Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

Why I’ve Never Seen the Sistine Chapel

January 2, 2012 1 comment
St Peter's Basilica

A Vatican City ceiling that I did actually get to see

Just how long is too long to stand in a queue?

The answer I suspect most people would give is that it depends entirely upon the event or attraction for which said queue has formed.

Now, while this may be true, I have discovered there is definitely a limit to how much patience a person can have, no matter how desirable the attraction at the other end of the line.

The reason I bring this up is because I recently attempted to visit the the Sistine Chapel on a morning it was reopened to the public after several days of preservation work (a fact I was unfortunately unaware of until I arrived at the entrance). This extended closure meant the number of people wanting to get inside – fairly sizeable even on a good day – had multiplied significantly, with close to a week’s worth of tourists now clamoring for entry at the one time.

On top of this, it was also a Wednesday, meaning the Pope (apparently he’s quite popular amongst those who frequent the Vatican) was giving his weekly address to the masses, inflating the number of people in the vicinity even further. Consequently, the line to enter the museum was absurdly long…about forty minutes long, in fact.

Now, before you say that forty minutes doesn’t sound like too long a wait for something as noteworthy as the Sistine Chapel, you might reconsider when you realise it wasn’t taking forty minutes to get from the end of the line into the Museum…it was taking forty minutes to walk from the Museum entrance to the end of the line.

If you’re confused, think about it carefully for a moment, and you’ll realise that’s one very long queue.

Even before we discovered how long it actually was, the vision of a gargantuan line snaking off into the distance and out of sight around the city wall was a fairly sizeable deterrent to going inside. Deciding, however, that the pay-off of seeing the Chapel exceeded the pain of an extended wait, my companion and I bravely set off to find the end. After following the line in vain for more than a kilometre though, it began to dawn on us just how long a wait we were in for and our enthusiasm began to seriously wane.

Ten minutes later, when we found ourselves still walking, yet not even remotely in sight of the end, we gave up any thought of actually getting inside and began following it simply for amusement value. The estimate of a six hour wait by one of the museum staff we spoke to along the way did nothing to help us reconsider abandoning our plans and doing something else.

Eventually, after another kilometre of solemn trudging, we did reach the last person in the queue (a forlorn and defeated looking figure if ever I saw one), but the thought of jumping in behind him and beginning a slow six hour shuffle to the Museum entrance was no longer even remotely appealing. Perhaps if I’d been staying another week, I might have considered it, but as it was my last day in Europe before flying back to Australia, it was hard to justify spending my remaining time standing in the street, waiting for a five minute glimpse of the Sistine Chapel, when I could walk away and spend my final afternoon viewing the multitude of other amazing sights on offer in Rome.

Not surprisingly, this is exactly what I did and that’s why, to this day, I’ve still never seen the Sistine Chapel.


Weird Pizzas of the World

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment
Pizza Box

Don't open the box

For many travelers, discovering and sampling authentic local cuisine is one of the most appealing aspects of visiting a foreign country.

While I believe this opinion has merit, I’m also aware that, occasionally, factors such as language, budget, jet lag, intoxication and/or threat of death from salmonella poisioning can conspire to make ordering a pizza seem like a much better option.

This may not seem particularly adventurous or culturally diverse, but experience has taught me that pizza is not quite the generic, globalised fast food one might think; far from it in fact. Over the past few years, I have discovered that the simple act of stepping across an international border can cause the definition of the word “pizza” to mutate in a rather frightening manner.

Listed below are the recipients of my special gold, silver and bronze awards for pizza experiences that, in my opinion, fell well outside the established boundaries of normality. Please note that all pizza names in this story have been changed to protect the guilty.


Bronze Award – CANADA

The Gargantua

While I understand there is no internationally recognized standard for pizza sizes, I firmly believe that once the diameter exceeds that of a car tyre, it can no longer be classified as ”small”. It seems however, that Canadians do not share this opinion.

Without doubt, the most ridiculously oversized pizza I have ever seen – actually, make that the most ridiculously oversized meal I have ever seen – is an allegedly “small” Hawaiian pizza I was served one night in Niagara Falls.

Now, considering I had just spent two weeks in the USA – a land where the concept of  “eating in moderation” is not exactly widley practised – this was certainly not the first time I had received a dish capable of rupturing my colon if consumed in one sitting. Even with such recent first-hand experience in North American excess however, I couldn’t help but think that the behemoth in front of me bore more resemblance to an Aztec sundial than a pizza.

So large was this creation in fact, that my first reaction was to glance around the restaurant in order to locate the party of  four or six that I assumed must be waiting for it. When I politely informed the waitress that there must have been some kind of mistake, she simply smiled and motioned to two enormous aluminium trays on the wall – one labelled “small”, the other “large”. To my utter astonishment, the massive circle of dough sitting in front of me was indeed what passed for a small pizza in this part of the world.

Even more astonishing though, was the absurd size of their conservatively labelled “large” tray, which was so obscenely oversized it looked as if the mothership from Independence Day had drifted in to the restaurant and attached itself to the wall.

And people wonder why western society has problems with obesity.


Silver Award – ITALY

Pizzeria Snoozarama

Experience has taught me that Italian restaurants can be very precious about what they consider suitable ingredients for their famous dish.

American-style toppings such as pepperoni and chicken are heavily frowned upon in most upmarket eateries, while radical modern additions such as prawns are encountered so rarely you’d be forgiven for thinking they were illegal. The most reviled concept, however, is undoubtedly pizza with pineapple, even the mention of which seems to be a heinous affront to God requiring absolution from the Vatican.

While this attitude might come across as being a tad militant, I guess you have to at least respect the attempt to resist the Americanisation of such an iconic part of Italian culture. One ultra-conservative restaurant in Venice has gone perhaps a little too far down this road however, taking their “rules” to positively Soup-Nazi levels by offering a pizza menu with nothing – and I mean nothing – but variations of cheese, tomato and herb.

Cheese, Tomato, Basil; Cheese tomato, garlic; Cheese tomato oregano…the list goes on.

Not surprisingly, this fanatical conservatism has resulted in a dining experience that is – to put it politely – rather lacking in excitement. In fact, I would have to say that this is the only place I’ve ever dined where a little influence from the American fast food industry would actually make the food more interesting.

On the up side, it did make selecting from the menu fairly straight-forward.


Gold Award – FRANCE


While I have no objection to most non-traditional pizza toppings (Australia’s national pizza is, after all, bacon and egg), there are certain boundaries I feel it’s inappropriate to overstep. The following is a list of items – I hesitate to call them ingredients – that should never be allowed on a pizza.

– Heads

– Tails

– Bones

– Sea shells

– Entire animal carcasses

Quite clearly the people of France do not share my reservations however, as the seafood pizza “with the lot” I was served at a popular Paris restaurant was piled high with absolutely everything on the list above.

Just some of the unconventional toppings I found on this monstrosity were: entire, unpeeled king prawns; shellfish in shells (at least four different types that I could identify); large, un-filleted pieces of fish; and several heavily-tentacled carcasses that looked like the Kraken from Pirates of the Caribbean had beached itself on my plate. I was afraid to poke around too much in case I found a dolphin in there.

The worst part of the experience though, was not the excessive nature or volume of the ingedients, but the utter impossibility of politely consuming a three-inch, cheese-drenched slab of them while in a fashionable Parisian restaurant with female company.

Ultimately, I had to concede that this was never going to happen and just dug in with my hands…not exactly what I had in mind when I set out for an evening of fine french dining.


Anyway, I think the moral of these stories is fairly obvious; if you ever find yourself thinking that resorting to fast food while overseas is boring and unadventurous, simply order a pizza