Rome Sightseeing

Trip Start May 22, 2007
Trip End Jun 04, 2007

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Italy Blog Friday and Saturday
Sightseeing Rome
Our agenda for Friday included seeing as much of the Vatican area as possible.  We got an early start and took the train into Rome, arriving by 9am.  We then transferred to the Metro A line for the ride across town to the Vatican.  The Ottaviano stop leaves visitors about 1 km from the Piazza San Pietro.  The experience grew more taxing the closer we got to the objective.  The A line metro was packed.  We had to push along with huge crowds and then pack into the subway trains like sardines.  The station was so hot, huge and crowded that we were all winded and soaked through by the time we made the trains.  The walk up Via Ottaviano was a total circus.  Crowds, huge crowds.  Hucksters.  Tour agents.  Water and roach coach food vendors.  Did I mention crowds?  I guess there may have been a quarter million people on foot around that 1 km stretch.  When we arrived at the boundary of the Vatican, we knew we were not seeing the Vatican Museums.  It is about ½ to ¾ km from that point to the entrance and the line extended another 500+ yards beyond toward the Piazza.  One of the local guides told us that the wait was 3 hours from the corner at Via Ottaviano.  I had seen the museum in 1999 and Dad can't stand crowds, so we skipped it.  Besides, it was already flirting with 90 and there is no breeze in there below the medieval walls of the Vatican.  I would not be surprised if people die in those lines this summer.  So, for planning to take students:  if the Vatican Museums are essential, plan far ahead and contract with a tour vendor to guarantee admission.  One American we talked to told us that some of the guides charge big money and don't guarantee admission, only a place in line.
We wandered into the Piazza San Pietro and found-people.  Lots of them.  The line to enter the Basilica stretched all the way around the colonnade and across the opening.  I suspect that 20,000 people were in that line.  We photographed the Piazza as best we could.  BTW, the scaffolding that prevented me from seeing the façade of the Basilica in 1999 has been removed.  We managed some shots of the duck in the Piazza before we nearly dropped from the heat.  Retreating to the far side of the Piazza, we crashed in the shade and just watched the world go by.  Wonder of wonders, they cleared the entrance line in about 30 minutes and we were able to go the Basilica with only about a 5 minute wait at security.  The Basilica is as extraordinary as I remembered.  Huge.  Ornate. Over the Top.  Gaudy.  Packed to the brim with amazing art.  It was also packed with thousands of people.  That building is amazing in that it can swallow a crowd of that size and beg for more.  We saw Michelangelo's Pieta and Bernini's Window of the Holy Spirit.  I took about 70 photos.  We all wondered whether the Church could keep doing its business under the pressure.  It all felt very amusement park and even a bit of a mockery.  The building is spectacular and the site drips History from every pore.  Despite that, I would push it down on my list of things to show students.
We left the Vatican and made our way back to the neighborhood around Piazza Repubblica so that Dad could meet a friend at the church of St. Paul within the Walls.  I think there is also one 'Outside the Walls' out in Testaccio.  But Dad does not have any friends there so there was no need to go...  Buck and I managed lunch and some shopping and then we had to retreat to Frascati to cool down and get some rest.  For me, rest meant a short nap and working on my blog.  For Buck, it meant a little mountaineering.  We had another fine meal in Frascati and spent lots of time on the main piazza, sitting on the steps of the cathedral, watching the people.  I came to the conclusion that the main purpose of the town of Frascati is to have a place to serve gelato.  In my opinion, that is a noble purpose and we should contact the UN about putting it on the list of world treasures.  It is a bit noisy at bedtime since the activity continues well into the night.  The world cup of motoscooter racing appears to be based here and the heats run until at least 2 am.
Saturday was the time to try Ancient Rome.  Buck and I made the trip in, taking the Metro to the Colosseo stop.  At the Colosseo, we found big crowds of people.  Nothing on the Vatican scale, but enough to put the wait for admission to the Colosseo at about an hour.  We took some exterior shots and dodged the photo hucksters/bodybuilders in the gladiator uniforms.  We also photographed the Arch of Constantine.  A personal note:  I love that spot despite the mayhem.  Both the Colosseo and the Arch are spectacular.  The setting is even more special because the place is so beautiful.  Down the avenue that goes south from the Colosseo, there are huge pine trees that have been meticulously sculpted for centuries so that all of the foliage is up top.  They look like very elegant versions of Dr. Suess's troufula trees from the Lorax.  When I spent time here in 1999, my commute to work took me down that avenue every morning and I can still close my eyes and remember that green space.  It felt great to see it again today.  If you go, go past the Colosseo and walk a bit down that road.  You won't be sorry.
When I was here before, I did not have time for the Forum, so we dove into it right away.  I have to confess, I was moved.  We historians really get our geek on in places where the History thrives around us.  Wow!  I have read a lot about it, trying to get ready for the trip, but I was not prepared for the massive size, the number of buildings, the craftsmanship or the great sense of place.  My camera was popping like the popcorn machine at a movie theater.  The place was packed with people, but we could move easily and take lots of pictures.  I had the same experience at Pompeii eight years ago.  Walking Roman streets, on the same basalt paving stones they walked, seeing the monuments that organized their society, I was connected to the past in a powerful way.   I really want to bring students there so that they can see that.
Finishing the forum, we bought tickets to the Capitoline museum.  Finally, we found a place that was nearly deserted.  We spent hours wandering from room to room to see the great collection.  One thing that I had not expected to see was a magnificent display of artifacts and graphics that helped me to understand the settlement of the Capitoline back into the Bronze age.  They had a display of artifacts found on the hill that dated back almost 4,000 years.  It also included some nice artists renditions of what the hill looked like at different times.  BTW, it looks pretty good now.  That Michelangelo fellow really knew his landscape architecture...  Inside the museum, we definitely overdosed on great art.  Buck found some original Caravaggios, which were works that he had studied extensively in college.  We found and photographed lots of great statuary, including the Capitoline Venus and the Dying Gaul.  I can't wait to fold some of the nearly 150 photos that I took today into my lectures for the fall.
Leaving the museums, we strolled past the Theater of Marcellus and across the Tiber (via Isola Tiburtina-a small island) and into Trastevere, where we rested and got ripped off for lunch.  The café where we stopped charged us 30 euro for lunch of Panini and beverage.  By contrast, Dad had the same today in Frascati and only paid 9 euro.  From there, we re-crossed the Tiber and headed south.  We found two more very old Roman temples from the Republican period, where the duck insisted on being photographed again.  We then went down into and strolled the Circus Maximus.  A chariot would have been a lot of fun.  The guidebook said it could hold up to 250,000 spectators at its peak.  I believe it.  I had Buck take my picture in front of my old stomping grounds at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization before we caught the Metro and made our way out.
That amounted to two very hard sightseeing days.  I feel like I have had a good butt whipping from the heat and walking.  Sandra emailed me yesterday and let me know that my x-rays (taken just before we left) showed a partially torn Achilles.  I guess that explains the limping.  I will definitely have to behave my self and let Buck climb all the volcanoes as we head to southern Italy on Monday.
We wandered far up the hill tonight into Frascati to find dinner.  Rome's mayhem has invaded as thousands of Romans have come up for passagiata, dinner, gelato and running scooters every which way.  We stopped in at a place that was far from the hotels at the other end of town and dined al fresco.  They made an excellent bruschette topped with a paste of olives.  Pizza with porcini mushrooms and sausage, bruschette with olives, local wine, gelato and coffee.  All for less than what we'd have paid at Carino's back home. We dined outside under wonderful old sycamore trees next to a fountain surrounded by local families spanning multiple generations.  We have discovered that the Italians live life by passion.  Passion is in everything they do.  It reminds me of the line from the movie Dead Poet's Society about 'sucking the marrow out of life".  Every evening in Frascati seems like a national statement that life is only miserable if you let it be. 
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jbrashercfc on

Amazing photos
I love the photos from inside the Vatican. Very dramatic lighting. I would have been in my element seeing the original artwork... just like Buck.


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