Our main event for our second day was the Vatican. We had booked a guided tour directly through the Vatican Museum at 1:30 pm, so we had some time to kill in the morning.
We got up after a fitful night’s sleep, our bodies still very confused about the time change, and enjoyed a great continental breakfast in the Hotel. Which brings us to coffee. The waitress sized us immediately and offered caffe americano (watered-down espresso from an Italian’s perspective). Refusing to be stereotypical American tourists, we ordered caffe lattes instead, which were delicious. Within a couple of days we realized that you are supposed to drink cappuccinos for breakfast, so we switched (also delicious). You don’t drink cappuccinos later in the day, especially forbidden after dinner. (Note: Lattes have milk but no foam, cappuccinos have lots of foam and a tiny bit of milk.)
To complicate the coffee buying experience, you also have to understand that there is no take-out. People in Rome don’t walk around with drinks. If you want something to drink, you go into a cafe and drink it there. Next is what does your drink cost? This is determined by where you drink your coffee (this also applies to gelatos and other drinks at cafes where seating is available). Cheapest if you stand at the counter, more if you sit inside, and even more if you sit outside. We had cappuccinos for as little as €1.30 at a museum and at the airport, and as much as €6.00 sitting in a cafe. If you are going to stand at a counter, you have to pay first, and carry your receipt to the coffee bar to order your coffees. These rules are not unique to Rome. They apply throughout Italy, Spain, France, etc.
After breakfast we strolled to the Vatican to see the crowds lining up to enter St. Peters. We were approached frequently with offers to skip the line by joining a guided tour – which is apparently a good business. We had our tickets to the guided Vatican Museum tour, so we passed. We headed north out of St. Peter’s square and walked around the outside walls of the Vatican City State, to the museum entrance. It’s a long, hot, hike to the museum entrance with the sun beating down on the concrete sidewalks and walls, so we stopped along the way for a cappuccino – the most expensive one of our trip. Finally getting to the museum entrance, we left Italy as we walk through a gate in the wall and enter the 110 acre Vatican City State, the smallest country in the world.
Our two hour guided tour of the museums and Sistine Chapel turned out to be a one hour introduction (lots of talk and pictures of the Sistine Chapel), a glimpse of the gardens, and a fast walk through the museum halls with just a few stops, then the tour ends as we enter the Chapel. If we do it again, we would buy the audioguide and do our own pace… The place was packed with tourists, especially the Chapel. Photos and talking are not allowed in the Chapel, so there are guards yelling out every few minutes for everyone to shut-up and stop taking pictures.
About all I remember of the museums are the bronze pine cone, the Laocoon statue, the Raphael rooms, and the hall of maps. The Last Judgement wall in the Sistine Chapel, painted by Michelangelo, is incredible. He started painting this twenty years after completing the ceiling. The ceiling is less impressive in person than in pictures, just because you are further away and the scenes are smaller than you might expect. For a great online tour of the Chapel, click here. As Michelangelo was working on the Last Judgement (it took 7 years), a debate arose about the nudity and whether it was appropriate. Michelangelo fought back by painting a portrait of Biagio da Cesena, a leading proponent of modesty, on the head of Minos in hell. Click here for a picture of Minos. After Michelangelo died, a painter nicknamed “Britches” was hired to paint loin cloths on many nudes throughout the Vatican.
Next we toured St. Peters Basilica. The enormous size of the church is overwhelming. Imagine a 100 yard (300 ft) football field standing on end. Then add 100 feet. The ceiling of the dome would be a little higher than this. Construction began in 1506, with a plan developed by Michelangelo. The church replaced one built by Constantine in 324 AD. It sits above the tomb of St Peter, one of the twelve apostles, and supposedly crucified by Emperor Nero in 64 AD. On our way out of St. Peters we saw the changing of the Swiss Guards, then strolled back to the hotel.
For dinner, we tried the tasting menu at Il Convivio, a great experience in fine eating! We had the matching wine selections, which were also delicious. We brought back a bottle of our favorite wine, Falesco Montiano 2007 from Lazio!