My knowledge of Christianity is very limited. To me, the significance of the Sistine Chapel is only in the ceiling. And for the most part, it is. But the wall behind the altar is also dramatic, with Michaelangelo’s painting of the Last Judgement.
At the Vatican Museum, all paths lead to the Capella Sistine. They really do build up the hype, by putting a number of exhibits along the way, mostly heavyweight art and sculpture. Then they build it up further by putting a pit stop just before the actual exhibit. You definitely need to refresh yourself, and get a coffee before climbing the steps to the Capella. ‘Coz once you’re in there, you can only gape in awe at the ceiling, think of all those cliched images you’ve seen in books and TV, and then admire the real thing. Crane your neck up and absorb all the details that appeal to you – the biblical characters and the stories, the amazing paintings, colours, composition, or visualize what Michelangelo must have gone through while getting on the scaffolding and actually paint the ceiling.
No photography allowed inside the chapel (though some do flout the rule and get bad pictures on their mobile phones). I guess that is the clincher – to make it so popular. Some of the other ceilings in the museum are also spectacular, but you can photograph them. And to think Michelangelo resented this commission, because he preferred sculpture to painting.
The information about the chapel is quite interesting (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sistine_Chapel). After getting there and seeing that, you do want a souvenir, since you can’t have a picture. So we did the next best thing – bought a jigsaw puzzle. Michelangelo took 3-4 years to finish his work of art. I hope to take 3-4 days to complete my masterpiece.
Until it’s done, I will be back-bending and working like the master, and getting to know the ceiling painting intimately. Will unveil next week.
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The last day of our vacation dawned bright and sunny. Souvik went for a run and I took a bus to Piazzale Michelangelo to photograph Firenze in the morning sunshine. It was a super feeling to sip a coffee with the morning sun on my back, and a landscape of red roofs in front of me.
I hiked back to the Duomo to meet up with Souvik, and we shopped some more (a gorgeous leather bag and jacket).
We were comfortably sipping our mid-morning hot chocolate when the sky turned from blue to grey, and without any warning, hail came pelting down! I think we’ve managed to see all weather conditions in one week here, and I can totally do without snow in summer!!!
We set out again in the evening, and came upon some designer cars on display and fashion week parties on the street. Souvik finally ordered meatballs (like in the mafia movies) but wanted to blow someone’s brains out coz the sauce wasn’t tasty enough. Then we hung around the duomo and lamented that the holiday was over.
I had slept well but woke up with a croak. Thankfully, Souvik was on the mend. We thought the sun would do us good so we got out for our coffee, and a half-baked plan for visiting Siena. Suman had raved about Siena, but my heart wasn’t totally in it. The rain came while we were having breakfast, and that swung us into action straight to the SITA bus station.
We drove though much the same route that we took to Chianti yesterday, coz Siena lies just beyond. The landscape was beautiful and green, of course, and the rain stopped as we entered Siena. The sun felt good!
First stop: lunch. We wanted to try out one of the Lonely Planet recommendations, and followed our GPS to the pizzeria. Good pizza, great salad, awesome view of the medieval town.
It was while walking towards Piazza Communale that we fell in love with Siena. The very narrow lanes formed a maze, and each one beckoned us to enter and lose our way. We did, and were rewarded with the surprising view of Il Campo. Lonely Planet describes this piazza as a medieval bathroom sink, and we could see why. Slopes downward from the edge to the center, where the bell tower rises like a faucet (their description, not mine). By this time the rain had reached Siena. After a fortifying cup of cappuccino and some biscotti, we played “aankh mijoli” with the rain to return to the bus stazione. Got the front seats in a double decker bus, and enjoyed the view all the way back. Took home some Indian dinner, then settled with a book while Souvik watched football.
It was cloudy and wet, and after our typical breakfast of capuccini and croissant, we climbed all 463 steps to the top of the Duomo, and admired the roofscape of Firenze. Felt sooooo gooood!
By now, we’ve seen the duomo and piazza at all hours – from the sunny afternoons to the buzzing late hours, office hours (some locals have to work) rush to the quiet mornings when the cafès are open but the streets are being swept. It’s fantastic ambience!
The basilica took 200 years to build. Amazing to think that people planned and built this structure, not so much for themselves, but for future generations! Or maybe they didn’t realize it would take so long? Brunelleschi, who designed and built the duomo is considered the #1 architect of all time. Even Michaelangelo was inspired by the beauty of the dome!
They sell these cute umbrellas with duomo print on the sidewalks at atrocious prices, but that’s another story. . .
We walked around a bit in the drizzle, wondering what to do next. Chianti tour or Siena? Chianti is too far for cycling (for us novices), so we booked a guided bus tour for the afternoon.
Fantastic drive into the Toscano countryside, with lush green trees and rows and rows of vineyards. The villages and farmhouses are so dreamy (sigh!); when we visit again we will rent out a country villa.
A little bit of wine tasting and shopping, a lot of admiring the landscape, and a surprisingly interesting, quirky guide made up the tour. We visited a village – Greve- in Chianti, whose claim to fame is one Verrazzano who explored and discovered New York Bay. We wondered why he left this beautiful place to look for “the new world”! They honor him here as well as in New York, and his contribution to tourism is quite significant!
We had a quiet evening after all the day’s excitement – Souvik with his takeaway hot dogs and football match, me with a book and cough syrup. Hmmm.
We woke up bright and early and were soon on our way to Pisa. Beautiful morning, cool breeze, divine coffee, and the gooiest, messiest chocolate croissant to kick off the trip.
Pisa looked like a sweet little town, with many many young people, thanks to the University. Apparently Galileo Galilei was from here.
We took a bus to the Field of Miracles, which houses the cathedral, the baptistry, and yes, the Leaning Tower. So you have a population of 90000 in this town, and probably another 90000 visitors daily, 90% of which will be at the tower, which was actually a structural error compounded! The duomo and the baptistry are pretty, but the Leaning Tower is SO CUTE! After hanging around for a bit, watching people in all the silly poses pushing or holding up the tower, doing a few ourselves, we decided to hop on to a train to Lucca.
Lucca: another pretty medieval town with its high walls lined with trees and perfect for cycling/ running/ walking/ picnic-ing. We hired two separate bikes after struggling with a tandem cycle and did 2 rounds of the wall, punctuated by a very tasty lunch at a ristorante on the wall. In fact, we never really stepped into the town except for the bicycle arrangement. The guys in the shop were from Punjab, and charged us only half the price!
From Lucca we boarded a train to Firenze; it stopped at a station in between and did not budge for a very long time. This was a double decker train, and naturally, we sat on top to admire the Tuscan countryside, as did many other tourists. After waiting at the station for over 30 min, someone thought to check what was the matter, and realized the train was heading back to Lucca! We scrambled out and ran across to the next platform into another train which was, fortunately, going to Firenze.
Later, we wandered over to the Duomo, looking for a cafe that was showing the Italy-Paraguay match. Hardly any locals though, to lend atmosphere, as it was the centre of the tourist area. Nice dinner with local wine and tiramisu, and other tourists to chat with, though the match could’ve been more exciting for Italy!
Sad start to the day with both Souvik & I falling Ill, with sore throats. Our Pisa plan got postponed, and we decided to stay close to home instead. Sunday is off for most shops, but the roadside stalls come out in full force.
Strolling in the piazza in the sun felt good, all the leather bags called out to us, and we indulged in some pleasant shopping.
The throngs of tourists guided us to Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge which was not destroyed in WWII. This bridge is lined with gold and silver jewellers, with a great view of the river.
We also passed some awesome pizzerias, then did not pass one, but entered it and pigged.
Like true locals, we had a siesta in the afternoon. Souvik ran 10 km in the evening, and I had a pleasant walk.
We’re thinking of doing a cycling tour of Chianti later this week – let’s see if it comes through!