Sat 2 July
We decided to go to the Vatican today, as we thought that Sunday might be more crowded with people wanting to observe the Sabbath. So we headed off by bus, which we got off near the Castel Sant’Angelo and walked down Via della Conciliazione, all the while facing St Peter’s Basilica. When we got nearly to St Peter’s Square we were approached by someone suggesting that we went on a tour with their company, which would let us bypass the queues for the Vatican Museum and St Peter’s Basilica. The tour would cost €25 for the tour, in addition to the €20 for admission to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. It sounded reasonable to us – I certainly learnt how much more I get from visiting a site with a good guide when we toured Parramatta with Judith Dunn. We were taken over to our guide, who started giving us a talk about some background information. Some more people came to join the tour, and she kept on talking. And kept on talking for nearly two hours until there were about 24 people to go on the tour. Then she walked us around to the offices of her company (in case you want to know so you can avoid using them they were called “When in Rome tours”) so we could pay. Plus we suddenly were told that we had to pay a €10 each deposit for the headsets we were using to hear the guide, or else leave some ID as deposit. But we didn’t have any ID with us. And they would only take cash, even though that hadn’t been made clear – in fact their paper work said they “may not” accept credit, not that they would not. We then went in to the Vatican museum ticket office to buy tickets. While I was waiting I saw that tickets actually cost €15 or €8 for under 18s. So this company had ripped us off for our admission.
Once we were inside our guide raced us through extremely fast, showing us only a handful of the exhibits and galleries in the museum. Andy was very frustrated as he kept being raced past things he would like to have looked at, and Tommy was frustrated because we never went into any rooms with paintings, even though he spotted one as we raced past its entrance. I was just frantically trying to snap photos so we could look at them later at leisure.
The Sistine Chapel was really crowded, and the guards kept shouting out “SILENCE!” to the assembled masses. At least the crowds didn’t stop us seeing the ceiling, though I had no idea there were all the panels, and the picture of God creating Adam that I knew well wasn’t as big as I imagined it would be. Our tour guide said that her favourite was the panel depicting Adam and Eve being tempted with the apple and then being expelled from Eden, due to the difference in their faces and demeanour between the two incidents, and I must say I did think it was a very good panel, for that very reason.
After the Sistine Chapel our tour came to an end and we were taken past the queues to be able to enter directly into the Basilica. I have to say the tour was very disappointing, and I would not recommend this particular company to anyone, although there may be better companies out there.
We then went into St Peter’s Basilica. The amount of statuary and paintings and so on there is incredible. I really enjoyed that. Andy and Tommy wanted to climb to the top of the dome (a lift up a certain distance then 330 steps), so I could spent my time enjoying the basilica. They said the view was really good from the top, but Andy was somewhat disappointed as he expected to be able to come out inside the dome, as at the whispering gallery in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. But the climb was hard work, with very narrow spiral stairs, and at one stage the passage is not perpendicular to the floor, but at maybe a 60 degree angle, following the slope of the dome.
After a VERY late lunch we went to the Castel Sant’Angelo, which featured in “Angels and Demons”. It was really strange, with spirals, and slopes going off at all sorts of funny angles. There were diagrams that kept showing you where you were, but precious little in the way of labelling or information signs. That said, there was still more than in most place we’ve visited in Greece or Italy.
We then crossed the Ponte Sant’Angelo, with its statues of angels (one of whom had a seagull on it’s head) and wandered through the back streets and pedestrian areas until we found somewhere we took a fancy to for dinner. The meal was good, and it was really interesting to see people parading up and down the little tiny street all evening.