To the Vatican and Beyond

December 22 – Rome Day One

The Creation of Adam by Justin Korn

Today I had a prescheduled tour of the Necropolis at 10:45am. According to the email I received upon booking the tour, I could not be a minute late and must pick up my pass 10 minutes before or I would not be allowed on the tour. So, I made sure I had a wake up call set for 8:30am the night before.

At 8:30am sharp, the phone rang and woke me up. I grabbed breakfast at the complementary buffet at the hotel (nothing much – croissants, cereal, ham, coffee) and headed out the door at about 9:45am giving me one full hour to get to St. Peter’s (a 30 minute walk from the hotel) and find the excavations office. Along the way, I was good and kept my camera inside my bag so I wouldn’t make any stops and get distracted. I found my way across the river and up to St. Peter’s, but there were no signs for the excavations office. There was a long line to get into St. Peter’s, I but assumed I could by pass that line through the so called excavations office. I had about 20 minutes to spare at this point. I found the information office and they told me I had to wait in that long line I saw, check my bag, and go around to the other side of the Basilica where I’d find the office. I was not aware I’d have to wait in the line and it looked like it was going to take 30+ minutes to get through. It was 10:30 and I was suppose to pick up my ticket by 10:35! I wait in line and the line moves much quicker then I expected. I passed through security, checked my bag at the bag check and made my way into the excavations office at 10:43am. They didn’t even question my timing and I even ended up waiting 5 minutes or so before the tour left. It ended up being a close call, but it all worked out in the end. However, no pictures were allowed in the Necropolis.

The Necropolis is the City of the Dead and lies underneath St. Peter’s Basilica. It houses the tomb of St. Peter himself whom I actually don’t know much about myself but I am sure Google can tell you everything you’d like to know. I did find out that the entire excavation was done by 4 guys alone and took 11 years to complete. The four guys did all of the digging at night and in complete secrecy. At the end of the 1.5 hour tour, we found ourselves at St. Peter’s tomb where the entire group said a prayer (any know what that prayer is/was?). As we exited the tour, we found ourselves at the tomb site for all of the past Popes. From here, I was on my own again.

I made my way outside and paid my visit to St. Peter’s Basilica. WOW! I took pictures, but I think I had a hard time capturing the vast size of the place, perhaps my artistic/photographic juices weren’t flowing in full force. Every corner of the entire place was covered with something, whether it was a sculpture, a painting or a place of prayer (some of which were in session). I tried taking in as much of it as I possible could before departing the magnificent building.

The Art of Music by Justin KornFrom there, I made my way around the outer wall of the Vatican to the Vatican Museum. I made my first stop at the cafe downstairs and grabbed a slice of pizza. After getting some food in my belly, I made my way to the Pinacoteca which is the main Vatican art gallery. It houses art from the 15th to the 19th century, particularly strong on works from the Renaissance period. Some of today’s most famous art work exist here, such as St. Jerome by Leonardo da Vinci. I was very happy to find out that pictures were allowed throughout the Vatican Museum, as long as you do not use a flash.

After the Pinacoteca, I found myself in the Cortile Della Picna which lead to Il Museo Chiaramonti. The Chiaramonti Museum is a museum made up of only statues and sculptures. When I first walked in, I was a bit overwhelmed and in awe. I don’t think I’ve seen so many statues in one place lined up one after the other like that. Even more impressive was Braccio Nuovo which housed full sculptures (not just heads or pieces of statues). Within Braccio Nuovo I was introduced to the famous Il Nino. The Chiaramonti finished with the Cortile Ottagono or Octagonal Court. This court yard, as you probably guessed, was shaped as an octagon and had 8 large statues at each side.

From there, I followed a series of rooms, one after the other after the other all filled with amazing murals, art, sculptures, rugs, etc. I finally reach the Raphael Rooms just before entering the Sistine Chapel. I think the idea is to tire you out and fill your memory cards (or run out of film) before you get the to grand finale of the Sistine Chapel, even though they say pictures are not allowed in the Chapel. Well, I finally arrived at the Sistine Chapel and 1) again, WOW! 2) people are snapping pictures away like crazy! I couldn’t believe it. I’m not sure if the rules changed or today was a special day, but they were allowing pictures to be taking inside the Chapel. Funny thing is, I was so overwhelmed, excited, and tired all at the same time, I’m not sure I captured everything I wanted to while in there. I did take the time to look around and take in the place for a bit instead of just taking pictures the entire time. I don’t know all of the meanings behind all of the paintings and drawings within that room, but none-the-less I found my jaw dropped most of the time and a stiff neck by the end from looking up most of the time.

St. Peter's at Night by Justin KornWhen I finally left the Sistine Chapel and exited the Museum, I headed back to St. Peter’s Square just in time for sunset. I planted myself there for awhile snapping away pictures from every which angle I could think of. Since I didn’t have my Gorillapod with me, I can only hope the pictures came out nicely. Only time will tell that story…

As the light grew dimmer, I finally put the camera away and made my way back to the hotel. I took a few different streets back and found myself in the middle of some huge crowds and finally found myself at Piazza Di Spagna where there was a special Christmas concert going on and hordes of people were sitting, standing, crouching, etc. all over the place, covering the most of the Spanish Steps. I’m not sure who was singing when I got there, but I’m guessing it was some famous opera guy. People were very intense while listening and trying to see him. I stopped and listened for awhile, but I was tired and had to use the restroom, so I continued back to the hotel.

I took some much needed downtime (writing this post) and then made my way back out around 8:00pm. I asked the front desk for a dinner recommendation and though he was a different guy this evening, he started to give me the same recommendation as the guy from the night before. After I told him I had already been there, he suggested another place called La Rampa. La Rampa was around the corner from the Spanish Steps in Piazza Mignanelli. I sat down, ordered a bottle of water and the house red wine, or Rossa del Casa. After looking through the extensive menu, I asked a few questions and the waiter recommended one of the veal dishes. Since it wasn’t seafood (again, for those that don’t know me, not a fan) I went along with it. I believe it was veal leg, but not 100% sure. Since I’m not a huge veal eater, I can’t compare, but I thought it was quite tasty. After dinner, I made my way back to the hotel again stopping for my first Italian gelato on the way. I got a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of mint (those that do know me probably aren’t surprised). Needless to say, I planned on making a habit of getting gelato at least once a day for the following days in Italy.

Back at the hotel, I purchased another hour of internet (not very cheap – 3 EUROS per hour) and headed to bed. The following day is unplanned, so who knows what is in store. I had a 9am wake up call scheduled to ensure I do get up and do something.

Till next time…

Picture count: For those that might be interested, I took a total of 600 pictures to day. As of the end of the day, I have taken a total of 3,158 pictures on the trip in total so far.

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Categorized: Travel Diaries