September 1, 2009, Category: Italy, France, and Spain, Travel

Day 4: Pisa

If you didn’t start reading on Day 1, you might want to start from the beginning

I woke up feeling normal, thank goodness my yuckiness from last night moved on. It sucks to be sick on vacation. Our original plan was to catch an early train north towards the Cinque Terre region but we had to extend our Rome stay by a half day in order to see the Vatican. It was closed on Sat because of a holiday, closed Sunday because it’s Sunday, and so we decided to hit it early Monday before the long lines formed. Then we’d go back to the hotel, check out, and catch a train north.

IMG_2415We arrived and the line was already halfway down the block and it didn’t take long for the sun to kick in with the heat torture. We bought some ice water from a street vendor which, for 1 euro, I thought was a great deal. I took advantage of the down time to read in the guidebook about what we would be seeing inside. I was even was a little frustrated once the line started moving and I had to keep putting down the book to move forward. It was fascinating to read about what I was about to see, the Belvedere Torsa, Laocoon and His SonsIMG_2417, and (of course) the Sistine Chapel. The museum sounded huge…packed with all kinds of art from the past two thousand plus years. And I was about to see it all.

We got inside and soaked up the rich history. I wanted to make sure we saw every inch and spent time on each item but as we walked and as the heat increased, I found myself walking faster and pondering less. Once I had seen the specific items on my list, I wished we could just take a shortcut to the Sistine Chapel.

It was amazing…amazingly vast, amazingly hot, and amazingly long. There is so much in the museum that I can’t imagine even a full day would give you enough time to appreciate IMG_2413even a small portion of it. Room after room, hall after hall, packed with paintings, sculptures, ancient texts…it would have been an ordeal on a good day but with the heat, it was sapping. It was too hot, too long, and too much. It melted my fascination and stole a good chunk of my passion. By the end we were just trying to make it through what almost felt like a labyrinth through hell. I hate to compare it to that, but it was so damn hot, sweat poured off me, and the stairs and hallways never ended…another reason not to go in August. It would have been a much different experience without the heat.

IMG_2421 We finally made it to the Sistine Chapel (the picture is a hallway on the way as no pictures are allowed in the chapel). It was packed, standing room only with everyone’s heads turned skyward. It was a bit darker and tighter than I had imagined but the ceiling was quite high. I wiped the sweat from my face and took a deep breath and focused so I could enjoy it. I looked up and there were all images I had seen all my life, The Hand of God, the Last Judgement…it was all right there. I imagined Michelangelo standing, arched back, reaching up as he worked (according to historians he didn’t lay on his back as is often portrayed in movies). A ten year project, 4 for the ceiling and 6 for the Last Judgment. He had to battle mold and wilting plaster yet still managed to paint images on a curved ceiling that appear in perfect perspective from sixty feet below. Amazing. By the way, he said the project permanently messed up his vision and towards the end he worried he wouldn’t even get paid because Pope Julius II was on his deathbed.

IMG_2426We squeezed our way out the back door and out of the Museum. We had to follow the outter wall around to get to Vatican Square because we missed the secret door/shortcut mentioned by Rick Steves. Instead of just running halfway around the block, now the line wrapped around the corner, down the block, around the next corner, the next, and almost all the way to the Square. Not only that, but it ran along the stone wall which was like a brick oven reflecting the sun burning from directly overhead. It was so hot. I felt bad for all those people. I knew they were going to die before they made it to the end.

IMG_2425 I really wanted to see St. Peters Basilica but when we reached the square, that line was just as long and most of it in the sun. Even if we didn’t have a train to catch, I’m not sure I would have done it. We admired it from the outside and I looked around the square and couldn’t help but think of the movie Angel’s and Demons. The obelisk in the center is worth noting. Over 3,000 years old it saw the fall of the Egyptian empire before it was brought to Rome. Then it saw the fall of the Romans and the emergence of Christianity. I’d love to hear the stories it could tell.

We trekked back to the hotel (2 miles of walking, 2 separate subway rides, 2 gallons of sweat) and checked out. I’m sure you are getting tired of words like “hot”, “sweat,” and “heat,” but they never went away for us…so they’ll never go away here either.

IMG_2440-1 We went back to where we first arrived in the city, the train station, and tried to figure out the machines. A homeless woman took it upon herself to help us with it, although I think I could have figured it out. In a minute she ran us through our options and we’d purchased two tickets to Pisa. I gave her $1 (I didn’t have many Euros left and so asked if she wanted a dollar). She took it and with chagrin said, “One Dollar?” Even the homeless are expensive in Europe!

The train ride was nice. We saw the Mediterranean ocean, many little towns, lots of graffiti, and arrived in Pisa mid afternoon. Our Hotel was at least a mile walk and we dragged our wheelie luggage to the familiar “click click click” of the wheels over the cobblestone streets.

IMG_2453The Hotel was a monastery and a hospital and over 700 years old…and before that it was built on the foundation of a convent that went back even further! Manhattan was hundreds of years from it’s first square inch of pavement and this very building had already chalked up a century of life. If the spirits of the dead ever hang around their earthly domains, this place had to be overflowing with them. I listened during the night but heard nothing outside of my imagination.

IMG_2462We took an evening stroll a mile or two to to the city center to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We both loved Pisa, it had a much different feel that Rome. More like a cute touristy town than a big bustling city. It was full of cute shops, old stone buildings, narrow alleys with stone roads…very fun to walk through.

I’ve never been impressed with the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I mean, big deal…a tower that leans. I wouldn’t have even taken the time to see it except that Aubree had listed it as one of the things she really wanted to see. But the moment I saw it I felt inspired. It’s not just a tower, it’s a huge beautiful tower. I didn’t realize how big it really was, almost 200 feet. And it is beautifully ornate, almost like a sculpture itself. And the pictures don’t do it justice, it leans like it’s going to fall right over. It is built next to a massive Cathedral that is just as impressive. There were hundreds of people on the lawn, IMG_2480watching and relaxing. There were vendors along the streets selling all manner of tourist goods. The sun was setting, the heat had was a real nice place to spend the evening.

Aubree has sure been a trooper. I think she gets really bored and tired with all the history, walking, and heat…but she keeps plugging along. Most of our trip has been about art and history so far, I think she is ready for some fun and excitement.

Continue to Day 5…

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