Tuesday, June 21, 2011

April 17th: Busabout

Today was a day filled with travelling and without big events. We travelled from Rome back up towards Florence and then turned and headed for Venice.

There was this really neat town off the side of the highway, with old stone buildings built right to the edge of a circular plateau, I wish I had a better picture of it!

The rest of the scenery was pretty much the same, as we were on most of the same roads as we had been two days ago.

We spent the middle of the day in Bologna ...

It was Sunday, so most of the side streets were quiet and shops closed....

But the main touristy square and shopping street were open for business and humming with people.

Vendors were set up along the street selling brightly coloured balloons or tubs heaped high with candy...

Or grasshoppers and other bugs being woven from grass...

There was a large open area taken over by an open air, flea market style market. We happened upon it as we were heading for the bus, so only had about 20 minutes to spend in there, but with a little more time you could have done some seriously cheap shopping. :)

We pulled into our stop for the night later in the afternoon. We were staying on the mainland outside of Venice, right near this river where we would catch the "bus" across the lagoon in the morning.

And a little bit of home-away-from-home...

Canadian flags kept popping up in random places...I spotted a tiny Canadian flag pin pinned into the top of a sign on a postcard rack in this tiny shop in Florence, the occasional embassy, or other Canadian tourists with flags on their packs.

You can take the girl out of Canada, but you can't take Canada out of the girl, right? :)


Monday, June 20, 2011

April 16th: When In Rome

...I'm sure you can believe how that particular phrase got used to death on this part of the trip.

We were staying a bit outside the city of Rome, so we caught a train to get us into the city proper.

Our tour manager took us on a short walking tour first thing in the morning. Our first stop were the Spanish Steps. This is early in the morning, so the steps and surrounding area were relatively quiet. There's a lovely white stone church at the top, overlooking the streets below.

There are many pots of flowers placed at intervals up the Spanish Steps, when the shrubs are all flowering it must be a gorgeous sight.

The picture above is taken from the top of the steps. Take note of the crowd at the bottom...we'll see this spot again later...

Snack and drink stands were usually pretty convenient. The best ones sold gelato as well, and you were pretty much guaranteed good gelato everywhere....I certainly never had any that was bad! (And I have a new love for lemon gelato...)

The Trevi Fountain...

Beautiful sculptures here, and almost peaceful with the sound of running water and the sun shining on us. Peaceful except for the hundreds (thousands?) of people hanging around!

Picture taking spots at the edge of the pool was at a premium...you had to move fast if a space opened up and you wanted it. I have a lovely picture of myself tossing a coin back over my shoulder into the fountain to make a wish where my arm is crossed across my face and I look like I'm about to hit myself in the nose. Luckily I had a friend take some non-coin-tossing photos as well. :)

Below is the column of Marcus Aurelius. I wish the picture did justice to just how large this is!

 So much history in Rome, and lots of monuments around every corner.

We had a look inside the Pantheon, which I mistakenly called the Parthenon in a email home. You can bet I heard about that slip later. :)

(Although it must be a common error...the first line in the wikipedia entry for the Pantheon is "Not to be confused with the Parthenon." So I feel better that I'm not the only one, haha.)

There aren't any windows inside, just a large circular hole at the top of the dome. Holes in the center of the floor are there to drain away water when it rains.

The Pantheon was originally built as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome, but has been used as a Roman Catholic church since the 7th century. It has been in continuous use since it was completed in 126 AD.

Below is the tomb of the architect and painter Raphael.

I'm so glad that I wasn't driving in Rome, but look at the teeny tiny car, it's so cute! 

Walking was almost always a good way to get around on this tour, but you had to be daring to walk in Rome and get anywhere anytime soon. The marked pedestrian crossings were really more of a suggestion to drivers than anything. If you wanted to cross you basically had to make eye contact and throw yourself out into the street! If you were in front of a car, then it would stop (hopefully....). If you were standing patiently at the edge waiting for traffic to stop for you....well, I'd still be waiting to cross my first street!

Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, above, to honour the first king of a unified Italy. Completed in 1935, it's a controversial monument to the locals as a large part of a medieval neighbourhood in the Capitoline Hill area was destroyed to create space for it, and the blindingly white marble is a huge contrast to the majority of the surrounding buildings made of brownish stone. Blindingly white, yes, but also quite impressive looking I think!

Above, the morning's first glimpse of the Colosseum, taken from the sidewalk overlooking the ruins of the Forum.


It was still Italian cultural week at this point, so entrance to the Colosseum was free. Which meant an enormous lineup. The picture below, taken from up inside the Colosseum, shows about 1/4....maybe a 1/3?....of the total line. We ended up paying 5 Euro each to a tour guide who was outside trying to gather up a group, he somehow got us tickets so that we could skip waiting in the lineup and wasting our entire day just to get inside. Of course, the tickets meant we could get to the front of the line, but we still had to push our way into the crowd to get inside....some of the group ended up jumping over a fence just to get out of the crush of people.

Once inside the Colosseum, general consensus was that we wanted to go up to be able to see out over the interior. 

Except for the signs at the stairs saying "Do Not Climb." And there was a sign like this at every single staircase we came across...

Eventually, we just broke the rules along with the rest of the tourists and climbed up a set of stairs, ignoring the do not climb signs. After having millions of people climbing those steps over the years, they were all steeply slanting downwards which made climbing them more difficult than it needed to be. I felt like I needed to haul myself up using the handrail to prevent myself from sliding back down. :)

Above and below are a couple shots of the interior of the arena and of what is left of the supports for the stands.

I have to admit one thing...while it was really neat to be seeing something I've only ever seen in movies and magazines, I couldn't help but feel slightly underwhelmed by my experience at the Colosseum. I kept waiting for that 'wow' moment like I had with standing at the base of the Eiffel Tower...that fluttery feeling in your stomach when you're standing in a place you've dreamed about and it's absolutely magic.

Cool, yes, but magic....no, not really.

Maybe if I'd done a guided tour of the site, it would have helped. We were given some basic information by our tour manager, but a place like the Colosseum would have had some really captivating and graphic history to learn about, and that is always so much more compelling when you're actually standing in the place you're being taught about!

So I guess that's a note to anyone else who goes there. Try a guided tour. :)

Below, me and the Colosseum. 

I don't generally like pictures of myself....and I'm sure I'm not the only one... :) But this one isn't half bad, haha, plus it's proof I was actually there. :)

After leaving the Colosseum, I wandered through the ruins of the Roman Forum.

Statues of the Vestal Virgins....

House of the Vestals and Temple of Vesta, goddess of hearth, home and family...

This excavation was walled off from the rest of the ruins, I'm not sure what was going on other than excavating.... :) The only signs I saw right around here were in Italian, of which I speak maybe ten words.

We had lunch at a little restaurant a few blocks from the Forum. As the day had warmed up quite a bit we thought it would be nice to have one of the tables outside, and it was definitely nice, if you ignored the cars whizzing past in the alley/side street our table was placed in. Poor Lisa, she was trying not to look. :)

Those are 4 Euro cans of Coke sitting on the table, or about $6 back home. Ouch!

The food was amazing though! I kept alternating between pizza and pasta while in Italy, sometimes topped off with gelato, and it was delicious every time. This meal, I think I had gnocchi in some sort of a tomato sauce. Simple but delicious. Luckily I was walking miles each day to burn off all those calories!

Last stop for the day was the Capuchin Crypt, located under Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini church.

I don't have any pictures of the inside, as photography was not allowed and a couple of the people I was with who did take pictures were quickly kicked out. Google images for the Capuchin Crypt though, and you'll get a pretty good idea of what I saw.

There are six small rooms in the crypt, along a tight, dead-end hallway. It contains the skeletal remains of 4,000 bodies believed to be Capuchin friars. During the life of the crypt, as monks died, the longest buried monks were exhumed and their remains added to the decorations on the walls, and the newly dead buried in their place.

And when I say that their bones were added to the decorations, it doesn't quite capture what that word entails in this case. (If you haven't googled those images yet, now is your time! Or if you don't want to see, read this.) Different types of bones are nailed to the walls and ceilings to create shapes and patterns and textures. Even the light fixtures are made or adorned with bones. Totally creepy and surreal.

After leaving the crypt, it was time to head back to our meeting spot, the Spanish Steps. We ended up approaching them from the top side, next to the Trinità dei Monti church.

Sam, Rishi, Brooke and I had a really good time browsing through all the artists wares. Sam and Rishi haggled one of the vendors into good deals on two large paintings, and I talked myself out of spending big bucks on a rainy street scene painting and into spending smaller bucks on several pretty watercolours of Rome landmarks.

By this point it was late afternoon. Below is the view of the bottom of the steps at this time of day. Much different from the first shot taken early, early in the morning. Now that's a crowd!

It was a relatively early night in Rome. Had ham and pineapple pizza for dinner, which certainly seems like more of a North American topping choice, but I had it anyways as it's my favourite. It was a little oddly put together with one giant ring of pineapple smack dab in the center and a whole slice of ham slapped on either side, but somehow, it was utterly delicious anyways.

Italy could completely spoil pizza and pasta for me anywhere else. :)


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

April 15th: Stato della Città del Vaticano

So I'm seriously awful at getting myself caught up on posting pictures. I have this thing where I need to post each day in order, for which I need to actually finish these great big long posts from my trip, so that I can post them before I post the pictures that I've taken since I've returned. I've managed to take a picture every day since I began this challenge, not that there is any proof to be seen here! And having no proof is because I'm an excellent procrastinator with regards to these trip posts. At this point, I've got all the posts from after my holiday written up and saved as drafts. To post when I finish the rest of these. Whenever that may be.

I'm getting on with it, really I am. And if these posts get less chatty as they go on, well, at least I'm getting them posted at all. :)

The picture above is taken from inside the bus through the rainy window. It did sprinkle briefly this morning as we left Florence. These are the little cabins that we stayed in.

Coldest places on earth, I swear. (Or at least it felt like that at 3:00 am.)

We drove from Florence to Rome where we would stay for the next two nights. On the afternoon we arrived in Rome, we were scheduled for a tour of Vatican city so we had a bit of a tour via bus through Rome on our way there.

Next couple of photos taken from the bus while driving. I can't remember what or where these steps are, and when I google "Rome church steps" all that comes up are the Spanish steps, which these are not.

Lots and lots of ruins in Rome. Either buildings in ruins, or built on top of ruins.

These funny little gas stations were everywhere. I'm so used to the massive ones we have here, with there convenience store and restaurants, that these are just amusing!

And speaking of amusing, see the embellishment on this sign....

Traffic, once again, was crazy, but what I was most impressed with was the parking. Not a single smidgeon of empty road was spared. And if your parked car was boxing someone else in, all the better!

Here you can see St. Peter's Square with St. Peter's Basilica. They were setting up for the Easter service I believe, there were rows and rows of chairs set out and walled off in the center of the square. There were lots of people milling around too!

We walked off the right side of this picture...

Around this massive wall...

And entered through the Vatican Museum...

(Not this entrance though, this is the old entrance, now the exit. The new entrance is much less interesting. :)

Windy ramps leading us up...

We had another local guide for this tour, and we had little headsets that allowed us to hear what she was saying into a microphone. There is no way we would have been able to hear her otherwise, as Vatican city was so jam packed full of people....we were like sardines a lot of the time. Even with the headsets, we sometimes couldn't hear what she was saying, as the group would get spread out in the crowds, and our guide would end up around a couple of corners, and then the signal wouldn't reach us through the stone walls!

This courtyard above was early on in our tour. The massive bronze globe was spinning slowly around. There were several smaller outdoor courtyards that we went through as well, all of them, large and small, filled with statues and pieces of art.

This dog here has shown up before, I straggled behind the group just to get this clear shot of him.

After seeing some of the exterior areas of Vatican City/Vatican Museum, we went inside. I was completely in awe of the ceilings...

Elaborate or simple, I was craning my neck to see them.

All the while trying not to get lost, or run into anyone.

You can see all the people heading up the stairs here. This was about average for the whole place. Out of all the places we stopped on our tour, this was by far the busiest. Not bad for a country/state with a population just over 800, hey?

I seriously think that I have more pictures of ceilings than I do of any of the other artwork...

I will admit that the picture above isn't actually mine, but stolen from a tour-mate on facebook. :) It was too dim for my little camera to get such a comparatively crisp shot. Just look at that detail!

All along this gallery were old maps of parts of Italy. They were incredibly detailed, and there were a lot of them. Just look at how long that gallery is!

We weren't allowed to take pictures in the Sistine chapel, which I wasn't really surprised about. But if you're familiar with the Creation of Adam painting by Michelangelo, the entire ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is quite the sight to see. Even if it did hurt your neck to look at it for long. :)

Of course, in a place like the Sistine Chapel, it's considered respectful to be quiet. There was a low hum of people talking, but considering how many people were squished in there, it was at an incredibly low volume. I was sure why then, the quietness was being broken by the guards yelling out "SILENCE!" every minute or so, in multiple languages. Seems like they were the only ones breaking the rules. And it made it hard for me not to break out laughing. :)

From the Sistine Chapel, we went back outside, and then into St. Peter's Basilica for a look around.

The Basilica is the largest church in the world, with the tallest dome. And pictures just don't do the scale of the place any justice. It is genuinely massive. And beautiful too!

After spending quite some time inside the Basilica, we headed back out to walk around St. Peter's Square.

And to see the Swiss Guards in their oh-so-stylish uniforms...

Vatican City has it's own postal system. I quite like the bright yellow post boxes...

We managed to lose a couple of our tour group at some point along the way. Two of the girls sat down inside the Sistine Chapel and didn't realize that we were moving on as they didn't here it over their headsets. They sat there for quite some time, and heard several other tours come through using the same channel over the headsets, until they realized that the place was closing, and the rest of the group was nowhere to be seen! I think though, that they managed to catch the rest of us as we were heading for the bus, as we had spent a long time in the Basilica afterwards. Lucky for them!

One last shot taken from outside...we headed for dinner after this, and to get settled in for the night. We had amazing pizza that evening...one thing about Italy, the food was never bad! In fact, I'm lucky I did so much walking or I could have rolled myself home!