A Tale of Two Cruises - early winter 2009 travel blog

street market

St. John Lateran


getting in the door

Appian Gate

Palace of Justice

St. Peter's from the Tiber

St. Peter's panorama

Vatican Museum



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St. John Lateran

It was still dark when it began to sound like someone was remodeling our room from the outside in. The work continued for quite some time and we could hear voices chatting in that agitated way that Italian always sounds. When we finally got up and opened the windows, we looked down on a street market that had been assembled during the night. It was a lot of work to put up all those awnings and shelves and load them with good stuff. We could have bought vegetables, knock off bags, cheap jewelry, shoes and some of that black clothing everyone is wearing these days. When we returned this evening, it was all gone as if it had never existed. I hope they're not going to put it up here again for tomorrow.

The first time we came to Rome our tour took us to fourteen churches in a day. I found the churches here to be uplifting works of art. Ken yawned a lot. So today we thought we'd see two of the best. St. John Lateran was THE church here until St. Peter's Basilica was built. It is located right outside one of the gates to the city on the Appian Way. The main body of the church is lined with huge marble statues of all the major saintly players in Catholicism from back in the day. Each one would be a significant work of art on its own, but surrounded by all the gold decorations, carved wood choir, three dimensional paintings, mosaic pictures, etc. etc. the total effect was overwhelming.

Outside the church agricultural workers were gathering, getting ready to protest the latest EU decisions as regards their work. After twenty years in the EU, individual countries have gotten used to using the uniform currency, but there is still great resentment when decisions are made centrally that seem to interfere with “the way we do things here.” For example, EU guidelines specify the length and circumference required for a pickle to be sold. As we tried to get back on the subway, more protestors clogged the station. A strong police presence was also evident, but things seemed peaceful. It seems like some group has been on strike every time we've visited Italy.

A longer subway ride put us near the Castle San Angelo, which was built in the Dark Ages as a fortress, but became a part of the Vatican. Since Rome was regularly threatened by invaders, the pope needed a place to hide until the coast was clear. It might have been fun to go inside and climb to the top for a great view of St. Peter's, but it is closed on Mondays.

Instead we walked some of the bridges across the Tiber and got great views of the Castle and St. Peter's. In the last ten years the Tiber has been reclaimed as an attraction. People bike and skate along both sides and row down the middle. It is also possible to take a short boat tour or dinner sail there.

But the primary destination today was the Vatican Museum. We have galloped through this museum a number of times, pausing briefly to observe what the guide pointed out. My memories center mostly on making sure that all our student travelers made it through the place without getting lost. I always wanted to see it at my own pace, pausing at what looked interesting. Ken yawned.

The museum is immense and the primary reason most tourists go there is to see the Sistine Chapel. It has been restored since we were here last and I have seen pictures of how much brighter the paint is after it has been cleaned, but the chapel was so dark, I could hardly tell the difference. Thinking about Michelangelo up on the scaffolding portraying many stories from the Bible boggles the mind, no matter how dim the light. In the rest of the museum there was a large collection of Roman statues and other marble monuments. We were surprised to see as many statues of women as men and each face looked unique and real. These folks could have been living in my neighborhood. There was also a long hallway hung with huge tapestries depicting various religious scenes, some quite bloody and brutal. Many heads have been lost along the way in God's name. Another hall was decorated with huge maps of the known world, mostly spots around the Mediterranean. There was an Egyptian room full of mummies and carved figures. In brief the popes were avid collectors and the museum shares an iota of what the Vatican owns.

St. Peter's Basilica is around the corner from the museum and last time we were here we could just walk in for free. It was like St. John Lateran, only much more so. Some say it's the largest church in the world. We would have paid the entrance fee, but the security lines for getting your bag checked were huge. After touring the museum we sat in the piazza and waited for the lines to shorten, but it was clear that wasn't going to happen any time soon. Our feet felt as if we had walked around an entire country, and since Vatican City is a separate country with its own stamps and army, one could say that we had. Enough holiness for the day.

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