's and the Vatican here.  It really is amazing.  Unfortunately they were preparing for a 5:00 mass so part of the church was roped off so we were not able to actually get close to Bernini's magnificent altar, but we did get some good pictures.  Once again, we listened to a Rick Steve's audio tour inside the basilica, which pointed out some very interesting details.  

We also were able to see Michelangelo's La Pieta.  It is a beautiful and very moving piece of artwork- now behind plexiglass thanks to  a man who came after it with a hammer sometime back.
La Pieta
After that we ventured outside in St. Peter's Square for a bit... 
St. Peter's Basilica 
From the Vatican, we hopped on a bus (randomly) that we simply knew was headed down the street of the west bank of the Tiber River.  We were headed for Trastevere. This is a more hip neighborhood filled with fun pubs and restaurants, fresh art, and a younger crowd.  I enjoyed the feel of this neighborhood and would consider staying here if we ever return.  It could also be convenient depending on where you stay- all you would have to do is simply cross a bridge (and there are several) to get to several destinations including the Capitoline Hill (The Colosseum and the Forum), close to the Piazza Navona, or the Vatican. We departed the bus when we were close to our destination.   We were headed for Dar Poeta, a restaurant recommended by our friends Abby and Dogan who were here the previous week.  We eventually found it and went in for an early dinner around 6 pm (18:00). It is tucked back in a small alcove off of the street and was a little challenging to find.  Apparently there is usually a line at this place late at night, but we walked right in. We sat down inside where it was cool, although they do have a small area for outdoor seating.  This place specializes in pizza.  We started with one of the many choices of non-traditional bruschetta and ordered one with beans and hot sauce.  This was tasty and different.  Sam ordered the Dar Poeta pizza- their specialty- laced with mozzarella, zucchini slices, olives, sausage, and olive oil.  This was the best!  I ordered a bufala pizza made with buffalo mozzarella cheese, but it had very little taste and flavor.  See my review here
Bean and hot sauce bruschetta
The Bufala Pizza
The scrumptious Dar Poeta Pizza
We continued to walk along the Tiber River and crossed the Ponte Palotino bridge that led us directly to the Circus Maximus and then a short jaunt past Palatine Hill, behind the Colosseum and to our apartment. It was a quiet and enjoyable walk. We relaxed for the rest of the night and laid low. 
A View of the Tiber River from Trastevere

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