Friday, January 30, 2009

Rome - Day 4

Bernini, Catacombs, Ruins, San Giovanni & the Subway!

Today was thrill-packed! Looking back, I cannot believe how much we fit into today.

We started by walking up the hill from our apartment door – a new and exciting direction for our adventures! Up the hill is the Villa Borghese, which is a park and the home of the Galleria Borghese. The Galleria Borghese is a museum that is famous most of all for its collection of works (paintings and statues) of Bernini.

Seeing Bernini’s statues was at the top of Susie’s wish list for Rome, specifically the Apollo and Daphne statue. That was lucky for me! If it wasn’t for Susie, I would have missed out on some amazingly beautiful sights!

Of course, Bernini is the mastermind behind many of Rome’s famous fountains, too: the Trevi Fountain, the Barberini Fountain (on the left, this was only 3 blocks away from our apartment), the fountain at the bottom of the Spanish Steps (3 blocks away from our apartment in the other direction), and the fountain in the center of the Piazza Navona.

Wow, wow, wow! Like so many things we have seen in Rome, the Bernini statues literally took my breath away. They are so life-like . . . so glowing . . . so detailed. They are truly spectacular.

No photography is allowed in the museum, so please, please take a look at this site. You simply must see some of his sculptures if you haven’t already.

Next was lunch (we need a lot of fuel for all this walking!) and a taxi ride to the St. Sebastian church on the Via Appia, which is also the starting point for the St. Sebastian catacombs.

The Via Appia is amazingly old – like so many things here. It was the original road into Rome from the east. It has an amazing history, including the fact that there were many famous citizens buried along this road. It was illegal to bury the dead within the city, so this is where many were buried. That includes burials in the catacombs.

There are apparently over 60 catacombs around Rome, and the one we toured today formerly held over 500,000 bodies. Can you imagine that? There were four levels, and it was a labyrinth beneath the ground. Along the walls were hollows that used to hold from one to four bodies each. Also scattered periodically throughout the narrow passageways (and on certain levels) were areas the held entire families.

It was quite amazing (I use that word a lot since moving to France, don’t I?!) and overwhelming. It was so vast! And this is only one set of catacombs.

Sorry - no pictures allowed again.

When Max, Josey, and I reached the surface after the tour, my hands were almost numb from the power of their grips! And – Dado, Susie, Mark, and Sean were nowhere to be seen. They had lagged behind and lost our group. Turns out that the tufa stone in the catacombs absorb sound quite well, and they could not see or hear the group. The tour guide went back for them.

The St. Sebastian church also had some beautiful sights to see – including the sculpture of St. Sebastian that was designed by Bernini.

For more information on Via Appia and the catacombs:

Since we had taken two taxis to reach the catacombs, we had to find a way back to the apartment!! Luckily, there was a bus stop close by that could take us near the Colosseum. We wandered along the path to the bus stop, right along with a group of girls that looked much like Girl Scouts, only their hats looked like ladybug shells. I mention this because they were singing quite merrily in Italian – and Dado joined in!

We successfully took the bus to the Piazza di San Giovanni, where were found ourselves staring at the enormous and beautiful Basilica di San Giovanni. It turns out that this is the actual head of the Rome diocese for the Catholic church – not St. Peter’s basilica at the Vatican. The interior reflects the fact that the Pope sometimes says mass here. It was astonishing in its scale of magnitude and the ornate decorations . . . almost like a miniature St. Peter’s in many ways.

Upon leaving the Basilica di San Giovanni, I took it upon myself to guide us home. Normally, I have zero sense of direction. However, after letting Mike act as the navigator yesterday, I decided that his sense of direction is in the negative number range. And guess what?! I got us home – on the subway. How cool is that? The kids were thrilled. In a single day, we rode a taxi, a bus, and a subway (which they called the train). Yeah for Mommy!

However, our adventures weren’t quite over yet. Susie and I had been itching to shop the last 4 days! We kept walking past all these great stores – all advertising “Saldi”, which is Italian for sale (not an Italian designer, as Mark once assumed). So, on the way home from the subway stop (only 3 blocks from the apartment!), Susie and I hit up a couple of stores.

We didn't buy these shoes . . . in fact, we didn't even try them on . . . but I thought of Alex every time we walked past them. I bought her the purse to match the gorgeous shoes she bought in Avignon while she was here. :)

Susie got some cute “European” outfits of leggings and short sweater dresses and a new pair of cute gray boots. I got a great new pink sweater, and I found a perfect dress for Alex (it is a sweater dress – black with narrow purple, white, and grey stripes – the same purple as the purse and the cute shoes she bought in Avignon!!). Fun, fun.

We returned to the apartment – tired, hungry, and pleased with our shopping . . . but my day wasn’t over yet. It was a little after 5pm, and I had to head out again with Mike to shop for dinner. Not so fun. Most stores are closed on Sunday – a fact we knew, but we just had to try! We walked at least 32 blocks and ended up almost empty handed. Sigh. Sean had to go without milk, but he’ll survive.

Love to all!

Rome - Day 3

Every day in Rome is better than the last! Today we saw truly ancient things: the Colosseum and the Roman ruins.

We started at the Colosseum. Luckily, we decided to do a guided tour (in English, thank goodness). The tour guide was awesome. She taught us so much about the history of the Colosseum and that era in Rome.

I’m sure you know that the history of the Colosseum is brutal and quite sad. To think that such an advanced society was so barbaric that they enjoyed watching battles between humans and hunts with animals. It’s horrifying. However, the history of the building itself is astonishing!

To think that over 2000 years ago, the technology existed to build a building on such a massive scale! It held over 70,000 spectators! It also had 3 subterranean levels where the Gladiators, animals, workers, food, etc. were housed – all operated by pulley and counterweight systems to lift things onto the arena floor.

And did you know that the Colosseum was once completely covered in marble? The marble was pillaged (or “recycled”) hundreds of years later to build St. Peter’s Basilica and other buildings in Rome!!! And all the metal that was used to support the marble and bricks was also pillaged. It was melted down to make weapons for wars!

Yet, despite the fact that the marble and metal have been removed – and despite a huge earthquake and time erosion – the Colosseum is still standing strong.

Speaking of standing strong . . . here are some of my own Gladiators.

Funny story! Max’s full name is Maximus, which is something you see carved into almost every old building in Rome! It is also the name of the Russel Crowe character in the movie Gladiator (no – we did not name our son after the character in this movie!). As we were walking around the Roman ruins, there were a few street vendors. Max noticed that one vendor was selling Gladiator helmets. Right away, he picked out “the one with spikes”, and he asked how much it was. Well, much to his despair, it was 180 euros. Later that night, the adults watched Gladiator (we wanted to see how the Colosseum and the Roman Forum were portrayed in the movie), and guess what?! The Gladiator helmet that Max picked out is the same exact one that Russel Crowe picked in the movie. Pretty cool.

Facing the Colosseum are the Arch of Constantine (built as a monument to Emperor Constantine) and the former Roman Forum.

Here are some pictures of the Arch of Constantine.

We walked through the Roman Forum, and I was spell-bound! All of these ruins . . . over 2000 years old!! The Roman Forum is where the market was held – all the shops and cafes, etc., along the side of the hills. And between the walls were the temples, baths, and other buildings that marked the Roman society. As we walked, I was trying to imagine this area teeming with people living their lives.

When we returned home, I started my research to learn exactly what we had seen. I wanted to learn everything! What were these buildings? What were they used for? I am like a sponge – I want to soak up all the history.

Here are some photos looking into the valley of the Roman Forum.

Below is a shot of the Forum wall and the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina.

And the Basilica de Maxentius (the building after which most basilica's are modeled!)

Arch of Septimius Severus

I found two great websites. On one site, you can see a photo of the Roman Forum. You can click on the different buildings in the photo for a description of the building. It’s great!

On the walk home from the Colosseum, we passed some more amazing buildings: the National Monument and the Corte de Cassazione. Have I said before that everywhere you look in Rome, you see something amazing?

Mike and I finally found some pasta shops! About 8 blocks from the apartment, at the bottom of the Spanish Steps, is the Via de Croce. On this cobblestone street are several restaurants, gelaterias (gelato stores), and a few delicatessen stores that sell meats, salami, sausages, pasta, sauces, wines, etc. Here we found many, many yummy things for our homemade meals. Plus, it was fun to take short shopping trips alone with Mike. Mark and Susie were sweet enough to keep the kids at the apartment while we made our nightly shopping excursions (usually while Sean was napping).

Love to all!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rome - Day 2

The Spanish Steps, the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, and more!

I adore Rome. This city is breathtaking . . . it’s absolutely amazing. Everywhere you turn, there is something beautiful to marvel at.

Today, we started with a short 3-block walk from the apartment straight to the Spanish Steps.

“Ohmigosh!” That is my most commonly used expression here, followed closely by, “Wow!” Those were the words I was whispering as I stared first up at the Trinita Church and obelisk that tower over the steps then down the Spanish Steps to the Barcaccia fountain at the foot of the steps. Lo and behold, the Barcaccia fountain is another work by Bernini! His son, Gian Lorenzo, worked on this fountain with him.

For more cool Spanish Steps facts:

As we all circled the fountain, the kids were thrilled with the horse-drawn carriages in the piazza, and we all admired the another monument a few steps away. Like I said – everywhere you turn, there is something amazing to see.

Our ultimate destination was the Vatican, which was more blocks away than we wanted to walk with an almost-3-year old! We did the smart thing and took taxis to the Vatican. Along the way, we drove through what I guess is some of the most expensive shopping in the world: Gucci, Valentino, Prada, blah, blah, blah. There are square blocks of these types of stores right in front of the Spanish Steps.

What can I say about the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica?! Again – ohmigosh and wow – such an ostentatious display of wealth. Everything was enormous and opulent and breathtaking. However, it also made me sad. Is this the best use of the Catholic church’s wealth and power? To build this display? When there is so much need in the world?

Regardless of my personal feelings on the subject, there was some of the most incredible artwork. Again – on such a grand scale.

This links shows a map of the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica, with each of the famous pieces of art listed with additional links to see photos of each piece of art. It’s worth looking at!

Mark loved the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica! Those turned out to be some of his highlights of Rome.

Of course we had to see the Sistine Chapel, too. And again, I left with mixed feelings.

Here is the part where I have to admit that most painted artwork doesn’t do much for me. Despite all my attempts to learn art appreciation, I’ve never succeeded where a paintbrush is involved. Alas, the Sistine Chapel is no exception. I think I would have appreciated the artwork if it wasn’t so busy – so much visual input! I wish I could show you pictures, but photos were strictly forbidden inside the Chapel.

Let me attempt a description.

You enter the Sistine Chapel after walking through about 30 other “rooms” of paintings. Everywhere you look, the walls and ceilings are covered in color and images and shapes and stories. There is no white space. There is very little visual relief. Some rooms took over 4 years to paint – to give you an idea of the volume.

Just look at the ceiling in this hallway. This is one of the first hallways you enter when you enter the Vatican Museum (home of the Sistine Chapel).

Even the floors are covered in patterns and pictures made of tile mosaics.

In each room, all four walls are covered in individual “paintings”, separated by a painted frame. The painting is all on the walls, not on individual canvases, but the effect is of endless framed paintings hanging end-to-end and top-to-bottom along all four walls.

The hallways that connect the rooms are also covered in art – tapestries, carvings, maps, you name it. And the ceilings . . . the ceilings are a cacophony of imagery.

Therefore, for me, by the time I entered the Sistine Chapel, I could no longer see and appreciate the art. It was all a blur. The very famous Creation of Adam by Michelangelo is centered in the ceiling, but it is much smaller than I ever imagined, and it is engulfed by all the images that surround it.

Here are some beautiful images I was able to capture . . .

When we left the Sistine Chapel after roughly two hours, it was a relief to be outside in the fresh air. Our next destination was the Castle San Angelo. Looking at our map, it looked like it would be about a 4-block walk. Ha ha ha. We finally made it there where we could enjoy the famous San Angelo bridge over the Tiber River.

We walked home from there, stopping at a tiny grocery store for provisions. Check out the private residence we saw on the way!

Love to all!