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
In my last post (here) I almost challenged Dan Brown to write another book about weird symbolic stuff used by the Catholic Church. I am a fan of his. I decided a long time ago that “when in Rome” I would take the Dan Brown Angels and Demons tour. It was the third tour we took with Dark Rome Tours, and by far the best. In fact it was the best five hours I spent in Rome.
I knew this would be a quirky thing to do, I just did not know it was going to be so fun.
What made it so good was our guide, Roberto, or Robert . He is half American and half Italian. He is a military brat who traveled the world as a youth in his fathers duffle bag. His father met an Italian bella, and the rest is history. Robert decided he liked Rome and came back here to get a degree in Archaeology. I think he said he is trying to write a book, I know if I ever see a book written by Robert Miller I will buy it. This guy is smart, and witty. I like his style. He makes my irreverence pale in comparison.
We met on the steps of the St. Maria del Popolo Church which is where the plot starts in Angels and Demons. There is a tomb inside of it designed by Raphael for the Banker Agostini Chigi family.
The first thing Robert did was pull out a dogeared hard copy of A&D. He asked how many of us had read it, and course we all had. I raised both hands. How many of us had seen the movie? Unanimous again. The next thing he said was “of course you know A&D is a work of fiction. A good book, a fun read, but fiction. We are not here to celebrate the book, but to show you the art that Brown talks about.” He went on to say that in some translations the book is actually titled The Bernini Mystery. Cool by me, I am a fan of Bernini, and I am sure long after Dan Brown books turn to dust, Bernini marbles will still capture peoples attention. I consider this a full service blog, but folks, no way could I serve Bernini with a brief allocation. Google him, please.
For those of you who have deprived yourself of reading the novel, I’ll let you know that we were on a search for the four alters of science, earth, air, fire and water. At each, an angel would point us to the next, until we found the secret lair of the Illuminati. I wont spoil the plot anymore. If you have read it I do not need to anyway.
OK, here are on the steps of St. Maria del Popolo Church. We go inside to find the knave of the Cigi family. It is shut off from view by a heavy curtain. Robert says he has talked to the powers that be about when it will be opened again, and I gathered they always tell him “soon.” But in my conspiracy addled mind I think the church, which detests Dan Brown, has just said screw the A&D tour. Maybe they open it later in the day after this tour is gone, I don’t know. But Robert showed us photos of Raphael’s design and and pointed out the Bernini angel that led us to the next location. The angel is titled Habakkuk and the Angel. The tomb is underground, in what is called a demon hole. Generations of Chigis are tossed in here. In fact there are demon holes in old churches all over Rome where wealthy families commissioned artists to design knaves for family plots.
With the angel guiding our way we were off to St. Peters square. Dark Tours did this first class, we were on the best bus I have ever ridden in. All the way Robert did a great job of narrating our trip with very interesting historical facts that certainly educated us, while entertaining us.
At St. Peters square he challenged us to find the next clue.
Of course I had read the novel, plus I had been there the day before so I knew exactly where this clue was. So instead I looked for the centro del colonnatos. These are two spots in the square that show an optical illusion which Bernini created in his design of the square. The columns that outline the square are four deep, and from everywhere else within the square you see this. But if you stand right on these spots, you see only one. Bernini was a friggen genius.
The cherub pointed us west, towards St. Maria della Vittoria Church. Inside this church is Bernini’s personal favorite sculpture titled Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. Somehow this statue represents fire. I think Robert told us that St. Teresa had the same dream almost every night where she was consumed by the fires of hell. Again, I’ll refer you to the book, or you should go explore why St. Teresa is in ecstasy. She certainly looks like she is having an experience a nun is not supposed to have, that is all I’l say.
The angel confronting Teresa is pointing us to Piazza Navona. In this plaza is yet another Bernini fountain, the fountain of the four rivers. Obviously this is the 4th alter of science, water. This is a very popular spot with tourists. We were staying a short walk from here and visited it a few times. Even in the evening it was crawling with people. In the movie of course it is abandoned.
So now the 4 alters have been covered and we have been directed to Castel Sant’Angelo. This is supposedly the secret lair of the Illuminati.
In reality, this is two buildings, one atop the other. The first was built to be Roman Emperor Hadrian‘s mausoleum. Which it was for a while until the barbarians and then the church decided it needed all the marble off the walls (again). It fell into disrepair until the 14th century when Pope Nicholas III connected the castle to St. Peter’s Basilica by a covered fortified corridor called the Passetto di Borgo.
The church then built on top of the mausoleum to make it into a fortress. It was the refuge of Pope Clement VII during the Sack of Rome (1527). The Passetto di Borgo is above ground and very visible, in contrast to the fictional account of Dan Brown which portrays it as a secret underground passageway.
The Castel Saint Angelo is predominately set on the banks of the Tiber and sort of looms over Rome.
These three angels are all Bernini works on the bridge over the Tiber to Castel St. Angelo. It is a very beautiful walk. You forget there is a river underneath you as you try to take in the beauty of these sculptures.
Our tour ended here. I tend to over-tip my guides anyway, but Robert had earned a huge tip. I handed it to him, and a few minutes later has asked me if I really meant to tip him that much. He told me it was the second biggest tip he had ever received. Only Ron Howard tipped him more, and that was for an 8 hour tour Howard took before they filmed A&D. Made me proud.
Thanks for reading. Share with a friend. For a while you will need find your own path to illumination for I am off on another set of adventures to write about, including a trek to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda!
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.
In my next two posts I will cover the elimination of two more of my bucket list items, the Coliseum and of course Vatican City. Then I will treat you to the best thing I did in Rome, I’ll keep that for a surprise.
This post will ramble around in no particular order and try to tell you in my normal irreverent manner about some of the other cool stuff we saw in Rome.
Rome is a walking town. Nothing is far from anything, and walking is faster than any form of transportation available. When you have a destination to walk to in Rome, you will get sidetracked and hijacked by a myriad of other things you just have to stop and see. There are over three thousand sculptures by just Bernini in this city, many of them fantastic fountains. That 15 minute walk will take an hour and a half, so plan ahead.
Our hotel was right next to the Pantheon. The Pantheon was a Roman temple dedicated to all (pan) the gods (Theos). It was first erected in 27 BC, and after a couple of fires, completely redone by Hadrian in AD 120. It is regarded as the most influential building in art history. The dome was studied by Michelangelo before he designed the dome of the Basilica of St. Peters. It inspired the United States Capitol dome and Thomas Jefferson emulated it when he designed the dome at the University of Virginia.
The Pantheon has a Greek style portico, but behind this is the most amazing feat of ancient architecture in the world.
The dome of the Pantheon sits on a circular base, and until the renaissance was the highest dome in the world. It is mathematically perfect. It is exactly as high as it is wide, 142 feet. It is made with concrete, which was a Roman invention.
The dome supports itself because it is 23 feet thick at the bottom, and five feet thick at the top. The concrete at the bottom is mixed with travertine, and the top mixed with much lighter pumice. Also, the engineers at the time designed a coffered ceiling to lighten the load.
To top it off is the Oculus. This is an open ceiling, and the Pantheons sole source of light. Yes, it rains in Rome, so the floor of the Pantheon is slightly concave, and a couple dozen barely noticeable holes in the floor drain away whatever rainfall comes through the Oculus.
The building itself was covered with marble, back before the barbarians came and took it all away. Well, not all of it. What they did not take was taken by the Vatican to build St. Peters Basilica. This is a recurring theme in Rome. The saying is “What the Barbarians didn’t do, Barberini did” (The Barberinis being a Papal family).
The Pantheon has a few tombs, the most meaningful is the tomb of Raphael. If you are not familiar with Raphael’s bio, you should Google him. An amazing painter and playboy Raphael designed his own tomb for the Pantheon.
The Pantheon is located next to the Piazza della Rotunda. For two thousand years this has been a gathering place for Romans. For quite some time it was where people came to buy and sell birds, from chickens to parrots. Today, the only Romans around are waiters in the cafes or musicians. We sat in a café (dinner was two individual pizzas and a small bottle of wine, for $75) but we were entertained by a guy singing Frank Sinatra songs one night and another singing opera the next, somehow fitting. The piazza has a nice fountain which is topped by one of the dozens of obelisks stolen from Egypt found all over Rome.
A short walk from this piazza is the famous Trevi fountain. Made famous by Hollywood, is is truly a magnificent fountain which takes up a city block.
My rambling post will end where I had an almost rapturous experience. It is called the Gesu church. It is the center of the Jesuit order, which is a big deal, BIG deal. Including St. Peter’s, I found the Gesu, the most astounding church I saw in Rome. It is not only the epitome of Baroque, it is also the most outlandish example of “in-your-face” wealth I can imagine. I have always said to the Catholic church, sell a gargoyle and feed the poor. If they sold he statue of St. Ignatius, (unveiled if you click on the link later) they could feed the Sudan for a generation. The entire statue is gold and silver with many many jewels stuck all over it. And St. Ignatius was an advocate of poverty, go figure.
During the counter-reformation the Jesuits led the battle against those galling Protestants for the hearts and minds of Christians. Art was a powerful propaganda weapon. Enormous sculpted murals of religion overthrowing heresy (heresy being the pesky Protestants) told the story the Jesuits needed to teach in an age when only royalty and the priests could read.
But the rapture happens at 5:30 every evening. (Click HERE for the rapture. This unveiling of St. Ignatius is something that you must see when in Rome. The painting hiding it is of his demise in China when trying to spread the gospel. As it disappears, the music is quite loud. The faithful cross themselves cry and kneel, and yours truly snaps fotos, wondering if perhaps I am not on the right bus.
OK, faithful readers. My next three posts will be shorter, I promise. If you have not subscribed to my blog, look to the column on the right and do so. I promise you will get raptured by every post you read. Share this with a friend on Facebook, and if you are inspired, make a comment.
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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