Arrivederci, Roma (but we’ll be back)

We met up with Rome in Limo tours right off the ship this morning. In addition to our usual van-mates, we had a couple from Texas, Greg and Toan, as well as Christine, who was traveling with her aunt. Greg was sick, and was hacking up his germs all over the place. He couldn’t be bothered to cover his mouth or use a kleenex, so we were all most unhappy to be stuck in a small space with him. There is quite a bit of illness on board the ship right now, and we are very germ conscious. We certainly don’t want to miss any of our tours because we are sick! We all took to covering our mouths and noses with our clothing every time he coughed or sneezed. Gross.

Today, the van had free wi-fi. But, did I bring my iPad? Heck no! It would’ve been an excellent opportunity to get all of my apps updated, as well as get caught up on email and bill paying. Drat!

It was about an hour and a quarter drive from the port of Civitavecchia to Rome. Civitavecchia literally means “old city” (Civita = old, vecchia = city). The drivers here are just as nutso as the drivers around Naples. We passed through many traffic circles (safer than traffic lights, I guess). Rome was founded in 753 BC by Romulus, the 1st of 7 kings of Rome. Around 5 million people live in Rome, including the surrounding areas. Our first stop was at a statue of Garibaldi, which gave us our first views of Rome. On the statue was the quote, “Roma O Morte”, which means conquer Rome or die. In Rome, everything must be built below the level of St. Peter’s Basilica.

On to the Vatican, which sits on Vatican Hill. In 1929, the Vatican became a country. There are people that live here year round (in addition to the obvious ones, like the Pope and Cardinals!). In order to become a citizen, you must marry someone that is already a citizen, unless you are a priest or nun. St. Peter was crucified upside down here by Emperor Nero (64-68 AD). Constantine legalized Christianity, and constructed a basilica over the grave. Michelangelo’s dome was added around 1500 AD; previously, the building had a rectangular body with a triangular roof.

We went through security and entered the Vatican museums. The Pinecone Courtyard denotes new life and rebirth. There is considerable symbolism in the artwork/statuary contained in the courtyard. Peacocks are a symbol of phoenix. In the 90’s, a spinning orb was added to the courtyard, commissioned by Pope John Paul II. It is a sphere within a sphere. Popes welcomed important visitors in this courtyard.

We then went into a building which would eventually lead us to the Sistine Chapel. There was an incredible amount of statues and other artwork in this building. 4th century BC marble was used to decorate. At this point of the tour, Greg decided he was not interested in learning about the history of the Vatican, and left the group. He was angry that he could not go at his own pace. This upset the tour guide, because she is responsible for the behavior of the members of the group. In other words, if he damaged any of the property, she could be held responsible. She felt really bad because she was worried that the rest of us were not enjoying the tour, as well as being concerned for what Greg might do on his own. It was pretty awkward for all concerned. Toan, his husband, stayed with the rest of us, but stayed in contact with Greg by phone.

The guide taught us a bit about the history of Catholicism, including how the church encouraged its poor constituents to make pilgrimages to Rome to pray in each basilica, and, of course, to leave donations (salvations to cleanse their souls). Sistine was a Pope’s name, in case you ever wondered how the Sistine Chapel got its name. No photography is allowed in the Sistine Chapel, so I have no pictures of it.

In order to get to the chapel, we passed through a series of galleries. First was the gallery of marbles. Next was the gallery of tapestries. As you can imagine, marble isn’t a very warm material, so the tapestries that line the walls helped to keep the rooms comfortable. Finally, you pass through the gallery of maps. As new information about the world was learned, new maps were painted to reflect his new knowledge. So, the maps of the world at the beginning of the gallery look quite different than the ones at the end. From here, we entered the Sistine Chapel.

Interestingly enough, prior to when Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the chapel, he had only done a small amount of painting. He learned to fresco while working – almost 4 years. The first three panels on the ceiling are about creation. The next 3 are the creation of humankind up to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden. Panels 7-9 are about the flood, and finally, the last judgment. The final panel was painted 25 years later (panels 1-9 were painted between 1508 and 1512). The tour guide wasn’t supposed to talk to us while we were in the chapel, but she did anyhow (very quietly). The chapel was quite crowded, which made meditation or peaceful reflection very difficult.

Our final stop at the Vatican was St. Peter’s Basilica. This is the largest basilica in the world. Outside the basilica, we could see the balcony where the Pope gives his holy blessings. We could also see the chimneys that are watched when a new pope is to be announced. The color of the smoke coming out of the chimneys tells whether or not a new pope has been decided on yet.

Not too surprisingly, the interior of the basilica is spectacular. There are several doors. We were impressed by the door of Martyrs (in a gory sort of way). There is a wide main hallway that leads to the altar, but along each side of this hallway are smaller chapels. We were able to view Michelangelo’s original Pieta, which he sculpted at the age of 23. It is the largest sculpture he created. His second Pieta is in Florence, and his third in Milan. One of my disappointments from this trip is that we were on such a tight time schedule that we did not have enough time to do anything other than walk through the basilica quickly. I desperately wanted some time to simply worship; the magnificence and beauty of the church was literally awe-inspiring. I will come back here another time and spend more time. We caught up with Greg here, so he rejoined us for the rest of the day.

We talked our tour guide into giving us 5 minutes to go to one of the Vatican gift shops. Christine’s mother is Catholic; she wanted to get her a souvenir. One of my good friends is going through chemo for breast cancer, and is a devout Catholic; I wanted to get her a memento as well. Across from the gift shop we could see a couple of the Swiss Guards that guard Vatican City. Cool outfits!

Driving to the Pantheon, we passed tons of priests, heading to a meeting that had been called at the Vatican. This was the reason our original tour time had been changed; the Vatican would be closed to outsiders during the afternoon.

The Pantheon is a well-preserved ancient Roman temple dedicated to the gods of pagan Rome. It was built between 118 and 125 AD, and was the first dome in history (and is still the largest) It was converted to a church in 608 AD. Its main unique feature is its massive dome; an architectural marvel considering when it was built. We looked around a bit, and then were given some free time. We passed an Indian guy levitating outside the Pantheon. Of course, I had to pay him a Euro to have my picture taken with him.

The Pantheon is not too far from the Trevi fountain. The Trevi fountain had just been refurbished and was scheduled to reopen. . .tomorrow. We still wanted to see it, but our hunger got the best of us, so we stopped for lunch instead. We took an outdoor table so we could watch the tourists go by. While we waited, we spotted Amin and Zahra, so asked them to join us for lunch. The restaurant had a 13 Euro tourist menu, which included an appetizer (bruschetta – very delicious!), a main course and a soft drink. I had to have lasagna, and it was really tasty. We never did get to the Trevi fountain, but will be returning to Rome in the fall of 2016, even though we didn’t toss a coin in this time!

We met up with our group again, and headed to the Colosseum/Forum area. The Colosseum was really cool. You could just imagine the gladiators and chariot races! The Coloseum was built in 72 AD by Emperor Vespasia. Of course, the emperor did not actually build the structure, that was done by Jewish slaves, and took 8 years. Back in the day, there were 500+ gladiators. There was a level below ground that the gladiators, animals, and Christians were kept before being brought up to ground level to entertain the masses. A day at the Flavus Amphitheater (Colosseum) began in the morning with animals being hunted. In the afternoon the gladiators were the main attraction. In between, execution of Christians took place using lions (Christianity was a crime). There were 80 arches/entrances to the Colosseum, which seated 50,000 people. The arena area itself was covered in sand, which made it easier to clean the blood after the day’s entertainment.  I found out after we got home that you can take a tour of “gladiator level”; we will definitely do this when we return to Rome!

We finished the day with a driving tour of Rome. We passed by the Roman Forums, but did not get a chance to get out and explore. We drove through the Piazza Venezia, which is the center of Rome. We saw the Vittoriano, which is white palace the where Mussolini gave his speeches in front of (on the balcony). Italians aren’t too crazy about that particular part of the palace’s history!

Our final view of Rome was an optical illusion by the tour guide (one he likes to show his dates, apparently). Normally, when you drive closer to something, it looks larger, and as you drive away, smaller. He drove us to a spot overlooking St. Peter’s Basilica, and had us look behind us. As we got further away from the Basilica, it seemed to grow in size, appearing larger and larger. Weird.

Another amazing day. The crowded streets of Rome gave Clayton plenty more opportunities to “scusi” everyone.   Lots of napping on the drive back to the ship.

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