We started our first full day in Rome with a very enjoyable chat around the dining room table with Mary and Mario. We learned a great deal about the Italian political scene and the 13 political parties that make it very difficult for anyone to gain a majority. Mario suggested that we park in the area near the Circus Maximus, just below the Palatine Hill.
We had decided that we would get a two day pass on one of the many double decker buses that continually loop around the main attractions in the heart of Rome. This would give us a good overview of the sights, with some narration, as well as provide a means to travel from one location to another without having to learn the local transit system. This turned out to be a good approach. After completing the circuit we stopped at St. Peter’s Square and headed off to see what the lines were like for the Vatican Museum (and the Sistine Chapel). As we turned each corner, getting closer to the doors, we couldn’t believe our good fortune. Until we noticed a street sign that contained the closing times/days for the Museum. Although August 15 is a very large holiday and apparently the Vatican Museum thinks it’s so big it deserves two days. So it was closed. From there we headed back to St. Peter’s and made our way through the security screening and “modesty” checkers and into the church. If you’ve ever wondered how strictly they enforce the rules regarding covering the knees and no bare shoulders, picture that they have two people at a time standing there doing nothing but checking the attire of the tourists and turning back anyone who doesn’t meet the guidelines.
Inside St. Peter’s it’s easy to misjudge the size of this temple to catholicism. The guide book pointed out that it is over 300 feet long. As you look up to the lettering high above you it is hard to believe that each letter is 7 feet tall. There are hundreds of people inside the basilica but it doesn’t seem crowded.
The main alter is found at the “crossing” the intersection of the nave and the transept (which form the characteristic cross shape in many churches). This structure alone is 7 stories tall.
After viewing the main interior, we descended into the crypt to see where many past popes have been laid to rest, including the late John Paul II.
We then made our way back to our car and experienced true Rome driving as we made our way to the Mediterranean Sea for a quick dip before dinner. Our B&B hosts had recommended a small cantina across the street and once again we were treated to an excellent meal and another test of our limited understanding of Italian. It is important to note that the French/German/Italian Translation book that we had been using throughout our trip had somehow managed to get bound with approximately 50 pages missing. Of course those pages included the items most likely to be found on a menu in Italia.