It was a glorious day outside on 12/23/2009 and we didn't want to waste it waiting for the next shuttle. The front desk were the friendliest most helpful people and they spoke English which was a major plus. We asked them which bus we needed to take to get to Vatican City and they said the 247, in case you ever need to know! I knew we had to get our bus tickets from a Tabacchi (pronounced liked a hillbilly saying tobacco, toe-back-key). So off we went to find this shop that sells bus tickets, magazines, newspapers, lottery tickets, telephone cards, postal stamps and guess what, tobacco products. They are everywhere in Rome, so it wasn't long before we found one!
We got what we needed and headed to the bus stop (fermata) to wait for the bus. Having read and studied over the years information about Italy, I also knew that we had to validate our tickets somewhere before getting on the bus. I was looking around the bus stop and didn't really see anything for that purpose. I tried to ask some people but they didn't speak English and let's face it, validate is not really one of those words you learn in beginning Italian. I found one lady who spoke some English and she said the yellow machine was on the bus.
The bus driver never looks at your ticket, and quite frankly, never even really looks at you. They do have inspectors who check for tickets and if you don't have one it is an immediate fine of 50 Euros. If you can't pay right then the fine doubles, BUT these inspectors are few and far between. I never saw one in the time we were there.
We blindly got on that bus. We knew it was the right one, but we had no idea when to get off. It took a few days to figure out the bus system, but this was not that day. We again asked the lady who showed us where to validate our tickets which stop was the Vatican. She said the last one. Umm...ok that still didn't help. How do you know when it is the last one? We don't live in a place with public transportation so we had no clue! She said she was getting off at that stop and we could just follow her.
Follow her we did! She said she was meeting her uncle for lunch would be walking right by where we needed to go. She was very friendly as most of the people we encountered were. She did all but hold our hands, basically. It was great, because even if we had gotten off at the right stop we had no clue where to go, we had a map but didn't know where we were to use it. We had planned on using Internet to plot routes out for each day, but Internet at the hotel was 5 Euros for each 30 minutes! I would have used that up just on Facebook alone!
We found where we needed to be and ate lunch at a tourist trap. I will talk more of the food in a later post. After eating we walked into St. Peter's Square and stood there with our mouths dropped at the sheer size of the area and the significance of actually being there. Pictures can not do justice, but I will post some anyhow.
Looking towards the Basilica. In the middle is the presepio or nativity scene, which they did not fully uncover until Christmas Eve. Also in the middle is the Christmas tree that comes from a different country each year.
Looking out with back to Basilica. It wasn't crowded at all on the 23rd. The 24th and following is a different story all together! The obelisk (tall monument in middle) is originally from Egypt. It was brought to Rome in 37 BC! It helps to mark the place where Apostle Peter was murdered and other Christians for entertainment by the Romans.
Close up of Christmas tree which was from Belgium this year.
The nativity scene after the reveal. The infant Jesus is not put in the scene until Christmas Eve, so this picture is actually from later in the week.
Part of the colonnade by Bernini. There are 140 statues of saints, here are eight!
There is a spot in St. Peter's square where if you stand all of the columns on one side line up. They are four rows back, but this one spot makes it look like there is only one row. There is a spot like this on each side of the center obelisk.
Here is what it looks like all lined up.
There are two statues that seem to guard the basilica of St. Peter. One is the statue of Apostle Paul. According to saintpetersbasilica.org: This statue of St. Paul has a long sword in his right hand, while his left hand holds a book. On the book is the inscription in Hebrew letters: "I can do all things in him who strengthens me", from Phil 4:13.
The other statue is of Apostle Peter for whom the square is named. The statue is 18 feet tall. In his right hand the apostle is holding the keys, symbol of the power promised to him by Christ; in his left hand is the scroll bearing the words "ET TIBI DABO CLAVES REGNI CAELORUM', which means, "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 16:19). One key is silver-plated, while the other is gold plated.
These statues may seem to guard the place but the real guards are the Swiss guards with their snazzy outfits.
After viewing the square we did go into the Basilica and the Vatican Museums, but those will have to be in a separate blog. After visiting the Vatican we walked around seeing the sights. I bought some postcards to mail, which somehow managed to become a major pain in the rear! I forgot to take them the next day to buy stamps (which you can buy at Tabacchi shops) so I could mail them before Christmas. Since that happened it was impossible to find stamps on Christmas, Saturday, or Sunday. Finally found some Monday, the day we left, but I will discuss that later.
All that walking made us hungry. We saw a small grocery store that we went into and tried the prosciutto. It was good! That only fueled our hungry so we stopped at a place to eat. We were going to eat there but it was going to be too expensive so we decided to just get a snack of bruschetta (which Americans mispronounce, it is brew-sketta not brew-shetta) and caffè. Whoa! That was our first taste of a real espresso. We are going to have start ordering the caffè americano or caffè lungo. Both add water to the espresso so your eyes don't bulge out from that first sip. I wasn't able to take a picture, you know I would have, because my camera had died. I left it on while in St. Peter's Basilica. There was just too much in there to see and take pictures of to turn it off.
After our snack we continued on our way towards the metro, which is so much easier to get around on than the buses, but doesn't cover as much as the buses. Still hungry we finally found a "fast food" place called Panino Espresso. Those were the BEST sandwiches we have had. Mine had Parmesan cheese shavings, freshly sliced Italian meat (I do mean fresh! I saw the guy slice it himself!) grilled eggplant, and a type of lettuce. All that goodness for only 4 Euros!
With tummies full, we got on the metro, red line, to the stop called Cornelia then took the 246 bus back to the hotel...again just in case you ever need to know. Then it was sweet Italian coffee dreams until the morrow!