Archive for June, 2008

THE LAST DAY IN ROME

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Our last day was amazing. We were up early to beat the heat, caught the Metro and headed for the Roman Forum. We actually got a glimpse of the Forum from the Terrace of the Fornese Gardens in Palatine Hill our first day here.

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Today, we would be exploring these ancient ruins with the help of an audioguide and our imaginations. The Roman Forum got it’s start in 750 BC as a meeting ground. It developed into a five acre public are with temples, arches, markets, courts, government buildings, and more. The area functioned as the center of life until 46 BC. It was then that Ceasar decided to build his own Forum – all overlooked by the Emperor from the palace on Palatine Hill. Amazingly, these ruins were not discovered and excavated until the 19th century.

There are so many things to see here. A “good tour” takes at least a couple of hours. And while Cindy took hundreds of pictures, I’ll post only a few of them. You enter the Forum on the Via Sacra or the Sacred Way. It was the road that crossed the entire length of the square and you can see it in the picture above going through the arch.

Some of the highlights we saw:

THE ARCH OF SEPTIMIUS SEVERUS – it was build around 203 AD to celebrate Emperor Septimius Severus’s victory of the Parthians.

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THE TEMPLE OF SATURN – all that is left of this structure are eight beautiful columns. It was Rome’s oldest temple built in 497 BC and was also the home of the treasury.

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THE TEMPLE OF CASTOR AND POLLUX – this is the temple where the magistrates were sworn in. It dates back to the 5th century BC but all that remains are the three lone columns see below.

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THE BASILICA OF MAXENTIUS AND CONSTANTINE – this dates back to 308 AD and was used for judicial meetings. It was so large (one of Rome’s largest buildings) that several meetings could take place in it at one time without intrusions. All that remains are the three huge coffered vaults behind Cindy and I below.

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THE TEMPLE OF ANTONINUS AND FAUSTINA – this was built in 141 AD. It has survived in such good condition because a church was built inside it in the Middle Ages. Much of the marble and bronze was stripped away in the 13th century to be used in other strutures.

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There were so many things to see and I tried to capture it all on video with explanations. Cindy did a great job of taking pictures and I’ve posted everything we have on FLICKR in the EUROPE Collection – so check it out.

ROME – DAY 2

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

We were up early this morning to start the day before the temperatures reach 100 degrees! Our first stop was the famous Trevi Fountain, which is right around the corner from our hotel. It is tucked away into a narrow backstreet but it is spectacular. The guidebook puts it this way:

The city’s largest fountain is said to reflect designer Nicola Salvi’s thirty years of hard labor (1732-1762). Giant stone gods (Neptune, flanked by Abundance on the left and Health on the right) and prancing horses frolic daily in the city’s cleanest water. Twin reliefs below the cornice tell the story of the Trevi’s origins which date to 19 BC when Augustus’s right-hand man, Agrippa, built an aqueduct that still supplies the Trevi’s water.

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We continued our walk through the narrow streets and rounded the corner to Emperor Hadrian’s architectural contribution to Rome – The Pantheon. This structure was originally built by Marcus Agrippa in BC 27 to commemorate the victory of Actium over Antony and Cleopatra. Hadrian rebuilt it as a temple to “all the gods” between AD 118 and 125. It is built over the site where the original temple stood but was destroyed in AD 80.

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The Pantheon has a perfectly proportioned dome that has been the inspiration of some of the world’s greatest domed buildings – St. Paul’s Cathedral (London), the Capitol Building (Washington, DC), and even St. Peter’s Basilica (Rome). It was converted to a Christian church in AD 609, a fortress in the 12th century, and even a bullfight arena in the 17th century. Today, it’s a church and services are held here regularly. It also contains the tombs of the artist Raphael and two Italian kings – Vittorio Emanuele and Umberto.

From the Pantheon, we made our way to the Column of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It is a 100-feet marble newsreel (dedicated in AD 193) and chronicles all of his war victories. His statue once stood at the top of the column but, in 1589, it was replaced with a statue of St. Paul (who was imprisoned in Rome for preaching Christ to the Roman citizens).

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This is a close up view of the newsreel.

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Piazza Navona was our next stop.

So many things to see along the way but we wanted to make it to St. Peter’s Basilica before the crowds started to gather. We passed the government buildings – the House of Deputies, the House of Senators, and the Hall of Justice. It was getting very hot and it wasn’t even noon yet so we thought we better get some lunch and make our way to St. Peter’s Basilica and Vatican City.

The first thing that catches your attention is the vast square – St. Peter’s Square – before you even reach the Basilica. This is the area where people congregate on Wednesday (to receive the Pope’s blessing) and Sunday (for Mass). The obelisk in the center is from the 13th century BC and was moved to Rome in 37 AD by Emperor Caligula. The Vatican Obelisk is the only obelisk in Rome that has not toppled since ancient Roman times. This is the view of the square from the terrace of St. Peter’s Basilica.
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This is the view of St. Peter’s Basilica from the square. This is the largest church structure in the world, now much bigger than the Cathedral we saw in Florence (which was the largest before the Basilica was built). There is no way this picture captures the size and scope of this complex. And the history of the Basilica is fascinating – so many of Italy’s artists were involved in its design and creation.
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As you enter the Basilica, it is overwhelming inside. You could easily spend a week walking through this “complex” filled with statuary, monuments, art, the tombs of the Pope’s and so much more. This is just one interview view.
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One of the first things you see when you enter, located in one of the first chapels on the right, is Michelangelo’s Pieta. He finished this work in 1499 when he was only 25 years old – a true genius and a masterpiece. He was not yet very well known and this is the only work of art he created that actually contains his signature carved into the marble. It can be found along Mary’s neckline.
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It is also said that St. Peter is buried directly under the giant copula in the center of the structure. This is a view inside the copula – if you look closely on the right side, you can actually see small dots (these are people) who made the climb up 335 stairs once they took the elevator to that level.
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After walking through the Basilica, we walked another 20 minutes following the Vatican wall until we reached the Vatican Museums. We had originally gone only to see the Sistine Chapel, but you have to walk through the other museums to get to it. As you enter, the view is spectacular.

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There is so much to see that it would take a week to see it all. That’s not an exaggeration. The Vatican recommends at least 3 days to see all of it. There are several rooms that contain only artifacts from early centuries – both BC and AD.

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The hallways and ceilings are painted majestically….

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There were several private chapels that belonged to each of the past Pope’s. One of the most beautiful was this one which, I think, belongs to Pope Pius V.

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I wish I could show you pictures of the Sistine Chapel. It was breath-taking. It’s a large room located in the Vatican that is literally painted floor to ceiling. There are some 300 figures contained in the work and, according to the literature, the ceiling tells the story of Salvation from the creation of man to the resurrection of Christ to the Last Judgement. No photographs are allowed in the room in order to preserve the integrity of the work. Michelangelo painted from 1508 until 1512 laying on his back. The most amazing thing is that he had little experience painting.

ROME – DAY 1

Friday, June 27th, 2008

The day started off great – we got to sleep in a bit because our train to Rome was leaving about 12noon. We’re only 10 minutes from the Train Station by car. We took our time getting things ready, went to breakfast, our driver arrived, and we were on our way. Once at the Train Station, Cindy realized that I forgot to unplug the battery charger (with the camera battery in it) and left it in the room. With only 25 minutes before the train was to leave, I made a panicked call to the hotel. They found the charger/battery, put it in a taxi, and rushed it to the Station. He arrived just minutes before we were to board and leave. What a way to start the day!

Once we arrived in Rome, our driver met us (Sergio) at the end of the platform and whisked us away to the hotel. We are at the Rose Garden Palace directly across the street from the American Embassy. I guess if there’s any problems, we’ll grab our passports and head for the gates! It’s a beautiful building, security everywhere including at our hotel.

I had made reservations for us to see the Colosseum this afternoon so, once we were settled, we left for the subway system. We bought a three day Metro pass – the metro is very easy to follow here – and jumped on the train for the Colosseum. As we walked out of the station, this is the first thing you see.

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Emperor Vespasian started construction of the Colosseum in AD 72 over the lake that stood in the gardens of Nero’s palace. Eight years later, his son (Titus) open the arena in a 100-day celebration. Spectators entered through 76 gates (it could hold more than 50,000 people) while four unmarked gates were reserved for upper crust citizens like the Senators. This stone stands at one of the entrances, carved with the names of some of the last Senators to come here in the 4th Century.

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The Emperor’s entrance is marked by the cross (far right side, lower corner of the picture) that was placed here in the 13th century in repentance for the amount of blood that was shed in this place. It had many “modern” featured including rope-pulled elevators to bring up gladiators and animals from the tunnels underneath the wooden floor (you can see these tunnels in the picture below), a flooding system so they could do mock naval battles, and adjustable awnings to cover the arena in bad weather.

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By the 5th century, the arena was no longer in use and was turned into a quarry. The tunnels were filled with dirt and many of the stones were used to build other structures like St. Peter’s Basilica.

From the Colosseum, we crossed over to Palatine Hill. We had no idea what this place was but it was a part of our ticket entrance fee. We decided to explore. Turns out it was well worth the trip!

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The word “palace” comes from this place – once the home of emperors. Now, it’s mostly ruins with a museum. But these ruins are incredible. This is the only city I’ve ever bee in where you have to ask if something was built BC or AD! Walking through the grounds where ancient Rome’s most famous cities once lived was remarkable. Rome’s first king, Romulus, and Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, built palaces on these hills. Caligula and Nero also once lived in these ruins. You can see the private quarters of Emperor Augustus currently being excavated on the property.

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In AD 81-86, Emperor Domitian made the Palatine Hill the ancient equivalent of Buckingham Palace building a huge mansion that was used by his successors until AD 305. We wandered through the grounds, slowly ascending until we reached the formal gardens that were installed in the 16th century by the Farneses. There is a incredible view of the Roman Forum from the terrace!

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From both the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill, you can see the Arch of Constantine. It was built in AD 315 to commemorate the victory of Emperor Constantine over his rival Maxentius. The arch has a bit of controversial history that goes along with it. The dedication to “Instinctus Divinatus” revealed Constantine’s belief in Christianity, a shunned faith until Constantine became it’s most powerful patron, but also satisfied the pagan Senators who didn’t want to put the name of CHRIST on one of their public monuments.

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It was a long, hot day so we decided to head back to the hotel. We happen to come to Italy during one of their worst heat waves in a long time – temperatures near 100 degrees every day.

ROME AND THE INTERNET

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Just a quick post to let you know that I am trying to upload my current blog entry for Rome. The internet is VERY SLOW here and not allowing me to upload some of the pictures and not more than a couple of sentences. I’ll keep trying!

FLORENCE, ITALY – DAY 2

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

We had some internet issues in our hotel last night so I wasn’t able to post this until now.

We were up early this morning so that we could get down to the Train Station for our tour. I’m not one to join an organized tour group (Cindy and I are pretty good on our own) but we had such limited time here in Florence we wanted to see the highlights. One of the great benefits of being on this tour is we don’t have to wait in line at the Galleria Accademie to see the state of DAVID. So, we had a fast breakfast at the hotel and we were on our way.

We met up with our small group and jumped on the bus. The first stop was a drive along the Vaile dei Colli up to the Piazzale Michelangelo to admire the most incredible view of the city.

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After spending some time up here, we returned to the bus to head to the old city centre. Once in the centre, we got off the bus and continued the tour on foot. Our first stop was the Duomo complex. The Baptistery was the first building we saw – an amazing 13th century structure. It was built so that people could be “baptized” into Catholicism, whether they wanted to or not. Be “Christian” or die. Cindy and I returned here later in the day to go inside the building. It was spectacular – individual tiles and gold leaf formed the ceiling murals.

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Our next building at the Duomo complex was the Cathedral – once the largest church in the world. The Giotto’s Bell Tower is the largest containing the largest bell in Europe to ring in case of invasion and to call worshipers from the fields. This is a great picture of the Cupola del Brunelleschi.

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And Cindy and I standing outside of the Cathedral. It is so big there is simply no way to fit it all into a single picture.

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From here, we walked through the historic streets in the heart of Florence. So much history it’s difficult to remember it all but I was especially intrigued by the fact that Leonardo di Vinci learned to paint here; Michelangelo studied anatomy here; Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning lived here for 17 years; and Taichovski wrote music here, among many other things.

We ended our trip at the Balleria dell Accademia where the famous DAVID by Michelangelo and many othe works by the great artists are on display. Seeing DAVID in person, hearing the history of this masterpiece, and viewing these other amazing sculptures and paintings brought tears to my eyes. It was awesome. The state of DAVID was moved here in 1882 in order to protect it from vandalism and the elements. There is a replica of DAVID as well as Hercules and Zeus that have been put in the place of the originals.

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After we finished up the tour, we were starving so we found food! Then we did a little shopping and walked back to the hotel. Along the way, we passed the statue of St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence.

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FIREWORKS!!

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

I know I’ve already posted today and it’s unusual for me to post more than once. BUT we just finished watching the most spectacular fireworks we’ve ever seen! We are in Florence, Italy and today is a holiday here. Today (June 24) is the day the city celebrates their Patron Saint – Saint Giotto or Saint John the Baptist – the saint to whom the Baptistery is dedicated. We walked past this church this afternoon…

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We could hear the crowd start to gather early. The fireworks started a little after 10pm. The city street lights were turned off, the crowd cheered, and the spectacle began!

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FLORENCE, ITALY – DAY 1

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

We took the Eurostar train from Venice to Florence this morning. It was a much better experience than our trip from Paris to Venice. We checked into the Plaza Hotel Lucchesi. It’s a beautiful hotel on the river. Today is a holiday only in Florence. It is a celebration for the patron saint of this city – Saint John. As we walked through the streets, we watched a parade…

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…and tonight, there will be thousands of people in the streets along the river bank to watch the fireworks (they have already begun to gather). We have the perfect place to watch as our hotel moved us to a room with the most incredible view!

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Today, we walked the streets of Florence, did a little shopping, saw some amazing architecture, and ate more gelato. We were in one of the public piazzas where there were street performers. As we walked through the crowd, one of the mimes started following Cindy. To the delight of the crowd (and through my laughter), he pulled her to the side and gave her a kiss – leaving white makeup on her nose and face. He swooned and held his heart as she walked away. It was a great candid moment; unfortunately, the battery on my videocamera was dead!! One of the most amazing things we saw were the sidewalk artists creating chalk art on the ground. It was so beautiful.

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We roamed the city for about 5 hours and started back to our hotel. We stopped for some food to take back to the room so we would be ready for the fireworks tonight.

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VENICE – DAY 2

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

This was our last day in Venice. We spent most of the day roaming and exploring the streets and alleys of this quaint, romantic island. We found a few treasures to take back home for friends and family. And, of course, we found a couple of things for us! Cindy has taken so many pictures, it’s going to be fun sorting through them all. Many of them look like movie sets but that’s not hard to do in Venice. It is very picturesque. It’s like a fantasyland or the back lot of Universal Studios. Every time we walk into Saint Mark’s Square, it’s simply breath-taking. So far, this has been our favorite destination.
Tonight we met up with Tom and Dale – the guys we met on the train from Paris to Venice. We enjoyed their company on the train and connected via email once we settled into our hotel in Venice. We planned to have dinner together tonight. We met up at the giant clock tower in Saint Mark’s Square and began our adventure. We (Cindy, Dale, and I) followed Tom down the alleys, through the streets, past shops, until we finally arrived at the Grand Canal and found a beautiful restaurant. It was a wonderful evening and we appreciated the opportunity to get to know these guys better. It seems as though we’ve known them for much longer than just a few hours. It’s rare that we connect so quickly with people and tonight, conversation was easy and comfortable.

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After dinner, we strolled across the bridges back toward St. Mark’s Square and our hotel. Cindy clicked pictures all along the way. I know I haven’t posted anything of Venice on Flickr yet, but I will do that when we get to Florence. We are off to bed – train leaves for Florence in the morning!

GONDOLA RIDE IN VENICE

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

We have a full day yesterday…and today is just now getting started. Our hotel is beautiful. The building dates back to 1100 but it’s only been a hotel since the 1500′s.

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I went down to the Marco Polo room for breakfast this morning to a feast! There were several stations of food – pastries, cereals, eggs, bacon, toast, fresh fruits, yogurts, and lots of things Italian that I didn’t recognize. All of this with coffee was the perfect way to start the day. Cindy was exhausted so she decided to sleep in for a while.

Last night, we took the most romantic and incredible tour of Venice by gondola. All the guys who operate the gondolas are Venetian and it’s a traditional passed from father to son. He took us through many of the smaller canals (there are more than 180 of them in the city) and into the Grand Canal (the main street of Venice).

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Homes of nobility, churches from the 1100′s, historic bridges, and more scenery than our cameras could capture. At one point, our Gondolier even sang to us.

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VENICE – DAY 1

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

We left Paris yesterday, riding the overnight train to Venice. This was NOT what we had expected. The train messed up our reservation though our tickets clearly stated SUPERIOR CLASS COUCHETTE – a private sleeper with meal service. It appears that they oversold this category and several of us got “bumped” to First Class. In other words, we had sleeping mates. It was a nice older couple from France but they spoke little English and we speak little French. We managed okay. The unit was designed to sleep six – thank God (literally) that there were only four of us!

We left our quarters around 9pm to find the restaurant car for dinner (it doesn’t begin to get dark until 10pm or later). We were seated with two guys – Dale and Tom – from Denver, Colorado. We enjoyed great conversation and an “okay” meal with these two. The food was interesting and, if you know me, you know I don’t eat many carbs. Here’s the menu:

Bread Sticks = CARBS

Pasta in Garlic Sauce = CARBS

Pasta in Tomato = CARBS

Veal in Tuna Sauce – Hmmm, not sure what this was.

Steamed Potatoes = CARBS

Cake = CARBS

I’m sure I was in “carb overload” by the time we made it to bed. And that’s a whole other story – bed time in the sleeper! I won’t go into details.

We arrived in Venice and our hostess was waiting for us at the end of the platform. She whisked us away immediately to our Water Taxi. After loading up the luggage, we were on our way through the Grand Canal to our hotel. The scenery was spectacular. I’ll be posting those pictures to our Flickr page later.
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Our hotel is the Hotel Luna Baglioni (pictured below) – a spectacular palace that sits directly on the Canal. Unfortunately, it was early (10am) and our room was not quite ready. We left our luggage and wandered the streets of Venice finding our way to St. Mark’s Square. We did a little shopping, found food, and made it back to the hotel around 12:45pm with a room ready for our arrival. Time to get a shower!! And tonight, a Gondola ride on the Grand Canal!

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