Okay… I got a bit distracted, there. On to the continuation from Lesson #33… adventures in bella Roma! (I feel the need to write “Roma” with an explanation point, as the Italians always seem so excited when pronouncing the word…):
The next day I woke with a bit of a renewed spirit. I had come to Rome to scratch an item from my bucket list, and no form of mugger or ogler or map failure was going to get in my way. Feeling both invited and challenged by Robin Williams’s Oscar winning soliloquy in “Good Will Hunting”, I was going to find out “what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel… stand there and look up at that beautiful ceiling…”.
Missed Detail #2: There’s Not Too Much “Alone” Time Spent in Italy
In Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love; though the story of a woman’s solo travels, not much of the author’s time in Italy is spent alone, by day or by night. Maybe this is just the way her plans happened to unfold, or maybe she knew something I did not…
To bring a bit more structure and safety to my day, (still a bit shaken from the night before) I researched local tour companies and found that many of the “hop on, hop off” bus tours departed just a few blocks from my hotel. Mid-morning I made my way over and climbed aboard the last bus in the line-up, following a tip I’d received saying it charges the least and gives the best options, ending at Vatican City. The cost-effectiveness proved to be true, and off I went…
For a photographer, the day was phenomenal. Though my trip to the Colosseum the day before had ended in disappointment, as I arrived just at close and could experience it only as the world’s most magnificent cat condo (seriously, more stray cats than I’ve ever seen!), I was able to zoom through the entire city on this day; a truly spectacular experience. I returned to the Fonatana di Trevi, an entirely different and equally beautiful sight by day. Then, with only a few hours to go, I made my way to the destination at the top of my list, the Sistine Chapel housed in Vatican City. I would fail miserably at adequately describing these places, so I’ll leave Roma! to the photos:
In all honesty, pictures fail to capture the beauty and wonder of this place, as well. As do many of the Romans who now live there.
Because, though I’d love for this to be another tale of inspiration and going off to find oneself, for me that would be a fictional account. And that’s not what this blog is about.
It turns out that Rome is the world’s largest convenience store, and it’s product is history. With every step one takes there are scads of people chasing tourists, attempting to sell you anything from marijuana to pope bobble-heads to photo ops with “gladiators” covered in Reynolds Wrap to the statue of David’s penis printed on a pair of boxer shorts.
Okay… that’s a frickin’ funny photo and sort of defeats my point… I know. But the point I’m trying to make is that the Romans have taken places of honor, history, preservation, culture, and awe and have turned them into money machines. Packing people in, driving people through like rats, and taking them for all they’ve got.
My bucket list experience of visiting the Sistine Chapel? Well, it smells like breath, screaming children, and a menu of body odors. The sacred, peaceful, beautiful Sistine Chapel of my dreams is really a large cattle stall, hundreds of people packed in at a time, standing room only, knocking one another over, distracting each other from really being able to absorb anything. The crowd did serve as cover enough from the guards to get my “no photos allowed” photo. But I left fairly disappointed by the experience. How I’d wanted that moment of peaceful serenity… just me and Michelangelo.
I left the chapel and began my exit out of the Vatican. For this day I have one photo left for you, and it upsets me, still:
I passed this hallway as I left and, though not pictured, I was kept from the area by a black, wrought-iron gate. Wanting the perfect, fence-free shot of the statues, I placed my camera lens through an opening, stabled the camera on the bars, and began shooting away.
Suddenly, I felt someone pressing right up against my back. I turned to find that it was a guard and felt instant panic. Photos were allowed everywhere outside the Sistine Chapel. Did he think I was doing something wrong? Had he seen me photograph the chapel? Every fiber of my being told me something was really off…
“I’m sorry,” I said. “If I’m not supposed to take pictures here, I’ll gladly erase them. I didn’t know; there’s no signs.”
He laughed and seemed to soften a bit, though his energy was completely odd. “No, no. It is fine,” he answered. I was relieved he spoke English. He began a grand inquisition. Where was I from? Had I come alone? What did I think of Romans? Did I speak Italian? Would I like to go to dinner?
Despite the fact that he was hired to protect, something about this guy really creeped me out. I spent the entire conversation attempting to unwind from the conversation. Yet he kept on.
“I saw you photographing the hall. Would you like to go in there?” he asked. I answered that I should really get going. He took me by the wrist, and led me a few steps to a panel – a panel which opened into an elevator, hidden from general view, dark gray and characterized by its jumpy florescent lights, labeled “for guard use only”.
“I will take you,” he said and urged me towards the creepy elevator. I tried to stay calm, pulled back and fidgeted with my purse and, again, noted the time and that I had to get going. Where were the crowds? Wasn’t anyone going to walk by?
He got right in my face, his breath staled by his rotting teeth. He whispered a mix of Italian and English, something about me being a “wild little American girl”, then ended asking me “how wild I was planning to get?” with him, pressing me towards the elevator.
Just as I was about kick a Vatican guard right in his David boxers and spend life in Italian jail, two additional guards came up to begin their end-of-the-day rounds. Incredibly shaken and upset, this served as the perfect distraction to dodge the “friend” I’d made. I ran, though I couldn’t stop shaking.
I went straight to the bus with a speed I may have never matched before and stayed in my hotel room, again, all that evening. I paid a $250 change fee and extra ticket charges to go home earlier than planned, though I would still have to suffer through more time on my own, there. Enduring loneliness like I’d never experienced, scared, hungry (with no food at the hotel, and refusing to go out), and done, I craved home like I’d never craved home before.
I had train tickets to Naples (Napoli) the next day and was convinced I wouldn’t go. I had some big decisions to make about how to spend my time. Stick with me into the next chapter – We’re getting to the high points of the trip. Day III will prove just that… for Day III was: the pizza!