Monday, September 16, 2013

Viva Italia

My husband and I never took a honeymoon when we married.  It seemed at the time, a week in Las Vegas was sufficient.  It wasn't.  After two years and graduating from college, we decided it was time to expand horizons and travel internationally.  After much deliberation we settled on Italy. I wanted to see all the beautiful Baroque and Renaissance art that I spent two years studying, and my husband wanted to enjoy the food of his motherland.  Alas, we are here and have found it a truly enlightening and fantabulous experience.  The tables are turned, we are now the foreigners in a country where we do not speak the native tongue, and must get by on out wit and intellect.  So far, so good.  Italy is a non-tipping culture.  A service charge is already included in the bill.  This is weird for me, not so much for Jon who travels internationally often.  A tip is appreciated if the service is outstanding, even then it is only a few bucks.  In addition, there is no sales tax.  Also, haggle.  We saved $$ even in the stores with price tags on the items.

Day 1 - Roma
Roma is more "English friendly" in that most people in the serves industry do speak basic English.  The equivalent to my Italian.  After 3 flights we made it, and I was ambitious enough to book a tour the evening we arrived.  We got to the hotel and got a two hour nap in.  After being up for 36 hours we needed it.  We met Titiana (pronounced Tishiana, like the the artist Titian).  She is a brilliant art historian which a Phd in art history, focusing on the Baroque.  We got to see all the little places we wanted to see in a four hour walking tour of Roma.  More importantly, I got to see the Trevi Fountain, the Fountain on the Four Rivers, The Pantheon, and some ancient Roman ruins, just to name a few. Titiana was, is amazing an amazing vessel of knowledge.  More importantly she and I bonded over our love and appreciation of Gianlorenzo Bernini.  By the time we reached our hotel that evening we were smelly, sweaty, and tired.  We stayed at a small b&b near the Roma Termini.  It was a simple room with no air conditioning, and a window that opened into a side street.  I didn't mind it until the honking of the cars and scooters, in the middle of the night.  It was a rough first evening.

Gianlorenzo Bernini helped is father construct this when is was about 8-10 years old.

A pack dedicated to Bernini outside the house where he died.

The Trevi Fountain

There are over 900 churches in Roma, and they are everywhere.

The Pantheon

Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers

A Badass cat that lives in Roma's ancient ruins.

Ancient Ruins

A building the locals call "The Wedding Cake"

Day 2 - Roma

I booked another tour for early afternoon at the Borghese Gallery, where there is a lot of Caravaggio and Bernini on display.  They only let a certain amount of people in the museum at a time.  Lucky for us Titiana was our guide again (this was a private tour this time).  We spent three amazing hours viewing some of the most beautiful sculptures I have only seen prior in the pages of text books.  After our tour, we headed down to the Spanish Steps.  In that area is a huge shopping district, including some special dessert shops Titiana recommended.  Here is where I bought new shoes, cured meats (Jon), and souvenirs.  We ate, drank, and indulged ourselves with lemonchello and tiramisu.  At this point we were getting used to the train routes and how to get to and from our hotel.  Jon managed to get an air conditioner put in our room for this night, and although we were still warm, we slept much more comfortably than the previous evening.  Oh, and I learned quickly that it is important to always look up to the ceiling and down on the floor.  Because not everything straight in front was the best. 

The Spanish Steps

Day 3 - Napoli 
What a shock.  My professor warned me that Napoli will "look like the Middle East".  He was not exaggerating.  Napoli has many good qualities, but in the surface it is dirty, and the people are sort of rude.  I like to think it is more of a cultural ignorance on my behalf.  We did get swindled on our taxi, with the driver overcharging us.  We learned to discuss the cost of the ride prior to the ride (we have not been ripped off since).  We decided to spend most of the day resting.  Jon and Hist gout and plantar-fasciitis (sp) was giving him a hard time.  We napped , then ventured out into the streets for dinner.  After which I enjoyed a hot bath and an early bedtime.  Talking to the cab driver, we were asked if we in America have the "gypsy problem" they do is Naples.  I will never forget that question, it made me chuckle silently to myself and think of Borat.  For tomorrow we visit the ancient ruins of Pompeii.

The View from the rooftop breakfast buffet

Yeah, that is my finger

 Lunch in Pompeii

Day 4 - Napoli/Pompeii
We spent the day in Pompeii visit the cities ruins.  We even ventured out of the ruins to eat and walk around the city.  As my good friend, and everything Italy and Latin connoisseur explained something that is often see phallus's on the walls of the city are phalluses, which were a sign of good luck....he-he.  In 79AD the city of Pompeii was decimated when Mt. Vesuvius erupted, covering the city in meters of volcanic ash and lava.  It is something to see.  Many ancient Roman and Greek cities had somewhat advanced urban environments including plumbing and running water.  It is interesting to see a city frozen in time.  Even some of the art that decorated the walls of the villas of wealthy citizens survived.  Below are the ruins.


 There are a lot of "homeless" dogs that wander and sleep in the ruins.  They really do not bother, or beg.  But, there are many signs asking visitors not feed them.  They were cute.

A Garden near the ruins

We liked to end the night with a nice lemonchello

               A mosaic that survived the volcano and restoration

Art that survived the eruption and excavation

One of two theaters in the city

Art that survived in villas

Just a pretty garden

If I remember, this was a ceiling

(p.s. - why I am pro-cremation)

Day 5 - Napoli/Roma
After the train ride, we wanted to use the day as a day of re-lax-ation.  Jon (the best husband EVER!) booked us a night at the Waldorf Astoria Rome.  Jon travels a lot for work, and his "gold" level allowed us to receive an upgrade, to a room with a view.  Needless to say, we relaxed, enjoyed our room, and had dinner on our balcony while listening to music played in the courtyard below.  

The room with a view

Day 6 - Roma/Venezia
After  our day of rest we headed to Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica.  The Sistine Chapel I am sad to say was a little underwhelming.  Understanding that is a sacred space, and so talking and picture are prohibited; I was a little disappointed.  I am not a huge Michelangelo fan to begin with.  I appreciate him. However, he was a melancholy grump who was somewhat resentful that he was not commissioned for more sculpting (the highest for on art at the time).  He wanted to be know as a sculptor, not a painter.  Knowing this, I just don't see is painting as a labor of love, like others.  Regardless, it was beautiful, but not the highlight of the day.  It was St. Peter's I look forward to the most.  Mainly because of, well, Bernini of course.  After waiting in the hot sun for about 40 minutes and going through a metal detector we made it.  We paid our 7 euro and climbed 300+ steps to go the the very top of the dome.  I am not thin, and neither is my husband, we do hike the wonderful trails around our home in the PNW; however, with all the souvenirs, bottles of water, and camera equipment, I thought my knees were going to give out.  Not to mention the staircases are ascending up a dome.  So while the ground is flat the tunnel in which they lay is on an angle, which provides a visual off balance/vertigo sensation.  This coupled with the heat and how out of shape we are, lets just say is was a struggle.  One spiral staircase is so narrow, there is a rope that hangs in the center for people to hold on to.  The view and breeze at the top was amazing.  We could see all of St. Peter's and most of the city from the top.  Lucky for me, once we climbed down and exited the dome, we were in the the church itself.  This is where the real beauty is.  The grand scale of the church, carvings, sculptures, and paintings cannot be described.  It was huge!  And breathtaking.  Jon and I commented on how we should haves passed on the Sistine Chapel, this is where the ooh's and aah's truly lie.  I was not able to see my Bernini.  Some of the church was blocked off to tourists; however, I was able to see St. Bibiana and St. Cecilia, which are bombastic in their own right.  We left St. Peter's tired, sweaty, and ready to for our 3 hour train ride to Venice.

The ceilings of the museum



More ceilings

 Yeah, this is painted

 Painted to look like stucco

 Table made of different colored marble (mostly imported from Egypt and other countries)

More ceiling's

 The Vatican Museo

Staircase at the Vatican Museo

 Now, St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's

 This is how long the line is to get in

 The awesome guard uniforms

The first tier from climbing the dome

The top of the dome

looking down on an altar

from the top tier of the dome

 St. Peter's from the top of the dome

Climbing down

Inside the Basilica

Looking up

Bernini's altar for the Basilica

St. Helena by Andrea Bolgi
St. Helen was the mother of Constantine. She converted to Christianity and performed many acts of charity, including building churches in Rome and in the Holy Land.
Legend has it that on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, St. Helen discovered the True Cross 

St. Veronica by Francesco Mochi

 The Pietà by Michelangelo

Day 7 - Venezia
After sleeping in we finally ventured out of the hotel.  I did not have anything planned specifically for Venice.  I wanted to it be a nice break from pre-planned tour and museums.  We each got a 48 hour bus pass and headed into the city.  We went to Murano island by water bus, home of the famous Murano glass.  Most of the shops were actually closing, but we managed to still spend a fair amount of money before leaving the island.  I have seen before how glass is blown and made, I was not concerned with that.  I just wanted to shop, and I did, a lot.  Once back on the main island we visited Piazzo San Marco, and I shopped some more.  We took this opportunity to get lost in the endless canals and streets of Venice.  We enjoyed a lovely meal of homemade mushroom risotto and fabulous red wine.  We took another water bus and saw the city at night, it was amazing.  We made it back to the hotel late and did a load of laundry, which was much needed.  We packed light and I was alternating between jeans that were beginning to, well, stink with sweat.  Gross.

 I thought this was cute


Day 8 - Venezia
With our bus pass we hopped on and rode to the bus station.  We had a dinner date with an old friend I knew since child hood.  In the mean time we figured it was a good day to get lost in the city.  Getting lost is something that is common and easy to do.  There are so many mini bridges, canals, and walkways.  The hard part is shopping.  Make any arguments and hesitations before you leave, you might not find it again.  We watched the boats and the people, until we stumbled upon churches, piazzas, and lovely cafe where we could rest our achy feet.  Jon managed to buy (with my urging) an awesome lamb skin jacket.  I leaned on him to buy something more European.  Alas, he stayed in his comfort zone.  He still looks handsome as hell.  We went back to the hotel for a power nap, then ventured back into the city for dinner with my friend.  We had a lovely time catching up and taking about the progress of our families.  All in all it was a lovely evening, good food and good friends.

Day 9 - Venezia/Firenze
I was really excited for Florence, because of the Florence Cathedral and Il Duomo.  I saw this church in one of my art history texts and fell in love.  The church was built years before the dome.  The dome was added in the 15th century (or was it the 16th) by Brunelleschi.  His design was used again for St. Peter's Basilica and the Capitol building in the US.  I loved it so much, we ate dinner at a cafe next to it, where I could stare at it (you know, cause it might move).  It had been a long day, we bussed ourselves back to the hotel and relaxed.

The Florence Cathedral *wiggle*

Day 10 - Firenze
We waited in line for what seemed FOREVER to get into the Galleria Del Academia where Michelangelo's David resides.  He is huge, and uncircumcised (te-he).  Sadly, no pictures allowed.  This annoys me sometimes.  I totally understand art, churches, and other sacred spaces.  Flashes, especially thousands a day can effect the pigment in paint after awhile.  But really, the David?  I know they used to allow cameras, an old friend of mine bestowed a lovely close up of David's er, um, "junk".  I was hoping to reciprocate, but alas.  We passed by a lot of shopping on our way to the museum.  However, after 1+ hours in line we were parched and hungry.  We ate, then wandered.  We wandered to a Medici museum and house.  Donatello is buried there.  I made the reference to Jon that at this point of our trip we have seen the tombs of Donatello, Raphael, and art by Leonardo and Michelangelo...we've seen all the ninja turtles, sweet!  After food we shopped and was forced to pick up another suitcase.  We started our trip with a medium suitcase packed in an large suitcase, but we have acquired so much stuff during our travels, we need a third suitcase.  We also found the BEST meal.  I got this amazing pasta dish with a truffle sauce and fresh mushrooms.  We loved this little place so much, we got lunch there the next day too.  We meandered toward our bus, making it back to the hotel in time for catching up on news and emails.  

A replica of Michelangelo's David

 A Mannerist fountain outside the Uffizi Gallery

Near the Uffizi Gallery

The Florence Cathedral...again

Day 11 - Firenze
We are both beginning to run on fumes at this point.  I tried to get us entry into the Uffizi gallery, but tickets for the day were gone.  We took the bus into the city and set out to just walk around with no plan.  We came across some Piazzas and a couple famous bridges.  We found the gold district and the area with all the high end shops.  We needed to grab some souvenirs and odds and ends.  More importantly we were getting tired and a little snappy.  Okay, I was getting irritable.  Jon was finally getting a second wind, which always managed to happen on days we were not in museums (wait until the Paris post).  We dines at our favorite restaurant and relaxed as some cafe's, but I was getting tired.  One of the things I wanted to do in Italy is try Chinese food.  Something random.  Jon went to an Italian place in Japan, which did not get good reviews.  I was curious.  We found a place a mile away from the hotel and we walked it.  It was good.  The spice ratio was spot on, and it was not far off from the domestic variety "Chinese food" we are used to in the states.  It was a nice end to Frienza

Day 12 - Firenze/Roma
This was a long day, and I slept most of the way on the train.  We were heading back to Rome, plus I booked us a tour of the Farnese Gallery, which is actually the French Consulate.   It required some work to get us in, but I did.  Unfortunately, the tour was only available in Italian.  But, show cares, I was going to see the ceilings I studied in class that were painted by Annibale Carracci, SCORE!  Of course, no pictures allowed.  From there we went for a lovely dinner, then headed back to the hotel, tomorrow was another long day

 Day 13 - Roma
Today we had a guided tour of the Colosseum and the ancient Roman Forum.  I cannot rave about Real Rome Tours.  Our guide was an extremely articulate archeologist, who actually worked in the area.  More importantly he had a deep passion for preservation, which I appreciate.  The walking tour was about 5 hours and was provided great pictures.  We where TIRED, knowing a first class plane ride was on the horizon, we were dragging ass at a considerable rate.  We opted for dinner near the Colosseum, headed back to the old hotel to pick up our bags, then took a train to a hotel closer to the airport.  Sadly, the realization that our trip was beginning to end was sinking in.  Alas, we still have Paris, and the Louvre.

The Arch of Constantine

 Good ole Roman Architecture

 The Arch from the Colosseum

 Views from the top

 What the marble would have looked like as the villa floor

 The old Roman Forum

 Where Julius Caesar was burned after his death

Day 14 - Roma/Paris
What a day.  We flew from Rome to Paris and made it through customs easy peasy.  We took a train from the airport to a stop not far from the Louvre.  We could see the Eiffel Tower, the top of Notre Dame, and some other beautiful buildings.  We walked about a mile to the museum.  Lucky for us the Louvre is open until 9:45pm on Wednesdays, score!.  I was in art history ecstasy.  This is the RedTube of Da Vinci of course; moreover, there are some pretty great collections of Bruegel, Van Eyck, Lucas Cranach, and so much more.  At this point Jon was limping and taking sit breaks in every room.  I felt bad, but, were at the frickin Louvre, suck it up.  When he finally dragged me out of the museum we walked around for awhile before I begged to sit down for dinner.  We had a wonderful dinner, with my favorite...French Onion Soup, ha!  Jon managed to get his second wind after dinner, even though it was creeping upon 11pm.  He really tried to get me to head toward the Eiffel Tower, but I just wanted to head to the Air France First Class Lounge.  We walked around a bit more, before taking a train back to the airport.  This is where things started to plateau.  We headed for the terminal only to be stopped by French security.  The terminal was closed, but they allowed us through with our boarding passes.  When they say closed, they mean closed.  The bathrooms were open and nothing else.  Even worse, no customs, or security either.  This meant no First Class Lounge *sigh*.  We went to the Sheraton at the airport and had a drink until they kicked us out at 1am.  Jon suggested heading back into the city.  Alas, he set up shop in the airport terminal and watched episodes of Archer until customs opened at 4am.  Around 4am, we started circling customs until and agent said they do not open until 6am.  Imagine our surprise.  Finally around 5:30am we managed to get through customs, security, and made it to the shiny new Air France First Class Lounge where we enjoyed a nice hot shower, change of clothes, full breakfast and the best wifi we had the whole trip.  We caught a quick nap before jumping on our flight to Texas.  Oh my gosh, we were exhausted.  Bittersweet, happy to head home, but sad to leave. 

 The Louvre

The Venus Di/e Milo

 Always look up, sometimes the ceiling is sometimes better than the art itself

An Annunciation

 Da Vinci

 Caravaggio *wiggle*

 The Louvre

 The Turkish Bath



 Jan Van Eyck *wiggle*

 More Van Eyck *wiggle*



We made it home safely.  Saw Danny Glover at the airport, and our car was 20m late picking us up.  We were happy to sleep in our own bed and cuddle our number one kitty.  Now its time to acclimate. Back to reality.