A Travellerspoint blog

Italy

Rainy Last day

In order to be first in line at St. Peter's Basilica today, we got up super-early and rushed out the door. Unfortunately, the pope ruined our Vatican plans- he was giving a talk to the masses today, so the basilica was closed. Apparently, the guys who told us what time the basilica opened either didn't know that he was giving a special talk today, or they forgot to mention that. We went back for a nap, dropped our luggage at the train station, and came back for a short walk before catching the tail end of the popemobile. Finally! We thought we'd get into the basilica. But one of the guards told us that it was closed until 1. But we SAW with our EYES that people were going in. Why doesn't anybody know what's going on? We took a few minutes to watch some dancers in traditional costumes from who-knows-where dance to traditional music. I guess you just have to have a party that would fit in at Epcot to celebrate the pope? We walked around to where it appeared that the end of the line to get in was, and got stopped by some guards as he closed down that line. So, we walked around a different fence to the area that wasn't going to open until 1, according to the words of the guard there not 10 minutes earlier. That line was open. WTJ? Eventually, we ended up in the massive entrance line. It was drizzly, so everybody had umbrellas out, which was actually quite pretty. However, the line was moving very slowly. We didn't push anybody or cut anybody off, but we did take advantage of open spaces in the mass that passed for a line. It felt a bit like I was cutting in front of nuns to get into the holiest Catholic cathedral, but they weren't moving forward, and we weren't trying to sort of.

St. Peter's was packed. It was the same sea of endless humanity that we had experienced at the Vatican Museums, Trevi Fountain, and everywhere else yesterday. The one space with enough room to breathe was the Vatican treasures museum. It's off ot the side, costs extra to go in, but was kind of interesting in a morbid way. The audio guide descriptions were too long, but it went into all sorts of details about pope clothes, saint body parts, and artifacts that looked like they were bedazzled by kindergarteners because they were so full of jewels. I get that "relics" are important to the church, and that that's a euphemism for "dead people's body parts." However, I wasn't quite prepared to see teeth and chunks of bones housed in ornate receptacles. On our way out, we stopped at the Vatican post office to send a post card with a Vatican stamp, and then traipsed on to Campo de Fiori. There, we saw a bunch of vendors with jams, dishes, and other wares. It was mostly touristy, but it was still interesting. I just wish they had containers of some of the jams tapenades, or honeys that were less than 100 mL so I could have brought something back. By this time, we were starving again, and settled for lunch at what could best be described as "the TGI Friday's" of Rome. The food clearly came from the freezer into the deep fryer, but it wasn't horrible. Lastly, we stopped at the Pantheon, but then had to head back to the airport to catch our flight. I had a little adventure at security. I just completely forgot to put my laptop back in my bag. I've been through security literally hundreds of times, and never left anything behind like that. By the time I realized it, the laptop was already at the lost and found and I had to send a courier service to retrieve it and ship it to me. If anybody needs a recommendation, let me know.

Dancing

Dancing


Line to get into St. Peter's

Line to get into St. Peter's


Campo di Fiori

Campo di Fiori

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Vatican Day

Yesterday, we had picked up a few groceries so that we could eat breakfast and get an early start today. One item we picked up was this hot pepper fig jam. It had just the right amount of spiciness to pair extremely well with the smoked mozzarella we had also picked up. That enabled us to get out of the hotel with plenty of time to make it to the Vatican Museum early. We had ordered tickets online for an 8:30 am entrance, and that turned out to be a brilliant idea. We were able to bypass the main line to get in, and I think they didn't even start letting the main line in until 9. Even so, there were mobs of group tours and other tourists to the point where I was almost claustrophobic. We followed the map that came with the audioguide to the first area- stuff stolen (or gifts given) from ancient Egypt and some levant. The collection of sarcophagi and heiroglyphic tablets was large, like all collections at the Vatican. Next up were the statues from ancient Greece and Rome. It's a bit hard to tell the difference, as it seems that most of the Roman pieces are copies of Greek originals. I think it's funny to see so many statues that are completely naked, except for a strategically-placed fig leaf. The Vatican must have spent an enormous quantity of money on vandalizing statues by attaching marble fig leaves in the years that they decided that penises were inappropriate. Of course, there are still plenty of statues that haven't received that treatment, and some where it's quite obvious that they used to have a fig leaf, but no longer do. We took a break from the overwhelming quantity of art by ducking outside to the courtyard for a breather, and then plunged back in to the Etruscan art.One thing that was a bit annoying was that the official Vatican audioguide (which we paid money for) is not evenly spaced at all. There will be 3 displays with a super-long explanation each, all next to each other, and then there will be long rooms with no content at all. At this point in the day, the mobs of tourists worsened. By the time we were in the long galleries, we were just two points in a sea of humanity, slowly flowing past and mostly ignoring the insanely expensive, centuries-old artwork. Most people would glance at the work or tapestry as the flowed past it, ignoring the ceiling that probably took man-years to paint, ignoring the mosaic floor they walked upon, which also probably took man-years to lay down, and just barely taking in the works the tour guides were describing. Periodically, an entire tour would whip out their phones to take a picture of whatever the guide was talking about, return their phones to their pockets, and move on.We were moving slowly and trying to take more in, but it's the Vatican. It's impossible to take it all in. I'm sure that people could spend months writing a Master's thesis on any one painting or set of artifacts, and there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of them in here. Personally, I'm not super into Renaissance art, but I really enjoyed the hall of maps. It contained whole-wall sized maps of Italy at some given point in history. I guess the pope could plan battles and check his taxes and see what areas were under his control from them. I also found a great spot on a ceiling with a picture of a guy labeled “Assa” who was acting like an ass by standing on a baby. This, along with the various pictures of people beheading others (or holding their beheaded heads) were the highlights for me. Plus, I found some babies that were sort-of puking if you looked at them the right way. Of course, then we got to the Raphael rooms. These are a series of rooms with amazing mosaics on the floors, walls and ceilings that are completely covered in Raphael's art, and mobs of tour groups looking at the highlights and moving on. Somewhere around here, there was a side path with some hidden Van Goghs and Gaugins that most of the tourists didn't go see, because it wasn't on the shortest way to the Sistine chapel. These side paths provided a space to breathe. Then, we went through the area with the modern art. Most people just whisked through there, completely ignoring the works by Matisse, Dalis, Chagall, and other artists I haven't heard of, but I found those works to be much more to my liking than most of the other stuff we had seen already. In fact, had the gift shop had a print of one of the large Matisse pieces, I would have bought it. Then of course, comes the reason half of everyone comes to visit- the Sistine Chapel. There were at least half a dozen different audioguide pieces covering everything from the art on the ceiling to the architecture, to the history of the artists who worked on it and the bible stories behind some of the panels. Every few minutes, a Vatican staffer would come on the PA system with “Silencio! Silence please! This is a holy place!” As if the throngs of tourists and guides were actually going to pray there. Everybody would get quieter for a minute, and then the volume of the rumble would slowly increase again until the guy got back on the PA system. After the Sistine Chapel, the crowds were thinner, as I suspect that most tours ended there, allowing the tourists to enjoy the many gift shops on the way to the exit. For many people, the chapel was the climax, and everything else was denoument that needn't have attention paid to it. Meanwhile, I found the part after the Sistine Chapel to be better than the part before. The ceilings were just as painted, although by this time, I get how people could be “arted out.” But, many of the windows were open, so I could glimpse parts of the inner Vatican grounds. It's quite green there, and I imagine that it would be quite pleasant to live there. Plus, there was a hall with globes. I love seeing old globes and seeing how people imagined the world to be before they had really good maps. There are always some blobby areas that just kind of go nowhere or are drastically misshapen. Also, to see historical borders and what countries existed where when is fascinating to me. I spent quite a bit of time with these globes, seeing how the world changes with politics and technology. Upon exiting, we were starved, but didn't want to go to one of the many overpriced tourist traps, so we ventured back into a neighborhood and grabbed some fast food. The pizza came in a large sheet, and a guy with kitchen scissors would cut off a piece as big or as small as you wanted, heat the pizza, and then weigh it. It was crap pizza, but one of the pieces we got had zucchini flowers on it- not exactly a crap topping in most places. It was definitely the least gourmet way I've ever had zucchini blossoms. Since today was Vatican Day, we continued to St. Peter's Basilica. Unfortunately, the lines were ridiculous. We sat in St. Peter's Square, and took in the external scenery, then decided to come back tomorrow at 7am, when all of the guards, tour-hawkers, and the guidebook said the Vatican would reopen. One thing that was very different for me was that the square was permanently set up with chairs fences. The outdoor seating is because the Pope frequently addresses the people and so many want to come hear him. Last time I was here, the square was not blocked off like this and was completely open for people to walk around. It was much easier for tourists to look at all of the statues outside and to get nearer to the buildings, but it certainly didn't feel like an outdoor church. With the new setup, it feels like an outdoor church, which I guess it the new Pope's whole point. The Vatican feels more accessible as a church and less like a tourist spot this way. Instead, we decided to walk by Castle St. Angelo, walk by the river, and then go see the rest of the major sights like Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon. Again, due to massive lines, we didn't go inside the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain was completely covered in a sea of tourists. I was so sick of people by the end of the day. I know that me being there contributed to the issue of over-crowded Rome, but it really is just too much sometimes. We found a church in Piazza Navona that had some breathing space inside. It is impressive to people who haven't been inside St. Peter's yet, but for those of use who are “fancy church jaded,” it was just another of the many well-endowed churches of the world.

We went back to the hotel to get cleaned up and organized for dinner. Most of the things we had done so far were relatively cheap, but this was going to be our big splurge. We were going to a Michelin Starred restaurant. I had never been to one before in my life, and as a foodie, I really wanted to see what it was all about. We had made reservations a few months in advance, and were well aware that the bill was going to be about the same as what we were paying for 3 nights in a B&B. That's ok, sometimes you have to splurge for the experiences. Our restaurant was located in Trastavere, which was less than a half-hour walk from our hotel. We walked by the river and then walked around the neighborhood a bit. I had heard that this is a cool place to go at night, and it was certainly lively. There were plenty of restaurants, bars, and even people selling in the streets until late because there were lots of people out and about to buy from them. Finally, it was our reservation time at Glass Hostaria. The restaurant had a rich ambiance, but also made me feel a bit like I wanted to tell the Emperor he was naked. The odd modern art on the walls looked like somebody abandoned a construction site a bit too early. It left you feeling like you must be missing something because you didn't get it, but I'm sure that some avant garde artists would understand it. In any case, the place still felt very dressed up and ritzy. The service was very professional and the wine list was a book- literally- with more pages than many short novels. Our dinner began with a complimentary amuse bouche that was some sort of liquid in a bubble ball that burst in our mouths. The bread came with olive butter that appeared to use the "liquid nitrogen to make olive salt" technique I saw on Top Chef once. I've wanted to try it ever since. I was told that the beef tartare was interesting. The ravioli we ordered almost exploded in our mouths. They were filled with a 30-month aged parmesan that was melted into some sort of delicious liquidy filling. The risotto was in the best cheese sauce I've ever had in my life, perhaps because the cheese was so great and aged even more (60 months). The last course was some egg with asparagus thing that was amazingly cooked, but wasn't our favorite. We're definitely cheese people. Overall, it was definitely an experience worth having. The food was absolutely amazing, although I'm not sure I'm prepared to rob the number of banks required to regularly eat like this.

Some of many statues

Some of many statues


One of many mosaics

One of many mosaics


Puking Baby

Puking Baby


One of many long halls filled with art

One of many long halls filled with art


Assa

Assa


Matisse

Matisse


Castel St. Angelo

Castel St. Angelo

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Standard Rome sights

We started our day of touring by the Spanish steps. Unfortunately, they were blocked off for some sort of construction, so we didn't get to use them, and nobody could even sit on them.We passed interesting fountains and sculptures as we wandered the wet streets, until we happened upon the Palazzo Barberini, which houses the National Gallery of Antique Art.

Half of it was closed, but they still made us pay the full 7 euro to get in. I did enjoy the building a lot, but possibly not 7 euros worth. The building is a majestic stone palace, with arches, some columns, and big wooden doors. I loved that the handle on each door was in the shape of two cherub heads with wings. Almost all of the rooms had a similarly interesting ceiling. They generally consisted of some carved fancy edging around a massive ceiling mural. Because the symbol of the Barberini family was the bee, many of the ceiling murals and the edging pieces were full of bees.The other themes were typical of the 1500s-1700s: Madonna with child, Jesus on the cross, Saint so-and-so, bible stories, and Roman gods. Some of the works were by famous artists- El Greco, lots of Caravaggio, and others, but other than one guy on one ceiling who was just chilling there, wearing nothing but a hat, I didn't find any of it particularly interesting. What I did find interesting was the architecture and wallpaper. The wallpaper wasn't really paper, but some sort of embellished, gorgeous cloth, painstakingly stitched together and glued to the wall so that the intricate pattern matched up perfectly. And the building itself was quite detailed.

From this serendipitous stop, we headed to the square with the 4 fountains. It's a Rome landmark and is on the tourist map, but it's really just a street corner with amazing art. The fountains are accessible, so you can get up close and personal with old art, but there are so many other fountains in Rome, that I'm not 100% sure why these ones were singled out. To be fair, they're quite detailed, and in any other city, I would understand why they were on the map. But here, they don't stand out any more than any of the other fountains, at least to me.

We took a quick look at the city below from the Presidential palace, and then got our first Italian gelato. Delicious.We sat on some steps and stared at Trajan's column as we ate. The column is basically a rolled-up long scroll telling the stories of Trajan's conquests. It was once painted in bright colors, but it's hard to imagine that now. Instead, we just tried to figure out what was going on in the “book.” Since we were already in the historical area, we continued on to the Vittorio Emanuel monument. Here, we learned a bit about the military history of modern Italy, and climbed to the top for a view of the city. The guide book said that the statue's moustache was huge- something like 5 feet long, but it didn't look it from any point up the monument. ­By this time, the effect of the gelato had worn off and we were hungry. Even though we were in the touristy area, we were able to find semi-reasonably priced homemade pasta.

Finally, we headed to the forum. Like the other spots, this one was full of tourists, although I would really use the word mobbed.Here, we turned on the Rick Steves audioguide and followed it through. It added so much. Without it, there's just a bunch of ruins. With it, there's an ancient Rome that comes to life, impressive buildings with meaning, and stories that give context to what's on site. I recommend listening to the (free) audioguide to get a good understanding of what you're looking at, what ancient Rome's culture was like, and what it meant to be a vestal virgin. One of the best ideas the people who run the place had was in a church on-site. It had walls that were partially painted, and partially destroyed. But, they illuminated the destroyed part with lights, so that you could see what the whole wall would have looked like in its prime- very clever. We continued our tour of ancient Rome by climbing the 150 steps up to Palatine Hill. From the top, we got a good view of Rome and a bunch of ruins. The guidebook told us what we were looking at, but I have to admit that it didn't come to life the same way as the forum did because we didn't have an audioguide. The part that I did enjoy was looking at all of the umbrella pines. I had just finished reading Four Seasons in Rome, and the umbrella pines play a huge role in that book. They're so uniquely shaped and such an interesting diversion. I'm not sure I could get tired of looking at them stretching majestically over everything and imagining that Pliny the Elder could have been looking at exactly the same tree.

We did have the Rick Steves audioguide for the Colosseum. It was nowhere near as good as the one for the Forum, as it didn't really take you on a walk through the Colosseum, but it did give us a feel for what would happen there and what we were looking at, so at least parts of it were worth it.Thus ended our tour of Ancient Rome.

We stopped at a grocery store for cheese, bread, and some hot pepper fig jam so that we could get an early start the next day, and then collapsed back at our hotel room. All of that walking in the sun had left us both a bit dehydrated and tired, and our feet were definitely exhausted puppies. We watched a bit of some Italian cooking show on TV and tried to guess what the contestants were supposed to be doing, as well as what they were making, and then headed out to a nearby place for dinner. I didn't realize it when I ordered it, but the pizza was stuffed-crust, and was incredibly tasty. We also got the eggplant parmesan, which is nothing like eggplant parm in the states. I had known that from my previous trip, and was excited to share this “different” eggplant parm that was more like a lasagne, but with thin eggplant slices instead of noodles. Just before we got up to go, the live music started. The singer was good, but we were too tired and full to stay and enjoy him, just for the sake of the music. We headed back to the hotel to sleep so that we could get up early for Vatican Day.

Random fountain

Random fountain


Barberini Bee

Barberini Bee


One of the Four Fountains

One of the Four Fountains


Gelato at Trajan's column

Gelato at Trajan's column


Vittorio Emanuel monument

Vittorio Emanuel monument


Forum

Forum


Umbrella Pine

Umbrella Pine


Colosseum

Colosseum

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Long weekend in Rome begins

We had booked B&B G&G online, and had requested a late check in. By the time our flight landed late and then we finally got there, it was later than expected, but they let us right in, explained what we needed to know, and asked us what time we wanted them to make us breakfast.The B&B is set in an apartment building in a quiet neighborhood near the Vatican metro stop. It doesn't have a big sign out front, but there is a clearly-marked button by the huge entrance to the building that says B&B G&G. Upon entering, there is a super-old fashioned cage elevator, which we really enjoyed riding, even though it was only 1 floor up. I could imagine somebody in the 1930s using this “newfangled contraption.”The various bedrooms in the apartment are rented out individually, but share a kitchen area and bathrooms. Everything was very clean, well-maintained, and well-decorated. I felt like we were staying in a place that should have been twice what we paid for it, except that the bathrooms were shared. The room we had was HUGE for Europe. We had a king-sized bed, a sitting area with couch-chairs and a table, as well as plenty of additional space to spread out. The air conditioning worked well. Overall, I have to highly recommend the place.The only disadvantages are that there isn't a 24-hour front desk, and breakfast only starts at 8, so if you're the type who wants to get out into the city early, you'll want to find your own breakfast.We were pretty excited to be on vacation, so after we got settled in, we headed out to explore a bit and to grab a late-night dinner. It was after 11, so a lot of places weren't open, but we did find a cute little restaurant with pretty tiles on the walls that still had people working there. By the time we finished it (pasta, caprese salad, and house wine) we were ready for bed.

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Italy for Italians

The hotel may be expensive for the size of the room (although not for Venice), but they are nice enough not to nickel and dime you. I was able to print my boarding passes for free, and really appreciate that they had a free computer for guest use in addition to the free wifi as my computer broke before the trip.<br style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8000001907349px; line-height: normal;">I had breakfast, checked out, and headed to the train station.<br style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8000001907349px; line-height: normal;">Even early in the morning chill, there are plenty of people out and about in Venice. This place is just always crowded everywhere. It reminds me of an amusement park- everybody is a tourist, everything is overpriced, there are massive crowds everywhere, but people keep coming because it's fun and you need to see it at least once.<br style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8000001907349px; line-height: normal;"><br style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8000001907349px; line-height: normal;">Now, off to Vicenza!<br style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8000001907349px; line-height: normal;"><br style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8000001907349px; line-height: normal;">A friend picked me up from the train station and drove me around Vicenza, where she lives. The town is so cute and adorable! It looks like a fun place to live.<br style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8000001907349px; line-height: normal;">After the short tour, we headed out to Lake Garda. On the way, we passed vineyards and farms, and the occasional random castle. It was so picturesque!<br style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8000001907349px; line-height: normal;">Sirmione was just as picturesque. The lake is so flat and calm. The Dolomite mountains in the background were just visible through the haze. And the tiny castle was adorable.<br style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8000001907349px; line-height: normal;">In front of the castle is a fruit-seller, who my friend said had the best fruit, and she was right. I don't know where he gets it, but everything was sweet and juicy and absolutely delicious!<br style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8000001907349px; line-height: normal;">We enjoyed it on a nice walk along the lake. We saw a bunch of Italians also enjoying the recreation that the lake provides. Unlike Venice, which was filled with different languages, Sirmeone was filled with Italian.<br style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8000001907349px; line-height: normal;">Our walk wound around the lake and some wooded paths until we saw what looked like a gorgeous park behind a gate that was opened, but closing. We took a walk through the gorgeous gardens studded with statues of Roman myths and up to an ancient-looking building before one of the guys that worked at the hotel informed us that this was exclusive and we needed to leave. It was a nice walk though.<br style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8000001907349px; line-height: normal;">Next, we entered the castle and the old part of the city, just to wander around. I know I'm repeating myself, but everything is just so beautiful and picturesque! Look at the pictures that can't begin to capture the beauty!<br style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8000001907349px; line-height: normal;">Eventually, we got hungry, so we headed out of old town and to a nearby restaurant. This is where I got the homemade pasta I've been waiting for this whole trip. We also had some strong olive oil with the bread, and some delicious caprese. It may have been the best meal I had this trip.<br style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8000001907349px; line-height: normal;">Unfortunately, after food, it was time to separate.<br style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8000001907349px; line-height: normal;">We drove through some more quaint small-town areas to the train station and said bye (for now...)<br style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8000001907349px; line-height: normal;">This time, it was light outside as I rode the train, so I could see the Dolomite mountains, the farming villages, and the occasional castle watch tower out my window.

Sirmione Castle

Sirmione Castle


Moat

Moat


Lake Garda

Lake Garda


Forbidden garden

Forbidden garden

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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