Day 36: The Sistine Chapel

I slept in for the first time in a long time but still needed to get up and moving to find a shop that printed documents (my Sistine Chapel reservation required a printed out copy). After wandering around aimlessly and trying to communicate with locals as to what I needed, I finally found a shop that could help me out. With some time to spare after printing out my reservation, I walked into a few churches along the way to Vatican City. At one point I stood atop the Spanish Steps and found a site unfamiliar to me from my first trip to Rome; the Fountain of the Old Boat (“Fontana della Barcaccia”) in front of the Steps was closed off for repairs and had been all dried up. After all the detours, I was ready to see the Vatican Museums. Until a few weeks ago, I had no idea the Vatican had museums to go along with the creme de la creme of the Sistine Chapel. The museums were surprisingly good. In one corridor, a few replica statues of those found in St. Peter’s can be found but overall I was impressed by the massive, detailed mosaics built into the flooring and the paintings dedicated to Christianity. One painting in particular caught my eye; it was a rendering of the Garden of Eden with over 240 species of animals housed within the framework. In a short term exhibit for their canonization, I saw pictures of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII, which included one humorous photo of St. John Paul II skiing as well as one of St. Mother Theresa and him together. Down a 120 plus meter hallway are frescoes of all the regions of Italy, including the cities, lakes, and mountains that inhabit them, painted on the walls (I found it neat looking for the cities I have been to or wish to travel to on these maps). I continued on, following the signs towards the Chapel, but did not want to rush the experience when such great artwork lay just outside the Chapel walls. While reading some of the descriptions about the frescoes, I was stunned by the number of years involved in painting such masterpieces. After 2 and a half hours, I was ready to see the Sistine Chapel. After taking my initial steps through the Sistine Chapel doorway, I snapped a quick photo of the ceiling and got sniped by security, who told me I had to turn off all devices. I knew the likelihood of getting away with it was slim but I still got my photo. While the whole Chapel was constantly being hushed, I stood there contorting my head to get the best views of the ceiling. On center stage in the middle of the ceiling is the Creation of Adam. I don’t know why but I always thought the painting would have been larger. Still, I knew I was witnessing a key piece in history. The Last Judgement covered the whole wall behind the altar and had an amusing scene in the bottom right corner. Michelangelo painted the whole Sistine Chapel with all the people nude but the cardinal at the time ordered all the bodies to be covered up. Michelangelo gave in, but not entirely. In the lower right corner of the wall beside the altar is the cardinal himself wrapped up by a snake with the snake’s jaws clenched around the man’s private area (I couldn’t help but chuckle at this hidden amusement from the famous artist). The whole chapel was extremely impressive but I couldn’t help feeling somewhat disappointed. I guess anything that is hyped up that much would disappoint anyone to some degree. Certainly the constant surge of tourist groups traipsing through the area did not help matters. My favorite church in Rome from my last visit was still on my to do list but I had no idea which church it could be (kind of a difficult task in a city of 900 plus churches). Based on descriptions, I headed in the direction of Santa Maria in Trastevere hoping for the best. Before entering the churches doors, I needed some food, specifically pizza. I ate at La Renella, which doesn’t have the traditional thin crust pizza margherita but has thick crust pizzas that you order by weight with a variety of toppings. I got one with prosciutto and cheese as well as fiori di zucchini, a bizarre pairing of huge orange petals topped with cheese and anchovies. Not only did the fiori pizza look incredible and mouthwatering but ended up being one of the better pizzas I have ever had (it is definitely getting added to my foodie bucket list and hopefully attempted once back in the kitchen). Sadly, Santa Maria was not the church I anticipated but was still incredible like most others in Rome. The reason I wanted to see this one church so badly is that it has an angel or saint on the ceiling that is always staring at you regardless of where you stood in the church. Before going into St. Peter’s Basilica I had my last Giolitti’s experience (for now!). I got only one cone but made it count. I ordered fragola, visciole, and ‘more’ (blackberry, which I never had before) with crema on top (duh). I savored each and every last lick. Gelato is amazing to begin with but the magic and freshness that Giolitti’s puts into their elegant gelato raises it to another level. I can literally taste the fruit as if it was still hanging from the stem. Giolitti’s doesn’t try to hide their flavors behind loads of sugar; they let the fresh fruit shine. I met a couple Australian girls who were having their first Giolitti’s experience; they could not believe they had been missing out on something so heavenly. I have made it my mission to spread the gospel of Giolitti’s to the masses. Speaking of preaching the good word, I went to St. Peter’s square and found nearly no one in line at 6 pm. If I had arrived a few hours ago, I would have been waiting in a long line for at least an hour minimum. Being the clever or lucky guy I am, I walked straight through security and into the Basilica with not a moment’s wait. Even though I had been in St. Peter’s before, the church still amazed me with its size and colorfully detailed marble. The famous statue (Michelangelo’s Pieta) of Mary holding the lifeless Jesus after he had been taken down from the cross stands behind bulletproof glass. The history inside these walls can be surprising to witness regardless of how many times you walk through the home of Catholicism. On the opposite far side of the church is a skeleton covered in a cloak with one bony hand raising up an hourglass reminding us or maybe just me, how man succumbs to time and that we must make the most out of our time on earth. Down a hallway to the sacristy is a large tablet with the names of all the popes written down starting with St. Peter. Surprisingly the Pope before the current one is not listed and obvious gaps in the years do not make sense (maybe during the Great Schisms and Avignon Papacy?). After taking further time soaking in the enormity of the building, I found a chapel with Pope John Paul II’s name on the altar for what I believe to be his tomb. I took some time in silence within the chapel before saying goodbye to the Basilica and working on getting back to the hostel. The day was still young but I was the most tired I had been in the trip. My feet were sore with some sort of blister forming and the thought of actually sitting down sounded so inviting. I went to see the Trevi Fountain on the way back but unfortunately the fountain was a complete and utter letdown. The area was fenced off for repairs with most of the statues of the horses and Greek gods covered up. Nevertheless, I still threw a couple of coins over my shoulder into the dried up fountain to bring me back to Rome once more. After this, I was done; I desperately wanted to teleport to the hostel. The thought of crashing in an alley with the homeless began to sound appealing just so I could give my legs a reprieve. With my tattered and fading map, I got lost and began to get extremely frustrated. I started walking numerous figure 8s around Piazza Venezia near the Vittoriano Monument only to routinely arrive in the same place. Thank goodness I ran into some friends from the hostel to temper my hot head. They told me they found Giolitti’s easily with my directions and loved the gelato. They tried pointing in me in the right direction but it was hopeless. Continuing on, I asked a couple of Italians on the street to give me some sense of direction. I got so fed up with being on my feet so I quickened my pace into a jog just to get it over with. After dodging a homeless man spitting in my direction and being tempted by cold beers in the passing shop coolers, I arrived at the hostel tired and sweaty. In search of relief, I jumped into the shower before the big U.S.A.-Belgium game would start. Before and during the game I met girls from Oregon and Australia and two guys from England. While joking around with them, I tried figuring out what on earth I was going to do tomorrow. I was wavering between seeing Scanno, home of some long lost family, and the Il Palio in Siena. Honestly, I preferred the idea of Il Palio but I did not like my chances of finding a place for my luggage while I waited in the crowded piazza for hours before the main event would arrive. Eventually, after some advice from my family, I chose to attempt to see some family I had never met. Not only had I never met them before, I had no clue if they were in the city to begin with, what to expect, or if I could find a place to stay the night. I did my planning and hoped for the best. As time progressed further and the hopes of salvation for the U.S. National Team waning, I talked all things football with the guys from England (the English are truly mad about football!; plus, I couldn’t help taking some jabs at their national team after their lackluster exit). With the disappointing American loss behind me, I was finally able to get some rest before my early departure to Scanno from the Rome bus station.

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