WordPress does an interesting job of compiling mundane facts about blogs on their service. I thought I would share this with my readers just so you know you are not alone!
I also feel like maybe you would want to see a re-post of some of my favorite photos of the year, so here goes. They are not in any particular order, and if you want to know more about our trips, you can always navigate to them on the top of the page.
There were more trips in 2012, and thanks to you readers for reading about them. You can go back and read them again if you so desire.
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I am changing my entire look and feel in 2013, but I will still get to you somehow.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 30,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 7 Film Festivals
This was my second bucket list item in as many days!
Today, you say the word Vatican and everyone thinks of the center of the Roman Catholic Church, or some, the center of Christianity itself.
Some, such as your ever irreverent travel blogger, think of a place where secrets are guarded in order to not upset the power of the church. I’ll get to that soon.
So where does the word Vatican come from? If you translate the roots of the word you get “a hill of oracles”. Indeed this piece of land on the bank of the Tiber is where soothsayers gathered every day for the early Romans to come have their fortunes told. That is the simplest, least conspiratorial, explanation of the origin of the word. Others link it to a hallucinogenic plant called the vatika which was turned into wine and was drunk by the vaticinators.
So why is the belly button of Christendom located here? Well, this is where St. Peter went to preach. He was not exactly preaching to the choir with this crowd. Somehow he got the attention of the emperor Nero and was either crucified or buried here. The Church will tell you that his remains are deep beneath the Basilica. Throughout history many other Popes have been buried in the crypts of St. Peter’s.
Anyway, a church was built here in the 400’s, but it was not until the 1500’s that the present edifice was commissioned and built. Michelangelo designed the dome using the Pantheon as an inspiration and Bernini is given credit for most of the rest of the design.
It is of course the largest church in the Christian world. The scope of everything inside St. Peters shrinks humans. If you watch someone walk into a knave, they get smaller. Not from distance, from the surrounding size of things. On the floor of St. Peters you will find markers denoting the dimension of other great churches. About a third of the way from the front alter I found that this is the dimension of St Patrick’s in NYC. That is a huge church itself, but you could put three of them in St. Peter’s!
But I am ahead of myself. Vatican City is more than St. Peters.
Once again we signed up with Dark Rome Tours. We had to meet them at what seemed like the crack of dawn in front of a coffee shop called Vatican Coffee. This was across the street from the entrance to the Vatican Museum. The line of people who did not pay for a tour and had to wait until the official opening time. They looked a bit perturbed as we brushed past them, listening to our guide on our radios.
As you might know, or expect, the museum is huge. The tour is very well designed to show you in a mere couple of hours what took hundreds of years to put together. You wander past sculptures by great masters and paintings by geniuses. This is the only reason I could imagine not having a guide, being able to stop and spend as much time as you want trying to absorb the great works of art.
Two places inside the museum floored me.
The work fell to the hands of a friar and cartographer from Umbria by the name of Ignazio Danti.
The maps are incredibly accurate to scale and detail. They are not only beautiful, they represent an effort in cartography that could not be bettered with satellite imaging. This gallery makes up a long hallway, probably a hundred yards long, and has detailed maps of all of Italy.
Just as I was catching my breath from the map room, we walked into the Raphael rooms. His work called the School of Athens is a fresco that covers a wall with dimensions of about 5 meters by 7 ½ meters. Yes that is large, but size does not matter. The painting is the masterpiece of a man who painted nothing but masterpieces.
From here we walked out into what is called the Courtyard of the Pine.
During my studies I discovered the symbolic meaning of the pinecone is to represent the Pineal gland, which (as some of you know) controls the melatonin in your body and is shaped like a pinecone, hence the name. Some also call it the “third eye”. Why then, is it present in the Vatican City? What kind of meaning do they (the church) tie to it?
Our “Pine”al Gland, is at the geometric center of our brain and is intimately linked to our body’s perception of light. The Pineal modulates our wake-sleep patterns and circadian rhythms, remains uniquely isolated from the blood-brain barrier system, and receives a higher percentage of blood flow than any other area of the body save the kidneys.
It is considered by many to be our biological Third Eye, the “Seat of the Soul,” the “Epicenter of Enlightenment” — and its sacred symbol throughout history, in cultures around the world, has been the pinecone.
Oh I could go on and on about the pinecone in religions throughout history. I could tell you that we only have one pineal gland and therefore we can only have one thought at a time. But there are many of you who if not already rolling your eyes or reaching for the mouse are saying, “look man, sometimes art is just art” Then I ask you to explain…
This is after all an irreverent travel blog.
Now we entered the great Sistine Chapel. I will not tel my readers the stories behind Michelangelo and the Pope who commissioned him to paint the ceiling. I’ll just tell you to rent The Agony and the Ecstasy. What I will say is that there is nothing to say that can describe the feeling of actually being here. You just have to do it yourself. No photos, no movie and no amateur blogger can begin to give you that feeling.
This is where I lost the tour group, for a while. I sort of wandered off to get a feeling for this chapel where new Popes are chosen behind locked doors. Before I knew it I was out of radio range from our guide, so I just wandered towards the Basilica where I knew they were headed. Our guide was a bit pissed off, not that I would miss out on her commentary or get lost, but that I had the radio which she was financially responsible for.
When I walked outside I found “the Chimney”where the black or white smoke comes out after each vote for a new pope.
This is where I caught up with the tour group. I knew they would have to come see the Pieta, so I hung around and enjoyed it until they caught up. We toured the massive Basilica for quite some time and saw very little of it. If I ever go back to Rome, I’ll go in the dead of winter (less crowded) and get in line for St. Peters at about 6 in the morning, so I do not have to wait in the eternal line that forms.
Thanks for reading. Share with a FB friend. Don’t tell the Japanese guys I ripped of a photo, and whatever you do, take care of your pineal gland!
Next post…the best 5 hours in Rome. Stay tuned.
Even before I had a bucket list, the Coliseum was on my bucket list. The most iconic symbol of Rome screamed out at me to visit since I was a child. Movies with gladiators and other bloody events taking place in front of the emperor and thousands of Romans made me commit to see the place. I was not disappointed.
After eight years of slave labor went into building the largest amphitheatre in the Roman world, it opened in 80 AD with a hundred days of games. Over 9000 wild animals were killed in these inaugural games, besides the gladiators. The floor of the amphitheatre was covered in sand, and is the origin of the word arena, which many of you recognize as the word for sand in Latin based languages. The sand was to make it easy to clean up the blood. Imagine how much blood was shed…
We signed up with a very reputable tour agency called Rome Dark Tours. In fact we took three tours with this group. The guides all have university degrees in either history or archeology, and then must pass a rigorous examination before the government will issue them a guide license. This is actually true all over Italy, and in fact most everywhere we have travelled.
Using a sanctioned, licensed tour agency has one other great advantage. You skip the queue. In fact, you enter the facility earlier than it opens for those who choose to go it alone. I saw the lines of people waiting to get into the Coliseum and other sites as we sauntered by and realized that our enjoyment was about to be enhanced. Also, the guided tours usually allow patrons access to areas where the do-it-yourself folks are simply not allowed. This was the case with the Coliseum, and it made the experience complete.
Our tour took us from the hypogeum, a series of underground tunnels to hold the animals and slaves, up into the nose bleed sets where the poor people sat to watch the carnage. Neither of these areas are accessible to people who do not believe in paying for a tour.
The Coliseum saw gladiator fights until the year 484 and animal slaughters until 523. Since then it has suffered from earthquakes and stone robbing to build other edifices in Rome. When you look at the building today what you see is the travertine skeleton. When constructed it was covered in white marble. Most of that was lost to the barbarians or the church who used it in Vatican City. It is currently under a restoration of a type. Paid for by a wealthy man, his efforts have squashed an earlier plan to sell advertising in the form of big billboards inside the amphitheater in order to finance much needed safety and esoteric improvements.
Our tour included a visit to a very historic site next door to the Coliseum, the Roman Forum. The Forum is the ancient roman gathering spot, market area and home to the Senate It is located in a valley between two hills. The first is called Palatine hill. This hill was originally occupied by the first king of Rome, Romulus. The other hill by his rival. Over time the area now known as the Forum was the very center of Roman life, with historical figures such as Cicero, and Nero roaming the cobblestone streets. The cobblestones are still there, and are an invitation to a sprained ankle!
There is so much more to say about the Forum, but I fiddle while my blog burns…get it?
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Next post, the Vatican and the Sistine chapel. After that, the best five hours in Rome, stay tuned.
We left Umbria after 6 days of wonderful tours, meals, making new friends and never reaching for our wallet all courtesy of the Umbrian tourism authority and Travel Bloggers Unite. We took a nice train ride of about 2 hours into Rome’s central train station.
I got off the train and desperately needed to relive myself of that morning’s espresso shots. The men’s room was as far away as it could be which only added to the desperation in my hustle. I walked into the room to find a turnstile with a coin slot. In order to get into the men’s room you had to put in 1 Euro. Even I, in my agitated gotta go mood, could do THAT math. In real money, the fee for using the bathroom was US$1.60. Welcome to Rome bozo. It turned out to be the only bargain in the city.
We walked out of the station to find a few dozen eager cab drivers ready to accept inflated (although metered) fares into town. I just sat back and watched what they call the eternal city drift by the rear window of the Fiat, while the numbers on the meter spun around like Marty Feldman’s eyes.
I lost myself in my first impressions of Rome. Rome’s color is not that of any other city I have ever visited. Not the color of concrete or steel and glass. No trace of the dark red of brick, or faded tropical pastels. Instead it was a very earthy color, organic in origin, for the city is made of limestone and tufa. It is often covered with a faded, worn, low grade marble that has the texture of aged cheese.
Our driver was intent on getting us to our hotel, which was directly in front of what would become my favorite spot in Rome, the Pantheon.
He was not giving us a tour, but when in Rome… We passed many fountains. Not the grand Bernini works famous in film and literature just fountains. Rome has probably more fountains than any other major city per sq. mile. It sure seems that way. Our route took us up one small road and down another, some barely able to allow passage of the vehicle, and all of them crawling with tourists. The going was slow, but the sightseeing was already marvelous.
When we arrived at the hotel and I looked at the meter (which was now smoking after having to work so hard) I realized I have paid less for air flights than this taxi fare. I did not know if this was karma for all the freebies I got in Umbria or not, but I knew the next four days were going to put a serious dent in my wallet. I could not imagine why Italy has a financial crisis. The place is overrun with international tourists; all paying prices that would make Michelangelo ask the Pope for a raise.
Stay tuned for future posts as I cross two items of my bucket list and enjoy the rest of this great city.
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Between winery stops I am going to tell you about a visit to another medieval town. Umbria has these beautiful little towns on hilltops wherever you go. They are just far enough apart that one can imagine a person living in the 15th century in Assisi or Bevagna for their entire life and never traveling to the other. I would need to bone up on the local history to know who they had to fortify the villages against, but each one is surrounded by formidable walls with solid gates.
This post will center on Bevagna.
Every year in June the town has a celebration, reminiscent to me at least, of a renaissance faire. The entire town dresses in medieval costumes. This celebration is not intended to be a tourist attraction, they do it for themselves to celebrate their heritage. That being said, I think it would be a wonderful time to visit Bevagna for a day during a longer stay in Umbria. Included in Bevagna’s celebration is a contest for the best recreation of medieval crafts. We visited two past prize winners. A papermaker and a candlemaker.
We also went to a Olive oil producer. I will cover that in a future post, so stay tuned.
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The bloggers conference was over. I did not mention meeting Steve McCurry, maybe the best travel photog on the planet.
Now the Umbria Tourist board treated us to one of six 2 ½ day tours around Umbria. We choose the wine and crafts tour. Others chose the chocolate tour or the adventure tour with white water rafting. Umbria has many attractions and if you are ever in Italy, be sure to visit this wonderful region.
Our first stop was at a very new (in Italian ages) winery. It is called Terra Margaratelli. Our guide works for the Umbria wine promotion board, so the wineries all know him. They knew a bunch of travel bloggers were coming and they really put out the spread.
This winery like I said is almost brand new. They are trying new varietals and blends. They also have resurrected some old endemic varietals mostly grown only by private local farmers and are bottling them commercial for the first time. I really liked the guy in charge. He loves his work and is passionate about it as only love can make you.
We were treated to as much wine as we could handle and still be able to climb back into the bus. My favorite was perhaps the best white wine I have ever had. They call it Greco di Renabianca, it is 100% Grechetto. It is a very full bodied white, with a complexity that makes you think and taste more than once. Because this is still a small winery, I do not know if you can get this nectar in the USA, but ask your wine shop to get some, well worth it!
Next post..the next winery. Or is it the crafts in a medieval village. I forget, too much wine!
If you are ever lucky enough to get to Assisi, do yourself a favor and stay at San Crispino. In fact if you are ever in Italy, go to Assisi so you can stay at San Crispino. Take this all the way and just plan a trip to Italy specifically to stay at San Crispino. Honestly, I liked it that much.
It is more than a hotel. It is more than a hotel and a spa. It is a hotel, a spa and a wellness center all wrapped up in two beautiful facilities.
Deep into the medieval city of Assisi on quiet cobblestone streets San Crispino has a small hotel which is actually a historical mansion. It has theme rooms designed to add to the feeling of living in the 15th century, only as a noble. Each of the rooms has a private garden. I’m not talking a few plants on a balcony here,oh no. This hotel provides you with a big lush garden you could play sports in! The rooms we saw were sumptuous.
Thank you to San Crispino for a wonderful afternoon in Assisi!
I do not know where to start about my last ten days in Italy, so I guess I’ll start at the start.
Back in December ’11 I ran across a website called Travel Bloggers Unite. Dyslexic as I am I thought it said Travel Bloggers Untie, so I perused it. Oliver, the head honcho (maybe the sole honcho) at TBU was touting the third TBU conference. This one was to take place in Umbria, which is a region of Italy largely lost to the tourist trade. It should not be. Umbria is one of the prettiest and hospitable places on the entire coconut.
The conference attendees were people I was very glad to meet. With a couple exceptions, I was the senior member of the circuit. I never meet these people travelling because they are mostly young enough to be my children. With that said, we have a huge thing in common; we all love to blog about traveling the world. With THAT said, I had one big difference with the majority of them. They support their travels by blogging, I do it for fun, and hopefully to entertain you my faithful readers. Maybe I am just too lazy to find sponsors, or maybe I do not want my blog to look like a NASCAR, whatever. I just do not “Monetize” (a blogger buzz word) my blog. I have nothing against those who do. In fact I admire people who can travel incessantly, and get paid by everyone from Ray Ban to American Express to support the wanderlust. It is just not my style or my need.
Amazingly the conversations did not center on war stories from different destinations. Oh there was the occasional “once upon a time in…” stories but they were more in passing than anything else. There were a lot of conversations about maintaining a blog, length of posts, how often you post and building readership. On the last point, it seems that Facebook and Twitter are the main avenues for finding new readers. I am late to both games, but since the conference I have managed to double my presence on the two of them.
TBU arranged this conference, but it was the Umbria agencies for tourism and wine that hosted us in an incredible fashion.
After the conference Oliver arranged with The Umbrian Tourist people to take six groups off on amazing, beautiful, educational and fun trips. Ours was to wineries where we were treated like royalty. I’ll say more on that, much more, in upcoming posts. Let us just say, that when people treat me the way we got treated in Umbria, I am going to tell you about it. Hopefully it will plant the idea in your head that the region is an excellent destination for a vacation.
I want to Thank Oliver Gradwel, TBU and the region of Umbria for one of the best travel experiences of my life, AND the fact that I did not reach for my wallet once in 5 days. SWEET!