A couple weekends ago, I escaped Berlin to Rome – my first visit to Italy and, naturally, my first visit to the Vatican City.
It was a short, four-night trip, with a lot of activities crammed in. Perhaps too many activities, but ultimately I think that I saw everything that one stereotypically goes to Rome to see: The Vatican, The Coliseum, and the Spanish Steps.
Friday morning started early with the Extended Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums Tour with Bramante Staircase and St. Peter’s Basilica tour. What we’d forgotten is that the tour is scheduled to last 4.5 hours. And it really lasted, I believe, just over five hours.
Our tour guide was excellent: An art historian, his instinct was to view the Vatican museums through the prism of art techniques lost and regained, pointing out the importance of perspective in the paintings, as well as the importance of sources of light. It made for a quite interesting tour as it relegated the tedious Catholicism stuff to secondary discussions. Certainly I came away from the tour knowing more about Catholics – one cannot help but learn about St. Peter – but what I really learned is that the Christians managed to forget a whole lot of artistic techniques that needed to be re-learned after they took over, and that it took a few hundred years to do so.
The tour included “exclusive” behind the scenes access to the Bramante Staircase, which included, to be frank, excellent views of Rome.
Our guide’s talks certainly helped me understand the context – because generally speaking, my understanding of art (and, in particular, Christian art) tends to be pretty superficial. About the only thing I would have changed was the timing of the lecture about the Sistine Chapel: it happened long before we got there (probably an hour, if not 90 minutes), meaning that by the time we got there, I’d forgotten a lot of detail. And we only had ten minutes in the Sistine Chapel. In theory, people are supposed to be silent in the Sistine Chapel. In reality, I felt like I was in the Spanish Infanta episode of Blackadder, when the officials would shout “SILENCE, SILENCIO,” and so on into their microphones.
After leaving the Vatican, we grabbed lunch, and then wandered some more: Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Largo di Torre Argentina, the Typewriter, and, last but not least, Fontana di Trevi.
It was somewhere in there that I think I maxed out: ready to call it quits. We did push on and take a look at Trevi fountain – or, rather, the crowds surrounding Trevi fountain – before deciding to go back to our hotel. But then we made one more push to actually look at the fountain.
If this is Rome in the low season, I hesitate to imagine what it must be like in the high season.
Saturday we had a tour of the Coliseum, thankfully starting at 11:40, which meant we got to sleep in. This tour was the Colosseum, Dungeons & Upper Ring plus Ancient Rome tour – a mere 3.5 hours. Not so long, which was better for the feet. Unfortunately, the guide was not nearly as good as the first guide. He didn’t really have a comprehensive plan for the tour, which resulted in a slightly disjointed and self-interrupted tour. I ended up not listening to everything and instead imagined that I was Romulus, sucking at the teat of my Momma Wolf.
The coliseum, itself, was impressive: with our tour, we got into the backstage (or, rather, understage) areas as well as up to the third ring.
We left the tour and wandered off to the neighborhood of Testaccio, where we were scheduled to take the Testaccio Supper Stroll – but with an awkward amount of time to fill. Finding a café, we split a small sandwich and relaxed for a bit.
The Testaccio Supper Stroll was excellent – a group of ten, we went to six different restaurants/spots where we sampled a variety of foods and enjoyed a number of adult beverages. The tour guide was excellent – a local – he kept the group together. I think that it helped tremendously that the group got along. I found everybody fun to talk to, especially the two diplomats.
Sunday was the day for the Spanish Steps and wandering the city. I was, to put it mildly, a bit worn down. I ended up reading in the Park Borghese before returning to my hotel for an afternoon nap, and then another short wander.
Monday was the opposite: I went off and my partner in crime took a nap. I ended up back in Testaccio where I invested in some lovely Italian meats and wandered for awhile. Eventually I headed back to the airport and back to reality.
Rome was worth it.