Thursday, November 18, 2010

551 steps

Today, our last full day in Rome, we rounded off quite nicely by going to the Vatican City, St Peter and the Vatican Museum. Firstly, for anyone ever wanting to go to these Cities, and even the Collosseo or Pompeii, do not be fooled by the people who tell you that they will help you skip the line and take you through these places as a guide. Collosseo – just get a Roma pass, you’ll be through in half an hour at most. Pompeii – no lines, and unless you want someone to take you to each section and give you a history, you can cover everything yourself. They do have audio guides available, but I have very happily got most of my information from google or the boards they put up at the sites. Vatican City – REALLY don’t be fooled. They sell the whole “do you have a ticket, look at how long the cue is” thing. The fact is you don’t need a ticket to go into the Vatican, or in St Peter. You’ll pay 5 Euro to go up the 100s of steps, and then 12 Euro for the museum. Roma pass does not count here, and except for the first line, there were no lines at the other entrances. The line you see stringing along across the piazza is because you have to put your bag and jacket through an ex-ray machine and walk through a scanner. This cue goes pretty fast – we were standing in a cue of probably about 250 people, it took us 15 minutes to get through. And then the rest is carefree. Once again, if you want someone to give you interesting facts while you’re walking through, you could probably use them, but there is an audio guide as well.
Now, wow, St Peter. Of all the buildings and places we’ve been, I think this one is the best one. The paintings along the walls, in the ceilings and even on the floor are beautiful. The museum has many rooms with statues, paintings, carpets (these were pretty amazing in themselves as well), maps painted against the wall, but to me, the architecture and decoration of each room we went through was definitely more interesting than the actual contents of the room. The first room in the museum we entered only had Egyptian things in it. There seems to be a link between Egypt and Rome, google will have to tell me more.
How much fun we had on the 551 steps! You can climb all the way to the top of the Basilica, apparently it is 551 steps. If you felt like it, you could take a lift half way, and then only climb 320 steps. My CycleLab racing team husband (to my surprise, since usually this is the stunt I would pull), decided that we will see how fast we can climb all 551 steps. The first 320 went pretty quickly, I reckon not even 5 minutes. Then you are inside the basilica, at the top, looking down on the crowds of people inside St Peters. The view here is beautiful, and you get a close up view of the paintings and decorations on the ceiling. Then came the next 321 steps. These take you into the roof and eventually right on top of the basilica to look out over Rome. Tall people should be warned, these steps were definitely not designed for you. The first half is pretty straight forward, normal steps zig sagging up. The second half is a bit trickier. Because you are inside the dome section of the basilica, and the steps are all along the wall (and not in the middle), you have to climb the steps while walking at a skew angle. The last 10 or 20 steps you almost have to pull yourself on a rope hanging down, since they are tiny, go in a tight circle and are pretty steep. But the outside view is worth it! The climb down was enough to make any non-drinking person drunk. Probably the first 200 steps down were in a winding circle down all the time. When you eventually get to straight steps you feel like you are still winding!
Rome has a lot to offer. Two must see sights are the Vatican (and its surroundings like St. Peter etc.), and the Collosseo (including the Palentine). As for the other churches and sights, they are all amazing, and they are all beautiful. But to go and look at church after church and be wowed by each different church is not something I would want to do. You need to take some slow time to really breathe in the Italian culture – stop at the locals’ coffee shop, go walk in the street at night when everyone is out shopping, and take the Metro, often. Go into a Deli shop to buy Parma and Parmesan (which is divine!), and go shopping in a clothing store. To me I will be taking home not only the sights and the awesomeness of the architecture and the city, but also the experience of the people and their day to day living.

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