Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Hot days and Roman water fountains

We spent 6 days in Italy, in temperatures which were normally 35-38 degrees.  At about 2pm, the sun was directly overhead and it was very hot as we walked (and walked...) around Italy. 

One great thing was the supply of fresh, cool water.  It was possible to pay 3 Euros for a small bottle of drinking water near some of the monuments, or instead, keep the bottles and refill them at the many fountains.  The water was delicious - cool and fresh.  Apparently the Romans have been doing this since they used aquaducts - and we are highly appreciative.  We would often refill our bottles and have a rinse to cool off - however Cameron's version of this sometimes looked more like a swim!!

We loved Italy.  6 days is nowhere near enough, but it was great for the family to get a 'taste' (and not just for bruschetta!)

Pantheon and the Trevi Fountian

We finished our tour with Daniel, and started our own walking tour of Rome.

We headed for the Pantheon, with a stop for lunch (Bruschetta again for Nicole… are you starting to see a pattern??)

The Pantheon was originally built for all the Roman Gods.  In the 7th century it was converted to a Roman Catholic Church dedicated to St. Mary, which guaranteed its survival. Its dome is about ½ a metre bigger in diameter than St Peters, apparently a planned move by Michaelangelo (when he designed St Peter's dome) to pay homage to the classical Roman style.

The altar.
The Pantheon has for the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. 
The oculus allows air to circulate inside, and there is a drainage system below the floor for the rain water during storms.

The sunlight gradually moves along the dome during the day.

Raphael is buried in the Pantheon, (1520) 

Our next stop was the Trevi fountain, made famous by the film La Dolci Vita. The place was packed, but we managed to get next to the fountain to throw our coins (guaranteeing a return to Rome, YIPPEE).
It is estimated that 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain every day.  The money is gathered up each day and supports a supermarket for Rome's needy through a charity called Charity Caritas  

We will all be back!!
Next some delicious Gelati, a cool off under a Roman fountain, and some shopping for Phil (a local football jersey for his collection).

We had heard several times about the ‘Spanish Steps’ – so we thought they must be worth a visit. We trekked across to them, and found… a set of steps. Later on, we read that it was simply a fashionable to meet, also that it is the widest and longest staircase in Europe. There is a rule enforced by local Police that you are not allowed to eat on the stairs, but it is always crowded with people.

We had a nice stroll home, via the four fountains, and the Piazza di Independence. We found a small, inexpensive but fantastic trattoria in the back streets away from the railway station, and enjoyed a lovely last dinner in Rome.

The next day, we had a sleep in and a late breakfast, followed by a short (2 hour) walk. We cruised a big circuit which included the Colosseum, and a shop that sold bags with Vespas on them (Nicole has been looking for this the entire holiday, seeing ass though she can't get herself a real Vespa...yet!!). We caught a coach to the airport and flew back to Berlin…at least for a few nights before our next adventure!!

Palatine Hill and the ancient forum

After the Colosseum, Daniel took us over to Palatine Hill, which has many layers of history to delve into. Legend has it that this is were Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf.  We looked at a few different archeological dig sites (which continue today).
Arch of Constantine (stands in between the Colosseum and Palatine Hill)

mosaic patterns in the walls

We moved down to the Roman Forum with its role at the heart of the community.  The Senators Chamber, the Vestal Virgins and their temple, and other temples to the Roman Gods.  The shrine where Julius Caeser was dragged out and burned after he was murdered in the nearby senate building.

These Victory Gods and Chariots with horses are very familiar to the Berlin Brandenburg Gate.
Fantastically decorated Corinthian Columns were everywhere!
OK, so from front on, this guy doesn't look like George.
(Nicole would like to apologise now for stalking him)
It was a fantastic tour, and we were overwhelmed with amazing facts. Daniel was a terrific guide, and highly recommended if you ever get to Rome!

One of the funny things was watching the hawkers on the streets. Selling everything from copy handbags to hats and sunglasses, they displayed their goods on sheets with strings at the corners. When the police came, it was like someone had scattered the pigeons! They would pull the string, their goods would collect into a swag, and they would run flat out from the police. We saw this happen several times, and the kids were highly amused.  We also saw the police telling off a tourist for buying an umbrella from one of these illegal hawkers – for encouraging them.

The Colosseum

We were up and about fairly early, to make it to our tour for its 10:00am start. Again, the added value of the born and bred Roman guide, Daniel (whose major is Roman archeology), made the story of Colosseum come to life, including stories of the gladiators, its construction, its use over time, and even Russell Crowe!
Here is Daniel who was able to find the small amount of shade on a very hot day in the Colosseum.

The tour reinforced how fantastic the Romans were at engineering and building.
The boys loved the gruesome tales that Daniel told us.

The Colosseum has served an interesting history - built on a swamp as a 'symbol of freedom following the overthrow of a megalomanic Roman Emperor, it first housed naval battles as shows.  Later it was drained, and shows were put on here.  Later, the underground sections were added, and using a wooden floor, trapdoors and hoists, the Romans were able to put on incredible shows.  In its hayday, there would be 3 shows per day.  In the morning there would be 'hunting' (men versus animals).  At lunchtime the criminals would be killed (but theatrically, against animals or groups of trained warriors).  In the afternoon, gladiators would be matched to fight each other.  Rarely would the gladiators kill each other, but they put on evenly matched 'fighting shows'.

In its later life it was used as a cow paddock and a quarry, and even a round about before it became a museum.  Given its history, it is surprising it is standing at all.

Outside you could have your photo taken with a many gladiators. (for a fee naturally)
Nicole was convinced this guy in the white tshirt was George's younger brother....the boys just laughed at her!  Nicole spent her time in Italy looking out for George...no luck!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel

We had a tour booked for the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel. We had a delicious lunch and easily found our meeting spot – and our great Irish guide, Rachel. She talked the whole way around, was incredibly knowledgable and interesting, and was superb with the kids on the tour.  She really was ‘value add’ and we appreciated her guidance and passion for a subject close to her heart.

Of course, the museums and the Sistine Chapel (no photos allowed in the Sistine Chapel) are fantastic. As the second-most visited museum in the world (behind the Louvre), booking tickets is recommended, but being guided is an absolute must. There were so many details we would not have been made aware of, otherwise, the rich papal history, the works of art, the stories. Raphael rooms....and so much more.

Laoconnte and his sons. (one of Nicole's favourites)
A roman bath, the biggest one we have seen made from Egytpian Imperial Porphyry.
(these people were on the other side of the bath, not in it!)
Sculpture, Sphere Within Sphere" by Italian Sculptor, Arnaldo Pomodoro.
The Map room, shows you how decorated the Vatican Museum is.  Rachel said that if you were to look at each piece of artwork in the Vatican Museum for 1 minute each, it would take you 10 years to see everything!  Once you walk through the entire museum you have walked over 6.5 kilometres!!
The Sistine Chapel was fantastic, and the story of its creation by Michaelangelo even more superb.  The boys loved hearing about Michaelangelo and his temper, and how one day he threw a hammer from the scaffolding at the Pope, who kept asking him "is it finished yet?"  We also loved hearing how Michaelangelo added things into his paintings that were perhaps not appropriate for the Catholic values.  Especially when he had painted God's naked butt, when questioned by the Pope, Michaelanglo responded, "He has a light piece of fabric covering his butt if you look closely, only impure minds would not be able to see this"
After this tour, we decided that the best way to see the Colosseum the next day was also on a guided tour, and Rachel helped us to book one for the next morning. With temperatures planned to be in excess of 37 degrees, we decided that the morning tour (with a few areas of shade) would be best.

We headed back to the Metro, caught the train back to the hotel, had dinner in a local restaurant and headed in for the night.

St Peters Basilica

Our first day in Rome was mainly spent outside of Italy….in the Vatican City. We caught the Metro to St Peters, where we looked around Piazza San Pietro, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

The Piazza is surrounded by 284 columns in rows of 4. 

When you stand on this circluar disc in the Piazza, you can only see the first row of columns.

As soon as you stand to the side of the circle, you start to see the 4 rows of columns.

Services are held outside St Peters for pilgrims.  Pope Benedict XVI was away at his Summer house in Tuscany when we visited.

Then we headed into St Peter's Basilica.

It is an amazing space. Every surface is adorned with beautiful paintings, sculture, metalwork and so forth.

One of the smaller domes.

A memorial plate for one of the previous Popes.
Part of the ceiling
The main altar

Gorgeous marble sculptures like this are everywhere.
The main dome, with fantastic sunlight streaming through the top.
Michaelangelo's Madonna and Child. The only statue Michaelangelo signed.
The beautiful stain glass window behind the main altar of a single dove.
We then climbed the 516 steps to the top of the Dome. (It advertised 551, but this was our tally!).
It is the tallest dome in the world, at 136.57 metres tall.  The internal diameter is 41.47 meters, which is slightly smaller than the Pantheon and the Florence Cathedral.  It was really hot in the narrow stairwell, and at times around the dome we were walking on angles.

The view from the top was great, looking over Rome and into the Vatican (the walk up was well worth it). We spotted a grass-fire in a nearby suburb, and watched as a firebombing helicopter swooped in to do its job.
Piazza San Pietro
Behind St Peters are private grounds in the Vatican City

It was another very hot day, and it was great that there was a fountain and toilets half way down. These fountains became our saviours around Italy – we would refill our waterbottles with cold, fresh water and drink it by the litre. Often we would take a splash as well to cool off.