Sunday, July 1, 2012

Italy Trip Prologue: Rome Marathon, Climbing St. Peter's Basilica, Seeing the Pope

Israel was nice, but it was time to move on. I met up with my parents and younger sister in Italy for a fantastic nine day trip. It made more sense for me to fly in Sunday morning and for them to arrive on Monday, so I began the trip alone - therefore I consider this post a prologue to the actual trip even though I did a lot of fun things that day.

After having been up all night in the Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport and after an airline mix up which left me having to buy a carry-on sized bag in the airport itself I arrived in Rome. Despite the mix-up, Ben Gurion Airport is extremely nice and I consider it a model for how airports should be arranged.

Upon entering the baggage claim/ground transportation area of the Rome airport, I followed the signs to the bus ticket vending window. It costs four euros to ride a coach bus to the central train station of Rome. From there I took a cab to my hotel - the Best Western Astrid - pretty far north along the East bank of the Tiber river. It so happened that that day was the day of the Rome marathon. Luckily the marathon route didn't obstruct my taxi driver (the nicest taxi driver in all of Italy who gave me an English language tourbook of Rome someone had left in his car) from taking me to the hotel.

Although I was very tired, I did not want to waste any of my time in Italy at all, so I started walking toward the sights - snapping pictures of the marathoners along the way.
You can do it!
I'm not so used to marathons taking place so close to such beautiful churches.
Go! Go!  Go!
And then I saw the Vatican! The biggest church in the world! It was mind-blowingly cool. 
Could you ask for a cooler finish line?
Almost there!
OK turns out the marathon didn't end at the Vatican like I thought it did. In the picture below, which is the same stretch of the race as depicted above only facing away from the Vatican you can see they veer away.
Disappointed from thinking I was going to see the finish line, I decided to visit St. Peter's Basilica. Pictures do not do the place justice. It is something one must see in person to appreciate. Unlike what people think of as classic renaissance church design, the ceilings are mosaics (pictures made of different colored tile) instead of frescoes (paintings). Entry to the Basilica is free, but in most cases visitors do have to stand in long lines to get through security on the north end of St. Peter's square to get in as I did. 
Breathtaking.  Keep that golden ring near the top of the picture in mind for later.
Once inside, immediately on your right you see Michaelangelo's Pietaone of the many scenes from the bible I was about to see very often over the following ten days.
My camera was dying - not enough juice to try several times to get a clear picture. Anyway - it's behind smudgy glass... just google it.  
I strolled around the Basilica. When I had finished doing that it was time to climb to the top of the dome. You may ask, "but Josh, how can you climb to the top of the most imposing landmark in Rome?" Well I'll tell you. What you'll want to do is head out of the front entrance to the Basilica and turn left back towards the security entrance. Once past the north wall of the entryway to the basilica turn left again and head down the alleyway to get to the entrance to the cupola tour (cupola means dome).

It costs 5 total to climb the stairs the entire way and 7 total to take the elevator halfway up to the roof of the Basilica and then up and down the cupola by stairs, then back down to ground level by elevator. I highly recommend the elevator. I've read that there are no views along the way up to or down from the roof of the Basilica and it's just adding exercise to an already strenuous climb.

Stairs are hard if they're not a cardio motion you're used to, and in Afghanistan I probably averaged about five stairs per day for the entire seven months I was there. I've climbed various other stair-centric tourist attractions and I knew I was going to be sore before I began - so yeah - elevator is the way to go.

There are endless spiral staircases up through the lattice-work of the dome. I'm surprised that they allow tourists to even go up there considering the risks of a pileup or a missed step leading to a bunch of broken legs - although there are emergency buttons you can press at most of the many landings along the way. The views of Rome from the top were yet to come, but first I came upon the inner ring of the cupola. Here I was looking down into the basilica. These pictures might help someone who has never been comprehend the sheer scale of this church. Once again my camera's battery was dying and there's a chain-linked fence keeping those at this level behind the railing.
A center for ants?!?!
Remember that gold ring from earlier? Now I'm above it. 
After that landing you continue to ascend through the dome structure - the stairway leans more and more inward accounting for the curvature of the dome until you're climbing with your body nearing a forty five degree angle - then the direction switches and instead of back and forth, you're at a point where the incline of the staircase turns directly inward and upward toward the very top of the dome where you get the best view of anywhere in Rome!
That crowd in St. Peter's square seems to be growing...
Back down at the roof level I took a few more pictures of the surrounding areas.
Looking East at the Castel Sant'angelo
Looking South you can see the tomb of the unknown soldier.
And that's what it's like to climb St. Peter's. My legs were very shaky and tired at the end, but this climb is worth it. As I walked back into St. Peter's Square everyone started applauding! I thought, "Wow, Rome really knows how to welcome a lowly tourist!" and then the speakers rang out in Italian. Pope Benedict XVI was addressing the masses from the papal apartments. It was a Sunday during lent so it warranted a special sermon from the Pope himself! This explained the gathering crowd in the square.
See that little mauve drape thing under that window - that's the pope above that!
The Pope spoke mostly in Italian, but in total he spoke six languages including Latin, Spanish Russian, English, and German. Very impressive.
The crowd.
Thanks for all the blessings, Papa!
The legend of the founding of Rome revolves around Romulus (the founder of Rome - note the similarities in the names) and Remus being raised by a she-wolf. Concordantly, this subject is often depicted in art throughout Rome and all art museums in and out of Rome.
mmm... wolf milk.
By the time I finished soaking up some Vatican views, I was truly exhausted. I strolled back up the Tiber toward my hotel and as I walked snapped a couple more pictures of the stragglers in the marathon, disheartened at how little it turned out I knew of the route the race takes through Rome. I passed out in my hotel and got some much needed sleep. 
Clowns running a Marathon.
Now they're running into a tunnel? I don't know this city at all... yet...


  1. Josh, what a great job of recording your visit to St. Peter's. Bill and I climbed to the top of St. Stephen's in Budapest, and your photos reminded me of that experience.

  2. Hey nice photos, keep running every one, nice blog more post please,!!