Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rome: Part Two, The Vatican

7:00PM March 3

I next headed off to the Pantheon, the oldest standing domed structure, built in roughly 126 A.D. as an inclusive temple for all gods. In the seventh century it was converted into a Catholic church and has been used as such ever since. I’ve had a hard time trying to capture the artwork on top of the domed structures that populate Italy, but I had a great time playing with the light that shines through the top of the Pantheon to get a few different looks of the ceiling. There were some nice statues inside, and I took it all in for a while, just sitting in the pews.

The Pantheon Dome

There weren’t many other places I was desperate to check out on Friday, so I just wandered around for a good bit. I meandered towards Piazza Navona, which had some cool buildings on its periphery. I really loved the fountain, with a lion and horse leaping out from opposite sides. At the south end of the piazza, another great fountain portrayed mermen blowing water from their two-pronged horns. What I found particularly wonderful was, in clear sight of each other, I could watch three different musicians playing guitar, some singing, some not, and two of them playing with classical guitars. Then, just as I was leaving, a little jazz band set up at the south end of the piazza with a sax, keyboard, guitar, bass, and violin, playing Autumn Leaves.

The fountain at the center of Piazza Navona

I walked around for awhile, taking in the city, going in no particular direction, and then I decided to go see the Vatican at sunset, seeing as it lay on the west side of the city. I had originally planned to save the Vatican for Saturday, but I didn’t have anything to see that day, so I headed over for a first viewing and to get information on the museums for the next day.

Notice the large Vatican wall on the left

I wondered how the Vatican was dealt with as a separate country and whether there was any kind of border security. Indeed, there was not, but, maybe in case of invasion, there was a massive wall, probably forty feet high, which surrounded the city-state. As I approached the Vatican, I walked down streets bearing signs which read “zona extraterritoriale.” St. Peter’s Square was really magnificent, perfectly symmetrical, and as grand as any Piazza I’ve seen. It was everything I could imagine, being the center of the Christian world. I did not get to see the sunset though because it was hidden behind the church.

In St. Peter's Square

St. Peter's Basilica

Rather than leaving it till Saturday, I decided to go in and check out St. Peter’s Basilica. It was really splendid: far more gothic and grandiose than anything I’ve seen. It even put the incredible Siena Duomo to shame, which I guess is to be expected of such a building. I was lucky enough to be there during the last service of the day, which included organ. I slowly worked my way past the immense artistic displays, a bit overwhelmed, eventually taking a seat in the pews at the front to witness the end of the service. Regardless of my beliefs, it was a real special experience.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica

I found out that the museums opened the next day at 8:00AM, and I then returned to town in search of a meal and a chance to rest my sore feet. As I walked down through the city, representatives from every restaurant approached passers-by, trying to entice them into a meal, but as I was alone, nobody stopped me once. I was in search of a decent looking place with a crowd that might make me feel more comfortable and less watched-over as a single. After about an hour of walking around, looking for just the right place, I came to a restaurant which met my criteria, and I definitely caught them off guard as I requested “uno.”

Nonetheless, my server was really gracious, giving me as much attention as any of the larger parties around me. I think it helped that I spoke a bit of Italian with him as well. I ordered lasagna for my first course, making up for not ordering it the other night. When my server brought it out, he asked me if I liked my food spicy, and following my confirmation, he sprinkled some hot peppercorns over my lasagna. It was really pretty good, and the spice was much stronger than I imagined, but I wouldn’t say it was anything better than I might make myself. Per the request of someone back home, I got fish for once as my second course. Florence is a bit inland, and I wouldn’t necessarily trust what is fresh there, and my roommate Sean had such an awful fish experience in Venice that I declined to go that route while I was there. Rome seemed like as safe a place as any to get fish though, so I went with the grilled swordfish. This was really excellent: one of the best dishes I’ve had in Italy and a nice departure from pasta. In order to give my sore feet more time to rest, I got some tiramisu for dessert. It was very good, but I’ve definitely had better. As much as anything, I found it instructive to give me more ideas about how to perfect my own.

After dinner, upon the suggestion of a friend, I walked to the hostel back by way of the “Wedding Cake” and Colloseum. I’m glad I did, as both really looked spectacular at night. The lighting schemes for these large buildings were brilliant; the Colloseum even used a little blue tint.

I got my first hostel experience that night, sharing a set of bunk beds with seven Germans. I don’t know if it was my blond hair and general ethnic appearance, but they asked me if I was German as well in a combination of Italian and English, to which I confidently replied, “no, sono americano.” I would have liked to talk more with them, but I was pretty tired and planned to get up early the next day to make it out to the Vatican Museums upon their opening. The hostel itself was really fine. The bed wasn’t particularly comfortable, but it did the job and kept me safely off the streets at night.

Castel Sant' Angelo as seen from the Tiber, walking towards the Vatican.

On Ponte Vittorio Emmanuele

Yes, that's a boat still stuck in a tree, from December's flood.

I love the juxtaposition of old and new. What do you think Panasonic paid for that contract?

St. Peter's Square

Walking amidst the pillars around St. Peter's Square

Sunset over the eastern wall of the Vatican

Ice-skating outside Castel Sant'Angelo

Tempio Adriano

The Trevi Fountain at night. I went back to throw my coin over my shoulder.

The fountain in the piazza outside Palazzo del Quirinale, home to the Italian figurehead President (currently, Giorgio Napolitano.)

Ed. note: The Viareggio Carnivale video is now embedded within that post.

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