Sunday, July 29, 2007

Our last morning in Rome

We only had a few hours before we had to head for the airport for our flight home. We decided to explore the neighborhood near our B&B for awhile and happened upon the most interesting outdoor market. It was several blocks long and was on both sides of the street. The different vendors had little buildings that were all side by side on the sidewalk and they extended awnings from each one so it was like we were inside the whole time. It was so cool seeing all the different colors and smelling the different aromas and also watching the people doing their daily shopping. There was every variety of things for sale, you could get everything you needed right there on the street and not just food items either, there were clothing stalls, toys, fabric, household items, purses and bags. It was hard to pull ourselves away when it was time to leave, so many things to take pictures of.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Our 3rd Day in Rome!

By our third day our feet where really putting up a protest to all that walking so we decided to take advantage of one of those hop on/hop off bus tour things. The ticket was good for 24 hours so we rode the bus the entire circuit first and saw all the sights and listened to the commentary, then we used it as transportation to get us close to the places we wanted to go inside. It was fun people watching from the top of the doubledecker bus. And it was VERY nice being a passenger and not having to deal with driving in that traffic. I think it is the worst place for driving I have ever seen.

The first place we headed off to see was the Basilica of St. John Lateran. We were surprised that many people don't know of this is the Cathedral of Rome! I guess so many people think of St. Peter's and the Vatican that they don't realize that Rome has its own cathedral. The scale of this place is amazing...the columns that hold up the ceiling just go up and up and up. There are wonderful frescos on many of the walls, and immense sculptures of the 12 apostles in between the pillars. Off to one side is the door leading to a peaceful cloister that dates from the 13C. I was fascinated by the unique columns and how many are decorated with fragments of antique marble.

Across the street from the cathedral was another church that we saw a lot of people going into. It was starting to rain a bit so we decided to step inside and let that one grey cloud blow over and see what we could see. Turns out it was the Chapel of the Sancta Sanctorum and was built to house the Scala Santa or Holy Steps. It is a staircase that supposedly came from Pilate's house and that Jesus went down after his condemnation. Pilgrims and other worshippers come to ascend the steps...and this is done only on their knees.

The next place we made sure not to miss was the famed "Mouth of Truth". It is a tradition to put your hand into the mouth of the huge marble face and anyone with a guilty conscience will have the mouth snap shut on them. There was a line of people waiting for their turn but we didn't mind. In front of us was a delightful family from Scotland. Apparently the younger son (around 3?) really really wanted to see this most of all. The older son told us "my brother says he never lied!" We asked him if he ever did and he paused and then said "well...I have but I always told the truth later!" As the line moved closer and closer the little guy watched everyone very carefully and serously. Of course there were a few who pretended to be caught in the mouth as a joke. When it was the little boy's turn I guess he had second thoughts because NO WAY was he going to let his father take him up there! He pulled back and tried to get away...he almost fell on the ground and even started to kick at his dad. Poor little fellow...he was so scared! I wish I had my camera would have been a very funny picture.

The next place we wanted to see was a neighborhood located on the other side of the river called Trastevere. Since the middle ages this was the 'popular' district of Rome and is full of artisans houses, shops and restaurants. Today it is still 'the' place to be in the evening hours and is also a quaint place to walk and take photos. I had been taking pictures of windows all day long and added quite a few to my collection there. We could have spent a long time exploring for sure!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Rome.....(Day 2, part 2)

After we finished at the Vatican we took the subway to a church we had heard about that has an interesting crypt. It is called the Crypt of the Capuchins and is um..."decorated" with the bones of thousands of friars who died between 1528 and 1870. Apparently the monks left their former friary and disinterred the remains from the old cemetery and moved them as well. No one is sure who was the actual "artist" here, or what moved him to create this. One story is that it is the work of 3 French friars (no....not those kind of french fries!) who were taking refuge in Rome from the Reign of Terror in their home country. Others have to do with single criminals or persons hidden in the crypt. It is said that the monks would gather in the crypt at the end of each day and pray and reflect before going to bed. The bones are arranged into chandeliers, archways, a coat of arms (I couldn't resist!) and several scenes with hourglasses, flowers, clocks and in the last room a skeleton holding a scythe and scales. The pamphlet we got there says the message of all this is that "death closes the gates of time, and opens those of eternity". I don't was definately interesting and rather spooky when it really sinks in that all those bones are REAL bones from REAL people!

Once we came out into the sunlight we set out on our search for another church. This one is called "San Pietro in Vincoli" or St. Peter in Chains. This church is said to contain the actual chains that held Peter when he was imprisoned. Another reason this church was on our list was because Michelangelo's Moses sculpture can be found here. The sculpture was to be a part of an elaborate tomb for Pope Julius II. Julius original design called for 40 different figures. When he passed away the next Pope became impatient for Michelangelo to finish work on this project as he wanted him to begin work on the Sistine Chapel. He went to watch him work and declared the unfinished tomb finished. What a see in person the great work of the Sistine Chapel in the morning, and this amazing sculpture by the same master artist in the afternoon!

We decided to finish our day at the Castel St. Angelo. This impressive building began as an immense mausoleum for Hadrian's ashes. It has also served as fortress, a castle, a residence for Popes, and even a prison! There is a legend that the archangel Michael appeared on the top of the mausoleum sheathing his sword to signify the end of the plague of 590 and this is how the castle got its name. The castle is located right on the Tiber river just a short walk from St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican. I remembered visiting there with Colin in the evening and taking in the amazing view of St. Peter's from the top and knew that we could not miss this sight. It was not yet dark when we got there, and the castle was closed for a few hours before opening for the evening (they had some kind of festival going on) so we wandered around taking pictures. There is no shortage of things to take photos of! I was taken with the bridge that approaches the has 10 angels on it which were sculpted by the artist Bernini and his pupils.

When it was late enough we went inside the castle and headed for the roof. We were not disappointed at all...the view is just amazing!!! We had some ice cream in a little cafe they had up in the castle and then headed back towards our B&B to find some dinner and to rest up for another busy day!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Another day in Rome.......(Day 2, part 1)

We had our breakfast early on our second day so we could be sure to hop in the line for the Vatican Museums before it got too long. The museum opens at 10:00 and we got in line around 9 and the line was already down the block and around the corner! We were lucky we got in line when we did or we would have been waiting in the sun for over an hour, we were VERY grateful for the shade trees where we were. There are two lines for the museum and ours did not begin moving until 45 minutes after the museum opened, it seems that they let all the people in the 'guided tours' line go in first. There were many people trying to take advantage of the situation offering 'special guided tours' for sale, bottled water, umbrellas and fans to help with the heat, and shawls or scarves for women whose shoulders were exposed. We were very glad to finally get through the doors.

The museums are immense, there is no way you could possibly see everything, and even if you wanted to the way they structure things I don't think you could. You are guided through the museums by signs directing to different areas and velvet cords and doors forcing you to follow the route they have set out. Most people are there to see the Sistine Chapel and are unaware that there are many other important works of art to see as well. As we followed the flow of people we were pleasantly surprised to find paintings by Van Gogh, Dali, and even entire rooms decorated by Raphael. There was gallery after gallery with ceilings and walls exquisitely painted just as spectactularly as the Sistine chapel, but not as well known. If it weren't for the heat and the constant crowds we could have spent the entire day enjoying it all.

After climbing up and down stairs, wandering back and forth through different galleries and even outside and back inside we finally arrived at the Sistine Chapel. Words and photos can't capture how amazing it is to actually see it in person. There are benches along the sides where you can sit and take it all in, but you are not supposed to take photos of the ceiling. There are many uniformed guards wandering around in there admonishing people with "No photos"! And every 10 minutes or so over the intercom in several different languages we are reminded of this policy as well. Bill commented that the LOUD messages were probably more damaging to the art than a digital photo without flash would be. Like many people we saw, we could not resist snapping a few pictures...even a group of priests had their cameras pointed to the ceiling until the guard said " photos!" I could have sat there for much longer just looking at the detail, imagining Michelangelo on his back painting in that very room, just being amazed that I was really seeing the real thing, but we had to move on.

We had a nice lunch before we decided what else we wanted to see and set out to do that. Little did we know that the rooms we wanted to see would take us back through the same way as if we were going to the Sistine Chapel! They had rearranged the ropes and changed the route so we did see other rooms and courtyards on our way, but the crowds were unbearable and Bill and I were both more than ready to get out in the fresh air and get some people free space around us. We had one more treat before we left though....the stairways (ramps actually) leading to the exit are a beautiful double spiral that we both enjoyed taking photos of. So cooL!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I've been tagged!!! Will you be next???

Check it out! My rockin' friend Tammy has tagged ME with this cool banner!!!
Let's see......who else will be honored with this awesome title???
How about Sollie, Lam, Kat, Suzanne, and Charlee! Come on down! (Oh wait...this isn't the Price is Right) LOL Copy and paste this banner into your blog so everyone knows how cool YOU are....and don't forget to nominate 5 more bloggers!!!

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Eternal City.....(Day1, Part 3)

After we finished up at the Piazza Navona we started heading back to the subway so we could go towards our B&B. One our way we made sure to stop at the famous Trevi fountain so we could throw a coin in. I knew Colin would ask us if we did and sure enough, it was the first thing he asked when we got back! Apparently we were far from the only tourists who knew the tradition of throwing in a coin to ensure your return to was wall to wall people! Amazing.

Once we got back to our B&B it was starting to get dark so we decided to stop for dinner and rest our tired feet. I think every time we eat at an Italian restaurant from now on we will have to have is SO good!!! After dinner we walked the few blocks over to St. Peter's again so we could see it at night. Magical! It was hard to stop taking photos and call it a night. But it was a long day and lots of walking so we finally gave in so we could get up and make the most of the next day.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Eternal City.....(Day 1, part 3)


Our next destination was the Pantheon. Bill had visited Rome once before with a tour group and it was dark by the time they got to the Pantheon and he was only able to see it from the outside. Yes the outside is interesting and all but it is the INSIDE that can't be missed. The immense dome with the hole or "oculus" in the middle captures they eye and the imagination. There are no visible supports and the ceiling seems to float above the room. It is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the history of architecture....amazing considering it was built in 125 AD! I love the effect of the sun rays coming down through through center. Another reason that we wanted to be sure to visit was to see the tomb of the famous painter Raphael. We looked forward to seeing his work in the Vatican museums.

In front of the Pantheon is a big fountain with an obelisk on top of it. I am a big fan of fountains and all the different forms they take and the details and of course the cool water. Rome has NO shortage of fountains so I was very happy with my camera!

Our next stop was also high on my 'must see' list. It is a group of ruins that is called Area Sacra Largo Argentina or "Largo Argentina Sacred Precinct". These are some of the oldest ruins found in Rome and is situated below street level so you must look down on them from above. In 44 BC Julius Caesar was assasinated by his rival Brutus in this place. The ruins were first excavated in 1929 and the remains of 4 temples as well as other structures were found. These ruins are a perfect place for stray cats to live and feel safe from people and cars etc. since it is below ground level and has lots of hiding places and is not packed full of tourists. The homeless felines started moving in almost as soon as the area was excavated and ladies called "gattare" (cat ladies) would feed them as they could. This went on informally until 1994 when a group of cat lovers began to solicit money from people to help the cats and started giving them medical care, spaying and neutering and feeding them. They began what is now called "the Roman Cat sanctuary" which is home to around 250 cats. If you know me you know I could not pass up a place where I KNOW I can see kitties! Unfortunately it was SOO hot that most of the cats we saw were sleeping in what shade they could find so my pictures probably look like ruins with dead cats all over! Heehee

After we had our fill of the cats we walked a few blocks over to see the Piazza Navona. It is a huge square that has been a center of activity since ancient times. In the 1st century it was the city of a great 'circus' or stadium where festivals, jousts and other sports may have taken place. It was also used as a market place until 1869 when they moved the market elsewhere. I would have liked to be a noblewoman between the years of 1652 to 1866 because every weekend in August they would flood the piazza and stage mock naval games for their entertainment! Today the piazza has 3 large fountains, many restaurants and cafes, is filled with artists and their work and is one of the most famous and lovely places to see in Rome. I was looking forward to seeing the 3 fountains but unfortunately the big one in the middle was completely encased in scaffolding and undergoing serious restoration. Ah was still a LOVELY place to wander. Really FEELS like what you think of when you think of Italy.