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A Week in the Eternal City

"Ancient Footsteps Are Everywhere"

sunny 15 °C

Feb 22


Somewhere in the heart of Rome, we began our sightseeing. The bus and subway route worked out easily, and we got out at the "Spagna" station, near the "Spanish Steps." They were underwhelming. Because of winter (no azaleas) and renovations (the obelisk was covered), it seemed like a pretty drab marble staircase.

So, onward. The Trevi Fountain made more of an impression of the three of us. We heard it before we saw it, coming around the corner at one side of this block-wide fountain. Its carving spills out of the wall and foundation of the building behind it, all one structure. The temperature was about 18 degrees by now, and we enjoyed some time in the sun sitting beside the edge of the fountain. We threw the first coin over our shoulders to ensure "a safe return trip to Rome" (perhaps after our day trip to Pompei") and then a second coin for a wish. Then, because we had all these Tunisian coins, we kept throwing them in, making silly and serious wishes. Twelve coins in the fountain: which wish will the fountain bless?

A few blocks away, we came to the Pantheon. This was the ancient building I was most looking forward to seeing in Rome. I was pleased that Anica gasped "Wow! Look at that!" as soon as we came into the square. It needed no context to be impressive. However, once I said that it's an ancient Roman building 2000 years old, Anica was just flabbergasted. She's seen Roman ruins in Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and Spain, but this is completely intact. Saved by becoming a Christian church in 600, the Pantheon was the largest dome in the world for over a millennium. Inside we saw Raphael's tomb, and those of the first two Savoy kings (Anica signed the "guestbook", apparently throwing our support to their claims. Whoops!)

Light entering the Pantheon through its "oculus"

After that we spent some time in the Piazza Navona, a famous square that's actually an oval because it was once a race-track. We enjoyed the artists, street performers, musicians, and, of course, more fabulous fountains. Down a side street, we got gelato. Huge portions of gelato! Good value, actually, and a place to sit and watch everyone else negotiate their way down the cobblestone laneway. Also today we'd confirmed our addiction to bookstores, by browsing in an Italian bookstore, then a Spanish bookstore, then a French bookstore. As long as they have books!

Once again, we had dinner back at the apartment. Partly by choice, partly because, when we start early on the sightseeing, we can't make it to 8:00 before wanting dinner!

Feb 23


It was dazzlingly sunny, and much warmer than I'd dared to hope for in Rome again today. We didn't need coats of any kind. The perfect day to see the ruins of ancient Rome. We started with the Colosseum, beating the lineups by getting there at 9 AM. Before you even get out of the Metro station, you see it looming. It is big. Even now. With 50,000 seats, it once held just as many people as where the Toronto Blue Jays play their major league baseball. We were glad, however, that we'd been to El Jem, and walked under the floor, and to other amphitheatres and walked up the aisles and sat in the seats. You can't do that in Rome. You can just do a circuit around the ground level and a circuit around an upper level. It's the views from the outside and the views looking out that are the real attraction. And also the fact that this is the ultimate place for gladiator games.

Here's one of their unofficial wedding photos. Outside the Colosseum

We examined the Arch of Constantine outside the Colosseum, and then began our walk down the Via Sacra through the area known as the "Roman Forum." Yesterday, we'd bought "Rick Steve's Rome," a guidebook with a lot of self-guided tours, full of light information and anecdotes. Today, Anica read aloud and followed the maps for the "self-guided tours" to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Capitoline Museums. Sometimes one of us would take a turn, but it was mostly her. On a good day, like today, she's probably got more endurance and interest than Jenn or me.

The Forum is an amazing stretch of real estate. Highlights include the arch of Titus, woefully depicting the defeated Israelites; the Basica of Constantine (with three enormous arches still intact); the place where Julius Caesar's body was burned (with many fresh flower bouquets laid on it); the palace and houses of the Vestal Virgins (almost completely gone, but it was an interesting story to tell Anica, who is the same age as the girls were when chosen for 30 years of chaste service); and the Rostrum, Curia, ....lots.

The remaining arches of the Basilica of Constantine

At the far end of the Forum, we walked up the stairs to Capitol Hill, and the square designed by Michaelangelo, to enter the Capitoline Museum. Here is a museum that opened its doors before Columbus made his first voyage to the new world. There were a few highlights that we really wanted to see, namely the pieces of the colossal statue of Constantine, the sculpture of Romulus and Remus with the she-wolf, and the statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback. There were other items that caught our eye, too, like statues of centaurs, of Pan, and of Medusa. And it had a good cafeteria for lunch! We did that first.

Constantine is #1!

To finish a very full day of sightseeing, we went up to Palatine Hill, mainly because it's included in the ticket price for the Colosseum. This is where we ran out of steam, which was fine, because it's more of an adjunct to the main sights of the Forum. We did see the great view over the Forum and Colosseum, and, on the opposite side of the hill, a view over what was once the Circus Maximus. The oval shape of the long chariot track is still obvious, and a lone cypress tree marks the "turn." The cars, smaller than matchbox cars from our vantage point, parked all around the top of the hill, helped show how 250,000 people could gather to watch the chariot races. Yes, a quarter of a million people, on a regular basis.

Home for dinner again. Meatballs, risotto and a salad, all fresh from the supermercato down the street! We're all enjoying Jenn's cooking. We're tired, but happy. Tomorrow, Sunday, will be our "day of rest."

Feb 25


Well-rested, from a day where the most taxing activity was walking to the gelateria, we took on the sights of Vatican City. Talk about a full day! The lineup was huge for the Vatican Museum, stretching around the walls of Vatican City for more than two blocks. This was 9:30 in the morning, half an hour before it opened, and the same time we'd got to the Colosseum to find no lineup. But it moved quickly and we were inside in 40 minutes.

Right from the start, I confirmed my wildest imaginings about what treasures the Vatican has amassed. Just walking down any corridor and looking at the ceiling would be a world-class architectural and artistic experience.

We enjoyed seeing their Egyptian collection, especially Anica. They have an unwrapped mummy (not royal), some well-decorated sarcophaguses and many other well-chosen (plundered) items. Not to mention many of the lioness/goddess stations from the temple of Mut at Karnak. In a related area, there's wonderful examples of Sumerian cuneiform writing. The first writing! Here I am typing this on a computer keyboard and sending it around the world electronically, yet what the Sumerians invented would have seemed even more incredible in its time. They even had envelopes, we saw today.

The Greek area was a revelation. Incredible sculptures. One, entitled Laocoon, was used as the image on our ticket stub, and had been buried and lost for a thousand years until the Renaissance. It showed a Trojan trying to warn of the Greeks being attacked by snakes.

We laughed at the various sizes of fig leaves covering the male bits and pieces. Anica delighted in pointing out the statues that weren't covered by a fig leaf.

In the tapestries hall, where the tapestries themselves were epic, we were even more delighted by the ceilings, which seemed to be relief sculpting, but were "just" painted.

Then, the Raphael rooms: I was most looking forward to seeing "The School of Athens," because of how often I've used it to explain how the Renaissance was connected to antiquity. And, yes, this fresco is far better in person that it is in any reproduction. Really, you have to be in that particular room to understand its contours by seeing where the doors are.

Finally, we arrived at the Sistine Chapel. This was harder to enjoy. First of all, I didn't realize how plain (relatively) the room itself is. A long rectangle. Secondly, there were huge crowds, and guards shouted "silencio" every couple of minutes. We didn't take pictures because you weren't allowed, but many did (or tried) and then the guards dealt with that. Thirdly, it's near the end of the galleries, so you're already overwhelmed by hours of gallery-going. Finally, you had to crane your neck just to look at...okay, I guess that last criticism just goes to show how painful (you might say it was "agony") it was for Michelangelo to paint the ceiling. If it weren't for the "hype," there's no doubt I would be awestruck. It's beautiful, and the little square they left uncleaned in the corner shows how dark and drab it was before the restoration. I liked "The Last Judgement" on the end wall, in particular, with the one angel holding an entire human skin that's a Michelangelo self-portrait. I liked the "Creation" panel, of course, and also the one of Adam and Eve being banished from Eden.

After a visit to the "Pinoateca" gallery, and some pizza in the cafeteria, we walked over to St. Peter's Square. Anica said she'd like to come back at Christmas when she's 24 because that's the next time the "holy door" to the right of the main entrance will open. She also noticed the gold background of the letter running all the way around the church. She couldn't tell, from ground level, that each letter is seven feet tall! Nor could she tell, not being able to read Latin (as if I can!) that these are all the words Jesus spoke to Peter. Thank-you, tourist guidebook.

I didn't realize that the "Vatican II/good Pope," or Pope John XXIII, is on display under glass here in St. Peter's. Some people just stroll by, snap a picture (with flash, even) and then move on as if they haven't given a thought, or felt the need to show any respect to his body.

After seeing the rest of the highlights (Bernini's altar, the dome, Michelangelo's "Pieta" sculpture...), we plopped ourselves down in the sun, starting to set over St. Peter's Square. Again today, except when it rained briefly and conveniently when we were inside the gallery, it was warm enough to not even need a jacket.

Feb 26


Here's how today went: first we saw graves without bones and then we saw bones without graves. Let me explain about our "day of the dead." We headed off on foot from our apartment in the morning, because we're within walking distance of Via Appia Antica (or the ancient Appian way). This was the first of the great Roman roads, built in 312 B.C. and we walked along a stretch that still has the original pavement of cobblestones. Along the way we had a tour of St. Sebastian's Catabombs, part of the miles of eary Christian underground graveyards in what were then (and still are now) the suburbs of Rome. It was suitable creepy, although all the actual bones are gone so it's tunnel after tunnel of empty slots and coffins.

Then we hopped on the bus, after a harrowing walk down the busy, narrow, modern part of the Appian Way, and later in the day visited the Capuchin crypt. Here were bones without graves. The Capuchin monks, in the process of moving, began a morbid "art" project of arranging the bones of their brothers. There are a half dozen vaults, and each has a type of bone that dominates, such as the room of pelvic bones. Skulls are everywhere. The message at the end reads: "we once were what you are; you will be what we are." True, but I don't think my skeleton will be wired to the ceiling holding a sycthe made out of somebody else's bones!

Feb 27


Our only rainy day in Rome, and wouldn't you know it, we were hoping to go to Borghese Gardens, the central park of Rome. to But we didn't dare complain about the weather because we've been absolutely blessed this week. Even today, we got to the park, and had a good long time at a playground area before it started raining. It had unique climbing structures and a children's library/store, too.

So we went back to the Spanish Steps area and had a big, long lunch at a traditional (though touristy) Italian restaurant.

Rome has been magnificent and our apartment has been quite good. It was never as cold again as the first night, when the heat had been off for who knows how long. And we've been able to pick up (inconsistently) a weak wireless signal. Those are two mild culture shocks that we've overcome, then: laws about heating and wireless internet in Italy. By law, heating can only be on certain hours of the day. And unsecured wireless internet signals are supposed to be illegal (under anti-terrorist laws, always a convenient excuse). One we haven't found a way around is the system for mailing packages. It's rivalled only by India for bother. Jenn has also had her purse unzipped her more than anywhere else, although nothing's been stolen from it. The "crazy" traffic in Rome we've heard about is actually pretty tame. Using our experience from Asia, we're able to cross streets easily and safely. People actually follow us! We've also become quite used to the bus/subway routes, and get around those like locals. So long, Route 716 to Garbatella station!

Anica in our South Rome flat

Feb 28


An overnight sojurn to Pompei, on Anica's "must-see" list since she read the Magic Treehouse book about it over two years ago. It was nice to see her enthusiasm for the place undimmed. Jenn had found a charming hotel in Pompei over the internet, and haggled a discount, and we were delighted that Hotel Diana let us check in really, really early - 10:30 in the morning. We were able to enjoy a good long visit to the Pompei ruins. And then they recommended a local restaurant for us (that didn't break the bank), so we had a nice dinner afterwards. As for what we saw there, I'll leave that mainly to Anica's diary entry to describe. I've already read it, and she doe a great job. In fact, I suspect most of you reading our blog probably skip to Anica's entries! We did take a peek at the Pompei brothel with its famous frescoes. Since Anica's already seen the Sousse red light district and Pisa streetwalkers (or chair-sitters), we figured this was tamer. Pompei is massive, and once again, I'm glad we'd seen the ruins of Tunisia and Jordan first, where you have to use your imagination, and then Rome and Pompei, where the full effect is all the more appreciated.
Feb 22


"The First Sighseeing Day"

Today we went on our first Italian metro (not a very intresting annoucement). When we exited we saw the not-in-Spain "Spanish Steps." Dirty, wet (and I thought it was from the sewer!) Not as good as the in-Spain Spanish Steps. Ha ha. There was also a pretty fountain.

Trevi fountain: ok, this was the 5-star fountain. Huge and pretty, Trevi Fountain has images of Neptune and some slaves. Maybe someone else. Doing the "get money - wish you'd go back to Rome - throw it over your back" thing made me feel embareses. I don't know why?! We went to have lunch at McDonald's.

Pantheon: OH-My GOSH! 2000 years old and not in ruins - yikes! Relly not in ruins...2000 years...How? How? I noticed that the eye in the building was the building's only light (unless you count the doors open). I had lots of quistions about it.

Did you know? Jennifer had had 100 or more hawkers and she is still not used to them. See, she just said I want to KICK THEM! HAO-YAH.

Piazza Navona. We had Italian gelato!! Went home, had dinner, G.N.

[The Sweet Life. Italian gelato near the Trevi Fountain

Feb 23


"The Real 'Roman' Amphitheatre"

We got to the metro stop, climbed up the stairs: what did we find? The Colosseum. In ruins, but amazing, the colosseum was a in-Rome Roman amphitheatre. Everybody enjoyed the place in terms of not being disturbed. You would think you'd walk inside the Colosseum and find a big lineup, right? No. Sometimes you will, sometimes you won't. We got a short lineup. You couldn't climb it which made me upset, but it is in ruins! You can't build it back together with no pieces! We moved on the Arch of Constantine, after the Colosseum. The Arch of Constantine had many relifs of the long-lost Empror.

The Forum, Palentine Hill, and Capitol Hill...and the arch of Severus Snape (also known as Septimus Severus; kids, do you see why?) Now, most of the Forum hills and arches were in ruins, some only having 2 colums left, but still with a Rick Steves self guided tour it was enjoyable. 75 feet high arches ina basilaca, even though we didn't get to see the 130 feet hight roof, we still saw big (only thing left) arches! One temple there was only 3 or 5 coulems standing! We went up to the pace where Caesar was burned on the spot! There were still floweres there! When we got the arch of Septimus Severus, I all of a sudden shouted, "Dad! Look: the arch of Severus Snape!" I knew it wasen't but it only was a joke!

We went up Capital hill to have lunch and look at the museum. The one thing me and Dad enjoyed apart from the big peices of body from Constantine was the arm that you could stick half of your arm under and make it look like you had a tiny arm and a huge other half! We went up Palentine Hill, went home, had dinner (at home), G.N! P.S. Mummy makes good dinners!
Feb 25


"The Vatican: a new country with no borders"

OK, I diden't really think this was a country, but it did have its own currency and post office. The museum had a really good Egyptian section with 2 mummies, poettery, sargophhagesis. Also one section by it had the world's first writing! We saw fig leaves over the (sorry) penis's :) ha ha! they were plaster though :( One statue had a man and two kids being atackked by snakes. Another, hunting. The hall of animels was neat, exept for having dog hunting scenes. The tapastries, paintings, stautes were pretty and my favrite 3 rooms were Egyptian, Animal and tapastries. I diden't like the Sistine Chapel as much as I thought I would - but the ceiling: pretty. Had lunch, and went to St. Peter's Basilaca, which was pretty and had a persons body. We sat on St.Peters square with its fountins and obilisk. Went home, had dinner (at home), G.N.!

Here's a descriptive story or essay by Anica that she wrote today. She thought it would fit in well with our travel blog. As usual, I'll type it exactly as she wrote it in terms of spelling and punctuation. This time, I added paragraphs. -Rob

"The World"

Sometimes, I think that the world is the brain of a guenis-world-record sized head. The smallest planet is his belly, and the biggest; his leg. The people who live in the brain have never found a way out. But once only, the World bumpted his head and cracked open a hole at the top. That was the day we invented rocketships.

Also, one day, there was a big storm in the worlds hometown. It knocked out t.v. He now dreams of it: that's why we have t.v. He sings, so we have music too.

The world has lived for over a thousand years. He is the oldest person in his hometown. The police are angels. Evreybody who cares (like poilce, nurses, docters) is a angel. Crimanals, there demons. The crimanals are only there because the world knows everybody will have hard times. Like the day we invented rockets.

The world dreams of a langue, some langue. It could be English, German, Italian, Spanish, French, any one. We have letters because he wants them.

The water is his hair. Little, circle shaped islands could be his eyes and nose, a crescent shaped island could be his mouth. Everything else: freckels.

Animals they come from the world's sister. One time she saw a animel. She is the god of animals. Grownups (and seniors) are the world's sisters and brothers, and us, kids, daughters or sons.

One day the world will die and everything will be deystored. The End.

Feb 26


"Death Day with artistic bones"

O.K., I know we've had days like this but this was the real death day. We went to the cattacombs (underground tombs hat Christins made outside Rome.) We had a guide that was o.k. but not perfect in English. Such as: "twenty tuh." "Excuse me" said a women. Twenty two?" "Yes. twenty tuh" (?) No bones though and only 2 (one practicly ruined) sarcohaguses. We walked down the Appian Way with its original chariot marks and stones. We took a look at the Trevi fountin (having gone on Metro from Palentine Hill to that) and went to lunch at a wood oven pizza place. After, we went to a crypt, which had full monks with crosses and bones for the walls, ceiling and lights. They also had a skelaton desinged to be the Grim Reeper. Went home, had dinner. G.N.

Feb 28


"Pompei: The Lava City"

We drove. Sounds like (so far), today might not be intresting. But, we did, though, see Pompei! I think that dying the way some people dyed was painfull. I do now that death (if you get killed) can always be painfull. But just looking at how they're trying to cover them selfs up, dog twisting and barking in pain...I feel...bad. We sw the amphathire which would of been covered with a roof in 79 AD. We also aw tombs of people who died before the volcano erupted. We got more into the main town which had houses you could peek into to guess wheter the family was rich or poor or mid-range and fast food outlets (kids and parents: not your usal McDonalds or Burger King), that you could go behind the counter and pretend you where baking something fresh from the oven.

Anica demonstrates use of the Pompei fast food corner counter

The crosswalks where fun too! They were oval rocks you jumped on to get to the other side. Pretending you where in a chariot on the chariot-wheel-marked roads and walking on the sidewalks was fun too.

Pompei crosswalk

We also went to a bakery which had flour things donkeys could push around, a oven, and it was not very ruined.

The largely-intact Pompei bakery

Went home,had dinner, G.N.!

Posted by jennrob 11:53 Archived in Italy

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So did you sing twelve coins in the fountain? The Trevi fountain is beautiful at night. Anica, I will be interested to hear what you think of the "David" after you have seen the Pieta. THe "Bones Church" is really something. I recently read about one in Prague too! Anica, isn't Pompeii cool. I recently read a very interesting adult novel about the aqua duct system. Have you read Crispin by Avi? It is a good read set in England. Will you be going to Durham England? I went to the U of Durham and lived in the Castle Keep. My experiences living overseas for 5 years are nothing compared to you Big Adventure! Jaclyn does not want tp eat lamb, (Why isn't it called sheep?). She will eat beef and potatoes! Working hard to save money.

by Mum 2

Looking good guys. Anica, you're story on the world was so creative and mature sounding....good work! I also went to the Cattacombs and they were one of my favourite tours of my Italy trip. I didn't get to Pompei but saw Herculaneum instead. It was fascinating to see the perfectly preserved homes and infrastructure. The "Gypsies" of Italy can be annoying so keep your eye on them especially the kids. But most of all continue to have fun.

by JBRobinson

Hi Rob, Jenn, & Anica,
We really enjoyed this wonderful description of your time in Rome. It makes us remember our times there too.
Anica's writing amazes us once again. Weren't you glad to see the "real" colisseum after viewing so many copies? Mom's cooking must taste great after so many restaurant meals.
Keep enjoying Italy & its beautiful sights.
M&D, H&D, N&G xxxooo

by hdbutters

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