Friday 19th October 2001

We failed to surface before 10am this morning. Perhaps we were too worried to wake up because it would mean our hangovers would begin. Miraculously we felt fine! A little furry mouthed perhaps, but nothing that a bottle of mineral water didn't sort out.

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We had missed breakfast at the hotel, which was alright as we had no intention of torturing ourselves again. By half past ten we were enjoying delicious food from Pepy's American Bar on the corner of via Quattro Fontane and Piazza Barberini. I had a slice of Mushroom pizza, and Julie had a Tuna and Mozzarella sandwich.

After devouring my breakfast I noticed a wider selection of choices for me to try next time; Spinach & Mozzarella, Porcini Mushrooms & Cheese to name but two.

Today we wanted to visit the Vatican so we took the subway. The metro stations were smelly, and the trains were heavily graffitied and packed with sweaty people. It wasn't the most pleasurable of experiences but the journey from Barberini to Ottavario was mercifully short at least.

From emerging out of the subway it took us a casual five minute walk to reach the shadow of St. Peter's square.

The piazza was huge, but it's photogenic quality was perhaps ruined by it being covered in rows upon rows of chairs. Two stages were also in the process of being built on the steps of the Basilica.

We both came up with the joke that they were preparing for a "pope concert"! (Well, we found it funny!)

We walked up towards the Basilica and firstly joined a queue that led to the stairs to the top of the dome. We wisely decided against scaling the dizzy heights. Those 1237 steps in Thailand was still a reminder of what could happen through over exertion!

We rejoined the queue for the basilica, passed their clothing patrol, (no shorts, no T-shirts) and entered the amazing interior of the Vatican. It was totally breathtaking. It was also enormous!

We walked around finding the multi-lingual confessional boxes with their taxi-like "box occupied - priest in residence" light fairly amusing.

I did not see a Welsh language box though, not that I would have confessed my sins if there were one.

The German language confessional box was exceptionally busy for some peculiar reason?! Just saying.

The whole basilica had that quiet hush, that reverence you find in churches, where everyone is being very respectful; but all of that was about to be shattered by the mother of all sneezes!

I stood directly below the main dome, and could feel a sneeze coming, but in my desperate attempt to stifle it, all I managed to do was to narrow my orifices, turning it from a polite 'atishoo', into an almighty screech, loud enough to tear down the walls of Jericho!

It's incredible how a sneeze could sound so like a road traffic accident! It all went deathly silent as everyone stopped and turned to look at me.

I can now vouch for the amazing acoustics inside the Vatican; my falsetto jazz trombone of a sneeze reverberated around the church walls for what felt like a lifetime!

I wanted the earth to swallow me up, but I refrained from saying something like "Dear God, I want to shrivel up and die" just in case he was listening!

After that embarrassing episode we made for a sharp exit, but on the way out we were stopped in our tracks by the most beautiful and emotive work of art that I have ever seen.

Perhaps it was its location, in the atrium of the beating heart of Christianity, but Michelangelo's Pieta almost brought a tear to my eye.

It's incredible how the statue captures the lifelessness of the body of Christ and the sorrow of the Virgin Mary; and to think that it was carved from a single piece of marble!

The statue was damaged by a lunatic with a hammer a few years ago and now lies protected behind bullet-proof glass. I tried to take a photograph but I'm sure the auto focus would screw up any picture. (The one above is taken from the excellent Web Gallery of Art.)

Apparently Michelangelo himself took a hammer and chisel to it in a fit of rage, carving in large letters across Mary's sash, MICHEL ANGELUS BONAROTUS FLORENT FACIBAT (Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this), after he overheard someone mistakenly say that the creator of this masterpiece was some lesser known Italian artist!

We left the building, posting a letter to my father using Vatican stamps, and then walked towards the museum entrance.

Halfway there we past a small café and felt very hungry all of a sudden. It was midday so it was time for lunch; a Caprese salad, a Spinach & Ricotta Cannelloni, and Roast Chicken with Roast Potatoes were gladly received. Once again the chicken disappointed as it was but a wing.

We walked past several shops selling the same eerie portrait of Christ. It was a picture of his face, bloodstained from the crown of thorns; but it was one of those flexible three dimensional hologram type that you usually get free in a cereal box.

If you view them from a different angle the image changes, usually to create the illusion of movement. The frightening illusion here was that the eyes of Christ moved! It was quite disturbing and tasteless in my view, but I could just see it adorning a mantelpiece of a devoted Catholic family home.

Following the signs we found the entrance to the Vatican Museum, and we couldn't wait to see the Sistine Chapel.

We continued to follow signs for it and walked through room, after room, after room, after endless room; upstairs, downstairs, through a maze of hallways.

None of which we gave much attention, they were just rooms 'on the way to' the Sistine Chapel. I'm sure we walked past some important artwork, paintings, statues, tapestries and so on, without even a second glance; we were just interested in seeing the famous chapel painted (mostly) by Michelangelo.

Finally we reached our goal when we came to a small doorway and entered a very crowded room.

At last we stood in the Sistine Chapel.

We looked up and couldn't believe what we saw. The entire ceiling and walls, every square inch, were covered by frescoes. The colours were so bright after their restoration as if they were painted yesterday. It was a masterpiece on a monumental scale.

Right in the middle we saw probably the most recognisable part of the ceiling, called the Creation of Adam, where the fingers touch. I stood there, neck cricked, until I went dizzy and had to find somewhere to sit down!

We moved our way towards the back of the chapel where seating had been placed up against the wall. There were several notices saying that photography was forbidden, and many security guards were patrolling the chapel to enforce the rule; but at the back it was surprisingly lacking in the presence of any guards.

Several other people were clicking away quite merrily, so I feebly gave in to the temptation without much of a fight and brought out my camera to take a few snap shots. I was shitting my pants however with the fear of getting caught, so I whipped the camera out, pointed, pressed, and whipped it back down again.

My heart was racing and I came over all sweaty. I whipped it out once more, this time getting a little more confident, zooming in on the 'Creation of Adam', but I couldn't stop shaking! I decided not to take any further photographs, and tried to calm myself down from the excitement of it all! (The one above is again taken from the excellent Web Gallery of Art.)

Just after I had finished snapping, this photographer with an enormous zoom lens, that put my four inches to shame, stood at the back of the chapel and liberally flashed away. Within a minute he was surrounded by guards who escorted him out. That could have been me I thought, my heart still pounding!

After discreetly hiding my little camera away from the glare of the guards, we escaped for the exit, slowly and calmly, without drawing any attention to ourselves.

We made it without being stopped and asked to hand over the photographic film. We decided not to hang around and headed for the museum's exit. (When I developed the film both pictures turned out terribly blurred from the excessive camera shake!)

Another warren of frescoed rooms took us away from the Sistine Chapel and towards the exit.

We gave them a bit more attention this time, noticing that even the smallest, most uninteresting room had stunning art on the ceiling.

Before leaving the museum we stopped at the café where we had another snack!

I had a delicious bake of aubergine, courgettes, and large porcini mushrooms in a cheese sauce.

Julie enjoyed tasty pork slices. We also shared a cheese platter; both of us leaving the intensely smelly gorgonzola!

On the way out of the museum we walked down a fabulous spiral staircase.

It was built by Guiseppe Momo in 1932 and just goes to prove that modern Italian designers are no less talented than their renaissance ancestors!

We returned to St. Peter's square and sat down briefly to call home on our mobile phone, which now worked on this side of the river!?

Then we walked towards Castle St. Angelo, which apparently has a tunnel link from the Vatican, along which many a threatened Pope has scrambled through to the safety of this fortified castle.

We crossed the Tiber over a busy bridge, plagued by an army of Ethiopian wrist watch sellers. A little further along, walking riverside, we stopped and looked back towards the Vatican for a stunning view.

At the bend in the river we left the water front and aimed towards Piazza Spagna. Along the way we went inside a tourist information booth. We asked the two members of staff on duty whether they knew why all the chairs were laid out in St. Peter's square.

I tried out the "Perhaps it's a Pope concert" joke but they didn't find it quite as amusing as I did!

We reached Piazza Spagna as the sun was setting and fancied a cup of tea when we saw Babbington's English Tea Rooms.

It is located just on the left of the Spanish Steps. (that's left when your at the bottom looking up.)

As we entered, standing outside by the sign was this classic 1970's punk rocker, complete with pink spiky Mohican, dishevelled leather jacket, tartan trousers, Dr. Marten boots, and multitude of zips, chains and piercings. How authentically British! I somehow doubt though that he was in anyway associated with Babbington's English Tea Rooms. I wish I had the gaul to have taken his photograph, but I feared a knuckle duster to the mouth for my trouble!

We sat down inside the tea room, and were thankful that we were sitting when we saw the prices on the menu! Flabbergasted is a good word, and describes perfectly how we felt. Gobsmacked is another good word, but the price of 13000 liras for a pot of tea didn't stop us from ordering. Why, I'll never know? Our bill came to £20 for a pot of tea, orange juice, muffin, carrot cake, paper doilies and chintzy wallpaper. It was shocking! Of course it was an experience to have drunk tea in Babbington's of Rome, where the Queen of England has also frequented, but in all honesty it wasn't value for my lira. This had been our fourth snack stop today and our least favourite.

Our fifth snack stop soon followed as we stopped at Pepy's for some delicious sandwiches to eat later. We were back at the hotel at 5pm ready for a much needed siesta. We were running out of steam again.

Two hours later, recharged and raring to go, we ventured back onto the metro and took a ride to the coliseum. It was quite an ordeal as we had to change trains at Termini. It was physically hard work as it was very hot and smelly down there!

We got off at Colosseo and were fully expecting to see the coliseum floodlit and looking spectacular but we were disappointed. Only the reflected light from the illuminated Roman Forum made any impact on the walls. I took a photo anyway; (which makes it appear brighter than it actually was!)

Was sat down for five minutes discussing where we were going to go next, and more importantly, can we get there without having to use the metro?! We eventually decided to head back to via Veneto and Alex's café, and bravely went back down underground because we couldn't be bothered to walk too far.

Our first port of call was the bar on the corner of Piazza Bernini and via Veneto, where we drank large jugs of lager last night. The head waiter remembered us and was trying to be jovial and friendly with us, but somehow failed to come across as genuine. He certainly had that Sylvester Stallone Italian stallion strut about him. Perhaps we were being a bit too critical but he just came across as nothing but an act. The bottle of Frascati was good though!

We then moved on to our favourite restaurant and received the warmest of welcomes. This may also have been nothing more than an act, but they had certainly mastered the art of making you feel like the most important person in that restaurant. We certainly felt genuinely welcomed. They also had a fabulous sense of humour; one instance was whilst we were deciding what to drink, one waiter asked if we also wanted mineral water in addition to the two bottles of wine. When we said no thank you he replied knowingly, looking over his red rimmed spectacles, "In the morning perhaps?"

To eat I had tomato soup plus a tomato and mozzarella salad, followed by a bowlful of linguine with pesto. The rich flavours were absolutely delicious. Julie enjoyed her baked lamb although conceded that last night's steak was better! We were discussing our deserts, edging towards profiteroles, when one of the waiters came up to us and said "tonight, for you, I think it should be profiteroles". We bought into his "intuitive suggestion" not once thinking that perhaps he may have been eavesdropping. "Perfect, just what I wanted" I replied.

He chuckled to himself, and we joined in, laughing out loud. When the desert arrived, they really were the perfect choice.

After coffee, we were ready to leave, so I asked for the bill, but this time in Italian, "Il conto, per favore" to which they applauded.

I asked if I could take their photograph, but one of them, the red rimmed glasses guy, had already left; but they found a substitute in little Steffano who was a young lad they had helping out.

We imagined that Steffano got slapped around the head a lot in the kitchen!

We thanked them for their hospitality and promised to come back one day, with our daughter. We rolled down the hill to the bar on the corner and enjoyed a large glass of Peroni lager each before heading back to the hotel by midnight.

Saturday 20th October >>

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