All journeys have to start somewhere, and ours started in Rome. Not because we especially wanted to go to Rome, but as we had to stay overnight there anyway we decided to stay for 2 days and explore a bit. We intentionally bypassed the “old stones”, although I confess I found this quite challenging, and focussed on swirls of paint instead. We are both partial to the artistic creations of Caravaggio, so we went on a bit of a “church crawl” through the back streets of Rome visiting different establishments in which Caravaggio left his mark. This turned out to be a financially economical way of spending the morning, entry to churches being free, although our feet paid the price instead.
An unexpected advantage of this “free” museum tour is that it can give you the right to stake your claim to the best viewing spots, and to monopolise that spot without any guilt at all. This is due to the church’s prudent revenue generation scheme. With the usual church lights the paintings are fairly hard to see, so the churches have installed spotlights on metered timers. You can either peer in the gloom or spend €2 and get the masterpiece of choice illuminated for your personal edification. I discovered that my usual considerate nature went out the window after the monetary deposit, and I claimed my place in front of a dying Christ or a naked baby Jesus and felt no compunction to move when others tried to view.
One particular church stood out due to its inclusion of the macabre. There were mosaics of skeletons, lots of “skull and crossbones” symbols and even a skeleton locked behind iron bars! Not quite what I was expecting in a church!
The afternoon was spent further exhausting our feet by walking around the Vatican museums. This was after we had walked around part of the enormous walls that surround the Vatican and turn it into a fortress. I was not expecting such prominent defenses. The museum itself was a mix, ranging from Egyptian and Etruscan art (these galleries were deserted), a fabulous long corridor with painted maps on the walls, renaissance paintings, and the grand finale of the Sistine Chapel. When Jon last visted the Sistine chapel many years ago in April it was heaving with people, when we were there at 5pm on a cold January afternoon it was relatively quiet. I say relatively, there was still between 60 and 100 people in there, but we could view the walls and the ceiling uninterupted, and could sit on the benches along the sides and just take our time to start seeing the detail. I hadn’t realised just how much is going on in those paintings, the more I looked, the more obscure, humerous, and simply odd some of the images were. It was good to be able to take our time, although we were chivvied out by the guards before we were truely done as closing time was drawing in.
However one the best experiences we had in Rome was simply wandering around the backstreets seeing what was there. Every turn had something interesting, a piazza, an interesting Hosteria, or just small quirky streets. Our navigation skills took a while to become tuned so we walked in several circles and more than once went in completely the opposite direction to the one intended, but by doing so, we saw parts of Rome that we not have done otherwise, and I think our stay was all the richer because of it.