Monday, June 2, 2008

Seeing the Forum Up Close, and Visiting the Pope's House.

April 17th - Colosseum Up Close, Forum, Palatine Hill

In waking up on the 17th, I realized that today would be Timber Jim's last day at a Timbers match, and girl and I were 6000 miles away. I truly respect TJ and everything he is, not just the mascot but the man himself and how he lives his life. While I know everyone was understanding about it, I just felt a little odd not being there. But soon enough, I got a text that my friend Obi would be standing in our row in honor of us with girl's maid of honor, Jeane. Obi is truly a best man's best man, and knowing our thoughts were there and we were represented, we tried to figure out the day's activities.

Knowing the Vatican was a good walk away from our hotel (probably 3 to 4 miles), we decided to make that our Friday destination and spend all day there. For today, it was back to the Colosseum to actually go inside, then see the Forum and Palatine Hill where many of the ruins are. This also was a bit of a shorter walk, after our previous day's excursion so it would allow us to rest up for Friday. There was also a famous statue near the Forum that girl wanted to visit, Boca De Veritas. This literally translates to Mouth of Truth, and it's a rather famous exhibit. As legend has it, the statue is of a large face with an open mouth in the front. If a person stuck their hand in the statue's mouth and it was bitten, they were found to be lying. Only an honest person could stick their hand in the mouth and not be injured, although apparently for some emperors they found it amusing to put lobsters in the statue just for fun.

We walked past the Colosseum to see the wait time, and ended up speaking Spanish to mess with the tour guides and vendors that wanted our money. We passed by the Forum, which as with many of the sites, it was hard to believe that thousands of years ago, there were athletic events going on here. What was funny to watch was the dozens of joggers making laps around the ancient track. We made it to the Mouth of Truth, and there was a small service charge to get in. Girl lamented that when she was here, it was free and there was no line. Now, about 50 people patiently waited to get pictures. When I got up there, I did my best imitation of the face, and we walked through the very small chapel next door. The art work and architecture is truly amazing, again showing elegance and simplicity in design.

We then decided to actually head to the Colosseum to get the full pass to view it, Palatine Hill and the various ruins about. You can see the gardens, the ruins of the senator's house, and various chapels and arches plus the Colosseum for one price, so we scooted in and got our tickets. As much as a tour might have been nice, I think it was unnecessary to pay someone to show you the things that you could see yourself. The Colosseum is really hard to describe, as I could see the stadium seats and pathways which when standing would have held 35,000 people for various events. The catacombs under the floor wove about underground, and I could see some people easily getting lost in there if you weren't careful. The crowd wasn't so bad because it was around siesta time, so we could move about pretty easily.

Once we were done, we zipped past the Arch and headed for the gardens and ruins. Again, there is so much history present, it was simply overwhelming and hard to fathom sometimes. Walking past places that used to have fountains, large dining rooms, servants quarters, and chapels and seeing the skeletal remains, you could image what these places would be like in their heyday. There's so much to go through, it was a bit of a whirlwind. But I felt a sense of honor to see these ruins, and really see how large the area is. We even passed by a parliament building that was having election meetings going on, as we found out later watching the news. Most of the buildings are now roped or sealed off so you couldn't walk within most of the ruins, which was frustrating but I understood why. After years and years of tourists coming in, the ruins were starting to show more wear and the Romans were taking measures to protect their treasures.

We walked back to the hotel and rested a bit, as girl's feet were bugging her. Apparently, the new Adidas shoes we got for her didn't prevent blisters from forming on some of her toes. We decided to go get some pizza and eat in, trying to watch Italian TV. Outside of the language, I observed that (1) their version of Deal or No Deal didn't have models and people opened boxes to show the amounts (2) in Wheel of Fortune, apparently Victoria Silvstedt knows enough Italian to be their version of Vanna White (3) Bender in Futurama Italian style has the most annoying voice ever (4) Homer is also annoying but not as bad (5) South Park is very funny and the voices match, but the only way I knew what was going on was to have already seen the episode. We know we had a big day tomorrow, so we turned in and got some rest.

April 18th - Visiting the Pope's House

The news was talking about the Pope a lot, and how he was off to New York. Of course, we come to visit and the pope decides to leave. Apparently, he got the memo from someone, but regardless, we ate food, got dressed up and headed out for Vatican City. Unlike other tourist destinations, the Vatican requires you to dress nicely and girls can't show legs out of respect. So we actually dressed up a bit for our venture. Girl had also bandaged up her feet, and we started the long walk to the Vatican. We made a few stops simply to rest up and keep her feet fresh, as we literally walked across town.

While heading to the Vatican, we found the only Irish pub in Rome that also advertised soccer matches, and this was good news to know, as we had interest in watching the Sunderland - Newcastle derby on Saturday. The walk wasn't so bad from the hotel, so we knew where our Saturday would take us. We finally made it to the gates of Vatican City, where two large statues sat at the main entrance. We also saw the Castle Sant Angelo to our right, which was built as protection of the Vatican. It was rather humongous, I could see why this castle could protect the Vatican. Once we walked across the river and took the first left, we were on the main road into Vatican City.

Growing up Catholic, people always talked about wanting to make the trek to see this, and so being there at the Basilica was something I had to take in for a bit. The columns around the main plaza were about 100 feet high, and the art work was very detailed. We viewed some of the fountains on site, then got in line to enter the Basilica. It was moving pretty well, even though there were about 3000 people in line preceding us. As we looked about, there were guards ever present with huge machine guns at the ready. I'm not sure if I felt safe or unnerved at the firepower, but soon, we were heading inside. I'd see the Basilica on TV for Christmas mass, and the TV doesn't do it justice. This place is over 30 football pitches big, and at least a couple pitches tall. There are chapels everywhere, I could foresee multiple masses going on at the same time during the day. We then headed over to see the Papal museum.

I'd also known that the Catholic Church had some riches, and once you see this tour, you'll see why. I have never seen emeralds and diamonds so large ever, and seeing ones as big as my hand was magnificent but sad at the same time. It's an honor to see them, but thinking that these jewels could be used to feed poor people or help economic strife, it was tough to see the opulence and not get a little angry. And it just kept going and going, as you saw more jewels, more scepters, more robes, and more gold. I think my head hurt after seeing all of this...

But it just prepared me for our trip to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, which is actually a bit of a walk from Vatican City. We made it over in about 20 minutes, and soon we were off to the races. We spent over 3 hours there, and really you could spend three days here and not see everything. There's so much to see, but we took it all in - ceilings, paintings, statues of naked guys, gardens, chapels, bathes. You name it, it was there, and you could actually take pictures of most of it. Ok, you had to turn off the flash, but at least some of my pictures came out. The museum kept going and going and going, and you made a turn and suddenly there was more stuff to see. I just kept taking pictures and watching the sites until we got to the Sistine Chapel itself. You have to remain quiet and you can't take pictures, but rather you take it in and see the sites above. It was overwhelming to think of how much time and detail it took to make this, and here I was looking at it. The guards at the gate kept yelling at people to shut up and not take pictures, but that didn't stop them from trying. It was well worth the trip to get out here.

We left the museum, and tried to loop back around to the river to get back into Rome. However, the wall surrounding the Vatican made it rather difficult to get over there, as we took a shortcut to try and get back to the river. After a few minutes, we backtracked to the museum and went back the same way we came. We did get to see the policia scare some vendors who were blocking a sidewalk. As the lights flashed, the vendors scrambled not to get caught, it was truly a COPS moment. We took our time getting back to the hotel, stopping for plenty of breaks and water and we got back to our room about dinner time.

After some rest, I headed out for more food as we decided to eat in our room again. We had found a grocery store down the road from us, and so we were able to load up on a few things like water and snacks. The pizza place I visited the previous night was very good, so I grabbed some pizza and authentic spaghetti for the road. And it was really good, not greasy at all and quite filling. The pizza crust was thin, but very flavorful, and the sauce was not too spicy. It was very filling, and allowed us to watch more bad TV.

About 11 Pm, the Italian TV gets some of their adult shows on regular broadcast TV, and they think nothing about showing full frontal nudity on TV. Some of the shows were really cheesy - one in particular was a girl in a room with some phones. People would call in to ask the girl to do things for them on TV, and then she would talk to the camera every now and then. This girl would take her top off, wiggle her tongue and point her fingers at it repeatedly. Then, she would put her top back on, and then take another phone call. We also found a casino show where the losers of various gambling games would have to strip for losing. I may not have understood what they were saying, but I understood boobs. And then we met Justine, who either was a man who became a woman or she had the worst boob job in the history of medicine. They were deformed, there was no other way to put it. But people kept calling in, so apparently Italians either like boobs or they aren't very picky about what boobs they see. But at least it's entertaining.

Next Time - Walking Finally Catches Up with Us, and Are Newcastle Fans Everywhere?

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