Ciao from Rome! We had a great time here so of course the blog is long – sorry about that! Hope you enjoy…..
Overview of Aug 1 – 15
We spent these first two weeks of August in Rome, during Italy’s summer holiday period. There were some restaurants and shops closed but many remained open. The Romans all told us how quiet it was in the city; no traffic and no locals around. We still found it crazy busy with tourists but apparently we hit it at a very quiet time.
Rome is happily expecting an invasion of pilgrims during the ‘Extraordinary Jubilee’ from December to November 2016. This ‘Holy Year of Mercy’ is a big event for the Catholic Church. The last one was in 2000 and about 25 million pilgrims came to Rome to take part in religious festivities throughout the year. So keep that in mind should you plan a visit in 2016. :0
Oh how we loved Rome! What a fantastic city to end our European adventure. So much to see and do. So many historical sites that it was just crazy. The heat was still intense; hit 41 a few days but we also welcomed a couple of light showers that cooled things off briefly. Had it been cooler, we know we would have been able to cover twice as much ground. We still saw everything we wanted and had a great time.
Joe mastered yet another metro system and I tagged behind him like a puppy. He will be very happy to retire his ‘Navigator’ hat though! The calm before the storm:
Our apartment was a 30 minute walk to the Vatacan or a quick bus or metro trip into the city. The owners of the hotel were a young couple from New Zealand with their adorable bull terrier ‘Spartacus’. A few restaurants were a short walk as well as a nice big grocer. The only small negatives were the phone booth size shower and those pesky little ants, but we persevered.
Every morning when you talk to the turtles, they came over and look at you:
A few days before leaving Rome, Joe got up one morning and his face was swollen up like a balloon. He took some ibuprofen the first day but when there was no significant improvement the second day, we grew a bit concerned. Bug bite? Allergy? Problem tooth? In addition to the health concern, we were worried the airline might be less than receptive to him boarding the plane. Luckily Joe’s dentist gave him an antibiotic for just such a situation; that did the trick and we breathed a sigh of relieve.
Here are some highlights and pics of our stay – enjoy!
Cool little church where you kneel on the stairs:
Trevi Fountain is considered one of the most beautiful fountains in the world. Unfortunately most of it was hidden under scaffolding for a major restoration during our visit. You can still throw coins into the empty fountain but only via a very small opening under a picture of the fountain (quite pathetic really).
Spencer and Lindsay warned us about this but it was still disappointing. The legend is, that if you throw a coin in the fountain will you come back to Rome; it worked from our coin toss in 2008, so we threw in another.
The Spanish Steps are a set of 135 steps climbing a steep slope off the Piazza di Spagna. Near the steps is the house (now a museum) where English poet John Keats lived and died in 1821. At the bottom of the Spanish Steps is the 17th century Fountain of the Old Boat; supposedly it marks the spot where a large barge came to rest when the River Tiber overflowed. Lots of upscale shopping here too!
In June 2007 a drunk tourist tried to drive a Toyota Celica down the 200 year old Spanish Steps, damaging several of them. Talk about giving tourists a bad name.
In 1986, the first McDonald’s in Italy opened near the Spanish Steps. In Rome? Mamma Mia! The locals protested this and after three years of hard work, the ‘Slow Food’ movement started. Their goal was to promote local foods, traditional gastronomy and food production. Now the Slow Food organization has over 100,000 members with branches in over 150 countries! We saw Slow Food signs on restaurants many times in our journeys so found this interesting! Way to go Rome!
The Pantheon was first built as a temple to all gods and is the best preserved Ancient Roman monument. The Pantheon is the only structure of its age and size to have survived the damage of barbarian raids while the rest of the Roman monuments shattered. Experts are still unable to figure out what material the Pantheon is made of but believe it is close to modern day concrete.
The Pantheon is also famous for its giant dome with the hole in the top. It is the largest unsupported dome in the world!
It was so gorgeous inside the Pantheon and FREE to visit!
This wasn’t just a mall, it was AIR CONDITIONING!
Through the winding streets of the historic center we found the incredible Piazza Navona, with beautiful Bernini and Borromini sculptures! Also some pretty cool houses and buildings.
Fountain of the Four Rivers
The fountains four figures each represent a river from a different continent – the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Rio de la Plata.
Of Rome’s seven hills, the Capitoline Hill is the most sacred and is where the kings of Rome built the city’s first and holiest temples. This was to portray Rome as the ‘head of the world’. (Sounds like a game of King of the Castle to me.) The most sacred was the Temple to Jupiter, where Brutus and the assassins locked themselves inside after murdering Caesar.
A huge nineteenth century monument, the Altar of the Fatherland, was built for Italy’s first king and now covers the north slope of Capitoline Hill. This building was so huge, all we could do was stand, stare and say ‘holy shit’.
During the Altar’s construction, many historic buildings on the hill were demolished, leaving only traces of the ancient temples. The hill is still considered the heart of Rome.
The Colesseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built and one of the greatest works of architecture and engineering. The Colosseum is still an icon of Imperial Rome, partial ruin and all. The damage from devastating earthquakes and then stone-robbers gave it the shape we see today.
The Vancouver Public Library was designed to look like the Colosseum!
An estimated 50,000-80,000 spectators watched gladiator contests, battles, animal hunts, executions, and dramas. Games played in the Colosseum over hundreds of years took the lives of about 500,000 people and over a million wild animals.
Italy is investing €15 million to rebuild the floor of the Colosseum. There is talk it will be a removable floor, allowing archaeological research to continue plus hold events and concerts. The locals have expressed concern that it not become a Vegas of sorts.
Arch of Constantine
When the Roman Empire fell, the Roman Forum was abandoned. Many of the monuments and buildings were plundered and used in other areas of the city – including the walls of the Vatican and many churches. The area became known as ‘Campo Vaccino’, an overgrown derelict cattle field. The Roman Forum was not rediscovered until 1803 when an archeologist began excavations – which then took over 100 years!
Ancient Rome’s largest stadium could hold 150,000 spectators. Circus Maximus held religious ceremonies, public feasts, horse and chariot racing, sports, theatre, beast-hunts and gladiator contests. Now it is pretty much empty:
Palatine Hill towers above:
The Palatine Hill is one of the most ancient parts of the city, standing above the Roman Forum. The Romans believed the air was cleaner up there and that they were less likely to catch diseases of the working class in the bad air below:
Lazio / Argentina
This area was demolished in 1909 but during demolition work in 1927, the head and arms of a marble statue were discovered and the holy area uncovered. Largo di Torre Argentina has four Republican Roman temples, and the remains of Pompey’s Theatre, where Julius Caesar was believed to be assassinated. We were the only people looking at this site!
Anything Egyptian was fashionable after Rome conquered Egypt in 30 BC, so Rome has a pyramid. Seemed very out of place here. The pyramid originally had four columns and an entrance with two bronze figures, which are now in a museum. Another place we were on our own. No crowds – yippee! But not a lot to see…
Vatican City is a country within the city of Rome and the only existing example of a country within a city. We could see the two types of police inside and out of the Vatican. We added Vatican City to our ‘countries visited’ list.
Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the papal Sistine Chapel from 1508 until it was finished in 1512. His ‘Last Judgement’ was then added 22 years later, on the alter wall. Since Michelangelo was a sculptor and not a painter, we didn’t want to take on this massive project in the first place but did so under pressure from the church. It is obvious in addition to being a great sculptor, he was also a talented painter. No artist since has come close to the creation of Michelangelo’s masterpiece. What an incredible sight. The ceiling tells stories from the Old Testament.
The famous scene of the Creation of Adam:
The Last Judgement:
(I didn’t take these pics FYI and it is not possible to get a clear shot anyways, the ceiling is too high)
To reach the chapel’s ceiling, Michelangelo designed his own scaffold using a flat wooden platform secured in holes in the wall, near the top of the windows. Contrary to popular belief, he painted in a standing position, not lying on his back. Talk about extremely uncomfortable working conditions, having to work with his head tilted back. Michelangelo wrote a poem about his experience and included a couple of self portraits in his masterpiece.
Visitors get ‘ssshhhed!’ while in the Sistine Chapel and you are not allowed to take photos! But the ban didn’t start because of flashes damaging the art. It started in 1980 when a 20 year restoration of Michelangelo’s Art began. The project needed funding and Nippon Television of Japan stepped in with what ballooned to $4.2 million. In return, Nippon received the exclusive rights to photography and video of the restored art, as well as photos and recordings of the restoration process.
Before and after:
Nippon at one time stated that their photo ban did not apply to “ordinary tourists,” but authorities decided to was easier to ban everyone. Say what?? Of course you can buy some Nippon generated souvenir photos in the gift shop! The rights have since expired but the ban remains. In addition to flash damage, the sweat and dry skin of 25,000 visitors per day has them on the look out for a suitable ventilation system to protect the art.
The Piazza San Pietro
The oval Piazza in front of St. Peter’s Basilica
Buildings are topped with 96 statues of saints. The open space was designed so that the greatest number of people could see the Pope give his blessing.
St. Peter’s Basilica
The Basilica itself is huge, 614 feet long, 145 feet high in the aisle and it takes at least an hour just to walk down to one end of it and back.
St. Peter’s through a keyhole:
This keyhole is a relatively unknown spot to view St. Peter’s
Ponte Sant’Angelo or Bridge of Angels
Ten beautiful angel sculptures designed by sculptor Bernini, line the “Bridge of Angels”. Each angel represents Jesus Christ’s suffering and crucifixion. Statues of the saints Peter and Paul watch over the entrance way of the bridge. Very lovely.
In 1555 the 2000 Jews of Rome that had existed as a community since before Christian times, were suddenly required to live in the ghetto; a walled quarter with three gates that were locked at night. To top it off, the Jewish community had to pay for the construction of the walls. The area chosen for the ghetto was subject to constant flooding by the Tiber River. With guards throughout the streets, this is how it looks today:
Borghese Gardens on a Bike
Borghese Gardens is a nice big park (80 hectares) with lots of statues, a zoo, buildings and a museum.
We visited twice, the first time we explored a little then Joe suggested we go back and rent a double double seated dune buggy and pedal around. Joe has refused to bike ride the entire trip so I was pretty shocked by this. But since it was a shared pedal pusher, there was no balancing involved but lots of pedalling.
It was really fun but man those up-hills were hard! And he kept yelling at me to ‘push harder!’ as if I had my legs crossed and up on the dash or something! I was pedaling hard dammit! Seems we have some un-used bike muscles that got a good work out that day!
There was no brake to speak of and it was hilarious as we witnessed 2 young ladies lose control of their buggy, jump off it one at a time and watched helplessly as the bike flew effortlessly down a hill and smashed into the side of a DHL truck, wedging itself between it and a tree. The driver had to yank hard to get it out and at a minimum his side mirror was trashed. We couldn’t see the rest of the damage from where we were, rolling on the ground laughing. Sure wondered who would have to pay for that one!
Tivoli is an ancient Italian town in Lazio, about 30 kilometres east-north-east of Rome. We took two metros and a city bus to get there. These excursions are always interesting and you get to see where people live outside of the big city.
We visited The Villa d’Este, a gorgeous villa where each room was filled with wonderful frescoes. This is from the Villa’s balcony, a sweeping view over the plain below:
But the most beautiful part of the Villa d’Este was the massive garden. You can explore for hours, there are fountains on every corner. Movie buffs may recognize the garden in the opening scenes from ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’. There were also greatly appreciated shade trees, fish pools, and pathways that all seemed to have a showstopper fountain or statue at the end.
The Avenue of the 100 Fountains lines the longest promenade leading you toward the famous Fountain of Tivoli. The 100 Fountains were also a backdrop in many movies including “Ben Hur”.
The fabulous hand-carved fountainheads of classic urns and animal heads were designed to instill awe and dread.
And some ‘unique’ pieces:
So many grand fountains:
We had a picture perfect day in Tivoli!
Cooking with Nonna
We took a 4-hour Italian cooking lesson, led by an experienced Italian cook and her translator. We met ‘Nonna’ — our ‘grandma’ for the evening in an apartment that is only used and set up only for this cooking class.
We started with a few glasses of prosecco, enjoyed two types of bruschetta and learned some of the secrets of authentic Italian cooking.
This became a favourite in Italy, so simple!
Only fresh, local and seasonal ingredients were used and we made our own pasta.
There was another couple there as well, and we were all called up to help Nonna with some chores.
Preparing the veal:
When everything was ready, we moved to the dining room to enjoy some wine and our 3-course dinner that we worked so hard to prepare. (haha).
At the end of our trip we had to experience one more wine tasting. This one was in a private, hard to find room with a sommelier, his intern, a chef/waiter, and about 14 other guests. Alessandro was a very passionate wine lover, to the point of being almost crazed by the end if the night. His intern, a woman with many years experience as a winemaker, was learning the presentation ropes until she was ready to take over the class. She didn’t quite have his passion yet but was very knowledgeable. They obviously had not done this together and still had some issues to work on. He would cut her off and disagree with her, while at the same time expressing her brilliance and incredible knowledge. It was quite entertaining with a large dash of uncomfortable thrown in.
We tasted 8 wines, 10 cheeses and cured meats, were fed a plate of delicious pasta and ended with the classic tiramisu. Great night and great fun.
Two types of fresh mozzarella and the best pesto ever:
Prosciutto and red tuna; must have this again!
And so after 244 days in Europe, it was time to leave. A little bittersweet; but the mixed feelings were starting to sort themselves out. We still have two weeks traveling in Canada and so many people to hug along the way. We have so much to look forward to and so many, many memories to cherish.
We tossed things no longer needed; doorstop, drain plug, shopping bags, clothes we never want to see again. We spent our last night in Rome, in Italy, in Europe, watching the sunset over the incredible Roma.
Outdoor movie theatre:
We enjoyed a nice dinner and toasted to the incredible time we had in Europe.
We are in Toronto now; relaxing, resting and devouring foods we have missed dearly. We had dinner with a colleague of Joe’s, Daria, and her husband Peter. I had lunch with my long lost cousin Jan. Pics and details to follow as we continue to Calgary and Vancouver….
Good to be back, CANADA!!!
Paula and Joe