Maxxi, musica e pioggia maxima

After two marathon walking days I have a lie in on Wednesday as I have my Vatican tour booked for 14:00 and plan to visit some new arts buildings in the north of Rome. This involved my first tram ride which was very efficient except that I had no idea where to get off but, soliciting halting help from a fellow passenger, I disembarked at the right spot quite a way up via Flaminio. Left along Guido Reni and there it is – polished grey concrete of Zaha Hadid’s fine museum for 20th century art and architecture. It’s a great building with sweeping lines, unusual projections and it sits very well in an industrial area of the city. Insider the curvy features continue with a NY Guggenheim-style sweep to higher levels and a wonderfully fluid black staircase to get back down.

Maxxi exteriorMaaxi interiorThere is a mixture of installations, archictects’ drawings and models, which I’ve always loved whether in balsa wood or Perspex, photography including a magic Helmut Newton series of Rome and a special exhibition of art from war torn Beirut. I spent a very stimulating 90 minutes and could have explored other areas but wanted to see the work of another superstar architect Renzo Piano.

The Parco Della Musica is ten minutes’ walk from Maxxi and consists of three auditoria that look a bit like tortoise shells or anteaters. These indoor concert halls surround an open air amphitheatre where I’d love to come back in summer. All set amid tall pines it is the best definition of a culture park. Rain started so I popped in for a coffee until it abated and then got mildly damp walking back to the tram stop to head south for my two o’clock tour.

Very vet Vatican
As some will have read already, I found my tour group at the appointed spot at the foot of some steps opposite the museum entrance. Roll called, badged up and ready to shuffle we head towards the special groups entrances where I resisted umbrella sales in the drizzle to my later soaked cost. Eventually (45 mins eventually) we enter, take 15 minutes for loo breaks, audio guides and multi guide chaos and actually move into the museums. Well you could spend a year here and not see everything and what you do see is mostly at a slow shuffle a bit like trying to get up Occupation Road after a capacity crowd stayed till the end. (For non-Watford fans that’s a very slow shuffle.) The place is a total maze as well so you have little idea where you are.

Sicily map roomHighlights for me were the map room in which you can walk from south to north of Italy in five minutes with brilliant relief representations of the various areas of the country either side of you as they were thought to be in 1580. As a geographer, Dee would have taken some persuading to move on but Tatiana was strict and we were ushered on towards the Raphael frescoes. These are quite wonderful except for one which I think was the Expulsion of Heliodorus where most of the wall is in his usual style but the a handful of figures in the lower left side are much more dramatic, muscular and frankly Vincian. Tatiana told us, the probable urban, myth that Raphael stole the key to the Sistine Chapel and had a sneak preview and decided to copy the master. While beautifully done he really should have stripped off the plaster and started over for consistency.

On then finally to what everyone is there for. nine years of Leonardo da Vinci’s life spent on the ceiling and then the end wall with the second coming. Not for the first time this trip did I have severe neck ache but worth every moment as the pain is alleviated by the sheer beauty of the vision above. Another special Dee moment was standing right below the finger of God creating man and hearing the South Bank Show theme in my head. Quite stunning, it was well worth the soaked shuffle.

The tour ends in St Peter’s basilica another awe-inspiring building with my favourite of all the sculptures Michelangelo’s Pieta carved when he was only 24. I managed to skirt round take square under cover and then dash through the torrents to the metro and back to the hotel for a shower, change and some fortification and post my first blog of the new Rome series, humiliated by my earlier gloating about the fine weather in Rome.

As I sit in the hotel bar, coyly named The Office, it’s BB King night on the playlist a pleasant change from the slightly too loud medleys played on other nights. Service is good, staff chatty although leave me in peace when I’m hammering at the keys and I meet another solo traveller who is spending his second Christmas away after divorce ended his 28 year marriage. Maybe I should start the WDCTC – the Widowers and Divorces Christmas Travel Club.

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