June 10, 2007

Touring the Vatican

Touring the Vatican

The day started out on a bad note when Tony called to tell us that our guide for the day was sick. So, instead of touring the ancient roman ruins we decided to tour the vatican museum on our own. We decided that would be the easiest place to do an audio tour to get the most out of the day without a guide.

Before leaving the hotel we asked the concierge for dinner recommendations for someplace indian or Thai. We are so burned out on pasta that we are delaying our long anticipated trip to Alfredo’s (home of fettucine alfredo) until tomorrow night. We have a recommendation for an Indian restaurant called Maharajah. The concierge will make reservations while we are touring today.

The Vatican and St. Peters are within pretty easy walking distance of our hotel so we have a quick breakfast in the hotel breakfast salon and then head out. Even though it is just 9:00 the crowds are 2/3 of the way around the outer ring of statues at St. Peters when we get there. Not being very prepared we just get in back of the line and prepare ourselves for a wait.

After about 2 minutes in line we hear an english voice asking people near us if they would like to avoid the long lines and get a tour of the vatican in english. The 10:00 tour is just starting he said. We knew this was a bit of a risk, but since we had already committed to pay for a guide today we figured this would be better than standing in line all day and trying to follow an audio tour through the vatican museum.

It turned out to be a reasonably good decision. Our guide was a young women from Canada named Sandra who graduated with an art history degree from Queens college in Canada. The tour only cost 13 euros per person plus entry into the museum. In the end Josh did not cost anything and kaia was reduced price.

We started the tour in front of the Obelisk in St. Peters square. This obelisk came from Egypt as a gift many years ago. The egyptions asked for it back and rome refused. Unfortunately the the obelisk was not centered properly in front of St. Peters and so the pope decided it must be moved. The obelisk weighed 300 metric tons and 500 romans showed up to help move the obelisk. thousands of romans showed up to watch and the pope swore everyone to silence under pain of death so that the workmen could concentrate. (the only time that many romans have ever been quiet) After they had moved the obelisk, but just as they were raising it into its new position the ropes started to fray. everyone was absolutely silent until one man broke his vow to yell out that they should put water on the ropes to lubricate them. This saved the day and the man was not beheaded but was given a yearly salary in gratitude from the pope.

After that short story we walked around and away from St. Peters to the American Bar where we paid our guide and she told us that once we had paid here she would go stand in the security line to hold our places for approximately 40 minutes, after which time we could join her in the line. This was the point where more than one person in the group became a little suspicious that we might never find her in the line once we handed over the cash. 30 gullible tourists at 38 dollars a pop would be a pretty good mornings work!

Nevertheless Sandra was there in line or us 40 minutes later and even a bit longer than that as the security line was moving slowly this morning. After getting into the museum we realized that the really long line we were in this morning was only for the free visit to St. Peters and we could have come over here ourselves. Nevertheless Having Sandra as our guide turned out to be great. We learned a lot from her about the things that we stopped to see. She explained to us right away that this was just going to be the highlights and we would not stop to see everything. In fact to see everything in the museum for 45 seconds would take 10 years.

  • pine cone garden
  • the body statue -- inspiration for Rodin’s The Thinker
  • Nero’s bathtub
  • The Rafael rooms - Michaelangelos rival that painted the scholars
  • The Sistine Chapel

By the time we got out of the Sistine chapel it was 3:30 and our two hour tour had lasted four and a half hours. We came right out of the chapel by the line to take the elevator up to the stairs leading up the cupola. Another 320 stairs to climb to the very top. the view from the top of St. Peter’s was spectacular.

After the climb and the view and the heat we were all more than a little dehydrated and hungry, luckily there was a (rather expensive) snack bar part of the way down. we bought some pop and water and then took some pictures by the statues of the apostles. when we got to the bottom of the stairs we came right out into the basilica so we looked around for a while but decided to pass on the trip through the crypt. We headed back towards our hotel with the idea of getting a snack along the way.

For dinner tonight we had a reservation at Maharajah, an Indian Restaurant. It was such a nice change of pace that everyone thought the food was delicious. Josh and Kaia had Chicken Shahi Korma. I had the Madras chicken curry. I was going to order the vindaloo chicken again but the manager told me that vindaloo was the hottest, 80% chili peppers and 20% tomatoe. The Madras was second hottest and was hot enough for me. Jane had a dish caled ‘Murg Peshwari’ a Kashmiri style curry with oriental herbs, capsicum, onion and tomato. Josh seemed to like that one even more than the chicken Korma. We are making a curry lover out of him yet.

The restaurant was about a 20 minute walk from our hotel so we had time to stop for a gelato on the way home. We had a chance to see the Tivoli fountain just as it was getting dark. We were all very tired after a long hot day of walking so we were ready for bed by 10:00.