The Streets of Rome

Palazzo Doria-Pamphilij

Getting lost was the goal today and we managed that within blocks of our hotel. I swear, navigating Rome’s streets, alleys, and even pathways, is like trying to find your way in a rabbit warren.  No rhyme or reason, certainly no grid pattern, and no map to be found that has all the streets labeled.  I thought that was a problem with the maps, but I think it’s because those streets have no signs at all!  But I have to say, getting lost was the best thing that happened to us because we happened upon many really great things.  I think the story is best told in pictures, so here we go!



The Palazzo Doria-Pamphilij wasn’t the first place we found, but it was one of our favorites.  We stumbled off the hot, crowded street, into this beautiful, cool courtyard.  We also needed a bathroom, so buying an entrance ticket was a no-brainer. I think it turned out to be my favorite thing in Rome, so far.


The Palazzo was built by the Doria-Pamphilij family in the 1600s and its been in the family every since.  It’s a huge building and even though part of it is open to the public, the family still lives here.  The room above was the first we entered (after the bathroom : )  The ceiling must be 20 feet, or more, so the room feels enormous.  The walls are completely lined with paintings that were commissioned for this room.  You can get an idea of just how big everything is in this room by looking at the chairs and sofas up against the walls.


This is the only galleria where there are windows on both sides.  Instead of paintings, they lined the walls between the windows with mirrors, so light is reflected everywhere.  The incredible ceilings are well lit and absolutely mind boggling in their beauty.  It was a magical corridor.


This is one of the many galleries.  They are hung with paintings collected by members of the Doria-Pamphilij family for centuries.  Many were purchased directly from the artist or commissioned by family members.  Somewhere in the past, an ancestor found a way to prevent a member of the family from inheriting the art if he/she didn’t agree to keep the collection together.  The current owner says it is both a blessing and a curse because the responsibility for keeping the collection is huge.


I loved this room because its the ballroom.  It is actually two rooms, both covered in beautiful silk wallpaper.  The floor is parquet wood, perfect for dancing.  On the far left side, you can see the little area where the orchestra would have sat.

We saw many other incredible rooms of the Palazzo (which means “palace” in Italian), but taking pictures wasn’t allowed.  Most I’ve included here came from the web.  If you ever get to Rome, you must plan a visit here.  It’s well worth a couple hours of your time.



Next was the Pantheon, or as it’s known today, the Church of Saint Mary of the Martyrs.  It is the best preserved building of Ancient Rome because it was converted to a church during the 2nd century.  If you were curious about where all the bones from the catacombs we visited the other day, many were moved here.  It was thought appropriate at the time because they believed many of the bodies buried in the catacombs were martyrs.


This is the alter inside.  It’s one of the few churches we’ve been in that actually has pews and a posted Mass schedule.


The church is also the burial place of Raphael, yes, THAT Raphael.



Here’s my attempt to show you just how big this building is.  Its either the largest dome, or the second largest, in the world.  It’s an engineering marvel that the Emperor Hadrian was said to have personally designed.  The scale is huge and the opening at the top, known as the oculus, is 9 meters wide and completely open to the elements.  When it rains, it rains in a perfect circle in the church.  Yes, there’s drainage that appears to work well, because it doesn’t seam to be a problem.

The second photo above is actually three separate photos, all hooked together. It was the only way to get everything in one shot.  If you overlap them in your mind, you can get an idea of what the inside of the Pantheon looks like.



This is the fountain outside the Pantheon.  As you can see, it is another Egyptian obelisk.  These obelisks are real.  They were made in Egypt about 1300 B.C. and brought to Rome around the time of Christ.  You can tell that this one was “exorcised” of any demons because a Christian symbol has been added to the top. But up close, you can still easily see the Egyptian markings. I think this one used to be in Helios and was also at Circus Maximus for centuries.

When Christianity rose in Rome, many of the obelisks were removed from the city’s older buildings and put in front of churches. It was sort of an ancient map quest device. It let pilgrims know which buildings were important to visit.


Here we are!  And yes, that’s a horse-drawn carriage behind us.  I can’t even begin to imagine taking a carriage ride through Roman traffic.  It’s completely horrifying.  That’s also the entrance to the Pantheon behind us. We are standing on the steps of the fountain in the pictures above.


This is Piaza Navona.  It has several fountains by Bernini, a very famous sculptor and architect.  It is said that in his lifetime, Bernini created over 3000 sculptures, including the Tevoli Fountain.  He also had something like 11 children, so he was a busy guy.


Another fountain in Piaza Navona.



This is the famous fountain in Piaza Navona.  It represents the four great rivers of the world.



We found a little goofy gladiator fun along the way.  : )


Okay, this one had me in hysterics.  Only in Rome would hot priests make it in a calendar!


We saw signs for McDonalds everywhere.  They always had an arrow and “3 minutes” if you walked that way.  But we could never actually find one.  Well, we discovered why.  The one we stumbled on by accident was just a doorway that lead down steps, like you were walking into a subway.  The McDonalds was way under the building and way back off the street.  It was also enormous — like the size of a high school gym.  There were many walk up counters and I couldn’t see the end of the seating area.


There were also about 20 of these self-order stations.



And what’s up with the menu?  We only get cruddy fried apple pies.  I want what the Romans get!


The Spanish Steps were more involved than I originally thought.  I thought it was a staircase.  No, it’s actually a series of staircases.  At the end of a long day, it about did me in.


So I stopped on one of the landings to take a picture.  My favorite part is the father patiently letting his son wear himself out by climbing and climbing and climbing.  I predict that kid will sleep well tonight!



This is Piaza Del Popolo.  It’s huge and was full of people, but there wasn’t much else here.  Well, except for another obelisk.



Bob meets Barbie!  She invited him to her house.





Apparently not all Italians are known for their pride.


When I took this picture I thought “Italian Westie!” but after chatting with the owners, this is actually a Swiss Westie on vacation.  We got it on good authority that he really hates Rome and is looking forward to going home.

Tivoli, Italy

A view of the Organ Fountain from below. Villa D’Este.

Today, we took a short day trip to Tivoli, the ancient home of emperors and popes.  There, we saw the Emperor Hadrian’s home. It was a technological marvel, built in the 1st century A.D.  It’s a single home, with many different buildings, that sits on about 120 hecatres. Considering the entire city of Pompeii sits on only 60 hectares, that’s a big, incredible house!

Some quick facts about Hadrian’s villa:  It had two baths, one for Hadrian and his guests (the Small Bath) and another for the nearly 2000 slaves who worked at the villa (the Large Bath).  That’s a lot of slaves and Hadrian couldn’t have them wandering around disturbing his peace, so there are several kilometers of tunnels running under the villa.  In fact, the only entrance to the Large Bath was from this underground tunnels.  Those tunnels are considered the world’s first subway because they were big enough for chariots to make delivers to the various buildings.

My favorite part was the outdoor dining room that could seat 600 guests.  At the front of the room was an alcove where Hadrian and his closest 20 (or so) guests would eat.  If Hadrian wanted privacy from the 100s of guests, he only had to flip a switch and a waterfall would tumble from the roof and provide a curtain between him and his most important guests and the rest of the rabble.  : )

Finally, most of Hadrian’s villa was used as a marble quarry when Cardinal D’Este built his home in Tivoli in about the 1500s.  That Cardinal was an important (and rich!) man since he was the son of Lucretia Borgia and a nephew of the pope at the time.  His home is known for its gardens and the nearly 500 fountains it contains.  It was incredibly impressive and was used as a model for people like the Vanderbilts in the 1880s-1890s when they were building their incredible homes in the United States.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking!


The large bath at Hadrian’s Villa.


This is the outdoor dining room that seated 600 people, believe it or not.  The guests sat all along the sides of the pool (which was NOT for swimming!) and Hadrian and his VIPs sat at the end under the roof.  The only reason any of the statues or columns still exist is they had fallen into the pool and were covered with dirt, so they weren’t noticed when Cardinal D’Este carried away all the rest of the marble for his villa.


A view down the side towards where Hadrian would have sat for dinner.  You can see how the waterfall would cascade from the roof and curtain off the crowds.


Here’s an idea of where the underground tunnels would have looked like.  Of course, they would have been covered in Hadrians day.


Bob actually ordered a Diet Coke with his lunch.  Mark it down! We sat next to a mother and her 19 year old son from England and had a really delightful lunch.  Since Mom was originally from Scotland, we had quite an animated discussion about the Scottish vote for independence taking place today.  That conversation had the Australians across the aisle from us involved, as well.


The fountain in the courtyard of Villa D’Este.  The statue of Venus along the bottom, just above the plants, was probably originally at Hadrian’s Villa.


The gardens at Villa D’Este are built on a steep hill. Here’s a picture of what they originally looked like.  All visitors arrived at the bottom of the gardens and had to climb their way to the top to meet with the Cardinal in the Villa.  We made that climb and I can tell you, it’s a cardiac workout.


A view from one of the terraces on the way down.


This is the Organ Fountain.  The internal mechanism diverts water in a way that air is pushed through organ pipes and water plays over the keys, thus playing the organ.  It’s a little like a player piano, only there’s no finesse.  I thought the music sounded like a child’s attempt.  Here’s a short video, you can judge for yourself!


Here we are in front of the Organ Fountain.  We’re facing the fountain and the picture below shows what it overlooks.  It was so peaceful.


A view from the terrace where the Organ Fountain is.


Not far from the Organ Fountain is this restful grotto.  It was blocked to tourists, but there is a colonnade that runs through the back of this fountain.  On a hot day, it would have been cool and restful.


This is the walkway of 100 fountains.  Again, it was wonderfully cool and an nice break from the heat.


This is the Dragon Fountain.  I’m sorry I didn’t get a better picture of it because it was quite impressive.  From the terrace I’m standing on, two grand curved staircases descend on either side.  Both have water running along beside them and it was very grand.


A view of the Villa itself from the walkway of 100 Fountains.  You get the idea of how steep the hillside is.  It was quite a climb!


I don’t know the name of this fountain, but it has several tiny models of some of the ancient buildings in Rome. Some of them show us what those buildings looked like since they fell down long ago.


I’d kill for a curling iron!  : )


This is the Organ Fountain from below.  It’s a showstopper.

Roman traffic and everyday things

IMG_1300Roman traffic is not to be believed.  I don’t think I can adequately describe how bad it is, but I’ll give it a shot.  First, you have to understand that traffic signs, lane lines, and even lights are mere suggestions, often to be ignored completely.  It isn’t uncommon to, in the course of one block, straddle lane lines, drive up the wrong side of the street, and even hop onto the sidewalk if that’s more expedient.  It seems the goal of every vehicle is to claw its way in front of the vehicle in front of it.  It’s like a wild game of leap frog.

To do this, the cars never follow along behind the car in front.  Instead, they drive helter skelter all over the road and when they have to stop, it looks like they’ve been scattered at all angles across the road.  It’s not uncommon to have three cars in front when there are only two lanes.  Just as likely is one car in front that straddles all the lanes.

Imagine the traffic pattern at passenger drop-off at MacCarran Airport, only the traffic is going as fast as it can.  Throw in a bunch of Vespas that dart and weave through the cars and pedestrians who think nothing of just stepping off the curb whenever the mood strikes, expecting all traffic will stop for them.  Then, just to make it interesting, consider that some of that traffic is trying to turn right or left and they’re making those turns from the far lane where they have to cut across all lanes of traffic.  Of course, almost every cab driver we’ve had so far was also texting furiously during our entire drive.

Oh, you also have to know the roads are filled with traffic circles, public squares, narrow alleys, and ancient roads that curl around willy-nilly.  No wonder Romans make great Grand Prix drivers.

I’m always curious about how other cultures manage the details of their lives.  So, here’s the scoop.

First, if you want the electricity to work in your hotel room, you have to put your room key in the slot by the door.  Power is expensive, so this is a way to conserve it.


Abby suggested we install this in her room since we’re constantly complaining about her not turning off her lights.  : )

Next is the bathroom.  The toilets are different but the Italians may have solved the seat-up-or-seat-down controversy.  Also, the shower is hand-held, but there isn’t much of a barrier to prevent the rest of the bathroom from being drenched.  It requires extreme self-control!


The flush is on the wall above it. You can choose a regular flush or an industrial sized flush : )


Here’s our tiny little half wall in the shower.  Maybe Italians take baths, not showers.  That would explain a lot.

Catacombs and archeology

Catacombs of the Capuchin Monks

After the Vatican yesterday, we took another tour that, unfortunately, forbid all pictures.  The ones I’ve included are from the internet. Our tour took us to two of the catacombs in Rome, as well as an ancient church with a rather surprising basement.  First, the Capuchin Crypts.

The Capuchin Crypts were burial places for about 3000 Capuchin monks who died before the 1800s.  At some point, probably in the 17th century, an especially artistic monk decided to get creative with all the bones that were lying around.  He began to arrange the bones in decorative designs and artistic patterns that he nailed to the walls and ceilings.  Soon, the whole order participated and the designs took on more meaning. For example, an hourglass made out of finger bones, with clavicle “wings” signified that time flies and that we will soon be as dead as they are. (See the center of the picture above.) It wasn’t a morbid thing for the monks, but a joyful reminder of the resurrection.  The monks’ work was ended in about 1870 when the new king of Italy forbid the practice because foreigners might not understand it.

The next catacomb we visited was much more like what you’d expect.  It was very like the one depicted in the Indiana Jones movie, except no water and, thankfully, no rats.  Also, the passageways were very narrow and the ceilings very low.  There were tunnels with niches where the bodies were laid.  They were built by, originally, 1st century Christians who didn’t want to bury their dead in the way of the pagans.  Over the next couple hundred years, they built 17 kilometers of tunnels on 5 different levels.  They started the tunnels when all the land on the surface was used up.

Our last stop was my favorite, a church built in honor of St. Clement (I think he was the 5th pope).  He’s the guy who died when they hung an anchor around his neck and pushed him overboard.  Anyway, his church is a beautifully maintained 12th century church.  But when they were doing some work in the basement in about the 1500s, they discovered the first church built in honor of St. Clement that was built in the 2nd century.  They didn’t just find the foundations, either.  They found the entire church which had been filled up with earth and building materials to make it a good base for the current church.  Even the altar was still in pace, perfectly preserved.

But that wasn’t the end of the explorations.  They heard water and they were trying to find its source, so they kept looking.  What they found is the 2nd century church was built on top of an even earlier temple, and that was built on an even earlier workshop which is thought to be a mint of ancient Roman coins.  All of these levels were just filled in and built over; the walls, the doors, the decorations, everything is still perfectly preserved.  The reason they built this way was the Tiber River flooded twice a year, so the higher the building, the safer it was from flooding.  Today’s streets are 30-40 feet higher than the streets at the time of Christ.

It’s little wonder that Rome has earned the description of archeological lasagna.


This is the 4th century church, just under the current church.  It was filled in with earth and building materials and when it was excavated, the columns were built to give the structure above the support it needs.  However, the floor and walls are all original.  The alter in the picture above is actually the 12th century altar that was originally in the church above.  When the original 4th century alter was discovered in such good condition, it was placed in the church above and the one from above was moved below.  Interestingly, they are nearly identical and both have an anchor on the front.


This was a side chapel in honor of St. Cyril and his brother (I can’t remember his name) who were sent to the Baltic Sea more than 800 years after St. Clement died there. They were told to bring back Clement’s body.  Good luck!  They knew it was an impossible mission so they decided to make the best of it and convert as many of the people they could along the way.  To do this, they had to translate the bible into the languages of the locals, but the locals didn’t have a written language.  So, St. Cyril created the Cyrillic alphabet, the one still used by Russian and other languages to this day.  In this chapel are plaques from many countries acknowledging the great give St. Cyril gave to them.  St. Cyril and his brother are both buried here.


This is the temple in honor of the god Mithras.  It’s buried below the oldest version of St. Clement’s church. Only men could be members of the religion that worshipped Mithras and their religious ceremony consisted of re-enacting a famous banquet in honor of the god. Everything about the religious was kept in strict secrecy, even the temples were built with no windows so their ceremony couldn’t be observed.  I think it was the original fraternity, men’s club, or maybe the invention of the man-cave.  In any case, a good time was had by all.

Interestingly, the most important date to the faithful was Mithras’ birthday — December 25th.  Way back in time when the bishops were talking about establishing the date of Jesus’ birth as a holy day, it was suggestion they adopt the biggest party day of the year–Mithras’ birthday.  Only in that way could they hope to gain more converts.

I don’t know who I don’t have pictures of the mint that was found beneath Mithras’ temple. It still has water running through it. Current thinking is the mint was built there because the water was necessary to the minting process, so everything was convenient. This mint would have been the one the made the Roman coins mentioned in the time of Jesus and before.

Papal Audience

DSC00086Here we are in St. Peter’s Square!  What a morning.  We were told the audience wouldn’t begin until 10:30, so we thought we could sleep in a little — not so much. In order to get a seat, they recommended we arrive between 6:30 and 8:00 am.  Everyone has to go through security, all 50,000 of us, so it was a little chaotic.  Luckily, we got through without any problems and were in our seats by 8:30.  Also luckily, it was an incredibly beautiful fall day.  The sky was brilliant blue and the breeze had just a hint of chill in it.  We were told to expect the world’s biggest Catholic pep rally, and that describes it pretty well.  The mood was festive and everyone was having a good time.

Since we expected it all to begin at 10:30, we were surprised when they actually started around 9:45.  I always thought things in Italy could be late, never that early!  It started with announcements of all the groups that were there.  Then, the Pope whizzed up and down the aisles in his suped-up golf cart.  It wasn’t the same as the popemobile, but close.  He stopped often to kiss babies and accept gifts from the crowd.  At one point, he accepted a drink from the Argentinians in the crowd.

I have to say, it was surprise to see people passing their babies from one person to the next to get them to the Pope.  We were told that if someone hands us a baby, don’t drop it!  And pass it to the Pope or one of his guards.  I was more concerned with passing the little ones back–how do you know who the mother is?  It was charming to see the slightly older babies (around 1 year) screaming from the stranger anxiety and Pope Francis consoling them.

Okay, here’s the scoop that all our family and loved ones need to know.  The Pope’s blessing that Bob and I received extends to you, too! (It even counts if you’re not Catholic!) That is especially true of any of you who are dealing with illness.  So, consider yourselves blessed!

Below are a couple of pictures and I’m going to try and include a couple videos.  I’ll explain them below.



Here he is!  I didn’t even have to zoom in, we were actually this close to him.  He was so cheerful, I can see why the world has fallen in love with him.  We were certainly impressed.  Being part of the papal audience is one of the highlights of my life.  I’ll never forget it.

I just tried to upload the short movies of the Pope whizzing by and kissing babies, as well as the video of his blessing, but it won’t let me do it here. Instead, I uploaded them to youtube.  Here’s the link to the Pope kissing babies:

Here’s the link of the Pope’s blessing:

In the mean time, here are some pictures of the place where we stopped for dinner.  Everything was so beautiful and tasty!


This was a wrapped sandwich, almost like a pita or even a burrito.  In Italy, the next closest thing might be a stromboli, if a stromboli wasn’t hot.  It had sliced eggplant on top and looked incredible.


These are just some of the pizzas they had available.  It is so weird to find sliced potatoes on a pizza.  Another on the menu had sliced pumpkin.




And gelato!

The Vatican

Well, what a day.  We started out about 8:30 am on a tour of the Vatican Museums.  We didn’t even begin to see it all, but we saw all the best stuff, I think.  The ceilings, walls and tapestries were incredible.

My favorite story is of Michelangelo and the Pope.  Michelangelo didn’t want to paint the Sistine Chapel and even left Rome and tried to hide from the Pope to avoid it, but he was eventually cornered.  So, one of the panels on the ceiling is an image of God, both front and back.  Michelangelo used the Pope’s face for the face of God, which really pleased the Pope, but in the view from the back, his toga doesn’t cover his backside, so he’s mooning everyone.  For that, the Pope was really ticked.  Here’s the panel I’m talking about:


There are many other examples of such “jokes.”  Like how Michelangelo used the face of his mistress, whom he’d just broken up with, for one of the damned souls.  In another, he used the face of one of his critics for one of the inhabitants of Hell.

After the museums, we went to St. Peter’s Basilica.  It was huge, and quite beautiful.  The burial areas were interesting.  We saw the tomb of Saint John Paul II, and the preserved body of Pope John XXIII, who is also now a saint, I think.  In his case, he was one miracle short, so they couldn’t make him a saint.  But, when they opened his tomb, they found his body was uncorrupted, so they considered that his final miracle for sainthood.  They have him on display in a glass coffin.  I know, it’s a little weird.  Other popes were also in glass coffins, but their bodies decayed, so the body you see was coated in bronze to preserve them.  Again, a little weird.  I only viewed them from a distance.

After lunch, we took a tour of three other basilicas in Rome.  The first was St. Paul’s, which is a new (completed in 1930’s) replica of the one that was built by Constantine, restored a couple of times, and then and then burned down in the 1800s.  There, we saw one of St. Paul’s relics, the chains that bound his hands when he was beheaded.

Next was St. John Lateran.  It was built in honor of the two St. Johns (Baptist and Apostle) and it was built by Constantine on land formerly owned by the Laterani Family, thus the name.  It’s been restored several times. It is actually the most important church in Christianity because it is the home church of the Bishop of Rome, aka, the Pope. Up until the 1300s, the Pope lived at this church.  The popes didn’t move to St. Peter’s until a hundred years later, after they moved the papacy back to Rome from France.

Interestingly, after a Pope is elected and introduced to the world on the balcony, he isn’t yet the pope.  It isn’t official until he says Mass at St. John Lateran, and sits in the Seat of Peter (a chair more than 1000 years old).  Traditionally, the pope leaves the balcony after meeting the crowds and heads right to St. Johns to complete the process.  Pope Francis did it differently.  He told the people of Rome he wanted to get used to being their bishop before he took on the job of Pope, and it was about a month before he went to St. Johns to complete the process.  The Romans really, REALLY love Pope Francis.

Across the street from this church is a building that holds the original stairs to Pontius Pilate’s house that Jesus had to climb after he’d been crowned with thorns.  Supposedly, his blood stains the marble.  Today, it is a place where people climb the stairs on their knees and they have to say at least three prayers on each stair.

The final church was St. Mary Majore. Interesting here is a relic of questionable authenticity.  It is claimed that there is wood from the original nativity under the alter here.  Even the Church says it’s highly questionable, but it is interesting.  The basilica was built in honor of Mary when the pope declared that Mary was indeed the mother of God.

Tomorrow, we have a papal audience (with 80,000 of our closest friends).  Stay tuned!  It should be a circus!

Okay, the pictures loaded out of order, so bear with me : )


This the exterior of St. Paul’s Basilica. It was quiet and peaceful and the grass was cool in the heat. I could have spent the afternoon here.


This is the sacred door at St. Paul’s.  Every Basilica in the world has a sacred door that is only opened during the Jubilee Year.  That’s a year that happens every 25 years (the next is 2025) when lots of things happen, but one of them is the plenary indulgences.  Anyone who passes through a sacred door during the Jubilee Year receives the indulgence.  Believe it or not, the idea of the Jubilee Year was adopted from the Jews in the 1300s.


This is the inside of St. Paul’s Basilica.  It’s about the size of a football field, maybe a little shorter.


This is the alter in St. Paul’s.


This sunken area in front of the alter displays the holy relic.  In this case, the item on display is the chain that bound St. Paul’s hands when he was beheaded.  The authenticity of this relic is very good, and scholars agree that it is probably what it claims to be.


This is a glass panel in the floor, right in front of St. Paul’s chains, that shows the excavation of the crypt below.  Based on carbon dating of samples taken, as well as an analysis of the color of the fabric inside the tomb, it is widely agreed that this is truly St. Paul’s tomb.  This has only been confirmed since about 2006.


A portion of the walls that originally surrounded Rome.


This is St. John Lateran Basilica.  Its been rebuilt many times since Constantine’s original church was built in the 300s.


The sacred door at St. John Lateran.  Did I mention that touching the door when its closed (not a Jubilee Year) blesses a person?  That’s why parts of the door are shiny, its from thousands of people touching it. Of course, we touched them all!


Inside St. John Lateran.  It is thought that the heads of St. John the Baptist and St. Paul are kept in the little room on top of the alter.  It’s just speculation, though the Church has apparently confirmed that it is in possession of both heads.  I’m just glad they aren’t on display.


These are the holy doors of St. John Lateran, and they are fascinating for another reason.  These are the original doors to the Forum, yes, THAT Forum.  During one of the restorations of this church, they were pilfered from the Forum and installed here.  So these doors are about 2000 years old.  They are made of bronze, with wood interior, but they are very heavy and make loud creaking noises when opened.  It takes the strength of several people to open them.


These are the holy steps — the marble steps that led up to Pontius Pilate’s house. They were removed from Jerusalem by St. Helena (Constantine’s mother) in the 300s.  We were allowed to kneel on the first step only and say a prayer.  I’ll admit, it was a moving experience.  Even Bob did it.


The inside of St. Mary Majore Basilica.  According to our guide, Italian men are mama’s boys.  Perhaps that’s part of the reason why 89% of Italians report they prefer to talk to Mary when they pray, followed by St. Peter, then St. Paul (the patron saints of Rome).  Jesus was in fourth place.


This is the knave in front (and below) the alter of St. Mary Majore.  In the window below the altar is a huge silver container that allegedly has wood from the original manger from Christ’s birth.  Even the Church agrees the authenticity of this relic is highly questionable.


Here’s a close up of the container that holds the wood that was allegedly part of the manger.  It looks like a giant soup tureen.  It’s about 3 feet tall.


The holy door at St. Mary Majore is clearly marked because it’s on the left side of the main entrance, not the right like all the other holy doors at all the other basilicas.  This is because Mary’s place is on Christ’s left, so the door acknowledges that honor.



We found Saya’s car in Rome!!!


This made me laugh.  But, if a new store opened with an exotic Italian name, even if the translation was “stop here,” I wouldn’t know the difference.  It might be hard to see, but it’s a clothing store.


This was part of the breakfast buffet at our hotel.  Apparently Italians are a nation of people who hate crusts, because all the crusts were removed from the bread. : )


The pinecone (symbolizing eternity) in the Pinec0ne Courtyard in the Vatican.  The lions at its base were “taken away” from Egypt during the time of the Roman Emperors.

In fact, there are many Egyptian artifacts in Rome.  There are obelisks everywhere.  Several hundred years ago, the pope put an obelisk in front of every important church so the pilgrims would know which ones they should visit.  Medieval GPS.  Of course, before he could do that, he had to exorcise all of them to remove any evil spirits.  Once that was done, a small symbol was placed on the top — a dove, a rose, a cross, etc. — to show it was purified.

In modern times, when Egypt came calling and asked for all its obelisks back, the pope said they were now Christian relics and besides, they had spent much more time in Rome than they ever did in Egypt.  Bottom line:  Egypt isn’t getting its obelisks back.


Just one of the many, many, painted ceilings and walls of the Vatican.  It was overwhelming.


A working courtyard at the Vatican.  Everyday, about 900 people go to work at the Vatican.  On the right you can see the vehicles of the Vatican’s fire department.


I really liked this ceiling.  This is the center, and the ceiling is completely flat.  The depth, as well as the apparently molded dividers, are all paint and show the skill of the artist.  In this picture, a marble statue of a pagan god lies in pieces at the foot of the cross.


Inside St. Peter’s Basilica.  The crowds were incredible.


This is the tomb of Pope John Paul II, now a saint.  His coffin is under the mantle with all the candles.


This is the uncorrupted body of Pope John XXIII.  This was as close as I got, but you can walk right past, if you want to.


The alter in St. Peter’s Basilica. It is directly under the dome, which is huge.  I love the fact that the four pillars supporting the dome (and thus, symbolically, all of Christianity) are decorated with the our relics of the crucifixion — the spear of Longinius, Veronica’s veil, the cross, and something else I didn’t understand when the guide said it.  (sorry!)


Another of the popes, this one covered in bronze.


This is what the outside of the Vatican walls looks like.


Pastries we found at lunch. I only tried a tiny little one, and it was fabulous.

Rome — Day 1

Well, we made it!  We arrived in Rome about 9 in the morning, which was 3 am Philly time or midnight, Las Vegas time.  We managed to sleep a little on the plane, so starting out wasn’t so bad.  We hopped on a tour bus to get an overview of the city and drive by all the archeological sites.  It was truly interesting, but the sway of the bus had us both struggling to stay awake.  It was criminal, really.  I admit, we took a little nap this afternoon.  It was only an hour, but we felt much better and decided to try the bus tour again (they run all day long and our ticket was good for the whole day).  We started out strong, but by the end, it nearly defeated us.  We almost slept through our stop; we are the worst tourists, ever.  We gave up.  We had dinner at the hotel and were in bed by 9.

Oh, the other adventure we had this afternoon was the hunt for a curling iron.  The concierge sent us to the Sephora down the street.  It was exactly like the ones in the US, and I fully expected to find the $120 curling irons they’re known for.  Nope, not this one.  The lady was apologetic, but they sold cosmetics only.  I asked several other women on the street about a curling iron — the language barrier made that interesting — but I generally got the idea they all thought I was nuts.  So, I’ve given up.  I apologize now for the state of my hair in any pictures of me : )

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the day.  It really is a beautiful city.


There are buildings like this all over.  They look like they used to be bigger buildings, but they crumbled away and the inside walls are now the outside walls.


This is the other side of the building above. Its was the strangest things, and totally unexpected.


St. Peter’s Basilica.  I always thought St. Peter’s Plaza was like a courtyard, surrounded by walls.  Not at all.  It is right in the middle of the city.  It’s hard to see, but it’s the area right in front of the church.


Here’s a panorama of St. Peter’s Plaza.


It’s hard to see because of the reflection but we thought these fur coats were outrageous.


Here’s a motorbike parking lot in the middle of an intersection.  I think they converted some of the squares into parking.  It reminded me of the stroller parking lots at Disneyland.



The Colosseum.  It’s under renovation now, they are actually scrubbing it clean.  This is the part that already been cleaned.


Some of the buildings of the city.  I should probably know which ones, but I was napping.  : )


I do know this was the justice building when it was originally built.  The Romans at the time hated the shape of it and called it the “ugly building.”


Okay, this is just . . . weird.  It’s jeans made out of plastic trash recovered from the ocean. Yes, you read that correctly. It could be a great idea, but there are just so many jokes to be made.  Everything from excessive crinkly and stiff pants, to . . . well, use your imagination.  We got a laugh from it, but maybe its because we were so tired.

Italy and Spain!

Come back regularly during the next month as we travel through Italy and Spain. The best part will be the end of the trip when we catch up with Abby in Madrid.  Can’t wait to see that girl!

In Italy, we’ll be visiting Rome, Sorrento, Pompeii, Tivoli, Capri, the Amalfi Coast, Florence, Tuscany, Pisa, the Cinque Terre, and Venice.

In Spain, we’ll get to Barcelona, Montserrat, and Madrid.

It should be a good month. Travel with us and come enjoy the fun!

Bob and Angie