Archive for June, 2007

Last Day in Rome

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

We are getting ready for dinner soon but thought I’d take a few minutes to tell you a bit about our last full day in Rome.

This morning we really slept in. The hotel has wonderful blinds on the window that raise and lower by remote control and block out all light. So it was nearly 11am before I finally woke up. Puttered around the room for awhile before venturing out for lunch and a little more site seeing.

After a nice lunch at a tratoria near the Castle San Angelo, we made our way over there to check it out. This was originally the tomb of Hadrian and was later converted by Pope Paul III et al into a second residence/hiding place for the popes. It’s got a pretty impressive set of walls and was at one time heavily fortified. Not a bad place to wait out the sacking of Rome if one has to. Climbed up to the top in much easier steps than the dome at St. Peter’s and an impressive view to be had up there.

After that we made our way back to the Piazza Spagna shopping area. Gawked at shoes at Tod’s (THE place to buy shoes in Italy apparently but since most pair were more than one of my paychecks we opted not.) So instead we made it back over to the Trivi fountain area where we paid less than 100 Euro for two pairs over hand-made leather and suede shoes that are really about as comfortable as women’s shoes can get without being sneaker.

Stopped in at yet another gelato stand – one which is fairly famous was closed at the time so we opted for one right around the corner which has gotten good reviews from the foodie crowd. I am soooo gonna miss the gelato. Another thing you really can’t quite get in the States.

Then another cab ride through the crazy streets of Rome to our home away from home to rest for a time and get ready for a nice dinner out.

This is probably it from us here in Rome. Next time I write I hope to be home.

A couple of pics (including from Florence) to tide you over till we get them all posted.

Picture 567.jpgThe Duomo (catherdral) of Florence

Picture 601.jpgJanice sitting on the Ponte Santa Trinita – the Ponte de Vecchio is in the distance

Picture 608.jpgLine at the Uffizi – no pics allowed inside. Bummer!

Picture 614.jpg
Statue of Cosimo Medici  (I think)

Picture 629.jpg Darren on the terrace of San Angelo over-looking Rome
Blessings and love to all,




Saturday, June 30th, 2007

Just a quick update as we’re fixin’ to go to lunch here soon.

Yesterday we took the train out to Florence. I love train travel in Europe. It’s so darn efficient and fast. I wish our American train system would ever get it together.

I do have to say it is a darn good thing I am absolutely sure that this was Italian countryside we were speeding through. If you knocked me out, brought me over here and stuck me on a train just in time to see the view out our windows I could swear it was SoCal. Very similar geography and vegetation.

Florence is a lovely city, much smaller than Rome. In looking at the maps and plotting things out we had thought it would be hard to see everything we want in the few hours we had. We were surprised at how close everything was.

We started at the Duomo or the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. The exterior is something to behold. As Darren said, if Disney did churches. It’s done up in almost pastel greens and pinks. Inside it is a barn! It’s the 4th largest church in the world and not nearly as much care was taken to decorate the inside as the out. However the internal part of the church is pretty typical Medieval while the exterior wasn’t done until the late 1800s.

We moved on to the Mercato Centrale where we found all the sidewalk sales folks with their leather goods and just about everything else under the sun. Inside is one of the world’s largest indoor food markets. It was a trip to walk through the isles gawking at the fresh meats and produce and local wines. Another thing I wish we had in the US. We had lunch at a great little cafe in the Mercato and I decided I really don’t care for table wine. Darren has spoiled me.

After lunch wandered over the Ponte Santa Trinita. This is a Medieval age bridge that was completely destroyed by the Germans in WWII. The people of Florence spent year dragging the river to gather all of the bricks and statues from the bridge and rebuilding it themselves. The last statue was restored in the 80s and now the bridge is very like it was before it was destroyed. The Florentine people take great pride in it. Wandered a little over in the Oltrarno. Unfortunately the Church of Santo Spiritu was closed for some reason. Never did find out why. Crossed the Arno again over the Ponte Vecchio which is one of the most popular parts of Florence. Very crowded but a lovely view of the Arno. Lots of gold jewelry shops if you want something along those lines. Then we made our way over to the Uffizi.

The Uffizi is one of the major museums of Florence. The last duchess of the Medici family dedicated the family’s entire art collection along with the building with the condition that none of it ever leave Florence. This means there is a LOT of really wonderful works that can NEVER be seen anywhere else. As a result, it is a very popular museum. We waited in line for about an hour – chatting with a young American woman who was there by herself – before being allowed in. By this time is was 3 and the museum was closing at 5 so we had to rush. This is not an easy thing to do. As I said this is a large museum with a lot of works. Also it has to be one of the more poorly laid out, poorly labeled and completely unmapped world class museums I’ve ever been in. It’s also very poorly run. It’s sad to see a museum of that caliber run completely amateur-our style. I guess we really are spoiled by the Getty and other great LA area museums. However, I can now say I have seen the original Botticelli Birth of Venus and an original Leonardo da Vinci so that was worth the price of admission right there.

After the museum we made our way over to the piazza della Signoria to check out the copies of famous statues that once stood in this plaza. Unfortunately they were setting up for some type of event so much of the square was taken up with a stage. But we got some good shots.

Headed back over to the Mercatto for some leather shopping and managed a great deal for a couple of really nice jackets. I had to have the sleeves cut down so our vendor lead us over to Za Za for a fine Florentine dinner while we waited. Good thing we got in early too – within an hour the place was packed with a waiting line down the block!

After dinner we grabbed up our new leather and made our slow way toward the train station – with a stop for gelato of course! – and back onto the train for Rome.

Got back really late so we slept in this morning.

On our way out for the last day in Rome! I may try to post tonight but we have an early plane tomorrow so maybe not.

Love and blessings to all,



Another Long Day in Rome

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

So, having had our somewhat down day, we were ready again this morning to face the bad streets of Rome. Man, it is just crazy out there! It is getting busier as the weekend approaches. Going to Florence tomorrow so we should miss some of the madness at least.

So we retraced our steps today down from where the shuttle dropped us at Piazza del Spagna then across town back to Old Rome. This time we strolled along taking the pics we missed out on yesterday. Walked back up to the Colosseum and through the Forums again. Still gives me the shivers even the second time through. Wow!

Then we climbed up a fairly steep and rocky path to the Capitoline Hill. As the name implies this is where the government in Rome is. Has been a government center since the first days of the city – or so the story goes. Here we found a modern copy of the original equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. The original is in the Museo Capitoline and is quite spectacular.

We decided to take the time to venture into the Museo and boy are we glad we did. Not only are there priceless works of art and cultural history in here – the statute described above plus the remainder of the Colossus, an original she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus and Titian paintings, to name just a few – but there are breathtaking views of the Forums and Rome from the top of the museum. Also preserved here are remains of the original Temple of Jupiter and the Tabularium – or Hall of Records – from Imperial times. This is also leaves one rather thunderstruck.

After a nice lunch in the museum cafe and some more gawking at precious art, we made our way down the hill to the Church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami, which is built over the Cacere Mamertino. This is what is left of the cells where it is known the Gaul Vercingetorix was kept before being ritual strangled by Caesar. It is also believed to have been the cell of St. Peter – who died here of starvation, though not before producing the miracle well which is the reason for the church being built here – and reputedly of St. Paul as well. Not sure there is any evidence for either saint actually being here, but, hey, the church keeps the cells intact so I won’t complain. Creepy, creepy, creepy though. Just can’t imagine being forced down those steep stairs into the dark knowing you may never come up.

Then we made our circuitous way over hill and dale to gawk at the Circus Maximus. These days it’s just a grassy valley between the Palentine and the Aventine hills. The Romans now use it mostly as a jogging track. But one can’t help but imagine the pounding of hooves and the clashing of chariot wheels as the crazed drivers raced for glory to the cheering of the Roman spectators.

Then for a change of pace, we headed across the Tiber to the Trastevere. Among other sites this area holds the city’s oldest church, the Santa Maria in Trastevere. The church dates back to the 4th century, though much of it was rebuilt in the 12th. One of the first churches to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it is a marvel of medieval art and architecture. We happened to wander in during mass so we stayed in the back out of respect, lit a candle for Mom (at last – really candles! Everywhere else we went either had none or electric “candles” – I kid you not.) stayed to see a bit of the service and wandered back out again.

Let me just take a moment to say a few words about the “gypsies” here – this is the generic, catch-all term for the subculture of folks in this city – and around Europe – who live their lives completely “off the grid.” They are in Italy illegally, in the sense that they have no legal identities to speak of: no birth certificates and hence no passports or papers of any kind. They may have been born here or in other parts of Europe and just wandered this way, in the finest tradition of Travelers everywhere. They make their living by begging or stealing or both. Rome is on the whole a safe city but beware the tourist who stops to answer a “fellow” tourists query for directions – hang on to your wallets and purses as these folks are quite adept at making things disappear. And the beggars are sometime quite insistent. I’ve seen gypsies of various stripes in other parts of Europe, though never quite as thick as here in Rome. Mostly you just see the beggars though – if you ever see the thieves it’s either too late or they just aren’t that good. Our guide through the Vatican remarked that even she still gets stung quite often. So while we are trying not to be paranoid, it is of course a good idea to be careful.

After a bit more of a stroll we settled down for the evening meal at Da Ivo, a fabulous pizzeria. Three little words of yummy goodness: fried stuffed olives. Yum! And more porcini mushrooms in the form of brochette. Then pizza with the best damn salami for Darren and sausage, mushrooms and whole olives (pits and all) for me. More yumminess. Then popped over to a fabulous gelato stand and strolled our way out of the Trastevere, across to a small island in the middle of the Tiber, then over the oldest bridge in Rome, in search of a taxi.

BTW: catching a cab is not an easy thing to do in Rome. And forget about the taxi stands – apparently they are merely a suggestion. After finding several empty we finally wandered back to the Piazza Venetia and found several taxis just hanging out there. Took one back here and now we are happily ready for bed and a full day in Florence.

Here are some pics to fend you off and more tomorrow if we are not too exhausted to post.

Picture 102.jpgJanice on the Spanish StepsPicture 115.jpgLeonardo’s bridge

Picture 137.jpgDo I really need to tell you?

Picture 153.jpg

Temple of Vesta

Picture 164.jpgHappy 10th Anniversary Caesar. (Not sure which one.)

Picture 210.jpgMarcus Aurelius

Picture 202.jpgShe wolf suckling Romulus and Remus

Picture 260.jpgJanice in the Cacere Mamertino

Picture 265.jpgDarren in the cheap seats at the Circus Maximus.

Until I write again!




Technical Difficulties

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

We’ve been having some issues with the Internet connection for the last couple of days so I hope this goes through…

Tuesday was a busy day… unfortunately do to “stupid user tricks” on my part the battery ran out on the camera so that day’s pics were on my cell phone. Not the best but enough to say “we’ve been here.”

After breakfast we walked down to Old Rome. As the name implies this is the oldest part of the city where the Colosseum and Roman Forums etc. all live. Again, I am not sure I have the words to describe what it is like to walk up that avenue with the Colosseum in the distance, or to stroll along the Roman Forums or climb the Palatine Hill – to feel the power of those ages past all around you, to stand at the places were so integral to the forming of our Western Civilization and our democratic institutions. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

Darren and I jumped into the long line at the Colosseum – I didn’t learn till later that the trick is to go up to the Palatine ticket gate and buy your entrance tickets there. Oh, well, it really wasn’t that bad. Then into the former Flavian Amphitheater itself. Damn, those ancients could build. It is a remarkable feat – even if it is a testament to blood and violence, it’s still pretty awe inspiring. It is, like the Sistine Chapel, a bit smaller than I had imagined, but still very grand. There was also an exhibit of statues and pottery related to the god Eros – some nifty Greek porn. LOL!

After strolling through the Amphitheater for a time, we made our way over to a nice sidewalk tratorria and had ourselves the lunch Darren described earlier. The gelato is fabulous btw: everything I remembered from years ago in Germany. Then, much refreshed and fortified, back over to the Forums and the Palatine Hill.

The Roman Forums are open to the public for free. It is amazing to me that all that history is just out there for anyone to wander through and touch. Mind you much of it is roped or fenced off but in fact most of the precautions won’t stop a determined person from going where he or she shouldn’t. I think it is great that they don’t bar and shutter it much more and even greater that the mostly can trust the people not to be that destructive.

Again, goosebumps from walking through here. The ruins of the heart of Roman government and religious life are here. It is hard not to be a bit awestruck by it all. After standing at the place where Antony eulogized Caeser, walking into the home of the Roman senate and paying our respects to Saturn and the Vestal Virgins, we climbed the steps to the Palatine. Up there we found a wonderful view of the city, which we stopped to admire, then walked around some more, checking out the remains of the house of Flavian and Augustus’s scheming mother Livia. Walked through the excavation of an iron age village. Btw: they are excavating all over this area. The biggest dig is going on across the avenue from the Forums in the area that once housed the gladiators themselves. There are also live digs going on in the Forums and up on the Palatine. Very, very cool. I wonder who in the archaeological field you have to know to get an internship here…

As it was now starting to get late and we were tiring, we then braved the Roman Metro back to our hotel. Now I don’t agree with my co-worker who says the Metro is as bad as Japan’s subways, but damn, they sure can stuff a lot of people into these cars. At least, the train we took to Termini Station had no breathing room to spare. The train to the area nearest our hotel was much less crowded.

Then a brief rest while we charged the camera then we took the elevator to the top floor of our hotel to get that view. Another spectacular place to over look the city and what the sun set.

Downstairs for another fabulous dinner. Then drug our butts off to bed.

Wednesday was a down day mostly. I was exhausted from two long hards days after the long travel and a week previous of little sleep due to impending babies. LOL. So we slept in a bit, changed hotels, got settled and had some lunch near the new hotel. BTW: the Lord Byron rocks! Oh. My. Gods. More on that later.

After lunch I napped for a while longer before we finally took the shuttle down to the Piazza Spagna. Walked down the Spanish steps, gawked at the tourists and the high priced items in the shops. This is a famously expensive shopping area. Tiffany anyone? Wondered up the Via del Corso to the Piazza del Popolo. This is another mind blowing piazza. Lovely fountain and gorgeous churches. Oh, and if I haven’t mentioned it, Rome is another one of those “most filmed cities” – you’ll find here in the Piazza the famous switchbacks from one of 007’s films. Also, our new hotel is near the museum that Ocean’s bunch attempts to rob in Ocean’s 12. Plus many, many others. Won’t even mention the obvious…

Stopped in for a brief look at the art in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo for which the piazza is named. Some incredible art work in there, including two alter pieces from Bernini which are just amazing. Then crossed the square to the steps up to the Pincio, witha brief stop over to check out an exhibit of machines recreated from Leonardo de Vince’s drawings. Didn’t actually see the whole thing as they wanted 6 Euro a piece and wouldn’t let you take pictures. Bummer. Climed to the top of Pincio for another fabulous overlook of the city. Rome is very picturesque from up high.

Then we strolled through Villa Borghese in search of a way back to the hotel. The Lord Byron is somewhat more out of the way than our first hotel. But the place is totally amazing. It’s apparently the place where Berlusconi’s closest advisers stay when they are in Rome. Like many hotels in this part of the world, the Lord Byron is a converted house. The rooms are small by American standards but this room is spectacular. The walk in closet has it’s own light and I would kill for the big marble bath tub.

In the evening we went and had a drink in the excellent wine bar. This is the first time I’ve ever been served Pringles in a high-end hotel btw. But some things are the same all over, though, like the young man playing musak on the keyboards, complete with The Girl from Ipanema. LOL.

Then dinner at another local establishment. Well, after a couple of fits and starts trying to find it. We passed up the roasted roe-buck (small inside joke for my spiritual family) in favor of lamb and wild boar. Again, I’ll let Darren regale you with the details. I will just say this: Best. Tiramisu. Ever! You cannot get that at home. I am so spoiled now.

So, then off to bed.

We just got back from breakfast and are waiting for the shuttle again. More later – with better pictures – if the Internet connection is cooperative.


View inside the Colosseum


Probably cannot read that – – but it is Via S. Buonoventura




“The cheese Grommit, the cheeeeeeese.”

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

Yes, I really do have a login to this site. Honest.

So, Janice has posted most of the touristy-type stuff (more on Imperial Rome, battery charger foibles, and suchlike soon, I suspect), leaving the food and drink aspects to me.

Bottom line on Roman cuisine so far: un-freaking-believable ingredients, technique that could use a Frenchman or two (yeah, I know; roll with me for a bit).

Our first experience was a late-evening light dinner at a local pizzeria recommended by the hotel. Good recommendation. The place had a proper wood-burning pizza oven, and produced the perfect crispy thin crust that you just can’t get without a very high-temperature bake. The two we selected were a porcini mushroom pizza and one with breseaola, rocket, and shaved parmesan (added after baking). Both were incredible. The mozzarela and Parmesan cheeses used were miles ahead of what we can normally get in the U.S., and the Italians definitely know their way around cured meats. And fresh porcini mushrooms are currently my vote for “thing I’ll miss the most back home.”

Breakfast at the hotel has been pretty much what Janice described — a very nice collection of bread, pastry, cheese, and cured meats, including a salami secchi to which we’re both becoming addicted. Oh, and Italian coffee makes most of the rest of the world’s not worth the name. Simply wonderful.

“Lunch” yesterday wasn’t until after 5pm due to the heat — it was so hot and humid neither of us had anything resembling an appetite until our bodies told us “eat or die. now.” At crash time we were in the piazza in front of the Spanish steps, so we just dove into the nearest place that didn’t look like a utter and complete tourist trap and ordered the first things on the menu that looked good. Porcini risotto and fettucine with cream sauce and porcinis (I mentioned we’re loving the fresh porcinis, yes?). Both tasted great, but solely because the raw ingredients were so good. In all honesty I can say I could’ve kicked that chef’s ass up and down the Via Del Corso if given access to his larder.

Dinner that night was at a little restaurant off the Piazza Nicosia that I had read about from some fellow foodies. We showed up right before midnight, and the place was still hopping with nearly every table full. I ordered a first course of giant pasta (that’s what the menu said in both Italian and English, honest — picture a rigatoni on steroids) with tonnato sauce (tuna and tomatoes) and a main course of red mullet in tomato sauce. Both were very well executed with bold, yet well-balanced flavors. Very strong seafood tastes with sauces that could go toe-to-toe with the oily fish. Janice had rigatoni with tomatoes and Parmesan followed by a beef filet and veggies. Her rigatoni was slighly under-cooked when it hit the table, but it finished up in its own sauce to a very decent consistency. The beef was prepared correctly, and there’s nothing like a high-quality grass-fed beef, although we still have Scotland ahead on points in the Grand Beef Sweepstakes. The wine was a Tuscan red blend called “Il Volte,” which while young and a bit tannic was a very good match for the strongly-flavored meal.

Today was a bit cooler and we paced ourselves for the heat a bit better, so we had a chance to plan lunch a little more carefully. After climbing in and around the Colosseum all morning, we went to a small family-run restaurant a few blocks away off a small side street that was also recommended by a fellow foodie. We started with an eggplant “flan,” which was layers of eggplant sandwiched with good fresh mozzarella, then topped with tomato sauce and a liberal drizzle of very good olive oil, then baked. Very creative dish, and very well executed. It disappeared fast after several miles of both horizontal and vertical walking. Our main course was a shared dish of seafood risotto (they only serve it for 2 or more and warn that it will take at least 20 minutes — that’s when I knew they were serious). It was a very proper risotto cooked in the traditional manner with a savory seafood broth and a mix of fish, mussels, squid, and whole prawns. Very large portions, and I was glad I had the foresight to order a whole bottle of the house white, as we lingered quite a while finishing it, as there was no way we were leaving any behind. Janice finally tried a real Italian gelato for dessert, and it’s everything they say it is and more — you have to try it to believe it. Our best meal so far in Italy, and I still think I could’ve showed the chef a trick or two with his risotto, which made me insufferably smug over dessert, I’m told.

Since the remainder of today’s Tourist Death March coupled with yesterday’s heat took its toll and sent us back to the hotel for a short nap before dinner we decided to do something casual near the hotel and asked the staff for a recommendation again. They sent us to a trattoria just down the block, which worked out well. I had mushroom soup and beef braised in red wine, and Janice had a classic spaghetti carbonara and petit filet mignon in Barolo sauce. We paired it with a decent Chianti and yet again lingered long over finishing the meal with some fresh fruit, vanilla gelato and cappuccino. The mushroom soup was the definite winner of the dishes, although the spaghetti made with fresh egg pasta and that ubiquitous incredible Parmesan was a close second. Both beef dishes were very good, but yet again that was more a tribute to the raw ingredients than the skill of the cook — another guy I could take for a ride down the Via Del Corso and back.

Bedtime now. More food soon…


Late Night in Rome

Monday, June 25th, 2007

Just a short update for the late night Roman wanderings. We left the hotel after 9pm in search of the Trevi Fountain and then dinner. The fountain is marvelous. It was really crowded even at close to 10pm but we managed to work our way to the front and throw our coins in. Here’s hoping the tradition is true and we come back to Rome someday.

Then meandering through the streets in search of dinner. Rome is a very organic city in the sense that people just decided, hey, let’s put up a building here and maybe some streets will come together and then we’ll have a city. So finding things is somewhat of a challenge. Good thing Darren is good at this directions shit ’cause I was completely turned around.

I’ll let Darren describe the Italian yumminess that finally happened once we found one of the recommended places for late night dining. But one of the wait staff, Mr. G, there was good for quite a bit of entertainment during the meal. Just two words – Italian Pimp. Oh, yeah, you know what I mean. Genuinely nice guy though. A real trip. Showed us pic of his girls for reasons I am still not clear on.

Ok, time for breakfast.




Dodging Roman Traffic

Monday, June 25th, 2007

It’s about 6pm local now and we’re back at the hotel for a bit of rest. It’s very, very hot today. The morning prediction was 95 degrees and it’s also very humid – air you can cut up and swallow. Just so you know, at some point, you can actually get the pavement here hot enough to melt the dye out of Timberland boots. Yikes! Supposed to be much cooler tomorrow.

This morning we got up a tad later than we had meant to but we made it down to the restaurant for a nice continental breakfast. Lots of pastries and fruit juices as well as some lovely Italian sausage, prosciutto, breads, cereals and of course, cheese, including a couple Darren had never heard of! Yum! Also as a sop to the Americans, eggs and bacon. Really nice.

Then we set out. First we headed down the hill to the Piazza Navona – stopping through several smaller piazzas along the way. Piazza Navona holds – among other things – the Fontana dei Fiumi (the fountain of the four rivers) done by Bernini and the Chiesa di Sant’Agnese in Agone built by his rival architect Borromini. Around the corner we discovered a statue covered in paper of varying sizes – this statue of Pasquino is a “talking statue” where Rome’s citizens have posted news, gossip and political statements for centuries.

We then passed on to the Pantheon, which, though founded as a temple to all the Greco/Roman gods, is now nominally a Catholic church. I say nominally because there is definitely a feeling in the place that no matter how much they try to make this a Christian place, no matter how much bronze and other building materials that have been stolen from it, this is still a profoundly pagan place. You feel it walking up the square toward the edifice – the sense of coming into a sacred space dedicated to more ancient and local deities than the one now worshiped there. It is one of the most ancient and well preserved buildings in Rome and an amazing feat of architecture since there are no columns supporting the domed roof.

BTW: did I mention it’s damn hot here? Nice thing is there are many public drinking fountains with fresh water from the thousands of wells around Rome. It’s clean and tasty and we were constantly refilling out water bottles as we went. Also, almost every few blocks there’s another piazza with something amazingly old and/or magnificent featured there. As you may know, the Romans got everywhere and they liked to bring back “souvenirs.” You know, small things like Egyptian obelisks to give their mothers and what not… On the negative side, Rome is a very dirty city. The air pollution is pretty bad despite recent efforts to control emissions and citizens and tourists alike think nothing of throwing their trash all around. Oh, and did I mention the graffiti? It’s everywhere… Still it is amazing to see the thousands of years of continuous civilization that The Eternal City contains. To walk through a space that has everything from Roman aqueducts (some of them still in operation!) to Renaissance churches to Baroque houses is quite an experience.

Also, j-walking is definitely a sport as well as a necessity here. You’re not getting anywhere in this city unless you’re brave enough to just walk out there – even when there are cars coming. They don’t give much quarter but they mostly stop at actually running your down. Still, this is not a pastime for the faint at heart. ‘Bout died half a dozen times before lunch today. Yeesh!

Back on our tour: crossed the Tiber – which is one of the ugliest rivers I’ve ever seen – and over to Vatican City. I’m not sure I have the words to describe this place. A lot of things go through your head here, but to be honest, for being the center of all Catholicism it does not feel like a sacred place. It is feels like what it is – the heart of the Catholic Church’s power and prestige. We were bowled over by the vast wealth and extraordinary talent that went into building this place. And of course I can understand why millions of people – Catholic or not – flock here.

At first when we saw the crowds, we were going to skip Vatican City and come back later. They do security screening before you can go into the Basilica or the Vatican museum and Sistine Chapel and the lines were around the block for the Museum/Chapel and around the Square for St. Peter’s. But we ran into a guide doing tours and after hesitating a bit we joined up. Although she assured us the wait for the Vatican museum was really only 20 minutes it actually took us the better part of an hour to get through the line to the metal detectors, get our tickets, then collect the special headsets for tour groups before finally venturing into the museum. Damn crowded, too, though the guide told us it’s actually a light day. Yesterday was the last Sunday of the month and apparently the museum admission is free on that day so all of Rome shows up. Glad we missed that.

The lobby and front parts of the museum are actually quite modern, which is disconcerting when you’ve just been waiting in line around the Renaissance-era walls of the City. Then you head upstairs into the older parts. Also, you’d think you’d be inside a lot but we spent a lot of time outside in various courtyards around the museum. The museum itself is mind boggling. It’s filled with ancient pagan artwork from around the world which the Romans stole and then the popes co-opted. There’s a bath tub from one of the Roman Emperors (forget which) which was made of an Egyptian marble that is no longer available – apparently the Vatican now possesses 1/3 of the totality of this marble in the form of this tub and a couple of popes’ monuments in St. Peter’s. There are also hundreds of statues, tapestries and paintings from the finest artists of Europe through the centuries. There are several tombs within the museum, including those of the sister and mother of Constantine. The ceilings and floors are just incredible – mosaics from one end to the other. And then of course there is THE Chapel itself. I was a little shocked at how small it is actually. I was expecting something far grander. But I guess Michaelangelo is pretty glad it wasn’t any bigger as he went blind in one eye from painting the thing and then never actually got paid for the work. 😉

You are not supposed to take pictures in there. The Vatican spent millions in the 1990s cleaning and restoring it and now they really want to preserve it. Usually the Swiss guards are all over the place but for some reason today no one seemed to be minding the store. We were good girls and boys but there were plenty of Italian and – surprisingly – Asian tourists who apparently don’t understand any of the 15 or so languages that the “No Pictures” signs were posted in. Or the big sign with a camera and a red X through it.

But, damn, that man could paint. As you may be aware his paintings in the Chapel were something of a scandal at the time because he painted many nudes – and apparently God’s bum! One of his critics got himself painted into the Last Judgment for his pains and is depicted being dragged down to Hell. When this Cardinal complained to the Pope, he purportedly replied that he could intercede in Purgatory but not in Hell.

Then on to St. Peter’s Basilica. St. Peters is absolutely overwhelming. Some of the highlights are the tomb of Pope John XXIII who’s waxen body is said to be incorruptible – they’re fixin’ to canonize him soon. There is a also the statue of St. Peter – it is believed that if you touch the foot of this statue all your sins are cleansed. The feet of the statue are almost completely worn away from the millions of people who have touched them over the centuries. The other amazing fact is that nothing is painted in the Cathedral – all the wall decorations you see are mosaic. And the most incredible mosaic work you have every seen – it all looks like paintings to me but it really is all very tiny tiles put together so closely you almost miss the seams. The Cathedral is also the largest in the world, a fact the builders took great pains to underscore via a large floor feature at the point where the entrance to St. Paul’s Cathedral (the 2nd largest church in the world) would be in relation to the Basilica.

The weight of centuries of tradition is very much present in this church, but I truly felt more of sanctity in the York Minster than I did here. I think it is both the tourist-y nature of the place along with the less-than-subtle attempt by centuries of popes to make this place a showcase of the Church’s wealth and influence in the world.

There is one exception – they set aside one chapel for prayer only – no cameras or gawkers allowed. I went in originally to light a candle for my mother but as there were none I knelt to say a prayer for her instead. And got a such a strong, overwhelming feeling of her presence and timeless love that I had tears streaming down my face as I knelt there. That blew me away for a while. I was very glad of it though. It’s sometimes very hard without her. Don’t get me wrong, I miss Dad, too, but there is something about loosing your mother, even in your 30s, that just shakes a person to the core. So any time I touch her like that… well, there’s just nothing I can say which will convey it. (An interesting juxtaposition to the experience of being present when Bran came into this world, by the way.)

After that we headed down into the catacombs to see the tombs of some of the popes buried in the Vatican. Pope John Paul II is down there – his tombs is guarded and no pictures are allowed. There is also the tomb of the last of the Catholic Stuarts – including James III – who spent the rest of their lives in exile in Rome after James II was booted. There is also a tomb for a 16th century Swedish Queen who converted to Catholicism and was then exiled as well. One of the few women buried in the Vatican grounds.

After that we started toward “home.” Being hot, tired, foot sore and a bit peckish we stopped in a restaurant next to the Spanish Steps called Leonardo. Very nice fresh pasta with porcini mushrooms for Darren and a porcini mushroom risotto for me. Also lots of water.

Now we are back at the hotel to rest for a while. The Europeans are so civilized – you can eat until very late (they were seating people at midnight at the pizzeria last night) so eventually we will toddle out for dinner.

Let’s grab a couple of pics – ’cause face it, that’s why you bothered to read all my wanderings up there:

Rome 011.jpgThe Pantheon

Rome 0191.jpgJanice in front of Neptune’s Fountain in Piazza Navona

Rome 023.jpg
View of St. Peter’s

Rome 031.jpg The slightly macabre Hall of Busts in the Vatican Museum. You see a lot of the bodies that go to the heads in later parts of the tour.

Rome 040.jpgBath fit for an emperor

Rome 073.jpg Tomb of Pope Alexander something or other. The Skeletal figure is Death about to reveal its face. Cool!

Rome 084.jpg
This papal effigy was removed from the original church before it was knocked down to build the current Basilica. Am I the only one who thinks this guy looks Asian? Seriously, remove the hat and key and this could be a Budda. What’s up with that?

Rome 085.jpg Swiss Guards. Note the swords – they also bear firearms.

Rome 083.jpgPerhaps one of the coolest tombs in the catacombs – Pius XI. Much fancier than John Paul’s which is very plain.

More tomorrow probably when we are off to the more Coliseum and Roman Forums etc.




We’re Here!

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

Just FYI: the folks at Swiss Air are our new best friends. If they are going where you want to be, I highly recommend them. Aside from the nice entertainment systems and the fact that each flight attendant speaks at least 5 languages, they can apparently pull off a half-hour transfer without breaking a sweat. Our plane from LAX was delayed more than an hour cutting our original connection time to just about half an hour. Not only did WE make it – despite having to change terminals and go through security again – but our luggage made it too. Gods bless Swiss efficiency!

After a fairly uneventful though looong trip, we landed in Rome about 8:30pm local. Caught a train into Termnini Central and then a taxi ride to our hotel. BTW: it’s been said before but Taxi drivers in Rome are nuts!

Late night dinner at a local pizzeria with the best damn mushroom pizza I ever had. Then back here for some sleep.

We’re toddling off to breakfast and then some touristiness so more late.




Finally out of Review!

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

CCAA posted an update to their site. They have finished review of dossiers submitted through April 30th, 2006! Yey! One more hurdle in the China adoption has been cleared!




Solstice Son

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

So Bran Wulf decided to be born a Cancer instead of a Gemini. Born June 21st, 2007 at 7:31:45am after 27+ hours labor. 7 lbs, 6 oz and 20.5 inches long.

I’m really, really glad we weren’t on a plane to Rome when he decided to make his entrance.

By the way, only in my family would the birth plan include a safe word and commentary on how loud the a capella singing might get. And only in my family would we be singing sailors’ work songs while waiting for a family member to give birth.

I have no words to describe the experience. Despite two 5 am wake-up calls, sleep deprivation, worry while watching our Tina endure way more pain than any one human should have to before finally getting the epidural, the whole thing was amazing. I was crying so hard I almost missed our first glimpse of his face. I love my family and I am so honored to have been even a small part of this glorious occassion.

Ok, the Mystery of Life kinda rocks. 😉

Congrats to Brian, Tina and Bran! Happy birthday, little raven!

Here’s a couple of pics

Dad, Mom and Baby Mom, Dad and baby doing fine

Bran Wulf Conroy 043.jpg Auntie Janice with Bran

Bran Wulf Conroy 047.jpg
Proud Uncle Darren