Partying for another birthday, and Arte Vaticano tour

Our main project for the day is to tour the Vatican museums and San Pietro. We head towards that general area but along the way go to Davide Cenci, a mens clothing shop recommended by our docent, Olivia. I checked the internet to find the address on Campo Marzio, which is near the Tiber River (Tevere Fiume). Walking there, we discover an entire street of menswear shops. Scott and Robin buy shirts and ties. The store also has a very good selection of high end women’s clothes, but I’m trying not to buy things until our return to Rome.


I get some cash from an ATM, bancomat as they are called. They all give you the option of doing the transaction in English. This is the first of many stops at a bancomat. Lots of cash is needed as the museums all require cash to pay admission. The tabaccheria, the little convenience stores, only take cash, and the smaller train stations require cash.
We walk from there towards San Pietro. I suddenly remember I forgot the 2 pairs of binoculars I brought to look at the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Aaargh! They weight a lot and now were carried for no good reason at all. I kick myself all along the lower walk by the river.

We cross on the Ponte Sant’Angelo which is lined with statuary designed by Bernini and with some controversy about which, if any, were carved by him. I check them out as we walk along and try to guess if any were done by his hand.


We look at Castel Sant’Angelo, a fortification built under Hadrian in the 1st century. You can go inside and undoubtedly get good views but lunch is calling. We try to stay a bit away from St. Peter’s in hopes that will increase the likelihood of finding better food.

We go to a small restaurant on Via Crescenzio, which is a substantial road (but the roads on this side of the river are bigger). It’s called Isola che non c’e [Via Crescenzio 39, Roma, tel: 39 0668134162] and requires you to go down into a basement. One of our favourite restaurants in Edinburgh is in the basement so this doesn’t discourage us. The two waitress don’t speak much English. This, we think, is a good sign. I have insalata mista, which is huge; Scott and Robin have parmagiano e carciofi salad. Robin has risotto con salmone, Scott a carbonara and I have pennette crema di broccoli. A Castello Banfi Brunello for €40, which is about $60 – 65 Canadian. That would be a good retail price in Calgary. We are really liking Italy.


From there we go to meet our docent, Rebecca Moholt, outside Trattoria da Paolo at #104 Viale Vaticano, which is located across the street from the entrance to the Vatican museums. We see the line to the museums from a long way away. It is probably a kilometer long. We can’t find Rebecca right away because she is in line for the tickets to the Vatican museums. Somehow, she sees us and crosses the street to collect us. She goes back to her place in line and an old British guy gets angry at us saying he’s been in line for an hour and a half and we should go to the back of the line. Rebecca says she told him she was leaving her place in line to get us and that she’s been waiting just as long as he has. He is furious and points to us says that we haven’t been waiting for an hour and a half. Rebecca moves us as far away from him as she can but does not give up her place. We try to be quiet and small, and are into the museum ticket area in very short order.

Rebecca is doing her post-graduate studies in Rome and has been here for 4 years. She’s an American.

To get to to the ticket booths, we ascend a very long escalator. The ticket area is quite new, again, built for the 2000 celebrations. Robin, again, gets a discount as a student going to a university in an EU country. [Entry ticket is €13; €8 with student ID.] We begin our tour of the Vatican Museums in the courtyard where she explains the basic origin of the museums and discusses the Sistine Chapel because it will be hard to do so once we are there.

We look at the two most significant ancient sculptures in the museums’ collection, the Apollo Belvedere and the Laocoön. From there, we go to the chronologically arranged picture gallery known as the Pinacoteca, where there are paintings from the late medieval to high Renaissance periods. This takes us through the halls of the Vatican palaces, visiting the most important rooms of the museums, including the ancient statuary collection of Julius II and the papal apartments decorated by Raphael. There hallways are amazing also.

One has maps of Italy done in frescos, another tapestries including some designed by Raphael. The Raphael ones were woven in Belgium and have gold thread which sparkles as we look at them because someone has accidently pulled back the draperies over the window and allowed the sunlight in. In the Stanza della Segnatura, we get a photo of us in front of Raphael’s School of Athens because we have a poster of it in our diningroom.

From the Raphael rooms, we go to the Sistine Chapel, where many people are ignoring the signs and announcement saying no flash. A guard somewhere keeps asking us to be quiet, but to no avail. The photos we take are very blurry because we don’t use our flashes. It is all so impressive and also oppressive because of the crowd. Some of the better photos were taken by Robin, who it seems used his flash.

We leave the Sistine Chapel to go to St. Peter’s Basilica, and look at Bernini’s Constantine statue which is at the end of a staircase just next to the entrance to St. Peter’s. Scott stops for a photo and gets told not to stop.

Seems silly that you can’t look at this great piece. The area is very wide and we’re not blocking the flow into St. Peter’s nor the long line to the dome or the crypts. In St. Peter’s, we visit the major works by Michelangelo, the dome, La Pietá, and Bernini’s Baldocchino (the canopy) and a statue for the tomb of Pope Alexander VII hanging over a doorway.


Finally, we go out to St. Peter’s Piazza, designed by Bernini. There are chairs being set up in the square and inside the church, all to get ready for Easter.

We part from Rebecca. She tells us we’re the most fun group she has had and that we’re pretty funny (I assume she meant funny amusing, not weird). We make a short visit to the bookstore, where they have a strange selection of music, like Frank Sinatra, and movies, some not readily obvious about their connection to St. Peters.

We leave via Ponte Emanuele which also has statuary lining the bridge and walk back to the hotel. It is starting to mist.
Back at the hotel, we have birthday cheers and gifts but we’re inside the room because the rain has started. While in our rooms, we hear a huge clap of thunder. As a result, this was our one evening we decide to take a taxi to a restaurant.

We are going to Il Convivio [Vicolo dei Soldati, 31, Rome, Tel: 39 06 6869432]Instead of dropping us at the restaurant, the cab driver, who was very chatty, stopped on a major road and pointed us to a small parallel street barely wide enough for a scooter. That wasn’t even the street, the restaurant is on an equally narrow alley which isn’t even named on the huge map of Rome I had.

This was described as having typical Roman recipes reinvented and presented in an elegant setting. The more modern but formal decor is matched by impeccable, equally formal service. There are three vaulted dining rooms filled with a large number of older men in suits. The wine list, with bottles from all over the world, is a pleasure.

We are brought an amuse of a mozzarella stuffed mussel. It is amazing. We have sole and crispy artichoke with a curry spice in the sauce, rigatoni with quail meatballs, roast pigeon with fried noodles and tangerines; duck carpaccio with rucola and pineapple foam, baccala with artichokes; buffalo mozerrella wrapped in strings of potato and deep fried accompanied with anchovy and a sweet and sour red pepper sorbet; lamb four ways – a chop, stuffed outside of a chop, tripe and sweetbreads.

We manage two bottles of Brunello this evening and see for the first time, the sommelier “curing” the wine glasses. He takes the small amount of wine after the initial tasting, swirls it over the inside of the glass, then transfers the wine to each of the other glasses and swirls it in those glasses, then he serves the wine from the decanter.

As it was Scott’s birthday, we also managed dolci: cake with apple, raspberry coulis and champagne sorbet; fresh fruit with pineapple, lemon and strawberry sorbet and bucccello, a traditional Tuscan cake. More little desserts were given to us after. We’re there for quite a while finishing off our wine. When we sign the bill, the waiter offers us the pen, with the restaurant name on it, to take with us. He even puts it into a felt sleeve.

An incredible meal. Again, expensive. Food came to €286 (about $450 Cdn) not including the wine, but for three courses of food for three of us, that’s less than we’ve paid at many restaurants including some in Calgary. And vastly unlike our usual experiences in Calgary, the bar bill was less than the food despite having 2 bottles of Brunello and post-prandial drinks.

We walk back in light rain to see the Spanish Steps with no one on them — the only time — then back to the hotel. Allie calls us after I had texted her to tell her the phone card is finito and my cell still won’t work. More snow in Calgary. Birthday boy and my son decide more cards are in order and more wine. Crazy. This time it’s poker, which I don’t know how to play. We stay up until almost 2 a.m., a smart move since we’re planning to catch the 8:50 am train to Venezia.

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