Thursday, May 21, 2015

Italy in Five Days: Rome part I

Our time in Italy was a whirlwind of trains and sightseeing. We spent two nights in Rome, a day in Florence, a day Pisa, a night in Margherra outside of Venice, a day in Venice, then caught a train to Lugano via Milan. I do not recommend travelling like this. It tends to leave beard hairs frizzled and wifeys frazzled, but we had five days to kill before we had a free place to stay with a relative (the sister of the husband of my wife’s aunt) so what else could we do but see everything there is to see? So without any further ado, I give you 5 Italian cities in five days.


We arrived late in Rome, too tired to do anything but walk beneath an aqueduct to get pizza and beer and vow to set out early the next day.

10:00 am is the hour of the tourist. It is the time most people (yours truly included) can manage to get anywhere and still feel early, so it the time with the longest lines and the most obnoxious guides trying to sell you tours to skip them.

We opted for a cappuccino and wifi instead. Our weekend booked (except for Florence, more on that later) we set out after overhearing an Italian tell three young Americans about the market across the street.

“They put a roof over it but it’s still great! You should walk in just for the smell!”

Inside I found the most delicious sandwich in Italy, slow roasted porcetta and a crispy pork product that was something between bacon and chicharon. The textures of the noble pig juxtaposed on a fresh roll. For three Euros, there is no better food in Italy. 
Marble Selfie of the Beard
Our bellies full and our brains caffeinated we returned to the Vatican at about 1:30 to find the lines much more agreeable. Twenty minutes later we were perusing the popes’ collection of sculptures of the Greek and Roman Gods. You gotta love the Catholics. They renounce all the other religions but they take damn good care of their idols.

Starting with the room of maps, The Vatican is beyond anything I’ve ever seen. The ceilings are painted to look like marble reliefs. Angels and cherubs bordered in gold smile down on ancient frescoes depicting the world in incredible detail. After the maps comes a hallway filled with tapestries depicting amazing events more or less related to Jesus. The ones with JC are the best. He’s got a goofy smile and is flashing the peace sign.  
The Triumph of Christianity
Next comes Raphael’s rooms. My favorite piece is “Triumph of Christianity” which shows a golden crucifix standing over a broken marble statue of Hermes. In with the new out with the old! A room over is the “School of Athens” an eternal reminder of the greatness of those long-gone idol worshippers that the painters of the Renaissance was so obsessed with reviving.

But after all that, after kilometers of paint, tons of marble, and thousands of tourists, postcards, and priests we were upon it, the Sistine chapel.
The Sistine chapel is the most beautiful thing made by one man. It is as awe-inspiring as the Sequoias, as powerful as Niagara Falls. It is worth going to Rome, waiting in line, paying 20 Euros and wearing out your feet.

It is one man’s amazing vision of his faith, hopes and dreams. I don’t know much about the bible, only the basics of Genesis through Noah’s Ark, but perhaps that’s all anyone bothers to learn anymore because that’s what is depicted by Michelangelo and to have some sense of the stories in this masterpiece so important to us as a species that we learn these stories to better appreciate its splendor.

It is beautiful, breath-taking, and a little funny. Why are God’s buttcheeks painted so prominently? Why, amidst all this splendor, is there a scene of Noah drunk off his gourd? I think Michelangelo knew the power of emotion, and for anything to have beauty it must invoke laughter or tears.

And below it, behind the altar is the Final Judgment, which is as dark and frightening as the ceiling is bright and uplifting. Michelangelo painted it as a grim reminder of the price of sin. It is beautiful, but horrifying. To have the two visions of a Master, one of hope painted early in life and another of despair painted much later, is nothing short of miraculous. Go there. Listen to Rick Steves when you do.

This is not marble, nor is it the Sistine Chapel.
I was to overwhelmed by the place to rebel enough to snap a photo of the real deal.
 If you liked this post check out Part II or check out Greece!

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