Day Two - Religion Day!
After our continental breakfast at the hotel, Marcy and I headed over to the Vatican for our tour. Before we left, I had decided to book an official tour through the Vatican because first and foremost I wanted to skip the line, but I also wanted an accurate description of what I was looking at. I figured the tours sanctioned by the establishment would be the best. It was also reasonably priced for what it promised (basically a two hour tour through the Vatican museums).
Since Stacey was not with us, we took a route along the Tiber to the Vatican City, which probably made the journey a little longer than it had to be (Stacey obviously knows the back streets through Trastevere). When we checked the route with the concierge, he was visibly surprised that we would even consider walking there in the first place. Sure, it was on the longer side to walk, but all in all it took us about a half hour. I guess the surprise came from the fact that a bunch of Americans wanted to walk somewhere...
Along the final stretch of the walk to St. Peter’s, we stopped for some water at one of the fountains. I never 100% believed Stacey when she said you could drink from them, but I put my skepticism aside and tried it. Apparently it flows down from the Alps! Turns out it was great water and it saved us quite a few euro over our time there.
We struggled a bit to find exactly where we had to go in order to meet our tour. The ticket I had printed out from the web was in all Italian and I had not remembered that the entrance was all the way around to the side. It ended up being quite a hike from the square, but luckily we were running ahead of schedule. There were also quite a number of cons/inquiries as to if I spoke English along the way. I had read about that, so I kind of knew to expect it, but found it no less surprising. I didn’t remember that from my first trip there, and found it kind of sad when I thought about the people that actually fall for them. Seems kind of hypocritical especially taking place outside the Vatican walls.
As we fought our way to the entrance, I started to get a little nervous that we would miss our tour. As I had mentioned, the ticket was in all Italian so we had no idea where to go. We asked security guards along the way who just kind of pointed, but eventually we found our way to an empty line and skipped all the people. We found our way inside, picked up our headsets and met our tour guide. Since this was a Vatican sanctioned tour, I personally expected a lot, and this little old lady delivered. She also had this incredible knack for fighting her way through the crowds, which there was a lot of. The museum was uncomfortably crowded, but we kept up with her as best we could. The tour guide commented on all the major/important things, but the crowds really made it hard to enjoy 100%. There were times I struggled to even hear her because tours of Spanish teenagers were yelling. Perhaps her best moment was her description of the frescos in Pope Julius II’s apartments painted by Raphael. I enjoyed her interpretation of the contrast between the School of Athens and the Disputation of the Holy Sacrament. She left us at the entrance to the Sistine Chapel, where we were on our own. It was insanely crowded. Security guards further ruined the peace by yelling at people to stop taking pictures, in addition to an automated voice recording reminding people that pictures were forbidden. Kind of made me forget it was a place of worship…
Eventually we had had enough and made our way over to St. Peter’s. We entered through the crypt, which was partially interesting because I got to see the tomb of Pope John Paul II. It was quite beautiful actually and illuminated for all to see. St. Peter’s Basilica itself was as grandiose as I remembered it. My cousin made a comment that it was kind of “gaudy” which at second thought is exactly what it is. It’s a giant monument to the power and wealth of the Vatican. My cousin’s recent travels to Israel made for an interesting dichotomy in her mind I am sure, and seeing it from her perspective was actually interesting. Especially since we followed the Vatican with a trio to the Ghetto and how little there really is to represent this neighborhood and culture. But I suppose that adds to the fact at how oppressed and confined the Jews were for so long.
We didn’t eat lunch in the Ghetto (we had stopped along the way in the Camp de’ Fiori for an incredible Panini), but we did stop for a snack. As we walked down via d’Ottavia, we found this little hole in the wall bakery that had already converted over for Passover. They had two options – biscotti and macaroons. The biscotti were “eh”, but that was the best damn macaroon I have ever had. It was warm and gooey in the middle and for the 75 cents I spent on it, it was WELL spent.
It was later in the afternoon by then, so we headed back to the hotel for a brief siesta (when in Rome!). We met back up with Stacey for dinner and she took us to this out of the way pizzeria in Trastevere that is supposed to be one of the best in Rome. Dar Poeta did NOT disappoint. One of the things I loved about it was that it was impossible to find! But again, I think that speaks to the charm of Rome. You have to do a little digging to find the real gems. The night was crisp, so we sat outside and enjoyed the scene. We shared an ensalata mista (corn, black olives, and mini mozzarella), and then had our own individual pizzas. Nowhere besides Italy is it ok to eat an entire pizza by yourself. I had one with prosciutto, mushrooms, and potatoes. It may have easily been the best pizza I had ever had and I easily finished the whole thing. We then topped things off with a nutella and ricotta pizza for dessert. Delish!