Baxil (baxil) wrote,

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On Rome's big tourist trap

I like, in general, to tour off the beaten path. My favorite part of Pompeii was after a rain shower cleared out most of our fellow visitors. The trip's best restaurant was down a back alley in a grimy southern Italian city. We have found more joy by bucking the crowds than we ever could by following them.

The Sistine Chapel was not off the beaten path.

It was exquisitely artistic, to be sure. Worth the money, glad we went, etc. I will even go again should we return; our afternoon visit totally underestimated the scope of the place, and so the trip felt as though we were sprinting past the main rooms of an art museum in an effort to say we had been there. Next time I hope to actually see everything that was on display.

Unfortunately, the experience seemed specifically designed to wear us out.

kadyg commented that we must have walked 12 miles today, and that's not counting the steps taken outside the walls of the Sistine. It's not far from the truth. The designers of Las Vegas clearly took their cues from the labyrinthine design of the Vatican Museum, which is laid out in a single line that coils and loops through three floors of two buildings. Every few rooms you see a sign helpfully pointing toward the Sistine Chapel, carefully neglecting to mention any sort of distance - and so you round a few more corners, climb a few more stairs, find the next sign and wonder just how much more Art you have to see before the main attraction.

There is a lot of Art. There is a lot of Art. Picture the building itself as a decadent Renaissance pope, an aging and sedentary figure, crepusculent on a resplendent throne amid one of the infamous 500-plate banquets of the age, polishing off a gilded plate laden with deep-fried cheese and bacon. As he sits back in his chair, semi-comatose amid the Roman summer heat, he starts to get the meat sweats, moisture oozing from every pore and drenching his vestments. That is the art - so ubiquitous, so excessive, that it almost borders on the grotesque.

So both physical fatigue and art fatigue are already setting in as you walk through the museum. By "walk," though, I actually mean the resigned plodding that is such a feature of modern life - the queue shuffle. Because as you're making the 12-mile pilgrimage to The Chapel, so are hundreds of other tourists, and all of them are being herded through the exact same rooms and corridors that you are, and every time you hit a narrow point, the laws of fluid dynamics kick in and the pressure increases.

The labyrinth is a smart method of crowd control, because if you could go directly to The Chapel, everyone would and you'd get totally unmanageable people snarls. I won't fault them for it. But the net effect for off-the-path crowd-shy travelers like us is to add a layer of emotional fatigue on top of the other sources of exhaustion. Walking into The Chapel itself to discover packed standing-room-only gawkspace, after being surrounded by people for half an hour of walking, takes a lot of the impact away from the art.

At least there are times when crowds are good. When walking back to the metro station after our visit ended, we saw several dozen locals sprawled out along a square, licking ice cream cones. We followed the influx of new customers over to a gelateria and got a snack. It was both cheap - less than half the price of the crappy gelato from the self-serve restaurant near St. Peter's - and highly tasty.

Even when you're walking off the beaten path, it's good to hit civilization once in a while.

Also, just as a note: if you haven't been reading wallyontheroad, that's where most of the trip jpurnaling has been going. Make with the clicky.

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