When in Rome, we saw many beautiful places. Here are a few snapshots from our lens:
We visited Vatican City our third day in Rome. Vatican City is a sovereign city-state within the city of Rome, taking up only 110 acres. It is home to 800 people, all affiliated with the church and museum.
We were lucky to have Claudia again as our guide, to see the highlights. With limited time in Rome, and also limited time to plan and research the trip, booking a guided tour was helpful to make sure we got the most out of it.
We started our tour in the Vatican Museum, holding many treasures that they have accumulated from history. The statues were impressive but I much preferred the remarkable ceilings.
These corridors lead to the Sistine Chapel. Many people told me they were brought to tears upon seeing Michelangelo’s greatest work. I read the fictional novel The Agony & The Ecstasy, about Michelangelo’s life many years ago, which detailed that he was not enthused about this assignment – he hated fresco painting and preferred sculpture. The Pope had required him to live in Rome and complete the works on St. Peter’s. Not sure if it was that information or the hoards of people shoving us, but I thought it was just okay. Really cool to see but I did not need any tissues. Sorry – no photos allowed.
A guard came up to us and told Claudia that they were shutting St. Peter’s in 10 minutes due to New Years’ Eve. He told her to hurry or we’d miss it. Whispering a “grazie mille”, we quickly descended into the remarkable church.
If you aren’t familiar with St. Peter’s, it is a church dedicated to St. Peter, built above his grave site. There was an original church on the same spot, but during Julius II’s reign, he wanted to make it more glorious due to it’s significant dedication and symbolism. St. Peter was one of Jesus’s disciples, and a very important and influential one. After Jesus’s death & resurrection, he became the natural leader and made great strides in proclaiming the message of Christianity. He was persecuted for his teachings under Emperor Nero and when he was given death by crucifixion he requested only to be crucified upside down as he didn’t feel he deserved to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus.
One of the first things we saw within the church was Michelangelo’s pieta, a sculpture of Mother Mary holding the adult crucified Jesus on her lap. Michelangelo sculpted this emotional masterpiece at 24 years of age. Can you imagine? This work of art brought me more emotion than the Sistine Chapel, it was his passion, the sculpture.
We continued to walk around the basilica. Notice the light coming in at every vantage point. Full credit to the hubby for capturing this beautiful essence of the visit with our camera.
The domes and ceiling were really impressive. Mid-way through, Gabe said that it was the most impressive religious structured he’d ever seen. Although I was impressed by others (see list at end of this post) , I’d have to agree.
Upon leaving, we saw the famous Swiss guard on duty! The volunteers come from the four Catholic cantons of Switzerland and their mission is to protect the Pope.
After grabbing lunch, we returned back to the square for experiencing this special place once more.
About ten minutes after we returned, the guards came, ushering every single person out of St. Peter’s Square for what we think were New Year’s Eve preparations. So, we can officially say we were kicked out of Vatican City!!
Nonetheless, we we grateful for the visit. What a remarkable place.
On our trip to Rome, visiting The Coliseum was a must. We booked a three hour tour with Claudia to explore the Coliseum, Palantine Hill, and The Roman Forum. All of these sites are very close together.
The metro stop Coliseo literally drops you off at this vantage point! I loved the Christmas tree out front.
Claudia led us efficiently through, explaining that the Coliseum is in ruins for many reasons. When the gladiator games stopped due to rulers objecting to their bloody nature, the Coliseum wasn’t as needed so was left deserted. Earthquakes came in 847 and 1231 which caused significant structural damage. Finally, when St. Peter’s Basilica was being re-built by Julius II, they used all the marble from the Coliseum to build the church.
The entire thing used to be covered in white marble. You can see below the places where the marble was attached, leaving holes once it was taken.
She taught us about the levels of seating. Even back then, people received a “ticket” with their section and row. Important people such as Senators and the Imperial Family were on the bottom tier, with protective walls. Then, the upper class in the 2nd tier, the lower class in the 3rd tier, and at the top: the women. She explained it was common for women to be impressed with the gladiators. Thus, they were kept at the top, at quite a length.
If you aren’t familiar with Gladiatorial Games, it is when men fight to the death to entertain the crowd. The Gladiators are actually slaves / criminals forced to fight. You might remember from the movie The Gladiator that Maximus was actually a Roman general who became a slave due to the vengeful rule of the Emperor.
The gladiators are unfairly weighted against soldiers with chariots and better weapons. To keep an element of surprise, wild animals were also released during the fights. You can see a cross section of the lower part under the main floor, which contained staging areas.
They have built a modern floor in the Coliseum today so that you can imagine it as it were, with the underlying area revealing in the ruin of the Coliseum.
The Coliseum was quite advanced in design. They had sails that could protect the spectators from the harsh sunlight.
After being impressed by the Coliseum, we continued to Palantine Hill, the seat of many ancient Roman palaces and onto the Forum.
Just outside The Forum was the jail. This is the place that Jesus’s disciples, Peter and Paul, where kept before they died.
If you took Mr. Ward’s Latin class like me in high school, we learned a lot about Romulus & Remus, the twins who were raised by the she-wolf. A statue stands outside Capitol Hill demonstrating this legend.
We were really in awe of this area. Outside of Athens & Greece, no place that we have seen compares to the vast and significant history here in Rome.
This Gratitude Friday goes out to UNESCO. I actually had no clue what UNESCO was before we moved to Geneva. However, because of the sheer volume of places in Europe, it became something of note during our travels. UNESCO helps identify and protect the places in the world that are most important to humans, both culturally and naturally. There are currently 962 places in the world on the list. Roughly 80% are cultural while 20% are natural.
How wonderful that there is an organization which makes it their mission to preserve and recognize these sites? While sites like the Notre Dame in Paris might not have trouble gaining support, think about those in underdeveloped countries like Angkor Wat in Cambodia that can now have the financial and administrative resources to preserve and protect these special sites for the world to appreciate?
And also, I wanted to express our thankfulness for being able to visit over 30 new UNESCO sites during our time as ex-pats. This is something that neither one of us thought we would do in a 1.5 year span. While our travels will be slowing down with our move back to the US, I wanted to find a way to archive the sites that we had been to, both before this experience, and then after.
So, I have created a page in the main menu of the blog listing Our UNESCO Tracker. I’ll keep this up in the future as well.
Bon weekend, everyone!
Vienna is among the most beautiful cities I’ve seen. The Habsburgs, valuing the finer things in life, really created a magnificent environment in their capital.
I arrived earlier than Gabe in the weekend and did a self guided city walk. Perhaps it should’ve been called a waltz because I was floating around with glee. Seeing the panorama of baroque architecture and elegant gardens near Volksgarten nearly brought me to tears. Sure it might be accentuated by nostalgic feelings during our remaining last weeks in Europe, but truly, it was just that pretty. No wonder the entire city is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Here are a few of the amazing places in Vienna we saw:
We had the benefit of relaxing at Café Braunerhof while a violinist & pianist played classical music for a den full of Viennese patrons. Decorated with rich fabrics, antique mirrors and dark woods, these cafés feel like you are sitting in your grandmas living room. Buy a cup of coffee and you are welcome to make yourself at home. Racks of the day’s newspapers are yours to enjoy.
Most of these cafés serve delishous desserts and pastries. We grabbed a few at Café sacher, trying the famous sachertorte and an apfelstudel.
Austria is also know for its white wine. In the local dialect, the word for Vienna is Wien and Wine is Wein. We had fun at this place having lots of Wiener Wein.
We also partook in the festival hot wine….
Vienna is a city of the finer things: classical music, balls, culture, and the arts. But it is also a very satisfying food town as well. Perhaps it’s best enjoyed in the winter when it has a fantastic warming effect and the extra pounds dont show as clearly!!
Vienna tops the best destinations in the world for Christmas, so we knew we wanted to see it our last holiday season in Europe.
During the month of December, the city is filled with small Christmas villages, selling everything from ornaments & gifts to Austrian-style fair food & hot toddies. Lights fill the trees and booths, providing a holiday glow all around. Smells of spices and delicious foods permeate the chilly air, inviting you to try everything.
Living in Geneva: Deck the Halls
We recently attended the annual Fête des Luminères, or Festival of Lights, which honors Mother Mary every year on the eighth day of December. Four million people attend each year!
This festival originates back to 1643, when Lyon was hit by the plague. The townspeople said that if Lyon would be spared, they’d pay tribute to Mary. The tradition of honoring Mary happens every year since on December 8.
It was beautiful – they had over 65 light installations, ranging from light shows projected onto the old buildings, to independent light sculptures, to a moving parade. The video at the end of the post does it more justice than the photographs. Due to the crowds, it wasn’t possible to use a tripod.
We never saw Edinburgh when it was truly light……we arrived after dark Friday evening, spent the entire Saturday on a countryside tour which departed before the sun was fully up, and departed for the airport at 8:00 Sunday morning.
But, still, we enjoyed seeing this beautifully historic city. We found it vibrant, active and loved the architecture. Below are a few images: