Vatican museums

Slept in until 8:00 this morning after a night of some serious sounding rain. But as we’re having breakfast, the clouds started breaking up.

We returned to San Luigi dei Francesi so Allie could get more postcards of the Caravaggio Matthew paintings.

From there we poked our head into some shops in the area northeast of the Pantheon. We ended up at Piazza dei Montecitorio to see the oblesik there. Something was going on at the Palazzo dei Montecitorio as there were a lot of kids with notebooks lined up to go inside or sitting around the piazza. After a bit of shopping, we stopped at Giolitti gelateria, where Michelle Obama bought gelato for her kids since some consider it the best gelato in Rome. I’m not sure it was better than San Crispino but my tiramisu, nociola and stracciella combo was pretty good, especially as a noon time snack or in Allie’s case, breakfast. The temperature had warmed considerably so that my three layers of clothing were too warm and the bottom of my gelato was getting soupy before long.

Our big event for the day was the Vatican Museums. We had a guide, Laura with the Institute of Design and Culture. Things have changed since we were there in 2007. Online tickets are now available and the entry area is bigger with windows for picking up your reserved tickets as well as a gift shop next to the ticket area. In fact, we noticed little gift shops all over the museum. We hit a lot of the big highlights like the ancient Roman sculptures in the octagonal courtyard designed by Bramante.

We checked out other ancient sculptures and walked down the long hallways. I particularly liked seeing the hall of maps again.
We did the four Raphael designed rooms which were explained in detail by Laura. I learned a lot even though I’d thought I was familiar with these frescoes. The Room of Heliodorus has been cleaned since I last saw it and the colours are vivid.

Of course, we went to the Sistine Chapel where the no photography rule was far more strictly enforced than when we went in 2007. I didn’t dare pull out my camera because the guards were on you in an instant telling you “no photos”. They were also a lot more strict about keeping quiet. They asked for silence, which they didn’t get, but there was no roar of voices like we heard before. There were also fewer people. We also viewed the Pinoteca, the painting gallery, which was new for me and although it was missing the Caravaggio which we had already seen, it did have Raphaels and Leonardo’s unfinished St Jerome. We managed to look at all the Raphael works in the Vatican museums.

The exit for the museums also has been changed. You now go through a massive bookstore gift shop area and down a double helix staircase and end up back where you started.

No longer do you get to go down a staircase which puts you next to Bernini’s statue of Constantine on a horse. So we said goodbye to Laura at the corner of the Vatican wall and trekked a fair distance around the walls to go into St Peter’s. It also gave Allie enough time to eat a panino or pizza type sandwich. We made the mistake of going to view the obelisk and fountain first not realizing that there is now a security system requiring you to pass metal scanners and an xray of baggage along one side of Bernini’s colonnade around St Peter’s piazza. That required recrossing the square before we could finally enter.


We viewed as much of St Peter’s as we could. It was more open than in 2007 when Easter preparations were underway.

By the time we were leaving St Peter’s we had had almost 5 hours in the Vatican. We returned to our hotel by crossing Ponte Sant’Angelo and looking at the Tiber River which is still quite high since the flooding in early January. The wide lower walkway by the river was still under water.

We managed to walk back to our hotel going a new route without a map and noticed Chiesa Nuova was open. It has an impressive ceiling frescoes on the nave, dome and aspe by Pietro da Cortona, and three paintings by Rubens behind the high altar. We went in but mass was going on in a side chapel so we didn’t get as close to the Rubens as I would have liked. Without sunlight coming in the dome and upper windows, the church was quite dark.

For dinner, we went to Ristorante Filippo La Mantia, who used to be the chef at Trattoria, where we ate in 2007. He is Sicilian and emphasizes Sicilian cuisine — no garlic, onions or butter. He’s a bit of a celebrity here it seems and now has his eponymous restaurant. We took a taxi as a break for our tired legs. The restaurant is in the Hotel Majestic and is quite posh looking, a contrast to the very contemporary look of his former restaurant. For antipasti, I had an eggplant, raisin and pinenut caponata, Allie a rice ball with cheese and stuff I can’t remember which resembled a pear. We split a pasta of tuna, lemons and celery. Allie had rabbit with carrot jam and chocolate. I had veal with puntarella, a celery like vegetable and fresh artichokes. Neither of us could finish our secondi. We had a Sicilian red wine, Nero d’Avola, which I didn’t photograph because the bottle was sitting on a table away from us.

It rained while we were dining but conveniently stopped by the time we wanted to return to our hotel.

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