Friday, 4 November 2011 – Part II of V
Navigating the route to the Castel Sant’Angelo is a bit more of a challenge than I had anticipated. The streets of the city are irregular as a rule, but this area seems particularly perplexing. Zigging and zagging through foreign streets, first a busy shopping district then one with little pedestrian traffic, I finally find myself within view of the Castel. Now how to get there?
There are various wide roads with many lanes of traffic and others merging in and barriers in different places. It takes quite a while and a bit of circumnavigation to actually cross over to the Castel and its grounds. Given the lack of accessibility, I thought perhaps it was not much of a tourist attraction, but I am wrong. Must be I just took the road less traveled (who, me?) to get there! There are, in fact, plenty of vendors selling their tourist wares, along with the visitors who seem to be just milling about. Perhaps this is a local gathering spot?
I stop to take in the scene and get some photos of the Castel at a distance so I can fit it all in, including the magnificent statue atop of Archangel Michael holding his sword, and then of the ornate sculptured bridges and the River Tiber (Fiume Tevere) as I move closer to the entrance. Seems most of the crowd is just here for the atmosphere on the grounds, because there is hardly a line to go in. I find myself already a little worn out just from the mile or so walk here from the Metro. Good thing I don’t know what lies ahead at this point (or I may not have been able to gather it up enough to go in)…
The Castel is amazing! It can best be described as maze-like, with various levels, walkways and plazas, and an almost village-like appearance, all within the gates. In reality, it is much more of a workout than even the Colosseum tour, walking the circumference at a couple of different levels – the first level the quasi-village with various work and weaponry rooms, the second primarily gun turrets outfitted with small cannons and ammo. These offer quite the panoramic view of the city, as I make my way around.
Eventually, I come to a downward passageway that leads to a spiral staircase deep in the innards leading from the original tomb up to the Papal sanctuary in the center. This passageway-staircase definitely transports me to a different time and place (I felt like I should be wearing dark robes of some sort and chanting) and leads first to a plaza with statuary and then, at higher levels, cells and the ornate Papal apartments (no photos allowed :-().
From within the Papal chambers, there is a staircase leading to the terrace at the top of the Castel, above which perches Archangel Michael in all his glory. If I thought the panoramic view of the city from the bastions was worth mentioning, I can only say it doesn’t hold a candle to the view from the terrace. No wonder Archangel Michael originally positioned himself there (in a long-ago Pope’s vision) to signal his protection of the city during a terrible epidemic. In current times, you overlook the Palazzo Di Giustizia (Palace of Justice) in all its elaborate glory from one side; from the other, St. Peter’s Square and the Basilica’s dome in all its glory.
I spend a fair amount of time on the terrace, admiring Archangel Michael and the spectacular view, amid a growing crowd, including a group of mentally disabled youth. I can’t help but wonder what a challenge it has to be to wrangle any group through this maze and how I am not sure I would be up to the task. At the same time, I am grateful to the group leaders for their effort and for being able to share this experience with all of them.
In retrospect, I was so drawn to the statue of my namesake saint (archangel) that I have to wonder if there was something more primal drawing me here. I am quite fascinated by the work of ‘angel expert’ Doreen Virtue and have always been particularly intrigued by Archangel Michael (although I didn’t know that was the statue’s subject until I was researching for this blog, long after the fact). According to her work, “Michael lends you support, courage, and confidence. He’ll boost your resolve to make healthy changes, as well as guide you to new opportunities and help you heal from past experiences.” Interesting, since that was exactly my intent for the trip… “Archangel Michael’s aura color is a royal purple” (my favorite color for all of time) and ““In many archangel stories, the person who miraculously offers assistance is named…for the archangel—calling themselves, for example, Michael, Michele, Mikael” which is no surprise to me, given how often I myself am called on for assistance, by friends and strangers alike. There are no coincidences.
But I digress…At long last, and now extremely fatigued, I make my way back down the staircase through the Papal apartments, back to the spiral staircase and tunnel, back to the outer sanctum, then out to the streets of Rome. There is considerably more of a line than when I arrived, and I am thinking I played it exactly right. I suspected that most people would visit Vatican City first and then, if they had time/energy, head to the Castel. Personally, the Castel was my priority, but the anticipation of a lighter crowd early had not escaped me when starting my day.
I have little oomph left in me at this point, and it is all I can do to keep myself on track for a look at St. Peter’s. By the time I arrive there, I am not sure how I can go on. I suddenly find myself thinking of “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie” and wishing I could just blink or wiggle my nose and find myself instantly transported to my hotel room. But persevere I must, at least for a short time. Who knows when I’ll get back this way again?
It is quite busy in the general vicinity of the Square, and there are multiple hawkers trying to draw you into their high-priced Sistine Chapel tours, which get you in past the line (if you can even get in line at this point in the day). They claim the Sistine Chapel is the one “can’t-miss” attraction in Rome, like there is no point even visiting the city if you aren’t going to visit it. Well, slap me silly because, while I find Michelangelo’s work appealing (and, after all, we share a namesake), this is not on my “must-see” list. Would’ve liked to, wasn’t happening. So, after convincing the hawkers of such, I continue in to the Square and marvel at the enormity of it. I am actually standing in St. Peter’s Square!
I can’t even imagine how awe-inspiring this would be if I were Catholic, because it is amazing enough as it is. The history, the pomp, the massive rapt crowds – all the visions stored in my mind from various TV viewing occasions over the course of my life (not to mention the Dan Brown descriptions) – all still resonating there at some level. Quite remarkable, even in my state of utter exhaustion enveloped by the dreary day. If only that fountain were the fountain of youth, I could explore in greater depth. Alas, I will instead just snap a few panoramic photos to make obvious the span of the square and then take a brief stroll along the perimeter, through the mighty columns, on my way back to the Metro station.
On the verge of collapse, I suddenly realize I still haven’t purchased any gifts or mementos since Stratford, at the very start of my trip; I just haven’t been able to find anything I like. I really wish I’d remembered the directions to the Harley-Davidson store, mainly for my own souvenir, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. I look around and spot a small souvenir shop as I near the Metro station and venture in for a brief browse. It is very small and what I would call overstocked – hard to even see what’s what. But I find a wall covered with magnets and bottle openers of various designs and figure that’s a perfect solution – easy to transport, attractive and useful. And there’s a deal if you buy multiples, so I’m all in. I get two styles of painted metal bottle openers, one says “Italia” which is painted in the country’s colors of red, white and green, the other has a colorful graphic of the Colosseum. I also find some cute ceramic magnets of Italian wine bottles – this will be cute for Mum Po, since the other trinkets I have are all from England and, as such, not suitable for someone in ‘the neighborhood’.
Now I am on a beeline for the Metro, and all I want to do is get back to the hotel and rest my tootsies. I’ve put on another 2½ miles, not counting the roamings inside the Castel, and my body is reminding me just how much ground I’ve covered in the last few days with every step. Plus, I’m starting to freak that I don’t yet have a plan for tomorrow, so I need to try to put something in place, based on the research I did earlier. To help alleviate this unease, I decide I will check into train tickets when I get to Termini, the major train terminal, since the Metro stops there as well. With my three-day pass, I’ll just need to hop back on to continue to the Colosseum stop.