Our final day in Rome and it was a big one. We had to hustle to eat breakfast (10 minutes) so we could be on the bus and headed to the Vatican by 7:30. We managed all that but there was a snafu with the tour guide and we didn’t actually connect with Valentina (told you I’d get her name) until 8:30. But after we got going it was pretty clear sailing.
There were massive crowds at the Vatican but our group tour was able to move up pretty fast – first we visited the Vatican museum. There were again lots of sculptures, tapestries, and paintings (actually we skipped most of the paintings). My favorite was Michelangelo’s Pieta – it was one sculpture I always wanted to see in person. But it was somewhat disappointing as it was behind a glass barrier and some distance away – we got a lot closer to David.
After the museum, the next stop was the Cistine Chapel. We learned that the chapel was built by a Pope named Cistin and that it was where they selected the Pope – thus it is between the Pope’s quarters and St. Peters. It does not stand out from the outside, but when you enter, it is pretty much as you expect … except, for me, I expected the center piece (God extending his hand to Adam) to be much larger – it is pretty much the size of the other panels. Valentina had given us a picture guide and explained things before going in so it was easy to identify the various subjects. No photography was allowed inside and it was supposed to be silent (but lots of people were talking).
The final stop of the morning tour was St. Peters’ Basilica – the largest Christian church in the world. Even though I have become somewhat jaded when it comes to cathedrals, I had to admit this one was pretty impressive. After Valentina dismissed the group, some of us decided to go up into the dome – there was an elevator up to the first level. The view of the cathedral from there was quite spectacular and gave you some perspective of how big the place was. Judy stayed below while I made the 306 step climb to the top. It was a bit strenuous (much of it a narrow spiral staircase – in one section, a rope to grab hold of) but it did provide a splendid view of Rome. I took some pictures, but wasn’t sure what I was looking at – looked for the Colosseum, but couldn’t find it.
After the climb we had free time around the plaza – Judy and I had a gelato. We then returned to the bus and rode to St. Paul’s church – pretty much just another large, ornate church (supposedly parts of Paul are buried there – and I hadn’t mentioned the Peter is buried in St. Peters’.)
The last stop of the day was at the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. I learned a lot there. I had always thought the catacombs were underground hiding places for the Christians when they were being persecuted by the Romans. It turns out they were burial chambers. Our guide claimed there were 500,000 buried in those catacombs and there are others in the city. The early Christians did hold services in the catacombs (four levels – four stories (?)) because they didn’t have any churches. Anyway, in the area open to tourists there are no longer any human remains. There are narrow rock passageways with horizontal burial vaults carved into the rock where people were buried and then the cavern was covered with some type of nameplate, most of which are now missing. It was cold down there which was nice as it was very hot out today.
After the catacombs we returned to our hotel. Judy and I went out to a small restaurant a couple of blocks from the hotel – we had a pasta dish with sausage. It was good, but the ambiance wasn’t much as we were seated between the kitchen and the bathroom (it was a small place). Now we’re back in our room getting packed up and ready to leave Rome tomorrow. When the alarm goes off it will be arrivederci Roma.