Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Day Seven: Thursday (Vatican Day)

Another early day for us with Kaden getting up at before 6:30. We had our breakfast as usual and then packed a lunch and headed to the bus stop to catch the 62 bus to St. Peter’s Basilica.
As expected, St. Peter’s was huge on all scales and absolutely stunning. Like the Trevi fountain, this is something that cannot be see or done justice in pictures. It is, quite literally, larger than life. The church that sits there now took over a century to complete, with all of the great artists of the Baroque and Renaissance periods having their hand in its completion. After taking in the fa├žade (courtesy of Bernini), and marveling at the obelisk (erected in 1586 with the help of 150 horses and 47 winches), the final thing I noticed was the crowd. At barely past 8:00 in the morning, the line to get through the security checkpoint was already circling half-way around the ellipse of the piazza. Luckily for us, the bouncing of the bus had lulled Kaden to sleep, so waiting in line did not include a screaming, impatient baby.

The downside to St. Peter’s, and take note if you plan to travel there with a baby or toddler, is that we could not take the stroller or the diaper bag into the church. We had to check them in a little room before carting the monkey who only wanted to get, “Down! Down! Down!” the whole time.

We’d been especially lucky, considering we’d decided to visit the Catholic center of the universe over Easter weekend, to have avoided hugely large crowds up until that point. At the Vatican they were inevitable, and were all the hassle and headache they were cracked up to be.
For those who don’t know, St. Peter’s is built on the site where St. Peter (one of the 12 apostles) was supposedly martyred and buried. And serves as the site of many pilgrimages of Catholics.

I’d been looking forward to seeing the Vatican most in our plans for our trip, but I honestly felt a little ripped off by how commercialized it all felt. I mean sure, tourists want to get mementos and trinkets to take home with them from their vacation… but do they really need to purchase them every 50 feet in the Vatican Museums between priceless works of art and Christian artifacts? But I digress.

We had a fairly brief walk around the basilica (Kaden couldn’t decide if it was shaped like a “seew-coh”, a “s-care”, or an “Oh-boll”). I finally got to see Michelangelo’s Pieta, I’d been waiting the whole trip to see her. Then we headed over to the Vatican Museums.

Stu in front of the basilica.

The facade

The obelisk.

Below the church are the tombs of many popes. Here are a few:

Guards in silly uniforms.

Michelangelo's Pieta (the real reason I came to Rome :))

Kaden had a great view of everything.

The ceiling.

The "keys to the Kingdom of Heaven"

The alter. The canopy-like thing is Bernini's baldacchino. It is 30 meters tall and claimed to the be the largest piece of bronze in the world.

The dome.

Below the baldacchino is a plain slab of marble that serves as the alter. It is allegedly over the crypt where St. Peter's body is buried.

Saint Andrew with the St. Andrew's Cross

After waiting in line for 45 minutes, we made our way through the insane amount of Christian history that adorns its walls and rooms. It is literally too much to really see. I had sore feet by the time we made it to one end of the long hall to see the Sistine Chapel. My first thought was that it was smaller than I’d envisioned, my second was that seeing it in person was… exactly what I’d expected. While so many of the sculptures and fountains around Rome are larger and far more grand than I ever expected, the Sistine Chapel, adorned with Michelangelo’s greatest adult achievement, his Last Judgment (above the alter), and of course, the amazing ceiling, was exactly as the hundreds of pictures I’ve seen of it suggest.

Daddy outside the Vatican walls.

Unfortunately blurry, the painting in the center is Raphael's last painting. It is called Transfiguration.

Pieta, by Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini

Bibles with bling.

We made our way to the Raphael rooms through a secret elevator for people in wheelchairs (we had our stroller back by this time) and then took a wrong turn and ended up having to carry Kaden and his stroller up and down way too many flights of stairs and trekking back through the Sistine Chapel once more as the flow of traffic lets you do nothing else. I doubt that there is much of a fire code in place at the Vatican, but it was most certainly over capacity. The room was hot with the incredible amount of bodies crammed into it.

Kaden was grouchy by that point though, so we hurried a bit through the halls we’d already seen and made it out unscathed. Stu decided the Vatican was his favorite part of the trip. I’m more torn. On one hand, I will always have the memories of personally seeing some of the greatest art every created, but I was definitely more moved by the Pantheon. Whether it was because that was one of the first things we saw, or because the crowds left something to be desired of the personal experience I was hoping to have, I don’t know. Either way, being at the Vatican was the first time of our trip I felt like a genuine tourist among tourists, just there to take my photos and leave. It certainly left a bad taste in my mouth. It was supposed to be so much more. Here we were at the home, essentially, of the person we Catholics quite literally hold to be the closest person to God, and I was unmoved. Calling it a disappointment is an understatement.

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

The Last Judgement

One of the frescos on the walls, this one is Perugino's Handing over the Keys to St Peter.

One of my favorite paintings, this is by Raphael and is found in the Raphael rooms. It is called School of Athens and features Plato in the center, pointing up. He is standing beside Aristotle while a portrait of Michelangelo, as Heracleitus, is leaning against a block of marble and writing on a sheet of paper. The person of the far right in the black beret is a self-portrait of Raphael himself.

By the time we made it out of the museums it was pushing 2:00, so we decided to catch a bus back to the hotel and picnic in the room instead. Kaden fell asleep on the ride and so we wheeled him into the room and left him sleep in his stroller while we ate lunch on the bed.

Here are my boys at the bus stop, being cute faces as usual.

By this time, we’d seen everything and more that we planned to see while we were there and were all pretty ready to head back home to a more normal and less hectic daily schedule. I think seven days is about the maximum time living in a hotel can stay enjoyable. Kaden missed his toys, I missed my routine, Stu missed our car, and we all were craving a little alone time.

Poor Stu was still feeling awful, so he rested up until dinner, which he didn’t even want. Poor guy. He relented however, and we went back to our trattoria. Stu opted for an appetizer of assorted fried fare (mozzarella cheese, zucchini, Suppli, etc) and Kaden and I had my usual, but we ate inside since it was sprinkling. We had decided not to take the camera because of the rain which was a mistake as we found several things we would have liked pictures of. We found a place and bought a few postcards as keepsakes.

We were extremely lucky with the weather forecast. I’d checked a few days before we left and it was calling for rain on all but two days of our trip, and those days still had 10% chances of rain, but it only sprinkled once.

On the way back to our hotel we stopped for gelato and it was perfectly fabulous as usual. Then we called it a night and headed back to the hotel to watch CNN World (that and BBC are the only two stations in English).


  1. So amazing to see these works of art in person! Wow! You guys really crammed a lot into your trip!

  2. After reading these last two posts, I can actually feel my feet hurting, too!! haha It is a lot of walking, but worth every step, we thought. I walked the soles off two pairs of shoes while there!! Seriously...good laugh for us anyway. Glad you didn't have that much rain. We are enjoying all the posts and it's bringing back SO many memories!! Keep you and take care. Mimi and Papa