Thursday, June 28th
Thursday morning I awoke to another beautiful day. The skies were blue and the humidity was gone. What more could you ask for! The few clouds in the skies even disappeared by mid afternoon. Thursday would be my day to spend at the Basilica di San Pietro (St. Peter’s Basilica).
I had read that there was a wonderful walk up to a park (the Gianicolo or Janiculum) which is located between Trastevere and the Basilica. It was a steep walk up with a staircase at the top or end of the hill of about 50 stairs leaving your legs wobbling a little when you reached the top. The Gianicolo or Janiculum is said to be the second tallest hill in Rome (although not one of the seven famous hills). Once you reach the top, you then take "la passeggiata del Gianicolo" through this beautiful park, where there are little statues (heads) of important Romans. There you will also find a very large statue or monument of Garibaldi, a smaller statue of Anita Garibaldi, who I am guessing was his wife, and also a lighthouse! In addition, there are amazing views of Rome at the Gianicolo. There is a cannon that fires once from the Gianicolo at precisely noon every day to signal the exact time.
After enjoying the park and walking up from Trastevere, I started to head down on the other side to reach the Basilica. I ran into an English couple who told me that they walked through this big parking lot from the Vatican area to the park. The map was not very clear on the path to take. I asked this friendly Italian woman for directions on my way down. She said she was going that way and I could walk with her. She would just step right out in front of cars. I would keep stopping and she would just grab my arm and tell me to come on. It was as if she had a magic hand. She would put her hand out and stare down the cars as she walked out into the street. We had a very nice chat on the way down. She left me at the parking lot where she went to catch a bus. Once you walk through this underground parking lot, the other side ended up being right at the piazza where the Basilica is located. There was one part on my walk where there was this definite "vista view" photo moment. I really wanted to take that picture but if I did, I would lose my guide and then definitely be lost. Ah, the photo that could have been...
Once at the Basilica, I walked around, took a few photos, and then headed to the line. It was a 20 minute wait. Someone walked by mentioning that the line was much shorter than earlier in the day. Once you get up to the security area, you have to put everything through an x-ray machine and then walk though one of those airport like screeners. Then you reach a second area where they check what you are wearing (need to have shoulders and knees covered).
I wanted to visit the inside of the Basilica and also climb to the top of the Cupola. In hindsight, I probably should have visited the inside first as later in the day, they blocked off part of the Basilica for a special mass.
You have to climb 551 steps to reach the top of the Cupola. There are about 200 less if you take the lift partway up. I decided to go for it and climb the entire way. I probably should not have included a walk up to the Gianicolo on the same day. I was pretty exhausted and sore by the time I reached the top.
I had climbed to the top of the Cupola once before seven years ago but forgot what the climb was like. The first part, where you had the choice of the lift or the stairs, was pretty boring and tedious. If I ever climb to the top of the Cupola again, I will probably I choose the lift.
The second half was much more interesting. At one point, you start climbing round and round in little circles and then the walls tip inwards where you need to lean to one side as you continue to climb. It was definitley a work out!
I have to say that I was a little disappointed when I reached the top. It was packed wtih people and much too crowded for me. I did not say up there too long.
The best part though was about to come. Halfway down, the stairs lead out onto the rooftop. There you are able to walk on the roof and get up close with the statues. After I took a few pictures, I went inside the bar to get a cup of coffee.
Trivia question...where will you get an espresso served in a tiny paper cup (and I mean tiny, even smaller than a dixi cup)? Answer - at the bar on the rooftop of the Basilica. And let me tell you, the guy serving the coffee was very proud of his coffee!!
After my coffee, I spent more time hanging out enjoying the incredible views. I finally headed back down. One more tip about the rooftop: there are very clean toilets available for use (at least the ladies were clean).
When you reach the bottom, you come out right into the basilica. I of course with my terrible sense of direction, could not figure out what part of the Basilica I was at. I wandered around a while until I found the entrance. I then walked around some more. At one point, I reached an area where I was not allowed to pass. I then went the other way, and again reached a point where I was stopped. I was told, as were many others, that when this special mass was done, we could all pass.
It was now about 5:10pm. At first the man said that the mass would be done at 5:30 and then it changed to 5:40. I really did not mind waiting as the inside of the Basilica is so mesmerizing to me. There also was very beautiful music to enjoy while waiting. I took a little video of the music. Actually, I moved the camera around a little but mainly I was trying to record the choir singing.
Finally the lights went on about 5:40. A few minutes later a few people were let through. So, I followed. Well, the mass wasn't over. I then had the choice to turn around or go to the end of the mass. I followed the others and found a place to stand.
I am not sure what the significance of the mass was but it was very interesting to watch. There were many important, I am guessing, bishops and cardinals. At one point many of them walked out and then returned a few minutes later with this smoke or incense. Although I was raised Catholic, this was all very new to me. I didn't dare take any pictures, a catholic guilt thing mostly as well as respect for the mass.
When the mass was done about 15 minutes later, I was able to take a couple of a quick pictures and then the lights went back out. I tried to take more but the men in suits started shuffling everyone out right back to where I was waiting all that time and saying "no photos!". I then spent more time walking around taking more pictures and finally went outside.
I had not eaten since having a late breakfast and was getting pretty hungry. I had to stop though as the Swiss guards were out. I snapped a few pictures and then ran into this nice Italian man who asked if I knew what the green garland draping on one of the doors signified. I told him that I saw the garland when walking out but did not know what it meant. I then realized that he knew the answer and wanted to tell me. There was also a nice man from Argentina standing nearby.
The Italian man explained the significance to both of us, saying that it was supposed to represent a fish net as tomorrow (Friday) was a special holiday as it was the day of St. Peter's death. St. Peter was a fisherman and that was why there was the garland on the door in the shape of a fishnet. I will post a picture of this later when I get home. I had heard that Pope would be doing the mass on Friday. Good thing I went on Thursday! I thanked the man for sharing the information. I then chatted a little while with the man from Argentina. We had a very interesting converstation about Argentina, and of course he wanted to know about Hawaii.
By then, I was very hungry. I said goodbye and headed for food. I crossed the bridge and stopped at a gelateria. Not a very good gelato at all. I didn't even finish it. I guess I have been spoiled. I then walked through the Piazza Navona. My plan was to find the Insalata Ricca restaurant I had heard about that was near the Campo. There I was walking around thinking that I am getting to know Rome and can even walk around without having to look at a map every second.
Next thing you know, I passed by the hotel I stayed at during my first visit to Rome. I knew than that I was not going in the right direction as that hotel was located near the Spanish Steps. I found a nice Carabiniere and asked him to show me just where I was on the map. Yes indeed, I was very close to the Spanish Steps.
Change of plans! Since I had not been there yet on this trip, I kept walking towards the steps, took some pictures of the crazy crowds, and then decided to find that vegetarian restaurant I had read about on Via Margutta. I found Via Margutta and started walking down the street. Well, I was fooled once again! When walking down the street, I only saw one spot where there seemed to be a restaurant and the name on the sign was: Osteria Margutta. I figured this had to be THE restaurant I had read about. The thing that tipped me off was that there was lots of meat on the menu. It was then that I knew once again, I was in a place I thought was something else. But, the food was good and the service was wonderful so no loss! I had a delicious homemade tortelloni stuffed with spinach and ricotta with a pomodoro sauce. I ate all the bread while waiting for my tortelloni and so I was then too full to enjoy even a dessert. I took my map out after paying the bill and asked the very kind waitress for directions back to the Pantheon as I knew the way from there. She said it was very easy but then understood and laughed when I told her that I was heading towards the Campo and ended up at the Spanish Steps. I had a pleasant walk home, stopping at the Pantheon for a few night pictures on the way.
A long day with lots of walking. My feet were happy when I reached my apartment for the night.