We spent three days exploring Rome and seeing all the sights. While there is a lot of really awesome stuff in Rome, I didn't particularly enjoy the city itself. The streets are tiny and confusing, it's very dirty and covered in graffiti, and it's absolutely packed with tourists. St. Peter's was so crowded that I couldn't enjoy it properly, and I wanted to leave after just a few minutes. The other basilicas that we visited- St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran- I enjoyed a lot more simply because they were less crowded!
Other highlights included the Vatican Museums, Mass in the Pantheon, and my personal favorite, the Roman Forum. I loved being able to walk among all the ruins that had been there since before Jesus was alive. You felt so close to the history, and history so much more ancient than most of the stuff we have in the US. Despite all the people milling about, I could kind of half-close my eyes and imagine the people who lived there thousands of years ago, going about their business. We also got to go inside a Paleo-Christian (early Christian) church in the forum, where all the remaining frescoes and mosaics had been restored. It was absolutely the highlight of my time in Rome!
After leaving Rome, we stopped for lunch in Siena, then for night in a hotel in the hills of Tuscany. We spent a pinch-me-I'm-dreaming-perfect evening eating dinner on the terrace as the sun set over the city of Florence and the surrounding countryside. I swear, the place looked like the set of a movie- it was hard to believe I was actually there, experiencing it in real life! I can see why people go gaga over Tuscany. Most cities completely obliterate the surrounding landscape, or at the very least are a blight on it, but Florence is another story. The red tile roofs against ivory and pale yellow buildings. The tall, dark cypress trees silhouetted against the landscape. Little castles and villas dotting the hillside. The Duomo (cathedral), its handsomely enormous red brick dome rising proudly over the city, a perfect centerpiece. There are flowers and greenery everywhere, and the soft breeze smells faintly of jasmine. Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen... this is as close to paradise as it gets!
One more thing. I have noticed that Italians have a serious issue with space and size. I know I'm a spoiled American who's used to having plenty of room for everything, but it is really starting to get on my nerves. Take, for example, our rental car. It is supposedly a "minivan." I mean, it seats seven people, but that is where the similarity ends. The thing has as much legroom as an airplane (which is to say, hardly any), and close to zero trunk space. Then there's the sizes they sell food in. The biggest container you can buy milk in is one liter. Which is the size of a Nalgene. In a family of six, we go through that much in one meal! You simply cannot buy things in bulk here.
Tomorrow we leave for a week in the Dolomites. No internet there, so unfortunately you'll have to wait another week before hearing anything from us. :( But that's OK; these should be enough pictures to tide you over until then!
Ciao for now,
Galleria delle Carte Geografiche (Gallery of Maps) in the Vatican Museum. Obviously this was a favorite of yours truly.
Another favorite fresco, by Raphael- showing the Church Militant (on earth) and the Church Triumphant (in Heaven). Beautiful symbolism and imagery.
Taking a break from walking. In the center are Mom's friend, Anne, and her daughter, Keely, who met us in Rome.
The Swiss Guards! To become one, you must be a) male, b) unmarried, and c) Swiss.
La familia in front of St. Peter's
Drinking fountains, Italian style
Trevi Fountain with #flatfrancis
Fresh Italian produce
My favorite statue from the Galleria Borghese, by Bernini. I just love David's facial expression. So real!
Having lots of fun together
Visiting the Disciple's house in Rome. Felt just like our chapel back home!
Lunch in the main piazza in Siena
View from the terrace of our hotel in Florence... yeah.
Inside of the dome in the Duomo in Florence. It's like the Grand Canyon- so big you can hardly wrap your mind around what you are seeing.
Façade, baptistry, and bell tower of Duomo
Repairing cobblestone streets