Thursday, March 17, 2011

Roma: Primo Giorno

To start out, Rome was amazing. I had an extra half-day before the 2-weeks leave officially started so I rode around on the subway system and bus system getting to know the city. Talking to the young woman at the front desk of our hotel, I, and another soldier on leave, headed for the Piazza Sonnino.  There we ate paninis and drank some beer.  I had a dark beer that had a sweet taste and was very smooth.  A good first beer.

We did meet some nice local ladies and we went to several clubs with them where I did drink quite a bit. It was quite the night. :D

I slept in a bit the next day, but once up I was out of the hotel and off to my first sites. The first in my mind had to be Vatican City. I was just going to walk around on my own, but on my way down I decided to join a tour. Best 3-hours and 50€ I ever spent. My tour guide was a little eccentric, but very knowledgeable on the history of the Vatican, the Catholic Church, and the country of Italy. We spent quite a bit of time in St. Peter’s Square. I will go into more depth with more pictures later on of the beauty and genius design of the Square.

From the square we stopped into a little shop where I sent my parents a postcard which will bear the Vatican Seal for the stamp. We then walked along the outside to the Museum entrance where we got an introduction to the Sistine Chapel as our guide was rather loud and you must be very quiet inside the chapel. To get from the museum to the Sistine Chapel you walk along along corridor filled with busts, pottery, statues, and then a room filled with ornately woven tapestries.

Inside the chapel, you are not supposed to take pictures, but I did sneak a few. I know, shame on me, but it was so amazing in there. Be aware though that you do take pictures at your own risk as there are roaming guards about the room that will kick you out of the Chapel. We spent 20-minutes in the Chapel just looking at the room as it is one big masterpiece of art.

From the Chapel, we descended a flight of stairs that from the top didn’t look very long, but from the bottom looked very grand. This was a design to make it look so as the walls came in slightly as you go up the stairs so it deceives the eyes.

We went down to the entrance to St. Peter’s Basillica, but first looked out onto the Square which from this angle looked much larger than it did from the other end. After just a few moments we entered the Basilica. As my friend, Jesse would say “Stunning”. You feel very small in this place.

The first thing our guide took us to was a statue of the Virgin Mary holding the body of Jesus right after the crucifixion. Michaelangelo made Mary look as if she was young (even though she would have been much older at the time of the crucifixion) and still holding a baby even though the body was of a full-length man, but she still towered over them. She had a forlorn, depressed look on her face as she was coming to terms with what happened.

The columns that support the ceiling have statues built into them, all ornately done. Paintings and statues line the side of the chapel until your eyes are drawn to the center, just below the dome, where the altar sits along with the staircase down to the crypt where it is said St. Peter lies.

Even though the sun was starting to set in the West I couldn’t possibly have been done so I went down to Castel Sant Angelo.

The Mausoleum of Hadrian, usually known as the Castel Sant'Angelo, is a towering cylindrical building in Rome. It was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle and is now a museum. The popes converted the structure into a castle, from the 14th century; Pope Nicholas III connected the castle to St. Peter's Basilica by a covered fortified corridor called the Passeto di Borgo.

You first start out by doing down a short staircase, but then walk along a spiral corridor until you come out at the 3rd level where you can look out onto the city. Traversing the circumference of the castle you come to another staircase that eventually takes you to a terrace that gives you an even better view

My feet then took me to the Piazza Navona where I wandered around for a while. The fountain in the center of the Piazza is magnificent.

I headed to the Pantheon, but couldn’t get into it until 1830 as they were holding Mass in it, so I wandered around the plaza.

By the time I left the Pantheon, it was dark, but I still wasn’t done. Before the night was through I wanted to see the Trevvi Fountain. Even at night, the fountain is an amazing sight.

Eventually, I did find my way back to my hotel, and boy, were my dogs barking. Stay tuned for more pictures.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

On the Road: Iraq to Italy

After 2-days, 2 bus rides, 3 planes, 2 customs stamps, 4 security checkpoints, 1 crazy cab ride, and 3747-miles since leaving Iraq, I have finally arrived in Rome. Stay tuned for pictures.