The Standing Martyrs – Vatican City

7th June 2006

We got up really early the next day to go to see all the religious sights of Rome which we previously hadn’t seen due to the Pentecost holiday. I got up and had yet another bath from hell, got dressed in sensible but respectful attire and headed out to Termini Station and bought our all-day tickets. When I put my money in the machine a small boy came up and shook a cup at me when my change was due to appear, cheeky little shit, I thought to myself. We were off to visit the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum first, so we got off at Vaticani station and at 7am were astonished to find that the queue was already ten people deep and stretched all the way from the Vatican to San Pedro Station, almost 2km away. Mum and I looked at each other and decided to get into the queue, before it got worse, if that was indeed possible. I suggested one of us go off and round up some breakfast so we could eat in the queue, I managed to get Mum to agree to me doing it and finally I got to do something in Rome on my own. I went to a nearby street vendor and got into yet another queue to get food. I got us yet more chicken sandwiches, now becoming our staple breakfast food in Italy and soft drink. The queue for the Vatican had moved along considerably since I had gone off to find food and I had a little trouble locating Mum. I eventually found her, and we continued to wait.

We finally got to the front of the queue three hours after we joined it, my legs ached, and I hadn’t seen anything yet. We paid our ten euros to get in and headed straight for this Sistine Chapel. We passed through hall after hall of beautifully painted walls and ceilings, painted by many a famous artist and it took us a good half an hour to reach the Sistine Chapel. Once there I sat down, to combat my aching legs and enjoyed Michelangelo’s famous ceiling that way. I couldn’t believe I was looking at the two fingers almost touching, this work was something that had always fascinated me in art class at school, art being my other calling and it was something that I always swore I would see.

Me in the Vatican Museum
Inside the Vatican Museum

We left the chapel and walked through the museum. All the statues from the Roman forum were in one exhibit and I couldn’t help thinking, it would have been nice if they had left them where they were. They would still have had plenty of artefacts to warrant still charging the ten euros to get in and again I felt taken advantage of. Once I entered the Egyptian wing of the museum, I was both sad and disgusted at the hypocrisy. In this wing there were two mummies, one unwrapped from the 11th Dynasty and another wrapped from the Roman period. I watched in horror as hundreds of disrespectful tourists photographed the unwrapped mummy. I felt like crying, I wanted to scream at them “This is a real person, someone’s father, son or brother!” I actually said to Mum out loud how disgusted I was and left the room for fear of what else I might say. Photography hadn’t been permitted in the Sistine Chapel, a wonderful sight but still a painting none the less but photographing the dead of other nations seemed to be ok. Mum went off to the loo and I sat down on the floor, five minutes later a guard came and told me to move along. That’s nice I thought, they make you queue for three hours and charge you money to get in and won’t even let you sit down.

We left the Vatican and headed straight for St. Peter’s and shock horror the only queue here was the queue to be searched and go through the metal detectors, as can be imagined the seat of the Catholic church had been seen as a major target for terrorists in this day and age so that was perfectly understandable. Once I had been searched I walked straight up the steps and into the magnificent St. Peter’s basilica, something I had drawn in art class and that I was now standing in front of. I gazed at the majestic tomb of St. Peter and saw the Pieta, which was behind a barrier and unfortunately had to be viewed from a distance. I had wanted to go into the catacombs but one look at the queue ended that dream right then and there, I couldn’t stand up anymore. Mum and I decided to go to a nearby café and eat yet more chicken sandwiches. While we were in the café one of the guy’s behind the counter who was wearing a Ferrari hat kept smiling and waving at me every time I looked up from my lunch, he was so silly I couldn’t help smiling, despite the near hellish day I’d had. When we got up to leave he handed me a spoonful of beautiful caramel gelato and said to me “Smile, this is Italy!” I laughed and he seemed satisfied. He probably has no idea what he did for his city and its people just by that small gesture, he restored some of my faith in the place in a few short minutes.

Me at the Spanish Steps
Sitting on the Spanish Steps

The entire time I was in Rome I felt as though I was being taken maximum advantage of. The price of food and the continual service charge and Copperto is beyond ridiculous and if there’s not some person following you around with knock off Louis Vuitton bags and fake Gucci wallets, there’s some begging child shaking a cup at you when you’re collecting your change from a transaction. The souvenirs are terrible, the queues are unbelievable, the people make little to no effort to keep the city clean and overcharging to the point of stupidity is rampant.

After lunch we headed back to the metro and got off at the Spanish steps, which I actually protested, I had had enough of Rome at this point and just wanted to go back to the hotel until it was time to go “home” to Huntingdon. Mum insisted and we got there, and it was covered in scaffolding and to say the steps were completely overrun with tourists would have been an understatement.

Horrendous Cage Lift at the Hotel
The hellish cage lift at Chez Liviana

At that moment I had a horrific thought, I was off to Greece in a week, would Greece and the Islands be like this? I was only in Rome for three days and I was sick of it, I would be in Greece for three weeks! Mum waited at the bottom as I climbed the Spanish Steps and I did not get my bum pinched, another tradition that mass tourism seems to have killed off, because it didn’t look as though anyone else was either. We headed back to the hotel and I did a little shopping on the way to Octavia station, I bought two bikinis for ten euros, Italians really do make the best swimwear. We boarded the train and we went back to Termini station and walked around for about an hour attempting to find the Terravision stand to buy our tickets for the bus back to Ciampino Airport.

There was a church near the hotel that we kept saying we were going to go into, but never seemed to get around to it. As we had time to kill, we decided to go inside and have a look around. The church was called Santa Maria Maggiorie and it was like a smaller version of St. Peters, again with beggars outside. In one area I noticed something quite strange, it was a painting of the All-Seeing Eye, something I had never seen in a church before and up until this point I had thought it was a pagan symbol. We spent a fair amount of time in the church, and I sat down and rested and actually prayed a little for the people at home that I was worried about.

We headed back to the hotel, and I took pictures of the torturous lift, not quite as bad as the door at “la Gondola” in Venice but still pretty bad. I sat in the hotel writing up my travel diary and watching film clips trying to pass the time, and waiting patiently until it was time to go back to Merry Olde England.

Finally, we got our suitcase and headed for Termini station, it was a long way on foot, and we were nearly run over several times on the way, mostly by mopeds and scooters. We were just about there when I heard Mum exclaim “That’s disgusting” and I turned around to see a grown man pissing in the street. It was a Monday night, and I don’t even think he was drunk, it was like the final insult. We boarded the bus and as it was still light, I could see the outskirts of the city as we drove past them, which were amazingly more disgusting than the inner city. This part of town was just a slum, there is no other word for it. At that moment, I suddenly thought that if I had the power to bring the great men of Rome back from the grave if only to see what their great city had become…..I wouldn’t.

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