Thursday, December 1, 2011

All Roads Lead to...

November 21st and 22nd

From Munich, where we unfortunately only got to see the very nice train station, we caught the night train to Rome.  We both love night trains.  They are romantic, voyeuristic, and just plain fun.  You get your own teeny place and can watch the world go by as the train rumbles down the tracks.

We arrived in Rome at 9 am so we got a 3-day Rome Pass and took the metro to our “airbnb” room near the Colosseum by a little after 10 am.  This was our first stay in an airbnb bed and breakfast, and it was really a good experience.  If you aren’t familiar with airbnb, just check out and you will see what it is about.  The strangest part about the whole experience is that we ended up staying in the stereotypical "young Italian man still living with his mother" situation.  They are both lovely people and we had a nice bedroom and private bathroom and we had our own set of keys so we could come and go as we wished.  The mother made us coffee when we arrived, with one of the ubiquitous Italian espresso machines everyone has here, and then we headed out to see the Roman Forum.

Darrell at the Roman Forum
We didn’t know where the entrance was so we ended up walking all around the outskirts of both the forum and the Palatine hill remains before we managed to get inside.  That actually turned out to be a good strategy though as we knew which areas we wanted to see more thoroughly from our “through the fence” perusal.

The colosseum was then just to our east and we enjoyed the afternoon sun hitting the ancient columns of this vast structure.  Seeing these places really did bring Roman history to life.  It was wonderfully overwhelming.

Inside of Colosseum, showing area below original "floor"
We returned to our place to wait for the 7:30 pm time when most places begin to open again for dinner.  There really is a hiatus with most of the restaurants we saw between their lunch and their dinner hours.  For hungry tourists, there were bars open where you could get a piece of pizza to hold you over if you needed one!  Our hosts told us about a local place for dinner and we arrived there just as it opened.  Two Italian women arrived just before us, and we ended up the only tourists there, so we had an authentic Italian dining experience.  By the time we finished eating on the Roman schedule, we were ready for bed on our "early to bed" lifestyle schedule!

The next day we had Alessio’s breakfast of good coffee, bread, yogurt and juice.  That gave us enough caffeine and carbohydrates to start our big day of tourist-blitzing Rome.  We started by taking the metro to the train station and booking our reserved seats (required on all the high-speed trains) to La Spezia for the next morning.  While waiting in line, Darrell bumped into a former NAU graduate student whose committee he had been on several years previously.  Yes, it is a small world!

Then we took the metro to get a little closer to our first destination.  The Rome metro is undergoing significant restoration/reconfiguring, so it was a puzzle just to get to the correct line, but we did it!  From there we wandered to Trevi Fountain, the largest Baroque fountain in Rome.  What a fountain!  I couldn't capture the whole fountain no matter how far I backed up!

Trevi Fountain by Alberti
Our next walking tour stop was the Pantheon.  The pantheon (not the Parthenon) is the largest free-standing cement structure in the world.  That would be impressive in any circumstances, but consider that it was built almost 2,000 years ago in 126 AD.  There is a large oculus in the center, so rain just falls on the stone floor.  And it has been continuously used throughout its history.

Inside of the upper part of the Pantheon
After the Pantheon we found a place for lunch, just as the rain began to pour down.  We had one of those lucky days where it rains when you are inside, and then ceases just as you leave to walk again!  The picture below is from The Fountain of Four Rivers.  It was sculpted by Bernini between 1648 and 1651 and has four statues representing the Nile (Africa), Danube (Europe), La Plate (S.America) and Ganges (Asia).  Each of the statues tells a story, but I'll leave that for another day!

The Fountain of Four Rivers by Bernini
We continued east and crossed the Elba River towards the Vatican.  St. Peter’s Basilica looms over all.

St. Peter's Basilica, across the Elba River 
A tiny part of the inside of St. Peter's Basilica
Neither Darrell or I is very comfortable with the Christian opulence that exists all over Europe.  And so we went into a kind of shock-state when we entered the Basilica.  In crude words, it is 7.4 football fields of marble statues, lush paintings, lots of glitter, marble, and porphyry, ornate columns, detailed tapestries and on and on.  It was so far over the top that I began to channel some of the brightly garish Hindu temples I’ve seen.  I hope I’m not offending any of my dear readers, but I just don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind…

We were still determined, of course, to see the Sistine Chapel, even though we were reeling a little from the Basilica.  And if you consider the line to get into the Sistine Chapel probably stretches for blocks and blocks in the summer, and we were able to buy a ticket with just one couple in front of us, travel in November seems pretty ideal!  The entrance to the Sistine Chapel, even when you chose the “short tour” option, still takes you through copious halls from the reigns of various popes, that is just more and more glitterati, statues, treasures that were plundered, gifted, or bought through the years, and enormous tapestries, painted ceilings, stretching on through long, long halls.

Detail of a tapestry inside the Vatican Museum

I was almost weary of art by the time we arrived at the Sistine Chapel.  But that is another story altogether.  Michelangelo didn’t want to paint the Sistine Chapel, feeling his work only served the Pope's need for grandeur, but it really is a crowning achievement (no pun intended).  The 12,000 square feet of ceiling Michelangelo painted between 1508 and 1512 have figures that look three-dimensional, as if they are coming towards you as you look up.  Unbelievable...
 We capped the day with a wonderful Italian meal, and were completely satisfied with our Roma adventure.

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