Friday, August 10, 2007

Rome Day 2- July 25

I ran into a guy from NY who told me that you can get a bus to the Vatican and a day pass for only €4 for unlimited rides. Sounds like a good deal and easier on the legs, so I negotiate a purchase from a little convenience store down the street from the hotel and head to the Vatican.
I take a side trip to the Pantheon, which is stunning. It gives you a real sense of the power and technique of Roman engineering. It has been converted to a church dedicated to the Christian martyrs, so there is little of the original there. The kings Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I are buried there. There is very little of the original building left, I believe even the marble work is not original, but the overall structure is amazing and I guess we have to thank the church for preserving it.

I took another bus from the Pantheon to the Vatican. I did the obligatory wander through St. Peter’s square. I took a walk through the Vatican Grotto, where they bury the popes. The sarcophagi for many of the dead popes are impressive; several were reused Roman or medieval tombs. The tomb of John Paul II is simple in comparison, just a marble slab with his name. There was quite a large crowd hanging out there. Some praying on their knees on the hard marble floor, some passing rosaries to the guards (his was the only tomb guarded) to touch the floor.

Also in the Grotto is the “Tomb of St. Peter.” I believe they found the original tomb, with the body, not all that long ago. It is by far the most ornate; beautiful marble work, but covered in glass. I snuck a picture but I doubt it will come out.

The line through security had grown exponentially while I was in the Grotto, so I decided against going into St. Peter’s proper and headed to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. I had to leave Vatican City and walk around the walls to the other side of the city, which was long but worth it.

One piece of advice—Do not assume that if a sign is directing you to something in the Vatican, that you are heading in the right direction or are even reasonably close.

The Vatican Museum costs €13 to enter, but worth every penny. The art gallery was incredible. The range of the pieces and the beauty of them is really beyond description. I saw my first Di Vinci up close and personal. I was told by one guard that no photography was allowed, but another, half way through the gallery said it was OK, as long as there was no flash, so I went to town.
After the gallery, I headed toward the Sistine Chapel, which is at the end of a maze of rooms, all of which were impressive. On the way, I saw Raphael’s School of Athens up close. It is much larger than I expected and hard to take in all at once. The Chapel was everything I expected, but with a lot more people; we were jammed in shoulder to shoulder. The find of the afternoon was the Old Vatican Library, which was quite interesting, but my camera battery was low, so I was conservative with the pictures.

The bus ride back to the hotel was a disaster. I had to transfer from the 64 to the 62 bus, which took forever to show up. It took about 45 minutes to get from the Pantheon to the Hotel, by which time I was a soaking mess of sweat.

After a few drinks at the “Friends” outdoor café, I walked to the Spanish Steps again. That night there was a protest against the arrest of some Columbian human rights workers, so I joined in. The Columbian community in Rome know how to throw a protest—white flags and opera. The mass of people made the evening. A German woman with good English from Stuttgart offered me some pizza, which was very good. After getting a drink from the fountain, I headed toward Trevi, which is a really hopping spot. The fountain was not working, but the crowds gathered nonetheless. I walked to the nearby Cuba Café for some pizza and beer. The crowds were a lot of fun to watch, so I sat there for an hour and watched them go by.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Monday, August 06, 2007

July 24, 2007- Day 2

I have found Rome to be an expensive city. One of the few places where I can cut corners is food, so finding cheap/free places to eat is a priority. Luckily breakfast is free at the hotel and unlike the frozen muffins and instant coffee you would find in many US hotel breakfasts, the Gambrinus’ breakfast is real bacon and eggs and some very decent breads and fruits.

I started wandering down the 20th of September St towards the Imperial Forums (that’s Fora for you Latinists out there). On the way I visited the church of St. Susanna (she’s still there). I afterward learned that that church is the place where the Pope stuck Boston’s Cardinal Law when he absolutely fouled up the Boston Archdiocese after the clergy sex abuse scandal. The church is absolutely stunning, however. I struck up a conversation with a priest from NY who was serving as an attendant in the church; a nice enough fellow for a Yankees fan. I also stopped in the Church of St. Andrea. There are just so many beautiful churches in Rome; choices will have to be made if I am going to ever get to the Roman ruins.

The Roman heat is very intense, so I had to stop for a Coke. It is a bit cheaper on this end of the city, but not much. There is an intersection with four fountains (the Four Fountains, imaginatively enough) which is quite impressive on an artistic level—on the practical level as well. You just cannot overestimate the importance of these fountains in keeping people hydrated. The sidewalks, however, are very narrow and dilapidated. They are little more than a curb of badly worn marble.

The first stop along the Imperial Fora was Trajan’s Column and Forum. I paid €11 to get in and except for the sake of saying I was there, there was not much to merit the fee. You can get a good look at the column from the street, although it is currently covered with scaffolding for renovations. There were some interesting architectural fragments and walking through the market was neat, but it is pretty much a hole in the earth with part of a building in the back.

Walking down the Imperial Fora St, you can get a decent look (for free) at the Julian and Augustan Fora. Again, except for some architectural fragments, there is not much left, but you can get a good idea of how impressive they must have been in their prime.

I wandered up the Palatine Hill and looked over the ruins there. I paid €25 to get the “Archeological Ticket” which will get me into various sites in the city. I took a rest at the top of the hill in a little park to reflect a bit. The top of the Palatine is quiet and peaceful. The traffic noise just vanishes as you get up the hill and it is a little oasis of calm in the bustling city. There are even fountains up here, thank god, where I can fill my water bottles and soak my hat. The ruins up here are absolutely magnificent. I decided against the long lines at the Coliseum, which I can visit at my leisure thanks to the Archeological Ticket, but wandered past the Arches of Titus and Vespasian, which are in very good shape.

I walked back to the hotel because of some stomach issues and managed to buy some Imodium at the last open pharmacy in the city. I decided at that point to stick close to my home base to make sure it worked. It did, luckily, but to test it, I did have a few beers at an outdoor café nearby. I basically sat for a few hours and watched humanity pass me by.

Reflections on the day: The Roman churches are absolutely beautiful. The counter-reformation was very effective. There is nothing like them anywhere in the US that I have ever seen. The Fora are in poor shape, but you can get a glimpse at what they must have been like and from what I can imagine, must have been incredible. The serenity of the Palatine was almost spiritual; you could almost imagine you were in the countryside. The excavations are still doing on and the drawing work is still done by hand. The archeologists are not very talkative; they probably look upon the tourists as a distraction. The ruins are everywhere. Even the café I am sitting at is built into the old city walls, near the Porta Pia.

I am feeling a little tired out after all the walking, so I decided to call it a night after the beers and get some sleep.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Arriving in Rome

The following post, and all subsequent posts on Rome, are excerpted from my paper journal. I arrived back in the USA safe and sound on July 31.

I arrived in Rome with little difficulty. The only hassle was the change in the luggage limit to 33 to 20K in Kiev. I was a little bitter about the extra charge, but there was no way around it, except to abandon a good chunk of my cloths at the airport, which I was unprepared to do. The six hour layover seemed interminable, but in the end, I suppose it could have been much worse.

The airport shuttle driver drove me around a bit on the way to the hotel and gave me a good view of the Papal Square. The center of the city is beautiful. I was surprised at the amount of graffiti, however; it is everywhere and on everything.

I am staying at the Hotel Gambrinus, which is very nice. The room is small and the bed is passable. I don’t intend to spend much time there, so that should not matter much.

After settling in at the hotel and a quick dinner at the hotel restaurant (Lasagna Bolognese- the best I ever had!) I went for a late night walk. The first stop was the Spanish Steps, which are stunning. There is a view of St. Peter’s from the top. Huge crowds of people were just hanging out, singing, laughing; you had to maneuver around them to walk down. A fountain at the bottom was very crowded with people drinking and filling water bottles.

From the Steps, I wandered to the Trevi Fountain. The fountain is breathtaking; photos do not do it justice. Again, there are big crowds of people, taking in the sight. The amount of water running from the fountain is amazing, all the more impressive because of its age. The sculpture work is beautifully done, especially how the building melts into the fountain.

From Trevi, I walked to the Tritone Fountain, which was pretty desolate and anticlimactic after the last two stops, but impressive nonetheless.

My general impressions of Rome after a late night walk—Rome is a beautiful city. It is showing a little wear and tear but has a real majesty. There are many public fountains, 4-500 years old, which still work and provide cool, clean water to the tourists and locals. The inscriptions are in Latin, so I will have some practice while I am here.