Friday, September 27, 2013

Vatican Day! Thursday, June 27th, Part I

It’s Thursday morning and it’s starting to hit me hard that we only have today and tomorrow left of this vacation. I have loved every minute of this trip and am so sad that it’s coming to an end.

I’ve traveled a lot, not as much as some, but more than others and I’ve never felt so comfortable in a place as I’ve felt here in Italy. I’ve loved Europe, but Italy itself has pulled me in. Is it some part of my heritage? Or is it something else? I just don’t know. There are places I’ve been to that I keep returning to, Mexico has been one, Costa Rica another. But that’s different – I go back to those places for a vacation and for the tranquility. 

But here, well I feel like I belong here – like it’s natural to be here! And while the rest of my family has enjoyed this trip immensely, they are at that point in their vacation where they are ready to go home. Me, I’m feeling rather down. After three weeks, I’m not ready to go home at all. So, today and tomorrow I know are going to be very hard days for me. Very bittersweet! I know I will enjoy them, but I feel like the minutes are ticking away until I have to get on that plane home. I feel like I have to sort of absorb every possible moment as if it's the last one here. I may never get the opportunity to come back! Dramatic right?

On the other hand, my better half, Keith, has had enough! I mentioned before that this would not have been the vacation of his choice. While he has enjoyed many things about this vacation for sure, he’s had his fill of ruins, and history and standing all day long. He stands all day at work, being a chef, and he needs a break. He didn’t come out and say it, but I could see it in his face yesterday. He hasn’t complained about the tour after tour or the endless history lessons. But I know that for him to have to deal with today’s plan, which was the Vatican, would just possibly push him over the edge. 

Last night after dinner I suggested to him that he enjoy the morning alone at our apartment while the rest of us went on our Vatican tour with Walks of Italy. Or that he go out and find some specialty food shops - find those great meats and cheeses that he has been wanting! We had the Pristine Sistine tour booked and we were to be at our meeting spot at 7:30 am! I knew there was no way I wanted to be around him in the crowds at the Vatican if he didn’t want to be there. So he seemed shocked that I suggested he stay back and we agreed he would meet us for our afternoon tour. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I made all trip!

Since we had such an early meeting time, we decided to just use Walks of Italy for transportation to our meeting spot by the Vatican as well. We didn’t want to have to deal with taxis or public transportation at 7:00 am, so we had arranged to be picked up at 7:00 am. Our driver turned out to be the same driver we had from the port the day before! A little familiarity is always nice!

Our designated meeting spot was at a café near the Vatican, which gave us some time to pick up a quick breakfast (pastries, cappuccinos, and water) before our tour was to start. I wonder if they plan this meeting spot with the café? Several different tour groups were meeting here. We were very happy that our guide for today was Juvita again! Our group had about 12 people in it. I forgot to mention yesterday that we decided for all of our tours with Walks of Italy to go with their semi-private tours instead of paying extra for their private tours. They limit their tour sizes to 12 I believe. We figured that since we were six people already that if the start time worked for us, a group of 12 would be a good size. It wouldn’t be worth paying extra for a private tour to just limit the size to only the six of us. This turned out to be a good decision. All of our tours with Walks of Italy were phenomenal. I would highly recommend them. Also, when you book multiple tours, I believe 6, you receive a 10% discount. This includes transfers. 

Ok - now that that’s out of the way! 

We got our headsets from Juvita and began! We walked a couple of blocks from the café to the Vatican. The Pristine Sistine tour allows your group to enter before the general public is allowed to enter the Vatican. So the only people in the Museum are those with special tour groups. We only had to wait for these groups to be allowed to enter. While we were waiting, maybe 15 minutes or so, Juvita handed us all pictures of the Sistine Chapel ceiling and had some time to go over in detail all of the panels so that when we got into the Chapel we would know what we’d be looking at.

Our first stop of course would be the Sistine Chapel. We walked up and down steps, through winding walks and Juvita told us not to worry – we’d be back through this area we zipped through later. Our mission now was to get to the Chapel! 

We arrived and there were maybe 30 or 40 people there? It was amazing. I know, everyone says that. We had our handouts to look at as we looked up at the ceiling. We had maybe 20 minutes to a half hour, virtually alone, or so it seemed, to take it all in. 

It was stunning. Now, we’ve seen a lot of ceilings and frescos since this journey started nearly 3 weeks ago! I couldn’t imagine how this could compare! What would make it so special! And then I stood there. Just gazing up and back and forth. Looking over the alter and back to the ceiling. The more I stared the more I could appreciate the work. The size itself for one. The detail. The story and the emotion. The way the more you look at each panel the more the figures seem to be reaching out to you. It was moving. That’s what I felt at the Accademia as well, when I looked at David – that it was moving. I suppose that’s what made Michelangelo so gifted. His work produced a feeling, an emotion. The room was so empty as a matter of fact, there was barely one “SHHHH” from the guards!  Just the time in the Sistine Chapel with barely anyone in there was worth this tour alone.  It was quite the experience!  Well, except for maybe Alex, who looked up, saw the ceiling, and sat on the bench and proceeded to fall asleep for the next 20 minutes. This teen can sleep anywhere!

As you probably know, no pictures are allowed in the Chapel.  I respected the rule.  However, I later found out that the reason no pictures are allowed is because the Japanese company that paid for the restoration owns the photographic rites and they don't want anyone taking pictures.  I sort of thought the reason was something a bit more significant.  Had I known the reason was financial, I may have risked snapping my own picture.  Anyway...

After the time in the Chapel, we went through the various parts of the Vatican Museums. Juvita picked out several pieces to go into details about. 

The ceiling in the map room

The longer we stayed the more crowded it became.

The vast amount of objects there is stunning! Now, we were there on a Thursday morning in June. Not yet the peak of tourist season, but approaching it. We arrived at 8:00 am, as early as one could be in the museums.

By the time we walked through the Hall of Maps and the tapestries I had almost had enough of the wall to wall people. The crowds were unbearable. It was so crowded you could not take a step on your own – it was the feeling sort of when you are maybe at the most crowded concert and trying to exit with everyone at the same time out of one exit! We walked for nearly an hour this way. I’m a very tolerant, patient – go with the flow type of person, but at this point, you couldn’t see anything – so it was just shuffling through to get from point A to point B hoping to not get separated from your group. 

Here I just kept thinking, Thank God Keith didn’t come….he could not have tolerated this crowd! Whew!

Anyway – what did we see? Several sculptures, tapestries, paintings, and lots of people’s backs!

The Rotunda in the Vatican Museum

I do think, other than the Sistine Chapel, my favorite was the Raphael Rooms. These paintings were so different from the others. We had some space here and Juvita could take some time to really explain the details of some of the paintings and what and who was represented here. I loved the “School of Athens” painting. I found that fascinating! 

From here we went back through the Sistine Chapel to get out to St Peter’s Basilica – and I was so thankful that we did the early tour. It was now wall to wall people. It was loud and it was stuffy. It was nothing like when we were there a few hours earlier. We had such a peaceful time there. We tried to make our way through the crowd without pushing anyone, and we went out the door on the side to exit.

Next up we went to St Peter’s Basilica.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ancient Rome, Part II, The Colosseum

We had just left the Roman Forum and the wind was kicking up.  Dust was blowing everywhere and the sky was quite dark!  We made it inside the Colosseum just in time! The rain started just as we got undercover! Once again we were thankful to be there with a guided tour where we had previously arranged tickets. The line looked long and it was now raining! We walked right in!

We started our tour at the arena level. Juvita told us about the Colosseum and its history. Walking out onto that platform was just phenomenal! You can just imagine the crowds and the battles! We had time for pictures and to just take it all in. And wouldn't you know - our luck continued...just as we walked out onto the platform, the rain let up!

This the the area where the elevator shafts were (or maybe are??) where they would have brought the Gladiators up from the underground area.

Alex is really "feeling" that Gladiator aura here! He's ready for battle!!

Next we went down below the arena. Here you had to have an employee of the Colosseum take you down, there is a locked gate that has to be open by her. This is where the animals were kept and the gladiators were sent to wait for battle. We saw the shafts that the elevators would have been that were used to bring the animals and gladiators up to the arena to fight. This was fascinating!

Next we got to go all the way up to the top tier of the Colosseum. My dad didn’t climb all the way up. They said there was an elevator for those who couldn’t walk up the steps, but it was broken. He didn’t want to climb up with his knee. We had a great view of the Colosseum as well as of the surrounding area of Rome.

This tour by Walks of Italy was fantastic! All in all it was about 3 ½ hours long. 

After the tour we walked back to our apartment. We walked past quite a few street vendors and people posing for pictures. It really was a fun way to get a feel for the city

Piazza Venezia

The Victor Emmanuel Monument

Trajan's Column

For dinner we went back to Pizza Re, this was one of the places on the Food Tour we did on our first night of our trip. Once again, it did not disappoint!

And actually, after our waiter took our picture - he took our picture again, and put their menu in the picture - and said "make sure this one gets on facebook"! He was quite funny!

Views from our apartment balcony at night....

Another fantastic day!  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ancient Rome, Part 1 ~ June 26th

So, we wrapped up our tour of the apartment, and now that we had the lay of the land so to speak, on where we were staying, we knew we didn’t have enough time to walk to the Colosseum for our 12:30 tour with Walks of Italy. So, lucky enough our apartment is right at a taxi stand area. We jumped in a taxi big enough for six and off we went! We found our meeting spot and our guide right on time! Again – I love when a plan comes together! We chose their VIP All Access Tour which includes the Underground Access of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. 

Our guide’s name was Juvita and she was originally from Poland. She moved to Italy 13 years ago. She was fantastic! We started the tour with a brief overview of the outside of the Colosseum and the surrounding area.

Then we walked to the Roman Forum. On the way there we passed some current excavations in progress!

We walked into the Forum and she told us about many of the buildings and what life would have been like during the time.

This is the memorial to Julius Caesar, it's where he was cremated! There are fresh flowers here every day!

Which by the way, the ruins in front of our apartment, at Largo Argentina, is where it's believed that Julius Caesar was killed! Right there out our window are the ruins of Pompey's Theater! 

Anyway...back to the Forum!

It doesn't really come across in the pictures, but the size of some of these buildings is massive! It's amazing to me just how huge these areas must have been in their time!

Next we stopped at the Arch of Titus and learned a bit about the arch and the carvings on it....wish I remember what she said!

After the Forum we went to Palatine Hill. She explained the history and told some stories, showing us the major sites.

As we were at Palatine Hill a huge black cloud started coming over head. This was actually the first sign of bad weather on our entire trip. But is was dark and it was looming.

We started seeing some lightening strikes in the distance. The group voted to start heading towards the Colosseum where we’d be out of the rain and unfortunately our time here was cut a bit short.

We walked quickly through the what we could and got an abbreviated a tour of Palatine Hill!

The wind was picking up quite a bit! As we walked towards the Colosseum, we stopped at the Arch of Constantine. Here there was so much dust blowing around! It was a serious dust storm! You can't tell too much from the picture, but you can sort of see the dust blowing around a bit...

I love the sky in this picture!  It's one of my favorite shots...

Next up...three weeks after we first arrived and saw it for the first time, we get to tour the Colosseum!  Just amazing!