St. Paul Outside the Walls: One of Rome’s Less Seen Basilicas

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As one may expect, Rome does not lack in the church category.  All types and sizes up to the best know, St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican.  However, there are three other major basilicas in Rome:  St. John Lateran (first among the four for being the oldest), Saint Mary Major (Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore), and St. Paul Outside the Walls (Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le Mura)As the term “major basilica” implies, they are of high importance to the Catholic Church and any other basilica is just “a” basilica or a minor basilica.

As with St. Peter’s and St. Peter, St. Paul Outside the Walls was built is on top of the site where St. Paul was buried.  The original church was built in the fourth century and it got built on and modified up until the nineteenth century when a fire destroyed a good bit of it and it got reconstructed.  The modifications it went through in those 1400 years were done for different reasons:  fortifying it against potential invaders, repairing damage, beautifying it, or simply making it larger.

Of the original church only a couple of things remain (the triumphal arch with its fifth century mosaics, and part of the apse).  But it was other details that grabbed my attention.

First, was the images of all the Popes right above the top of the columns.  It really gives a great sense of the longevity of the Church.

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Popes’ likenesses on the friezes

Second, how uninviting the exterior is (at least on the sides), hiding the interior beauty of this church.

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Exterior of the basilica

Third, to me it seem a different style of architecture for a church.  I suppose this derives from the fact that its design goes back to a very old design even if it was modified through the centuries.  So it may not be a design that is odd but one that I am not familiar with.

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The facade and statue of St. Paul

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Colonnade to the side of the basilica’s facade; note the garden that sits in front of the facade.

Fourth, the colonnade inside the church (around 80 columns is pretty spectacular.

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The beautiful colonnade and what I assume are marble floors

Fifth, the stucco ceilings which are so beautifully decorated.

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Some of the beautiful ceilings at SPOTW

Rome, St. Paul, Outside The Walls, fuori le mura, major basilica, Catholic Church, travel, photo, Italy,, ceiling, stucco

Some of the beautiful ceilings at SPOTW

Finally, the altar and the tabernacle on it are beautiful crowns over the tomb of St. Paul.  One can take a few stops down to see the chains that held St. Paul prisoner in Rome.

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Tabernacle at the altar, and, in the background, mosaics dating from the 13th century

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Top of the tabernacle and the ceiling in the background

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St. Paul’s chains

St. Paul Outside the Walls is away from the beaten path of central Rome that most tourists stick to but it is an easy subway ride from that part of Rome.  Whether due to your faith, your interest in architecture, simple curiosity or only trying to get away from the crowds, it is well worth checking out.

What lesser known bits of Rome have you visited?  Any recommendations?

Monticchiello: Charm in the Middle of Tuscany

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A few years ago, in one of my trips to Italy, we spent a few days in Tuscany.   We opted to rent apartments in a small mountaintop town called Monticchiello, a charming place, sandwiched between Pienza and Montepulciano (lucky folks!!!).  Montecchiello, Tuscany, La Toscana, Italy, Italia, food, pasta, truffles, Palm Sunday, photos, travel, exploring

We truly lucked out:  the town was quaint, quite small, and its location was central and offering greats views. The place we stayed at was an awesome building a few hundreds of years old (but, the landlady mis-led us in terms of it sleeping all of us – I ended on a cot by the dining room).

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What a real person’s room looked like in that apartment!

A meal to remember

One of its gems was the only restaurant up there, aptly named Osteria La Porta (the gate).  There was a wait so we went to stand outside.  Not a few minutes later, the owner came out with a bottle of wine and five glasses for us to entertain ourselves with, courtesy of the house.  Yea, like THAT would happen in the U.S.!  We immediately knew we were at the right place.

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THE right place!

And we were not disappointed.  We made it inside and began studying the menu.  However, the waiter advised us that the pasta with truffle was very special.  That was a plate with no meat of any sort.  Just fresh pasta, fresh truffles, and a trickle of plain butter sauce.  I decided that if it was being recommended, I ought to try despite its lack of meat or any veggies I normally like (mushrooms do not fall under that category).  It was simply a superb dish.  I can safely say top 5 ever eaten by me without any fear of exaggeration.

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5 very happy campers

A special coincidence

We traveled to Italy during Holy Week which led to a few opportunities for good timing to happen.  Such was that Sunday at Monticchielo:  we were there on Palm Sunday.  We went to church that Sunday and it was neat to hear Mass in Italian.  But  bigger surprise awaited us:  the procession around town.  All 40  or 50 of us followed the priest around this neat little town.  I normally don’t spend enough time researching places to find out if there are local events that could be of interest – I just explore once I get somewhere.  Maybe I have missed some things with this approach but, I have to say, it makes running into these local situations so much more fun.

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The faithful getting their palms before the procession

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The priest leading the procession

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Walking down the narrow streets of Monticchiello

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Headed back in to the church at the end of the procession

What experiences have you had were you as pleasantly surprised while traveling?  (Except the part about me in a cot next to a kitchen!)

Photo of the Week: Viewing Venice from my Window Seat

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Venice, Italy is such a unique place.  It is almost out of Disney’s mind.  But it is not.  It is truly unique and a sight worth seeing once in your life.  I have been fortunate not only to have seen it, but to have been there twice.  It can be a maddening place with the crowd of peers (read:  fellow visitors) but it is also a great place to get lost to get far away from the tourists.

In my second visit there, I actually flew from the U.S. direct to Venice.  And that gave me this incredible bird’s eye view of my destination from my window seat.  Forget jet lag, this sight can restore anyone’s energy!Venice, Venezia, Italy, Italia, landing, airport, travel, photo

Photo of the Week: Two Sides of the Coin

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While visiting St. John Lateran in Rome, Italy, I ran into a group of tourists posing in front of the basilica (it is one of the four main basilicas in Rome, along with St. Peter, Santa Maria Maggiore and St. Paul Outside the Walls; however, it is the oldest and actually has the highest rank of the four).  Could not resist to capture -and share- the two sides of the “coin” I ran into…St. John Lateran, Rome, Italia, Italy, Roma, tourist group, photo, Canon EOS RebelSt. John Lateran, Rome, Italia, Italy, Roma, tourist group, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The Timeless Capitals: Rome, Athens, Cairo

Acropolis, Athens. modern Athens, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

I have traveled to a good bunch of countries and hope to add more over time.  Most of the time, that means I have visited their capital cities even if briefly.  Rare is the case where I have not visited a capital city of a country I have been to.  Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic come to mind.  Tanzania does too, now that I think about it, since Dodoma -not Dar es Salaam- is its capital.  I thought it would be cool to do a series of the capitals I have visited…  Let’s start with the timeless!

The timeless capital cities

One cannot argue that there are cities that are timeless.  Many are not capital cities.  But as the theme is capital cities, I will pick three that are timeless fully aware that I am stating the obvious given the choices:  Rome, Athens, and Cairo.

Just thinking about the “youngest” one of these goes back a couple of thousands of years.  Mind boggling.  )Of course, there are much younger capital cities that I could call timeless too.)  Going to any of these can be daunting with all the possibilities to explore the ancient, the old, and the recent (say, last 200 hundred years??).

Athenas – Atenas – Athina

Athens may be the easiest to navigate in terms of this but it still requires time to learn all about it.  It also merits exploring the “recent” not just the old or ancient.  In any of these cities, one can get stuck just on the archeology or history “touring” and miss the vibrant cities they are now, their history notwithstanding.

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The modern outskirts of Athens towards Piraeus

Acropolis, Athens. modern Athens, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

A juxtaposition of modern Athens and old Athens

Rome – Roma

Rome has such depth that one could just focus on the Roman Empire period, or just the food, or just the Catholic, or just the modern life – and spend weeks on any of the topics.  A first visit to Rome can really consume one in the key sights to be seen – and that is OK, no reason to stress about it.  But either carve out time for, or plan to return for, diving in to the other experiences.  And don’t worry, Rome is eternal so it will all still be around for your next visit!

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The old: Pantheon

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The food: Carbonara – my favorite dish to have in Rome!

Olympus, St. Peter's at night, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican, architecture, night time

The Catholic: St. Peter’s Square at night

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The visitor: Is this a Roman look-alike soaking in the incredible Pantheon?

Cairo – El Cairo – La Caire – Al-Qaherah – القاهرة‎

About Cairo, what I can safely state is that it is one complex city!  For someone not used to large cities in countries where one doesn’t speak the language or one is not familiar with the culture, it can be overwhelming.  I felt that way on my first day there during my first visit.  And then you start walking around, sensing the vibe, having contact with the friendly locals, and the city opens up differently than expected.  Yes, there are key sights to be seen – the “musts,” but in Cairo, as in other places, the best part is the “experiencing,” not just the touring (I am not an anti-touring snob, just a proponent of experiencing!).  I believe it totally change what Cairo is in our minds to become more immersed (to the extent one can in a one week visit…).

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The “musts”: The Giza pyramids

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The “experiences”: At the Grand Bazaar

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These cities are timeless for their longevity and history yet they could also be grouped into other categories in this series.  I preferred placing them in the timeless group as they serve witness to the development of civilization, to the evolution of how we humans operate, and to the great achievements of the past while yet being alive in this modern world – not just being city-museums.  So go and explore these timeless capitals!

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Tourists enjoying a timeless capital: Rome!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these cities if you have visited – or how you envision them if you have not!

Photo of the Week – A Church on Rome’s Tiber Island

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Last year during my one week in Rome, I did the usual when in cities as incredible as eternal Rome:  walk, walk, and walk.  Sometimes with a clear objective, sometimes just meandering and seeing what the walking will uncover.  On this gray day, we found ourselves crossing the Ponte Cestio into Tiber Island as we aimed generally speaking for the Trastevere district (south of The Vatican) where we knew we would find awesome food (and sure did!).
On Tiber Island we walked past the Basilica of San Bartolomeo all’Isola (St. Bartholomew of the Island).  The tower on the back dates from the 12th century, its current facade and the overall church were reconstructed in 1624 after many decades (and likely centuries) of damage, wear, and tear, as any old respectable structure may be allow to suffer from…  But the original church dated from the 10th century!

In any case, the gray skies made for a phenomenal backdrop and contrast to the basilica making it a favorite pic of mine!

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Photo of the Week – Entrance to the Ill-Fated Town of Pompeii

The path leading into the town of Pompeii, Italy from the shoreline

Pompeii was a normal town in ancient Rome.  Lots of good business due to its place by the sea on the way to Rome.  Fast and fun place for the sailors who enjoyed the pleasures it offered.  Until that fateful day that destroyed the town and created history…

As I entered Pompeii from where the old shoreline used to be (it’s further away now) and walked up the ramp, I wondered how many people had been running down this main entrance to the city, hoping to make it to a boat, hoping to save their lives on that day…

The path leading into the town of Pompeii, Italy from the shoreline

Photo of the Week – A Beer Goes to Rome

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I came to Rome in a barrel.  Ready to see the eternal city.  It was dark all the way.  I was in good company.   Then we felt a tapping sound.  Just twice.  Then it went quiet.  A day later, I felt pulled away.  I saw light!!!  I decided to sit and bask in the light.  Since I was in Rome, I HAD to have my picture taken.  Hope I looked alright after all that travel.  I didn’t feel refreshed but I felt refreshing, if that makes sense.

A glass of beer, a Peroni, in Rome's Campo de Fiore

 

(Picture taken with Canon EOS Rebel T1I)

Rome Is to Be Enjoyed – 2 Sites That I Did

Some of the goods in the stands

Rome has an endless amount of sights to see, places to visit, and walks to take – it is near impossible, lest you are a travel guide company, to document all that there is to see and almost just as impossible to cover all the ground.  At least not when part of your goals for the trip are to chill some as well.  That was me. Here are two places I enjoyed in Rome:  a mix of must-sees and places where I just sat and relaxed.  Hopefully, this will give you ideas or validate what you have read in the travel guide!

Do you have places in Rome that you like to and relax in?  Please share!

Campo de Fiore

I had not seen the Campo de Fiore (field of flowers) before.  It was not as great a piazza as I expected but it certainly allowed for two of my favorite things when I am in Europe:  sitting in an outdoor café sipping my favorite beverage (house red wine in this case) and watching life go by (read:  people watching).  The flower and other stands were mostly still there though they began coming down as we were there.  The buildings in the piazza and the surrounding streets definitely had character and a walkabout the area is well worth it.

Campo de Fiore, Rome, Italy

The crowds taking in the sun & sights

Campo de Fiore, Rome, Italy - a lonely flower

A table waiting for users and a rose waiting for admirers…

A basket of bread in a café at the Campo de Fiore in Rome, Italy

Bread waiting for its consumers…

Kiosk in the market at Campo de Fiore in Rome, Italy (Field of Flowers)

Some of the goods in the stands

It was at Campo de Fiore where I met the golden beer who told its story

The Trastevere Area

This part of town, across the Tiber from old Rome, as the name suggests, is trendy, charming, and chock-full of places to eat, drink, and walk around.  The southern part of it has some really neat alleys and buildings.  We ate at a place called Caccio e Pepe in a pedestrian part of the area (http://www.osteriacacioepepe.it/).  We called ahead since there were 6 of us and our table was ready and waiting.  We enjoyed the food and the casual atmosphere of the Osteria.  The Trastevere also has a couple of churches worth visiting.

Crossing the Tiber on the Ponte Cestio in Rome, Italy

Crossing the Tiber on the Ponte Cestio

Doorway in the Trastevere in Rome, Italy

Doorway in the Trastevere

Typical alley in the Trastevere in Rome, Italy

Typical alley in the Trastevere

Santa Cecilia in the Trastevere in Rome, Italy

Santa Cecilia in the Trastevere, a very old church in Rome!

Of course, this walk around the Trastevere ended up in food… There is always good food in Rome to be found whether on your own or with a food tour!

(Picture taken with Canon EOS Rebel T1I)

A Foodie Tour in the Testaccio Neighborhood in Rome

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In Rome, once again, we enjoyed Italian cuisine (carbonara, mi amore!), wine, gelato, architecture, history, and watching people (tourists and locals alike).  It seems like those are reason ENOUGH to go to Roma!  Nothing like Rome to appreciate cultural diversity and food delights!

When I travel with friends, I don’t just travel with anyone.  I travel with folks who love wine, food, exploring, and chilling – like me.  One of my friend’s is a personal chef and she and her husband are big foodies (and so will be their baby one day!).  Before the trip, they looked for opportunities to sample food beyond lunch/dinner.  They found an awesome food tour in the Testaccio area of Rome, an area I had not explored or had even heard of before.  The tour is organized by Eating Italy Food Tours, founded by a native from Philly.  Domenico, also from Philly, was our tour guide that day and he was definitely the right guy to show us around!  (Check them out at http://www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com/ .)

We arrived to the Testaccio area after passing a pyramid by a cemetery.  Rome’s city walls seem to have been built around it.  I had no idea there was a pyramid in Rome!  It is called the Pyramid of Cestius as it was built as a tomb for a guy with that name.  What was incredible to me is that it was built 10-20 yrs BEFORE Christ.  It is incredible!

A pyramid in Rome, Italy

The food tour took us to the cemetery on the side of the pyramid which used to be where foreigners were interred in Rome in the not so distant past.  It is referred to as the Protestants’ or the Englishmen’s cemetery.  One of its most famous “eternal residents” is the poet Keats who died very young (I did learn something, see??).  You must be wondering when am I getting to the food.  So am I.  So let me get back on track.

Rome Testaccio food tour

The route and targets of the tour

We started at the old local market which is marked for demolition in the very near future as they have built a brand new place for these folks.  Sounded wonderful until our tour guide told us the vendors’ rent will be doubled which will likely put a few of them out of business.  Yes, the old market wasn’t a beacon of perfection but it definitely had charm!  Among the things we sampled was real mozzarella di bufala made by a lady named Lina – now I know how real mozzarella di bufala is supposed to taste like!!  Here are some of the sights at the market:

Food market at the Testaccio

This fish guy has been there for decades and his son and grandson now work with him.

Food market at the Testaccio

Whose legs are those? It’s rude to put your feet out the window!

Cheese, eggs and wine at the food market at the Testaccio

All sorts of goodness! (Where’s the chocolate??)

Horse meat at the food market at the Testaccio

Carne Equina – an interesting stand…

After the local market, we meandered towards Volpetti which, as soon as I saw the sign, I recognized from an Anthony Bourdain episode I had recently watched!  Volpetti is this piece of heaven on Via Marmorata, near the Pyramid.  All sorts of cheeses, balsamic vinergars, cured and dried meats like prosciutto, etc.  We got to sample (as we did everywhere in this tour) and my favorite was the San Daniele prosciutto (vs. Parma prosciutto – which was still good!).  The San Daniele had a certain tinge of sweetness that I enjoyed.  Needless to say, we loaded up on some goodies for that evening’s dinner (we decided there were too many good things not to devote one dinner in the apartment to them!).  Prosciutto is worth reading about and sampling – here is a quick overview of this delicious piece of ham:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosciutto.  An another that covers the difference between pancetta (bacon) and prosciutto (ham):  http://italianalmanac.org/06may/ham.htm

Prosciutto at Volpetti in Rome

Goodness at Volpetti

Right after Volpetti and further down Marmorata, we stopped at Barberini’s were the pastries all were calling my name, winking at me.  Not being a cultural chauvinist, I understood they were tempting me.  Of course I accepted the morsels we were given to sample including tiramisu in a tiny cup made of chocolate (modeled here by my friend Chris):

Food market at the Testaccio

A nice array of pastries at Barberini

On our way to further destinations in the tour, we passed a hill called Monte Testaccio.  If you don’t know any better, you walk right past it.  It has vegetation and was behind a fence when we hit upon it.  However, our tour guide stopped to tell us about it.  Folks, it is not a real hill that mother nature (or Mother Nature, lest lightning strike me) created.  In the old days, and I mean, the OLD days, people used amphoras to store and carry things.  However, when they were used for olive oil, the amphoras were not really re-usable for long.  So, they would break them up and pile them on what became a hill over time.  Vegetation grew and the hill – someone discovered – would offer in its innards a great place to store wine at the perfect temperature!  So in old days (not OLD days), small caves were built for this purpose.  It no longer seems to be used for this but remains a great witness to how the old Romans did things.  The area has become trendy with nightclubs while still hosting traditional trades like butchers.

After a little meandering, we next came to 00100 Pizza where we were in for a real treat:  suppli – a cheesy fried rice ball that was a foodie’s dream.

Suppli from our food tour at the Testaccio

Suppli

As our mouths continued to water, we made it to the place, Da Bucatino, where we would have a traditional Italian lunch centered around bucatini, a thick and hollow spaghetti-like pasta (not common here in the States) in amatriciana sauce (my favorite red sauce).  I did my best to clean the plate though all the sampling along the way was competing for space in my stomach!

Finally, after the day of sampling great cheeses, meats, pasta, and the like we ended up at a neighborhood gelato place called Giolitti. It has been there since the early 20th century.  A place where the gelato and the panna are all homemade – true artisans!  What a difference a homemade makes.

So, a little more off the beaten path than the Rome that most tourists see (including me in my first 2 trips there), yet a stone’s throw away from all those places, the Testaccio area offers not only great food but a different scene with history and charm to along with it.  Don’t miss it next time in Rome!

Other things I enjoyed in Rome:

What other lesser known areas of Rome have you seen and would you recommend them to others?

(Photos taken with Canon EOS Rebel T1I)

Doing Rome with a Plan

Living/Dining room was very spacious

When my friends and I decided upon a trip to Italy focused on Rome, I was really pumped to go back, see some familiar places and get to check off some that, though very important, I had failed to visit in my 2 prior trips to Rome (to my credit, they had been like 3-day stays each).

Lodging in Rome

All of us had prior experience with renting apartments while abroad as a way to get much cheaper lodging with the perks of a real kitchen, washer/dryer, and living room space so we could hang out late at night.  www.vrbo.com is my starting point for any search like this.  We found an apartment in Prati but, unfortunately, soon after booking, the building had some sewer problems so the agency that VRBO had connected us to, contacted us to offer other options.  We took another apartment, very close to the U.S. Embassy (not for that reason) and paid the differential since it was a better apartment though it was beyond what we had hoped to spend.  However, getting close to the date of travel and with not as many options for 3-bedroom apartments that we had liked when we first searched, we went for it.  The agency that arranged the rental in Rome was very professional and helpful along the way with special requests; check them out next time you are headed to Italy:  www.italyperfect.com.  Our apartment’s owner was a marquesa, if that impresses you at all!

Living/Dining room was very spacious

So What Was the Plan?

Our individual goals in this vacations coincided a good bit.  One set of friends had not been to Rome so they would have to cover some of the basics we already had.  Pompeii and the Sistine Chapel were top of my list but more on those in other entries…

As soon as we decided on the trip, we “discovered” that there were 3 other basilicas outside of what is known as the Vatican.  They are elsewhere in Rome but technically you are in the Vatican when you are in these basilicas.  We decided that these would be a great item for our arrival day due to all the walking and metroing required to see them – hence, we would not be tempted by naps!  We ended up leaving Sta. M. Maggiore for another day but we found these basilicas, though not as massive as St. Peter’s, impressive in their own right.  The basilicas are:

  • St. John Lateran (former home of the Popes until not long ago at all – who knew)

  • St. Paul Outside the Walls (the clarification is needed:  there is one INSIDE the walls; and yes, Rome still has segments of wall around it; again, who knew…  oh, and St. Paul is buried here under the chains that held him captive)

  • Santa Maria Maggiore (near the Termini station).

Rome has some fan-TAS-tic ceilings – check them out!

One of the main things for me to see in Rome (what an unfair thing to type… Rome has SO much that is a must-see!) was the Pantheon.  Folks, it is a 100 years and change away from being TWO THOUSAND years old!  Can you wrap your mind around that???  I can’t!  And it is STILL the world’s largest un-reinforced concrete dome.  I should have seen this on my first visit!  Oh, and I had NO idea the hole at the top was open!  Cleverly positioned and hidden drains take care of that water when it rains!

The oculus (giggle, giggle) “reflected” on the dome

We hit the Pantheon the day we went to the Papal Audience when we left the Vatican and started meandering streets.  It was my 3rd Papal Audience with the last one having been WAY CLOSER to the Pope (check out my friend Chris’ account of that audience.  As usual, the people watching sometimes is even better than the event itself!

Sweet looking but who knows if she is really a meanie!

Not sure who looks sillier but thanks for your service!

In that meandering, we happened upon the Gelateria del Teatro, a well-known gelateria due to the quality and uniqueness of the flavors of the gelato.  It was OUT OF THIS WORLD!   Take a look at this!!

Spectacular gelato!!

We also walked around Piazza Navona always full of life and tourists and peddlers…  That area is even more interesting and full of locals in the evening.  Meander the side streets and find restaurants and other gelaterias (when in Rome, you are required to have gelato no less than 2  times per day!).  There is a lot in that area of town just around the corner on a side street!

Piazza Navona

As we headed back to the apartment, we decided to take a short detour and go to the Trevi Fountain so one set of friends could see it for the first time but, more importantly, so we could throw our coin to ensure a return to Roma!  Again, the people watching is superb.  I loved taking a couple of pictures of this couple as they examined the fountain.

After recovering from all that walking, we headed to Hostaria Il Mozzicone in Via Borgo Pio right outside the Vatican, a place I had visited in my two prior trips.  As usual the food was awesome (the carbonara is their specialty and the ONLY thing I eat there) and the service cold – but never mind the service; as long as you go in up front not expecting friendly, you will be OK.  Below my carbonara!

Food has AWESOME food and a food tour is a great way to discover.  We did a great food tour and highlight recommend that.

Finally, to help us walk off some of the food coma, we walked over to St. Peter’s for a great night time view of this majestic place, something I had not done before (the go at night part!).  A great way to cap our day!

In this trip, I also discovered why Rome IS the eternal city -> http://ilivetotravel.me/2012/04/22/why-rome-is-the-eternal-city/

Traipsing around Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum

Sample art at the Vatican Museum

Not being keen on lines and much less crowds, I instantly mentally said “yes” when I saw there was a tour of the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum before the crowds got in.  I was quite willing to pay for the privilege of going before the SC and VM opened – which is rather an inaccurate concept as the moment you go in, the museum IS open – but this “before it opens” thing is about beating the crowds who did not want to wake up earlier, who did not want to (or could) pay the extra cost, or who did not know/think about it ahead of time.  Plus with a tour guide to be sure nothing noteworthy was missed in the eagerness to see the SC.

Vatican Museum statue

Sample art at the Vatican Museum

Dark Rome (www.darkrome.com) provided one of those tours.  (I found them via my ultimate authority for local tours, Viator.)  Their tour guide, an archaelogist from Ireland named Rachel (cute!) was engaging and well prepared.  But beyond not missing any key artifacts, the value was getting background knowledge about the great pieces I was going to see.

I have to say that while there were other tour groups (I didn’t pay THAT much money!), there was space to move around and stop without getting crashed into or pushed.  Lots of interesting art (Rafael’s masterpiece right before the SC being one of them) and architecture.  The crown jewel, though, really blew me away.  Having heard SO MUCH about it, I was expecting to be impressed but not blown away.  One of those things were the expectations are made so big that by the time you get there, it is not the same as what it had been built to be.

NOT this time!  I have to say that having learned how frescoes are made in the tour, having been explained Michelangelo’s design and process, etc. really made a big difference in the appreciation for those drawings up in a ceiling.  Just thinking about how high he had to climb every day to do the job was quite impressive.  (I did wonder if he took bathroom breaks and, if so, did he do it in a bucket and lowered it when done… or was he SO engrossed in his masterpiece that he could hold it however many hours??  The things that churn in my head…)

Soapbox break.  The one shameful thing I observed was fellow tourists who did not seem to get the concept of no pictures allowed.  First of all, these fools don’t realize those drawings are so far up that their pictures will do them no justice.  Just buy a freaking post card or, even better, the book. But most importantly for me is the lack of respect they show for a place of worship.  If you cannot respect the sites you visit, then why are you really going there anyway?  I treat other faiths’ places of worship with the same respect I pay my own.  Soapbox break over.

It is neat to understand where Michelangelo started the ceiling and how his technique evolved during the project.  I didn’t realize he was rather inexperienced in frescoes when he got the commission (that he didn’t want to do but Julius II forced to accept).  I will not get into it here as I am not an art connossieur nor is that the purpose of this blog.  But it is really interesting to see how he learned about how to do the frescoes once he came down and admired one of the earliest panels finished – the ceiling was too far up and the figures were too small:  he had to paint them bigger!  I am surprised though that he didn’t re-do that first panel.  Or maybe he did and I didn’t catch that…

The Sistine Chapel frescoes on the ceiling are matched by an imposing altarpiece fresco where Michelangelo gets back at a “foe” using his face as the face of someone being walked into hell.  I think Michelangelo won that little feud of theirs…  And remember Rome is eternal…  Lots of good ceilings in the Vatican (and Rome)!

Finally, as a Catholic, picturing a conclave (where Popes are elected) taking place in the SC while standing there was priceless.  I couldn’t quite picture all these cardinals in there but, I take it by faith.

I think in some future visit, perhaps I will explore more of the VM themselves.  Lots of important artifacts and art that I may not really be prepared to explore.  But something will be learned, something will probably impress me and… I can get to see the awesome work in the Sistine Chapel one more time!

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