Trip Start Aug 09, 2012
Trip End Sep 01, 2012

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Flag of Italy  , Lazio,
Saturday, August 18, 2012

Day 1

We arrived in Rome around 430 today where we headed straight to the Colosseum. It was so amazing to see it up close and tomorrow we can't wait to go in and explore it more. It is so magnificent that it's hard to believe it is so historic. We started our walking tour where we wandered the streets and you truly feel like you are walking the streets of the Roman Empire. The buildings are still standing tall but those that have crumbled have basically been left as a tribute to the past. Included in our walk was the National monument, the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. The national monument is hated by all those who live in Rome as it obstructs their views of the city. The Trevi fountain is so beautiful. You are supposed to go to the fountain and toss a coin over your shoulder. One coin was to return to Rome, two coins was to fall in love and the third one is to stay in love and stay in Rome. We have not tossed our coin yet but plan to go back and do that tomorrow. The Pantheon is incredible! Just to think that this building was standing for thousands of years. This building was a temple erected to honor the Greek Gods. It later was taken over by the Catholic church which is why it is in such good condition because it was actually maintained. The statues were placed back in the building at a later time but the building and pillars are all as they were many years ago - incredible. During our walking tour we were given freshly made Gelato which was amazing. Brian had banana and caramel and I had peach and banana. Dinner was provided for us and we had fresh homemade pizza. Each person on the tour received their own pizza. I had margarita and Brian had a ham - delicious. We are all so exhausted that we are heading to bed to get a full night sleep (and to catch up from the night before) and tomorrow we get to explore at our own pace which we are looking forward too. Amazing day - just very busy.

Fun fact: there are only 2 metro lines in Rome and they will not add anymore because every time the dig underground they uncover more and more artifacts (ie: catacombs). Also the
money collected in the Trevi Fountain goes directly to local charities.

Day 2 - free day in Rome

Today we were able to go and explore Rome at our own pace. This morning we headed for breakfast around 830 and started walking to the metro to head downtown. This was probably the scariest part of our trip so far. Everyone warned us about the pickpockets in Paris but no one told us how bad they would be in Rome. Even our tour director was especially careful and actually pointed a few out to Brian and I (although the ones being chased by police through the station didn't need to be pointed out). Sadly the pickpockets do happen to be a lot of children as they can fit through tight crowds usually undetected. It is also not uncommon to see women carrying a baby try to get you as well. Everyone walks through the station with locks on their bags, and backpacks are worn on the front and not your back. It was slightly terrifying and we definitely were glad it was a group of 30 on the metro because we all watched out for each other which was nice. When we finally got into the downtown area we went inside the coliseum where we got to wander around and see the massive arena. When people came to the event many years ago seating was based on class. The higher class you were the closer you were to the action and the lower you were the higher you sat. The slaves and animals were housed underneath the stage which was a wooden floor back then. In the pictures you can see they are not that spacious. I made the comparison that the events were not far off from the hunger games in which it's a battle to survive by any means, while people watched on in amusement. After leaving the coliseum our ticket gave us access to some Roman ruins. From the street it looked like a quick walk but 2 hours later I'm not convinced we saw it all. Even though we didn't know what a lot of it was, it was so neat to think that some of these areas are over 2000 years old.

Once we finished up with the ruins Brian and I along with another couple on our tour (Anthony and Claire) headed back to the Trevie Fountain to toss in our coins. Since we are already in love and we don't want to stay here we only tossed one coin each. Not far from the Trevie fountain was the Spanish Steps. I'm not really sure what I was expecting but it literally is just a lot of steps. We of course went up them then continued on our way because we didn't know what else to do there.

Fun Fact #1: the Spanish steps were designed by the Italians, built by the French and are in Italy and yet they are called the SPANISH steps - not sure how they got the credit. But they were actually built to make access to the church easier - a total of 138 steps from top to bottom.

After we finished with the giant staircase we thought we would try to find the cemetery that our tour director suggested to us because apparently it is "interesting." Well we're not sure what was so interesting because after 2 hours and 2 trips up a very steep hill in 40 degree weather we never did find the cemetery - so I guess we will never know. After our sad defeat we decided to head for a drink in air conditioning to take a break. We later headed back through town (avoiding the steep hill) and headed to the other side of town. We stopped at a few churches which are just beautiful here. Thankfully I remembered my shall as in these churches you cannot enter if your knees and shoulders are showing. We later headed to Piazza Navona where we relaxed by three beautiful fountains and watched some street performers. The 4 of us headed for a true Italian dinner in one of the side restaurants where the pasta was homemade. Just for my sister I had the Gnocchi Primavera and Brian had the lasagna. They were both delicious - my gnocchi literally melted in my mouth it was so good. Not long after dinner we finally decided to pack it in but we opted to split a cab between the four of us rather than risk the metro at night - for 3 euro each I think it was well worth it!

Fun Fact #2: Rome has random fountains on the side of the road that is actually fresh drinking water and a way to keep the city hydrated. We carried our water bottle around and filled it up as needed and trust us we needed it. We drank tons of water and still never felt hydrated. With over 40 degree weather no wonder we are exhausted.

Fun Fact #3: Brian is obsessed with the vehicles around town. All the city and police cars appear to be miniature in size - we truly are not even sure how the drivers fit in them. The garbage trucks look like Luigi from the movie Cars and the delivery trucks should be in Mario Cart - very random and funny to stand next to and tower over them (yes we have a lot of pictures of these things too).

Day 3 - Vatican tour

After an amazing sleep last night Brian and I actually felt rested for the first time in a while. We were up nice and early for breakfast at 7:15 so we could leave for Vatican City around 7:55. Once arriving in this country, we greated our tour guide who hooked us up with headsets where she would talk into them and we would be able to hear what she was saying. Personally I think this is the best way to do a tour as you don't have to stand right on top of your tour leader and you can still go a little bit at your own pace.

Our first stop was a terrace where we got an amazing view of St. Peters Church - the best you can have in the Vatican. From here we moved to a courtyard where we were taken to some panels that showed images and explained the Sistine Chapel paintings. Because it is a church explanations are not allowed within the building so everything was done before hand (although she still did some talking inside as well). It was very interesting to hear about how it was painted as the colors that are in the Chapel are the original colors painted by Michaelango himself. Apparently when it was painted it was all done by candlelight which left a residue on the painting. After many attempts and many different solutions, they were finally able to find something to restore the work without interfering with the existing masterpiece. There is even a spot that was left and not cleaned to show the comparison of before and after. Unfortunately the right to the images actually belong to someone else, so photos were not permitted within the Sistine Chapel so we were unable to take photos to show how amazing it was but truly it is a work of art. I believe that even if you are not a spiritual person this room would have been impressive and inspiring as well. This room is we're the cardinals come to vote for a new Pope. Our tour showed us where the chimney is set up during this vote. The cardinals make their selection and if less than majority do not agree the votes are tossed in the fire with a substance that turns the smoke black. If there is a majority the ballots are still burned but this will create a white smoke so those in St. Peters square know a new Pope has been selected. A majority is 75%25252525252525.

We walked through the Vatican museums. The first part was all sculptures which were beautiful and in such amazing condition. Moving through the narrow halls we headed to the tapestry room. This room was amazing as within some of the weaving there was pure gold and silver added to provide more colour and dimension to the images. Some of the tapestries actually change based on the angle you are standing at. For instance the tapestry depicting the resurrection of Christ has him standing on a stone. If you move to the other side of the image, the stone actually changes direction. I'm not too sure why this is but it's impressive. Even the ceiling in the museum is impressive because it actually looks like it is stucco with 3D images but in fact the ceilings are completely flat and the 3D comes from the technique of the painting.

Moving on we finished off in St. Peters square where we went inside the largest church in the world. This building is so impressive and so massive we could have spent days in there looking at everything. We were shown the holy door that is only opened every 25 years for the Jubilee. It is opened at Christmas then closes for the new year. It is termed the Holy Door as Christ was deemed to be the door to salvation and this door is to signify entering the church of salvation. Within the church is the burial place of Pope John Paul the second. There were a lot of amazing sculptures within the church that to write about just the ones we saw would literally be a short novel. Even the floor has a story to it. There are markers within the church to compare the size of this one to others. Due to its size the church took over 150 years to build. Once we were outside in the square we saw the balcony where the Pope appears when he is elected and also his residence. When the Pope is home the windows are open but when they are closed he is away. They were closed for us as he is on holiday right now. I guess even the Pope needs a vacation. Out in the square we were told that it can hold around 150 000 people as compared to the church which can only hold 60 000. This is why the Pope prefers to do his services in the square as often as he can to accommodate the people. However it is not done in the summer or winter.

After leaving Gary took us for pizza at this tiny little store and it was amazing - best pizza I have ever had. They actually charge you based on the weight of your pizza. So if you don't get a lot of toppings on yours you don't pay the same price as someone who gets a lot. We had 3 different kinds of pizza and ham and cheese, a prosciutto and cheese and also a seafood (with shrimp) - yum!

Fun fact: there is no nude depictions in any of the sculptures and paintings. Apparently back in the 1600s a Pope didn't agree with sculptures being nude and exposed so he covered them up with stone leaves.

All this was done by 1200 where we hopped on our coach and began another six hour drive to Venice.

Oh and tip of the day - when you are going into an important place like the Vatican always be sure your batteries are fully charged on all cameras as that you have plenty of memory on your photo card (or that the spare ones are not sitting on the bus) - just a thought :)
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