DM and MM's Italy Trip Diary

Day 4 - Roma

Wednesday, 2 May, 2001

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First things first. We got up just before 07:00 to be ready for our breakfast. We filled up again on the various goodies on offer. There were a few different varieties of sticky pastry, but otherwise nothing spectacular. Michelle tried a bite of a roll spread with Nutella for lack of Vegemite and decided there was simply no comparison. We'll have to remember to bring our own Vegemite on our next trip overseas.

Looking out the windows at breakfast it looked like the day would be a bit cloudier than the past two days, which have been uniformly sunny, and quite hot for walking around in all day. A bit of a cooler day with mostly cloudy conditions seemed like a boon.

Immediately after eating we trekked across to Roma Termini to visit the supermarket in the terminal building and buy some supplies for lunch. The idea of spending the equivalent of $10 or more on lunch each day made us think we could do a lot better by buying bread and fillings and making our own sandwiches. We checked out the various weird and wonderful foreign products (like the chocolate corn flakes and the 2 kilo jar of Nutella), then loaded up with some nice soft bread rolls (a very nice change from the hard ones at breakfast), edam cheese, and ham slices for me. I also bought some shampoo and Michelle grabbed a big bottle of water, and we took an apple each to go with lunch.

We returned to our hotel room to make up the sandwiches, then left for the walk over to the CIT tourist office on Piazza della Reppublica, getting there just as it opened at 09:00. We spoke to them about our incorrect train tickets and, after a bit of mix up where the woman who should have helped us had to call over another woman who spoke English, they suggested we try the CIT International office over on Via Barberini. Since this was not too far away we walked over there and explained our problem to them. The woman there was as helpful as she could be, offering to e-mail CIT Australia with our details and find out what they will do about the incorrect tickets being issued. Since the Australian office had just closed we will have to wait until tomorrow to see what the result is. That gives us just tomorrow and Friday to try to get things sorted out so we can be on our way to Milan on Saturday.

That out of the way, we hopped on the Metro from Barberini to Lepanto, across the river. We walked south towards the Palazzo di Giustizia, then around that to the road leading between the river and the Castel Sant'Angelo towards Basilica di San Pietro and the Vatican City. The views of the famous basilica were amazing, with the long approach along the road giving us plenty of time to appreciate it.

Castel Sant'Angelo
Castel Sant'Angelo, with Basilica di San Pietro in the background

As we got closer, it became apparent that there was something happening in the Piazza in front of the basilica. We were walking towards some sort of huge congregation in the square when Michelle said, "Is that the Pope?" I looked up at the basilica, thinking someone was standing out on a balcony or something, then looked down and saw that a man who indeed resembled John Paul II was seated at the top of the steps leading into the basilica, reading a speech of some sort in Italian and being shown on four large video screens around the square. "Um, yeah, it looks like," I answered.

An intimate audience
Pope John Paul II giving a public address

We never worked out exactly what was happening, or why, but it seems we were fortunate enough to have picked a day to visit the Vatican when the Pope himself was giving some sort of audience and blessing to a large group of pilgrims from several different parts of the world, out in public. The unfortunate thing was that this meant the basilica itself was closed to the public for the morning...

Basilica San Pietro
Dome of the Basilica

Making the most of it, we walked around the corner to the Musei Vaticani. The queue to get in to the museums snaked around two corners along the street but thankfully moved fairly quickly. Once inside we were thankful for the air conditioning since the day had turned out fairly hot despite some patchy cloud cover.

The da Vinci Sphere
Courtyard of the Vatican Museums

We tried to take advantage of our knowledge from the Lonely Planet guidebook that we should try to get to the Sistine Chapel first thing and then take a more leisurely tour around the collections, rather than follow the "compulsory" suggested itineraries. Spotting a sign that promised the Sistine Chapel we headed off thinking we were clever, but discovered we were on a long and tortuous tour through various other things before we could get to the chapel, with no way of turning back or escaping from the straightjacket itinerary. When we realised this we slowed down a bit to take a look at some of the amazing stuff we were passing because we knew there would be no way to get back to it again later (without enduring the same long-winded tour-of-no-escape).

Vatican Library
The Vatican Library, inside the Museums

Eventually we got to the Sistine Chapel and entered probably the most crowded room I have ever seen. Wall to wall people, all milling around and looking up at the ceiling, bumping into one another. I have to say though, it was worth it. The frescoes by Michelangelo were absolutely stunning, with rich vibrant colours thanks to the recent resoration work, and brilliant detail all over. We stayed a while, admiring all the many details of the artwork, then left to finish the ridiculous "suggested" tour route before finally emerging near the cafeteria, where we ate our lunch.

Madonna and child
Stained glass window in the Vatican Museums

After lunch we took a more leisurely stroll through the Egyptian antiquities collection, which was brilliant. There were absolutely ancient stelae, more modern mummies, and Roman-era statues among the pieces. One highlight was the 10 or so statues of the lion-headed godess Sekhmet, taken from a temple originally housing 365 of them - one for each day of the year. We then went on to the art gallery where the paintings included impressive pieces by Raphael.

Ra Ra Ra!
Ancient Egyptian stele in the Vatican Museums

By this time we were getting tired and decided to go see if the Basilica di San Pietro was open yet. It was, and we spent a fair while inside, wandering around the huge open spaces within and admiring the various paintings and sculptures which included Michelangelo's wonderful Pietà.

St Peter's - landscape
Inside St Peter's Basilica

Our final destination was the lookout on top of the basilica dome, which was accessed by a very long series of steps (we eschewed the additional LIT1,000 cost for the lift ride which takes you about halfway up). The stairs near the top were very steep and tightly spiralled, making it rather disorienting, and when we emerged at the top the balcony was crowded shoulder to shoulder with people, making it difficult to get a good view and impossible to line up a photo with someone in the foreground overlooking the marvellous view of Rome we had.

The Pope's view
View of Rome from the roof of St Peter's Basilica

We decided to call it a day for sightseeing and head back to the hotel to drop off our bags and go out for some shopping. We got back about 18:00, leaving us an hour and a half until most shops closed. We walked over to Piazza della Reppublica again and down Via Nazionale to check out the leather and clothing shops. Michelle spent a lot of time looking at things and I spent time fiddling with our phrasebook trying to figure out things like "We're just looking" and "I'm waiting for my wife". Unfortunately as soon as any of the shop assistants noticed we hesitated answering their Italian they immediately switched to English, giving me no real chance to practise my Italian. At one shop though I sat down while Michelle looked and an assistant said I looked tired. I said we'd just spent the whole day at the Vatican and she started asking about our trip to Italy. I tried a few Italian phrases and had the first real feedback and feeling of progress with the language so far.

At one shop Michelle found a nice red leather jacket which she thought would be a good gift for her sister Kylie, so she tried it on for size and eventually bought it. Soon after the shops began closing and we turned for home.

We stopped for pizza for dinner at a restaurant and I tried a bit more Italian on the waiter after we settled in and he'd determined that we spoke English but were happy to try Italian. The poor guy had what sounded like two other Australian women at the next table, who insisted on using the "speak English loudly" approach to foreign communication and didn't seem satisfied with the dinner they ordered. Michelle had a margherita and I had a diavola pizza and we tried the aranciata which turned out to be a rather good fizzy orange drink, tasting more like fizzy orange juice than artificial and oversweet orange flavouring.

Following dinner we headed straight back to the hotel, showered off the day's grime and sweat, and turned in for the night.

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