Regardless of your position relative to the Catholic Church, when in Rome, it’s simplest just to acknowledge that no one does it bigger or better.
We started the day at a nearby church, the Basilica of San Clemente. This is a layer cake of history and religion, and extremely lovely. (Regretably, I only snagged one interior picture before I saw the “No Photography!” signs.) The present basilica was built just before the year 1100 during the height of the Middle Ages. Beneath the present basilica is a 4th-century basilica that had been converted out of the home of a Roman nobleman, part of which had served as an early church in the first century, and the lowest level had briefly served as a mithraeum, as part of a sanctuary of the cult of Mithras. We could wander through all it and it was truly stunning. Over two thousand years of religious observance, always moving with the times.
We next visited the neighborhood of Testaccio, formerly known for its slaughterhouse and working-class housing, but now emerging as trendy-bohemian. Our luck – Saturday is a market day.
It has miles to go before becoming overly gentrified, but it does have a few fascinating sights. The metro stop, Piramide, is named for the rather large pyramid built as a tomb by Gaius Cestius in the first century. He evidently really bought into the Marc Antony/Cleopatra celebrity and just had to have his own slice of Egypt. It is best viewed from another oddity – the Cemetery of the Burial of Non-Catholic Foreigners. (Talk about having two strikes against you.)
Some rather famous folk are buried within the lovely wisteria-covered walls. We found Keats and Shelley here, and think they must be happy to still be in Rome, both with touching memorials nearby.
But the real work of the day was spent on our mission to see the Sistine Chapel. The ceiling has been cleaned and restored since our last visit, and that was the one thing we wanted to revisit in the Vatican this time. But as wise Alan correctly surmised, every teenager in the Western and Eastern worlds is here on spring break, and shared our goal for the day. Lo, the hordes!!!
The Vatican and Disney World must exchange notes on crowd management. How do you convince people that their goal – whether it is the Tower of Terror or the Sistine Chapel – is just within reach, when nothing could be further from the truth? You keep them occupied with amazing sights, as they go up and down stairs, around corridors and through endless suites of rooms. Granted, the treasures of the Vatican are more engaging than the lines at Disney World. But when one is in lock-step with endless crowds, the bloom is off those bright and shiny objects, so not great photo opps. We did manage to have a tiny bit of a respite in the Raphael rooms, but otherwise, it was a real scrum.
Of course, the Sistine Chapel is a worthy goal and a joy to behold. It was so bright and vivid that Michelangelo might even have approved. We certainly did, and after deep sighs, battled our way out to the museum exit, dodging selfie sticks all the way.
Don’s Food Corner
We found ourselves in the middle of the Testaccio market when lunch rolled around. While there was an abundance of fresh veggies, fruit, meat and fish to choose from, we don’t carry a kitchen around with us.
The popular lunchtime choice prepared food at the market are small stands serving various sandwiches. However, since this area is the site of the former stockyard, the neighborhood retains the mealtime tradition of butchers of stockyards — namely preparing food from the parts of animals that others don’t want, like tripe, lungs, brains, sweetbreads, tail and, well, you get the idea. The market has become a mecca for “nose-to-tail” foodie enthusiasts. We are not among them.
We selected a guide-recommended restaurant a couple of blocks away from the market. Armed with a complete list of food-related translations, we found the menu in this restaurant a landmine of choices which indeed included intestines, lungs, brains and so on. We spotted the Roman specialties that we enjoyed so much yesterday — carbonara and alla Amatriciana. Our trusty translator, however, said that the dishes featured cured pig cheeks instead of the “bacon” that yesterday’s restaurant claimed to use.
Hunger overcame our hesitation and we ordered in the interest of taste comparisons It turns out that pig cheeks add even more depth to these classic dishes. Like yesterday, each dish was rich and peppery. Also, like yesterday, no garlic was used in either dish. But unlike yesterday both dishes were served on rigatoni (made to al dente perfection) instead of spaghetti. Another delightful meal.