Friday, March 28, 2008

St. Peter's Basilica and lots of tiny cups of espresso.

Today we began with a nice breakfast out on the balcony of our B&B, which we followed by a visit to the opulant St. Peter's Basilica. There was a deep que, but due to the free admission, it was a really quick line (maybe 15 minutes?).

Due to some nutjob's attempted hammer attack on it in the 70's the Pietà from Michelangelo is now behind bullet-proof glass near the entrance to the basilica, so it was difficult to truly capture, but it was an impressive sculpture to be sure. It doesn't have the grand scale of David, but the level of detail and sense of realism puts it closer to what I might have expected from someone like Bernini, and since Mary is wearing lots of robes, you are not struck by the masculine qualities of the feminine figure like you would be looking at much of his other work, (he tended to use muscular male models for both his male and female work... go figure, but anyway, I digress).

The Basilica is as opulent as you could possibly make a single space. Here is a shot that tries to capture some sense of the feel you get walking around it.

The entire basilica is filled to brim with art, as you might expect, but one detail that was a complete surprise to me was that there were no paintings! Instead, due to church planner's fear of fire, they had mosaics that looked like paintings done for the domes, walls, and panels of the basilica. It was an absolutely uncanny thing to see one up close, or zoom with the lens and see that the gigantic painting you were looking at was actually a gazillion little tiles that took nearly two decades to make (each!)!

This is a shot that shows some of the detail you see looking up, including one of those incredible mosaics.

Once we had our share of dead popes and mind blowing art, we decided to wonder down the Tiber river towards the Trastevere area of Rome. It was a beautiful walk, even in the sprinkly weather, down the river's edge, and we finally made our way to Trastevere which was a wonderful tangle of small cobbled streets perfect for getting lost in, (which we happily did). We roamed the streets until it started to rain a bit harder so we ducked into a cute little cafe/restaurant for a snack and some warm drinks.

I should mention that I LOVE drinking tea, and while Rome doesn't seem to really get the tea thing right, WOW do they get the coffee thing right! I'm completely hooked on cafe macchiatos, and ordered two of them at the little cafe. The proprietor was a really charming host and we lingered there for a while, but once the rain slacked a bit, we jumped back into our not-really-aiming-for-anything-in-particular route back through the neighborhood. We stayed lost for a long time and ended up stumbling into an old pharmacy run by monks for hundreds of years that services the popes. The walls had some really cool botanical paintings of medicinal herbs from treatments ages past.

Later that day we decided to take our B&B's suggestion and try out a restaurant called La Griglietta. A former guest from Texas had said to our B&B that he had the best steak of his life there, and with an endorsement like that how could I resist! Kerry was treated to an artichoke lasagna made by the owner's wife that was out of site, while I had the Taglietta, a full kilogram of superb cut of beef, (not unlike something John Candy was served). It was cooked to absolute perfection, slightly crisp and seared through on the outside, and tender buttery raw goodness on the inside. We both ended up gorging ourselves far past sanity due to both the amazing symphony of flavors and the portions that were, especially with the meat, truly meant for two. It was another meal to remember. We both wished we could have eaten more, but as it was we had to waddle home and crash into a food-coma, (the great wine helped too). Tomorrow, we will get up bright and early to finally see inside the Musei Vaticani (Vatican Museum)!

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