So, you're in eternal Rome, and you want to go for a tour. So you need to find yourself a guide. The best person to guide you around Rome is an American from Louisiana.
No, you read that right.
The man in question is named Jason Spiehler.
He is an art historian and theologian and is quite possibly the best tour guide in Rome.
He is even recommended by name by the New York Times.
Finding him starts at the end of our first day in Rome. We had been to the Colosseum, and we were wandering around the Forum when, a tour appeared near the Rostra Divi Iulii. The man, an American, was both informative and entertaining, something that is very important when it comes to a tour. The tour was free, so we tagged along and got to learn more about the Forum.
As a side note, when one of the people outside the Colosseum said that there were no signs in the Forum he wasn't kidding. There were a few signs, but they only said what the things were. For someone who doesn't know anything about the forum you would be hard pressed to know who the hell Phocas was, and why did he have a column in the forum, or what the hell most of the buildings were. It makes a really good selling point for the tour guides, because you are forced to pay a more expensive price for a tour. I'm not lying here, I saw nothing for an official tour of the forum, and the Colosseum official tour is €4. It probably works out cheap if you are not an EU citizen, but not if you are eligible for the discount.
Anyway. We learned about Phocas and at the Curia we learned about the cheap, corner cutting technique used to build it. There was quite a bit of stuff we learned, and it all culminated with him reciting Shakespeare at the foot of the Temple of Jupiter.
There was a night tour but we didn't go on that. Instead we decided to forgoe the Palatine Hill (the ticket is valid for two days) and check out some of the other well known sights in Rome (Trevi fountain, Spanish Steps, Castel Sant' Angelo etc.) and go to the Vatican for his Vatican tour (which did cost money though). Firstly it was worth it. It decided to rain about the time the tour started, so it worked out alright since we were inside. Secondly, after the partial tour that we went on with him in the forum it seemed like a really stupid idea not to take up the offer.
An interesting tour followed, and we never noticed that we spent three hours in the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. Someone with the credentials that Jason has makes it really interesting to look at and understand the artwork that is there.
I now understand far better then I ever would works like Raphael's School of Athens or the symbolism of the fresco of the Sistine Chapel (hint: Jonah = Jesus). Or a rather funny tale involving the painting of The Last Jugement where Biagio de Cesena insulted the painting Michelangelo portrayed him as Minos, in the hell part of the picture with ass' ears and a snake biting his penis. When Cesena complained to the Pope the response was that he couldn't do anything because the Pope is not in charge of hell.
If you ever get a chance to go on a tour of the Vatican (or find him in the forum, or on a night walk) go. Do it. You won't regret it.
[The title is there because of laziness, I can't think of a decent one. So this crappier one will have to do, sorry.]