Saturday, March 25, 2017

Coming to a Screen Near You Soon

Our next jaunt will be to Sikkim, a relatively new province of India on its northeast border, and Bhutan, the only country that measures itself with a Gross National Happiness scale. Both are at the edge of the  Himalayas, so we will be at higher altitudes than usual.

We are hoping to be able to update the blog regularly, but the latest rule on not taking electronics in our carryons has thrown a wrinkle in our plan. We are flying Emirates thru Dubai on the way home and everything but cellphone has to be in checked luggage. The trip itself requires the use of duffle bags (vs. hard shell cases) and I am reluctant to put our travel laptop in a bag that can be easily defeated. It is bad enough that I will have to risk a tablet and e-reader there.  So maybe only words when we travel and pictures when we get home plus whatever I can post on Facebook. (The tablet does words but defeated my previous efforts at photos.)

Monday, December 26, 2016

12/23 -- Vatican, Lunch with Lodo, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, PACK!

We took a taxi around 9am to the Vatican Museums and checked out the Pope's conveyances on display til our travel mates from the main trip, Iris and John, and our tour guide, Michela, arrived at 10:30. Most of the carriages were pretty fancy, but there were several more subdued ones that appeared to be for traveling. In the early days, apparently the popes rode their own horses too.

Little carriers ranging from fancy to simple. I think the poles
on the back wall were the 'handles' for lifting.
The most elaborate of the carriages
A pope was shot in a vehicle like this, except totally open. After
that, the trucks with the elevated throne to improve the view
all had bulletproof glass.
With Lodo's help by text messages, we all found each other and got started on our 3-hour tour of a small subset of the Vatican. About half the space inside the walls is well-manicured gardens. From the plaza, we could see the back of St. Peter's Basilica, the largest church in the world and where we ended our tour. One of our main objectives was the Sistine Chapel (no photos, of course) which was our next to last stop as we wound our way through various sections of the museums. Like the Louvre, this is  not a place you can do justice to in 3 hours, or even a day, so Michela hit the highlights, ending with the two things we most wanted to see. The museums came about because many popes were collectors and one of the Piuses decided it would be nice if others could see his great stuff. Originally this was limited to fancy people, but now it is a public museum. Our first foray was in some of the outside areas, which included modern pieces along with ancient ones.
Looking over the plaza to the Basilica and garden
Vatican gardens
When I first saw this, I thought it was a solid
sphere with a reflection.
Once we walked toward it I could see it was
much more complex. Guides are allowed to
cross the protective chain to demonstrate
how it spins on its axis.
This pine cone, a symbol of life, used to be a
fountain somewhere. If you look closely at the
bottom of the metal, the dark spots are spouts.
There was quite a bit of Egyptian art, including this lion.
Statue of the death of Laocoon and his two sons in Troy. He
 was a priest who warned against accepting the wooden horse.
This lion was in one of the animal rooms
Mosaic floor. I am thinking of seeing if I can translate the
geometric border into stained glass.,
A huge granite basin, brought from Egypt in one piece.
More from Egypt
An elaborate sarcophogus
I am sure we saw this on another trip somewhere:
maybe Turkey.

Detail of one of the many tapestries

In person, this ceiling looks like each section
is sculpted, but it is really just painted to look
that way.
One of the most vivid tapestries
My favorite area was the map corridor, which looked like the same person had painted all the maps. They were all of different areas of Italy, though most of them, oddly, were oriented south to north instead of the more usual format. They were also quite detailed. We were able to see several of the cities we visited on this trip.
The ceiling of the map room was fabulous too.
This map of Sardinia is oriented with south at the top.

Rome. North is at the left. The Tiber runs left
to right in the bottom half. The Vatican is below
the river and the area where we stayed (Trestevere --
across the Tiber) is where the river curves down
on the right side of the city.
Map of Umbria -- reversed -- the west is on the right.
The thing that surprised me most about the Sistine Chapel was its relatively small size, although the 'chapel' designation should have given a clue. As chapels go, it was pretty big, like a smallish church with every wall and ceiling space painted. What looks like architectural details and curtains are all cleverly done frescoes. I was also not aware that Michelangelo had done nine descriptive frescoes on the ceiling, showing various stages of creation and three about Noah. The famous one of giving life to Adam was way smaller than I had thought. Michelangelo also created an enormous fresco covering the entire front wall showing the last judgement with a very robust (even chunky) Jesus either casting people out of heaven or letting them in. You can see it online here: http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/CSN/CSN_Main.html

From there, we went downstairs and into the Basilica, where the altar is located over St. Peter's grave which has sort of been substantiated. The scale is amazing. Michela said the letters at the altar end of the church are each 6 feet tall, though they don't look it. A metal canopy over the altar is 100 feet tall!

This is also where Michelangelo's Pieta is on display, behind a glass wall, necessitated when a man attached the statue with a hammer.  Michelangelo completed this amazing work in only 2 years, when he was 24. He was also the last architect of this Basilica, which took 120 years to build and went through several design changes.
Looking out toward th e square from Basilica steps. The metal
things are speakers
The balcony where the Pope appears to give
public addresses
Massive entry doors
Detail from lower right door panel showing St Peter's
crucifixion. He is on the cross head down at his own request
to avoid comparison to Jesus.
Inside St. Peter's Basilica
The Pieta, the only one of his works Michelangelo signed,
etching his name is a fold of Mary's clothing.
Tomb of John Paul II, one of only two popes in the main body
of the church.
These letter are 6 feet tall -- look at the size of
the people above

100 foot tall bronze canopy over the altar
The other pope interred in the main body of the church.
Swiss Guards in their winter uniforms
The colonnade surrounding St. Peter's Square

After the tour, we met up with Lodo and Selena and had a wonderful late lunch. Then we took off for our last sight-seeing run. visiting the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain before hiking home. Getting to the fountain around 5 pm was seriously bad timing as the place was a total  mob scene. We got a couple photos and headed for the hotel.
On the way to the Pantheon, we passed this fortress, used by
popes when the Vatican was threatened.
Outside of the Pantheon, a former Roman Temple probably
completed about 125 A.D., now a church (since the 7th century)
Inside of the Pantheon
Trevi fountain and the mob of visitors
Packing was our evening's challenge -- after the late lunch, dinner was not on the agenda! We have 3 bottles of wine, 3 bottles of creme liquor, 2 small cans and 2 smaller bottles of oil olive to cradle in our suitcases. We also have two terra cotta pots to carry on and cushion so they don't break when we set the bag down or when someone tries to crush it in an overhead! Since our plane is at 7am, we have to leave the hotel by 4 to get there, so this is an early night too.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

12/22 -- Ruins and More Ruins, Oh My!

Today was ruin day -- the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, The Roman Forum, and Palazzo Valentini. Although they are all in the same general area, I walked in excess of 20,000 steps so far (before dinner).

Just getting to the Colosseum was a challenge, despite the fact that we had been in the area before. We managed to make at  least one wrong turn because the street signs are worse than awful, and were directed back to the proper road by a very nice military guy who spoke English and had just redirected the group of three ahead of us. We had paid in advance and got to skip the 'buy tickets' line, but were stunned to get no information or map of any kind at the entrance. We looked in the bookshops and asked about a map -- our choice was to rent an audio tour which came with a map or buy a 10 Euro book with WAY more info than we needed. I finally remembered I had gotten a Lonely Planet Italy book from Amazon, so I downloaded that and got some clues about what we were looking at. If ever there was a place to have a tour guide, this was it. SO much to see and not nearly as  many descriptive signs as you would hope to find.

The real  name of this place is the Flavius Amphitheater. Colosseum comes from the Colosus of Nero, a huge statue added later. It had trap doors and 80 winches to move sets, animals, and people into the arena, which was covered with sand to be a better surface for fighting and to soak up the blood. Events were usually all-day with many parts including prisoners or free soldiers fighting each other or wild animals. Death sentences were carried out by releasing naked defenseless prisoners in the arena with wild animals. You can imagine the result.
Painting of what the amphitheater looked like
above and below ground when it was active.

An outer walkway -- looks like a modern arena.

From the outer hallway to the opposite side

The flat white part is a recreation of the arena floor. The parallel
walls are where prisoners, animals, and sets were kept.


Closer view of the underground

Looking over the damaged walls to the Forum

Horse sculpture at the amphitheater

The Arch of Constantine

Outside



From the Colosseum, we exited and crossed a road that gave on to Palatine Hill and the Forum with the same ticket, which good for two days. We walked around Palatine Hill and took in the views. Myth says that this is the hill where Romulus founded Rome after killing his twin, Remus. There is evidence of habitation since 800 BC. This was also where the emperor lived along with other important people. After the Empire fell, it was used by other very rich folks and sometimes turned into gardens.

Part of a wall on the road up to the entrance. I found the bricks
sticking out at an angle to be intriguing.

The Arch of Titus, a main entrance to Palatine Hill and the Forum.

The buildings here were mostly gone, parts stolen for more
modern building efforts.


The Nyphaeum of the Mirrors, a kind of fountain.

Notice the crack in the wall. Earthquakes had a big impact here.



The marble floor here has rippled badly, perhaps due to
an earthquake.


Looking over the edge of the hill to the rest of Rome



An elliptical nymphaeum

Surviving mosaics
Finally, we headed down into the Forum and totally OD-ed on ruins. This was a central hub of Rome and had lots of shops, temples, and other public spaces.



Colosseum and Arch of Titus from Palatine overlooking the Forum

Temple of Antonius and Faustina

Temple of Romulus


Lunch at a nearby pizza place was refreshing and then we searched out the starting point for our English-language tour in Palazzo Valentini, which had come highly recommended by Lodo.

Three views of Trajan's Forum


I was stilled ruined-out, but this was a totally different and fabulous experience (but no photos allowed). We started off walking down a glass stair case over some excavated ruin steps -- VERY weird -- and most of the time, we walked on glass floors that gave us a view of the ruins below. In the process of excavating under and existing building, they had discovered the remains of a large (possibly over 30,000 sq. ft) mansion with a swimming pool, sauna equivalent, and icing pool, along with other rooms and part of a street.

But what really made this extraordinary was the light show that highlighted and at times recreated the original look. It is quite different to look at the remains of things and partial mosaics and have the brought back to life with clever lighting. It ended with a movie about Trajan's Column, which we had seen and photographed earlier -- I was quite taken by the bas-relief etched in a spiral around the pillar. We discovered that the carvings were the story of Trajan's conquests in the Dacian Wars. It is large enough inside to be hollow for an internal staircase.
Trajan's Column above and detail below.


We walked home looking for the hardware/home goods store I had seen yesterday, hoping to find a long Italian style rolling pin for pasta, like a shorter version of the one Francesca used in Pittino Monday. We found the store, but their rolling pins were even narrower than the one I already had, so we gave it up.
Ci is pronounce Chi. Pranzo is lunch, Cena
is dinner. Interesting combination.