Italy and Austria 2017: Day 4 — The Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Castel Sant’Angelo

UGH. After such a tiring day yesterday, we had to wake up early. The good news is that we slept well, and woke up feeling pretty refreshed.

Today marked our first foray into the Rome Metro as well. Previous to this, we had just been riding the bus and tram. Surprisingly (or maybe not, now that I think on it), Rome only has two underground lines. It is such a large city that I was surprised that they did not have more, yet it is so old and has so many layers that I’m not surprised they haven’t built more. It seems that one cannot go ten feet without finding something of archaeological value. I can just imagine how they would start to dig, but then have to stop to excavate something, thus pushing the project timeline back. Interestingly, the city is in the midst of digging a new line, Linea C. The dig for it is going RIGHT NEXT TO the Colosseum and Forum, which boggles my mind, as this is truly in the oldest part of the city. Wouldn’t the vibrations from all the digging cause more potential collapse? I’m sure they have engineers and archaeologists who can certify the dig is okay to move forward, but it was just surprising to see.

So first impressions: the Metro in Rome is SO not as nice as the Tube in London. I mean, it doesn’t even compare. The Paris Metro is even better, and I didn’t like that one because of how confusing it was. This one is more simple – just two lines as I mentioned – but it is not as well maintained. The English love their Tube; they even have a whole museum and gift shop devoted to it, so it shows. The Roman Metro? No.

Anyway, we rode the line and navigated our way with two Australian ladies who were also making their first trip into the Roman Metro and also going to the Vatican. They were here for their first trip, too, so we compared places we’d seen. Thanks, again, to Google Maps, we were able to find our way to our meeting point for our tours. We arrived early enough that Thing 2 and I were able to stop in to the little cafe right in front of the entrance to the Vatican museums, the Caffé Vatican, and get a pastry and something to drink. Thing 2 got a chocolate muffin and a donut; I got some sort of a pastry with chocolatey goodness inside.

Our guide was a gentleman named Emanuele, and he was an art historian who really knew his stuff. He took us through the Vatican Museums and explained everything we saw. We started off in the picture gallery; all of the art here was arranged by date from the earliest Christian art through to the Baroque period. We also saw an amazing room full of enormous tapestries. Not only were they large, but also they had gold threads woven into them to provide richness and a luminous quality. He also showed us lots of different sculptures and early Etruscan funerary urns. We also got to see the Bramante Staircase, which was actually a ramp.

It was called a staircase, but it was a ramp because it enabled the Pope to travel up and down it on a horse. Not everyone gets to see this, so we felt really special. From there it started getting more crowded as we traveled through the rest of the rooms in the old Papal Palace. My favorite room was one of the Raphael Rooms, the Stanza della Segnatura, because this room contains Raphael’s painting, The School of Athens.

This painting is in many history books, including the one that I use with my own students. So, seeing it in person was WAY cool.

Another amazing hall that we passed through was the Gallery of Maps. This was even more amazing (in some respects) than the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. The Gallery of Maps is 120 m (393 ft.) long, while the Hall of Mirrors is only 73 m (239.5 ft.) long.

Along both long walls are a series of maps which showed all the regions of Italy; there are twenty maps on each wall. So, all regions of Italy were represented, plus islands such as Corsica and Sicily. (Corsica belonged to Italy at that time; it is now French.) Each map is nearly square (15 by 16 ft.) and includes details such as cities and rivers. Above each map is a painting that depicts some miracle that took place in the map below it. Every inch of the gallery is decorated; the ceiling is magnificent. I have to admit that, at first, I thought we were moving into the Sistine Chapel. (It was that magnificent.)

The Sistine Chapel was nearly our last stop. It was amazing. It was supposed to be silent inside, but there were so many people inside that the murmuring got loud. Occasionally, the museum guards would call out, “Silencio!” We also needed to ensure that we had our shoulders covered and our knees. Like the Gallery of Maps, every inch of the Sistine Chapel is decorated. The ceiling, of course, was magnificent. The door that we entered was actually the door behind the altar. So, we entered, turned around, and then saw Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. All told, we spent about 15 minutes in there, taking it all in, noting some of the details that Mr. Emanuele told us about before we entered. It was forbidden to take pictures, otherwise I would have posted some here.

Lastly, we visited St. Peter’s Basilica. It is almost overwhelming how large it is. According to our guide, sixty thousand people can fit inside. The main nave of the church is huge; along the side are two levels of statues. The statues at the first level are twelve feet tall; the statues at the second level are 15 feet tall. The Latin writing near the ceiling of the basilica is nine feet tall. The chapels off to either side of the nave are immense. One was dedicated to Pope Saint John Paul II. Several people were inside his chapel sitting in prayer or silent reflection. In another part of the church, one could go to Confession. Priests were available to hear confessions in several different languages. Thing 2 and I opted to visit the grottoes where many of the popes are interred. Saint Pope John Paul II was in the grottoes until he was elevated to the sainthood; now he is interred in the chapel devoted to him off the main nave. We also had a chance to see Michelangelo’s Pietá.

This was a very crowded part of the basilica, because so many people wanted to see it. It is behind glass, as someone in the 1970’s took a hammer to it. It is restored, but must be protected now.

Before we left St. Peter’s Basilica and Square, and the Vatican in general, we took an opportunity to mail some postcards home from the Vatican. They have their own stamps and postal system – plus their own radio tower.

Hot and more than a little weary, Thing 2 and I walked to a little “pizza on the go” place a few blocks from the Vatican. It was soooooo good. The restaurant had all sorts of personal-sized pizzas made up on focaccia bread; you chose the one you wanted and then put it in the oven for a few minutes and brought it to you.

It hit the spot after a long morning of walking around. At this point, it was our plan to visit the Parthenon and then visit Castel Sant’Angelo. But we were over-ambitious and underestimated how tired we were. Plus, Castel Sant’Angelo was very close to the Vatican, so we headed over there lazily and got our tickets for our guided tour at 4 p.m. I also took some great shots of the Tiber River from the bridge that is right out in front of the fortress.

The Castel Sant’Angelo is similar to the Tower of London. It is an old medieval fortress, and actually it was originally built during the time of Emperor Hadrian to house his cremated remains.

Once Rome became Christian, they got rid of the remains and used the complex as a fortress and prison. It had a nice defensive position right on the river and on the hill. They even built a “secret” two-story passageway from it to the Vatican itself (which we walked in). Not a whole lot of people get to walk in there, either, so we felt even more special.

When Rome was under siege during the 1500s, the current pope actually escaped through the secret passage way and stayed in the Castel Sant’Angelo for six months until the siege was lifted. So, one of the things we also got to see on our guided tour was the pope’s bathtub!

Yep, the picture above is where he cleaned off. We also visited the dungeons and saw the storerooms where they stocked their provisions (like olive oil and wine).

By the time this tour was over Thing 2 and I had serious foot problems. I had developed blisters on my feet from so much walking and Thing 2 was just plain tired. We used Google Maps to find our way back to the hotel. One of the things that we passed on the way home was a water fountain. They’re actually all over the city of Rome and not what one would normally think of when thinking of a drinking fountain. But they’re not a fountain at Disneyland either. Sometimes they’re decorative, and other times not. But there is a constant, running stream of water coming out of these fountains. People walk up to them and put some in their hands to wash their face or wash their hands.

Others fill up their water bottles, like we did. (If you are a tourist, we quickly found out you only need to buy a water once, and then the rest of the time, fill up your bottle with water from the fountain.) The water is totally fresh and COLD, so it is a welcome treat on a hot Roman day. They had one at the Forum, too. And our guide at the Forum (more about that in the next post) told us that they’re constantly running, reliable and fresh, come from underground aquifers (some of the same that the Romans tapped into themselves so long ago), and is so plentiful that no one in Rome has a water bill. There was one such fountain right across the street from our hotel.

I cannot remember what we had for dinner. I think it was gelato again? 😀

For even more photos from our day, including some seen in the above post, visit this link.

Italy and Austria 2017: Day 3 – Capitoline Museums, Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, Baths of Caracalla, and … an Aborted Attempt to See the Appian Way and Basilica di San Sebastiano Outside the Walls

Though I had hoped we wouldn’t experience it, jet lag struck Thing 2 and I early this morning — about 2:30 or 3 in the morning to be exact. We gave it the good ‘ol college try and rested as best we could, but when it started getting light around 5 am, we got up and got busy. We turned on Italian TV, I wrote the previous blog post, we showered up, and got ready to eat breakfast.

Our first stop of the day was the Capitoline Museums, located on the Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills on which Rome was founded, and near the Forum.

The piazza in front of the Capitoline Museums –there’s actually three buildings in total.

We got transportation tickets good for two days from the local tobacco shop (marked with a big black and white T outside; they sell stamps and stuff, too) and used Google Maps to route us to the museum via public transportation. Our tickets worked for bus, tram, and subway. The bus heading in the direction of “Fori Imperiali” was packed, and that’s where we got off. It was still relatively early in the morning (around 8:45 a.m.), too. We headed up the hill, bought our tickets, and started walking around. As we walked up, we could see parts of the Forum on two sides of us. The highlight of the Capitoline Museum (for me) was being able to see the bronze statue of the she-wolf that saved Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.

The very famous bronze statue of the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus; Romulus would go on to found Rome.

There was also a huge head of Constantine (and other parts of his body) that I had seen in photographs, and now I finally got to see it for myself.

The head of the Colossal Constantine
The head of the Colossal Constantine, with Thing 2 for scale
The toes of one of the feet of the Colossal Constantine

The museums also had some great sculptures by the master, Bernini.

A sculpture of Medusa, also by Bernini.
A sculpture by Bernini, of Pope Urban VIII

After the museums, we decided to try to find some lunch. I looked on Yelp and found a nicely rated restaurant in Trastevere, which was across the river from the rest of the city. It was conveniently located near a church I wanted to visit, the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, so that was good.

Our lunch in Trastavere, a neighborhood of Rome.

Thing 2 ordered herself a lasagna and I ordered a pasta carbonara. Both were delicious. Our restaurant was located near the piazza in front of the church. Tiny streets led out of the piazza; I thought they were pedestrian walkways through that part of the city.

From our restaurant in Trastavere, looking down the street on which cars and scooters still drive.

But, NO, cars and scooters still drive down these streets – and often. As a pedestrian, one must watch out! Also, all the streets are cobbled with these small black squares. They are hard to walk on after one has been walking all day. What I wouldn’t give for a smooth Orange County sidewalk! It was fun to people watch people walking up and down the streets as they went about their business, and trying to avoid the cars and scooters. Anyway, as a treat, the waiter gave us two shots of limoncello to top off our meal.

My after-lunch treat. 🙂

Thing 2 had a sip and decided she didn’t like it, so I downed both shots. 😁

The church, of course, was amazing. Behind the altar of the church, the ceiling was domed, and it was decorated entirely in mosaics. They were AMAZING.

The inside of the dome behind the altar in the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere

We spent about 30 minutes in the church, looking into each of the chapels off to the side, and we said our prayers.

The ceiling of the nave of the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere

From there, it was our plan to visit the Baths of Caracalla (Terme di Caracalla). He was an emperor at one time. The baths, in their time, were large enough to hold 6,000 people. The complex even included a library and was multi-storied. The ruins were immense.

The Baths at Caracalla . . . Just one view of them.

We found a shady bench to sit at for a bit to rest our feet. In the shade, and with the breeze, it was pleasant. But walking around in full sun, whew – it was HOT.

Lastly, going further south from the baths, we hoped to visit the Appian Way and the Basilica of San Sebastian fuori le mira (Outside the Walls). Our feet were killing us by this point, mostly mine. We got on the (overcrowded) bus again to get us down to the Appian Way. This street was cobbled and rutted and there was no sidewalk to speak of. I mention this because after the bus dropped us off, we had to walk a bit further to get to the Appian Way.

The street said Appian Way, but we didn’t see it!

So, with cars and scooters whizzing past us, we set off . . . except we couldn’t find the entrance to the park . . . so we thought, “Ah, let’s skip it and just head, instead, straight for the Basilica di San Sebastian fuori le mura. It is one of the seven pilgrim churches of Rome. So we walked to the next stop on our bus route and figured we’d ride the rest of the way to San Sebastiano. But when I consulted Google Maps, I realized the bus only went one more stop, and we’d have to walk even more. In fact, we’d have to walk further from the bus stop to the basilica than the bus was going to travel to the next stop. So, sweaty and tired, and keeping in mind we’d been up since 3 am or so, we took our lives in our hands to cross the street to get to the bus stop on the other side. (There are walk / don’t walk indicator signs, but not everywhere.) There are crosswalks indicated in the street, but one just has to step out and start walking and (hopefully) cars and scooters will stop.

[Funny story: Earlier in the day, on our way to lunch, we needed to cross a huge intersection outside the Capitoline Museums and in front of the “wedding cake” (more on that later) . . . We were standing by the crosswalk, waiting until what seemed like a good time to cross, except there weren’t any. Then, on the other side of the street, I saw a young priest just start walking out into traffic. I said to Thing 2, “That man has God on his side!” And once everyone saw him walking out and traffic stopping for him – I mean, whose going to accidentally hit a priest!?! – they started crossing, too. As we crossed by him in the street, he let out a huge grin, knowing that he helped us all out.]

Anyway, we waited for our bus and headed on back to the hotel.

Hot and tired, a selfie before getting on our bus to head back to the hotel.

Since we had had a big lunch, we opted for gelatto for dinner – an even bigger serving than our first night.

We were back to our hotel at around 17:30, and I immediately took a shower and crashed. I think I slept until about 8 while Thing 2 listened to music. I woke up and read a bit before going back to sleep for good. And, we actually got a great night’s sleep – both of us. This was good because we had to wake up early for our next day’s agenda: The Vatican.

(For a few more pictures, including some you see here, of our day, view this link.)

Six Reasons Why the Tudors Are Awesome to Study (and Why You Should Study Them): A Listicle

As part of my (lapsed) membership in the #EdublogsClub, I was prompted this week to write a “Listicle” entry. If you don’t know what a Listicle is, let me enlighten you. In a sense, it is an informative list about any topic. Often times, the subject of the list is titillating or sensational in some way like this one. Or, the list can be specific to a topic that a specific reader might have an interest in, and the list might help one to deepen their understanding about the topic, like this one. (mental_floss is one of my favorite places to view listicles, by the way.)

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

So, without further ado, here is my list:

  1. Henry VIII had six wives. Yes, six. That alone is amazing, especially for a guy who lived in the 1500s. Most people didn’t get divorced back then. Really, though, if you think about it, he only divorced two times. His third wife died, and his last wife survived him. The other two wives? This leads me to . . .
  2. Henry VIII had two of his wives’ heads chopped off. Our 21st century notions of marriage include deep, abiding love. Back then, marriage was more of a business transaction, but it still goes beyond the pale to think that dissatisfaction with the marriage could result in execution.
  3. Henry VIII started a religious reform movement in England. He wanted to annul his first marriage to his wife, Catherine, daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. The Pope said, “No.” Henry VIII didn’t like to be told that, so he said the the Pope, “You’re not the boss of me anymore!” and separated himself and his country from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome. He became the head of his own church, the Church of England, later to be known as the Anglican Church. In reality, it wasn’t too much different than the Catholic church, and there were great debates during Henry’s time about how much of the liturgy should be changed. It was pretty rocky for a while, depending upon whether or not one was a Catholic or a Church of England member (Protestant), which leads me to . . .
  4. Wanna know where the moniker “Bloody Mary” comes from? It actually is a reference to Henry VIII’s  oldest daughter (from his first marriage), Mary. Henry VIII started England on the path toward Protestantism, but when he died and Mary took over, she zealously brought England back into the Roman Catholic fold. She persecuted people of the “new faith,” killing and torturing so many that she earned the nickname.
  5. Elizabeth, Henry VIII’s second daughter (from his second marriage to Anne Boleyn), is an awesome example of a strong woman in history. She was a strategic thinker — albeit sometimes overthinking things — and she had a coterie of spymasters and advisors helping her out. She even kept her own cousin, Mary Queen of Scots (not to be confused with Elizabeth’s sister, Mary) under house arrest for more than eighteen years.
  6. Henry VIII has an awesome Twitter account. Seriously. It is truly laugh-out-loud funny. Henry’s followers get to read snarky posts about world leaders, his favorite foods and activities, and prescriptions for truly living the #TudorLife. The online feud he has with Richard III is delightful reading for #Nerdy Tudor enthusiasts like myself.