Thursday, June 5, 2014

Blood in the Sistine Chapel

I've been trying to keep the titles vaguely alliterative, as per the influence of Sosolimited, but the horror of the Vatican could not particularly be contained to alliterative titles.

Those of you who may know me may understand how much I hate people. I mean, I just honestly, truly, unequivocally despise people as an entity. We have visited many different tourist locations that have been crowded, that have had other tourists that were eager to see the sights, overeager even. But nothing truly rattled me in the same way as the Vatican City did.

I digress. We had a plan for our third day in Rome. We had intended to wake up earlier (as always, as usual), but we had booked a tour for 1PM so we had to at least be up by then. We rolled out of bed around 10:30 or 11, got our things together, had yet another meal at the Mini-Pizza (that place was starting to become our second home), and headed towards the Vatican. The tour we had booked was with the same company as our tour of the Colosseum, and we were supposed to meet them outside of the St. Peter's Basilica metro stop. That was easy enough, and after a bit of gelato, we were soon on our way, our guide a tiny Italian woman who loved the phrase “Mamma Mia,” which I had previously thought was an American fabrication.

The tour was another easy choice. No lines, no wait for the tickets, and since the Roma pass didn't cover the Vatican anyways, it was a small price to pay. We went in, we got our headsets, and our first stop was outside the Vatican Museum to get a view of the Basilica from far away. Already, I was a little on edge because while (even in China) I dealt with huge crowds, I was always able to get a photo away from the people. I was always able to pretend, at least for a second, that we were alone. Inside the Vatican, this was not the case. For a country with a permanent population of less than one thousand people... it was surprisingly crowded.

Our first stop in the museum was the pinecone courtyard, so named, for well, the obvious decorations.

There was also a piece of modern art in the center of the courtyard by the artist Arnaldo Pomodoro (Yes, tomato). My favorite thing about this piece of artwork was... our Italian tourguide trying to explain the meaning (let's be fair, try to explain a piece of modern art in your native tongue) and then SPINNING IT. Yes, it spins. :) It was amusing.

Afterwards, we entered the Vatican museum which was BEAUTIFUL, but packed. We were not quite wall-to-wall with people, but each room was a murmur of excuse mes (in a mix of different languages). There were rooms completely full of statues (many of which we couldn't enter), paintings, tapestries, and more. The following is just a taste.

We also saw an ancient Roman bath in an atrium designed with the Pantheon in mind, placed an an original tile floor and surrounded by bronze and marble statues.

Our tourguide noted one of the statues in this room in particular a monstrous bronze figure of Hercules, carrying the skin of the lion-monster he murdered in one arm and the club he killed him with in the other. She noted it mostly because she wanted to point out Hercules' bubble butt (again... much to Angela's immense discomfort, haaaaa). This was a trend we had noticed in the statues again and again... especially the male statues. Nicki Minaj-style asses.

A few more fun facts we learned about the statues in the Vatican. One) The fig leaves that adorn many of the statues in the museum are a later addition. While nudity was a sign of power in Roman times, once Christianity hit the empire, there was, well, a lot more shame about the matter. As a result, a lot of the statues in the Vatican made a new fashion statement or well... got castrated. O_o

Two) Once you learn this, it is literally impossible to unsee. So the Romans are largely copycats. Most of the statues in Rome, that were made during the Roman empire, are copies. Thus, a lot of the marble statues in the Vatican and elsewhere are actually copies of original marble and sometimes bronze Greek statues. However, since marble is much heavier than bronze, a lot of the poses the Greeks contorted their bronzes into are simply not possible in marble. The result is... a lot of really weird, tree-trunk light additions to the statues to support the marble. The point is, at some point you start realizing that there are a lot of really weird and unnecessary things in the statues that are LITERALLY only their for support. I'll point them out later.

After we started down the long 900m path to the Sistine Chapel. There were three different sections, one with paintings, one with tapestries, and one with maps. They were each ridiculously adorned and again, packed with people. An example of some of the wall decorations. This one happens to have the signia of one of the previous popes (I cannot, for the life of me, remember which one).

After we waited in a short line and then entered... the Sistine Chapel. We had gotten a brief explanation of all the various pieces of art (and there are a LOT) in the the chapel. For instance, Michelangelo is not responsible for all of the Chapel. The first two layers of the walls were commissioned by different artists. Our guide compared the best of these initial paintings (perspective lines and realism) and the worst... which was just ehhh. She literally asked the group “Okay, which of these are the worst?” and then promptly informed “Okay, guys, you don't have to be nice. We all know it's this one.”

Poor Cosimo Rosselli.

This is not my photo. Photos are not allowed in the Sistine Chapel.

Michelangelo was commissioned at two separate time to paint the ceiling and then to paint the altarpiece (the Last Judgment). Apparently, as a sculptor, he was very unhappy about this personal request from the Pope. He didn't have any experience in fresco painting, but... how do you deny the Pope? So he went to Rome and spent 5ish years on the ceiling, in his youth, and came back much later as an old man to spend 8ish years on the chapel wall. According to our tour guide, he snuck in a few “fuck you”s to the Pope that made him do this. One) On the 8th panel of the ceiling, he paints God creating the sun and the planets and more importantly, some guy mooning the viewer. This was maybe meant to be a sort of “kiss my ass” statement. He also painted a self portrait on the face of the skin hanging off of St. Bartholomew (who was skinned alive) to say “It would be better to be skinned alive than to waste my life painting this fresco.” Of course, these are all conspiracy theories, but still, amusing (Also imagine a tiny Italian lady sharing this story).
Kiss my ass, dickface.
Now about the actual chapel. It... may have been the worst experience of my life. You get herded into the room like cattle, and then wall-to-wall people, like cattle waiting for the slaughter. Every few minutes a voice comes over the speaker calling for silence, and no one shuts up. Despite the ban on photos, people everywhere are trying to surreptitiously take terrible cell phone shots of the ceiling (Why? Whyyyyy?). And then suddenly, we try to take a step towards the exit and there's a man in a uniform in the way. There's no explanation, but he and his coworkers are blocking a triangular path in front of the exit that is making it very hard for people to get through the single door. And then we saw.

Ketchup? Cherry Syrup? Blood??!!


A splatter of blood on the floor of the Sistine Chapel.

It takes them 45 minutes to find someone to mop it up. In the meantime, the crowd is restless. People are only allowed to leave in one or two at a time. People are starting to push, others are starting to complain, the guard directing traffic is a moron and everyone is getting angry. I was... stressed by the crowd before, and now, I was imagine every single death by trampling or crushing I've ever read about in my life. Needless to say, once I managed to get past the doorway where there was room to breathe again and there wasn't a small Asian woman (who totally freaking understood what the guard was telling her) violently elbowing everybody in her way, I felt immensely relieved. We did spot the source of the blood spatter, a poor older woman sitting on a wheelchair and clutching gauze to her knee (WHAT ON EARTH DID SHE DO THAT CAUSED SUCH A TORRENT OF BLOOD FROM HER KNEE???) while her husband pointed out the various drops of blood on the way out. 

Needless to say, my mood was... distressed. We had one more sight to see (the Basilica itself), but I wasn't taking pictures, I was antsy, I wanted out. Fortunately, Angela still got a few photos of the rest of the Vatican. The ceiling right at the doors to St. Peter's Basilica was quite beautiful.

I think you can see the distress in my eyes in this photo in front of the chapel.
Please kill me. Get me out of here.
But this give syou a better view of the inside of the church. It was spectacular. All the gold and bronze and marble from the previously glamorous Roman relics were tolen to build this monstrosity. It was fabulous, if still overwhelming.

Finally we were on our way out. We snapped a photo of the Egyptian obelisk on the way out as well as the giant colossade surrounding the plaza in front of St. Peter's Basilica.

One of the fountains along the left side of the colonnade.

Thankfully once we were free, we were really truly free. We wanted to get away as fast as possible so without stopping to eat or shop or anything, we headed to the train station (where the National Museum was located) and sat down to eat and promptly decided that we (and me especially) needed wine. A bottle of wine.
Thank the lord for wine.
Oh thank god, that's much better. Then, with a slight buzz on, we headed to the National Museum 1.5 hours before its closing which was blissfully, wonderfully empty. I think there were approximately 6 other visitors to the museum in the time we were there. It was mostly statues, and they were beautiful.

Many busts of various Roman emperors (Don't I look imperial?).

As well as the famous Roman (originally Greek) discus thrower. Sports!

Afterwards, we headed home, exhausted, ready for the adventures of the next day.

A few bonus selfies from the museum.

Another (and a less stressful) day in Rome tomorrow.

Love always,

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Roaming in Rome

We departed Florence at the glorious, God-forsaken time of 5:50AM. Angela had not slept. I had slept uncomfortably as my pack seemed to be missing about 80% of my belongings (WHY DOES EVERYTHING FIT ALL OF A SUDDEN?). In my defense, this ticket was about $30 cheaper than all more reasonable tickets. Although, I guess after a 15-euro cab ride it may have not been worth it. WHATEVER. We discovered that the cab system in Florence was as spectacular if not more so than the bus system... and managed to have one arrive right in front of our entrance literally 2 minutes after we called for it. Glorious. Five minutes later, we were on the train and ready to embark for ROOOOME. :) Hurrah! After two hours of unconsciousness, we arrived.

This photo of the Colosseum is actually from the second day. Sorry. I got excited. Once we got to Roma Termini, we made our way to our Airbnb which was in a nice residential neighborhood decently close to the action, but not too close. Our first day we kind of decided that... we want to relax. So on the suggestion of our delightful Irish hosts, Josh and Grace, we went to the local supermarket and picked up some fruit, wine, and cheese and picnicked in the park. We also may have missed the gigantic park that was also nearby and ended up in this friendly but... somewhat grassless tiny park that was like a block closer to the apartment. Oops. 

We ate, we napped (for like three hours) and then we returned home. It was not... an eventful day. The next day we actually did some things though, I swear. We woke up a bit later than intended (I hope you're starting to notice a trend), and thought that we might make our way over to the Colosseum. Once at the appropriate metro stop, we bought our Roma pass. Similar to the Firenze card, although not as inclusive, it covered the first two sight visits completely, everything after that 30% off and all of our public transportation for the duration. Sadly it didn't cover the Vatican... but there were enough other things to make it worthwhile.

Our first stop on our Colosseum visit was, well duh, the Colosseum. We stood outside looking lost for a while until we were approached by a handsome young man who asked us if we spoke English. Our initial thought, and rightly so, was "oh shit, this is a scam." But Rick Steves did say that people would hang out around these sights offering legitimate tours and that's exactly what this was. Plus the guy was pretty cute so of course we would have been delighted to have HIM show us around. Alas, that was not the case but we did get a sassy Italian tourguide who described in gruesome detail all the horror and glory of the Colosseum back in the day. It was delightful.

This photo provides a good glimpse of the network of pulley systems and trapdoors that sat underneath the stage. As our tourguide said, the Colosseum was a stadium for the emperor who was basically a God and anything short of an ABSOLUTE MIRACLE was not suitable for a God... and so basically, they focused a whole lot on special effects is what I'm trying to say.

The reason I found this remnant of a statue especially is not only that it alluded to the glory and beauty that the Colosseum actually was in the back of the day (turns out the Christians kind of stole all the marble and everything of value to repurpose for St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican) but this was found just 5 years ago! That means that when my sister and I visited Rome and (probably) the Colosseum when I was ten years old (I honestly have like 3.5 memories of that trip) this hadn't even been dug up yet! I just love that there are new things still being recovered so recently.

Our favorite story relayed to us by our tourguide was that of the public executions of criminals (usually Christians). Executions themselves are pretty bland so of course you've got to dress them up so that not only are they exciting but so that they relay the morals of the time. So for instance they might, I don't know, put on a play that would relay the story of Prometheus. As you may know, Prometheus is the guy who stole fire from the Gods, which at that time was their biggest secret or something and for that he was punished in a pretty gruesome way, namely he was tied to a rock and every day an eagle would swoop down, tear out his guts, and eat them. And every night, they would grow back just so the bird could do it again tomorrow. So, again, this is all according to our tourguide. They would hire some famous actor, George Clooney or something, to play Prometheus during the exposition. Of course, by the time Prometheus was about to be punished, he'd have gone home already and instead there would be a criminal in the same makeup ready to have his guts pulled out. You can really only do that once before someone's actually dead, of course, so what would they do? They'd have a line of criminals under the stage, all dressed the same and in the same makeup ready to be executed again and again and AGAIN.

Romans, man. They're gross. After our tour, we got a little break to wander around the Colosseum and then we met back up with our group outside the exit. I chose to wait on this totally not phallic looking column.

Seriously. A column.

Afterwards we headed to the Roman Forums, which honestly, were largely the reason we wanted to get the tour. The forums are ABSOLUTELY PHENOMENAL. They are so interesting, but they are also, mostly, just a series of really old rocks. You can go there and read a few scattered signs about the sights, but it's not really going to tell you very much. This is why our Airbnb host highly recommended getting a tour and it was super worth it. Here was the entrance to the forums. You can note the brick building in the background. That was actually the Senate building back in the day. The reason is it so incredibly well preserved as compared to everything else is that a church was actually built around it so over the years it was totally protected from the elements. That white building in the background with the statues of Athena on top is actually the Victor Emmanuele Monument (also, Angela's future home... more on that later), built to commemorate the unification of Italy in 1871.

Below is the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. It was built by Emperor Antoninus Pius and dedicated to his wife Faustina (awwww, true love). Of course, if you notice the cross at the top, it was repurposed as a Roman Catholic church some time in the early middle ages. Like all things Roman, recycle, recycle, recycle. The door here is not the original but nearby there was a building with a very similar door that was in fact, 2000 years old. Not only that, but the original lock and key to that door STILL WORKED and are on display at the Vatican museum.

This was the Arch of Titus, one of three arches in the area, including the Arch of Septimihus Severus and the Arch of Constantine. They marked the road into the forum and to the senate building, namely that which was taken by important messenger and visitors to the emperor at the time.

After touring the forums, we also went up top on Palatine hill to view the absolutely ludicrously sized palace up there, complete with indoor chariot-racing stadium and baths, and a beautiful outdoor botanical garden from which was snapped this view (See the senate building? and the monument?).

This was a tunnel that ran underneath the Palatine hill. It was really cool (even though the windows that had formerly lit up the pathway were covered and replaced by artificial lights).

After, although we wanted to go see some more stuff, we were also very hungry. We wandered a little bit away from all of the sights down a side street and found a small grocery shop that had pizza and sandwiches for pretty cheap. It also had this giant sausage (I know the scale is not super apparent here but it was seriously like 6 feet long).

And pizza! Yum.

While we were sitting on the little high tops in front of the store, the chef came out and presented us with some desserts for free! They were super cute and apparently traditional to the area. He didn't really speak English so there wasn't really too much explanation, but they were super tasty and really free! :)

We then proceeded to wander around the area and hit up all the nearby sites. We saw several expansions to the Roman forum that were built by later emperors, as well as Trajan's market (no longer a market today) and Trajan's column, below.

We also walked past the Victor Emanuel monument from the front, which was spectacular, even though we couldn't get past the gate. The statue there is actually the Italian "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier" and is guarded by two guys in uniform and two things of fire. Angela also fell in love with this building immediately and has been plotting ways to make it possible to live there. :P

After the monument, we tried (and failed) to get into the Capotoline museum, but sadly it was 7:15pm already and it was closed. So instead we took a long and circuitous route back to the Colosseo subway stop, got one last look at the Colosseum as the sunset, and headed back to our Airbnb.

And a bonus photo of me, our host's housemate (Quentin from California), and the "nicer" cat. Ha.

Roman adventures continue tomorrow!

Love always,

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Florence's Fixation

(I lost the end of this post the first time around due to internet struggles, so forgive me if it gets bitter)

Plain and simple, Florence is obsessed. This is me when I discovered the full extent of this obsession.

They are 100%, totally, completely obsessed with penises.

Yes, I did purchase that postcard. You're welcome, Putz. Now the focus is generally on the penis attached to the Statue of David (bottom right on the postcard), but it is actually completely ridiculous. They sell boxer-briefs with it on them; they sell aprons, postcards, magnets, statues, mugs, shot glasses, EVERYTHING. It's unreasonable. Anyways.

Day 2 of Florence. We woke up slightly later than intended, but quickly gathered ourselves and headed over towards the Duomo. Today was going to be a museum day and the first stop was the Galleria d'ell Accademia, home to the Michelangelo's legitimate marble Statue of David. With the Firenze card, we got to skip the line (Thank god, it looked to be more than hour long) and get into the museum almost immediately. There were some notable other sculptures and paintings, but let's be real, everyone was there to see David. Photos were not allowed inside, but let me just say, it was 100% worth it. The statue was huge and magnificent and just... awe-inspiring.

Afterwards we decided to hit up the Orto Botanico... which would not have been worth it had it not been free due to our Firenze card. But as it was, it was a nice, albeit weird, break from the crowds. At the least we got some good photos with the plants.

We then headed south, making a stop at the Medici-Riccardi Palace, the living quarters of the family that... basically owns Florence. It was lavish and full of art and worth a brief visit I think. The courtyard is pictured below.

And this was the ceiling of one of the upstairs rooms. Slightly more lavish than the Palazzo Vecchio, I would say. Or maybe the same amount of lavish. I don't know. Rick Steves probably has an opinion on the matter.

After the Medici Palace, we had a brief stop for gelato. I think we're at 5 in 4 days right now. I'm currently on a mission to find the perfect two-flavor combination. It's difficult. This was strawberry and coconut... the coconut was phenomenal. It had... literally the perfect texture.

After gelato, we headed farther south to visit the reknowned Uffizi gallery. It featured an enormous amount of artwork, include Botticelli's "Spring" and "Birth of Venus," among many others. I would... not say that it is "overrated" as our Airbnb maybe(?) jokingly said. Again, photos were not allowed inside, but it was pretty awesome. We wanted to go to the Galileo Museum afterwards (again)... but for whatever reason it closed at 1:30pm on Tuesdays... so we were unable to go. We will... literally never see that museum. Instead, we crossed the river to go to the Palazzo Pitti and visit the artwork. Unfortunately, it was already after 5pm, and we got horribly distracted by... our stomachs. So we ate in front of the palace and... discovered that it was far too late to enter the museums at that point. Oh well! At least we had delicious bruschetta and pasta (not pictured: my artichoke and prosciutto pizza).

Look how thrilled I am about the museum anyways. It was probably okay that we didn't look at more art.

So thrilled.
Since we were already on the correct side of the river, and it was practically on our way back home, we decided to make a pitstop at the Piazzale Michelangelo. Plus we thought the view at sunset and at night would be spectacular. We were not disappointed.

There was also a bronze Statue of David on top of the hill that we COULD photograph! Aha!

Unfortunately, even though we ended up on top of the hill at around 7:15pm... we quickly learned that sunset was about 1.5 hours away and so instead... headed home. We had an early train to catch in the morning after all. <3

As a bonus, this photo with Florence in the background. As Angela says, it's just not fair to the rest of the world just how freaking cute we are. 

We're off to Rome tomorrow!

Love always,