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Rome. Who knew?

June 11, 2013

OK – I realize that everyone knew but me, but I really didn’t know. I love it here. I’ve said this everyday, but this is my last one in Roma – so I’ll say it again. I love it here.

Today, I climbed. Up. According to my FitBit, I’ve climbed the equivalent of 126 flights of stairs so far today, and it’s not over yet. I hate going up (or down. I like flat). That may come as a surprise to people who see my choice of vacations, but it won’t shock anyone who’s had to endure me on a hike up a hill (or down one) – especially my family, my fellow Waukeela girls, and my friends from Nepal, all of whom were on my mind today. But the reason I do it, the reason everyone does it, is that it’s so worth it when you get to the top.

I got an early start today. A friend sent me a recommendation on for a Vatican tour guide. He wasn’t sure what it would cost (a pretty penny it turns out), but he was sure it would be worth it (and oh my god, it was). I was to meet my guide at the steps to the Vatican Museum at 7:45 am. Grabbing a croissant and cappuccino on the way, I found my bus and jumped on with time to spare. I mentioned yesterday, but I’ll say again, there are a lot of nuns in Rome. And for any travelers out there, if you happen to be in Rome on an early morning bus to the Vatican and an old nun gets on, give up your seat. Just do it, its good karma even if you don’t believe anything else, it’s the right thing to do. I couldn’t believe how many people didn’t though.

The bus took off and two stops before mine, the driver called out “last stop.” Of course, he said it in Italian so I just figured I was the only one going all the way to the church til he came back and told me to get off, pointing vaguely to the walls of Vatican City.  Turns out, I was about as far from the main entrance as one can get, as the Swiss Guards quite efficiently let me know and I had to run to meet Luigi in time.

I made it and we headed in. Luigi, a man in his late 60s or early 70s told me he’d worked at the Vatican since 1976 as a “supervisor of art.” I’m not sure what that meant, but he was passionate about the art. During the four and a half hour tour (a duration I thought would be torture, but really wasn’t’ enough, he gave me a graduate course in art. We spent a large amount of time in the Sistine Chapel and it was breathtaking. Also – it’s not just God and Adam touching fingers ET style. There are 300  figures depicted on the ceiling, 400 on one of the walls. It’s incredible. And silent. Guards hushed the growing crowd frequently.

We saw the museums and St. Peter’s Basilica (OMG) but what made Luigi worth every dime were the rooms we saw that one doesn’t get to see on the general tour. Having worked there as long as he did, and with his special charm, I was constantly having velvet ropes pulled back for me. Some of what I saw actually had me in tears. I promised not to talk about it on the internet, but I was allowed to take photos and if you want to know or see, I will happily share. What I can tell you in that among other things, I learned the answers to many of the most vexing mysteries of the Papal Conclaves. I will also pass Luigi’s number on to anyone heading this way. Seriously, worth every euro.

At the end of the tour he said to me, Katalina, are you feeling strong, can you go on? i said sure and he said, I have a surprise for you just through there. Through there led to a small staircase that was about 500 small winding steps with no going back options once you started. But when you stopped, The roof of St. Peter’s. The whole of Rome below us. Once I caught my breath, it was taken away again.

I left Luigi on a cloud and headed to the one sight I really wanted to hit and hadn’t yet, the  Campidoglio and Capitoline Hill. Another climb, and other soul-expanding sight. The museum there houses many, many Roman heads and jars. But before I did anything else there, I needed to find a bathroom. Following the signs I wound my way through exhibit rooms and rounded a corner and – oh my god – there she was. The Capitoline Wolf and her suckling twins Romulus and Remus (who, once they stopped suckling, built Rome). I had come looking for her, but hadn’t expected to find her like this. All of Rome has been the surprise of what is right around the corner!

I’m back in my room for a little work and a rest before spending my final night here wandering the dark streets. I may go throw a few more coins in Trevi, or I may just leave it to Rome to surprise me.


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