Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

And There Was Italy

Fast, too fast, Italy passed from the list of future and present destinations to the one of the past's. We spent 19 full days and nights, changing beds seven times, Milan, Torino, Florence, Venice, Vietri sur Mare, Napoli, and Roma. We stayed in five apartments rented on and two hotels (for one night each).
Colloseum in the distance

We went on and on visiting a lot. Greek and Roman ruins, churches and museums, occasionally some amazing landscapes. We travelled by plane between Venice and Napoli, we rented a car in Catania for three days, we travelled the rest by train, boat and bus. We saw some of the most phenomenal creations in the history of the human race.

There is no country richer than Italy in historic monuments and no amount of time and energy would do it justice. We got a glimpse, saw the top attractions and we left yearning for more. We had only one day of rest that was long overdue and most welcomed, on the last stretch, in Rome, where we stayed for five nights. We arrived there from Napoli, an easy, short ride. Saving money, we took a regular, regional train. The high speed ones go in just 70 minutes, this was $130 cheaper and took two and a half hours. Then it took almost another hour to get to our apartment. We chose comfort and low price, settling in a regular neighborhood. There were stores and caffes patronized by regular Italians, no tourist in site.
Plaza San Pietro with Egyptian obelisk and long line

On the first day we went straight to the Vatican. There are two things to see there, the Vatican Museum and the San Pietro Basilica, the biggest and most fantastic church in the world. Our landlord and our guidebooks warned us about the long cues at the museum and advised reserving the tickets online. There was a reservation fee that added up to $26 - it should have saved us a lot of time. When we got in the San Pietro plaza there was a humongous line waiting to enter the church. We estimated it at no less than two hours, we chose not to stay. We just hung around, waiting for the time of our museum reservation. We wrote postcards and sent them from the Vatican, a special treat in itself.

Meanwhile the line to the church decreased significantly - we still couldn't stay because of our timed reservation at the museum. Surprisingly, there was no line. At the ticket booths the sellers were getting bored, making it clear that I wasted the money for nothing. Basically we paid a 50% premium on the tickets, tough to swallow, but soon it didn't matter anymore.
There are some intense dangerous jobs out there but guarding the treasures of the Vatican Museum is not one of them

One of the most famous museums in the world, the Vatican's is a huge palace with several wings and countless exhibits, topped by the most extraordinary achievement of humanity, the Sixtine Chapel. We took five hours, going from one museum to the next, going through Etruscan, Greek, Roman art, then Renaissance, followed by the Vatican's collection of Modern art. There are several Dali paintings and did you know that Van Gogh painted two Pietas? One of them is in the Vatican, hidden in one of the smallest rooms as people make their last dash toward the Sistine Chapel. It's really worth a look!
Van Gogh

Going through the collection of ancient sculpture it is sad to notice censorship and false modesty in action, most statues have been mutilated, removing especially the male genitalia, sometimes, they were "improved" by covering with a leaf. It's still progress compared to early Christians who simply destroyed everything they could, but it's stupid and painful.
Not so lucky sculpture

Lucky one

We spent almost an hour in the Sistine Chapel until our necks hurt and then through a secret back door we made it to the Basilica San Pietro. It was dark already, the church was open for service, not for tours, and we couldn't get to visit Michelangelo's dome or see the Bernini's altar up close. Still, it was impressive, as great as we remembered it from our previous visit nine years ago.
San Pietro Basilica
Next day, it was Ancient Rome, first the Colosseum and then the Roman forum. One of the greatest sites of antiquity, the Colosseum was built in the first century AD at the site of the former Nero villa. A temporary exhibit that we passed through gave all the details about the site over the centuries. Despite the hordes of tourists, there is plenty of room for everybody and the former stadium stands as proof of the greatness of the Roman engineers. There is not much fun to learn about what was actually happening there, the cruelty of the shows cannot even be imagined. It was financed with the loot from Jerusalem and built mostly by Jewish slaves taken after the first revolt in Judea in 70 AD. But, it is the Colosseum, one of the most famous places in the world.
Front row view of the Colloseum

Getting out of there we passed by the Constantine Arch. The great Roman emperor who converted to Christianism, who stopped the persecutions of Christians, who forced the conversion of the empire, who basically shaped the history of the world as we know it. A hero for the church and billions of believers. He had an enemy, a war for power and one night he had a vision of a cross on the sky. He won the battle next day. Great story, but for me it is hard to give him any credit and even harder to understand how the last 1800 years of the world could be decided by this one vision. We will do our best to follow Constantine later on...

The Arch of Constantine, he collected glorious scenes from all over Rome and affixed them to his arch 

Many paths in the forum were closed, we looked at some individual sites, but if one can imagine for a moment how the place looked two thousand years ago... I would probably visit the forum every time for the next hundred visits to Rome.
Roman Forum

We got out in the Piazza del Campidoglio. I heard about it but I never got it. With Ileana's help I learned its true significance. Michelangelo designed the architectural layout of the plaza and the palaces around it and he also designed the stairs leading to it. How great can someone be if people come to marvel at some stairs he made!!!
Michelangelo designed stairs

The Piazza is centered around the greatest equestrian statue of antiquity. Or at least the greatest one that was left for us. It is Marc Aurelius with a raised hand, early Christians thought that it was their Constantine blessing them and they didn't destroy it like they did with most other ancient art. The original is now in the museum, there is a perfect copy outside.
The original inside the museum

The museum claims to be the oldest in the world, established by the pope in 1471. It is important and we found it interesting, but they were going to charge $13 for every child. In many other places, their entrance is free until age 18, as they are from an EU country. We chose to leave the children outside, it was a lovely afternoon. I felt guilty, especially since they were so happy. We toured the museum fast, there are some very beautiful sculptures here. At first we were lost and it seemed that we were losing time in a temporary exhibit, Roma - caput mundi. Later we would realize that some fantastic exponates from other museums were on display here. We got to some places, looked for something in particular only to have an empty stand with a note "this is in Roma - caput mundi exhibit". We would look at the note, the little attached picture and realize that we saw it earlier.

The children didn't complain about our absence. It was getting late, time for dinner, they wanted to go home. Not so easy. We had to see the Trajan column. Any Romanian child knows before 12 why that is the most important site in Rome. It is the story of the creation of the Romanian people. It depicts scenes from the Dacic wars of 101-102 and 105-106 AD, the Roman victory, it displays images of the Dacs, the previous inhabitants of the land that now forms Romania. It's not easy to see much on the column, it might be better to get to a museum that has slides with all the bas-reliefs at eye level. For us it doesn't matter much, nothing can come close to the experience of being by the column in Rome. We tell the children about "Badea Cârțan" a legendary Romanian peasant, who one day, after finishing with his crops, started to walk to Rome from his little village. He arrived after a couple of months, he came to the column, he said "now I know where we come from" and went to sleep by the base. In the morning the Romans were shocked that a Dac descended from the column and the papers wrote about it. He lived in the second half of the 19th century, died in 1911, it is incredible that nobody knows in what year he took this trip. But I know I wanted to see the column since I learned about him.
Trajan's column

On our way home, we had just a little detour. San Pietro in Vincoli, St. Peter-in-chains church. Built in the 5th century it displays the chains used on St. Peter. Yes. And of course, if you didn't know it already, I am sure you expected it: a statue by Michelangelo - Moses. The church is great, and even so we spent all the time by this statue, we couldn't have enough.

On our last day it was tricky. We covered the most important sites, but we still had enough to see for another week. I took charge. One long walk and one last museum. In a few hours we passed by all the famous landmarks of the city and we finished with a little cone of gelato next to Fontana Trevi. Four of us threw coins in the hope that it will guarantee our return to Rome. Ileana, my wife, doesn't believe in superstitions, she just took pictures. I am a very practical guy and in such important matters I don't take any chances.
Piazza Navona, in front of the Four Rivers Fountain
The Pantheon

Elephant Obelisk in Piazza Minerva

Piazza Colonna

Marcus Aurelius' Column

Fontana Trevi

The first, the best and the last gelato in Rome, in front of Trevi Fountain

We finished our day, our tour of Rome and our time in Italy with an amazing, unexpected, gem. The National Museum of Rome has four branches and the one we visited, at Palazzo Maximo, has the greatest collection of ancient Roman art anywhere in the world. It is nicely divided on several themes, on four levels and the value of its exhibits it's accentuated by the useful descriptions and mindful display. A few hours pass by in a moment here, enjoying the friezes from several Roman villas, the statues, the bronze displays and finally in a bunker in the basement a course of finance from the beginning of Rome to Modern day Italy.
Frescoes in Villa Livia

I discovered a special interest in these little details of the frescoes

And, like I said, before we knew it, Italy was gone. We took a little part of it with us to hold on to until next time.

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