Thursday, January 01, 2009

Italia Day 5: Roma: The Vatican

It's been awhile since I posted one of these. Here's the journal entry from our 5th day in Rome. I start off with an example of jet lag in action:

Wayne: "Where are my socks??"
Us: "You're holding them in your hand."
Wayne: "How did they get there?"

And a quote from Asa while we were walking: "How far is it to those sixteen chapels anyways?"

It was about 2 miles from our apartment near the Pantheon, as it turns out. This photo is of the bridge of Castel Sant'Angelo, where we crossed the Tevere (Tiber) river.

So on to the Vatican. Today is a rainy day in Rome and I discovered that my rain jacket doesn't work all that well. I got soaked on the walk over. Luckily the body heat generated by the 80,000 people crammed into St. Peter's (the line went around the entire piazza) quickly dried us off. St. Peter's itself was so overwhelming it was underwhelming in a way: so big, so much decoration, and unfortunately so many people that it was hard to feel impressed, strange as that might seem. Probably if you arrived in November and it was nearly empty (if it ever is, anymore) then it would be more affecting. The kids were fascinated by the Swiss Guards in their colorful uniforms, especially when they changed over with much hoopla and presenting of arms. The thing that I found to be the most affecting was really that it hits home that Peter was a real person, who really died and was buried there. And he was a disciple of Christ. So I guess in a way it made all of the Bible stories I learned as a kid that much more real, just being able to stand there in that place. All the fancy swirling decor on the altar is so much frosting on the cake, but Peter was a real person and he's really buried there.

We ate lunch from our backpack under the great columnade at the edge of the Piazza, protected from the rain at least. The kids took a hundred more photos of The Pigeons of Rome, which will figure prominently in their personal photo albums. After lunch we mailed some postcards and got ready to trek through the rain to the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican museums, which are actually a good ways away from St. Peters.

The Sistine Chapel was definitely truly amazing. The scope and talent and creativity displayed by Michelangelo there is really overwhelming, especially considering he was pretty new to the whole fresco business not to mention still fairly young. I'm glad we got to see the ceiling post-restoration because the vibrant colors make the whole thing so much more affecting. It doesn't really come across much in photos, it's of course hard to capture the scope and the enormous amounts of detail. (Post trip note: Michelangelo: The Vatican Frescoes is the best book I've found, incredibly thorough with gorgeous photographs and lengthy descriptions, history, and explanations of each part of the ceiling frescoes.) I could've easily stayed another hour or more just taking it all in. I also noted that there were several nursing toddlers and nursing older children pictured, although I have heard that some of those nursing breasts were covered up in the pre-restoration ceiling for "modesty".

We also went through the rest of the Vatican museums. The kids really loved the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman galleries, and we got the audio tour which they always love. The museum itself has little in the way of explanations or presentation of the artifacts, so without the audio tour you'd be left guessing about the details of anything there. It did make me appreciate the trend in American museums in the last 30 years or so toward more interactive exhibits with description and presentation all helping to give some context to what you're seeing. Between all of the different exhibits there at the Vatican, it's huge of course and takes hours to wind through all of the galleries, it's pretty mind-boggling. Note to parents who might bring young kids there, once you start down the one-way U-shaped museum wings, there's no easy outs. And no bathrooms either that we noticed.

Personally I liked the sculpture gallery best. I had a flashback to art history class at several points. Suddenly statues that you've only seen on slides or pages of a book are right there in front of you. I especially loved seeing Laocoon and his sons with the serpent. I was always struck by the emotion in that statue and its so much more affecting in person. Asa too found it to be very sad. She really loved the sculpture gallery of the animals, taking lots of photos there. Mackenzie especially liked the statues pertaining to Greek mythology. They were both very engaged and patient considering that we were on our feet for about 7.5 straight hours. Good thing these kids have stamina!

The kids got a kick out of these signs. Italians seem to love to use signs with drawings instead of a lot of text. I'm sure it helps in such a place where people come to visit from so many different cultures and languages. But this particular sign started our trend of purposeful misinterpretation. The kids dubbed this one "Nose Picking Allowed" and "Funky Dancers on Stairs"

Tonight we went for some great pizza on one of the small streets near our apartment. Now we're packing up to leave Rome tomorrow and head to Perugia!


Tamara said...

Robin ~ I was in Rome last February for a long weekend and the Vatican was empty! I hadn't planned on going in, and was going to be content just seeing St. Peter's Square, but there was no line!!! I'm Catholic and it brought me nearly to tears to be in there with only about a dozen others wandering around. Plan on an off-season visit someday!

Robin said...

That sounds just wonderful! Definitely September was not a great time to be seeing sights in Rome if you don't want crowds. But it was a good time for the biking part of our trip which was the main focus, but if we can ever go back to just Rome in the off-season I would love to.