Thursday, September 17, 2009

Italy Day 2 - 28th August 2009

Our second day in Rome was also our first full day and did we pack a lot into it ?

Well yes, we packed a lot into it.

We may not have walked far, but most of it seemed to be upwards. Considering we went to The Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica, then that seemed apt although I never really felt closed to God at any time.

I've decided not to post lots of standard photos as they'd be just that, standard. I didn't actually take that many inside the Basilica as I wanted to just enjoy the experience of being there. Yes I took a few to remind myself I HAD been there but they weren't very good and there are plenty of professional ones out there if I want to see all the building details again.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. On the way to our usual shuttle drop off point near the Mouth of Truth, we were at some traffic lights when a film crew sped across the junction. I didn't have much time to take a photo but snapped this one through the front of the shuttle bus just in time.

Maybe it was a remake of Roman Holiday but more likely it was a for a tv series.

After we exited the shuttle, we walked the few yards to a bridge over The Tiber and we decided to walk to The Vatican by following the route of this capital river. We went down a flight of stone steps to river level and part of the decision to follow the river was because we knew it had to be flat - and we realised we'd have a lot of climbing to do later on. Oh hell yes.

This part of The Tiber wasn't navigable with a series of weirs and boulder filled sections but later on, it became much more of a city centre river with tour boats and pleasure craft aplenty.

We climbed up more steps to road level as we approached The Vatican City walls and walking along a typical narrow Roman street, we saw more examples of iconic Italian parking. Why park one small city car in a parking bay when by going in front ways, you can park two ?!

Motorbikes and these small town cars dominate the little traffic that exists in central Rome so like I said earlier, there must be some sort of very effective congestion system in place to keep others out. It certainly made for lots of examples of unusual parking practices !

As we approached the end of this narrow street, we could see a broad thoroughfare at right angles to it and once there we turned left and this was the view before us.....

Having been brought up a Catholic, it was quite something to finally see St. Peter's Basilica with my own eyes. With the clear blue skies and the stunning white marble of the Basilica on the horizon, it was enough to make me stand and stare at it, not quite believing I was really there. It was a Grand Canyon moment and I never thought I'd ever get another one of those again.

Thankfully there wasn't much traffic going by and even the tour coaches were stopping over on the left of the wide road. This meant I could walk halfway across the long pedestrian crossing and stop to take that photo.

After entering St. Peter's Square and taking some more photos and video clips, we joined the long line of people queuing to get into the Basilica. We got a little bit of hassle from people trying to get us to go onto their tours to avoid waiting in line but we already knew that the line would move along quickly and that was the case. Just as well as we were in the direct sunlight for all the time and it was HOT there.

I had taken some long back golf type over trousers with me in case my knee length shorts were deemed too short for entry to St. Peter's but thankfully I was let in without having to put them on. I'd advise men to do this as you really don't want to be turned away after going to all the effort of getting there and yet wearing long pants for the rest of the day in Rome would be awful too. I thought bringing lightweight over trousers was a brill idea. They'll be called my 'Vatican Pants' forever more.

Once through a fairly basic security check, we were inside the huge main doors of the Basilica and wow....what a feast for the eye the inside was. In a way, St. Peter's is just too huge to give any sensations of religious peace, tranquility and closeness to God. There wasn't even much peace as there were no requests for visitors to 'keep it down a bit' and so the level of general chit-chat was quite offputting and spoiled the overall experience for me a bit.

I had hoped to take an iconic shot of a shaft of light coming at an angle through one of the many windows and illuminating an individual in deep contemplation - but that didn't happen ! Ah well, I can google for such an image I guess.

After spending a while exploring the cool interior, we went back outside into the heat and joined a much slower moving queue to go up to the top of the Basilica dome. You could pay one fee to get the lift up the first part or pay a bit less and climb steps from the start. We took the lift !

You exit onto part of the Basilica roof which affords limited views of Rome but these are mostly obstructed by the building itself. From here you climb a few steps and pop out inside the dome itself and as you walk around it, you look down on the ant sized visitors down on the floor.

Then you really start a narrow climb to the top. At one point it's very obvious that you are going up the side of a dome as the wall on the left pushes you over to the right and you really feel the 'dome shape' as you climb the very narrow steps. Sad to say that a fat person, never mind an obese one, would never get up to the top.

Hell the sheer number of steps would probably kill them before the narrowness did ! We were sweating profusely and had to stop to get our breath several times.

Once out at the top, the whole 'getting up there' effort was instantly forgotten. Once again it was a view I'd seen so many times before in photos and on tv but to see it and experience it with my own eyes, well it was something special.

I tried to take some panorama photos as the view before me cried out for one and I put up one effort on an earlier post. Without a tripod or monopod it wasn't easy but the single image above is a good substitute.

As you can imagine, it was very tight up there with all the other tourists wanting to be taking photos too and none of this helped poor Stephen who has both acrophobia and claustrophobia so kudos to him for actually getting to the top with us. He had to do it a few more times on our Italian trip as we went up more towers than on a normal trip abroad as Italy is that sort of place. Well done, mate.

On the way back down you are under pressure to keep going and not hold people back but I let the person ahead of me get some distance away and here is a shot I took to show just how steep and narrow the steps were in places and believe me, these were some of the easier ones as they were below the sloping dome level where you really were pushed over at a severe angle while climbing/descending.

Once on ground level again, it was 3pm and we went for a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant. Fortified by sandwiches and pop, we headed around the outside of the Vatican walls to the Vatican Museum which provided entrance to The Sistine Chapel.

Here there were no lines but security was tight and I was stopped from taking photos inside the impressive foyer. I even had to delete the photo I'd already taken.

We only wanted to see The Sistine Chapel but the museum complex cleverly takes visitors on a very long one way system so that you visit loads of other places before you can get to The Chapel. Photography was allowed everywhere UNTIL we got to The Sistine and inside there, several attendants ensured that no photos were taken AND that noise was kept to a reverential level. I'm not sure why they bothered really when there is no such restriction in the main Basilica.

I found many of the long corridors leading to the Sistine Chapel just as impressive so here is one photo to show what I mean.

Much as I would've loved to have taken photos inside the Chapel, in many ways it was right to ban them. For one thing, it forced everyone to simply admire the paintings without trying to capture them as memories for later viewing. Again there are plenty of professional photos to be found if you want to do that. It was actually a relatively small room, considering it's where all the cardinals meet to elect a new pope.

So we stood and took in the stunning masterpieces of the best of the Renaissance artists like Raphael, Botticelli and of course Michaelangelo. It was wonderful to actually see the ceiling panel containing the Creation Of Adam with the iconic fingers almost touching.

Oh ok here is a copy I've nicked of the internet.

What a day; what experiences; what views and what incredible artistry we'd been privilaged to see for ourselves.

It was a day to live long in the memory for sure.....but I'm still very glad I have my photos too !!!


Daphne said...

I loved walking along the river, no people about, rocks and boulders - - and then a short time later seeing the view of St Peter's. Wonderful. The climb to the Dome was well worth it - - and the Sistine Chapel was amazing, even better than I'd hoped. But then - - so was Rome itself. Thank you for bringing that wonderful day back so vividly.

rhymeswithplague said...

Huzzahs continue....really remarkable posting, Ian, for a provincial like myself.

Silverback said...

Oh now Bob you could be in Atlanta in a few hrs and posting for us about that wonderful city.

Thank you for your kind words though.

Jennyta said...

Love the photos, Ian.

rhymeswithplague said...

Please tell me why it is called St. Peter's square when it is so obviously St. Peter's circle....

Actually, I could be in Atlanta in about 45 minutes.

jay said...

I had lots of bits saved up for comment here, but they've all gone out of my head in favour of OMG!! THERE'S NO HAND RAIL!!

I would never in a million years have got up those stairs, but if I had, they'd have had to airlift me down. Kudos to Stephen for going through that!

I know what you mean about the Grand Canyon moment - that's the only other thing I remember wanting to say. LOL!

Debby said...


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