Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It never gets boring

Last night exhaustion won out over writing - so today it's time to catch up.

We decided to continue on our self made tour with the idea of tackling Ancient Rome. We figured if the Huns could do it, so could we. Alas, we are weaker than the Huns. The long lines and the punishing sun convinced us not to actually cough up the 25 Euros to walk amongst the ruins of Ancient Rome.

Instead we enjoyed the view from the outskirts. We actually were able to enjoy quite a view without the worry of sun stroke. My only regret is that I would have liked to go inside of the Colosseum again. The last time I was there, I was 10 years old and have very fond memories of it being full of cats. I can't resist a cat.

Getting to the site in itself was an adventure in figuring out the Roman subway - actually it is quite easy to navigate, except the station where we had to switch lines because it is undergoing some sort of major construction. It was an excellent test for how we'll get to the train station on Wednesday afternoon to head out to Cinque Terre. We passed with flying colours, even asking for directions in Italian. It's very helpful to grow up in a city with a subway. If you live in a city without one, consider shipping your children off to Toronto to get around on their own - it's character building. And once again, I'm revealing why I don't have children.

Our progress was hampered a bit by rain - but we did manage to see the Piazza del Popolo, walked along the outside of the huge Borghese park - which offered great vistas of the city, stumbled upon an exquisitely decorated church, found Bernini's fountain of Triton and his sculpture of The Ecstasy of Santa Teresa before we were shooed out by a grumpy priest who was not so subtle about the fact that it was closing time.

Remember I told you about Dave downloading the maps onto his phone? Well, Rome2Go saved our bacon. We would have been permanently lost without the app. Doomed to sleep on the streets of Rome. Ok, I'm being a bit dramatic, but it is the best $1.29 we have ever spent. In fact the one time we didn't use it and trusted my sense of direction, we went the wrong way - shocking. I reminded Dave to never trust my directions again.

The highlight of Monday was the food. We splurged with our meals. For lunch we took the advice of our guidebook and ate at a little spot called Ristoranti Abruzzi. I ordered the mixed salad (insalata mista) and Dave ordered lasagne. Half way through, we swapped. The salad was good, the lasagna was mouth watering. For our secondi, I had roasted lamb and potatoes while Dave had the roasted veal. We shared those dishes along with a very large Italian beer and sparkling water. It did not disappoint, though 50 Euros for lunch was a tad pricey. Apparently, we'd rather eat our tour money.

For dinner, we gave up on walking all the way back to the Piazza Navona and found a small family restaurant called Trattoria della Stampa on a quiet side street. We shared prosciutto and mozzarella for the starter. For our primi, I had the gnocchi, which melted in my mouth, and Dave had the cannelloni, which made him very happy. We shared a plate of chicken cacciatore and eggplants. My favourite part of the meal was the 1/2 litre of wine for 5 Euros. Love it.

We were overjoyed at the end of the meal when we realized we were close to the Barberini subway station and home was a 2 Euro ride away.

Getting a good night's sleep was important because it was an early day today. We decided to take on the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. We were advised over and over again to go as early as possible. So we happily shelled out for a guided tour that got us in before the Chapel opened to the public. Well worth it in every way.

We were able to walk right past the lines - I refrained from sticking out my tongue. Our guide was knowledgeable and funny (British, need I say more?) and most importantly the Chapel was as empty as it will ever be. The crowds 2 hours later were suffocating. We could take our time and Anton explained every single panel to us, sharing fascinating details. He also took us round the Vatican Museum and gave us a run down on all the significant pieces.

My impression of the museum can be summed up as "overwhelming". The Vatican has managed to gather the most stunning array of art dating back from ancient time through to modern day pieces that are still donated each year.

The impressive collection began with the purchase of a statue of Apollo - an impressive reproduction of a lost Greek antiquity. Unfortunately, while the Vatican was collecting art, Christianity was also destroying it. The Emperor Theodosius ordered the closing and destruction of pagan temples. As a result, thousands of works of art were destroyed. Follow that with Pope Pius IX taking extreme exception to certain male... um... members... and you have statues destroyed in the name of removing the offending parts - all in the hopes of keeping us safe from their influences. Yes, well, that didn't work.

The hall of the tapestries revealed more beauty and an interesting tidbit about the bible. Turns out there is likely no truth to the biblical story of Herod's order to kill all baby boys under the age of 2. Scholars now believe that one of the scribes who worked on transcribing or translating the gospel of Matthew likely added that in! Now that is some nerve.

But on to the Sistine Chapel itself. I actually gasped when I walked in. The overall effect of the entire chapel, from the mosaic floor to the walls to, of course, the magnificent ceiling is an explosion of colour and beauty to the eyes.

I've been to Italy twice before that I can remember - once in 1978 and again in 1986. Both times I could not see the Sistine Chapel because it was closed for cleaning. The ceiling took more than 4 years to paint. It took nearly five times as long to clean it! You can say I've been waiting a lifetime to experience this.

To know that Michelangelo spent those years in an agonizing position, standing, with his head tilted up to the ceiling (not lying down as we have been led to believe) to create that incredible piece of art is awe inspiring. I don't have the determination to write a short story once a week and this man got scoliosis for his art and dedication.

The main part of the ceiling consists of 9 panels depicting stories from Genesis. These are surrounded by paintings of the prophets as well as females depicting major oracles. On the one wall near the alter is an enormous painting featuring Jesus judging the dead. It includes fascinating political statements of who gets in to heaven and who is forever damned. Let's just say if you are a Protestant, it isn't looking so good for you. Sorry.

I found that going in to the St. Peter's Basilica to be a very different experience. The Basilica is filled with works of art but there are two pieces that stand out for me. One is the La Pieta. Michelangelo's vision of Mary holding the body of her crucified son is moving and haunting as it is beautiful. The other piece that stands out for me is the statue of St. Peter. The foot rubbed beyond recognition by the faithful manages to send a chill down my spine.

The rest of the day was taken at a much slower pace. We were able to meet up with my cousin Lia and spent a lovely evening catching up. Our time together included a return trip to the Trevi Fountain and this time we each threw in a coin. I feel better knowing that we'll be back.

We leave tomorrow for Monterosso in Cinque Terre. If there is Wi-Fi, I shall post.

A domani (I hope).


  1. Intersting read ;)

    I heard the rome govt has approved some funds for the uplift of the area surrounding the triton fountain, new pavements n everything, it'll be a whole new look to the place!

    hop on hop off rome

  2. Sounds wonderful and delicious. I love the "oh" to get the whiner to stop whining. You need the accent and the hand motion (fingers pointing up and drawn together with thumb placed in the middle and, then shaking motion up near the chin)to pull it off. I don't think it would be as well understood in K-W unless they are of Italian descent. But give it a try! Looking forward to reading about more of your adventures. By the way, who is Lia? Cousin how far removed? Giancarlo's daughter?

  3. Thanks Mare. Lia is Antonio's di Zia Rosa's daughter. She remembers you from her visit 16 years ago when Erin was just a wee thing. :)

  4. I'm pretty sure Michelangelo chose scoliosis over death. Pope Juilius wasn't a nice guy and I don't think Mikey would have lasted long if he said no to the pope.

  5. Good point Rache. It wasn't exactly a choice. I have a full rant prepared about St. Peter's and the popes but decided to leave it out of the post. It's also funny that they looked the other way with his love of men and Carravaggio's love of young boys.