European Dispatch #3

8-20-17 | 6:53 a.m. local time

Sitting on the other side of airport security is beginning to be a theme here in Europe.

Kate and I are early-awake, after riding in more-than-a-little-less frightening taxi ride than our first Roman taxi experience, at 5:45 a.m. this morning. The ride out of the Eternal City was one of the most magical moments I’ve seen yet in Rome.

Before the scorching heat of the day yellowed everything out, and before the throngs of tourists and vendors could clog the streets, Rome was just Rome. Crumbling ancient architecture stood amid dilapidated buildings and grandiose estates. The first blue light of day cast an almost otherworldly glow to the city — and in a way it is, ancient Rome, another world.

And yet, it is still here, alive and (relatively) well. How much more time for the timeless city of the Mediterranean world?

Yesterday was another sunrise-to-sunset day in the tour de Roma. We arrived in Vatican City — really, our third country in four days — a little after 9 a.m.

 

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St. Peter’s Basilica 

 

We started the waiting game outside St. Peter’s Basilica, in St. Peter’s ‘square’ (really, a circular courtyard). Taking pictures outside of the Dome seemed a lot more charming than imagining the doubtless thousands of bodies crushed or burned to death in the square for being Christian in a time when Christians were the persecuted ones. I would beg the scales have tipped in the Christ-followers’ favor, now.

After more than an hour’s wait, inching our way around the square, we entered the largest church structure in the world. Hundreds of gawkers hung with mouths open around the golden alter in the center of the elaborate interior. Rumor has it St. Peter himself — the first pope — lies beneath the alter grand.

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selfies & saints | inside the Basilica

Walking around the church, fit with enough (mostly empty) confessionals for the faithful crowds, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of … well, not much sense of anything at all. During my high school years, being a Catholic began a fountain of intense personal oppression, and ever since distancing myself from the Church I’ve retained a dry taste of bitterness in my mouth, like the salted ring of residue in the sink.

I attempted to look around the Basilica in wonder, but I mostly just avoided the eyes of the god-like angelic statues carefully positioned in every periphery. The Hunchback number “Hellfire” played repeatedly in the chambers of my mind.

 

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creepy or compassionate? you decide

 

When we returned outside to burning Roman summer heat, I half-jokingly told Kate this is what Hell must feel like. “That’s why they make you stand outside so long before. To encourage you to repent that much more.” We had a good laugh about that one.

Next, we moved across the city to tour the Vatican Museum. Another line of hundreds of people, sneaking along the side of another massive, ancient-looking building sandwiched us for the next hour and a half. Finally, we were allowed admittance close to 12 p.m. local time. We got lucky and scored ‘student rate’ tickets, without showing student ID’s, for 8 Euro. That was about all the museum, to me, at the end was worth; the regular rate of 16 Euro would have been a little much for what we ended up seeing and enjoying.

First, you shuffle your way through tens of rooms stacked floor-to-ceiling with ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman ceramics and statues. The gods of the ‘ancient’ world seemed a little out of place for me, at first. Then it started to process: “They’re probably setting up a ‘look at who these people worshipped then, and look how awesome it is to have just one God’ juxtaposition,” I muffled to Kate. Just an educated guess.

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Hera: the Queen of the GODS and is the wife and sister of ZEUS in the Olympian pantheon. She is known for being the Goddess of Marriage & Birth. Despite being the Goddess of Marriage, she was known to be jealous and vengeful towards the many lovers and offspring of her husband Zeus.

We really just wanted to see the Sistine Chapel. But to do so, one has to enter-and-exit not exaggerating 100 rooms inside the Vatican Museum complex. We saw tapestries and ornate ceiling paints, old wall maps of Italy and more towering depictions of old people I never knew. All of it at an incredibly claustrophobia-inducing crawl. I didn’t even whip out my Canon camera for any of the interior decorations; my phone did fine. I didn’t feel like capturing low-lighted antiques and everyone else’s elbows.

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on the ceiling

resume 8-21-17 | 4:02 p.m. local time

And then! The Sistine Chapel paintings themselves were so tiny! As soon as you stream into the Chapel, everyone immediately starts walking around clumsily staring at the fixed ceiling — attempting to view the famous finger-touching scene. It was really quite small, surprisingly. Kate and I just looked at each other and whispered: “That’s it?”

What made the moment so much more — I don’t know, lackluster? — is there are Italian security guards standing almost every 10 ft. ushering ceiling-starers forward. As you can imagine, this makes squinting at the ceiling that much more difficult.

After craning our heads for a little less than 3 minutes, Kate and I shuffled our way out of the crowded middle-staring section and back out into the maze of the Vatican. It took us another 25 minutes to escape into the broiling sun! They make it very hard to exit the Vatican, a metaphor I liken to entering (and exiting) the Roman Catholic Church. Speaking from personal experience on that part.

We spent the next few hours wandering (okay, stumbling) around the rich part of town, and paid way too much for lunch around 3 p.m. After some blessed water, nourishment, and shaded seating, we wandered back around to the riverwalk, to take us back to our hostel.

By that point, my leg was starting to catch fire again, and all the steps and standing and strolling around Rome was beginning to (finally?) catch up to me. Perhaps traveling around Europe with multiple 50 lbs. suitcases wasn’t the smartest decision on a 4-month stress-fractured shin bone. In fact, I know now, stranded-sitting in a cafe shop in Leipzig, Germany, it was not the smart, healthy choice.

But it was either stay at home, forfeit a $1200 plane ticket, and leave my Scripps bestie hanging, and rest my god-damn knees — or go, as planned. I went, and we’ll just see what happens when I get back.

-bnb

2 Comments

  1. apollard says:

    Totally get what you meant about the claustrophobic crowds. I returned a year after my first summer visit, this time in late October and what a different experience. Cooler temperatures and few people. You can then actually see and enjoy what you are there to do. Love the memories your pictures bring.

  2. I will have to keep the seasons in mind next time. Thank you for reading, and for bringing your perspective!

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