Day 2 (continued from here)
After we had studied Piazza del Popolo for a little while, we went up to the Pincio Hill Garden to have our first glimpse of the roman skyline A truly charming place and the view was amazing. After the garden we went up to Chiesa della Trinità dei Monti and the down the Spanish Steps. This sight again underwhelmed me and again it had primarily to do with construction work that was being done on both the church and the Barcaccia fountain.
But although 2 of the top sights that I had looked forward to see had turned out a disappointment I was in a great mood, because all around us was greatness and beauty. My mood went even higher at our lunch. We tracked back to the small streets near Piazza del Popolo and found the trattoria Al Gran Sasso. It is a bit hard to find having no real street presence. The walls are filled with really not very good paintings showing street painters with their work (worst one was the painting of a painter with her painting of a sheep head constructed out of vegetables), but overall it is a very charming place with great staff and soooooo good food. I started out with fresh and very wonderful mozzarella di bufala served with prosciutto di Parma. Ole had the most amazing and tasteful fughi fritta, which I stole a few of.
I then had a delicate chicken in lemon sauce, which tasted absolutely amazing and along with it I had patata fritta, and I swear I have never in my life had so good fried potatoes (and being the great lover of that particular vegetable I have tasted quite the variety by now). Remembering that dish makes me want to go back just for that. I cannot remember what Ole had because I was in a state of ecstasy at that time over my own meal.
We then went south peeking in at Ara Pacis Augusto through the windows in Museo dell’Ara Pacis, and marveled at the feeling of the missing monument of Mausoleo di Augusto.
In the evening we went by Fontana di Trevi and stayed there for a while to take pictures and watch the people throwing coins in the fountain or imitating Anita Ekberg. And yes we of course also sacrificed a coin to the fountain ensuring our return. The guidebook had claimed that there would be fewer people at the fountain in the evening, but I guess we were not the only ones who had read that, because the place was packed. The fountain is truly amazing and beautiful, and even with the myriad of people around it there was some sort of tranquil feel about the place.
We had dinner at Antica Enoteca in Tridente, which was a nice wine bar with good food and lovely wines. We turned in a bit early that night because we had planned for an early start the following day.
Tuesday morning we got up really early to get to the Vatican as early as possible. Walking over Ponta Sant’Angelo in the early morning light was absolutely stunning. Basilica di San Pietro was an impressive sight and I felt how all my senses were having a hard time grasping the size of it. We headed straight for the Dome to get up there before the crowds would set in. The view from the top was incredible. The entire city bathed in the morning light and parts of it covered by the veil of the morning mist.
Inside the Basilica di San Pietro was just as stunning and mind-boggling. The sun came in from the side windows filling the entire space with a golden hue and the ongoing chanting gave it all a truly holy feeling, which even impresses a non-believer like myself.
Then it was off to the Vatican Museum. I was so relieved that we had booked online beforehand, when I saw the queue for tickets that already had gathered that early in the morning, and which we could just walk by. The museum literally took my breath away in that its size and the number of objects are absolutely impossible to take in, with room after room after room until we were absolutely exhausted. Tip: apart from the impressive artifacts look out for the ceilings and the decor in the rooms, they are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. In the end you reach Cappella Sistina …
I had some mixed feelings about that room. First of all it was absolutely packed with people, making it hard to really feel the room. There was also a lot of noise, which the guards tried to prevent by proclaiming “Silenzio” over a speaker, but it did not really help. The room in it self is not really beautiful, being just a long narrow and dark space without interesting architecture. The ceiling is incredible, but it is unfortunately sort of unbalanced due to the later addition of the The Last Judgement on the end wall. There are some wonderful paintings on the side walls, which do not get the attention they deserve. And The Last Judgement itself will never be a favorite of mine. I have studied it a lot before I saw it there, so I knew the image very well. I must confess that I never really liked it, but I always thought that maybe it was just because I hadn’t seen it in real life. Well it did not change anything seeing it for real. The composition is odd, the figures are overly dramatic, and the blue background is so flat that it ends up looking like the figures have been cut out and placed on top of it with no sense of wholeness.
But I do not want to end on a sour note. I was really really high on the beauty and extremeness of both the Basilica di San Pietro and The Vatican Museum. So much food for the senses had left me totally dizzy and filled with the art lover’s joy. The body was exhausted after walking around the place for hours, but my spirit was fresh and happy. Dragging our feet while whistling joyfully inside we stumbled out of the Vatican state and started to hunt for something to eat …