Day 3: Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel

This seemed like the perfect opportunity to write a blog post because I’m seasoning my new wok.  I don’t know if anyone knows anything about seasoning steel cookware, but it is not a trivial process and it involves a lot of waiting around for things to boil.  So working on a blog post in between checking my wok is perfect!  🙂

It was fully dark as we walked back from the Pantheon, but all of the main streets were still well-lit and full of vendors and restauranteurs either selling goods or trying to get you into their restaurant.  Despite my best efforts with the street map of Rome I had, because the streets were so windy, unlabeled, and kept changing names every few blocks, I got us turned around a couple of times.  Mike took over with the map, and we still got turned around a couple more times before we ended up back at the hotel.  Fortunately Mike has a good sense of direction because he wasn’t able to get anywhere based on the map either.  Our experience that night showed us that we should definitely get an early start for Vatican City the next day, because who knew how difficult that might be to find?  And Vatican City tickets sell out far in advance, so I had bought ours online before we ever went to Italy.  They were tickets for 1:00pm, and I wasn’t sure how much of a stickler the Vatican was for promptness.  If we showed up at 1:15pm would they tell us we were too late?  I had no idea.

Regardless, the next day we set off for the train station an hour and a half early.  Based on my internet research there was a subway we could take from the Roma Termini station that would get us close to the Vatican.

I’m going to go off on a tanget here for a second.  One of the most difficult things about navigating in Italy was that the street names and bus stop names and district names were all so un-American sounding.  It definitely seemed to make a difference in our brains’ ability to remember the stops.  I found myself constantly checking and re-checking the street and bus maps to make sure that I was remembering our stops correctly.  It’s very strange the way our brains work.  Since all the names were still named with Latin-based names using the alphabet I knew, it seems as though it would be just as easy to remember Italian bus stop names as English/American ones, but it wasn’t.  Strange.

Anyway, tangent over.  🙂

We found our metro stop underneath Roma Termini station.  It was crazy.  Subways underneath the station, trains coming into the station, buses all around the station.  Roma Termini was definitely well-connected!  The subway arrived very promptly and was a smooth ride.  It was definitely crowded though!  It was standing room only and I found myself wedged between Mike, a pole, and another woman’s grocery bag.  The ride to the Vatican stop was short, though… only about ten minutes.  We got off at the specified stop and looked around.  We were definitely in a different area of town!  We could feel the difference.  It felt a lot more… familiar.  Familiar in the sense that there weren’t arches and basilicas and fountains around every corner.  Familiar in the sense that the streets seemed wider.  It felt more like a thousand year old place instead of a couple thousand year old place.  However, there still weren’t any good, modern street signs.  Apparently road signs just weren’t a Rome thing.  If you have to ask, you probably shouldn’t be on the street.  😉

Regardless, we wandered around a little bit and realized we weren’t really sure what we were looking for.  What did the Vatican look like exactly?  Given that it was its own country I think I had been expecting something wild and crazy and totally different, but I didn’t see anything like that.  Soon, however, Mike and I saw a sign pointing towards the Vatican so we started going that way.  Then we climbed a bunch of stairs and found ourselves facing a giant, old-looking wall.  Apparently we had approached the Vatican from the back.  We walked along the wall and saw a door up ahead.  Aha!  We had made it.  Five minutes before 1:00pm.  We were in time.

The guy at the ticket counter barely glanced at our tickets, though, so I don’t think he would have noticed if we were late.  We actually had to go through an airport scanner-type metal detector and show our passports.  I wasn’t expecting that, but I guess it is a different country!

Once we entered the Vatican we weren’t exactly sure where to go.  Somehow I had expected that the main thing there for us to see would be the Sistine Chapel, but apparently there was a Vatican museum and a lot of other halls and chapels.  Although we were tempted to just follow the signs to the Sistine Chapel, we decided to pace ourselves and take our time looking at the museums and other halls there.  The first museum we went through was a sculpture museum and had lots of crazy old sculptures.

A picture of Mike taking a picture.  :)

A picture of Mike taking a picture. 🙂

The kind that everyone has seen in books that are big and white and shaped like men and horses.  Lots of those.  Then we went through an art gallery that had beautiful big paintings, many of them showing religious scenes but many others just painted by popular artists of the day.

At the Vatican museum

At the Vatican museum

The colors were surprisingly bright and vibrant given how old everything was.  Maybe they have some kind of restoration process for old paintings?

The Garden of Eden... I think

The Garden of Eden… I think

After about an hour of wandering through the Vatican museum we decided it was time to see the Sistine Chapel so we started following signs in that direction.  We discovered very quickly that it was not as easy as just going through a door into the Sistine Chapel!  There seemed to be miles of halls and corridors and chapels between us and the Sistine Chapel, each of which had lots of artwork, both paintings and sculptures, in it and lots of ornately painted walls and ceilings.  As we entered the first chapel, we saw a giant sign saying ‘No flash photography’, and almost simultaneously we saw a flash go off over to our left and another one straight ahead.  🙂  We kept entering new chapels and I would whisper to Mike, “Yeah… this one must be it!”… but nope.

Nope... not the Sistine Chapel.  Just another random chapel on the way to the Sistine Chapel

Nope… not the Sistine Chapel. Just another random chapel on the way to the Sistine Chapel

It was just another random and ornate chapel.  So weird!  Somehow you think with something like the Sistine Chapel that it will be the only thing in the entire area that looks like it (it is famous after all, right???), but it’s not.  You find yourself awestruck by a hall with lots of paintings on the ceiling, and you’re straining your eyes to see if you can see the only familiar (at least to me) section which shows God reaching down to touch Adam…. and you’re not sure whether you’re looking at the famous Sistine Chapel or whether you’re looking at another random but very similar chapel!  Crazy!  We entered one hall that was really long (I couldn’t actually see the end of it), and the whole ceiling was covered in gold!

Gold ceilings... maybe I should coat our apartment ceilings in gold leaf?

Gold ceilings… maybe I should coat our apartment ceilings in gold leaf?

“This must be it!” I whispered to Mike, looking for some sign of the God reaching out to Adam part of the painting.  But, nope.  Once again, this was just a random chapel… not even the one we had specifically come to see!

As it turned out, though, when we got to the Sistine Chapel we knew it.  There were big signs that said ‘No Photography’.  Given that we had seen a ‘No Flash Photography’ sign in most of the halls before but had still seen flash photography, I suspect that what the Vatican really meant in the Sistine Chapel was ‘No Flash Photography’, but the only good way of enforcing that was to say ‘No Photography’ at all.  But we were fine with no pictures.  The battery in Mike’s camera was getting low by that time anyway.  So into the historic, famous Sistine Chapel we went!  Despite the Good Will Hunting scene in which Robin Williams makes reference to the smell of the Sistine Chapel, I didn’t smell anything particular in there.  It smelled old… a little musty.  But not unlike any other part of the Vatican buildings we’d been in.  It was pretty crazy and cool, and I can’t imagine how Michelangelo painted all of that.  It looked like SO much work!  The God-and-Adam scene that I’m used to seeing is only a small part of the whole ceiling.  Definitely cool!

After that we emerged from the Sistine Chapel into a little cafeteria area where you could buy pizza, sandwiches, and nutella crepes.

I should make a small detour here to talk about nutella.   I’m sure most of you have at least heard of nutella, but it’s apparently a European thing.  Good luck finding peanut butter anywhere in Italy (or Germany, according to Mike), but every place has nutella!  There are little containers of nutella at all of the breakfast places next to the jam, some of the desserts in the restaurants center around nutella, and nutella crepes are hugely popular.  Mike said he’d had some in Berlin, and here in the little Vatican cafe, there was a nutella stand.  And the only thing they sold was nutella crepes.

The Nutella Stand

The Nutella Stand

Mike bought one.  It seemed like the right thing to do, in the spirit of being in Italy.  🙂

Afterwards, we looked around at the Vatican a little more and discovered the carriage room where they keep all of the ceremonial carriages and cars for all of the popes through the years.  Some of them were insanely ornate, and others were more discreet.  I got a kick out of it that there was a pale blue Volkswagen Beetle in there.  It looked completely out of place next to all of the carriages and Mercedes Benzs, but a placard said it was a gift from the Volkswagen company and part of a limited edition of pale blue Beetles.

As we emerged from the Vatican, we saw that it was starting to rain and all of the street vendors who had been selling sunglasses and purses when we approached the Vatican were now selling umbrellas.  Seriously.  How do they make the change that quickly??  And they were all in league with each other and were even selling the exact same umbrellas.  Mike and I kept close watch on our wallets and cameras!  We walked around to the front of Vatican City to see St. Peter’s Basilica before we left… it was amazing!!

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica

By the time we took the subway back to our neighborhood it was already starting to get dark.  We stopped for dinner at a little well-lit bistro and had our usual fare of roasted veggies, insalata mista (mixed salad), and (for Mike) roasted chicken.  We relaxed and took our time there since we’d been on our feet most of the day.  The bistro was only a few blocks from our hotel, and when we left it was a little rainy and very windy.  We almost walked past our hotel because it wasn’t lit up like it usually was.  Cautiously we walked inside and found that the front desk was crowded with people.  Apparently the power had gone out due to some construction a couple streets over.  The woman working at the front desk was clearly an American, because she spoke fluent English with a very pronounced New York twang to her voice.  Of course she spoke fluent Italian as well.  She assured us that they were working on getting the power back up as quickly as possible.  We were unconcerned.  Mike had a flashlight app on his iPhone that allowed his iPhone to function (temporarily) as a flashlight, and I had two downloaded and unwatched episodes of Downton Abbey on my Kindle Fire.  Time to relax, hunker down in the darkness, enjoy the wind and the rain, and watch some Downton Abbey!  🙂  It was a really fun evening… it felt very adventurous to be in an old Roman hotel with no power.  And no water.  Because, as we discovered after watching a Downton Abbey episode, there was no water coming out of the faucet in the bathroom.  Apparently an electrical pump brought the water up or something.  Regardless, it started to feel even more like an adventure.  Although we both agreed it was a little more pleasant of an adventure before we lost water.  🙂  We fell asleep to the sounds of the wind and the rain and the very peculiar but distinctive ambulance siren.  (There seemed to be ambulance sirens frequently during our time in Rome… I guess just because it’s a big city.)

I woke up with a start around midnight and realized that the lights had just come back on and the wind and the rain were still going crazy outside.  I peeked out the window that we left cracked open during the night and watched the rain for a minute and felt the wind gusts on my face.  There were no clothes on the laundry lines where I usually saw clothes… no surprise there!

A Dark and Stormy Night in Rome

A Dark and Stormy Night in Rome

Mike drowsily reminded me to turn the water off since it was now coming out of the faucet.

To be continued…

Back in the modern here and now, I actually got a little cooking done this weekend and Mike and I are getting back on our normal schedules!  I made Brown Rice with Broccoli and Chicken and it was really good!  The fresh thyme and the toasted pine nuts really made the dish!  Although I wasn’t sure how to ‘toast’ pine nuts, so I just sauteed them in a little olive oil on the stovetop.  In retrospect I probably should have popped them in the oven.  Either way they were good.  🙂

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4 Comments

Filed under Italy trip, Travel

4 responses to “Day 3: Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel

  1. Good job remembering the scent of the chapel! Even if it didn’t smell like anything much but musty and old! 🙂

  2. Nate

    I get turned around in the parking lot at Home Depot. This looks like a very good honeymoon. You had me in suspense with the subway. Whould you arrive on time? Would you be late? Would you get lost?

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