Friday, December 26, 2008

Italextraveganza Day 3-6; Rome

After our wonderful hiking adventures in Campiglia, we once again loaded into the car and began the beautiful drive down the coast to Rome. Most of Italy is hilly or mountainous, with a mixture of deciduous and coniferous forests, vineyards, croplands, and towns. Almost every town has a ruin at its heart, and they are almost all perched on the hillsides, leaving the bottomlands for farming.
Despite the scenery, we were ready to leave the car by the time we got to Rome. Through an amazing combination of gutsy driving by AdventureDad, navigation by AdventureMom, and sheer luck, we found our hotel and got unloaded without getting lost or in a wreck. We soon joined up with the Smiths for the remainder of our Rome adventure.
The next morning we started our experience with a Papal Audience. Because it was raining we ended up in a theater-type auditorium rather than out in the Plaza. Over an hour was spent by the Pope greeting visiting groups of note (which he did in 5 different languages) before he did a blessing and prayer. It was rather interesting because each group had prepared a song or short performance in answer to the Pope's recognition. The whole experience was a little less holy and a little more "produced" than we had been hoping, but still one of those things that I wouldn't miss the chance to do.
The next day we piled onto a bus for a short trip to some of the Roman antiquities. We saw the coliseum, triumphal arches, the old and new forums, St. Peter's Church (which contained a statue of Moses done by Michelangelo), Venus' Chapel, the government buildings designed by Da Vinci, and countless other ruins. It was truly mind-boggling both in terms of beauty and history. We could have spent twice as much time just soaking in all of the world-changing history that has occurred there.
The third day we started the morning with a tour of the Vatican Museum. The Museum itself is immense with almost 4 miles of halls, so we only did a portion of them in our tour. The tour focused on the "receiving halls" where the ancient Popes recieved visitors of State and also lived. The halls were constructed of marble and guilt, and were packed to the gills with antiquities gathered throughout the ancient world. We saw statues, vases, ossuaries, mosaics, tapestries and paintings from Greece, Ephesis, the Orient, Europe, and of course Rome. There were of course works by da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Bernini, and countless others. It was truly awe-inspiring and beautiful, and once again we would have had to take much more time to truly appreciate the details of what we were seeing. One of our favorites was a mosaic taken from the floor of a 300 B.C. Roman communal dining hall, originally an advertisement for what was available there, it is now a piece of art on a wall (it's the picture with the hanging fish and vegetables). Also appearing throughout the museum was the Coat of Arms of the Vatican... crossed keys representing the keys to heaven presented to Saint Peter (the first Pope) by Jesus.
Of course the crowning event of our Vatican tour was a walk through the Sistine Chapel. We had too little time there as well, although it would be easy to spend and entire day trying to take in all of the detail. The Chapel was suprisingly large, and Michelangelo's Frescos are more exquisite than any photo could capture.
That afternoon, AdventureMom and M settled down for a much-needed nap (followed by a cappucino and cake with "Aunt" Joss) while AdventureDad and the Smith boys went on an adventure of their own. They braved the metros and buses to see one of several ancient Christian catacombs dating back to 200 A.D. This was AdventureDad's favorite part of Rome, not only because it was once again awe-inspiring (and a bit macabre), but it was a place where history truly came to life (as it were). The catacombs have only been excavated since the 1950's (only a tiny fraction are accessible), so there are chapels and alcoves that contain mosaics, carvings, and frescos that are completely original and unrestored. One of the oldest images was that of Jesus the Shepherd, depicting Jesus with a lamb draped over his shoulder.
We loved Rome (although we were glad to be there during the "off" season... it was still crowded), and intend to return someday when we can see things at our own pace, with older kids, and also see some of the things we missed (the Parthenon for example).

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