Log #34g St. Peter’s Basilica and Tuscany, Rome – 3

April 30, 2005 in Log Series 30-39, Logs by Series, Series 34 Rome - Corsica - Sardinia, The Logs

Bonifacio, Corsica

April 30, 2005


Hi Folks,


We have now covered the NE and west coasts of Corsica and are down here in Bonifacio, our last Corsican port before heading off to Sardinia. I am eager to get into the actual sailing and the places and experiences we have had since leaving Ostia two weeks ago. This log finishes up our travels around Italy and Rome, a most enjoyable winter to travel this country. This log does not contain much of interest to cruisers as it is just an account of our travels to St. Peter’s Basilica and back up to Tuscany. I think I have covered most of our other touring around Rome in my previous logs. We were privileged to have this winter in Rome.


My next logs will deal more directly with nautical interests since we left Ostia on April 14th, although the amount of actual sailing we have done these past two weeks has been limited to one day when we sailed for 7½ hours, the rest of our time spent motoring or motorsailing. So far we have motored 35½ hours and motorsailed 43 hours over a distance of 356 nautical miles since leaving our winter marina. Either there is too much or too little wind or from the wrong direction, the lament of much of our “sailing” in the Med.


All the best,







Log #34g St. Peter’s Basilica and Tuscany, Rome – 3

Girolata, Corsica

April 27, 2005


Ostia was a good spot for seeing Rome as frequently as we wished. From the marina it was a ten minute local bus 01 to Ostia Lido Stazione Centrale, from which we would catch the Rome train to EUR Magliana station and the Metro B line into whatever other part of Rome we wished to visit, all for the same 1.00 Euro ticket, good for 75 minutes of travel (but downtown Rome took only 45 minutes with good connections). The transit system is good, including bus, tram, and train, although the graffiti inside the buses and trains and outside the trains was as bad as New York City 20 years ago. Tickets could be purchased at any tabbachi and day, weekly, and monthly passes were available. However, absolutely nobody checked the tickets which were supposed to be stamped in special machines in the buses and at train stations. There were warning signs of 50.00 Euro fines if travelling without a cancelled current ticket or other valid pass. Many of the cruisers, and I suspect many Italians too, stopped using tickets and just took free rides all the time. Judy however was conscientious and insisted on using tickets. However once she was ripped off by a ticket machine at the Ostia train station when she tried to buy a 10.00 Euro pack of tickets and the machine ate her 10 Euro note, but did not give her any tickets. I confess, I took some free rides; – when by myself!


I described the visit to the Vatican Museum in a previous log. Later that day we went to St. Peter’s Basilica. Taking an elevator up to the roof of the basilica, we climbed a flight of steps to come out onto a narrow balcony inside the church at the base of the dome, looking down into the basilica over the canopy of the High Altar. We could see all directions within this, the largest church in Christendom. Going around this balcony we had to climb another 325 steps in progressively narrowing sets of stairs, zigzagging and circling up the side of the dome and leaning inwards at a claustrophobic angle, finally emerging outside on the circular pillared balcony of the cupola. The view was fantastic!


Walking around the cupola we had a 360 degree view over Rome from the highest point in the city. On one side we could see the long rectangular Vatican Museum, its quadrangles leading towards the base of the basilica at the Sistine Chapel. Two sides, behind and opposite, overlooked other Vatican buildings, including the concert hall where I attended a Christmas recital, and gardens of this “independent” mini-state. The view over the front of St Peter’s is classical, looking down on the statues of Christ and the apostles at the front of the façade, and overlooking the double colonnaded circular arms of the piazza of St. Peter’s Square, topped with 140 statues of saints. From there the vista stretched down the broad stately avenue called the Street of Conciliation, leading about one kilometre down to the Tiber River and to the left to the circular fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo. This was originally a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian built in 136 AD, but was converted to a fortress for the popes in 590 AD and directly linked with a special papal passageway to the Vatican palaces in 1277. The passageway is still there.


This reminds me of the book by Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code, in his earlier novel Angels and Demons. Janet on His and Hers lent it to me and said she suggested any of her friends visiting her in Rome should read it before coming. It is a “who dunnit” about the death of a recent pope, and a fantastic plan to destroy the Vatican. As part of the plot, the reader is taken to many of the sites of Rome including St. Peter’s Square, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and Castel Sant’Angelo among others. It was a good read and created interest in visiting these sites. (Judy is already accusing me of giving too much of the plot away.) It was also relevant to the current situation describing the Conclave of Cardinals who elected Pope Benedict XVI recently.


Descending the narrow stairs we emerged onto the undulating concrete roof of the basilica, its contours broken by the several smaller cupolas of the other secondary domes of St. Peter’s. Here I was able to walk up to the balcony immediately behind the statues of Christ and the Apostles that overlook the square from the front façade of the basilica. From the roof we took another elevator down to the inside of this grandiose structure. We were impressed by the cavernous sanctuary of the basilica, the dome designed by Michelangelo looming over the Altar of Confession and the intricate circular pillared canopy designed by Bernini, as well as the side chapels and altars, and other works of art such as Michelangelo’s Pieta, the Transfiguration by Raphael, and Bernini’s, The Triumph of the Cattedra and the Holy Spirit in Glory beyond the main altar. This latter area is where important ceremonies such as beatifications, canonizations and coronations of new popes take place; this is where Pope Benedict XVI was installed recently as the successor to Pope John Paul II. Also relevant to British history, we saw a memorial to the Stuart (Jacobin) Kings who were Roman Catholic.


A couple of weeks later when Pope John Paul II died, I went back to immerse myself in this historic occasion, and joined the throngs of thousands lined up all the way down the Street of Conciliation. The line of massed humanity stretched right down to the Tiber and across the bridges on one day. The authorities had crowd control well organized. I had hoped to get into St. Peter’s Square to feel the atmosphere, as this was before John Paul’s body was lying in state there. However, all side streets were cordoned off, and entry to the area was diverted down to the Tiber and then a kilometre up the avenue to the crowded square. I waited in the masses for about two hours before giving up and easing myself out of the throng. To have stayed to get into the square itself would have taken another three to four hours of waiting, and inching forward up that jam-packed avenue.


The people were co-operative and patient. There were individuals and groups, young, middle-aged, and a few elderly, shuffling forward when the massed phalanx was allowed to move up a few feet at a time. Many had flags of Poland, Italy and the Vatican. Some waved banners with hastily painted praises for John Paul. Many of the younger people had full backpacks with sleeping bags as they were going to camp out in the piazza or nearby to be assured of seeing the Pope’s body when it was placed in the Basilica for state viewing. Many groups chanted and sang hymns. The atmosphere was not one of sadness, but of reverence, of curiosity, of participation in a mass religious and historical event. The closest I got was to view the ceremonies for the Pope’s body on the large videotrons erected on the sides of the Street of Reconciliation.


Upon leaving the throngs, I made my way back down to the Tiber and toured Castel Sant’Angelo. It was an intriguing fortress, with the original circular mausoleum surrounded by a large curtain wall with four bastions, one of which contained the passageway for the pope’s escape from the Vatican in times of crisis. Inside the two circular ramps were confusing as they were intersected by other passageways leading off to an intricate maze of palace halls, internal quadrangles, chapels and store rooms. However, there was a good wall walk leading around the top of the curtain wall linking all four bastions and providing spectacular views up and down the Tiber, and up the Street of Conciliation to St. Peter’s Basilica.  At the base of the Castel Sant’Angelo a bevy of white vans with dish antennas from the leading news agencies of the world had set up headquarters for the reporting of the events in the Vatican. I could see the throngs still lined up the length of the Street of Conciliation, feeding in from the bridges across the Tiber and the side streets as they were funneled in by the authorities, flags and banners in profusion, the masses patiently shuffling along, hoping to get into the square some time that day.


This was to be my last day of touring Rome as we were getting ready to head for sea in a day or so. So on my way back I stopped off to tour St Paul’s Cathedral. It too was cavernous, being the largest church in the Christian world until St. Peter’s. It had a large Corinthian-colonnaded, square-shaped garden in front and massive double rows of side columns inside (I think I counted 80 interior and 120 exterior columns). Around the interior roof line were mosaics of all the popes, including John Paul II’s, which was spotlighted for his death. The full name for the cathedral is San Paolo Fuori-Le-Mura – St Paul’s Outside the Wall, so called and so built by Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, outside the walls of Rome on the site of St. Paul’s burial.


Thus ended my last trip into Rome. The last trip into Ostia was April 13 when I went in to get the photograph for presentation to Food’s Planet that evening, and we left next day, as described in a previous log.


The only other trip we took was up to Lucca in Tuscany Easter weekend. A group of seven of us rented a minivan and drove up on a gray Good Friday. The town is encircled by intact fortified walls with ten bastions providing folks an opportunity to walk, jog or bicycle the 3 kilometre perimeter. Founded by the Etruscans it became a Roman colony in 180 BC, and was an independent citystate for 500 years, until Napoleon ended this status in 1805, after which it became a Bourbon duchy until being incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy in the 1860’s. The town reeks of history, culture and tradition, the main cathedrals Romanesque in style, not unlike those found in nearby Pisa. I particularly enjoyed Piazza Anfiteatro, a huge oval piazza with the buildings constructed in the middle ages on the foundation of a Roman amphitheatre. The original outer walls and supporting buttresses were still in evidence as successive generations made effective use of the structure for their homes and shops. The elliptical piazza is now lined with restaurants and boutiques, and an interesting variety of residential structures above them. We climbed the 230 steps of the tower of Palazzo Guinigi for a bird’s-eye view of the town shaded by the tiny copse of holm oak trees growing on top of the tower. Rival families in the middle ages built high towers such as this to declare their power and wealth.


We visited another small, hill top walled town, San Gimignano, which has 13 of these towers, making it look like a medieval Manhattan on a hill. At one time there were 72 such symbols erected in tall square unadorned hubris, causing one town chief in the 13th century to forbid the building of towers, as the lonely Planet Guide puts it, “higher than his own 51 metre pile.”  However, San Gimignano is one of the most visited tourist towns in all of Italy, set in the lush Tuscan countryside.


On Easter Sunday we visited Pisa and its cock-eyed leaning tower. It has been stabilized now and tourists are allowed up, but we were not so inclined (pardon the pun).  It was raining when we were there and as we found no legitimate parking spot, we parked on a residential street hoping the van would not be ticketed. Judy after seeing the tower was worried about the car and so went back to sit in it just in case. The rest of us looked at the splendor of the ornate Romanesque architecture of the Campo dei Miracoli, including basically just the cathedral, the baptistery, and the Leaning Tower itself. I went into the cathedral but did not want to wait in line for the baptistery or the tower, or to pay the hefty 15 Euro ($20.00 Canadian) and no senior’s rate, to climb another flight of steps. The Lonely Planet Guide says this field of miracles was built from the loot and booty brought back after Pisa defeated the Arabs in Sicily. Pisa was a strong naval power in its day. We left in the rain after an hour and a half to take an interesting drive through the Tuscan hills of the wine route. We wandered up the small roads into vineyards, small towns lush woods, up high hairpin turns encountering a few dead ends where we had to reverse ourselves. The drive reminded me of the Schwarzwald (the Black Forest) of Germany with its quaint farms, lush vegetation, and wooded slopes. It was most pleasant seeing the Tuscan countryside on that rainy Easter Sunday.


However, when we wanted to have something to eat we found all the restaurants either closed or filled with advance reservations. Fortunately, one restaurant had a cancellation for their Easter Sunday dinner, and we were welcomed into a huge dining room with large families already into the big festival meal. It was a set menu for 30 Euros including the full classic Italian meal. Three bottles of red wine and three bottles of water were brought to the table. Then the antipasto of bruscetta and a large plate of prosciutto was served, followed by the primo piatto (first course) of three different dishes of spaghetti, one of tortellini, and one of ravioli all in tasty creamy white sauces. The secondo piatto consisted of several more dishes of veal, beef, and a seafood dish of squid, clams and scallops.  This was accompanied by a salad (insalata) and a few vegetable, potato, and rice dishes. After, we were treated to a desert of fresh melon, strawberries and a tart of some sweet heavy type. Then we had coffee, tea and a liqueur to finish things off. We were stuffed! It was interesting watching the Italian families out for Easter dinner, usually with three generations of grandparents, parents and children at the tables. Gigantic colourful cellophane wrapped chocolate Easter eggs were given to the children at the end of the meal. The restaurant owners were quite cordial, even though they spoke little English. We understood that they had been to Montreal to visit relatives there, and they like Canada very much.


Next day, on our way back to Ostia, we stopped in Siena to wander that historic walled city for a few hours. It is a beautiful city with a large pedestrian-only core. It was another medieval town centre with narrow cobblestone streets and even narrower alleys, the buildings, cathedrals, and museums sandwiched in its semi-circular streets. One can get cathedraled and museumed-out, and so we wandered the town aimlessly for a couple of hours before setting off for the heavy weekend traffic heading back to Rome. A trip that took us four hours up took over six hours back. This was our second trip into Tuscany, the first being our jaunt up to Assisi and Perugia last fall. It’s a lovely part of Italy.