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Italy - France Journal
June 18 to July 4, 1998

Day Three: Saturday, June 20, 1998

Of Rome, in short, this is my opinion, or rather indeed my most assured knowledge, that her delights on earth are sweet, and her judgments in heaven heavy.
- Sir Henry Wotten, letter to Lord Zouche, May, 1592

We awoke rested and ready for a full day of sightseeing. Breakfast was served in a 3rd floor living/dining room (the hotel looks like an old mansion) and included cereal, fruit, yogurt, croissants, rolls, salami, cheese, pates and spreads and juice and hot drinks.

After breakfast, we set out for the Vatican. At the Metropolitana on Saturday morning, there were no attendants to sell tickets or make change for the ticket machines. Fortunately, we had correct change. We got on the train - crowded, smelly and hot - and headed for the Vatican. The line for the Vatican Museum was around the corner, but it moved quickly. We rented an audio guide and were on our way. The museum was wonderful! We saw the Raphael Rooms, the Gallery of Maps, the Chapel of Nicholas V, the Vatican Library and more frescoed ceilings than we care to remember. The ceilings were magnificent, especially the three-dimensional ceiling which we discovered was only two-dimensional but looked 3-D.

The highlight was the Cappella Sistina, the Sistine Chapel - so crowded we could hardly walk into the room. The Sistine Chapel is said to be the most famous room in the world, and it seemed that the whole world was there to visit it on this day. The ceiling is a "painted Bible" with frescoes depicting the creation of the world, the creation of man (the well-recognized "Creation of Adam" is in the middle of the ceiling) and the drunkenness of Noah. Other frescoes depict the life of Moses and the life of Christ. The walls are frescoed to look like drapes. The Last Judgment, a "guided tour through Hell", occupies the wall behind the altar. Michelangelo painted his own face on the wrinkled human skin in the hand of St. Bartholemew, who was flayed alive and "holds his skin" in the drawing. The entire ceiling and the Last Judgment have been recently cleaned (1994) and the color and clarity is impressive.

We ate a quick lunch in the Vatican cafeteria (the Pope was unable to join us) and set out across the street for the Basilica di San Pietro (St. Peter's Basilica). St. Peter's Square, which can hold an incredible 400,000 people, is surrounded by a curving pair of quadruple colonnades which are topped by a balastrude and statues of 140 saints. Barry noted that it reminded him of Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas! The church has the world's largest dome and is perhaps one of the most beautiful churches in the world.

We saw Michelangelo's Pieta, sculpted when the artist was only 22 years old, and visited the grottoes where former popes are buried. Then, we climbed to the top of the dome. A lift takes you halfway, but there are still exactly 300 steps - we all know how Flora likes to count steps. The view of Rome is just okay - Rome doesn't have any great views or vistas to speak of - but the view of Vatican City is very beautiful. The Vatican Gardens are expertly manicured and the whole area appears wealthy and opulent.

With our feet back on the ground, we took the Metropolitana back to our hotel stop and stopped in at Re Degli Amici for dinner. We ordered spaghetti a al carbonera, soup, pizza and red wine. We returned to the hotel at 10 p.m.

Statue of St. Peter in St. Peter's Basilica, The Vatican

St. Peter's Square, The Vatican, taken from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica, The Vatican

Inside St. Peter's Basilica, The Vatican