Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tuesday, 31st October – Rome

No surprises from the landlord today so we headed off earlyish to Vatican City. We were warned there would be a queue, and given the crowds at the Forum yesterday, we were a bit trepidatious. So when we arrived at the Vatican Museum we were not surprised to see a very long queue snaking around the corner. However it moved very quickly and we were inside within 40 minutes. Somehow queueing never seems as bad if you’re actually moving. We went to the Vatican Museum first, which is a huge museum (4 miles of corridors) containing the collected artworks of the Vatican through the centuries. As with everywhere else in Rome, the labeling was a bit sparse, but we enjoyed admiring Roman statues and reliefs, Egyptian antiquities, tapestries, maps and paintings. You follow a set course through the museum (with lots and lots of people, including large tour groups) and finish up at the Raphael rooms (rooms with huge frescoes by Raphael – sorry, impressive but not our taste) and the Sistine Chapel, which is, of course, magnificent, but our enjoyment was somewhat depleted by the crowd (huge room, with wall to wall people – literally) and the security guards' constant calls of “SSHHHHH” and “No Photos!”

From the Sistine Chapel, Rick had told us of a secret shortcut straight to St Peter’s Basilica (saved us about a 15 minute walk), so next thing we knew we were there. It is an amazing building, by far the largest church in the world. You can climb the dome (300+ steps) but we decided we just couldn’t face another steep, narrow, crowded climb). Tomorrow (Nov 1) is All Saints Day, so the church was getting set up for a big service, which meant we were only allowed to skirt the edges, so we had a distant look at the dome, the sculptures and the enormous altar by Bernini. We were intrigued by what looks like huge paintings to discover they are in fact all mosaics. Actually the most interesting part of the visit was watching the staff on little electric cars wildly gesticulating at tourists who strayed into the forbidden zone.

After a quick look at the Piazza San Pietro (also getting set up for the festivities) we decided after a grueling day we’d head back to our room for a siesta. We had well and truly had enough of the crowds, and figured we had done the “must-sees” so the rest of our time we’ll just have fun. After a well-earned rest we headed to Campo dei Fiori, which is a fresh produce market by day and a lovely open space for strolling by night. Nearby is a restaurant which Rick had recommended which was quite an experience. They have no menu – their motto is “You eat what we want to feed you” – and we had a very enjoyable, tasty and huge 4 course meal including wine for €21. It’s quite funny to sit down and just have food brought to your table.