Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sightseeing in Rome - Feb 2012

While in Rome, we saw all of the major sights since we spent three days doing private tours.  Sometimes it was a little too much detail as I tried to keep my eyes from glazing over and rolling into the back of my head, but overall it was really interesting.  Plus we didn't have to deal with any other crazies on the tour since it was just our little family - well worth it if you're easily annoyed and can swing the cost.

I especially enjoyed our tour of the Roman Forum and Colosseum. I took about a million pics there, so these are just a few of my faves.

Above is a really old street sign, of sorts, from the Palatine Hill.  The Roman Forum excavations are located in its valley.

As you enter Palatine Hill past the exit of the Colosseum, you walk uphill in a switchback and I took these two pics of some of the remaining snow in the shadows of trees that hadn't melted yet.  And the umbrella pines - they're just lovely.

I don't recall what these remains are on the forum, but I was impressed with what I saw.  I can only imagine how fabulous the buildings appeared when they were intact and fronted with such formidable columns.

The ancient Romans seemed to appreciate a nice commemorative arch, almost as much as they liked a good column or obelisk.  The pic above was taken after I had climbed to the second level of the Colosseum, which gave me a lovely view.

The pics of the arches above and below were taken while on the grounds of the forum.  The arches were constructed to celebrate the rulers Titus, Augustus and Septimius Severus, which prompted the youngest daughter to ask if that had anything to do with Snape in the Harry Potter movies.

On our tour through the forum, we entered what was once the temple of the vestal virgins, seen below.  

The youngest daughter got tired towards the end of the tour and climbed atop some rocks that were up against the railing.  I looked down to discover they weren't just rocks but rather the bits and pieces of temples or buildings that have fallen down over the centuries.  It reminded me of Ephesus - an archaeological graveyard, of sorts.

Below you see the remains of the basilica of Maxentius, the largest building in the forum.  It was completed by Constantine, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity.  He was proclaimed emperor upon the death of his father while they were fighting in York... where we visited back in December.  I just love connecting the dots in history.

And here are my shots of the Colosseum.  It's an engineering marvel and I was thrilled to be able to walk through it for a good look.

My final pic below was part of the display inside the remains of the Colosseum, an ancient mosaic in little black and white tiles.  I don't recall whether those two men pictured are gladiators, but it seems pretty obvious the animal is some sort of big cat because we know exotic animals were often part of the entertainment.  Here kitty, kitty, kitty.

And a little story about the teen to round out this blog post...

The first few days in Rome, the daily high barely hit 40° F, so we were all bundled up.  However, the teen will always cater to fashion rather than trivial practicalities like avoiding frostbite.  Our first day on the touring trail, we were hiking over the cobbled streets to see the Spanish Steps when we passed by the stereotypical white haired Italian grandmother, or nonna.  She was dressed in black with a scarf covering her head.  She slowed and came to a stop next to the oldest daughter, who was wearing a pair of tights, boots and sweater dress that hit her at mid-thigh and thus wasn't visible since it was on par with the hem of her coat.  Nonna felt it necessary to speak up about this travesty of common sense and thus proclaimed with her limited English, "Too short, too short" while gesturing at the teen's legs.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Early to bed, early to rise is for wimps and old folks

The teen was assigned a Huck Finn project about ten days ago, but she obviously hasn't been sufficiently singed by her burning the midnight oil habits.  I woke up at 1:45 am and shuffled downstairs to have her ask me about the wording of a sentence.  Tsk, tsk. 

What's tragic, in my opinion, is that she can throw together this last minute crap and make a decent grade.  But she just doesn't get it.  She's all pleased with herself for the big burst of productivity with just one full day to complete it, refusing to acknowledge that doing the bulk of the work the day before it's due certainly won't earn her the highest possible grade.  But hey, she's almost 17 and she knows everything whereas we're just her ignorant parents with these goofy ideas.

Anyhoo, Miss I-Got-2-Hours-of-Sleep was listening to me and her younger sister review the US state abbreviations while I was cooking supper.  I was calling out random states off the top of my head and the 5th grader was naming abbreviations.  The teen starts chiming in with states, too.  And then she rattles off Detroit.  She follows up that "state" with Chicago.  Thankfully the teen realized her mistake so the little one didn't have to correct her. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Vatican City - Feb 2012

As part of our Rome immersion tour, we spent a whole day in Vatican City and still just saw a fraction of it.  In this home of the popes, it made me wish I had a better understanding of the Catholic religion because it would have made much more sense to me.  Of course, there are many Christian people and symbols that transcend all of the splinter groups that form the various Bible based churches in the world today and so it wasn't all lost on me.

St. Peter's Basilica was just beautiful and HUGE.  From afar, it doesn't look so imposing.

This is the dome taken from a courtyard of the Vatican museums.

This is the entrance of St. Peter's as seen while departing from our tour.  Squint at the second story balcony between the center set of columns... that is where the Pope stands to read sermons on high holy days.

I loved the statues of Jesus (with the cross) and his disciples lining the top of the basilica as well as the colonnades flanking it on St. Peter's Square.

Inside the basilica, you couldn't help but stand in awe, whether you worship God, allah or the cows in your local pasture, because it's just gorgeous.

Maybe it's just my middle-aged vision, but it didn't look huge from the entrance door.  Then as you walk closer you get a feel for the true scale of it.  The altar is enormous as evidenced by the people that look like ants milling around it.  The entire thing is in bronze and just massive.  I especially like how the sun cooperated as it came streaming through a couple windows on the left.  

Above are the girls standing behind the altar with that sunlight making for a really great photo.

The younger daughter is a bit blurry in this shot as she was getting tired of me taking pics and thus I had to snap it quickly since she was becoming a moving target.  These two cherubic angels are holding a large basin of holy water and give you a better idea of the magnitude of everything inside St. Peter's.  Mario our guide called them the monster baby angels because they're so big.

Above you'll see the tomb of the unknown-to-me important religious figure in the basilica - can't recall the name, but obviously somebody memorable because it was a tad over-the-top.

Obviously this is a statue representing one of the popes, but I can't remember which one - less ostentatious and more my speed if I had requested a tasteful memorial.

Michelangelo's Pieta was unbelievably beautiful.  It was as if you could expect a tear to roll down Mary's face as she held Jesus on her lap after they had taken him down from the cross.  

Our tour through the Vatican Museums included the following pictorial highlights...

◆ map rooms from the 15th-16th centuries that the teen and I had already seen on our Med cruise back in July (pic taken in same spot as teen with her friend back in the summer and then one with her little sister this month)

◆ bust of a man wearing a mask - very creepy, indeed

◆ original Laocoon and His Sons sculpture from the first century BC, poetically disturbing with the sea serpents attacking them

It would take a very long time to really see all that the Vatican has to offer.  We spent the morning running through centuries of history and artwork for a good overview.  One day I would like to return - after the girls are grown - and really take my time so I can appreciate what I'm seeing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Touring Rome - Feb 2012

For our Rome trip, my husband consulted his handy dandy Rick Steves Rome book to check out tour companies Rick, the great travel god, recommends.  After a lot of internet snooping, the husband decided Through Eternity was the company for us.  

We scheduled two full days and two half days of private tours.  The first full day we got to meet our tour guide, Mario Baas.  Fluent in several languages, he relocated to Rome from his native country of Holland after attending uni in Italy.  Mario was a fount of information, so much so that I sometimes had a hard time keeping it all straight.  

For example, we toured the basilica of San Clemente on our last day in the city.  The current sanctuary was built in the 12th century, but beneath that you can descend two more levels into the excavations from a 4th century Christian church as well as a pagan Mithraic temple from the 2nd century and a 1st century public building.  Pictures were not allowed in San Clemente, so I had to swipe a couple from the web because it was really stunning.

It's hard to fathom layer upon layer upon layer of history in this part of the world - truly amazing!

Above you see pictures of some ruins and it's a good visual because it shows how you have to go down several meters to hit the ancient street level.  In the shadows where the rays of the sun couldn't reach it, you'll see the snow that lingered several days into our trip.  And the umbrella pines I recalled from our Med cruise back in July - love 'em!

In the picture below is the excavated area where Julius Caesar was murdered, the remains of three temples all in a row.  It has been designated a cat sanctuary in modern times and there were lots of felines sunning themselves.  The calico pic the girls snapped below was just one of the many kitty cats that call this place home.

Just a few blocks from the Piazza Navona you'll find the Pantheon.  As we walked in to take a look, it dawned on me that we were walking on the original floors that were placed there 1900 years ago in this temple for pagan worship.  Too bad the statue of Cellulite was removed because goodness knows I need to be dancing around at midnight sacrificing chickens if I ever wanna budge any of the latest middle-aged flubber that's sticking to my inner thighs.

The Pantheon was converted to a Catholic church in the 7th century and thus all of the pagan mythological statues were replaced with Christian art.  It was truly an engineering feat when the dome was created with the center opening, or oculus, at its zenith.  Its rotunda sits beneath what was the largest dome in the world until the Duomo was built in Florence in the mid 1400s.  I can't imagine how they designed, let alone created, this triumph of ancient architecture without a computer, calculator or any of the modern construction methods utilized today.

We continued our tour with Mario to some well-known sites like the Trevi Fountain pictured below.

Gotta make sure you toss those coins in over your shoulder since the legend is that those who do will return one day to the eternal city. 

We also made it to the Spanish steps, which seemed highly overrated to me... especially since it was working alive with some scary characters aggressively peddling all sorts of cheap trinkets.  And these were the sorts of folks that pestered you, so much so that we kind of formed a little circle with the youngest daughter in the middle since she seemed to be the handiest target for harassment to make a purchase of the Pope bottle openers or Virgin Mary keychains these folks were hawking.

Over in the left corner you'll see the profile of Mario, our trusty tour guide.  The fountain at the foot of the Spanish steps is nicknamed the ship, though it honestly looks like it's sinking since water flows into and over the sides of it.

The Romans did love to put up a well decorated column, obelisk or arch to commemorate the lives of famous folks.  Below is a pic of Trajan's column.  

The scenes carved into the column depict Trajan's wars in Dacia (modern day Romania) early in the second century.  Below is a bronze statue of the Emperor Trajan, adjacent to the column.

I took the following picture of the husband helping the little one get a drink from one of the many public fountains/spigots.  The trick to keep from getting cooties is that you have to hold your finger over the spigot so that the water fountains out of a little hole in the top and thus you don't have to get your mouth anywhere near it in order to quench your thirst.

The building below is just one of the many examples of recycling in Rome that has taken place over the centuries.  Why go out and mine new marble when you can just take it off a building that is no longer in use?  What you see is an ancient building with some original exterior walls (to the right) with intact columns running the length of it.  See the pock marks in the wall?  That is where marble was attached to the exterior using metal rods back when it was built.  The modern stucco walls to the left are an office building incorporating the ancient features that remain as part of the facade.  Isn't that terribly thrifty as well as nifty.