Monday, October 21, 2013

Italy - A Surreal Beautiful Country, I can't wait to go back - September 2013

Believe it or not we did find a few more touristy things to do on our last day in Rome.  

Circus Maximus, the main chariot racing arena and also where Christians were crucified.  Basically just a BIG bowl in the ground.  We then walked from here up the river past St. Peter's basilica to Castle Sant Angelo.  It was rebuilt by Hadrian around 10 ad, supposedly as his tomb.  it was then turned into papal apartments and a fortress.  It costs about 10 euro each, but well worth the cost, it has been turned into a museum with artifacts from Pompeii, some urns dated back to 500 bc.  There was a fair bit of filming of Angels and Demons here and wonderful views of the city. 

A Sunday in Rome brings out the brides, in some areas there were 2 or 3 of them getting pictures done.  Magical settings with the ruins in the background.

Piazza Navona was another area used for the filming of angels and demons, there is a large fountain here by Bernini used for the film.  Enjoyed a lovely couple of hours here having lunch and a little wine.  Lots of entertainment and artists selling their wares.

Another full day of walking.  For dinner we headed back to the pantheon, for us it was the most magical spot, it is a small piazza with the Pantheon towering over you.  As we finished our dinner a huge thunderstorm with lots of lightning and great rumbles hit the square.  Luckily the restaurant we were at had great umbrellas, didn't get a drop of rain on us.  

Just some general tips and things
  • The public toilets have no seats, 
  • The Sorrento peninsula and the Amalfi coast don't really seem to have beaches per se, it is basically a cliff, so wherever it does go down to the water it is a harbour and rocky, but oh sooooo beautiful.
  • Pizzas in Sorrento area are a little doughier, the Rome ones were more flatbread, very flat.  I preferred the Sorrento.
  • Always have a camera or iphone with you, even at night, the squares are lit up beautifully.
  • Meals are large, a lot of times Jim and I shared a caprese salad, individual pastas and shared a meat, veal our favourite.
  • In Sorrento, Jim ordered a steak, his choices were medium or well done, he asked for it medium rare, the waiter said "you mean red". It was pretty much raw.
  • Lots of gypsies, most looking for money, but they weren't rude.  At the Naples train station were 3 little girls, aged for 4 to 7, they chased people down, skipping, laughing and pulling at their skirts begging for money, they were adorable.  When they were given some, back to momma they skipped, it was a game to them.  Lol
  • They don't really use a lot of garlic.
  • Their veges are seasonal.  For a big city I was surprised, fig season was finished, asparagus season was coming to an end, but oh my fresh mushrooms were just coming into season.  Even olives were rare.  
  • There was only 1 restaurant where I feel we got taken advantage of, it was in Piazza Populo and probably the most expensive restaurant we were in, not only did they charge 4 euros extra for fresh mushrooms even though the menu didn't mention that.  They also put a large tip on the bill.
  • Always check or ask if the tip is included.  A little extra is always appreciated.
  • Keep change and 5 euros around, a lot of times they will say "no change".
  • Bus driver driving around one of the busy squares, smoking a cigarette out one window, while talking on the phone, no Bluetooth for him.
  • Cab driver with the soccer game on the tv in his cab, the GPS going, and he was also answering the phone.
  • Lots of smoking, still a smoking lounge at the airport.
  • The Chiantis are marvellous and very reasonable.  
  • Out of the ten meals, we only had one inside, and that is because it was so busy.
  • A Chinese couple at our hotel asked the concierge to make a dinner reservation for them, he asked when, they said 6, he said you mean lunch.  No they meant dinner.  We never got to a restaurant before 830, and locals were still coming in at 1030.
  • There are a number of different neighborhoods in Rome, all very different.  If you can, try and visit all of them.

What a wonderful place, I never felt unsafe, even wandering around at 1230 at night with my hubby filled up with limoncello.  Our hopefully 1st, great adventure

Arrividerchi Roma, we'll be back. 

Italy - A Catch Up Day - Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps - September 2013

What a wonderful day, yes we caught up on all the touristy things that we managed to miss on our walkabouts.

The Trevi Fountain.  Memories of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck surrounded us, along with the what seemed liked 5000 other tourists there today. 

The Spanish Steps, so anticlimactic, bit a wall of people around both of these attractions.  The amazing thing there was no grumpiness, everyone was in a wonderful touristy mood.  And I didn't once worry about pickpockets,  helped that I had no pockets :)

And today was a day of lots of people watching.  We met a lovely young man from Sydney, Australia, he is working on his doctorate at the university of San Diego and was at Tuscany for his sisters wedding.   Truthfully it is very difficult to meet someone from Italy, it seems like 99% of the people you meet are tourists.  

 One of my favourite spots in Rome is definitely the Pantheon, built originally by Agrippa, a general of Augusta and then rebuilt by Hadrian.  It is considered one of the most perfect buildings of the world, 141 feet high and 141 feet diameter, it is definitely the oldest building in Europe and NA still standing and being used, now a Catholic Church.  

There are so many churches, the opulence of the churches was overwhelming.  They say at the Vatican that everything you see that is gold coloured is gold, gold paint, gold thread, gold leaves.  Every painting on every wall and every ceiling is a masterpiece.  I am pretty sure that this church is sant Ignazio, according to Fodors - "few churches are as gilt encrusted, jewel studded or stupendously stuccoed" as this one.  

The best part of the day was doing some people watching

Still don't know how he did this ....

Tonight we went back down to the Pantheon and had dinner in a little cafe under its 2000 year shadow.  Even the street hawkers added a little magic to the night, they had these little laser whirligigs that flew up into the sky and looked like shooting stars.  Magical.

Italy - Ancient Rome - September 2013

Started off our day walking again, our hotel seems to be 5 km from everything, we figure we are averaging 15 to 20 Kms a day.  Now I know why they can eat so much pasta and red wine. Lol

The streets of Rome themselves are just so beautiful, here are a few pictures that hopefully will give you a feel for the city

Vendors everywhere selling souvenirs, scarfs and bags, fresh fruit including coconut and water.  There are also drinkable water fountains all over Rome that you can fill your bottle up or even just bend over and drink right out of the tap.

Stairs everywhere, go up walk a few 100 yards and go back down.

All around the city there is still excavation going on, they figure they have only uncovered about 30% of the sites.  Now they have to accept that some will never be uncovered because of the city being built on top of so many.  One interesting fact they have now found is that the city was founded by Romulus and Remus, if Romulus hadn't killed Remus, the town would have been called Rema. They were actually real people not just a myth.

We took Fodors advice and went to the forum first.  12 euos each gets you into both the forum and the colosseum.  Hollywood did a pretty good job of interpreting and bringing  to life the way it was 2000 years ago.  

These were real places with real people living real lives.  There were huge class distinctions, the rich and everyone else and then the slaves.  

The colosseum was so large it just dwarfed you.  
The day started with the beast fights.  It ran with the efficiency of a play.  100s of rooms to keep the beasts, criminals and gladiators in.  They used cages and pulleys to get the beasts up to the floor.  The choreographer was expected to make the hunting and killing into a historical story with props and everything.  Then they stopped for lunch.  The next act was the killing of the criminals and then the gladiators came out.  One figure you hear bandied about is that 30000 gladiators were killed over its history.

Our first subway ride
As we were walking around yesterday I remarked to Jim, "why are there so many cars and vespas when they have such a great public transport system, buses, subways, streetcars", then we took our 1st subway ride.  Wow, felt like I was in Japan at rush hour.  Push shove to get in, don't breath and then push shove to get out.  But everyone was very good natured about it.  Yes, even Jim.  :)

Back for a quick change of clothes and off to Piazza del Popolo and a lovely restaurant on the square called Rosati.  


Italy - The Vatican - September 2013

In our infinite wisdom we decided to walk over for our 230 tour of the Vatican.  There is no option of wearing cute shoes.  I have been wearing my super comfy golf sandals which even now are getting a little wore in.  This time I added a pair of socks into my bag.  Honestly I don't think we have walked on a  blade of grass since we got here.  The whole country is pavement and most of it cobbled.

Walking down the neighbourhood roads there are just people everywhere and this is quiet compared to July and August.  Notice how the vespas don't need to be in a lane.  Lol

The whole town is covered in statues, they are everywhere

And churches in every neighbourhood.  This is the Trinita dei Monti.  This is a 16 th century church at the top of the Spanish Steps.  It has beautiful views over the whole of Rome.
From here we hit the Piazza del Popolo, the people's square.  One of Rome's biggest areas to do some fun people watching.  Always lots of activity.  
An Egyptian obelisk carved for RamsesII in 13 bc is in the centre of the square

Next stop was the Vatican.  After we go through security, our guide, Tiffany starts us on our tour.  This was a Viatour I booked online and well worth the money.  Tiffany is from Indiana and was the top guide for 2012.  

I was expecting a lot of history about the building of Christianity, instead the first few galleries were all about Ancient Rome.  Tiffany quote "if you spent 30 seconds looking at every item on display in the museum, it would take you 12 years to finish".  Below are just 100s of heads etc.  there was another gallery of just animals.  All from ancient Rome.  
Nearly all of the male statues had their male parts removed, possibly by Pope Pius IX.  Tiffany quote " there was a box recently discovered in the archives which was full of male parts which the restorers are now going through to try and figure out which statue they belong too".
This is considered one of the most important statues in the collection.  This is Laocoon, who tried to convince the Trojans to burn down the wooden horse.  Someone either Athena, Poseidon or Apollo sent the serpents to kill him and his 2 sons.  If he hadn't died then the whole history of Rome would have changed. 

This is Nero's bathtub.  It was made from one piece of marble.  How on earth did they transport it back then. 

There were galleries of maps, tapestries, etc.  below are a couple pictures from the Raphael gallery. Pope Julius II refused to sleep in Alexander Borgis (they were arch rivals) apartment so had his own created.  He commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine chapel after Raphael's recommendation and then insisted that Raphael do his apartments.  Raphael was a lover while Michelangelo was a thinker and brooder.  The painting was done fresco style, which meant putting up plaster waiting until it was the perfect temperature and then applying the paint.  Michelangelo did all of this himself.  It took him 4 years to finish the ceiling and he did it all standing up, not lying down.  He even started to sleep up there.  He had never done fresco before and considered himself a sculptor not a painter, but what Julius II wanted, Julius II got, he was considered the warrior pope.

Raphael meanwhile was considered the top fresco painter of his time and the girls loved him, which is probably why he died at 37 of syphlllis.  His paintings were beautiful and delicate.  Michelangelo's were rugged and to the point.  

Both of these pictures are by Raphael, supposedly the one below was painted by him after he snuck in to see what Michelangelo was doing in the Sistine chapel.  As you can see there is some nudity and the bodies are more rugged.  

In this picture he was showing the great masters of history, he put himself, da Vince and Michelangelo  (Bottom right leaning on a desk). 
Michelangelo died at 86 after painting the "last judgement" on the altar wall of the Sistine chapel.  It is quite a startling and scary picture.  There was a cardinal that he didn't get along with and he put his head on one of the bodies being taken to hell.  Eventually one of the popes had all the pictures nudity painted over.  You can't take pics inside the chapel, you aren't even allowed to talk above a whisper.  The pictures are stunning and his vision was ahead of his time.

The doors to St. Peter's

Michelangelo did this sculpture when he was 24,  people didn't believe he did it, so he snuck in and 
put his name on a sash across Mary's chest.  In 1972, Laszlo Toth attacked it with a hammer.  He was 
Later declared mentally ill.  He managed to hit it 15 times before being stopped.  The people were more
Interested in stealing the marble.  Luckily they were able to get most  of it back.  It is now behind
Bulletproof glass.

Back home to rest the feet and then we headed around the corner for a wonderful dinner.