I just wish it hadn’t been the Metro system on the day when I was on a tight timetable with my two favorite museums already booked. The Travel Gods really came up with a good one this time.
Taxis were scarce as a result, but the wonderful staff at my little hotel (Hotel Diocleziano – I highly recommend it!) were able to call me one so I could get to the Vatican museum at least somewhat close to my starting time of 9am. My driver was a kindly retired gentleman teacher who drove a taxi part time so his wife won’t kill him. Or so he said. He pointed out many of the interesting sights along the way, with stories attached. As we passed the Vittorio Emmanuel monument he said that I should visit Mussolini’s tomb because he was such a great man. Oooh. yeah, right… So not going there…
Traffic was jammed, since all other public transit was at a halt, and it seemed everyone in Rome was driving either some species of car or motorbike. Ever see a large lady in a mini skirt on a motorbike? I wish I hadn’t.
We finally pulled up at the Vatican Museum, and the line was around the block. Having done my homework, I had booked ahead and marched up to the entrance and straight to the ticket booth. I was in the first room within a few minutes, ready to soak it all in.
The Vatican Museum is a world-class museum that goes on for miles. They have the most incredible statuary exhibits I’ve ever seen. Roman, Egyptian, Greek and Assyrian – the collection is amazing. From there, the swarm of tourists pushes you through some amazing galleries with tapestries, maps and more statues. Part of the wonder of this museum is the building itself. Every gallery had the walls and ceilings painted by the best masters of the day, and the floors were usually inlaid marble, or mosaic. You get a crick in your neck because you don’t want to miss the ceiling fresco done by Raphael.
The culmination of the tour is the Sistine Chapel. This is a large room that’s packed as full as it can hold with teeming masses of tourists, all looking around and talking at the top of their voices. There are a few guards that stand by the altar area yelling for people to be quiet. The funny thing is they have their walkie-talkies on much louder than the tourists – and much more jarring. I was able to score one of the few spaces on the bench by the altar and sat for about 30 minutes and gazed at Michaelangelo’s masterpiece to my heart’s content. No matter how many pictures you see, it pales in comparison to the awe that the original inspires.
After the Sistine Chapel, there are only the corridors of the Vatican Museum Library left. This is an area I enjoy. Most of the tours and large groups of people just blow through here on their way out, and it leaves more quiet and space to admire for us serious museum buffs.
After 4 hours, it was finally time to leave. I had just 20 minutes to get to the Villa Borghese for my starting time at that museum. I found a taxi by the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica and make it with only 5 minutes to spare.
The Borghese museum is a very hard-to-get ticket. They only let people in every 2 hours, and it’s a limited number. You miss your time, you’re out of luck. They book up several days out, so the best way is online. I took my voucher to the ticket window and got in line, after checking my purse with the attendants. You’re not allowed to bring anything in with you. My tired shoulders were most grateful.
No photos are allowed in this museum, so I’ll just have to describe it. There are two floors, and you start at the top. Each room in this mansion is covered with incredible art. Trompe d’oeil paintings on the walls and ceilings, frescoes, gilding, marble inlay on the floors and walls, and I haven’t even gotten started on the exhibits! Cardinal Scipione Borghese really knew how to live.
The top floor is devoted to paintings, but in each of the main rooms there is also the finest collection of Bernini statuary anywhere. Paintings by Titian, Rafael, Caravaggio and Rubens are scattered throughout.
Downstairs is devoted to statuary, with many incredible pieces to see. My favorite is the Bernini sculpture of Apollo and Daphne. The detail of Daphne turning into a tree is amazing, and she even has tears sculpted on her face. There are several tours here, and I’ve found that breezing through the galleries and doubling back when they leave is a great way to enjoy the experience without going crazy.
The two hours allotted for this museum go by way too fast. Fortunately, this time I was able to see everything I wanted before they started ringing the bell. Off to collect my purse and stroll through the gardens.
The Borghese Gardens are well worth a trip by themselves. Now a spacious park, the area around the house is set in formal style, with sculpted hedges and fountains. The rest of the park is tree and grass-filled, with lots of locals and tourists enjoying the fine weather. As you walk around, fountains in the baroque or neo-classical style dot the landscape and make for nice picture opportunities.
Once done, it’s a simple stroll to the Via Veneto, and all the over-priced shopping and restaurants anyone could wish. I took a stroll down this famous street in honor of all my friends who love to shop. No, I didn’t buy anything. My friends say I’m missing a gene because I hate shopping.
It was such a nice day, I decided I can fit in the Forum before it gets dark. I was in luck and found a taxi that didn’t cost a fortune. Since they were the only game in town, they all turned off their meters and you had to negotiate prices. Legalized highway robbery, and they knew it. Ah, Italy!