Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Roma - the finale

What a slacker I am! It has been forever since I posted, and I just realized I never finished posting about our trip to Rome. So, here it is, the finale!

Rome day 5:

Our last day, our last chance to cram everything in that we hadn't managed to do yet. Plus, New Year's Day, so a lot of things are closed. And, of course, it is raining again.

We were up fairly early and caught the metro to the main station to catch a bus out to St. Lawrence. This church was on our "must see" list, but because it was towards the outskirts of town, we had difficulty finding our way out there. But, finally, we found the right bus and somehow managed to get off at the right stop. Not an easy feat because on Roman buses, they do not announce what stop they are coming to. They also don't stop at every stop if there isn't someone obviously waiting near the sign, so you have to press the button to get off well ahead of your stop. Total luck that we hit the right stop.

St. Lawrence

St. Lawrence was a very unassuming church. The draw for us was the relics it contains. Inside are the remains of St. Lawrence and St. Stephen. St. Stephen was the first martyr as well as one of the "original" deacons. St. Lawrence was a deacon during the Valerian persecution. When ordered to present the treasure of the Church to the emperor, he presented the poor and crippled, claiming they were the true treasure of the Church. He was then sentenced to death by gridiron. The story goes that when he was on the iron he called out, "This side’s done, turn me over and have a bite." Gotta love a sarcastic saint!

After St. Lawrence, we headed back towards the area we needed to be in to visit St. Agatha's, another must see on our list. At this point, I was seriously concerned that I was going to miss St. Agatha because we knew they were closing at noon, and from the metro stop we had quite a hike to get there. Somehow, we made it and it was worth all the effort. A beautiful church, very quiet and unobtrusive. Plus, as I mentioned before, St. Agatha is the patron saint of breast cancer, so it was extremely important for me to pray there, in her church.

St. Agata di Goti

St. Agatha having her breasts cut off during her martyrdom

After St. Agatha, we returned to the garden we found a few days earlier.

Ground level, with stairs leading to second level

Second level, with stairs leading to third level

Top level, complete with walking paths, orange trees, statuary and fountains

After this, we were getting hungry, so we walked around trying to find some lunch. It is a little frustrating to be on an American eating schedule (lunch mid-afternoon) in a country where most restaurants are closed when you are hungriest! Eventually, we found a cafe to eat in and after a leisurely lunch, continued to simply wander around Rome. We walked up Via Nazionale until we reached the Republica area. A beautiful fountain in the center of a very busy roundabout. I can't believe I was able to get a picture with no cars!

Republica piazza with Basilica in the background

While here, we visited the Basilica dei Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martin (Mary of the Angels and Martyrs). Another beautiful church, this one built in the Baths of Diocletian. One of the very cool things about this church is that it has a meridian line. Similar to the Mayan temples in Mexico, a ray of light shines through a hole in the ceiling to a marker on the floor that determines Easter and verified the validity of the Gregorian calendar. We didn't get to see it "working" since it was overcast and raining, but very cool nonetheless.

After a bit more wandering, we headed back to the hotel for a break. Later, we were off to the Piazza Navona (in the rain) where they were having a New Year's carnival. We ended up eating gelato (yes, in the rain) and these yummy donuts that were the size of dinner plates. We walked over near the Pantheon and found a great little restaurant for dinner, then back to the hotel to rest for a few hours. Up at 3 am to leave for the airport!

Overall, Rome was an incredible experience. A few oddities here and there (no toilet seats in some public restrooms) took some adjusting and the weather was less than perfect. In the end, a trip that we both look forward to making again in a few years, hopefully with all the kids once they are a little older and can appreciate everything.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Roma (part 4)

New Year's Eve! In Rome!! This was a pretty busy day for us.

Day 4:
Got up fairly early (in time for breakfast at the hotel) and caught the subway to the bus that would take us to the outskirts of Rome towards the catacombs. We had discussed taking a particular bus that would drop us right at the Catacombs of St. Sebastian, but somehow we ended up on another bus that dropped us at one end of the Appian Way and we had to walk about 1/2 mile to the catacombs. This turned out to be great because it was a beautiful walk.
Standing at the bus stop, looking towards the direction we needed to walk
Ruins along the Appian Way

Ancient tollbooth on Appian Way

The Appian Way is a few thousand years old - in pretty good condition (the sidewalks are original!)

After a lovely stroll, we finally reached St. Sebastian. We walked in to discover that mass had just begun - in English! Not just English, but American! We had come upon a tour group having mass said and so we just snuck into the back pew and were able to attend mass there in St. Sebastian. After mass, we joined a tour of the catacombs. This was really interesting, but fast. I wish we had been allowed more time to see things down there. Very cool, though - not only is St. Sebastian here, but they also have pieces of the original arrows used to try to kill him.

Exterior of San Sebastiano

St. Sebastian

Close-up of St. Sebastian

After the catacombs, we walked around the area (beautiful countryside) before jumping on the bus to head back towards the city. Once back in the city, we hopped off the bus to visit St. John Lateran. A beautiful church, but very touristy.

St. John Lateran

After John Lateran, we walked a few blocks to visit Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. This was a quiet church, off the beaten path. The chapel is part of the Sessorian Palace, owned by St. Helen (Constantine's mother). This church houses relics of the true cross, a fragment of the Titulus Crucis, as well as a full size replica of the Shroud of Turin. An incredible church that doesn't seem to be visited as often as the relics it contains deserve.

Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

All this, and our day wasn't nearly done. We headed back to the hotel to put our feet up for awhile, then headed off to the Borghese Gallery. No pictures allowed, so I didn't even take my camera. On the way to the Borghese, we stopped by the crypt of the Capuchin Monks - these are the monks that used bones as decoration. Interesting but creepy! The Borghese gallery was wonderful. I was most impressed by the Bernini marble statues. One of my favorites was Pluto and Proserpina. The incredible detail and the ability to somehow make marble look soft - it blew me away.

After this, our plan was to head over to the Piazza del Popolo for the big New Years celebration. Instead, we headed back to the hotel because it was starting to rain and we needed our umbrella. So, a few more subway rides, and we finally arrived at the Piazza to find that it was pouring rain and nothing was going on. We wandered around, discovered the Spanish Steps, and finally found a little restaurant that wasn't completely overcrowded for dinner. We had a wonderful meal in this little, family run restaurant. At midnight, there was much celebration and free champagne for everyone in the restaurant. After we left, we discovered that the rain had stopped and thousands and thousands of people had come out into the piazzas to celebrate. Vendors were selling small bottles of champagne, people were throwing firecrackers and empty champagne bottles into the middle of the piazzas. The police were present, even if only to watch the revelry. In the end, definitely a unique experience.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Roma (part 3)

O.K. So, it has only been a few days since I posted part 2, and here I am getting ready for Part 3. I am quite proud of myself! (Sorry Stephanie, no pictures with this post. Next post, I promise!)

Day 3:
After the long day at Assisi, we slept super late on Wednesday and decided to just walk around Rome. We had a list of churches we really wanted to see and we decided we would just do our best to see what we could. On top of the list were St. Mary Major and St. Agata di Goti. The trip to St. Agata was important to me because St. Agata is the patron saint of breast cancer and I currently have two friends battling breast cancer. This was a fairly rainy, drizzly day and since we were going to be walking all day, I opted to not bring my camera.

We first visited St Mary Major since it is very near the main subway station. Once we exited the subway, we followed our handy little map to find the church. When we came upon it, we thought it was closed - there were fences up around it, and no one was going in or out. Fortunately, we wandered around and discovered that we had actually come upon the back of the church! Once we found the front doors, we were able to go in and enjoy this beautiful church.

After St Mary's we were headed off to St. Agata. It looked fairly simple according to our map, but ended up not being as easy as we thought. By the time we found it, the doors were locked - they were closed for the midday break. I was quite disappointed, but in our wanderings trying to find the church, we stumbled upon this garden/park area that is built on top of some ancient ruins. Tons of orange trees as well as one of the ancient drinking fountains you find scattered throughout the city.

From here, we walked around the ruins of the Forum and near the Imperial Palace. We wanted to visit Mamertine prison (where Peter and Paul were held) but it was closed for repairs. Instead, after a great meal, we headed over to St. Peter in Chains which contains the chains used on St. Peter. Pretty cool. From there, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the opera. We had tickets for La Traviata that evening. The opera house itself was beautiful and the performance was great. We saw La Traviata back in June at the LA Opera, so it was interesting to see the Roman Opera version. Both were great.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Roma (part 2)

Sorry, sorry, sorry. I know it has been many days since I posted part 1 of our Rome adventure. Well, here comes part 2! Hopefully part 3 won't be too far behind.

Day 2: AssisiThis is the view from the Basilica of St. Francis, looking down on the valley. Obviously, it was quite misty that day. We actually had a light rain/heavy mist the entire day.

Assisi was incredible. After a two hour train ride from Rome, we arrived at the Assisi train station, which is actually a few miles from the base of the mountain that Assisi is on. Rather than catching the bus up the mountain, we first opted to visit the Portiuncula (the small church that St. Francis rebuilt.) The church itself is tiny and has an entire Basilica built around it. Inside the Basilica is also the room where St. Francis died, a museum and, this time of year, creche displays from all over the world.

The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, housing the Portiuncula

We then progressed up the mountain via bus to visit Assisi. The town of Assisi is built into the side of Mount Subiaso. There are many different levels to the town and it seems like every major church we wanted to see was on different levels. This was a really exhausting day and I swear we climbed up and down the mountain too many times! In the end, totally worth it. Our first stop was the Basilica of St. Francis.

Our first view of the Basilica

Inside the Basilica are both upper and lower churches. Both have beautiful artwork (I didn't take any pictures inside - I am weird about taking pictures inside churches) but definitely the highlight was visiting St. Francis' crypt. Also, viewing his belongings - his robe, shoes, breviary. It was an amazing thing to see these things, knowing that St. Francis used them. Incredible.

The Basilica of St Francis

After this, we wandered Assisi for awhile. We were actually looking for somewhere to eat, but many things were either closed or way to expensive. Also, we didn't have a good map of the town, so we ended up sort of lost (although I know Jason won't admit that we were lost.) After eating and more wandering, we came upon the Cathedral of Assisi, the parish church of both Francis and Clare and the place where both were baptized. They actually still have the baptismal font from Francis and Clare.

Cathedral of Assisi, dedicated to San Rufino

After more wandering up and down hills, we visited the Basilica of St. Clare. St. Clare's had a number of very cool things - the top two being St. Clare herself (incorrupt) and THE cross of San Damiano. I wasn't able to get any pictures at this point since it was starting to rain quite a bit and it was getting dark. But, we thought of Sophia when we saw the outside of the church - it has pink stripes! We attempted to make it over to the church of San Damiano, but it was closed by the time we hiked our way over there. Next time.

After a long day of hiking, we took the bus back down the mountain with plans to have dinner near the train station before heading back to Rome. However, there were no restaurants open for dinner at 6:30 in the evening. We walked all over trying to find something, with no luck. Sadly, we ended up eating at a McDonalds before getting on the train. Not exactly how I planned on eating while in Italy.

So, though the day was long, it was a great experience. The architecture, the artwork, the relics- it was worth the sore feet! Next time, we will plan on staying overnight in Assisi and hopefully be able to break up some of the mountain climbing!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Roma! (part 1)

Rome was a wonderful, incredible experience. An overwhelming city, a city where five days of exploring was nowhere near enough time. I think the easiest way for me to share the experience is to break our adventures up by day.

Day 1: Tour of Vatican gardens in the morning and museums, Necropolis tour in the afternoon. The tour of the gardens was great - a small group of 15 people led through the "back lot" of the Vatican. This took us through areas not open to the general public - gardens, Lourdes Grotto, Vatican Radio and various residences. After the garden tour, we went through the paintings gallery. There was so much beautiful artwork, I wish we had more time to just enjoy it. After the paintings, we proceeded over to the main Vatican Museum. Honestly, I was a tad disappointed. It was so crowded that we weren't able to really see/enjoy much. After the museum, off to the Sistine Chapel. Tons of people crowded into a small chapel, all craning their necks to inspect the ceiling. Again, beautiful artwork with incredible attention to detail. I tend to feel claustrophobic in large crowds, so I wasn't able to enjoy it as much as I hoped. But, maybe someday when Darian is Pope, he will be able to let us sit and inspect it more carefully :)

After all this, we had our reservations for the Necropolis tour. By far, one of the coolest things we did. A small group of about 12 people taken on a tour through the archaeological areas of St. Peter's. The finale of the tour - viewing St. Peter's bones. I can't even explain the awe and wonder at being able to do this. Definitely one of the highlights of the whole trip.

Sadly, I didn't get many pictures on day 1. Because many of the areas we were in didn't allow photographs, we both decided it was easier to leave the camera in the hotel rather than take it in the morning and try to get back to the hotel to leave it in the afternoon. Don't worry, I took plenty of pictures other days!