Friday, June 20, 2008

Italy - Day 8

Today has been jam-packed full of activity with few breaks and lots of walking! From our hotel we walked past some nearby Roman ruins, and shortly thereafter encountered, behind an unasuming facade, the impressive interior of Santa Maria degli Angeli church. All the Catholic churches here seem to be both massive and well-decorated with golden borders, marble sculptures and pillars, and large paintings covering every available wallspace. The church was a stunning example of Michelangelo's ability to apply his creative genius to a pre-existing Roman architectural treasure. (Okay, I'll be honest, that last [intelligent-sounding] sentence was dictated by one of the other parents, not me :)

Our walking tour continued with the sight of a giant obilisk, erected by order of Pope Sixtus the Fifth many years ago. Following this we continued to have much fun herding kids across streets on our way to a bus stop.

The next cathedral (Santa Maria) we stopped at was once again massive and beautiful, and also sported some fancy confessional booths with indicator lights to show if they're occupied (maybe they have those back in the states, too, but it was new to me). This cathedral houses the tomb of Bernini, has a ceiling laced with golden leaf from around the world, and is a "potpouri of architectural styles."

On our way to Capitoline museum, we randomly bumped into one of the local tour guides we'd had our first day in Rome. Once in the museum, we saw treasures from the ancient world that many years ago had been deemed by the Pope as too paganistic to continue living in the Vatican. Two giant buildings and two hours later, we braved the slighty rainy Rome streets to acquire lunch, as well as have a brief period of time for shopping, after which we tram-ed to another church, Santa Cecilia. Here the basement was the main attraction, holding the remodeled remains of a very early private house church; the larger church building was then built atop (all of Rome has continued to literally be built up on top of itself, which is why most of the ruins we've seen thus far have been several metres below current ground level).

Rome is so very different from Minnesota, not only in climate, but in that here, merely walking down the street it's nearly impossible not to stumble or trip over the history that's just sticking out of the ground. Actually, I think some people (myself included) have actually done some stumbling... It's neat, though, because the ruins are randomly interspersed amongst the modern buildings and streets.

Our final church of the day began by sticking our hands into the Bocca della Verita (the Mouth of Truth), a literal mouth-shaped orifice belonging to a thin face carved into rock outside the church of Santa Maria. The interior of this church was smaller and less extravagent as the others we'd seen today, the mouth seemed to be the main attraction. We arrived only shortly before closing time and were promptly shoo-ed out of the building.

The next bus ride was a true adventure. First, we had an up close encounter with the police... Okay, it wasn't nearly that dramatic, just that two siren-blaring polizia vehicles passed in between us as we were attempting to cross a street. Second, once we finally boarded the bus (we missed our first chance by mere seconds, and then had to wait many minutes before the right bus arrived again), it broke down, or ran out of gas, before we reached our destination, so we disembarked and walked about 200 metres extra to our hotel. We had about 15 minutes to relax then before leaving for dinner.

The bus to dinner must have been in cahoots with our earlier bus, because it, too, failed to make it all the way to our stop, necessitating a slightly longer walk than planned.

Dinner was entertaining and "different." We were served the closest recreation of an authentic ancient Roman dinner, and during the evening some men dressed as gladiators came out and fought near our table. All the kids had the opportunity to have their pictures taken with the gladiators at the end of the meal, too!

Reactions to the food were overall positive, and I think everyone enjoyed the battles. What's more, the cost of water, Coke, Fanta, and, for the adults, wine, was all included in the [prepaid] ticket price (normally these are each several euros extra at a meal). We were also grateful for something other than veal again :) The food itself was tasty; there was, for the first course, an egg, several slices of dense bread, and two other slices of bread with intriguing Roman toppings... One had olives in the spreading, unfortunately I couldn't hear the full lists of ingredients beyond that (and lots of vinegar, too). The second course was a creation involving fancy white cheese chunks and some bread-like mash, actually quite tasty.

After the meal some of our travelers elected to go out for gelato, but most came back to the hotel to get an early shot at sleep. It's been an exhaustingly full day!

Quotes of the day:

"I love my Mom" - Taylor Besser

"Some days I look at myself in the bathroom and say 'wow.' " - Sergio

"I was laying in bed last night laughing about veal." - Mary Learmont

"Are these for drinking? [Points at clay cups on table; Mrs. Vitt nods] Oh, interesting!" - Mari Marcotte

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