Where's Frankie?

A date with the pope

Friday 28th October

Another early start, so early we were on the train by 9am, I can’t see that happening again tomorrow. We have so many aches and pains after today’s little excursion that we sound like an old peoples home every time we move. I’ve had to take a bottle of the red medicine to help me cope with the pain. It’s the €8 a bottle Montefalco which is growing on me.

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Total ignoramus me, I didn’t know that there was a wall all the way round the Vatican, all I’ve ever seen is millions of people in St Peters Square and little puffs of smoke whenever they choose a new Pope. Anyway, we have a big wall, patrolled by Swiss guards with big rifles and millions of looky looky men who won’t take no for an answer. Competition is so fierce between them that we saw a big fight between two groups of them.

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We were given the option of buying our tickets at the site or saving loads of money and getting them at the gate. On the morning we were there the queues were pretty long and it took a total of 1 hour to get from the end of the queue, through security and then through the ticket barrier. By lunchtime we noticed that the queues were very much shorter and by 3.30pm they were non existent, however, we spent five hours inside, if you arrive at 3.30pm you will have to run around. 

Second thing I didn’t know was that there are two entrances, St Peters Basilica (and the square I guess) and the museum entrance which sounds pretty boring but as I said, five hours, it’s a huge museum split into lots of different sections and that includes the Sistine Chapel. I managed to take over 250 photos (including 30 naughty photos) and have really struggled to get them down to a sensible number – still leaves 43 photos but I think they are all worth it.

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Through the ticket barrier and you’re straight into a corridor and there are some mighty huge corridors.

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The first museum was showing Egyptian objects, tablets, mummies, tomb goods and most of them you can touch. Running your fingers over something created over 4,000 years ago is an experience.

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We had the audio guides and you have to press the numbers to get the descriptions. Not everything has an audio description and sometimes it was very hard finding the correct numbers. To read every description would have taken hours and hours and there are dozens of museums to get through.

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The Egyptian Museum really is large enough to warrant the term museum, I was clicking here, there and everywhere but have had to trim the photos down.

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And then there is the Roman museum. The quality of work is outstanding.

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This is believed to be the sarcophagus for Marcus Aurelius whose column we saw yesterday.

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You’ll be seeing a few ceilings. Lots of ceilings, they must have had some really long paintbrushes!

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The round room, highly detailed Roman mosaics on the floor, what looks like a bath tub for 20 people in the middle and large marble statues around the outside.

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Including this bronze statue of Hercules which was found buried in a local vineyard. Apparently it was struck by lightning (touched by the Gods) and buried to preserve it because it had become priceless.

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Another mosaic floor, this part is protected but you are walking on other very high quality work.

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A stone sarcophagus…

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… and one of the pedestals.

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Another floor mosaic, as Andrew would say – where do they find all the broken plates?

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The tour guide next to me got very excited by this piece and almost pushed me out of the way. I think it is the Fallen Madonna with the big boobies but I could be mistaken.

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Another room, another barrel vaulted ceiling.

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Marble flooring. Andrew, question for you – how hard can it be? As you can see no problems with walking over something that must have taken thousands of hours to make and this is just another one of those huge rooms.

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This bit of marble is slightly more delicate, it’s been roped off.

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Told you there would be loads of ceilings.

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Tapestries from Belgium, a long corridor with over 20 massive works.

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The ceiling of the map room. Only 120 metres long…

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… with maps of each part of Italy painted on the walls.

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Room of the Immaculate Conception.

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The ceiling again. I think this might be why my back is hurting so much, leaning back so far for you.

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One of Raphael’s masterpieces, he was very busy in the Vatican, there were at least three rooms that he has decorated. (He’s my favourite Ninja Turtle as well).

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Another Raphael…

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… and another…

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…and another.

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And now for the naughty shots. The ceiling of the Cistene Chapel where it is expressly forbidden to take photos or even make a noise which they are happy to remind you about with a loudspeaker ordering you to be quiet. There were dozens of camera police, one of them thought he had caught me but my sneakiness knows no limits now.

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Hold your camera at waist level, put the shutter on silent mode and switch the lcd screen off. Splatter shoot all over the place and eventually you’ll get something worth having. And please don’t forget to switch the flash off, anything more than 10’ away really isn’t going to benefit from a flash (ever).

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It took Michelangelo four years to paint the chapel, he did the ceiling and the end wall.

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It certainly is a wonderful room. This is where the Cardinals come to decide on the next Pope. They will be locked in the room and keep voting until they get it right. Any new Pope needs 2/3 of the votes plus one.

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Another room, another ceiling.

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And another…

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… and another…

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… and another. I’ve no idea how long this series of rooms is but it really does seem to be never-ending. 

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We managed a quick look at the Basilica of St Peter, nice gardens.

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And the exit. I’ve had some really nice comments about the photos that I’ve been taking and I really do appreciate it but there is no way that they can do proper justice to this place. I’d even go as far to say that I will be back for another visit, worth every penny. Entry was €16 each and the audio guide is €7. We stopped for coffee near the end and the prices were surprisingly sensible. €1.50 for a proper Italian coffee was rather reasonable in my opinion. If you are nearby go and visit, don’t rely on my photos.

2 thoughts on “A date with the pope

  1. Giorgio

    Mark and Lucy, first of all I am glad that you were both unaffected by the recent disasters [read earthquakes] the epicentre of which happened to be near your route. This is not the first time that this area of Italy is affected by seismic events. This may have given you a hint as to why some of the B roads you travelled along and which caused you some unhappiness are that way. Incidentally, the food in Umbria [Gubbio, Assisi, Spoleto, Perugia, Foligno, Montefalco is superb.

    It seems that you did not go to the Trasimeno lake? if you happen to go back, remember that Umbria relies strongly on seasonal produce such as mushrooms, wild asparagus, and of course on the highly prized truffles that grow throughout the region. Let me know if you are and will share more tips including some wines to sample such as Sagrantino, Rosso di Montefalco, Canaiolo. and Bianco di Torgiano.

    Tip: as a country, Italy is relatively young just as it only unified in 1861. This partly explains why as you travel through its regions the food, the wine, the dialect, the culture will be quite different with one group thinking their way is superior to the previous or the next one. Hence, you’ll hear the best olive oil, pasta, cheese, wine etc are from the place you happen to visit at that time.

    Anyway, you are now in Rome, which is where I hail from. Assuming that you will be spending one more day in Rome [3 days are not enough] and given the photos taken so far, I hope you will be able to visit the following must-see places.
    Piazza di Spagna [Spanish Steps] – ascend from ground level near the Barcaccia at its feet
    The Trevi Fountain
    Piazza Navona

    Wines to try in Rome
    Fontana Candida, Frascati Superiore Secco, Baccarossa

    if you are heading south of the city, I hope you will visit the Castelli Romani (including Frascati, Grottaferrata and Marino) with their evergreen hills and volcanic lakes (Castel Gandolfo is a must-see) and enjoy some Fontana di Papa with the delicious local Porchetta.

    Enjoy it.

    1. Mark Post author

      Giorgio, I’m glad that I didn’t upset you too much about telling everyone about the roads – you need to realise that Frankie shakes, rattles and rolls and the slightest provocation and the roads here just make it so noisy. I’m sure some of it is due to earthquakes but not all of it.
      We’ve spent three days in Rome and you are right, absolutely not enough but you can’t do it all in one go, we’ve saved plenty of things to do next time but we are picking up on some of your tips – Spanish steps, Trevi fountain, Rosso di Montefalco and Sagrantino.
      We have a slight dilemma now about what to do but as usual it will resolve itself in time. Thanks for the great tips.

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