Saturday, May 4, 2013

Crowds, Art, and Chinatown-our Roman Holiday

Priceless fresh air during our Vatican tour-- the Courtyard of the Pinecone
The pinecone was originally the fountainhead at the ancient Roman Baths of Agrippa
People are always asking us why we moved to Italy-- we always forget to mention that it was one way to avoid being tourists. We envisioned living here getting to know it bit by bit on our time. This was a brilliant plan for getting to know Calabria, but it seems the method will take more time than we have left when it comes to a Rome or Florence. We shouldn't be hard on ourselves, I suppose, we do come at this later in life. Perhaps it's a skill that can be learned, like Italian (which, by the way, was one way we shined compared to your run-of-the-mill turisti).

Perhaps, too, Americans underestimate the effect movies have had on their visions of travel. Rome? Aren't we gonna see it from the back of Vespa and meet all sorts of rich Italians and other Europeans wearing dinner jackets? And aren't we gonna be Audrey Hepburn? 

No, we are going to arrive schlepping our bags from Termini station and arrive at our hotel amid a teeming mob of French tourists. The most romantic sight of the day was an honest-to-Italian demonstration for animal rights. 

The centerpiece of our trip to Rome this time was a tour of the Vatican from Walks of Italy. The idea was to get to the Vatican early (meet at 7:30 at a bar across the street) to beat the crowds that would end up at the Sistine Chapel. 

We took a taxi and at that time of the morning it was an easy trip to the meeting place with a completely delightful Italian taxi driver who could have been in one of those Hollywood movies about Rome. He made it clear that he thought we were crazy for living in Calabria. No amount of denial could change his mind that there is "no life" there. "Italy stops at Roma". But he was simpatico anyway. We enjoyed the ride and all agreed about Berlusconi. We bought caffe, met our tour guide Laura and started on our day of being officially tourists--fortunately, Laura didn't use a flag to lead her flock of 12.

As promised, we were among the first in the long line of the day. We were led down art-filled halls to the Sistine Chapel. No photography is allowed in the Chapel so our photos show only what was on the way. Having heard a lot of talk about the opulence of the Vatican, I expected Versailles. To me, the museum was nothing like that. It seemed like an old fine building housing ancient artifacts well worth saving. The architecture was surely grand, but I didn't find it over the top considering history and the importance of the place. Of course, it's a museum.

The Sistine Chapel should really not be commented upon by us, relative know-nothings in the field of art history. One of the things Laura told us was that the ceiling was a learning experience for Michelangelo because he had never created frescos before. We preferred the lower panels painted by other famous artists such as Botticelli. I guess we feel guilty about that but, really, the ceiling was mostly naked men--didn't connect somehow. They leave the lights off so it was also pretty dark in there. We were very glad we experienced it all first hand and it was nice to be there without the crowds. More on that below.

A young Raphael (the painter) seems to be jumping into our time looking us over...
When I saw this painting, I identified with the guy
scaling the wall to get away
The tour promised to beat the crowds to the Chapel, and it did--but what they didn't tell us was that we were going to see the museum WITH the crowds. It was breath-taking. I mean, near the end I literally felt like I couldn't breathe. It was fine at first, then by the time we were in the last Raphael room, all we wanted was to get out of there. If you have any tendency toward claustrophobia, do not take these tours (this was a slow day according to Laura!) We have heard that once you get to St. Peter's Basilica, this feeling fades simply because it's so big and beautiful and breath-taking in the good way. We didn't make it there partly because our friends had to meet their tour boat and the Vatican tour was running late and partly because we were too tired from 3 hours of standing. Italy is a little weird about NOT having places for people to sit and rest. 
No, that's not a flag associated with St. Peter's's a tour group.  The square was prepared for May Day

Chinatown in Rome--this fine old building houses many shops
Chinatown Rome was not far away from our hotel so we had an interesting time exploring the shops and bought too many cans of coconut milk (that we aren't able to find here) for lugging back home. An interesting, multi-cultural neighborhood very close to Termini.

It looks like we will learn about Rome bit by bit after all (or trip by trip) and try the rest of it independent of the crowds that seem to stifle our interest. This must mean we are also learning about ourselves at this late date.


  1. I sympathise with your Vatican experience. I thought I was going to go crazy with the noise in the Sistine Chapel.

  2. Hi Sue,
    I guess one is either cut out for crowds or not, clearly I'm not. di

  3. Hi Diana and Guido, how are you? Your blog is amazing :-)see you soon - only 4 weeks to go - we ready for wedding day! Simona and Peter

  4. Simona e Peter,
    Nice to hear from you. We are tutto bene! Looking forward to your wedding and our special house-quests.

  5. 3 Studies REVEAL Why Coconut Oil Kills Fat.

    The meaning of this is that you actually burn fat by consuming Coconut Fat (including coconut milk, coconut cream and coconut oil).

    These 3 researches from big medical journals are sure to turn the traditional nutrition world upside down!



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