On our last day in Rome, we planned a tour of the Vatican with a private guide. We used Paola Barbanera and were so pleased that we picked her! It was just me, Steve and Paola and the tour lasted about 3.5 hours and was worth every penny (I think we paid around $350 for the tour). First, she met us outside the Vatican wall at the museum entrance at 9am and she was right on time. After that, she walked us straight inside – no line, no buying of tickets, no waiting. We were inside, we went directly through security and were on our tour by 9:10am.
She took us through the Vatican museums and pointed out everything of interest and all major sculptures, works of art and other masterpieces. What I found the most interesting was that the Vatican houses so many ancient works, including mosaic floors taken from homes in Pompeii, columns from the Forum and a massive pinecone statute that was unearthed from right behind the Pantheon hundreds of years ago and came from an ancient palace. There are even statue’s from Cleopatra’s palace just sitting around. Without a guide, we would have walked right by most of these items and never known their significance. It’s just a massive collection. Paola also took us underground to a small but interesting portion of the museum that was completly empty of people – the storage for all of the Pope’s vehicles, including the famous “Pope Mobile”, the antique horse drawn carriages from years ago and the car John Paul II was in when he was shot.I’m not a “car person” but it was interesting even to me.
The Vatican rooms were also interesting, with my favorite being the ornately decorated “map room.” Beyond that, the hallway narrows and you start the wait for the Sistine Chapel, which is quite small but stunningly beautiful. Paola sat us down outside beforehand and had a large diagram of the Sistine Chapel and explained all the panels, interesting tidbits of history, the painting method and the recent restoration before we entered. After a short wait, we ducked through the small doorway and were in the chapel. It really was stunning and much brighter than I expected. No pictures are permitted and that is strictly enforced so I have no pics to share but here is one from online. There is one small spot left on the ceiling that remains unrestored so you can see the before and after and I couldn’t believe how dark and sooty the ceiling used to be. There is a debate about whether the ceiling now looks too gaudy but I prefer to see it the way it would have looked when Micahelangelo painted it. We stayed in the Sistine Chapel about 15 minutes just admiring it.
After the Sistine Chapel, you would think it’s all denouement from there but then you head into St. Peter’s Basilica, which is mind boggling in terms of size and ornateness. Everything you see that looks gold, is gold. What appear to be paintings are actually intricate glass mosaics – each one apparently took 20+ years to make. I had no idea that St. Peter’s can hold over 50,000 people just inside – I was agog at the sheer size of it. Personally, I think there are other churches and cathedrals in Europe that are much prettier (Rhiems Cathedral; St. Vitus; St. Chappelle; Notre Dame, etc..) but the overwhelming size of St. Peter’s makes it worth seeing. When you add in St. Peter’s Square, they can have over 350,000 within the church square. I also didn’t know that they mummified the popes after they died and had some of them on display where you can see their corpses. I found that a bit macabre and while photos were allowed it struck me as disrespectful so I didn’t take any of that.
I did take photos of what I most wanted to see there – Michaelangelo’s pieta, which was as lustrous and glowing as I hoped it would be. She is behind glass now because some crazy person went after her with a hammer a few years back and caused extensive damage. They put her back together and it’s a sight to see.
We walked into St. Peter’s Square which is almost too big to photograph. You used to be able to go upstairs to an outdoor balcony overlooking the square to get great photos but they have closed it to the public for security reasons. We said goodbye to Paola, grabbed a taxi and started thinking about really important things…like food.
Undecided, we had the driver drop us back off near the apartment and then I remembered reading about a great local neighborhood across the Tiber River called Trastevere. So, we headed that way on foot and we ended up loving that area. It was a maze of winding, cobble stoned streets, crumbling buildings with window boxes overflowing with bright flowers and so many intimate cafes, trattorias and bars. We finally picked a random place where we could sit outside in the shade and ordered some huge Peroni beers, pasta and pizza. Steve declared it his favorite pizza ever – I couldn’t believe he ate the whole thing! I even got him to smile for a picture.
We ate so late (I think we finished lunch close to 4pm) that we ended up just ambling around, had an afternoon nap at the apartment and then grabbed a light cheese and charcuterie plate from our organic wine enoteca around the corner. They next day was an early start to catch a train to Naples and head to the Amalfi coast and I was so excited to finally visit one of my dream destinations!