Published: August 2nd 2012July 30th 2012
Okay, before I start this segment, I just have to say that anyone planning a trip to Italy should start anywhere but Milan. Everywhere we've been since Milan has been amazing in its own way, more than worth the visit, and several we would return to again, Rome certainly being high on that list!
We left Geneva early Friday evening (the 20th, home safely now and trying to catch back up!) and got into Rome without event, met our taxi outside baggage claim and headed into the city. Rome is like many other large cities, with four lane highways and sky rises like you would expect just about anywhere. That is until you reach the city center. Almost all European cities of any size have what they call a "city centre" which most often seems to be the historic center of the city (with restricted driving if you aren't local). Once we reached this part of Rome, we were amazed at the sites anywhere you looked! Our taxi driver was very friendly, chatting freely with us on our ride and taught us a little Italian...."pazzo" and "scemo"....pazzo meaning crazy and scemo meaning stupid....his expressions of some of the other drivers.
The roads in Rome once you got off the major highway and into the city center, were cobblestone streets....black stones (lava) roughly 4 by 4.....and were layed in the 16th and 17th century. They are due to be replaced this fall in all but a few select places so I'm glad we got to see them while they were still there. It seems that they're very expensive to repair and only 8 masons in the city can make the repairs and the vibrations from all the traffic actually threaten the stability of some of the historic monuments and landmarks.
Once into the city center, we started going down narrow back alleyways (how all the cars maneuver these is just crazy), to be delivered on the doorsteps of our 17th century hotel, Albergo Cesari, translated is Ceasar's Hotel. It was a neat old hotel and after checking out the rooftop terrace, we went out to find some dinner. A short distance from the hotel, we found a nice outdoor restaurant, enjoyed another great Italian meal and headed to bed.
Our hotel stay included breakfast the next morning which was served on the rooftop terrace so that was
a nice way to start the day, and with as much cappucino as you wanted, it just couldn't be beat! Then we headed off to find our tour meeting point for our Vatican tour, about a mile and a half from our hotel.
We got there a little early so we wandered around the square, the Piazza di San Pietro, or St. Peter's Square. In the middle of the square is an obelisk that dates back to 2300 to 2400 B.C. Eqypt, originally constructed as a pagan monument representing the connection from the earth to the Divine. In 37 A.D., it was moved to Rome by Caligula to the Circus of Niro where many of the early Christians were martyred, including St. Peter. It was moved again in 1587 from the left side of the current square to its current location in the center of St. Peter's Square, under penalty of death if it was dropped or broken. The brass cross at the very top is reported to hold a piece of the original cross on which Jesus was crucified.
We walked on around to the other side of the square, walked down a few streets and then
notice how small the people are standing in front of it
decided to head towards our meeting point. By that time, we were far enough away that it seemed shorter (according to Kirk) to walk the rest of the way around instead of going back. Well, to make a long story short and sans the grumblings, we walked the two miles around the entire Vatican City to find our meeting point again.
Our guide, Luke, was a character in his own right. He normally isn't a guide for the company we booked through, although he is a Vatican tour guide, but his girlfriend worked for our company and had somehow gotten double booked for that day. So evidently, it was a last minute call for him to come help out since he looked like he had just rolled out of bed, no brush or comb in sight, grabbed an old shirt with holes in the sleeve from the dirty laundry, threw on his flipflops and headed out the door. But for whatever Luke lacked in his appearance's preparation, he more than made up for in knowledge! He had quite a dry sense of humor, was an excellent guide and we ended up enjoying him a great deal.
We saw all two miles of them!
say about the Vatican Museum?? It's just overwhelming. Everywhere you look there are rooms upon rooms of sculptures, artifacts, tapestries and the building itself is a massive work of art. Luke told us that if you stopped and looked at every piece of art in the Vatican for one minute, it would take you 11 years to see everything. I enjoyed our tour, but I do have to say that it felt a little rushed to get through in 3 and a half hours. There's just SO much to look at. After having taken a guided tour, I'd now do a self-guided tour and take my time going through. The only problem with that is that guided tours get access to certain areas much quicker and are able to skip a lot of lines.
One of the neatest things that we saw was the room of tapestries. These had originally been hanging in the Sistine Chapel but were moved into their own hallway. One in particular, is a tapestry of Jesus walking through a doorway and as you move down the corridor, the eyes of Jesus follow you and his foot in the doorstep follows to face you as
well. I have several pictures that show this although they aren't super clear but I think you can still see it.
After the museum, we moved into the Sistine Chapel. Normally photography is prohibited here, but for some reason, it was allowed on the day we were there. Luke told us that the Vatican will randomly allow this but there is no way of knowing when it will do so, so we were really lucky to be there on that day. Needless to say, I took well over 200 photographs in the Sistine Chapel alone! The chapel is a lot smaller than one might imagine and it was very crowded in there, but the art is beyond words. The details and the layers of stories was so....I'm at a complete loss of words here....I don't even know how to describe it but it's beyond anything that can be easily and adequately described! The art includes various depictions of different dimensions (for example, male and female prophets sitting at various points on the ceiling in one size and the ancestors of Christ on another level in a different size, all working up to the main 9 images on the ceiling),
the large brass globe can be moved and will spin with the slightest push
the life of Moses on one wall and the life of Jesus on the opposite side, and the Last Judgement behind the altar.
We were in the Sistine Chapel for about a half hour before moving on to St. Peter's Basilica, which also created a sense of awe in a different way. The church is massively huge (the largest interior of any Christian church in the world), marble and gold gilded, and calls for a quiet reverence that staff is quick to keep in place if it gets too noisy. It was built in the early 1500's over the site of the original St. Peter's built by Constanine which stood from the 4th century through the 16th century.
The natural lighting of the main dome is nothing less than sublime and very well designed to create a myriad of light plays throughout the dome and shining down on the altar and what is believed (with some historical evidence) to be St. Peter's tomb. It certainly gives you the apearance and impression of the light of God shining down right inside church. There are a series of smaller chapels and altars that lead all along the sides, (besides the
high altar and marble stairs that lead to the tomb underneath), each indicating burial sites for different popes, the most visited being the one of Pope John Paul. The Pieta, a sculpture of Mary holding the body of Jesus after his death, is also on display, created by Michaelangelo and is the only piece of sculpture he ever signed. The magnitude of the basilica is difficult to describe, both in terms of the reverence it inspires (regardless of personal beliefs), and in its colossal and immense size.
Leaving the Vatican, we wander Rome a little bit, and accidently stumbled on Piazza Navona, the largest piazza in Rome. It was filled with wonderful restaurants, artists, fountains and street performers and we decided was the perfect place to have dinner. The square had orginally been a sports arena (from 86 A.D.) and in the 1600's was turned into the square as it sits today with the numerous commissioned fountains also dating from the 1600's. I had wanted to try Italian lasagna since we had been visiting Italy, saw it on the menu and ordered it up. It was different than ours with far less meat than we typically use, but very
good! We actually never had a bad meal in Italy.
Walking back to the hotel, we also accidently found the Pantheon! I had wanted to see it, but our time in Rome was so limited that we already had a pretty full itenerary, so I was thrilled when we stumbled across it. The Pantheon is one of the oldest still standing structures in Rome and as it sits, dates from 126 A.D. You can't help but imagine in so many places in Rome, the number of footsteps that have walked exactly where you have walked. And being in my head, you then wonder what they saw through their eyes, what they were doing, where were they headed, what were they thinking, who did they love....and, you get the drift. lol
Back to the hotel, we climb into bed and set the alarm for our morning tour to the Colosseum, ending a great day of amazing sites and still trying to take it all in!
There are more photos below