Saturday, April 26, 2008

Italy, part 5

Rome in 2 days is quite a blur. Completely fabulous, but a blur. Rick Steves recommended doing Rome quick and dirty, so we allowed 2 days, however we wished for more.

We arrived at Rome's Termini station at 6:30am, we wandered around a bit before finding our hotel-- we were delighted to find out we could check in early AND we had our own bathroom! After a long nap and a shower we were ready for the eternal city.

The line at the Vatican Museum rivals Disney World. We joined the queue about 3/4 mile from the entrance, but it actually only took about 40 minutes of waiting, and it was our first experience of gorgeous Italian weather. The terrible part were all the beggars. I felt so guilty as we passed them, especially on the way to one of Christianity's biggest sites. We were on a tiny budget as is-- but shouldn't we help these folks? I felt wretched, but then I remembered, this isn't ancient Jerusalem, this is a modern socialist state which has provisions for unemployed and disabled people.

Still feeling a bit guilty we entered the opulent Vatican Museum. Too spectacular, really. The artwork was awe-inspiring, but it seemed like the money could have been better spent. But I couldn't make such comparisons by the time we got to the Sistine Chapel. It was the most amazing art I've ever seen. The figures and faux carvings jump out at you. It is an amazing expression of God's gifts. But even more astonishing is the altar piece "The Last Judgment." I've decided this is one of Italy's favorite subjects. On one side of Jesus are the blessed glowing in glory, on the other side are scary demons and icky corpses. Supposedly when the Pope saw the painting unveiled he fell on floor in repentance. All in all, I wished the Vatican Museum had exhibits on the naughty popes. Some of them were pretty bad.

St. Peter's Basillica was also astonishing and gigantic and opulent-- many artists all coming together for one purpose. And they have the gall to put plaques on the floor showing where other magnificent churches would fit inside it. Also, the funding for St. Peter's came from selling indulgences, one of the things that pushed Martin Luther towards Reformation. But anyway...

For dinner we ate a tiny restaurant off of Campo dei Fiori, which was amazing. It's run by a matronly cook who wears a headscarf and an old dress, who curtsies to her customers. She only cooks what she likes, each dinner is set. It was so much food! When they brought out the antipasti we looked around to the other tables, and saw everyone finishing their food, so we began to follow suit. I was pretty full after the 2nd course (the best penne with tomato sauce I've ever had) and there was still veal, sides, and a dessert to come. It was wonderful and it was only €23 per person.

After all that food we took a Rick Steves walk to digest. We wandered through the tiny streets which opened onto hidden piazzas and fountains. Rome is such a mishmash city, you're walking in a quiet residential neighborhood, turn the corner, and BAM! its the Pantheon, seemingly out of nowhere. Our walk ended at the Trevi Fountain, which is just as amazing as the movies, except thronged with guys harrassing you to buy roses. After politely saying "no, grazi" and smiling at their compliments, I learned this approach only emboldens them. A firm "no" and a cold look is the only deterrent. Despite being hounded, we through our coins into the fountain and enjoyed the romantic Roman evening.

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