Thursday 3rd March: Clare's birthday. The worst birthday ever I think. Over breakfast I got the news that old Tash, after 16 and a half long and loved years, had finally passed away. I suddenly felt very far away from home. All I wanted to do was rush to Clare, and Georgia, and hug them. Even now I still am very weepy. Can't imagine how Clare is coping. Hugs and much love to you sister dear.
I think all the stress and frustration of the last couple of months has found an outlet. I'm feeling really drained by all the tears and am lacking any enthusiasm to do anything.
However, I did go to the Vatican museum and Sistine Chapel yesterday, seeing as I'd already paid my 26 euros for a ticket. I managed to negotiate two lines of the metro to get there and found myself outside the museum. The meeting place for the tour was outside St Peter's though, so I had to walk all around the walls to get there. Then the group was walked all the way back around the walls to the museum. It's not really all that far but it didn't help improve my mood. Being part of a tour group did mean that we didn't have to wait in the endless queue, so that was a positive.
Once inside we were, thankfully, left to out own devices. I went to the cloakroom to offload my jacket but found that you can't leave any sort of clothes there, only bags. You also have to hand over your passport or driver's licence to get an audio guide. No thanks.
The first part of the museum I saw was a long room full of classical statues and busts. Probably more in that one room than in the whole of the National Museum.
Each room of this vast palace has something to offer. The ceilings are all decorated: some with tiles or patterns, most with paintings. The walls are also full of stuff to stare at: statues, busts, painted maps, tapestries, etc. There are no empty spaces anywhere! One long room (more of a very long, wide corridor really) was just mind boggling. The walls are covered with large painted maps, mostly of regions of Italy. The ceiling, however, is just amazing. It's covered from one end to the other is all sorts of paintings and other decorations. The paintings are framed and I was amazed at how everything was curved to fit the deeply curved shape of the ceiling. It's all spoilt though by the souvenir stalls along the walls.
There are endless corridors and rooms like this: each one has something new to look at. Except for the classical pieces, most of the art is religious of course. I came to realise though that a lot of it was not really about the glorification of Christianity but more about the glorification of the various Popes who'd acquired and displayed all this work to enhance their own standing. The wealth on show is astounding. Meanwhile, there are beggars outside and that made me a little bit angry.
Just on that: I saw more beggars around the Vatican and St Peter's than I saw in the whole of Paris. Unlike Paris though, they don't seem to be from other EU countries here – Italians (though I couldn't swear to that 100%), old women mostly. I offered one the sandwich I'd bought but didn't really want but she declined, just wanted cash. After I came out of the Vatican I took to saying; “Go ask il Papa, he's got plenty of money!” I saw one guy give an old lady some money and, in a flash, he was surrounded by several people with hands outstretched.
But, back to the Vatican: eventually I came to the Sistine Chapel. Wow! It really is incredible. Michelangelo's masterpiece and no mistake. It was crowded with people all staring at the ceiling, like myself, with their mouths open. It really does take your breath away. It's the one area of the Vatican where photography is not allowed. There are several officious men in uniform wandering around saying “Silence! No photos! Silence! No photos!” Of course, I ignored them and managed to get a few shots of the ceiling while they weren't looking. I managed to find a seat around the walls and just sat there for the longest time, just looking at what Michelangelo has created. There really are no words to describe it adequately.
After that experience, the rest of the Vatican kind of pales into insignificance, even though there's nothing insignificant about it.
One completely different exhibition was tucked away in the basement, near the cafes and toilets. It's called Rituals of Life (or something similar) and is a collection of Aboriginal and Papua New Guinean artefacts. Apparently these particular artefacts are of better quality than the usual because they were made with tender loving care for the missionaries - you know, those guys who came to improve their lives. Right, the guys who took the children from their families, replaced their traditions and 'false gods' with an even falser god, etc. I better stop there and not turn this into a rant.
Today (Friday): I wandered over to the Piazza Navona for lunch. The piazza is a long rectangular open area with a fountain at either end and the big Fountain of Four Rivers (I think) in the centre. It features an Egyptian obelisk in the centre. It's a wonder there are any left in Egypt! At one end of the piazza a Renaissance play was being staged while there were some Renaissance musicians playing at the other. In between were a whole range of artist displays with paintings for sale. Plus the usual array of fake Prada and Gucci stuff. And umbrellas. Some of the artworks were being sold by their creators but most seemed to be mass produced and sold on commission. Still, it makes for a pleasant outlook when sitting in one of the many restaurants that ring the piazza. It's an expensive place to eat though. 50 euros for a pizza, a tiramisu and 2 glasses of vino.
Actually (I nearly forgot!) it was an expensive day anyway as I bought myself a genuine Italian leather bag on the way to the piazza. Not Gucci or any name brand but a very nice little bag: perfect for the kindle, baby camera and other such junk that I carry round.
I walked back to the Colosseum (still impressive) via the Victor Emmanuel monument and the Imperial Forum. Then caught the train back to the hotel.
Tomorrow I'm off to Pompeii for a couple of days.
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