Monday, June 8, 2009

Roma: Citta del Vaticano

Our final day in room was worth the wait, though slightly rushed. We had made loose plans to arrive in Firenze around 6 or 7, which meant our landlord et al were expecting us around that time. But we never heard back from them to confirm, so we were operating as if that was the confirmed plan. Adventure ensues.

The agenda for today included a trek to Vatican City. This was day 2 without an Italian speaking guide. Moreso, this was day 1 without an enormously detailed map leading us on every step. We were forced--meaning, Paule decided it would be more productive for her to go to work than it would be for her to show us around a bit more--to find our way to the bus station, navigate the schedule that probably confuses the locals almost as much as the tourists, and find our way to Piazza St. Pietro entirely on our own.

But first things first, we needed breakfast. We decided to revisit our old haunt, and this time, I got a picture. The Gelateria Bar.

We had less trouble communicating this time. It was the same staff, they appeared to recognize us (if not our faces, at least our touristy-ness), and our Italian was a day more advanced. I may have mentioned before that Italians don't really do breakfast as we Americans understand it. There are no bacon and egg platters, no sausage, no biscuits or muffins. They have coffee--espresso, macchiatte (spell check), latte--and breakfast cookies. In a bit of foreshadowing, I will tell you our current landlord subscribes to this practice. So we got 'croissants,' which were hardly croissants in the French sense of the word. Sure, they were flaky, tasty, baked goods. But there was something missing, a ne sais quoi. These were more...croissantis - Italian croissants. Mine was filled with Nutella, which was a pleasant surprise as I expected chocolate (cioccolati?). Johnny's had what looked like Boston creme in it. He ordered what he thought was a coffee to go, but which turned out to be a tiny espresso to stay. We ate quickly and marched onward to the Marmorata bus hub. Our goal was to find Bus 23 to St. Pietro. Success! The bus was beyond crowded, but nothing was stolen.

As we wound our way through the city streets, the bus became exponentially hotter, mustier, and more full of Italian human odor. Not that I'm complaining, it is part of the experience. We took a wild guess on where to get off the bus, and were pretty close to our destination. We got off near the Castel Sant Angelos (Angel Castle) and hoofed it the rest of the way to Vatican City. We ignored our map and followed the crowd of like-minded tourists wearing baggier clothes, backpacks, and cameras around their necks. Here, we assimilated. Yet we were still approached countless times by locals offering English tours (sign #1 that we stuck out as Americans from afar).

As we reached the entrance, we discovered that we were coming in to the Vatican from the museum side (Musei Vaticani).

We also discovered that girly men in bathing suits are not allowed.

This was not what we wanted. By not wanted, I mean we wanted it, but did not have the time, nor did we want to spend the money. We went inside anyhow, and Johnny was berated by the gentlemen at the bag check counter. We got help from the extremely friendly Information lady and promptly left on our way to St. Pietro. The same bag check men, who had rudely chucked Johnny's bag onto a bag cart directly behind their seats, refused to accept his claim ticket.

Bag Check: (stern look)
Johnny: (hands them ticket)
BC: "Non."
Johnny: "What?"
BC: "You cannot have it."
Johnny: "What?"
BC: "Non. Go around." (motions for us to go through the museum and come out at the exit after the guided tours)
Me: "His bag is right there." (points at bag)
BC: "Non."
Johnny: "We're leaving. How else am I supposed to get it?"
BC: (picks up phone, speaks Italian)
Us: (confused)
BC: (grabs bag and tosses it at Johnny)
Us: (exit stage right) "Assholes."

Information lady said to hug the Vatican wall and continue to turn right until we were at the square. Easy enough. As we walked, we were approached by many of the same tour guides. We also saw some intriguing architecture (see below).

Johnny decided he was fed up with all of the prejudging tour guides who automatically assumed we wanted their help. They were almost insulting. So he decided to ready his camera and take pictures of everyone who approached us. This was much more hilarious than we ever could have imagined. As a backstory, there are people all over the place here who dress peculiarly (as a sarcophagus, as the Statue of Liberty, as Roman Gladiators) who expect you to take snap shots with them and then pay them 5 Euro (to the locals, it's actually Euro 5). The first guy, when he caught on, laughed and--despite having perfect English--talked with a thick, fake Italian accent saying "Yah, photo, 5 Euro, come on!" We pressed on, pleased with result, and the quality photograph that came of it. The next girl was actually decently attractive, and when Johnny raised the camera, she freaked out. She quickly threw her hands in front of her face and turned away. "No way," she stated, quite frankly and sternly. This is not particularly funny in the retelling, but I promise it had us laughing for the rest of the walk to the square. The icing on the cake was the cooky little old Asian lady peddling the same guided tours laughing hysterically at us trying to take the other girl's picture. Mission: accomplished.

As we entered the square, I was astonished. It is a pretty spectacular piece of architecture. Breathtaking, really. All I can really do is post the pictures. For better descriptions and titles and interesting tidbits, go to my flickr page.

There are two circles on the ground of the piazza worth noting. On each one, if you stand and look out at the pillars that surround the square (which is actually more of a circle), each of the columns align perfectly. There are also circles that denote the changing of the seasons. At high noon on the day when the season changes, the shadow of the cross on top of the obelisk in the center of the piazza hits dead center on the circles. That was a terrible run-on sentence, I'm afraid. Forgive me.

We hung around for awhile, absorbing the magnitude of the construction, then left for the Castel Sant Angelos. This sounds very romantic and endearing, but it is actually really ugly. The bridge that leads into the castle is quite beautiful, though.

From here, we eventually made our way to another bus station. It was a little more difficult here, but we found our way. We shared the bus with a group of belligerent locals who appeared to offend every woman seated within ear shot of them. They were singing and jeering, though we have no idea what they were saying.

We got home, got showered, and got organized on the train situation to Florence. We took a 3:30 fast train. If ever you are in Italy, I highly recommend a journey by train. The Italian countryside is nothing short of spectacular. Within a stone's throw of each other, you will find thatched-roof homes, old brick ruins of (apparent) farmhouses, and starter castles in the hills. Farmers and shepherds tended to their fields and flocks. Rolling hills contrast with the backdrop of rocky mountains.

The authorities on the train were nice enough to wait until just after I fell asleep to check for tickets. I was woken up with a fright. But I actually had a ticket, so there was no real scare. I got about 70 pages into Angels and Demons, which is already quite interesting. I am looking forward to learning more of the mysteries of Rome as I read (whenever I find the time).

This completes our journey to and through Rome. I'm sure I left out all sorts of things, but it is too late right now to do a summary of my thoughts. I promise that will come soon.

For now, I have to sleep. Tomorrow holds a long list of things to do. Until then, ciao.

No comments: