Our last day in Rome… (View part 2 here)
Monday, 28 June 2014
“We are going to the Vatican” is the first thought that went through my mind when I woke up.
If I thought I was excited the day before, I ain’t seen nothing yet. We bought some coffee, yoghurt and muesli the day before, because we knew we would need to leave the flat early on Monday morning to be at the Vatican by 8:45am. I booked a tour (one of the few tours I booked in advance) because I was scared that I would get completely lost in the Vatican and miss half of what I was supposed to see. If only I had known…
I investigated the different routes to the Vatican from our location and settled on the route with the least amount of walking. This meant; you guessed it; the famed route 492 bus, which ends up pretty close to the Vatican. And the bus was on time. A bonus.
Unfortunately, Google maps was not as reliable as I thought and by the time we approached the Piazza Venezia, I realised that we were not going to arrive at the destination at 8:44am, which would have given us time to walk the last 270m, and still be at the meeting place close enough to 8:45. Nope, it was more likely to be a sprint, IF we were on time at all.
It was already after 8:55am when bus stopped at the designated stop and we were running. Of course, the streets were bustling and there were people on every corner, asking “Vatican tickets?”. I was tempted to say “If you don’t get out of my way NOW, our Vatican tickets will be worthless”, but that would have been rude (and wasted time). Checking behind me to ensure the girls were still with me, we steamed into the spot where we were supposed to meet our guide, realising immediately that this is the place where ALL guides meet their groups.
Eventually, we tracked down Franzcesca, who was our guide for the morning. We were each issued a two-way radio, which crackled every time Franzcesca spoke, but we were on our way to enter the Vatican Museums (along with thousands of other tourists, of course). A dream come true. With bated breath, we stood in the ‘fast track’ queue and entered the Vatican Museums. The kids had to be vetted as they pay a discounted price, but soon we were on our way.
We spent a bit of time outside while Franzcesca explained the different artworks we would encounter in the Sistene Chapel, where we would not be allowed to linger or talk. I gained a lot of respect for Michelangelo, who seemed to have had a bit of an artist temperament as well.
Franszesca was very knowledgeable and as we walked up the impressive staircase and entered the first room upstairs, I silently patted myself on the back for my choice of tour booked.
The second room was filled with the most magnificent carpets on the wall, stretching from the ceiling to the floor and I was trying my utmost to take some proper pictures, when I heard Franzcesca saying, “And we move along”. I quickly snapped my picture, and started walking towards the crowd (which engulfed me). I couldn’t immediately see Franzcesca, who had an orange flag (meant to distinguish her from the proliferation of multicoloured umbrellas and flags of all the different tour groups). I could not see her anywhere. “Maybe they are a bit ahead”, I thought. I heard her speaking about moving through the doors towards the next room, and had a bit of a panic attack.
The next doors were a little way ahead of me, so I rushed forward, pushing people aside with “Scusi“. I walked through the next set of doors into a room filled with these life size maps and a frescoed ceiling, and was tempted to stop and take pictures, but by now I was really worried that I am going to lose my group, so I pushed ahead. The next moment the two-way radio went silent. No crackled Franzcesca, nothing. Dead.
This could only mean one thing (or two things). Either, I have walked past the group and out of their range, or they are too far ahead of me. Which put me in a predicament. If I pushed ahead, and they were behind me, I would lengthen the gap between us. On the other hand, if they were ahead of me, I risked falling even further behind if I went back.
I started walking back towards the entrance of the map room, hoping that the crackle of Franzcesca’s voice would start in my ear again, but after pushing against the crowds for a little while, I decided that there was nothing behind me. Did I not look out for the orange flag as I walked past all these people? So, they must be ahead. I turned around and started pushing ahead, all the while listening for the tell-tale sign of the crackling two-way radio to give away their position. Nothing. Now, I really started to panic. Where are they? Which direction should I search?
My heart was pounding and I kept wondering what the kids would do when they could not find me? I pushed ahead with some more speed. But the two-way radio kept its silence. I looked around for a friendly guard, preferably English speaking, who could assist me, but I knew it was hopeless, so I pushed ahead. I knew that at some stage we would reach the Sistene Chapel, and worst case scenario, I could wait there.
Rushing through rooms filled with priceless treasures, artefacts, paintings and sculptures, I could only think of two things, how my kids would react when they couldn’t find me and wishing the two-way radio to crackle in my ear. At one stage, I stopped and decided I was going to try and SMS Bianca. I knew she did not have wifi, and her roaming was not activated, but in most likelihood, she should be able to receive a SMS. But, it showed as undeliverable. I tried to think logically and tried to phone the number of the tour group on my tour confirmation, but there was no answer.
I stopped a guard and told him I lost my tour group. His solution, go towards the Sistene Chapel, you will catch up with them there. So, there was nothing else to do. I snapped a quick picture of a wooden structure which looked like a sarcophagus to me, and entered the steps leading towards the Sistene Chapel.
Steps after steps, stairs upon stairs, the crowd pushed along. Finally, we entered the chapel. I looked up at Michelangelo’s wonder, but could not appreciate it. I rushed towards the back of the room, trying to spot the orange flag but to no avail. It finally dawned on me that I must have rushed far ahead of the group. My phone started ringing, but it was noisy and I only realised too late. A South African number, maybe the South African couple who were also included in the group? I tried to return the call, but there was no answer.
The next moment my phone pinged. It was Bianca “Where are you?”. I answered that I was in the Sistene Chapel and she replied “You went too far ahead”. Yeah right. She said I should wait there, they are on their way. She sounded all grown up and mature. While I was panicking.
I decided to move back towards the front of the chapel and try and find a seat to wait. I finally found a seat, and looked up. I know Michelangelo was a sculpture artist first, but man oh man, could he paint. I stared at the ceiling, while watching the crowd. There were policemen patrolling the chapel, directing the crowds towards the right, and when that area filled up too much, they would redirect the crowd towards the left. All the while they were shouting “No pictures” and “Silenzio!“. In spite of my hysteria (or maybe because of it), I chuckled to myself. Imagine having a job like that. But at least now I was sitting down, and waiting.
I didn’t know where my kids were (exactly) but they were behind me and they were on their way. I waited for 40 minutes, I kid you not. I could have walked all the way back to the entrance and back, I reckoned!
But the next moment, a sound sweeter than anything I could imagine came crackling through my two-way radio. Franzcesca!! A few minutes later they emerged. Hugs and kisses, none more relieved as those from Franzcesca, who told me she was going to take my kids home with her if I didn’t show up. Not sure if she thought I was playing a Hansel and Grethel trick on her, but we were reunited and come hell or high water, I was not going to lose them again!!
We followed the crowd through the door and outside where we had to wait to enter St Peter’s Basilica. What a fantastic view! It was a clear, beautiful summers day and the piazza just stretched out towards the horizon.
Upon entering the Basilica, I thought for a moment that I had lost the group AGAIN (and only a donkey bumps his head twice??), but I quickly found them. The basilica is a work of art. And big. Apparently the largest church in the world. There is a display in the middle of the church indicating the relative size of many other churches in the world to the Basilica. Shaped like a large cross, it is 220 metres in length and 150 metres across. The nave is 46 metres high.
After finishing off the tour, we descended into the tombs, but couldn’t locate St Peter’s tomb and our feet were literally killing us. And to be killed in a tomb is just scary, so we left the tombs and entered into the sunlight. Onto Piazza S. Pietro, with its giant obelisk representing a huge sundial, we emerged and I was sad to leave. I kept turning back like Lot’s wife, not wanting to miss the last view of St Peter’s Basilica.
Ignoring the guidebooks’ advice to avoid any restaurants around the Vatican, we popped into the closest and cheapest (which is all relative) pizzeria outside the Vatican walls. Afterwards, we took the Metro or underground back to Termini station, and tried to find the closest bus to our apartment in vain (it was a 2km walk back after all!!). Eventually we found a bus (about halfway to the apartment), but it was better than nothing.
It was time for a siesta again, before we go out to spend the last night in Rome.
Around 5pm, we ventured onto the streets of Rome again, walked to the station and took the Metro towards the Baths of Caracalla. We were all very keen to see the baths, but unfortunately they were closed, so we stopped at the Circo Massimo stop.
Unfortunately, there was not much to see at the Circus Maximus, but the views over Rome were beautiful. We walked towards the city. and tried to locate the ‘La Bocca della Verita’ or the ‘Mouth of Truth’ which featured in Roman Holiday, which Anya and I dutifully watched before we departed on our own Roman adventure.
We tracked down the sculpture, but were spared having to test it, as it was closed. We could, however, snap a picture through the gates. Turning our backs upon the famed lion, we faced the Temple of Hercules Victor, which is considered to have been a temple of Vesta.
Walking uphill towards the Tiber river, we spotted the Isola Tiberna, an island in the Tiber river. We walked towards the Theatre of Marcellus, an ancient Roman open-aired theatre. The kids were now complaining about being hungry, but I wanted to push towards the Campo de Fiori, through the ancient Jewish ghetto.
Finally we found a little Trattoria and I had the most delicious seafood pasta, while Anya devoured a pizza and Bianca a Carbonara. This was, of course, rounded off with some prosecco and Fanta Orange.
After dinner, we took a leisurely stroll towards the Campo de Fiori (in all honesty, the Campo de Fiori was not quite en route to the bus stop, but if I have the maps, then the kids wouldn’t know???) and then back towards the Tiber river in search of the closest and most convenient route back to the flat (it was route 71, of course!!).
The streets were beautiful, and somehow felt a little bit like we were off the main tourist routes. We enjoyed our daily gelato and savoured the experience. We were sad to be leaving Rome early the next day, but overwhelmed by the experience, and terribly excited about the next stop on our tour, Venice.
That evening, we all slept like logs, knowing that we have probably seen as much of Rome as you could see in three days, and with lots of stories to tell, amongst which about being part of the lost and found in the Vatican.
Rome has truly made a lifelong impression on me, and I vowed to be back one day, for more than 3 days…
Next up…Venice in a day!