Bradley, one of my closest friends and an old touring/production co-worker, left the United States a year ago to begin a new life traveling with Cirque du Soleil as a lighting engineer. He's since lived in Brussels, London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, and Austria, setting up in the big-top tent and working on performances for two months at a time before the show packs up and moves onto the next city. When he initially departed from Florida, I promised I'd visit him overseas, though life "happened" and schedules never seemed to allow for it. This past February I decided to look at flights, and grabbed a round-trip ticket to Rome, his new location as of April 27th, for $750 round trip on Delta... hard to pass that up for a flight to Europe on an airline I know won't beat me up or lose my stuff. Packing up a handful of clothing and a lot of camera gear, I flew over via Amsterdam on Tuesday night, landing at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci-Fuimicino Airport shortly before noon on May 3rd. Brad picked me up from the airport in an Uber and we took the half-hour ride back to his new accommodations in downtown Rome. Situated in a perfectly sized Air-BnB he's renting for his time here, he's walking distance from famous local attractions, and has a fabulous roof-deck which I'm currently sitting on as I write this, soaking up the sun and occasionally glancing over in awe at the dome of St. Peter's Basilica as it towers over the other rooftops between us and Vatican City. After storing my suitcase in his house we took off to explore, making the short 5-minute walk over to the Vatican where we scoped out the plethora of options for guided tours. Picking to go with the least perpetually annoying tour solicitor, we paid $41 euros each for what became an informative, somewhat hectic, two- hour tour of the Vatican Museum, St. Peter's Basilica, and the Sistine Chapel.
They say that over 6 million people visit the Vatican on an annual basis, a whopping number, but still only a third of the attendance numbers Disney World pulls in a year. Unlike my times at Disney, the chaotic experience of walking through the Vatican is something I will not soon forget. Wide hallways are packed full of tourists from around the globe as dozens of tours simultaneously take place, and there were many moments where I felt like I was drowning in an ever-moving current of people. We listened to our tour guide describe the statues, tapestries, and artwork around us via a small FM receiver and tiny, stereotypically uncomfortable earbuds, though due to the unavoidable separation between guide and group, I found it to be more of an un-synced but interesting narrative. I shuffled my feet in the crowds of people moving forward at a glacial pace, snapping photos when I could, finding myself in awe of all that surrounded me. Over the course of the first 90 minutes we moved through a few courtyards, many hallways, the Gallery of Tapestries, the Gallery of Maps, and towards the entrance to the Sistine Chapel. Being reminded constantly that it was a holy place, I removed my hat as we stepped down wide staircases quietly into the chapel itself, stopping for a few minutes as our tour group joined another thousand people standing admiring the walls and Michelangelo's world-renound paintings adorning the nearly 400-year old building's ceilings.
Leaving the Chapel we moved along to the outside of St. Peter's Basilica, overlooking the Square, as our tour came to an end. We handed back the guided tour ear-buds, and the group dispersed. Brad and I decided at this point to spend the extra $6 to climb the 500+ stairs to the top of the St. Peter's dome (we saved $2 by not taking the elevator, ha!) which was an incredibly unique climb as the staircase got shorter, more narrow, and even pitched sideways as we continued up. The last hundred steps or so were up an incredibly tight spiral staircase, maybe only 4-feet wide at it's diameter, eventually bringing us to the top of the dome's cupola where we soaked in the panoramic views of Rome. We lingered for a while, meandering around the circumference of the cupola before descending back the way we came, pitched hallway and all, and exiting ten minutes later into the Basilica itself. I wandered around the church for a half-hour taking as many photographs as I could, using an ultra-wide angle lens to convey the sheer scale of the building and its expansive ceilings and embellishments, and we eventually departed to find somewhere to eat.
A brief dinner at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant just outside the Vatican walls was washed down with a glass of red wine, leaving us ready to wander a little longer, visiting more with the city as the sun went down and the amber-cast lights illuminated the centuries old structures on every street corner. We took a taxi to the Colosseum, snapping a few pictures before the photographer in me deemed the area overcrowded for any kind of good imagery, and then slowly walked back through the city as the night went on. We saw the famous Spanish Steps, the beautiful and incredibly well attended Trevi Fountain, and the massive Altare della Patria, or "Altar of the Fatherland" and its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. With the clock striking midnight, and me being exhausted from the little sleep I got on the airplane and plenty of foot-travel throughout the day, we hailed a taxi back to Brad's apartment and called it a night.
The plans for the next few days includes more time in Rome, a train ride to Venice for a few nights, and hopefully a stop in Pisa before I fly out again. I'm looking forward to taking a ton more photos, and sharing them and some stories with you all as the trip continues on.