Monday, October 17, 2011

Things I Already Miss About Italy....

Church Bells 
 I loved the hourly, and in some cases half hourly, ringing of the church bells.

In Venice, I noticed the number of "ding and dongs" had no correlation to the hour--they just ring and ring and ring--even at 2:00 am!  But it was such a lovely sound, I didn't mind waking up.

Sure wish I had a recording so I could hear them at home.

Seriously good stuff.  We ate gelato morning, noon and night on a few days.  We even ate desert first a few times!

The best gelato we had:  The dark, dark bittersweet chocolate gelato in Venice.  Also high on our list: hazelnut and pistachio.  And the Nutella wasn't bad.  Mmmmmmmmm, good!   It's a very good thing it's not on every corner here in Spudville like it is in Italy!

Italian Men & Their Colorful Jeans

Very stylish!  (well, some more than others....)  Green seems to be the favorite.  I sure wish I'd been ready with the camera for the cute guy in a purple pair.  I also missed a shot of a lavender pair!

 Yes--HOT pink!!

David was convinced that my photo taking was just a poorly disguised reason to look at cute Italian asses in jeans.  NOT SO!!  I just love color.......

Really I do......

That Wonderful Italian Espresso!
Well, NOT that really expensive stuff we had near the Vatican, but every other cup was delicious.  It might have had something to do with the yummy pastries we had with almost every cup....

House Red Wine!
Every time we ordered the house red wine it was very good, and reasonably priced.  Many times a glass of wine was less than a diet coke.   There ya go--I can justify drinking wine with lunch and dinner!

Really, really good stuff!  I bought a bottle in Venice,  it's  a light and refreshing drink when mixed with club soda or diet sprite.

Another delicious, refreshing drink I discovered in Florence.  It was my favorite  pre-dinner, sidewalk cafe sitting, people watching drink! It's a bitter orange liquor mixed with club soda or just sparkling water, served with lots of ice. I liked it because it wasn't too sweet.  I'll be looking for some of this in Spudville next summer!

OK,  enough about alcohol!

A couple of things I DON'T miss about Italy:

The bread!  Seriously, it was impossible to buy good bread in Italy.  We were spoiled by the wonderful, delicious baguettes in France, and then there's that yummy French butter.  I swear, I dream about that stuff! (BTW--we ate almost two pounds of butter in 9 days in Paris!!)

We were shocked by the price of bread in Venice--we paid almost $6.oo for about 1/3 of a round loaf of whole wheat bread--and it was so awful we threw it away!  We also tried bread in Florence, not quite as expensive, but not very good either.  We finally gave up!

That stinky Metro in Rome.  'Nuff said........

And I'd put up with the bread AND the Metro if I could go back tomorrow..........I LOVE Italy!

(But Paris is still my favorite!)

BIG Knockers......

BIG knockers.......

 Little knockers.....

Plain knockers.....

Fancy knockers.......

For some reason, the door knockers in France and Italy really intrigue me.  Most of them are very old, but occasionally I'd see a new one. A lion theme is the most common, but there are many other beautiful designs. Here are pictures of some of my favorites:  (and just ask David--I took several!)

Tuesday, Our last day in Rome

Tuesday, October 11th

Our last day of this wonderful trip--we're exhausted, our feet hurt, and David is recovering from a cold.  We are ready to go home, but still sad to be leaving incredible Italy.

Despite our exhaustion and very sore feet, we got an early start--don't want to waste a precious minute of our last day!  As usual, we set out walking--just wandering, really.  We walked across the Tibur River, towards our favorite neighborhood, Trastevere.

  We strolled through those scenic narrow streets again, poking into several interesting shops.  A few last minute gifts to buy......( I do love my friends!)

Lunch was at a lovely trattoria, with tables set up along the narrow lane.  A pizza for David, and spaghetti with clam sauce for me.   Red wine?  You bet!  Mmmmmm good!

We walked back across the river, taking our time and enjoying every last minute in this beautiful city.
We were right by the Pantheon, this time it was open and the crowds were light, so a visit was in order.

The history of this building is very interesting:  It was originally build in 31 BC as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome.  It was destroyed by fire and rebuilt twice, the last time in 126 AD.  In 609 AD  it was consecrated as a Christian church by Pope Boniface IV.  It is the best preserved of all of Rome's ancient sites, and is still an active church today.

The construction and engineering are fascinating.  (I know, my "inner geek" is showing!)  It's still the largest dome of non re-inforced poured concrete in the world--and to think about how many 100's of years it has been standing!  The ocular (about 29 ft in diameter) is open to the sky, and during rain storms, any water that falls into the church is drained away by an ingenious drainage system under the floor.  When we were in the rotunda, it was obvious the floor was domed very slightly, sloping down towards the sides.  Brilliant engineering!

The ocular and the large entrance doors were originally the only light source in the rotunda (well--they probably lit candles).  Sunlight coming in from the ocular moves around the rotunda in a reverse-sundial effect--very pretty and pretty interesting!  I could bore you all with the engineering details, as I've been reading up on it--but I'll spare you!

Here's some of my favorite pictures:

The Pantheon is really an amazing building, and we were so glad that we went back a second time!

After leaving the Pantheon, we slowly walked back to our apartment.  Lot's of stops along the way--I was searching for a certain something for sweet Ruthie McAllister!  Found it!

We got back to our apartment, packed up our ever-expanding suitcases and tidied the apartment a bit.
We'd already decided we were going out for a nice, "last evening of our vacation" dinner--no cooking tonight!

But first, one last look at the beautiful Colosseum.  We found a nice sidewalk "bar" and settled in for a pre-dinner drink--wine for David and a "spritz" for me.  Mmmm-delicious!  Here's our view, isn't it perfect?

  Feeling a little sad, and looking very exhausted!

We'd carefully picked out a nice restaurant in the neighborhood, a pretty setting and very highly recommended.  After our drinks and last look at the colosseum, we slowly walked to the restaurant.  Along the way, we realized we actually weren't very hungry, and a lovely, expensive meal would be wasted on us.  So we just kept right on walking, plopped ourselves down at a small sidewalk cafe near our apartment and,  in true Travelin' Lundbury style--shared a pizza and one last carafe of that delicious "house red" wine!  Who needs a fancy meal?  Not us!

It was a perfect end our last day in wonderful Rome.  If I was a bettin' gal, I'd bet we'll be back.....

Sunday, October 16, 2011

To Matt, From the Pope........

Did you know there's a gift shop on the roof of St. Peter's Basilica?  Yup!

 And of course, I didn't pass it by!

Look what I found--at the VATICAN!!

 Below: A serious discussion with Sister Mary Catherine--I'm pretty sure she's telling me  "Yes, this shot glass has been blessed by the Pope"  (but my Italian might be a wee bit rusty.....)
 I'm soo happy!

Again--the things a mom will do for her very favorite son!  I just love that kid...............

Monday: The Amazing, Incredible Vatican

Monday morning was another sunny, beautiful fall day in Rome, and we were looking forward to our Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel tour.  We left our apartment with plenty of time to spare, and rode that lovely Metro (not!) to the Vatican stop.

But first: A Le$$on Learned

We were, of course, very early, so decided that an espresso and marmaletta were in order.  We'll need plenty of energy for this day!

We chose a small espresso cafe on a side street a few blocks from the Vatican.  We ordered our usual--two espressos and two pastries.  The staff was so friendly, it was a lovely modern spot, and we settled right into those nice white leather chairs to enjoy our mini breakfast.  After a quick trip to their "toilette" (also very nice and spotlessly clean),  I went to the cash resgister to pay for our little snack.  I handed the nice young man a 20 Euro note, and he gave me back just 2 Euros.  I politely said "that was a 20, not a 10".  He quickly informed me our total was 18 Euros.  That's over $24!!   For two small espressos and two small pastries??  Holy Moly!  Those espressos were 6 Euros EACH--about $8.50-EACH!  Now, I LOVE that good Italian espresso, but......

Lesson learned:  If there is no price listed, ALWAYS ask!  We foolishly assumed it would be about the same as we had been paying all over Italy.

Oh well! Nothing to do now, so we quickly put it out of our mind.  We have a wonderful day ahead of us!

We walked the few blocks to the Vatican, and were greeted with THIS line, snaking around the wall, about 1 1/2 blocks long.  These poor people were waiting to buy tickets.

We were so glad we had pre-purchased tickets and didn't have to wait in this line.  We probably would have taken one look and said "forget it"!

The ticket holder line was much shorter, a soon we were inside the Vatican Museum. We exchanged our internet voucher for actual tickets, met up with our tour guide and were outfitted with our headphones.

Our first stop was a small courtyard set up with an in depth introduction to the Sistine Chapel.  Since there is no talking allowed in the Chapel,  our guide gave us a very interesting introduction to Michelangelo's masterpiece.  She presented a very thorough explanation of the history of the Chapel, the painting, and shared interesting information about each area of the painting.  Quite educational!

The main part of our tour was the Vatican Museum--it's HUGE!  There are many, many parts to the museum, and they have an amazing collection of beautiful, ancient works of art.  It would be impossible to post pictures of even a small portion, but here are a few of our favorite areas:

As usual, I loved the marble mosaic floors:

And of course, the ceilings were amazing:

There were several marble statues, and even a few bronze:

And the walls were frescoed, too--just amazing, beautiful work:

I really liked this trompe l'oiel style, it was very large, and one had to really look to see that it wasn't carved:

Look at the painting in this room below--every square inch is decorated.  There were rooms and rooms just like this--quite overwhelming!

Next up: The biggie--The Sistine Chapel!  Oh, MY!! It is stunning:

Did you know Michelangelo put his self portrait in the ceiling?

Although I loved Michelangelo's beautiful ceiling,  my very favorite part of the Sistine Chapel were the fresco'd walls, again in trompe l'oeil style.  (This part of the Chapel was not painted by Michelangelo.)  Just look at that beautiful draped fabric, the entire lower half of the room was painted in this pattern.  The detail was amazing, with each section a different pattern and color.

We both loved the chapel, and David thought the crowds were stunning.  Look at his face--that's his "get me outta here right now" look!

We stayed about 5 minutes.   We were feeling a bit crowded.....

Our tour ended here,  we'd spent 3 hours trying to soak it all up--but we would need a year to fully appreciate all the Vatican Museum has to offer.  We both agree we'd love to go back, on our own--no tour, so we could spend all day there.  It is indescribable......

At the end of our tour, our lovely guide mentioned that we could exit to visit St. Peter's Basilica, or we could climb the dome.  CLIMB THE DOME?   Oh YES!!

We decided we'd better have a bite of lunch, that climbing is hard work!  We found the snack bar near the exit,  had a sandwich and a cold drink.  (for less than a third of what we paid for our morning e$pre$$os!)  We waited in line to use the facilities-- at the Vatican even the restrooms are beautiful!  Here's a pretty view of the gardens from the window:

We soon joined the line to buy tickets for the Dome, and it was moving quickly.   Even waiting in line at the Vatican there is beauty to behold,  here's a series of beautiful mosaics in the courtyard.  They really sparkled in the sun:

In short time we were at the ticket window, and had a choice to make: the elevator or the stairs??  I admit, as much as I wanted to climb the entire way, the elevator saved 220 steps to the lower part of the dome.  So we wussed out and paid the extra 2E for the elevator--but we still climbed 350 steps up and 350 back down!

After the elevator, the first part of the climb was easy--just a wide, winding ramp up toward the base of the dome:
We came to a door, and found ourselves inside that big, beautiful dome!  WOW!  It was a great close-up view of the mosaics we had seen from the basilica on Sunday.  They are breathtaking!!

We also had a wonderful view of the very top part of the dome:

It was a long ways down to the floor of the Basilica:

We admired this interior view of the dome for a few minutes, then exited to the stairs for the next level.  They were getting just a bit narrower and steeper, but not too bad.....
Along the way there were windows looking out onto Rome--a beautiful view from every window, and also a good place for a "breather"

Soon the steps were going round and round, and getting steeper......

And the next and final set of steps were even steeper, and we could really feel the curve of the dome in the narrow passage way:

Wait a minute--that's NOT the last set of steps! Surely it can't be much further..... With a bit of huffing and puffing, we climbed this section, very narrow, steep and windy.......

Nope, still not there!  One final short section of steps--actually more like a ladder: straight up.  There was a rope to hang on to to pull ourselves up--I didn't even let go to take a picture!

But we'd made it, with only very minor huffing and puffing from the Lundburys.  (I have to admit--I felt a bit smug as we passed many much younger climbers who had to stop for frequent rests.  Thanks to David for working my rear end off to get in shape!!)

As usual, worth every step--just look at these amazing views over The Vatican:

Detail of the landscaped crest:

Views around the Vatican grounds:

And over the beautiful city of Rome:

And here we are, those crazy Climbin' Lundburys:

We stayed at the top for about 20 minutes, enjoying the view and resting our tired legs.  Time to head back down those 350 steps.  The way down is a different route than the way up--thank goodness!  There would be major traffic jams if it wasn't.   Around and down 350 of these:
 We came out into the sunlight again--on the roof of St. Peter's at the level of the base of the big  dome.  It's a great "backside" view of the beautiful saint statues on the church:

We met a nice couple from Canada, and "traded" pictures.  Here we are:

There was even one of those great  fountains to fill our water bottle:

And a gift shop and snack bar!! No snack for us, but I did visit the gift shop! 

 Hmmmm--what did I buy??

We enjoyed the view for a few minutes, then rode the rest of the way down in the elevator.  We were tired and hungry, but still not ready to leave the Vatican!

We couldn't leave without one more look inside beautiful, amazing St. Peters Basilica.  Even though there were more visitors than on Sunday, we enjoyed it all over again.   It is truly a spectacular and moving sanctuary.

One last farewell to St. Peter:

We walked out of these beautiful doors one last time:

And spent a few minutes admiring St. Peters Square:

Cute couple!

What a perfect day!  The highlight of our trip, and absolutely the most amazing, beautiful church I've ever seen. 

 Gee, I wonder if the Pope would let us move to Vatican City??  They've got plenty of extra rooms, and I'd even promise to dust every day.

It's good to have a dream....