Sunday, 26 January 2014

Rome Where You Want To - Part 3

Rome, the last day!
Since today was going to be our last day, and technically we only had "half" of the day since our plane departed at 7pm and I wanted to make sure we got to the airport in plenty of time, so I booked only one official stop for the day:  The Gallery Borghese.
The gallery is actually the former mansion house an eponymous prominent Roman family.  His family's personal art collection is quiet impressive.  It had a great reputation, so much you have to schedule your visit in advance, so I thought it would be worth it.
Unfortunately, the gallery wouldn't allow photos inside (why? am I stealing the painting's soul???), but at least I got a couple snapshots outside of the impressive building.  Keep in mind, this was some guy's house!


OK, I know they didn't allow pictures inside, but this technically isn't of anything in the Gallery except a tired boy after his 500th Roman art collection.  Hang in there, David!
There was one sculpture inside that was perhaps my favourite in all art work we saw on this trip:  Apollo and Daphne sculpture.
I didn't' take this picture, of course, but hopefully you can get a feeling for why it's so amazing. I saw a lot of marble sculptures on this trip, but nothing like this.  The flow, the physics, the emotion, the texture right down to Daphne's leaves growing out of her fingertips.  Just a word: Amazing.  Worth the price of admission, right there.


After the visit at the gallery, we continued to walk around beautiful Rome.  We followed a recommendation in our tourist book for something I wasn't quite prepared for:  The Capuchin Crypt.

Warning:  Religious editorialization ahead.

This was another "art" collection where indoor photography was forbidden, but luckily I have the internet to back me up on this.
So, this religious order puts its members bones in this crypts, and over time, arranges them in all sorts of, uhm, interesting ways.  Go ahead and do a search if you'd like to see more.

It was both interesting and disturbing at the same time.

I personally am religious; I consider myself Christian.  As part of my belief I also believe that the original church that Jesus established was lost shortly after he ascended into heaven and Peter and the other apostles were killed.

As part of this falling away, or apostasy, most spiritual inspiration and all divine authority was lost from the Earth.  To me, this crypt was a monument to that falling away.  Here we have those who ostensibly devoted their lives to Christianity yet had this obsessive, cult-like obsession with death and dying. Shouldn't a Christian order be more concerned with the salvation of the living?

To me, there's nothing in the scriptures that either encourages or condones this unhealthy obsession with death.  To me, true Christians celebrate life, and death is merely a temporary separation from our body until the universal resurrection.  Why obsess over death, dying, and the rotting bones and flesh of the dead?  How is this even close to pursing things "virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy"? (Philippians 4:8)

Rant over.

As we explored further, what should we happen upon?  David, this is a sign, today we should go home!

As we boarded the bus to the airport we said ciao to our beloved Rome.  I'm hoping the tradition of Trevi is true because I'd sincerely love to return someday and see more. 

Final scorecard:
Art & Culture: 10 (c'mon, it's Rome!)
People: 9 (super friendly people, even tried to speak English most of the time!)
Prices: 4 (Rome is SUPER expensive!)
Food: 4 (low rating only because we really lucked out in the food department; I'm hoping next time I will plan better to get better establishments and better food!)

Overall: 8 = Excellent trip!

Thanks Rome!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Rome Where You Want To - Part 2

Rome Italy.  Still hard to believe I was really there.  Anyway, ha ha . . .

Our first full day was over and we're back in the apartment to settle down and get some rest.  As I'm lying down on my bed checking the news and Facebook I hear the distinct sound of a woman crying and cursing in Italian.  I peek my head out and it's the owner of the hostel frantically mopping up water in the lobby and, what I assume, a mechanical room behind the front desk.  Her poor English was made even worse by what appeared to be a crisis of plumbing proportions.  "Caldera! Burst! Plumber, ahhh!!!"  Ooooooh, I get it, that's why there's no running water in our room's bathroom.  Good thing a shower wasn't on the list for the evening and we had bottled water.  I actually felt pretty sorry for the poor woman, even offered to help, but she said she was fine and everything would be OK.  The next morning everything seemed fine and breakfast was laid out for us as normal.

So, day 3, our last full day in the city.  Today was going to be all about ancient Rome.  The big stops were Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Coliseum, and the Roman Forum.  Here we go!
 Everywhere you walk in Rome you see the neatest shops, bakeries, and here, a butcher/deli.  Quite charming, really, and I don't know if it was all show, but sure looked authentic Italian to me!  It sorta' reminded me of Salmuis sandwiches in Seattle, which had some the best sandwiches I'd ever had, mmmmmm, but I digress...

The tradition says if you stand with your back to the Trevi Fountain and throw in a coin, good luck will bring you back to Rome!  Wait!  That was my last 2 Euro coin!!!

More of the Trevi Fountain.  For an ordinary November weekday, it was packed with tourists.  I'd hate to see this place during the busy season!

The fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome, and perhaps the most famous fountain in the world.  It's estimated that there is over 3,000 euros cast into it every day!

David loves fountains.  He can't take his eyes off them...

Around the touristy areas of the fountain are Italian woodcarving shops.  Check out this wooden Harley!  Rock on, dude David!  Many of these wood shops had Pinocchio themes going on.  Yeah, I guess now that I think about it that was an Italian story . . .

More good stuff:  The Pantheon!  What's interesting about this place is its age and its use as a religious edifice crossing paganism and Christianity.  Now it's more of a tourist trap, but hey, it's still cool.
These doors are almost 2,000 years old!

The famous oculus, the only source of natural light inside the building. 

Outside view, with complementary sunburst.

And what do we have here?  ANOTHER POOR FOOL wearing an Oregon Ducks shirt!  Is Rome a magnet for the misguided souls?
David is ever-enthralled at 2,000 year old buildings.

I remember the weather this day.  Absolutely beautiful. Probably about 75F and not a cloud in the sky.

Honestly, this wasn't on the to-see list, but the Alter to the Fatherland was visually very impressive.  and it was FREE!  Inside was a lot of military monuments, memorabilia, paintings, and artefacts. I guess modern Romans have some mixed feelings about the monument as it was a Mussolini-era construction when Italian fascism was at its height.  Ignoring that today, it's still an impressive building and the inside was done well, more of just objective historical treatment of Italy's military.

David says he may be getting curly hair, just like his momma's. . .

No, THIS we DID plan for!  The Colosseum! I was pretty excited actually to get to tour this place, so I think I'll just sit back and let the pictures do the talking . . .

Try to imagine these were once filled with people, spectators of all walks of life, now just shadows and memories . . .
Panoramic view!

Mr. Handsomes enjoying his visit to Rome and the Colosseum.

The floor of the stadium was filled with catacombs, trap doors, cages, and gladiator rooms.  Much like the back stage of a sophisticated modern theatre, it had all the inner workings necessary for the big productions of those days.

David just can't stop looking at all the action!

Some of the surviving original artistic reliefs found during excavations featuring gladiators, of course!

I wouldn't have expected it, but here we have Costantini the Colosseum Cat!

As you can see by the shadows we spent a lot of time inside the Colosseum.  I loved it, I suppose it was my favourite single place we visited on our trip.  The restorative scaffolding spoiled the outside view a little but other than that, a  great visit and a must-see.

I also should editorialize here a bit about what this place means now that I've visited it and learned its history a bit more.  The Colosseum really was, in its basic form, a horrible place.  A place where humans and animals were pitted against each other and cheered by bloodthirsty spectators all in the name of "entertainment".  Thousands of animals, and perhaps as many humans were executed or forced to fight to the death, including early Christian martyrs. 

Now it stands merely a shell, a decaying fragment of its former self.  While it was an engineering masterpiece that has withstood the tests of time and the elements, its use can really only be regarded as a monument of humanity's cruelty and depravity.

But even with all that, it still stands as one of my favourite visits in the city.  It should be seen, it should not hide its past.  People must be made to see what technology, engineering, and entertainment can be brought together to such levels of inhumanity.  We have to learn and recognize how low we can go as a "modern society" in the names of entertainment.

The Arch of Constantine, commemorates his victory in the Battle of Milvian Bridge.  The night before that battle it is believed that Constantine had a vision that if he put the first two letters of Jesus' name (or some accounts say a cross) on their shields they would win the fight.  They did, and they did win, and that was the first major step of Constantine's and subsequently Rome's conversion to Christianity.

The Convento S. Bonaventura Al Palatino

Unfortunately for us, we ran out of time and the Roman Forum closed before we could get inside.  I guess we'll just have to go back another day!!

I never knew this about Rome, but I guess it has a problem with starlings as measured by the millions...

Did I mention millions of starlings?
I didn't take this pic, but you can see why starlings are something of a problem in Rome . . .
so . . . then end of another awesome day in Rome . . . and to finish it off right, a ROMAN FEAST!  Actually, in all honesty, the food was a real low point in our visit.  I take the blame for this one as of all the things I planned for in the trip I spent no time in researching good restaurants to visit.  We sort of threw the dice on dinner and well, we crapped out.  Again, it's a good excuse to go back!

Stay tuned for exciting final chapter: Pax Romana!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Rome Where You Want To - Part 1

For my birthday last year Liz agreed to send me and David on a trip to the continent; any destination we chose for a few days. 

It was going to be the first time I'd ever gone to continental Europe, and so I really thought hard about where I wanted to go.  Sort of the "which chocolate do I pick first" out of a new box of See's assorted.  I wanted them all, but you can only pick on and you can't really tell which ones you'll like the most, so . . . you're really going to have to guess and hope it's not the mallow-marzipan-pineapple. 

So, where will it be?  Paris?  Berlin?  Barcelona?  Well, it turns out I picked Rome, Italy to be my first big city trip.
There's a lot of reasons why I picked Rome.  It's always been an interesting place to me.  In many regards it was the capital of the world for hundreds of years, and is even today in a religious sense.  Romans made so many contributions to art, science, literature, philosophy, and of course, warfare.
Rome's involvement in the persecution and subsequent adoption of Christianity was also of keen interest.
The trip itself would span four days, two half days and two whole days and two nights in the city to soak up as much art, culture, and history as we could.  Oh yeah, and try to speak some Italian along the way.
The trip was basically divided up as follows: 
Day 1 would be get settled and reconnoitre the area, maybe take in a few shops or random sights. 
Day 2, Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel.
Day 3, ancient Rome, Colosseum, and (completely inadvertently, the Altar to the Fatherland).
Day 4, Galleria Borghese and some shopping, the head home.
Monday, early morning flight lands us in Rome on a beautiful afternoon.  Sun shining, about 75 degrees Fahrenheit.  In Ireland it was about 40 degrees and raining; I can already tell I'm going to like this place.  OK, first order of business: figure out how to get to the train station and find our hotel. 
 David wasn't used to so much sunshine.  It made him happy, though. 

It didn't take long for disaster to strike.  Our plans to take a train from Ciampino to Termini was a bust.  We couldn't find the connection to the trains and no one obvious (who, coincidently could speak English, but many thanks to those who tried!) to ask.  So, luck was with us and we found a bus on its way to Termini for half the cost of the train.  Disaster averted!

Finally, we arrived!  The streets of Rome; Rome, Italy!  Wow, I still can't believe it.  I have friends who are well-travelled who'd roll their eyes at my boyish exuberance, but I never imagined in my life that I'd ever have to visit Rome like this.  It was (and still is) awesome.  Yeah, I'm going to use that word, what is it? Epic.  Yeah, epic.

 Hey, YOU! Yeah, you down there! You're in Rome!  Whoo-hoo!!

Our first stop for food.  Some fast food joint.  One thing we figured out pretty quickly was that Rome prices are HIGH.  For this small platter of mysterious fried objects was about 8 Euros ($10 USD).  We also figured out that most people speak a few words of English, and those who didn't sure tried to.  We didn't meet a rude Roman our entire time there.

Our 5 start luxury accommodations in the heart of Rome included this grand elevator big enough for David and another person half his size.  I had to go up in three trips.

Our 5,000 square foot penthouse included this 87'' plasma high-def 3D big screen and Dolby 5.1 digital surround sound.

After hoofing around the city for half the day, we stopped for our first true Italian dinner!  This was just an appetizer.  What did we order for the main course? Why, pizza, of course!  Yum!

 David, ever the connoisseur of fine Italian cuisine, relishing his tomato toast.

One of the more famous icons of Rome:  The wolf who nursed Remus and Romulus, the traditional founders of Rome.

Potato chips!  From Italy!  In all seriousness, without them David would have starved to death.

Wow, David.  Don't get tired yet, bro, it's only our first day!

Our breakfast in the hotel courtyard included poached quail eggs, truffles, foie gras, caviar, couscous with a sprig of parsley and lemon spring water (sparkling, of course).

The trains of Rome are well . . . decorated . . .

OK, first stop, Vatican City!  Here it is, St. Peter's Square! 

All the chairs lined up to accommodate the faithful for the Pope's weekly address (I think).

The Vatican Swiss Guard!  In color!

The Holy Door. According to the Vatican website the Holy Door or 'Porta Sancta' is only open during a Holy Year (Jubilee), which occur every 25 years (the last one in 2000).   On the first day of a holy year, the Pope strikes the brick wall with a silver hammer and opens it to the pilgrims.  The message imparted by the Holy Door is that God's mercy reaches out to mankind's frailty.  From inside the basilica, the door is walled up.

St. Peter's Basilica; in a word, amazing.

This poor chap travelled all the way to Rome wearing this terrible shirt.  So. Sad.

A list of all the Popes.

The Dome; where we're going next!

Up the staircase, David!  Follow the light!!

A spectacular view of the square and Rome at large.

The Vatican gift shop.  The hand-carved nativity scene allows you to get each piece separately.  The Christ child is only 802.50 euros (about $1,000 US dollars)!  Hopefully that includes the manger.

David had to stop and think about it all for a while . . .

If you're wondering why I haven't included any photos of the Sistine Chapel it's because THEY WON'T LET YOU TAKE ANY PICTURES AT ALL inside!  Well, I guess I'll just have to take some off the internet.  Just try and stop me, Vatican Policia!

In all seriousness, the Sistine Chapel was one of my favorite stops.  We spent a lot of time looking up and around at the amazing frescos.  It took Michelangelo only about four years to complete the project, only in his early 20's and he didn't even like working with paint! 

The day is done.  We have some time now to take in some shops and see Rome in action in the evening.  This was an Italian grocery store with the quintessential meat section!

Street vendors selling their wares.

And to finish off part 1 of the trip:  whatever the heck this thing is.  A guy with a branch growing out of his head.  I guess even the Vatican museum has a few clunkers in its collection.
Stay tuned for Part 2: The Revenge!