I can’t help thinking about that old Bugs Bunny cartoon where Yosemite Sam lured Bugs into swabbing his desks by offering him a world cruise. After the tables have been turned and Yosemite Sam is thoroughly defeated, Bugs is leaning back against a beach umbrella sighing, “Oh the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen!”

Well, after seeing Rome, I feel a little like that too!

The more I see of this big old world, the more beauty I find in its charming little corners.

Italy has got to be one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I think whoever decided to keep all the old stuff, really made a good decision!

It gives the places a sense of old world charm, of heritage, of pride and history.

I got to Italy early on Thursday morning, on a rather dingy Alitalia flight out of Toronto. I got about an hour and a half of sleep but I really did enjoy the company of the man sitting next to me, an artist named Don Carr. He’s semi-retired and has a place in Perugia (I think that’s what he said), and paints scenes of mythological artistry.

I stayed at the Hotel Lancelot (which I highly recommend!) just down the street from the Colliseum. There was an old fort on the other side, and it was funny how the din of traffic seemed muffled on the little side street where the hotel was situated.

I dropped off my luggage, and asked the proprietor Mr. Khan (who was once upon a time from Bangladesh but seems to have a very British accent and speaks fluent Italian!) about the hop on and hop off bus tours.  He was impressed with my ambition to see both the Sistine Chapel and the colliseum in one day and he advised me that if I didn’t get to go inside the colliseum it wouldn’t be any big deal because it wasn’t that great. Seeing it from the outside was enough.

I bought a ticket for 15 Euros and he told me to walk down to the Colliseum and catch the bus there.

Since the colliseum was so close at hand, I thought I’d tackle the seeing of the Sistine Chapel first.

To foil the pickpockets I made sure to use a money belt, keeping the bulk of my valuables in there and just enough cash in my pocket book for the day’s ventures.

While walking alongside the colliseum I kept muttering to myself, “Subhanallah! I can’t believe I’m actually here!”

It was about 11:00 in the morning by this time and the heat was already pulsating.

It took a while to get there. The bus took a circuitous route, and I finally figured out how to access the pre-recorded English commentary coming out of the appropriate plugs and the right channel with my bright orange earphones/plugs. (they had four other channels with commentary in four other languages.)

The bus dropped me off just outside St. Peter’s Basilica and I thought, “Now what? How do I get in there? Where’s the Sistine Chapel?”

There weren’t any heavenly angels singing or anything, and yet miraculously a Somali-looking man holding a billboard, appeared at my right, telling me that there were Vatican tours, ten euros only!

When I started asking him questions he told me to speak to the lady on the other side.

It turned out to be a two-hour walking tour that culminated in the Sistine Chapel! Perfect!

The Frommer’s guide had warned about the lineups outside the Vatican museum but with this tour, the guide had reservations and we would have circumvented any lineups. (I say would have because by the time we got there at about 12:30 there just happened to be no lineups.)

There were about twenty people in our tour and we ended up paying twenty euros for the tour, twenty for the entrance to the museums and then a ten euro deposit on the earphone headset thingie. Basically the lady had a microphone that was hooked up to a transmitter and we wore receivers so we could hear her with our earplug. Quite efficient!

For those who are not aware, Vatican City is an autonomous state, completely independent of the jurisdiction of Italy. Vatican law applies within the five mile radius of the city.

The Vatican is extremely extremely rich!

The galleries are chalk full of rare sculptures looted from Egypt, the Etruscans and even the colliseum itself. (Apparently the colliseum was once covered in beautiful panels of white marble but those were pillaged by other people, including the popes over the years, to build villas, piazzas and of course the beautiful St. Peter’s Basilica.)

 At the very top of the colliseum were statues of all the Roman deities, and those too found their way inside the Vatican collection.

In the museum there were exquisit mosaics on the floor that you almost hated to walk upon.

And so many statues and busts and tapestries and murals that it boggled the eyes and we didn’t even get to see the Egyptian and Etruscan galleries, never mind the paintings!

You just can’t see all of it in two hours.

Then finally we came to the Sistine chapel.

Words do not describe the complexity of Michaelangelo’s composition.

Imagine a huge gallery full of people from all over the world, all craning their necks to look up, the smart ones having brought binoculars.

And right in the middle of that amazing collection of images was the iconic image of ‘Adam’ touching the finger of ‘God’.

And all around us were guards, warning us not to take any pictures and to be quiet, study the images in reverent silence.

None of the tour guides are allowed to say anything in the Sistine Chapel, any commentary has to be done before hand.

I know this sounds prudish but I do wish that Michaelangelo had seen fit to position some puffy clouds judiciously to avoid seeing some of ‘Adam’s’ male anatomy.

And this might seem sacrilegious but I do find something a bit comical about the way ‘Adam’s’ genitalia is flopped over to the side.

And yet the whole effect of the ceiling is remarkable.

The only thing that marred the moment for me was how much my left foot was throbbing.

I broke it a couple of year’s ago on uneven ground in Medina, and I think I had refractured the foot while walking too fast on the treadmill about a week before I left for Rome.

After giving it plenty of rest, it seemed all right, but all the walking in Rome really inflamed it.

By the time I got back to the Colliseum, I was in no shape to go inside. I started hobbling back to the hotel, but then turned around, thinking, “Darn it! I’ve come so far. I’m so close! I want to go inside!”

The lines that I’d avoided at the Vatican museums, were in full force at the colliseum. I stood for about ten minutes without the line moving an inch, when a guy came along saying that a tour of the colliseum in English was starting right now, for an extra four euros on top of the twelve euros for admission. I asked how long the tour was and he replied, ‘forty-five minutes’.

I couldn’t do it.

Nor could I stand in this un-moving line any longer.

I hobbled back to the hotel and took a much-needed nap.

Feeling refreshed but still in pain, I went down to have dinner and I ended up sitting with two lovely couples from Birmingham, England.

Oh we talked of politics and history and of all the things they’d seen.

This was their umpteenth trip to Italy and they’d been exploring the catacombs!

Ooh, sounds fascinating.

Maybe next time!