Monday, February 17, 2014

It Has an End!

At last! I've made it to the final blog post of our trip. Our final day in Rome was Vatican Day. We had tickets to skip the line getting into the Vatican museums and the line was huge, so it seemed it was worth it. We made our way to Vatican City and then found the museum entrance. The main draw of the Vatican museums is, of course, the Sistine Chapel. There's some other great art there, however, which should also be appreciated. Like this tapestry pointed out by John:

The Apostle Paul busting out of prison. Awesome. What we found in the Vatican Museums is that they're horribly marked and pretty confusing to figure out where you're going. You enter and then wander around rooms and through halls seeing various works of art which culminates in the Sistine Chapel. As we got closer to the Sistine Chapel, the crowds got insanely thick and the art got more famous. A terrible angle of "The School of Athens" by Raphael:

It's not really a picture-taking friendly place anyway and the crowds made it impossible to get any decent shots. At last we approached the Sistine Chapel. It is a well-known fact and it is well-marked (unlike anything else in the Vatican Museums) as you approach that complete silence is to be maintained in the Sistine Chapel. I was incredibly nervous about having Stella in there, given her history of non-reverance in the other churches we had been in. However, this was the Sistine Chapel, for crying out loud. It was not to be missed! The viewing set up makes it a bit complicated as well. You enter in one door and then you exit out the door at the opposite end. You can't exit out the entrance door and you can't leave the Vatican museums without going through the Sistine Chapel (at least, not once you get that close). So, Mr. Frisby and I came up with a plan. I would go in and take it all in at my leisure while Mr. Frisby waited in the hall with Stella. When I was done checking it out, I would tell him to come in with her and then I would take her and immediately head out the exit with her leaving Mr. Frisby to enjoy the Sistine Chapel at his leisure.

And here's where we hit the biggest hiccup of the trip. There are actually two exits out the back. One goes directly into St. Peter's Basilica and the other takes you out of the museum, through the gift shop and back out to the street. This information is not marked inside the chapel, but my family had all read about this in our guidebooks. Obviously, we preferred to go directly into the Basilica. However, our guidebook said that this direct exit into the Basilica was sometimes closed. After I had checked out the chapel, I checked out the exits. The one that went into the Basilica was marked with a sign that it was an exit for special tour groups. I assumed that meant it was closed, as our guidebook mentioned it might be. At this point, I had become somewhat separated from my family and we couldn't really communicate because of the total silence rule anyway. I was ready to have Mr. Frisby come in with Stella so I could take her out and, once they came in, I couldn't really wait around with her to see what everyone else did. So, I had Mr. Frisby come in, I took Stella, and I headed out the regular exit with her. We went down the hall a little ways and waited for Mr. Frisby. When he finished, he came out the exit and we headed to the gift shop to wait for the others since, as far as I knew, the other exit was closed and they would have to come out that way. We waited awhile and, when they never came, we figured maybe we had missed them and headed out to the street to walk around to the Piazza in front of the Basilica to see if we could find them there. We enjoyed the Vatican City walls as we walked (it was quite a ways).

I should pause here to give my thoughts on the Sistine Chapel. It was absolutely stunning. I would love to have been able to lay down on my back and look up at the ceiling and take it all in, but the crowds made that impossible. So, I just looked up and tried to grasp all of the detail and beauty of it. It is truly some of the most incredible art I have ever seen and not to be missed if you are in Rome.

We made it to the Piazza and waited a long time. We kept scanning the Piazza, but there was no sign of any of my family anywhere and we really had no idea where we might find them. We took in the Piazza and the Basilica as we waited.

The line to get into the Basilica was pretty long, so after awhile, we decided we better wait in it before it got any later since, at that point, we thought we would be on our own for the rest of the day. As we waited, I finally spotted Gaylene near one of the fountains. I left Mr. Frisby in line and ran over to her to find out what had happened to them. It turns out they all stuck together as a "group" and snuck through the exit that went directly into the Basilica. So, while we were out waiting and looking all over the place for them, they were checking out the Basilica without us. We were none to happy about the situation and waited in the long line by ourselves to get into St. Peter's Basilica. We planned to possibly meet the others after we were done if it all worked out. The line actually moved fairly quickly and it didn't take us long in the Basilica, so we came out and had time to quickly check out the Vatican City Guards and then grab lunch.

We walked around the corner from the Basilica and found a little deli. We ended up having a great little lunch and then were able to meet up with the rest of my family. We opted to walk from the Vatican back into Rome and enjoyed some Italian icons along the way.

We walked along the river and enjoyed the view of St. Peter's Basilica from there.

It was a decent walk and we soon found ourselves in the mood for gelato. We plotted a course to our favorite gelato spot, Giolitti, for one last cone before our time in Rome was done.

The rest of the afternoon/evening was spent trying to get in some shopping and more sightseeing. We headed to the Spanish steps again and did some shopping there. We also grabbed a quick last dinner in Rome right where we had our first - McDonald's. I opted for an Italian menu exclusive - some kind of calzone type thing - and it was terrible. Then we went to the Piazza del Popolo to check it out. Stella had a great time playing in the fountain there.

After another busy and tiring day, we headed back to our hotel. We had checked out that day, but had left our baggage there until we were done for the day. We then had a couple of vans take us to another hotel that was much closer to the airport since we would be catching our flight first thing the next morning.

It was a fabulous vacation and so fun to be able to spend it with much of my family. In many ways, I would loved to have stayed to see more. But, after two and a half weeks of traveling with a two-year-old, I was exhausted and ready to come home. We saw and did so much and definitely found some places we'll have to return to someday. And now, five months later, Stella is still talking about it!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Day 2 in Rome

Ancient Rome was the big plan for our second day there. We started the day checking out Il Vittoriano, a monument built to honor Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of unified Italy. Apparently it's a controversial monument, but if affords a great view of the city, so we took it all in. First we wandered around the monument itself, seeing Italy's tomb of the unknown soldier (at least, I'm pretty sure that's what it was) and a big statue of a guy on a horse - I will assume that's Victor Emmanuel II.

The main part of the monument has a nice view of the city, so we weren't sure we wanted to pay extra to go up the elevator to see more. However, Julie and Terrell convinced us that the view was not to be missed from the top, so we decided to go up. While finishing up on the main part of the monument, Stella found a fun place to play before going up the elevator.

When we arrived at the top, we were greeted with a spectacular view. We could see all of the major landmarks in Rome: The Colosseum, The Roman Forum, Vatican City with Saint Peter's Basilica, etc. etc. We were lucky to be traveling with Terrell, who served part of his mission in Rome and was, therefore, able to point out all of the sites of interest and translate for us. Here he is in action:

The view from the top:

After checking out the view from the top, it was off to the Colosseum. This was what I was most excited about seeing in Rome, so I was pretty stoked. The road to the Colosseum from Il Vittoriano went right by the Roman Forum, so Tracy & John, Gaylene, and Mr. Frisby & I opted to walk down so we could see the Forum as we went. My parents and Julie & Terrell rode the bus down, so we met them at the entrance.

The city passes we had bought the day before allowed us to skip the line to get into the Colosseum and this proved to be well worth it as the line was HUGE! We went in, walked through one of the gates into the amphitheater, and I was immediately very impressed. Let me just say that the Colosseum did NOT disappoint. It was probably my favorite thing we did in Rome. Except maybe the gelato.

Our group decided to split up so we could explore at our leisure. After we got in, we determined a meeting place and time and then headed off in our separate directions. I think we spent about an hour in the Colosseum and I enjoyed every minute. I probably could've spent even more time there just wandering around and checking things out, but we had more to see in Rome.

After wandering around and checking things out, I decided that it would've been really cool to see what it looked like during its heyday. Although, I wouldn't have needed to see any of the gladiator fights. Too barbaric for me. At the appointed time, we met up with everyone else and headed back out. There are lots of street vendors and food stands just outside the Colosseum, so we picked a food stand and picked up a quick and very terrible lunch which we ate in the shadows of the ruins.

After our quick lunch, we headed toward the Roman Forum. We passed the Arch of Constantine which looked pretty cool, but was mostly obscured by scaffolding, so it was hard to tell for sure. Remember how we seem to be scaffolding magnets when in Europe? You should probably never travel with us if you don't want major sites obscured by scaffolding everywhere you go.

Mr. Frisby and I wanted to check out the Circus Maximus where the ancient chariot races were held. It was only a couple blocks out of the way as we headed to the Roman Forum. Nobody else was interested, so they waited in a shady spot while we dashed the couple blocks to see it. There's not much there, but you can see some of the ruins which appear to be under construction to rebuild them or something. It should be pretty cool in the near future.

We dashed back to where everyone else was waiting and then headed to the Roman Forum. Here we are on the road between the Colosseum and the Forum:

Upon entering the Forum, we were immediately greeted by the Arch of Titus. No scaffolding on this one.

The Roman Forum was cool. Lots of ruins everywhere that you just wander around. There's lots to read about the ruins along the way, but I can only handle so much of that before I get too bored. Mr. Frisby is a faster reader than me, so I would usually just tell him to read stuff and then summarize for me. He's a great husband.

Now, this is where my memory gets a bit fuzzy. After the Roman Forum, we split off from the rest of our group. They were headed to a couple sites that didn't really interest us, so we decided to head back to the hotel. I'm guessing we wanted to try to get Stella a nap. We also wanted to check out a tiny tie shop that was right by our hotel, so I think that was the day Mr. Frisby bought lots of ties. We had plans to meet up with the others at the Trevi Fountain to get dinner. At some point before meeting up with them, we decided to get some gelato at our favorite spot and eat it in the shadows of the Pantheon.

We met up with the others and started looking for a place to eat dinner. It was just us Frisbys, Julie & Terrell, and my parents. I can't remember where Tracy & John and Gaylene were. Mr. Frisby and Stella waited near the fountain while we checked out nearby restaurants and he snapped some choice photos.

That night we got lucky and found probably the best restaurant of the trip. You can't really see it well in this pic, but that's it.

It was delicious and it was authentic. And we were introduced to buffalo mozzarella. It's made from the milk of domesticated water buffaloes and it is way better than regular mozzarella. After an excellent meal, we called it a night and headed back to our hotel to rest up for our final day in Rome.