Monday, May 26, 2008


We took the train to Rome - 1st class. All of us were so glad we did this instead of driving. The trip took about 9½ hours, we had to change trains twice but the layovers were only about an hour or so total. The ride was comfortable and smooth with a subtle and quiet clickety clack from the tracks. It was all very nostalgic, yet very modern. You could get up and stretch, walk about (the entire length of the train if you wanted to), use any of the many bathrooms whenever needed, dine in the restaurant car (we didn't), or have a drink in the bar car (we didn't - I'm such a tea totaller anymore). The windows are large and panoramic-like allowing you to take in the views. Sadly, as we crossed through the Alps our view was obscured by fog and clouds. Happily though this wasn't the case on our return trip.

We got to our hotel completely by train (and just a few blocks of walking) and only slightly stressed. I wasn't exactly sure how to move about the city by subway, but together we figured it out. We were very happy with our hotel. We stayed in Starhotels Michaelangelo. It was just one block south of Vatican City, though we had to walk a few more blocks than that to actually get to St. Peter's Square. It was early Thursday evening and we strolled there to check it out. It was rather empty and looked smallish (TV doesn't do it justice), but we saw it later with more people and that gave us a greater sense of how packed it could really get.

After our quick look-see we went to have dinner. We chose a restaurant near our hotel - Italian of course. Payton was a little tired, but he did eventfully wakeup and eat.

Most of our dining was near the hotel. We didn't want to go far for dinner and we were tired after walking each day.

Friday morning we set out to see St. Peter's Square and Basilica proper. We started early in the morning with the hope of missing some of the crowd. We guessed pretty good and did just that.

The first thing you have to do is go through an x-ray security check. It was easy enough. It isn't like the airport. (About an hour later I had to return because I had left our stroller on the belt. The security didn't speak English (to me) and didn't seem to like being bothered with my lost and found inquiry. I was about to give up and then saw the stoller set aside.) Just past security we passed by our first photo op - Swiss Guards. I don't get the uniforms, but they looked good standing there.

I snapped my group in front of the center door leading into St. Peter's
Basilica. There are 5 sets of doors - portals - leading into the Basilica. Each has a name such as the Door of Good and Evil. This door is the Filarete Door.

The floors everywhere within seemed to be inlayed marble. You see and hear about the paintings on the walls and ceilings, but the floors are works of art too.

This Basilica is probably the largest and best looking church you will ever see. It's big inside, real big. Every surface has ornamentation. There are works of art, statues, alters, etc. everywhere. You really would need a guide book to know what you are looking at.

Look at the people in this picture. They really give you a sense of scale. The dome you see just coming into view rises around 400 ft. inside from the floor and is 136 ft. wide.

There is a tour available to take you up inside and outside the dome. We didn't do this, but if we had had more time I would have liked to go up it.

Kathleen took a nice picture of Payton saying a prayer.

After seeing the Basilica we headed over to see the Cappella Sistina or the Sistine Chapel to you English speakers out there. By mid-day the line was very long - we later found out twice as long as we thought - and it was getting warm. We decided to come back the next morning to see the Cappella.

From the Vatican we headed east into Rome seeking Piazza Navona. Our first stop was down at the Tiber River at St. Angelo's Castle. It was a nice place for a photo with the Basilica to our backs.

St. Angelo's Castle - built as funeral monument for emperors and later used as a fortress.

Payton needed the walk to rest.

From the castle Piazza Navona was just a few blocks south. We stopped there and took a break for lunch. The piazza is about 3 blocks long running north and south. Of course it is dominated by a big church on its west side

Our day was done and we headed back to the hotel. We did the usual nearby dinner. We also stopped for ice cream - gelato actually. The stuff was so good that we stopped at the same shop every day while in Rome.

Saturday morning... We were all showered, shaved or pampered and filled with breakfast. We headed out to stand in line for the Cappella Sistina. A line had already formed. Where the line started was where we thought the line ended the day before. I'd guess our wait this morning was about 4 blocks. It actually moved pretty quick and we were in the shade rather than in the sun like yesterday

We were hounded by street vendors (wanna buy a scarf, post card, all sorts of #$%&@?) and god almighty the tour group solicitors were the worst. If there were 100 people waiting in line then there were 75 tour group solicitors there to solicit them. "Take our tour and skip the line". We must have been asked this a hundred times. No. No. No. NO. NO. NO! NO! NO! After a while you just give them a dirty look and be rude to them.

Some advise - take the tour if you want. It might be a good thing. On your own you won't know what you'll be looking at, but how do you know they do? You'll be on their schedule, not yours. The tour is about $40 USD ($20 for admission and $20 for their services). The museum (and the Sistine Chapel) isn't open on Sundays except for the last Sunday of the month. On this special day admission is free. If you go to the museum on this day and take one of the tours, don't pay $40!

We finally got into the museum and it wasn't long and I was separated from my group. I didn't meet up with them until the exit. Have good walking shoes because you will be walking this way and that way, up these stairs and down those, turning here and turning there. Whew, it was a lot of walking with something to see 360°.

Check out the barrel ceilings. Awesome.

The Cortile del Belvedere (Courtyard of the Belvedere).
The Sphere Within Sphere sculpture in the center of the courtyard.

The Sistine Chapel is near the end of the museum. Sorry no pictures are allowed in the chapel. Afterwards Kathleen bought a nice coffee table book that shows and explains all of the paintings in the chapel. It would have been handy to have while actually in the chapel.

After the museum we took the subway down to see the Colosseum. If you read my earlier post about our trip to Montpellier, France you know that we toured a Roman colosseum in Nimes. We figured this colosseum wouldn't be much different so we just gawked from the cheap seats.

We came, we saw, we were tired! Back to the subway and the hotel. We had time for dinner and one last stroll into St. Peter's Square before dark.

Back at the Square Pope Benedict XVI was working late on Saturday. The Pope's residence and office is high above, and just off, the Square. I understand he speaks from these windows most Sunday mornings.

We were told that if you placed your foot on a paver in the Square and said a prayer, you can then think of that paver as your own.

Kathleen's Dad, Kathleen and Kathleen's Mom
claiming their pavers.

Finally I come to the end of our trip. On Sunday there was time for Kathleen and her parents to attend a nearby church and then we headed for the train station. It was time to go home.

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