Ness' Italian trip report

Old Jan 14th, 2008, 12:15 PM
  #41  
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Hi bfrac - power sightseeing is great as long as you've planned I think. It was amazing how much we could see and the excitement of being in Rome kept us going... definitely. But ouch, I still remember walking on those cobblestones - that was what took its toll!
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Old Jan 14th, 2008, 12:17 PM
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Day Fifteen - Vatican City

This morning, we decided on an early start, foregoing our included breakfast and strolling up to the Vatican along the Tiber River as it wasn't all that far.

It was nice to arrive there early, as the Piazza San Pietro was largely deserted at that hour and it was nice to have that first impression. The piazza is beautiful, with the semicircular colonnades all around and 88 columns topped with 140 statues of saints, the Egyptian obelisk (from the original Circus Maximus), two glorious fountains and the Basilica itself. Of course, it was designed by Bernini, who has left his mark in such an incredible way on the urban landscape of Rome.

Vatican City is the smallest sovereign state in the world, with its own postal service, army of Swiss guards, newspaper, radio station and currency. After taking a few photos we set off in search of the entry to the Vatican Museums.

Having heard the horror stories about the general admission queue, and forewarned about the changes to the opening times for the public, I'd gone online and booked us a place on a Rome Museum tour. Using this company, we are able to enter at the earlier time, and through the group entrance...so the investment was well worth it, and only a few euros each extra than regular admission price.

This company has been pretty well set up to get tourists into the museums quicker, and it certainly did that for us. Already, at the early hour (7:30am) the queue to get in was substantial. These people would be waiting there until the museum was opened to the public at 11am so I did not envy them.

We arrived at the meeting point, and as described, the Rome Museum representative was there, holding up a laminated sign and checking off names. We retrieved our passes and then moved off to join the end of the tour groups queue.

As you would expect, security is high here - we had to show our group passes twice, before we even reached the actual security scanning area. Finally, we had to show the passes once more before being issued with our actual admission tickets. Once in, we were given a map and were told we were free to go and do as we wished.

The facade of being a "tour group" was therefore dropped as soon as we went inside and we quite happily wandered off. Having not had breakfast we decided to go straight to the cafe in the building - and it was a good decision as it was deserted so we enjoyed our cappuccino and cornetto in peace and quiet and contemplated how we would tackle the most famous museum in the world.
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Old Jan 14th, 2008, 05:26 PM
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I'm also enjoying this report!

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Old Jan 15th, 2008, 03:00 AM
  #44  
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It is actually quite difficult to make sense of the place, and the map was not really much help. The complex is made up of two palaces - the Vatican Palace and the Belvedere Palace, which are linked by two long galleries. The exhibits are located in some small rooms and many corridors.

Once we got going though, we found that visitors are channelled through the complex, it is very one-way and you end up passing through most of the major rooms anyway.

First, were the vast sculpture collections, housed in the former living quarters of Popes Pius and Innocent - the classical statuary of the Museo Gregoriano Profano whose octagonal rooms were particularly pleasant as they are located around a small court yard. At this early hour, we enjoyed the luxury of being able to sit on one of the stone benches while we listened to the audio guide.

For a few minutes we were actually alone in this area - surrounded by centuries of incredible art, with the sun shining and the water feature gently tinkling. I thought - this is the way this place SHOULD be seen, but we knew that sort of serenity probably wouldn't last for long!

We were right. As we moved deeper into the museum, the crowd continued to swell. Swept up in the tide moving through it was difficult in places to be able to stand and take in the exhibits properly. Next, we moved into the Museo Pio-Christiano where we saw many relics and sarcophagi. We visited the Egyptian antiquities in the Museo Gregoriano Egizio - and here there were two mummies on display. From this point on, we moved into smaller interlinking rooms and areas called the Museo Pio Clementino. Among the highlights were the animal sculpture gallery, the Cabinet of the Masks (Gabinetto delle Maschere), the Room of the Muses (Sala delle Muse), the Round Room (Sala Rotonda) - where we saw the amazing bronze statue of Hercules, a black and white mosaic floor covered in battle scenes and a massive basin which took up most of the space - it came from Nero's Domus Aurea.

We passed through many other small rooms containing artefacts, Etruscan sculpture and sarcophagi before coming to the passage section - long galleries that lead into the Vatican Palace and bring us closer to the two jewels - the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel.

The Galleria degli Arazzi (Tapestry Gallery) was wonderful, but the crowd was so thick at this point that seeing the tapestries fully just wasn't possible. One of the works that caught my eye was the Slaughter of the Innocents - a tapestry depicting the Old Testament story about the killing of male infants - it captured the terror and mood of the story exceptionally well.

Looking at the ceiling was just as breathtaking - the ornate detail of the decorations was just a reminder of the wealth of this museum, and the opulence of the Vatican. I heard one tour guide describe it as "baroque art on crack", and the building itself is a work of art, - the priceless art within it the icing on an already rich cake. We passed through a large set of doors into the next long chamber - the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche (Map Gallery). I loved this room - frescoed on the walls were topographical maps describing the features of each of the regions of Italy and the Roman Empire.
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Old Jan 16th, 2008, 01:12 AM
  #45  
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And finally, we prepared to enter the Raphael Stanze - a collection of chambers either designed or painted by the great master. I loved the anecdote I overheard here about the fact that while Raphael was working on these frescoes, Michelangelo was working on St Peter's. The two great artists working in the same complex.

There are four Raphael Rooms - the former private quarters of Pope Julius II. The most enthralling room was the third, the Stanza della Segnatura - which contains the School of Athens, and the Disputation on the Sacrament. The School of Athens is mind blowing. We lingered in here as tour groups came and went, lapping up all of the audio guide commentary and studying the works.

I knew the Sistine Chapel was next, but I just loved the Raphael rooms - I'd gained a new appreciation for Raphael and I liked the softer, rounded shapes he used for the human form - the subjects look almost cherubic. As I listened to the audio guide, the stories came alive before my eyes. Amazing, amazing, amazing.

We descended some stairs to make our way to the most sacred place within the complex - the famous Sistine Chapel. Not sure what I was expecting as I knew the crowds would be large but I was thinking along the lines of an awed reverence, hushed tones, and some movement. What I didn't expect was a noisy hubbub, tourists running around, calling out, taking flash photos and disrespecting the place. On the way in, I actually saw a tourist reach up and scratch at a piece of art! The security guards rushed over but even so, I could not believe anyone would DARE touch the art, let alone scratch at the surface of a painting with their fingernail!

Once I was over the disappointment of what greeted me in the Cappella Sistina I was able to fully appreciate the incredible Last Judgement by Michelangelo. We listened to the commentaries for the Genesis ceiling frescos as well as the Last Judgement, but it really was the Last Judgement that captured my attention. The piece shows Christ as the judge of mankind after his ascension and assembled beside him are angels and saints, as well as Mary. There are so many layers to the piece but it is the dark and violent depiction of hell that makes it so powerful - here the souls of the dead are torn from their graves to face the wrath of God. The funny thing is that there are masterpieces from the likes of Botticelli and Ghirlandio in here, but no one ever notices them, because the Michelangelos are so amazing.

And that was the end of our Vatican Museums visit. We went to the post office and sent some postcards and a picked up a couple of souvenirs. We then left the building in search of lunch before attempting the Basilica. At 3:15pm we had an appointment with the Ufficio Scavi to visit the necropolis beneath the Basilica which was going to be the highlight of the day.
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Old Jan 16th, 2008, 01:35 AM
  #46  
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And I really don't want to post up the detailed scavi tour notes - because if you haven't been or are planning your trip I don't want it to spoil the experience for you - but it was one of the most incredible parts of our trip - absolutely!
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Old Jan 16th, 2008, 01:38 AM
  #47  
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Unfortunately we got sucked into a tourist trap cafeteria vortex - the food was the worst we'd had yet on the trip but we consoled ourselves by glancing at the queue for the Museums that now stretched for about six blocks, wrapping around the palace walls.

After sitting for a while on the steps in the piazza, we joined the queue to go in and view St Peter's. Once again we managed to get ourselves in the wrong queue - for the dome climbers, when all we had time for really was to see the inside of the Basilica. First we accidentally walked down into the crypt where all the popes are buried, and where we viewed the tomb of Pope John Paul II. There were a lot of pilgrims here offering up prayers before his tomb. I loved it how tourists walked up where they were knelt in prayer and snapped flash photos - unbelievable.

Entering the wrong way was not a bad mistake to make though, because on the other side when we came out we saw the entrance for the Scavi (or Excavation) Office, which would make coming back later in the day easier as we knew where to go. At the gate we also saw the Swiss Guards up close, in their interesting uniforms consisting of flowing multicoloured robes in red, yellow and blue, a white ruffled collar and black berets. One was posing for a photo with a baby but when another tourist tried to arrange one for herself, the guard said "No, for babies only!"

Back around to the entrance and we finally entered the most famous Catholic Church in the world. And it didn't disappoint us on any level. It is above and beyond any other building I've seen and it took me a couple of times around to take everything in and read the commentaries from my guidebook.

The papal altar has above it Bernini's exquisite bronze baldachin and the huge dome is supported by Michelangelo's four massive columns. Each column is dedicated to a saint and sculptures rise out and across them, the movement in the marble amazing - they looked truly otherworldly.

Other highlights were the statue of St Peter, whose foot has been worn down over many centuries of pilgrims who plant a kiss upon it and caress it and of course the moving Pieta by Michelangelo which is now sadly encased behind bullet proof glass after a madman attacked it in the 1970s. It was a really special experience to be there in St Peter's.

We rested for a while in the courtyard outside, next to a fountain with potable water - a steady stream of tourists filed past and filled up their water bottles. We did too, so that we could say we drank the water from a sacred place. And here, we waited until it was our appointment time for the excavations. When we went around to pick up our tickets there was a small group of American pilgrims who looked like they were going through with us, they joined hands and offered up a prayer together. Our tour guide emerged from the office - his name was Father Pieter, from the Netherlands and he was great, very informed and passionate with a good sense of humour.

The tour provided much more than I'd expected. It wasn't just the viewing of papal tombs that I'd anticipated, but what unfolded was a very interesting story about the location, finding of and rediscovering of the tomb of St Peter, Jesus' right hand man and the 'rock upon which he would build his church'.... now fast forward a bit...
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Old Jan 16th, 2008, 01:44 AM
  #48  
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As we walked back to Trastevere, we talked about how wonderful it all was. As we walked we saw Father Pieter dash out, briefcase in hand on his way home. When we got back to the B&B I crashed out for three hours in a deep sleep - much needed refreshing time.

When I woke up it was about 8:30 and about dinner time (Roman time). We decided that dinner in Trastevere was the way to go so I consulted the guidebook for a good recommendation. We decided on Alle Fratte di Trastevere - highly recommended on the travel forums and a trattoria serving good local food.

Again, the place was full of tourists (almost 100% from what I could make out) but we tried to pretend we were still in Italy, and tried to eat like the Italians - ordering an antipasti, a pasta primi and a secondi but it really was way too much for us. I loved the antipasti and since being in Rome I have really embraced it - the fresh mozzarella, bocconcini, salami etc. Our primi was a carbonara and secondi was the saltimbocca again (love this stuff). There was not even room for a gelati tonight.

All up the restaurant was ok - not wow factor and not as good as we were expecting, but one can only try to do the research and make informed choices but it doesn't always work out.
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Old Jan 16th, 2008, 11:03 AM
  #49  
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Day Sixteen - Roman Wedding

It was a comedy of errors on the morning of our wedding, although we did enjoy a nice breakfast together at the piazza down from the B&B.

Lorenza had kindly organised a hairdresser's appointment for me in Trastevere, but between the three staff there, none spoke any English! Somehow through gestures and my very poor Italian I managed to communicate. What I walked out with was something quite "traditional Italian" and not quite my thing so I set to work on a modification - the end result was ok but wouldn't last long in the heat of the Rome sun.

I walked back down to the main street and purchased some pink tiger lilies from a street stall and arranged them myself into a bouquet. Definitely a dodgy DIY effort all round.

We took a taxi to the town hall, and had a bit of waiting around for the photographer who was late. Even at Terme di Caracalla they have opportunistic photographers - ready and waiting in case someone forgot to organise their own or in case pre-arranged photographers don't turn up!

We understood not a word of it and were flanked by our two paid witnesses as we responded through the translator. Finally it was declared and I was presented with another bunch of flowers. It was a crazy whirlwind experience!
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Old Jan 16th, 2008, 03:03 PM
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Love your report! Did you post any photos?
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Old Jan 16th, 2008, 03:44 PM
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Congratulations!
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Old Jan 17th, 2008, 02:06 AM
  #52  
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Hi Seaurchin - I have stacks of photos - just not sure about the best way to go about saving them so everyone can see them! Photos are great as they really make the trip report come alive...

bfrac - thanks!
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Old Jan 17th, 2008, 02:31 AM
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Hi Ness,

double congratulations - on your wedding AND on your trip report. I can feel those crowds in the Vatican now.

i tend to agree with you about the outside of the colosseum being more impresive than the inside. due to a problems with the owners of the original apartment we were supposed to have in Trastevere, we ended up in an apartment near the Colosseum - we even had a view of it from our terrace! I could have spend hours just looking at it, if it hadn'r rained and got dark.

loving the report,

regards, ann
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Old Jan 17th, 2008, 02:50 AM
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congratulations on your wedding. Thanks for the report, brought back great memories.
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Old Jan 18th, 2008, 03:07 AM
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Ann - that sounds perfect - looking out over the colosseum and its especially atmospheric at night all lit up. Although I really adored staying in Trastevere, and would definitely choose to stay there again...

Amantedelimoncello: thanks for your comments and the congratulations! The wedding was a real once in a lifetime opportunity to do something different!
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Old Jan 18th, 2008, 03:12 AM
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And now... back to the report!

Following the ceremony, we then moved on to the 2 hours of photography and she suggested various places including Piazza Navona and the Colosseum. Despite our requests for somewhere quiet with not many people around she convinced us to walk in 40 degree heat down the road to Palatine Hill, where she assured us - we will find a quiet spot.

Well it was a disaster, trudging through the ruins, nowhere to leave our valuables, trying to walk around in the place in high heel shoes. We looked hot, bedraggled and stressed in the photos - because we were!

The backdrops were spectacular, but we didn't want our photos just to be about that - and she didn't understand (even though she was Australian too!). The last couple of shots we had taken up in a quiet area overlooking the domes of Rome were the best of the bunch and we finally looked relaxed here.

Afterward we decided to walk back to Trastevere, as it wasn't far. We rested for a while and once I was feeling up to it again, we headed out for an afternoon exploring the Trastevere neighbourhood. We tried to visit the Santa Cecilia Church but got the opening times wrong - its courtyard out the front was lovely though. So we walked back to the central part of Trastevere in search of something to eat and found an enoteca serving food.

I tried the lasagna while Rod had a risotto with mushrooms. It was very pleasant sitting there, I was writing in my journal and it was relatively quiet at that time of day until a bickering blonde, Barbie and Ken sat down near us and proceeded to make an embarrassing scene over the waiter's perceived "mistakes".

Despite having a phrasebook on the table in front of them, they made no attempt to speak Italian - not even hello! They said he was pretending not to understand! He's served us minutes before and we knew for sure that he knew little English because he was responding to me in Italian - usually they revert to English as soon as I start talking!!

Afterward we wandered back to the B&B, stopping off at an excellent English language bookstore on the way where I replenished my reading material. I then had a sleep while Rod went off to the Laundromat. I awoke in time to get dressed, ready to head out to our pre-arranged wedding dinner at the only restaurant in Rome we bothered to make a reservation at. It was called Trattoria der Pallaro, and I'd heard great things about it, from Penelope Green's book "When in Rome" but also from online reviews I read prior to the trip.
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Old Jan 18th, 2008, 12:54 PM
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Hi Ness,

reading your thread about your wedding reminded me about the bride we saw climbing all those steps up to the church at the top of the capitoline hill en route, we supposed, to her wedding.

she was stoped about 1/4 of teh way up, talking to some one on her "telefonino" - we speculated that she was cursing the idiot who suggested she get married in a church that required her to climb all those steps in her wedding dress. LOL

we also came across an Irish wedding party in a restaurant in Trastevere - now they WERE having fun. we were there for a couple of hours for lunch, and they were there when we arrived, and still there when we left!

Rome must be THE place for weddings.

regards, ann
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Old Jan 18th, 2008, 02:29 PM
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It's so otherwordly and quite romantic with the settings available - plus it is one of the easier countries to get married in once you take into account the red tape factor etc.
The photos were fine but it was just so hot and there were people everywhere and it looks like we are squinting a lot because the sun was really beating down. Unfortunately this photographer seemed to just want to get the backdrops SHE wanted and didn't really listen to what we wanted...but you live and learn!
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Old Jan 18th, 2008, 02:32 PM
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We made our way on foot, with the intention of stopping by the Campo di Fiori on the way for a pre-dinner drink. I liked this public space much, much more than Piazza Navona or any other I'd visited in Rome. It didn't have Bernini fountains, but it had plenty of character and came complete with gypsies at its centre, doing the rounds of the bars and enotecas plying their trade.

We went to Il Nolano (another When in Rome location) a wine bar where we sat outside at little metal tables and old wooden movie theatre seats. Apart from the drunken college students behind us the crowd was interesting to sit and watch.

I ordered a prosecco aperitivo and Rod had a red wine - our drinks came with a complimentary bowl of peanuts. It was very relaxing, sitting on the Campo and sipping our drinks and watching the scenes of life unfolding in front of us.

The large band of gypsies made their move as we sat - moving forward were a couple of teenagers with their musical instruments (piano accordians and guitars) and a gorgeous little girl clad head to toe in tinkling gypsy garb - very cute. They were only one of several bands which made the circuit around the Campo, playing to the crowds seated outdoors and then running around afterward with their caps outstretched, looking for spare change. It was definitely good for business to send round the little girl in red with the bells on her shoes!

When we'd finished our drinks we began a slow walk to the Trattoria, which was not all that far. I thought then that I could really get used to this "passagieta" - pre dinner strolling. der Pallaro is tucked away in a little Piazza and was definitely the real deal and the highlight of our culinary experiences in Rome.

Bustling service, plates and plates of delicious food - the chef and owner Paola Falzi personally greeting and checking in with the guests clad in her floral dress, apron and head wrap - it really felt like being at Nonna's place for dinner! We were kept amused throughout the night as thunderous streams of terse Italian emanated from the kitchen as Paola berated the staff over this or that.
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Old Jan 19th, 2008, 09:41 PM
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It was wonderful home style cooking and the idea is - all guests eat whatever nonna's been cooking that particular day. The affable and unbelievably energetic waiter brought us out a bottle of Aqua Panna (the best bottled water in the world!) and a small jug of the house wine - which was very sweet.

So we started with an antipasti of prosciutto, olives, mozzarella, pane, thick cut tomatoes and some sort of bean dish. Primi was a pasta dish - a simple tomato and parmesan sauce but far too much for us to finish knowing there was more to come.

The secondi was delicious - roast veal, zucchini with garlic, hand cooked potato crisps, and small balls of crumbed and cooked cheese. For dolci, it was a home made torta - amazingly good.

There were LOTS of American groups here too so the place obviously receives excellent reviews everywhere - and they are totally justified. When I went inside to use the single toilet (conveniently located in the serving area) I saw many framed newspaper article and magazine clippings, including the very review written by Penelope Green. It felt a bit odd queuing for the toilets there as the wait stuff fussed around us serving meals but the staff didn't seem to mind - they are obviously used to it!

By the time we'd finished up there was quite a line of people waiting for tables. We actually found it difficult to attract the busy staff's attention long enough to ask for the bill. But no bills here - flat rate of 45 euros for two! After all that food we were well and truly due for some walking.

Given that it was our last night in Rome, I wanted to revisit all of the gorgeous fountains and see them illuminated. So we went first to Piazza Navona then walked (quite a long way) to see Bernini's amazing Fontana del Tritone, featuring Triton blowing water from a shell as he sits in a giant scallop shell supported by dolphins.

It is 'conveniently' located in the middle of a busy roundabout at the foot of Via Vittorio Veneto. I thought this was the most beautiful of all the fountains I'd seen. As a nice touch (after we'd risked life and limb crossing into the centre) I lined up a shot of the fountain with the Hotel Bernini sign illuminated in the background.
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