Monday 16th April 2012
Kate was supposed to go into work at 9.30am but decided to work from home today. Thank heavens as jet lag was kicking my butt and after trying all the tricks I knew to get to sleep, it had finally only kicked in around 4am. I only surfaced around 11am and crawled out of bed around noon.
I got myself going by stopping in to a little shop for a cappuccino and a croissant, I rather like this morning (afternoon in today’s case) tradition. The cappuccino definitely made me feel better and my eyes were able to focus better on the subway map I was trying to decipher.
Subway Tickets Get Confusing
After living in Seoul, Korea for 3yrs, with a subway map known to be the most confusing plate of colorful spaghetti of all the world’s subway maps, I figured Rome’s would be easy. Well it turned out not to be the map that was confusing but rather the ticket. I managed to figure out how to buy one from the machine but then spent a good 5min unable to make the automated ticket taker… well take it. I looked exasperated and managed to catch the eye of a lady heading through, she indicated I flip the ticket over… of course it had to be that simple. I had tried every variation except that one. Jet Lag, I blame the jet lag.
Technically speaking while Italy became my 31st country, the Vatican City would make 32. Even though by my own rules I have to spend a night in a country, to do this I would have to sleep under a statue or on a bench, which might be frowned upon. So I am claiming an exception to my rule. (Please note I also claim Scotland and Wales as exceptions, cause they are just too different from England to be lumped together). I have very strict rules and since they are mine, well, guess that means I can bend ’em 🙂 .
I took the subway Metro A to Ottaviano stop and followed the masses in, what I assumed, was the direction of the Vatican. I figured I was heading in the right direction when I started being accosted in multiple languages by tour guides, yup definitely the right direction.
There were so many people, it just blew my mind. We had to line up and go through metal detectors, I kind of wished I could get them to stamp my passport or something.
Hundreds of People
Good To Know
The sight of The Vatican Building took my breathe away. Everywhere you turned you saw stunning architecture, statues and art.
The Obelisk from Egypt was brought to Rome by Emperor Caligula in 37 AD. It originally stood in his circus on a spot to the south of the basilica, close to the present Sacristy.
Sixtus V had Domenico Fontana move it in 1586 to the center of St. Peter’s Square
It is also a sun dial, its shadows mark noon over the signs of the zodiac in the white marble disks in the paving of the square. The obelisk rests upon four couchant lions, each with two bodies whose tails intertwine. (from: St. Peter’s – The Obelisk)
One of my favorite things were the cardinal points marked on the floor around the obelisk.
St. Peter’s Basilica and Cupola
I decided to head towards the right and follow the signs saying “Cupola”. The entire time I was standing in line I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the wall art and statues and everything… kind of made me wonder what it cost to tell you the truth.
I was debating between the 7 euro to take the elevator or the 5 euro to take the 320 stairs. Right before I got to the pay window, merrily thinking I could take the stairs no problem, I realised it was 7 euros and 515 stairs. 2 euro saved you from 195 stairs. I promptly found 2 more euros and happily paid it. I am sorry feeling as jetlagged and exhausted as I did even 320 stairs were going to be an effort, and they nearly killed me when I finally made it.
The first section was only a couple of steps and I was greeted by an up close view of the inside of the Dome itself. Words cannot express how spectacular it was, here are some pics:
It was all going smoothly until a bottleneck at the exit to the next section caused a jam. The area we had to walk on was a narrow elevated, fenced off walk way that ran half the dome. The most annoying part is that the exit was half way along the walk way and instead of spreading out everyone just crammed in on the first half where you entered. Finally pushing myself through the crowd I found myself with ample room to relax and enjoy the other side almost alone, even sitting down and writing in my journal while we waited.
Finally getting through the door to the next section we were greeted by the remaining 300 steps in the form of a vertigo inducing circular staircase. It never seemed to end.
But at the top you forgot how tired you were as you stared out at Rome spread around you as far as the eye could see. The weather was perfect with clear blue sky and only the occasional puffy white cloud. Once again, photos are the only way to do it some justice:
St. Peter’s Piazzo
Another Side of Rome
Heading back down the winding staircase, I stopped off at the gift shop to pick up and mail some postcards. I also picked up something I could use as a Christmas ornament, a small Olive Wood Rosary. I started this tradition a few years ago, collecting a Christmas ornament from every country, one day, when I have my own place, and my own Christmas tree, I can relive my adventures as I decorate.
Since it was such a nice afternoon, I found an out of the way corner and wrote in my diary and people watched.
Couchsurfing is a fantastic resource for any traveler. You can find free accomodation with locals or offer crash space and meet travelers or, one of my favorites, you can browse the groups section and meet people or post for meet ups.
On this particular occasion I had posted on the Rome group saying that I was traveling and would love to meet up with anyone who wanted to do some touring together. Earlier that day I had got a text from a local, by the name of Alfonso, who offered to meet me and take me on a tour of some ruins on his Vespa…. Alfonso and his vespa… it’s almost TOO Italian. I wanted to look round the Vatican a bit more but after the severe sensory overload that is, the church of St. Peter, I decided to take him up on his offer.
A Little Splash of Holy Water
Vatican Guard – You Have to be a Real Man to Wear These Colors
Vespa Tour with Alfonso
I met Alfonso at one of the metro subway stops. I had to wait for him outside a burger king or mcdonald’s or something and kept seeing these guys walking up and wondering if that was him, since I had no idea what he looked like. Some people would think I was crazy for meeting a guy I have never met or even spoken to and going on a tour with him. These people may say “who knows what his intentions are…”. But, some days you have to trust and go with it, some of the best experiences are made that way. Eventually this, very Roman, good looking guy walked up and made a call…my phone rang. Alfonso took to me to grab some lunch and insisted on paying. He also explained, apologizing profusely, that he was just on his lunch break and had to work till 7.30pm or they would fire him. So I gobbled up my sandwich quickly.
Alfonso and his Big Bike, not the Vespa
We chatted a bit and he talked about visiting Thailand, which then became talk about the sex trade in Thailand, and how he would never pay for it, as it wouldn’t be the same, and how he had met a girl who was a worker (but not in that sense) and they had hung out… I just sipped my coffee and watched this rather bemusing hole being dug deeper. Some people may have taken offense to where the conversation headed within the first 5minutes, but I could tell it was innocent.
There was a bit of a lull in the conversation and then he asked if I wanted coffee. I asked if he didn’t have to get back to work soon, he figured coffee would be ok, just a few minutes late is no problem.
Then he decided since he was running 5 minutes late he may as well just take me on a quick tour of some of the local archaeological sites he was working on. He was trained as an achaeologist and turned out to be an endless source of historical facts. As we whizzed past one site after the other he gave me a rough run down of their history, you could tell he was loving being able to tell these things to a receptive audience. It also turned out he used to race bikes and that little vespa sure could whip in between the cars and trucks at top speed. I think I spent a lot of the tour gripping onto him for dear life with my eyes closed. But when I opened them the sites he took me to were spectacular, unfortunately we never got off the bike, so I didn’t get any pics.
The Shifting Hand…
About 15min into his tour he started shifting my left hand from his waist to his hip. I kept shifting it up he kept shifting it down. I kept thinking to myself, “if I feel anything enthusiastic I am going to injure him”. After almost an hour of the shifting back and forth he stopped to show me another site and also explained that he had injured his ribs in football/soccer practice. Hahahahha oops, and here I was almost breaking his ribs with my death grip.
In the end he dropped me off at Kate’s house at 6.30pm, so much for his day at work. When I asked, he simply said that he was already late and they would get over it. We said cheers and he said maybe we can get together again for dinner.
What a ride, literally, you don’t get any more Italian than that afternoon!!!
Meeting My Crazy Seatmates
I had about 30min to rush back to the house and get changed to go meet the 2 crazy girls who had sat next to me on the flight. We were meeting at the famous Spanish Steps for dinner.
It was great to see them again and they told me all about their adventures thus far. From the exhaustingly long day at the Vatican and Museum where they saw the Pope, to being picked up by a rather drunk priest who invited them to a Bishop’s Ordination, not usually for public viewing. They nearly fell off their chairs when I told them about Alfonso and my Vespa tour. Got to love the experiences you have while traveling!!