Overwhelmed In Rome

IMG_0222It’s our last night in Rome…and I admit to being very remiss in updating my travel blog.  Maybe that is a relief for some…maybe you miss the posts…but honestly, every day that we have been here in Rome, we’ve been out of the door by 7:30AM and we often return at 10:30PM.  It’s been overwhelming.  Exciting, but exhausting.  There is a LOT to see here.  Two weeks of steady sight-seeing with 100 degree temps and an unrelenting sun has definitely taken its toll on our bodies.

I really want to share everything that we’ve seen in Rome, but for now, I have to give an appetizer of all that we saw on Friday and Saturday.  And I will post subsequent follow ups.

Friday was all about St. Peter’s Basilica, the Borghese Galleries and we ended the day at the Vatican Museum (which included the Sistine Chapel!).

First up was a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica, which included a climb up to the dome.  We arrived at St. Peter’s very early, and surprisingly there was no line.  Typically, we are “hardcore” and never take an elevator if there is an option to climb stairs, but given the heat and the fact that we were pretty withered at this point in the trip, we gladly accepted an elevator ride up the dome (but at Lena’s insistence we climbed back down via the steps).   The views of the Piazza and of Rome were amazing.

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We walked down from the dome (the stairs were MUCH more modern and “code compliant” than any other tower we’ve climbed in Europe) which dumps you right out inside St. Peter’s.  There was a beautiful light streaming in that gave it a very ethereal ambiance.

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Later in the afternoon, we visited the Villa Borghese, a former country house (Palazzo) for a very wealthy art-collecting Cardinal.  It houses some of the most famous Bernini sculptures in the world, as well as a first-class collection of other 14th, 15th and 16th century paintings.  One of best things about visiting the Villa was their ticketing system, which is similar to The Last Supper tickets in Milan.  They are sold in increments of 2 hours.  So you show up at your appointment time slot and there are  never more than a certain number of people in the galleries at any given time.  It makes viewing the art so much more pleasurable (see my older posts about the Louvre–ugh).

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I still can’t get over how life-like Bernini sculpted.  Look at how his hands grab into the flesh of her body.  It is hard to appreciate it in a photograph.

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After a very long day, we visited St. Peter’s/The Vatican for a look at the museum.  We had tickets for an evening tour, which theoretically, was supposed to be less crowded.  It was still quite crowded, but the museum was very efficient in moving the lines along and we were soon inside.  And once inside, the museum is so vast that the crowds thinned out and allowed for enjoyable viewing.

Th Vatican Museum is huge and there was no way we could see it all, so we prioritized and focused on what we really wanted to see. The Raphael Room was incredible, and the Sistine Chapel did NOT disappoint. No photography was allowed…but I snapped a few undercover shots on the way out. It was a truly amazing experience to see the ceiling first hand…it was much grander and more beautiful in person than I could have imagined.

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The Raphael Room…the artwork was massive and the colors were so vibrant and rich.

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Right before you go into the Sistine Chapel, they Vatican throws some large scale Henri Matisse in your face…amazing.

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Final climb into the Sistine Chapel…which is quite a large room.  The ceiling was easily 65 feet tall…much more impressive in person that you can imagine. The colors are ultra vibrant and the artwork is jaw-dropping.  Please remember that these images are contraband…the guards were ultra strict about “NO FOTO”…and I didn’t want to end up in the Vatican prison.

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The rest of the Vatican Museum is vast…super vast…filled with art work and artifacts and relics beyond belief.  And the views of the surrounding Vatican property were beautiful, lush and amazing.  Lena said it looked like Hawaii.

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Friday was even more intense.  We took two different 3 hour tours (actually the second tour was 4 hours)…the first of the Colosseum/Palatine Hill/Forum and secondly, a “Catacombs & Bones” tour.  By day’s end, we were crawling home.  I have to commend Lena for being the most well-behaved 7 year old ever.  At least 3 women in our tour came up to me and said that they were beyond impressed at her patience and composure for such long, intense, art/history/architecture themed tours.

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IMG_0393 And just for your reference…this is what the Fourm looked like in it’s heyday…

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IMG_0419In between tours, we even squeezed in a baroque church or two….

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And the day ended with my least-photographed, but most fascinating tour that we took on the entire trip. It was all about Roman catacombs and crypts and the layers found under Rome.  All of the sights were owned by monasteries and convents and did NOT allow photography (so the few pictures that I took are contraband).  And what we saw would require an entire blog. Lots of VERY early (200 A.D.) secret Christian worship spots and burial crypts..remember this was Rome…not a safe place for the early Christians.  The tour was eerie and inspiring at the same time.  I will make a blog post with photos and more info at a later time.

The first stop on the tour was this creepy monastery crypt from the 18th where the monks took the bones of their brothers to create elaborate displays.  They were either celebratory or morbid…whichever you decide.

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And then we went to two other 2nd Century A.D. catacombs where some of the very first Christians were buried, and where they might have worshiped in secret.  The bones of bodies were plundered by Barbarians from Germany in the 5th century…so the bones have been long gone….but this is a very important milestone in the history of Christianity.

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This catacomb might possibly contain the first ever depiction of Mary with the baby Jesus…this is 2nd Century A.D.

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Interestingly, there is graffitti in the catacombs from World War II American soldiers who were in Italy at the time of liberation from Nazi forces…apparently they had time to sight see like us.  The one below if from June 1944.

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10 thoughts on “Overwhelmed In Rome

  1. Even your “contraband” shots are well done. I’m just too darn obedient when I see the “no fotografia” sign.
    Your daughter is getting such an incredible education. And I agree with anyone that is one very well behaved child. Someday she will have interesting stories to tell.
    I look forward to your continued posts.
    Did you get to the Trevi Fountain? It’s my favorite place in Rome…early in the morning when hardly anyone is there.

  2. Wow! I’m worn out just reading about it. I can’t imagine how tired you guys must be. Lena is experiencing so much! Was she scared on the catacomb tour? I’m not sure I wouldn’t have been a little scared myself!! Thank you for risking Vatican prison to sneak a few pics for us. I would have been so disappointed to have come all this way with you and missed the Sistine chapel!!!

  3. After I posted about the Trevi Fountain I saw a live webcam that shows it seems to be under restoration. Too bad that you didn’t get to see it in action. But hopefully you will go back someday.
    I’m really enjoying your blog and pictures….especially Lena’s from today.

    1. I forgot to reply to you when you mentioned the Trevi Fountain. Actually, when we took a “Twilight Walk Thru Rome” tour, we stopped by the Trevi Fountain, but as you mentioned it was covered in scaffolding. That was a major disappointment….actually all over Italy, things seemed to be covered in scaffolding. The Duomo in Milan…St. Mark’s in Venice…the church at the top of the “Spanish Stairs”…the Trevi…a few more I forgot. Oh well…as an architect that works on old building…I know all about having to maintain and upkeep these ancient structures!

  4. AMAZING!!!!

    Struck me as funny that you snapped a picture of a nun…..A REAL ITALIAN NUN!! I don’t know why but I find that funny.

    What were the display of gowns and such?

  5. More incredible photos of Rome!
    The entrance to the catacombs looks like something out of a haunted house. I can’t imagine how interesting it must be to tour the catacombs.
    You are such a rebel with the photos! If I hear you’ve been arrested and sent to Italy, I will not have to ask why.

  6. Two questions: First, where are all the people?? In the first pics of the Piazza from St. Peter’s it looks almost completely deserted! I wouldn’t expect that in summer in Rome. Second, was the catacombs tour Walks in Italy also? We would like to do a tour like that when we go. Thanks!

    1. We went to St. Peter’s at about 8AM…our apartment was about a 10 minute walk away. It was practically empty at that time and absolutely no line to go through security.

      Secondly, yes we did a Walks of Italy catacombs tour. It was about a 4 hour tour and we went to 3 different places. It was super interesting. Never really knew much about catacombs prior to this tour. I highly recommend it. But don’t expect to see any bones (I did). They were ransacked by Northern European barbarians centuries ago!

      By the way, this is exactly why I posted to blog…to help other travelers. Glad I can be of use to you.

      1. Thanks again! This blog is incredibly useful (and great eye candy too!). Your work is definitely appreciated!

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