Monday 18 August 2014

European Adventure: Day Twenty-One - Vatican City and Travelling to Florence

The Vatican was a must-do on our list however the dates didn’t work completely in our favor. We arrived too late Saturday to visit and it was closed Sunday, which only left Monday for us to visit. As we were leaving for Florence that day I planned the Vatican tickets for the first entrance (9:00am) and the train for later in the afternoon (4:00pm). It made for a long day but definitely worth it. After getting up and dressed, we finished packing and left our bags locked at the hotel. I was a little apprehensive about this remembering how our camera had been stolen from a hotel back in 1997, but luckily we had no problems.

The plan was to visit the museums and Sistine chapel first, and then St. Peter’s Basilica afterward. In hindsight that was a bad plan as by the time we finished the museums and made our way to the square the lines were massive- likely more then five thousand people waiting to get inside the Basilica which was free and didn’t involve any sort of tickets. This meant for the second time in my life I didn’t get to see St. Peter’s Basilica. When I was here as a teenager I was the only one dressed appropriately as Mom, Dad and Adam were all wearing shorts. It was the one thing I am most disappointed about not seeing on this trip, as I had waited 15 years to come back and visit! For anyone making a similar trip, St. Peters opens at 7:30am – do that first and book Vatican Museum tickets for later in the morning like around 10:30-12:00.

Inside the Vatican Grounds 

Because we had Vatican tickets we had no problems getting inside and through security. The lines were already wrapping around the building but there was a separate line for pre-bought tickets – that is a crucial planning tip on any trip – pre-buy whatever you can! We picked up our audio guides and began visiting the museums which were in one word - remarkable. 

It’s impossible to fully describe everything we saw, but it was amazing. The museums are separated into various rooms/galleries. The first one we entered was this long hallway full of marble statues and busts called The Chiaramonti Museum. The museum is arranged to not only include the sculpture on display, but also highlight the architecture of the room and paintings through the frescoes. What I liked was how it was arranged – with both large and small pieces displayed together. This museum has over one thousand sculptures on display and was incredible to walk though.  

We then walked into the Octagonal Court which had a bunch of large classical sculptures some of which that have been in the same places since the 1500’s. This area was somewhat covered with netting, but was still outside and really interesting to walk though. There were pieces that were clearly art, but others that I couldn't figure out the purpose for. 

This area led into the Hall of Animals which was full of pieces linked to nature and animals. I didn’t spend too much time in here as a large tour group was right behind me but the purpose of this room was to create a “stone zoo” type place that highlighted the animals and hunting. According the Vatican Museum site “Coloured marbles were used to allude to the colours of the coat or plumage of various animals or, by contrast, to confer a particular colouristic effect on a work of art” ( 

The Hall of Muses opened in 1784 and includes many statues of the Greek muses and Gods; including Apollo and Athena. It was a interesting room, and the paintings at the top of the walls which directed the muses and various areas of art were quite beautiful. 

The Round Hall was stunning as it is imitates the inside of the Pantheon and it’s red walls have areas that display statues with columns surrounding the room. In the middle is a large basin which is believed to have once stood in a public area of Rome.

The ceiling 

The Greek Cross hall was built in the late 1700’s and is the entrance of the Pio Clementino Museum. There are pillar-statues on each side and in the center of the floor is a mosaic of Athena. This was one of my favorite areas of the museums as I loved the architecture and the mosaic. Just off to the side was The Hall of the Chariot which was roped off.  Surrounding the large marble stature of a chariot are smaller works which depict scenes from athletics events and games.

Two of my other favorite rooms were the Gallery of Tapestries and the Gallery of Maps. Both of these are long rectangular rooms that have high ceilings and the walls showcase these works of art. The tapestry one is full of rich colors and beautiful hand woven scenes of people and places. The Map Gallery actually has the maps painted directly on the walls. It took the artist three years to pain the 40 panels as the gallery is 120m long. The maps are mostly of Italy and are painted to represent the various regions and the main cities. The ceiling in this room was amazing as they were painted by a group of artists in the 1500’s.

The rest of the rooms were just as amazing at the next, and were full of beautiful art both on the walls, and in the décor and ceilings of the rooms. The Raphael rooms were phenomenal but due to jam-packed tours I didn’t get any decent photos. The Sistine Chapel was by far the most beautiful chapel/church I have ever been in but sadly photos weren’t allowed to be taken. Still, I am so glad I had the chance to sit in there and admire the walls and ceiling. The Sistine Chapel was restored between 1477-1480 and is where the papal conclave (how a new pope is selected) takes place. It is most famous for the painted ceiling and “The Last Judgment” which were both painted by Michelangelo.

Once we finished with the Vatican Museums we walked past the crowds waiting to get in (which continued along the entire wall and must have been in the thousands) and toward St. Peter’s Basilica. Sadly as I mentioned these lines were also into the thousands and there was no way we would be able to line up, see it and make our train. Brian wanted to get some stamps from the Vatican post office so he braved the crowds and crossed the square with dad and I agreeing to meet him a nearby restaurant that had been recommended to us. One the way dad went off and bought purses (souvenirs for mom, Amanda and I) and I went into an Italian post office to get some stamps. This was an adventure, as I had no idea how their system worked and the staff weren’t too helpful. Finally a gentlemen in broken English showed me the machine I needed to use to get a number… however this wasn’t helpful as when my number was called and I went to the desk I was told it wasn’t the right line. I was in there for about 35 minutes before I was finally able to get my stamps – stamps which were insanely priced! I’ll keep this in mind next time I want to complain at the inevitable Canada Post price increase.

We all met at the restaurant which was La Soffitta Renovatio and had one of the best pizzas/meals of the Italian part of our trip – it had been recommended by Sergio the guide from the night before, and was a great recommendation. I had some of the best tasting white wine there – and Italian wine is not something I usually like.  It is a must visit if in the Vatican area. Once lunch was finished – it was a long lunch since we had a little extra time from not seeing St. Peters – we walked back to the hotel and gathered up our suitcases. We got to the train station early and again there were hardly any seats in the station (what’s up with this Europe?) so we stood for most of the time. The train started in Rome, so we had no trouble getting on. The suitcases we had proved to be a bit of a challenge but with a bit of force we got them all on board and situated throughout the carriage.

It took just under two hours to get to Florence and I instantly fell in love with the city! We had visited it for a day when I was here last but it was a place I didn’t remember – likely because it was crammed into a day with Pisa and a few other villages. Florence is officially my favorite place in Italy (okay it’s actually tied with Portofino which is a place I loved from my last trip!). It is such a beautiful town, and much less busy/crazy then Rome and Venice. Our hotel was close to the train station but we couldn’t figure out the map and took a cab. Thankfully we did as the cobbled streets would have been tough to wheel everything on.

The hotel was amazing – the Best Western Grand Hotel Adriatico is a wonderful place to stay. The rooms were large and comfortable (even dad’s single room!) and the staff were helpful and friendly – well save for one person we encountered the next day.  It was also a great location, as it only took about 15-20 minutes to walk to the main sights from where we were. We took an hour to get settled before heading out into the city. We opted to walk along the Arno River and toward the Ponte Vecchio “Old Bridge” which is a medieval stone bridge that has section enclosed with shops built along it. The bridge is built at the narrow part of the river and was built before 996. It was destroyed in 1117 and 1345 but both times rebuilt. The shops along it used to be butchers, but now consist of high end jewelry stores, art shops and the typical souvenir places. When we got to the Ponte Vecchio all the shops were closed so it was easy to walk across and get some great views of the water without crazy crowds. We also stopped and saw the other two popular bridges of Florence – Ponte Santa Trinta and Ponte alle Grazie where people were sitting on the edges, drinking wine and eating sandwiches. It was a really nice environment – very laid back with people just being and taking it all in, rather then rushing around from place to place.  

The closed shops on the bridge 

 Dad ended up going back to the hotel and Brian and I found a small pizzeria for dinner. The food wasn’t the greatest but the pizza was amazing and we had a nice date-night in Florence which we enjoyed.

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