Tuesday, July 25, 2017

May 22nd, Part One: Vatican Museums

We got up early the next morning, grabbed some odds and ends from the hotel's breakfast area, and made it out the door and over to the Metro while the city was still waking up. A little bit of waiting and a little bit of walking later...

...we were with our tour group and looking at St. Peter's Basilica. Time for a tour of the Vatican!

This was the one thing we did a guided tour for on the entire trip, and I'm really glad we did. The Vatican Museums are huuuuge, and it was great to see it all with someone who knew the best way to get through as much of it as possible. We all had little receiver things with earbuds, so we could hear our guide as we wandered through everything. The tour we did got us into everything an hour before it opened to the general public, so we had a bit of space to actually enjoy what we were looking at. (At least until the floodgates opened a while later.) This was the Gallery of the Candelabra.

The Vatican Museums are home to various works of art and artifacts that all of the popes have collected over the years, and to say that the museums are huge is a gross understatement. There are tens of thousands of things here.

There is incredible art everywhere you look...including on the ceilings.

This fantastic ceiling was in the Gallery of Tapestries. This is actually flat; it was painted using the trompe l'oeil technique to make it look three dimensional.

Of course, there were also tapestries in the Gallery of Tapestries.

The Gallery of Maps was next; this room was absolutely stunning. The walls were lined with giant frescoes of topographical maps of different parts of Italy. but it was everything else around the maps that really made this room special.

Detail from a random section of the ceiling. Any one of these individually looks like it belongs in a museum, so to see them all next to each other (and on the ceiling, no less), was a little crazy.

You can see part of one of the maps here. This room was huge.

I forget the exact order of things we saw on the tour, but we did get to spend about twenty minutes in the Sistine Chapel. You're not allowed to take pictures in there, so I don't have anything to post here myself, but it was really cool to see it in person. The frescoes were a lot brighter than I expected, and the detail was impressive. The Vatican's website has a really cool virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel here; it will download an audio file onto your computer if you click on the link, but the virtual tour itself will open in your browser screen. You can click and drag your mouse cursor to look at different sections of the walls and ceiling, and zoom in or out using the little buttons on the bottom left part of the screen.

After a little while we popped out into the Cortile della Pigna (Courtyard of the Pinecone). It's named that for a big bronze pinecone on one end. The big golden sphere is a modern art sculpture; we didn't spend too much time here before making our way back inside.

I can't remember which room had this detailed ceiling, which says a lot about how ornate everything was. Either way, it was pretty.

We went through several hallways that had all sorts of artifacts, including giant stained glass panels.

 This was the Room of the Immaculate Conception. (And that random thing in the bottom right part of the picture is one of the sticks the tour guides were holding up so you knew how to find your group in the crush of people that had started filling all of the rooms by this point.) The frescoes are huge and incredibly detailed.

Another view of the Room of the Immaculate Conception. I couldn't have fit it all in one picture if I tried!

This was the Room of the Segnatura, which is one of Raphael's Rooms. These were painted by Raphael and his students in the 1500s. The frescoes were really neat, and we got to spend a bit of time in this room in particular while our guide pointed out some cool details. Going through this part of the tour made me really glad that we got an early start; this room was so crowded that you could barely move!

We made our way out to the Octagonal Court. There were some pretty neat statues here; this was the River God (Arno).

We made our way through a few more rooms with statues; one of them had this really cool mosaic floor.

The museums were getting pretty packed by this point, so our guide led us through the rest of the rooms pretty quickly. I did take a second to grab a quick picture of one of the pieces in the modern art area.

We eventually made our way out of the crowded museum and found ourselves looking out at the Piazza San Pietro. This is where the Pope gives his weekly mass, hence all the chairs. It was nice to get a little fresh air, but we still had one more stop on our tour!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Picture of the Day: July 17th to July 23rd

July 17th: We're finally starting to get a couple things here and there from our garden. This was the first cherry tomato; it was delicious.

July 18th: We had lots of storms rolling around in the afternoon, but they all managed to miss us. At least they looked neat.

July 19th: The weather finally cooperated and I got to fly down to Blue Ridge (MTV - near Martinsville, VA) to meet up with Dave for lunch! We've been trying to do this flight for a couple months now. I brought Mark, Dave brought Debby and his friend Mike, and we all stuffed our faces and had fun catching up. It was a really nice day.   :)

July 20th: Our fig tree is getting huge. It's going to be fun to figure out how to pick the figs that grow in the middle; I'm going to have to climb into the tree to reach them all.

July 21st: I was Captain Ambitious today and used every second of free time I had before working an eve shift. Made turkey meatball soup, put together a batch of chicken pot pies, and still made it to work on time. Success!

July 22nd: Mark got some new floor mats for my Mustang. I drove it for a little while in the morning before work; it handles really well now that we've basically replaced what feels like the entire suspension and half of the stuff under the hood.

July 23rd: One of the bigger tomatoes in our garden is starting to finally turn red. I'm really looking forward to eating it!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

May 21st: See All the Things

We got a much earlier start the next morning - no more sleeping until 10:30 again on this trip!

Luckily, the rain had moved out and the weather was gorgeous. We had breakfast in the hotel (and got to spend the entire time listening to some American guy say a creepily enthusiastic 'Mmmmm!' after each bite he took...that is, when we wasn't being condescending toward his wife/partner/whatever she was; way to make us Americans look good, buddy), made a quick stop in the room to grab our stuff, and walked about 15 minutes or so to...

...the Colosseum!

I had read online that the best time to visit was early in the day, before the crowds really picked up and the tickets lines got backed up. Our tickets from the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill the day before were also good for the Colosseum the next day, so we were able to skip that line and get in with only a little bit of a wait.

After seeing it a few times from the outside, it was pretty cool to see how it looked inside.

The view from the next level up was even better. The area in the bottom is called the hypogeum; it was a series of underground tunnels and chambers that held animal pens, mechanical devices, and all sorts of other odds and ends. Before this area was built, they used to flood the Colosseum and stage mock naval battles, but by building the hypogeum, they were able to have all sorts of special effects, including trap doors and elevators that hoisted large animals (think elephants and hippos) up into the arena.

We spent some time wandering through the corridors. Already, more people were starting to filter in...

...but you could still find quiet spots here and there.

Looking straight down the middle; the area on the far side is where the arena stage would have been when the Colosseum was still in use. I can only imagine how chaotic things must have been in the hypogeum below.

There was one small section of restored seats (the lighter area roughly in the middle). People were seated based on their social status, and their 'tickets' were numbered shards of pottery. The Colosseum could hold somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 people, but was designed with passages called vomitoria that were so efficient that supposedly, everyone could be seated within 15 minutes.

One area on the very top still had scaffolding; I'm not sure what they were doing to it.

We could already see the crowds of people building on the other side, and it wasn't even 9:30am.

Looking out toward Palatine Hill from the second level. We wandered around a little bit more, then made our way outside.

I made sure to walk around and get some good pictures outside, too.  :)

We took a few more looks around, then started to wander down some of the side streets nearby.

I love the colors in Italy...they're so bright and cheery. This was a random building we passed as we were walking.

After a few minutes, we wound up at the Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli. It was open to the public, so we decided to go inside. I had almost forgotten that it was Sunday until I saw them having mass in one of the smaller sections off to the side.

There were some really neat paintings on the ceiling. We hung out for a few minutes, then wandered back outside and kept walking.

The Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore was just a couple blocks from our hotel, so we decided to check that one out, too.

That one was even prettier than the first one.

Even cooler, they were having mass, complete with a choir. We sat down and hung out for a little while to watch, then eventually made our way outside and back to the hotel.

After changing into shorts (it was already getting pretty toasty), we wandered over to a little cafe for some coffee and a snack. I don't think I'd ever get sick of the views here in Italy.  :)   We hung out here for a bit, then decided to go explore a bit more.

I honestly can't remember where this was, and trying to look through all of the cathedrals in Rome on Google Maps would take me more time than I have. Either way, it was really pretty.

A little more walking later, we were at the Trevi Fountain. It was built in the 1700s, but the water source itself actually dates back to 19 BC.

What you can't see in these pictures are the hundreds of tourists crammed in around the edges of the fountain. It was PACKED. We hung out for a couple minutes to check out the view, then moved on.

Moved right on to the Fendi store, where I bought myself a, um, souvenir. Oops.  :)

A few more minutes of walking got us to the Spanish Steps. These were also built in the 1700s, and were also covered in tourists.

There were a lot of fancy stores in the area around the Spanish Steps, and Mark was especially happy to see a Lindt store. He took full advantage of their gelato counter.

We kept wandering and eventually wound up over at the Pantheon. There was a pretty big line to get in, but every few minutes or so they'd let a whole bunch of people in all at once. We almost decided to skip it, but figured we'd give the line a try and see how long it took.

It only took a few minutes, and was definitely worth the wait.

The Pantheon originally started out as a Roman temple, then was later changed to a church. It's been in continuous use since it was built sometime between 118 and 128 AD.

The light coming through the oculus was really cool. We looked around for a while, I took a pile of pictures, and we eventually made our way back outside.

Piazza Navona was only a few blocks away, so we wandered over there.

It was really big, with lots of fountains (and people). We sat down on the steps of one of the buildings for a few minutes and took a break in the shade.

One of the fountains in the square. We wandered all through Piazza Navona, then made our way over to another square...

...that was full of stalls selling all sorts of delicious food. Fruits and veggies and flowers and juices and tables heaped with pastas...it was really cool. We spent a while wandering around before eventually making our way back to the hotel via a tram and the Metro.

We hung out in the room for a little while, sipping some limoncello cream we had picked up in one of the stores and soaking up the air conditioning. I took a couple minutes to enjoy the souvenirs I had picked up earlier in the day.  :)

Mark did a little searching around online and we wound up going to Ristorante Alessio for dinner. It was a little restaurant hidden down a set of stairs, and everything was delicious.

Especially the lasagna.  :)

Mark really liked his dinner, too. We inhaled everything they put in front of us, polished off our bottle of wine, wandered back to the hotel, and spent the rest of the night watching Italian game shows before heading to bed. We had an early start planned for the next day!