Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Europe Trip 2010, Part 9: The Vatican

Early in on the morning on our final day in Rome we took a taxi to the Vatican, we rounded a corner, and suddenly there was St. Peter's square, empty and basking in the early morning sun. Incredible!

We hurried around the corner to line up for the "Vatican Museum". We got in line about an hour before the doors opened to ensure that we'd get in and see it early, and good thing we did because apparently the line can stretch for hours.

The Vatican Museum is more than a museum. It's actually the old Papal Palaces that happen to be filled with amazing walls, ceilings, and art. The end of the Vatican Museum is the climax, the Sistine Chapel.

A lot of people go into the Vatican Museum and just run right to the Sistine Chapel. But because we are a family of history buffs and art lovers we spent about 2.5 hours in the museum before entering the Sistine Chapel.

First we saw the Egyptian mummies and then old Greek and Roman statutes.

I particularly enjoyed these two ancient statues, both of which were huge inspirations for Michelangelo.

This is Laoco├Ân and His Sons. This B.C. statue was unearthed in 1506 and Michelangelo emulated the movement of this statue in his later work.

This is the Belvedero Torso. Michelangelo used to say he was "a student of the torso." Do you recognize the Torso's abs? They were the inspiration for Jesus's abs in The Last Judgment (which is in the Sistine Chapel).

Isn't it so cool to learn how cultures build on each other?! Sorry, I just drink that kind of stuff up!

Note: If you visit the Vatican Museum please please please don't just skip to the Sistine Chapel. You'll miss so much! See the rest of it for me, ok? Likewise if you ever go to the Louvre in Paris, don't just see the Mona Lisa. You'll miss the greatest collection of art you'll ever see in your life. OK, I'm off my soapbox.

Then we headed down several amazing hallways with all kinds of beautiful ceilings and walls.

Look at this ceiling. It looks like it's carved, but really it's a painted optical illusion. Trippy!

Next were the Raphael rooms. I just loved seeing so many Raphaels in one place!

School of Athens has long been one of my favorite works of art.

See that man in front in purple? That's Michelangelo. Raphael apparently painted him into this piece as a final touch after he caught a glimpse of Michelangelo's amazing unfinished Sistine Chapel.

Finally it was time for the Sistine Chapel, which we got via the much neglected modern religious art area.

We entered the dark, crowded Sistine Chapel and .... WOW! There was the Last Judgment and the iconic Sistine Chapel Ceiling. I couldn't believe I was actually seeing it!

Yes, I took a covert picture even though it's not allowed. Don't tell Vatican security on me, mmmkay?

Fun fact about the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Michelangelo painted the panels of Noah and family first. Then he came down off his ladder and realized they were too small and too undramatic. Ooops! So he went back up and painted the rest of the iconic scenes (like Adam and God) with much larger figures and much more action. You can really see the difference when you see the ceiling in person.

After we spent our time in the Sistine Chapel we took the secret tour group exit door that takes you straight to St. Peter's Basilica. Perfect! Thanks for the tip, Rick Steves!

We made it past the not-so-friendly or helpful Vatican guards (by the way, what is up with that?) who were arbitrarily enforcing dress code (seriously, it was oh-so-arbitrary, but I was glad I wore my modest dress), and into St. Peter's Basilica to walk around.

The first thing we saw was the Pieta. Absolutely amazing! The sheer emotion in it just took my breath away.

Sorry for the crap picture. A better one is here if you want a better look.

We also saw the dead Pope body. That was crazy and a bit creepy. I didn't take a picture for obvious reasons.

The sheer size and grandness of St. Peter's Basilica puts every other church to shame. Seriously. Oh and did I mention it has tons more amazing art?

Family photo by the confessional!

We're random, I know.

Then my Dad, the Mr. and I decided to go up into the Dome. And my Mom went to the crypts.

Walked up the hundreds of steps to get to the top of the Dome. It has much bigger hallways and stairwells than the Duomo in Florence.

Part way through you can stop and look down into the Church, which is cool.

Finally we got to the top to see the spectacular view from above!

St. Peter's Square

Vatican grounds and Vatican Radio Station

On top of the Vatican

The Pantheon in the distance

St. Peter's square with Rome in the distance

Back toward the Vatican Museum

We walked back to the mid-point, where you can buy ice cream and espresso for a good price!

The Vatican was just an incredible site to see. Besides the fantastic art, this small plot of land contains an indescribable amount of history.

It's crazy to think that the apostle Peter, who walked with Jesus, was killed and buried on the very spot where St. Peter's Basilica is built.

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus tells Peter, "you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church," (Matthew 16:18). This quite literally happened. The Church was literally built on
Peter. To see scripture come to life like that is really freakin' cool.

Even though I'm no longer a Catholic, I can definitely appreciate the Catholic Church as the foundation of my faith and really the foundation of all Christian faith.

Next up? Tuscany!

Just joining the Europe recaps? See them all here.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Light me up! New Kitchen Lighting...

Remember a couple months ago when we had our kitchen backsplash installed and I said lighting was next? (Yeah, I know, it was a while ago!) Well, the lighting is in!

We bought some very chic, modern, pendant lighting from Lamps Plus and had installed by the Mr.'s best friend in Oregon when he came to town to visit us last month.

And here's how they look!

It took me a long time to find the right pendant lights for our modern kitchen. So many pendant lights are too shabby chic, ornamented, or gothic. I paid more than I wanted to for the lights, but it was worth it. Since they are chrome they go really well with all of stainless steel appliances and chrome fixtures.

They are the perfect mood lighting for our kitchen and are so much prettier than the stock, florescent, recessed lighting.

A close-up view at night time...

I really feel like the pendant lights add a touch of class to our kitchen. And the soft lighting makes me happier to be in the kitchen at night!

What have you done to your kitchen to make it a place that you want to be?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Europe Trip 2010, Part 8: When In Rome

We spent our second and third days in Rome seeing a variety of amazing sites.

We woke up early on the second day and rode the Metro and bus out to the Appian way to see the Catacombs of San Callisto.

The Catacombs are where the early Roman Christians were burred in secrets because the were persecuted for their faith.

Our city bus driver dropped us off in the beautiful countryside near the catacombs and we took a lovely morning walk through the Appian Way pedestrian path.

We located Callisto, got in line, and then headed down underground for our tour.

We went down into the Catacombs to the oldest level. Beside the tombs there are really interesting old artifacts, symbols, and other items that early Christians left in the Catacombs. Our tour guides explained the secret symbols and told us stories of the early Roman Christians worshiping in secret. It was so cool to see the early foundations of our Christian faith. It definitely strengthened my faith to think of early Christians, not long after the time of Jesus, risking their lives to follow Him.

After our underground tour we got back on the public bus to Rome.

We took the train to the Trevi Fountain. It was JUST how I pictured it! I love how it's kind of "tucked away" between building.

We wrestled for space near the crowded fountain and I threw my penny in behind my back.

Then we went on to the Pantheon.

To me, the Pantheon was simply stunning! One my favorite things in Rome.

It was built around the same time as the Colosseum, which makes it around 2000 years old. But it never fell into disrepair because it went from being a pagan temple dedicated to all gods to a Christian Church dedicated to all martyrs.

What really blew us away was the mathematical precision. It's a marvel of symmetry and shapes -- all done before computers or modern mathematics. The Pantheon is so perfect that it served as the model for the Florence Duomo and even the United States Capitol Building.

The stunning pillar of light that comes through the oculus is the only light source in the building. And it's beautiful.

Next we walked down to Largo di Torre Argentina. Largo di Torre Argentina is a square in that hosts the ruins of four Republican Roman temples and the remains of Pompey's Theater.

But what's the coolest thing (to me) about Largo Argentina is the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, a no-kill shelter for homeless cats. (Yes, I'm a little bit of a crazy cat lady)

Literally the ruins are inhabited by Roman cats.

As if cats don't have enough of a God-complex already!

I even went down into the ruins to meet the people who run the shelter and pets some of the adorable kitties who are up for adoption.

What a great, humane way to treat stray cats!

Then we walked over to Piazza Navona to see Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers.

Rick Steves helped us to decode all the symbolism in the statue.

Then it was time to meet up with my parents who had just flown into Rome to spend the final days of our vacation with us.

We celebrated by sharing prosecco and a light dinner near the Spanish steps, and called it a night!

On our third day in Rome, we started with National Museum of Rome (free for us as part of our Roma pass). I read to my parents and the Mr. from Rick Steves guide. It was so interesting to learn about the Greeks and the Romans. We saw tons of great old statues and mosaics.

The Mr. threw discus in high school, so he admired this guy...

Then we walked over to the Baths of Diocletian. These were the grandest of the public baths in Rome. They remained in use as baths until the aqueducts that fed them were cut by the Goths in 537 A.D. Then they became a Church.

After the baths we had lunch at snack bar in Piazza della Republica.

I loved seeing how tiny Roman gas stations are! I guess it's because most of the cars and vespas are tiny.

We then walked through the Borghese Park and went to the Museum of Modern Art, which was cool but nothing to write home about.

For happy hour we took a bus down to Campo de Fiore and enjoyed drinks al fresco on the beautiful plaza.

The craziest thing is that we saw a mime get into a fist fight with guitar player. I guess they were having a turf war over which street performer could perform in the plaza. Another mime broke the fight up. Hilarious.

Then went to a great dinner at another small plaza near by Campo de Fiore (I wish I could remember the name). Our concierge had recommended it and it was really cute. We sat outdoors and enjoyed yummy meats, cheeses, spaghetti a la carbonara, lamb, and wine.

You might remember from when we went to Boston that I love cannoli, so you can imagine that I was in heaven with this authentic pistachio cannoli!

Next up? The Vatican!

Just joining the Europe recaps? See them all here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Europe Trip 2010, Part 7: Ancient Rome

The morning of our first day in Rome we left our hotel, The Westin Excelsior, early in the morning to do the "Caesar Shuffle" as Rick Steves calls it.

The "Caesar Shuffle" is a tour of Ancient Rome -- the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum.

Quick note: I picked up a copy of Rick Steves' Rome 2008 for free on Paper Back Swap. BEST guide book ever! It helped us so much and I was able to read his "tours" at all the major sites. I joked to the Mr. that he didn't need an audio guide because I was his audio guide!

We took the metro straight to the Colosseum. Even on first glance, it was very impressive.

We bought a Roma Pass, skipped the lines, and then we entered the massive Colosseum. Breathtaking!

We were so impressed by the sheer size, the age, and how technologically advanced the Colosseum is.

It was cool to see the old artifacts like fan graffiti, gambling dice, and ancient drink tickets, and decorative columns.

It was easy to image how the Colosseum would have looked it's hay day -- the Emperor, the Gladiators, the animals, the Vestal Virgins, and the hoards of people.

I just kept thinking, how could the Romans build something so big and lasting without the technology we have today?

After the Colosseum we walked to the Arch of Constantine. Constantine was the Emperor who legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire and completely changed the course of modern history. Amazing.

Next we used our Roma Pass to get into Palatine Hill, the Beverly Hills of Ancient Rome.

On Palatine Hill we saw the Roman Emperor's Palace, Augustus's house, the huts of Romulus and Remus...

And the the Emperor's stadium.

Apparently Palatine Hill used to be stunning. It was complete with frescoes, fountains, statues, pillars, and more. Now it's mainly rubble, but still so cool to see (especially for a history geek like me).

From Palatine Hill we also looked out on the old chariot race course, Circus Maxims (think Ben-Hur).

And we looked back out at the Colosseum. You can see why the views from Palatine Hill made it the posh zip code in 100 A.D.

Then we headed down to the Roman Forum. The old city center -- now mainly ruins.

I read Rick Steves Forum tour to The Mr. as we toured the old temples, government buildings, and much more.

I just loved seeing the Roman ruins. We saw...

The Temple of Antonius Pius and Faustina...

The Arch of Septimius Severus...

Caligula's Palace...

The Temple of Saturn...

And so much more!

Even though the Roman Forum is mainly rubble now, but it was cool to imagine how it used to look. One thing that's still 100% in tact are the roads. It's crazy to think that Caesar walked on those very roads.

What blew my mind is that Rome had 1.2 million people before the fall of Rome. When Rome fell and the barbarians smashed the aqueducts in 400-something A.D. the population was reduced to the tens of thousands and the Roman Forum was covered in dirt for centuries. Just incredible to the turns history takes.

We spent about 6 hours total touring the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Forum. We were hot and exhausted, so we went back to the hotel to rest a bit.

This was our first day in Rome, and we quickly realized that Rome was hot, hot, hot. Like seriously, hot. Like I can't believe that a week ago I was freezing my tail off in Munich, hot. And did not have near enough warm weather clothes (e.g. you may have noticed me wearing the same black and white dress in Florence and in Rome). So we decided to walk from our hotel to H&M to buy a couple of dresses for me.

On the way to H&M we got trapped in a crazy thunderstorm near the Spanish steps and we got drenched!

(Look at the ominous sky!)

I mean we got really drenched. Was actually kind of fun and romantic being out in the hot rain. Until suddenly it started to hail. Here's how I looked while we hid under a hotel parking area waiting out the hail.

Eventually it let up and we finally made it to H&M where I bought two cheap, cute dresses that you'll see in the next post, which incidentally another Rome post!

Just joining the Europe recaps? See them all here.
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