|Maximum capacity 4 adults or 380 kg's. At least that's what it says on the inside plate of the tiny little elevator at the Pop Inn. Now I got to thinking, I weigh somewhere in the neighbourhood of 100 kg's, and if there were 4 of me in there - well it would be good to know what the safety factor is. And what if three guys like me got in carrying 20 kg backpacks? Well, I suppose the lift was there long before the hostel was, but it does make you wonder. Kristine won't even ride in it, using the excuse that the stairs are healthier. But who can pass up an experience in those little European lifts with all the funky doors you have to open and close yourself?
I have a recommendation today that I am pretty certain I won't be making anywhere else. And it is this. When in Rome, choose to stay near the train station. That's right, get a hotel near the train station. I know what you're thinking. Every train station in the world is the biggest rat hole in the city, and the first thing everyone does when they arrive is get as far away as possible. Yet with Rome, it just does not make sense. This and many other things make this city more interesting (and in fact, more obligatory) than almost any other place on the planet. In fact this is probably the only city where you will completely ignore the grand churches (well except for one particularly well known one) in favour of the many other significant things there are to see and do.
Living next to the station is perfect. Here, you are at the intersection of the two metro lines and all the rail lines. The station is so huge that it has it's own grocery store, from which you can source all of your requirements. A drugstore handles anything that might be missed. There is a large selection of food outlets with decent, cheap ready made eats, and there are internet cafes and laundromats all at your fingertips. Those venturing further for their accommodation are paying over 200 Euro a night, and still have to get a cab to go where they want to go! Trust me, the station is where it's at, and once you get over 50 metres or so away; after all the drunks, beggars, and touts, you'll swear by it every time.
This is my second time here - Kristine's first. I will admit that this lends itself to a certain degree of efficiency that might not otherwise be achieved, but even seeing things here again was like seeing them for the first time. Some things were firsts for both of us, like the absolutely magnificent Borghese Gallery which should not be missed by anyone alive on the planet. Bellini's sculptures are contained within the most sumptuous of buildings, and each of the perfectly massaged stones comes alive with every scrape of his knife. My favourite is the disturbingly named "Rape of Proserpine" which is an absolutely masterful example of baroque sculpting with every minute detail of the human form perfectly described, along with the capturing of the exact moment of tension in the scene. It's jaw dropping; as are almost all of the other pieces in the museum to end all museums.
We worked our way through the rest of the city; the Coliseum, The Roman Forum, The Old Roman Palaces on Palantine Hill, Circus Maximus, The Capitol Hill area, Campo de Fiori, The Panthenon, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. Of these, it was most interesting to watch Kristine approach the Panthenon and the Trevi Fountain. It was like watching a child coming awake from a grade 9 social studies class dream as she instantly recognized these great works. Amazing and fun. The Panthenon of course is as incredible as ever with its amazingly well engineered dome that is lager in breadth than St. Peter's. This was accomplished by making the blocks thinner (and consequently less heavy) as the structure builds upward, and finally by making the upper stones from pumice so they would be lighter. Ingenious. Roman engineering. Built to last. Well almost.
And it never ends. There is always more to see here. The other big attraction of course is the Pope's house, and the back yard museum where he keeps his billions of dollars worth of sculptures, paintings, wall hangings, and grand rooms. The Vatican museum is certainly great, but now that I have seen the Borghese, I would almost subordinate everything there with the exception of the rooms done by Raphael and of course Michelangelo's masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel (Which my brother still likes to call the 16th chapel - for years he was wondering where the other 15 were...). I could linger for days in the Sistine - and almost just as long in some of the Raphael rooms. The ceiling of the Sistine is so perfectly painted and so rich in texture and content, that as you move around the room, neck crooning upwards, you can't help but see new things, and think new ideas every minute of the tour. Michelangelo was a rebel; an amazingly talented one. Indeed, Raphael was jealous, sneaking peeks at his work when he wasn't looking.
And then you simply spill out from the Sistine into St Peter's - the world's largest and certainly most lavishly embellished church. It's so huge, the other side looks like a painting because of the distance. One day, they'll need a bus to get people from one end to the other. A highlight here was the newly installed sarcophagus of John Paul, possibly the most beloved Pope of modern times. He has been placed right near St. Peter, a testament to the respect this great man had. Or should I say politician... Really that's what the Pope's are - just leftover Roman Emperors for a new time. Today they wield their power through the Church rather than by working (sort of) with elected senators as they did in Roman times. As luck would have it, we were here on a Wednesday and Kristine managed to secure tickets for the Wednesday morning audience from the local Swiss guards.
Another first. Last time I was here, we arrived right after the Easter Mass, so we were too late. This time we got to hear Ratzenberg do his stuff as he read a passage about St. Paul's conversion to Christianity - in 5 languages! The dude is talented. He's like a rock star for Christians really. One thing I did like is that he got rid of the bullet proof glass on the wagon, in defiance of forced isolation created by fear. I think it is a very symbolic and important move. Yet, what is he but a popular guy? Give him a guitar and he's just like Buddy Holly or Elvis or whomever. 1.1 Billion Catholics in the world. And some were here today from all over (according to the announcements). What a machine. You'd think with a following like that (and the inevitable money that comes with it) the Vatican would be able to do more to rid the world of simple things like poverty or hunger for example...
But I must admit we did not stay for all of the German and Spanish parts. We had to go find our Swiss army knife that we stashed behind a column because we couldn't get in with it. Or else there would have been no lunch. I found it ironic (In a non Alanis Morisette way) that the Swiss Guards would not allow Swiss army knives into the site. No one else found it funny though...
So there you have it. Rome. It must not be missed. Rick Steves calls it "Something that you really don't want to do but have to do while you are in Italy". I disagree. Compared to some of the other places on this planet, the crowds of Rome are a joy. They are alive. They are the people. And just as in Roman times, the mob still rules.