Did I say it’s my Birthday? As you can see I had a nice steady diet of Red Wine throughout the day.
Our Airbnb in Roma.
Wash day. The old fashioned way.
Rome at night.
We got a pretty late start today because:
A) It’s my Birthday!!
B) My wonderful husband went out and got me coffee, Kahlua and a croissant for breakfast
C) It’s my birthday
D) I did some laundry
E) Did I mention that it was my Birthday!?!?!?
Finally on our way, we headed in the direction of the Pantheon, a 2000 year old temple that is now the Basilica di Santa Maria ad Martyres. However, the walk in Rome is never one dimensional and before we were even ten minutes in we had already stopped to take a number of pictures of ruins, churches, statues and buildings. Again, it is hard to describe everything that we see because block after block is picture worthy.
We arrived at the Pantheon and were amazed to see a fountain and an obelisk in the piazza. These were pretty cool but the main attraction was well worth the walk. Originally built in 126 AD by the emperor Hadrian, it is one of the best-preserved of all ancient Roman buildings, in large part because it has been in continuous use throughout its history, and since the 7th century, the Pantheon has been used as a church. Evidence now shows that this building was constructed on the site of an earlier temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD). Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest un-reinforced concrete dome. The dome is actually open on top in order to support the concrete (not sure how that works exactly) so rain does come in. This is drained through 22 small holes in the floor. The interior in completely circular with the altar directly across from the door. Another amazing feat of architecture and unlike anything that we have seen to date.
A short walk down another narrow street and we reached the Piazza Navona. This open concept square is on the site of the Stadium of Domitian, built in the 1st century AD where ancient Romans went to watch the “agones” – games. (predating the Colosseum). Erected in the centre of the plaza is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers). At each end there are smaller fountains – the Fontana del Moro and the Fountain of Neptune. Though less majestic than their centre counterpart, they are beautiful nonetheless.
Another short jaunt and we reached the Tiber River. We walked across the Ponte Umberto towards the Supreme Court Building. This building was absolutely spectacular!! We walked along the river towards the Castel Sant Angelo and then crossed back over on the Sant Angelo Bridge. This is the bridge that you will see in many iconic pictures of Rome. Before we walked across, we looked to our right and saw St. Peter’s Basilica. We have a tour there tomorrow so I won’t say much about that at the moment.
We decided to call it a day and started the journey home. We stopped for a Gelato and a glass of wine because (in case you have forgotten) it is my birthday!! So, more statues, buildings, ruins and churches on the way back. It just never ceases to amaze. You need to experience this for yourself. Rome should be on everyone’s bucket list!!
We had a tour booked for 9:25 at the Colosseum so we arrived at 8:30 (just to be on the safe side). The security guard told us to come back at 9:35 which was when they would open the security gates. We had an hour to wander around so did the loop around the outside of the Colosseum and then Constantine’s Arch which is close by. It is amazing to think that we are standing here, in the place where so much history has taken place, and will soon be going inside the largest amphitheatre ever built!!! WOW!!
The original structure was originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre. After the Great Fire of 64 AD, Nero built an artificial lake surrounded by pavilions, gardens and porticoes. At the time of his death in 72 AD, the lake was drained and used as the base for the Amphitheatre. The funding came from the Jews that were defeated at Masada in Israel about this time. (See, you need to pay attention to previous blogs!!) Ok, enough of the boring stuff – let’s get to the actual tour!!
9:30 finally rolled around and we were back at the security gate waiting with all the other excited folks to be let inside. A young girl from Stuttgart, Germany and a couple from Calgary, Alberta were just a few of us that couldn’t wait for the gates to open. Our guide was a young Italian woman whose English was great – she just needed to think about a word every now and then. That didn’t matter because we were all gobsmacked as we went from floor to floor of this magnificent structure. We entered on the arena floor which has been partially reconstructed over a network of subterranean passageways once used to transport wild animals and gladiators to the arena. The underground structure has been very well preserved due to the fact that around the 5th century, after the excitement of gladiator and wild beast battles had deteriorated, the church decided that it should be filled in with soil. The church eventually took over this structure and it is still used to this day for Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.
From the first floor we descended to the lower level. It is estimated that there were about 80 openings in the floor from the lower level to the arena level and a lift operated with pulleys and winches would transport the entertainers, the wild animals and of course the gladiators to the grand stage. I think that the movie Gladiator starring Russell Crowe shows this quite accurately. Another interesting note is that the arena floor was covered with sand in order to soak up the blood from all the killings. The Latin word for sand is haranae – pronounced arena. Hmmmm….
So from the basement we went all the way to the fifth floor – the very top. Though we were not exclusive, the only people that could get up there was with a tour so we still felt pretty important. The views were amazing and again, to think that 2000 years ago, the general public (well, actually just the women, children and the very poor) sat up here watching some good, old fashioned slaughtering – be it animals or humans. Check out Wikipedia to see the number of animals and people killed in a single day at the Colosseum. You won’t believe it!! Anyways, that effectively ended our tour but we were still able to walk around on the first and second floor for as long as we wanted. We did the loop on both of those floors, took a few more pictures and after a few more “I can’t believe this”, we headed to the Roman Forum.
The Roman Forum, just west of the Colosseum, has been in existence since the 7th century BC. The Forum’s beginnings are connected with the alliance between Romulus, the first king of Rome controlling the Palatine Hill, and his rival, Titus Tatius, who occupied the Capitoline Hill. The Forum was established in the valley between the two hills and became the hub of government, trade and other public affairs. The Forum evolved over time and became a mish mash of architectures, including basilicas, temples, crypts, podiums, streets, archways and plazas. Many of the ruins that we see today give us a very good look at what life would have been like during this time period.
After the Forum we were overwhelmed by all that we had seen. What better way to relax and absorb than to find a cute little outdoor cafe and have a drink before heading back to our BNB. We picked up the makings for a pasta dinner at home and returned with visions of gladiators (well, really Russell Crowe) dancing in our heads. Tomorrow is a slower day to catch up on a few things that we still need to see and then perhaps some night life. (As long as night life happens before 9 PM, we should be ready to party!!)
Party On Dudes!! Party On….
We had no real plans today – go to church and then wander around just to see what we could see. Richard wanted to go to mass at Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano or Basilica of St. John Lateran which is the seat of Pope Francis. On the half hour walk to the church, we walked through the park containing ruins from the Baths of Trajan. This was originally a massive thermae (60,000 square meters), a bathing and leisure complex, built in ancient Rome starting from 104 AD and completed in 109. We also stopped in at the Pontifical University and the Basilica of St. Anthony. Around the corner from the Pope’s Basilica, is the Piazza (plaza) which contains an obelisk that was donated by Emperor Constantine after he liberated it from Egypt. The entrance way to the Basilica contains the Holy Door and the Statue of Constantine. This is the oldest and most important church in the western world. Even though mass time was at noon, we arrived there just around 10:45 and the 10:30 mass was in progress (we were not aware that this mass existed). We were still able to walk around the church which was absolutely magnificent. However, I was drawn to the mass as they had a full choir and a fantastic pipe organ. I watched the last half hour from the sidelines and was mesmerized. The entire thing was in Italian or Latin but music is an international language and though I did not understand the words, the melodies and harmonies were amazing. (Becki Thiessen – You would have loved it!!) We still attended mass at noon but there was no music and it was still in Italian. It was lovely but was missing some of the pomp and circumstance.
After mass, we thought it was time for some lunch. But we were curious about the ancient wall that was running next to the church. We walked through one of the arches to the other side but still saw no signage. This called for some research and we discovered that this wall is actually the Aurelian Wall. Built between 271 and 275 AD, the wall surrounded all seven hills of Rome. The wall remains remarkably well preserved today with a number of portals allowing for vehicle and pedestrian traffic. What a wonderful discovery!! Can’t wait to see rest of it.
Fortified with another meal of wonderful pasta, we headed off towards The Spanish Steps. The journey is usually much better than the destination and today was no exception. We came upon another Basilica – this one dedicated to Santa Maria. Another beautiful interior of which pictures will not do it justice. The Spanish Steps were nice but being a Sunday, there were quite a few people hanging around so we didn’t get the full impact of the place.
It was starting to get late in the afternoon, so decided that we should start heading back to our BNB. On the way, we stopped off at the Trevi Fountain, one of the most iconic fountains in Rome. Again, it was crowded but absolutely beautiful.
Before we reached our home, we stopped at another church, saw another obelisk, and then stopped at a little store for a few snacks and groceries to get us through the next day or so. It is just so hard to describe all that we are seeing here. In the wise words of my sister “one of the coolest cities of all time”. And she is not wrong.
We arrived at our Airbnb in Rome around 5:30 PM local time last night, Saturday Jan 12. After we powdered our noses and freshened up we headed out to try our first Italian restaurant. The owner of the establishment offered to surprise us and it turned out to be very, very good. I wish I would have taken a picture of the appetizer and the main course, but thought about it too late. I did however, take a picture of the dessert which was quite tasty and that is coming from someone who does not eat dessert. Col had Italian red wine and of course, I had an Italian beer. Both met expectations. Once dessert was finished they brought us each a small glass of limoncello which was a bit interesting. I am not sure if it is to help with digestion or not, but Col took one sip and that was it for her. Of course being a good soldier, I finished both of them off.
Seeing that the Colosseum was right across from the restaurant we wandered over to take a look. I was hoping that it would be lit up like the Acropolis, but it was not to be or perhaps we were viewing it from the wrong angle. Still, very impressive in the dark. A short trip to the local supermarket to grab a few supplies and it was back to our BnB for the night. Later this morning (Sunday) we are going to Mass at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran which is the official Church of the Bishop of Rome (The Pope) and then we are going to wander around / get lost in Rome for the day. The next few days will be jam packed and I am sure Col will have quite a bit to write about.
We got another late start this morning as we chose to sit out on the balcony and have coffee and a bit of breakfast. Once on our way we headed towards Aristotle’s School in Lykeion. We walked through some pretty cool streets of meat markets, fish markets. general shops and loads of restaurants. In fact, all day we walked by restaurant after restaurant. Though we bought a few groceries yesterday, we will probably eat supper out tonight. But what to choose?
Anyways, as we approached the park entrance that would take us through to the School, we saw a sign saying that the park was closed for the day. A French couple told us that Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, was coming for a visit. It was then that we noticed that the streets were lined with armoured vehicles and a very large police presence. We found another way around to Lykeion and spent an hour or so poking through the ruins there. This was originally a gymnasium where men would train in wrestling and boxing but it became well known as a school of philosophical debate founded by none other than Aristotle in about 335 BCE. These ruins were only discovered in 1996 and opened to the public in 2009. Just down the street from there we stumbled upon the Byzantine Museum and wandered around inside looking at stones and art from the Byzantine Era. Remember yesterday I mentioned about all the loose stones that litter the archaeological sites? Well, I think that this museum was able to identify lots of them and now have them on display. It was actually a very well laid out museum with lots of information, artifacts and artwork (Leah Boulet – you would have loved the art!!)
We ate our homemade lunch of crackers, salami and gouda cheese while sitting in the gardens of the museum. The day was cloudy but not terribly cold so it was quite pleasant. Our next stop was Hadrian’s Arch, the gateway to The Olympieion, aka the Temple of Olympian Zeus. To get there we had to walk by the Parliament Buildings which of course were under heavy security. A couple of the streets were closed to traffic but we were able to walk through. Of course, there is always some idiot that has to try and get through the police barricades and we saw one driver getting a dressing down from the police. (Rick Welwood – as we go through our travels we are beginning to think that the 80% that you mentioned is actually closer to 95%!!)
So, Hadrian’s Arch – very cool and a perfect frame for the Parthenon up on the hill behind it. Then back through the gates to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Construction began on this iconic temple in the 6th century BC during the rule of the Athenians, but it was not completed until the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD, some 638 years after the project had begun. During the Roman period the temple -that included 104 colossal columns- was renowned as the largest temple in Greece and housed one of the largest statues in the ancient world. However, the temple fell into disuse and ruin shortly thereafter and building materials were liberated from the site for projects elsewhere in Athens. Regardless, today there are still 15 complete columns standing and one lying on the ground which is quite remarkable.
We then followed our Google Maps to the Ancient Agora which led us through the Plaka, another neighborhood of quaint restaurants and little shops. We could not help ourselves and stopped for a beer at one of the street cafes. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the Agora, we had missed the last entry – 3:15 PM. Who knew? So folks, I was unable to get a first hand answer as to why this one was replaced by the Roman Agora that we saw yesterday. Even my research does not give me a clear answer. Maybe, the Romans just wanted to flex their muscle and close down the existing market. Who really knows at this point?
From there we walked another five minutes to the Kerameikos, the ancient cemetery of Athens, which besides a large number of ruins also houses a museum. However, again, we missed the last entry of 3:15 PM. Bummer. Richard took a few pictures through the fence and we headed back to the apartment.
As I sit here writing and looking out onto the lights of the Acropolis, I am again grateful for our good fortune as we experience these once in a lifetime moments. Tomorrow is a travel day as we head to Rome for five days. Can you believe that I will be spending my birthday in Rome?!?!? Me neither!! In fact, it will be my first birthday without snow. That in itself will be pretty different. Can’t wait!!
As Richard posted very early this morning, you all know that we have arrived in Greece. We did sleep in a little bit and then headed out for a day of touring. Our first stop was a cute little restaurant for breakfast where we actually had an omelet!! No more hummus for breakfast – YAY!! Then off to the Acropolis and the Parthenon. From our apartment, these two structures seem quite far away and up a large hill. However, the walk was very easy and much shorter than what we had expected. I didn’t really know what the Acropolis was all about. I had seen pictures and thought that it looked pretty cool. Well, let me tell you – it IS COOL!! The Acropolis is actually made up of a number of structures, temples, crypts and of course the Parthenon. Richard took a lot of pictures of each item along with the storyboard. However, apparently the storyboard pictures did not work out so great, so he will add some of his own explanations on the pictures. All I will say is that the original architecture is amazing and the restoration work is equally as amazing.
As an overview though, it is a shame that so much of this history has been destroyed through wars, fires, hostile takeovers, and folks of great importance just walking off with stuff (apparently some of the Parthenon statues ended up in Scotland – how did that happen?!?) . Another interesting thing that we have observed in Egypt, Israel and now Greece, is that there are lots of stones, carvings, partial columns and foundations laying around most of these archeological sites. I would think that as they unearth the ruins, there would be many pieces that do not seem to fit anywhere – like a great big 3D puzzle. As they discover more items or start restoring others, I can imagine a conversation like this: ” Hey Jude, do you remember seeing that gargoyle head on the marble rock about so big?” “Yeah, I think so but Joe is using it for the corner temple. He thinks it might fit there” “OK, I’ll have a chat with Joe because I am positive that it is the missing piece from the crypt that I’m working on” And so it goes…
At the foot of the Acropolis, is the Dionysus Theatre. This amphitheatre, thought to be the first theatre in existence, was originally constructed around 500 BC. As with much of the ancient world, the site was added to and developed over the centuries. What remains today is mostly from the Roman era. Archaeologists have identified about nine different building phases. In 330 BC stone seats were added (some think there were wooden seats up until this time), and the remains of these are the ones we see today. It was able to seat up to 17,000 people. The seats in the first row were reserved for dignitaries, and you can still see some of the reliefs. Being somewhat of a stage hog myself, I am fascinated with ancient theatres and musical stages. How did actors and musicians get hired? Did you have an agent or a manager? Was life “on the road” exciting? How much did you get paid? It is also interesting to note that VIP seats have always existed – some people are always just more important.
After the theatre, we shared a Greek salad and a carafe of wine at another cute little outdoor cafe. The weather is decent (about 12 degrees C) but not really sitting outside weather. However, we persevered, finished our lunch and stopped in at the Roman Agora. Now, what is an Agora, you might ask? Well, so did we and we find that it is essentially a marketplace. So, the Roman Agora, donated by Julius Caesar and Augustus, replaced the original Greek Agora as it no longer served its purpose. (we are going to see the original agora tomorrow so we’ll let you know what it was lacking). The most interesting structure in the area is the Horologion of Andronikos Kyrrhestos, popularly known as the Aerides – Tower of the Winds. The octagonal tower, located just east of the Roman market, was constructed around 48 BC by the Syrian astronomer Andronikos Kyrrhestes. The tower has a height of over twelve meters (40 ft) and rests on a three stepped base. This structure operated as a water clock powered by a water stream from the Acropolis. It is very well preserved and an interesting example of technology during this time period.
Our last stop of the day was Hadrian’s Library. Though not much of the original library exists, you can still see the foundations and some pillars of how magnificent this actually was. The most intact structure was the latrines and again we were amazed at how advanced the Greeks and Romans were with their water and sewer systems. To think that they already had these systems in place in the 1st century and up until the 19th century, London folks were still throwing their waste out the windows into the streets. Hmmm….
So, Day One is almost over. Some crackers and cheese and a glass of wine should finish the day just fine. Can’t wait until tomorrow…
It is 1:15 AM in Athens and we have just checked into our Airbnb. Our plane out of Israel was delayed and the train from the Athens airport was not operational due to an accident so we hopped a bus and did a bit of walking, but we made it. We are in a wonderful neighbourhood loaded with all kinds of restaurants, cafes, bars etc and they are of the quaint European kind. Best of all look at the view from our balcony. For those of you who do not recognize it you are looking at the Acropolis. Pretty cool 😎.. Col will do some proper writing tomorrow.
We decided to spend our last two days in Israel back in Jerusalem at our new friend Janice’s place. We figured that we already knew the area, had an idea of how the buses worked and we really liked our visits with Janice and her family. If you recall, last time we were here, Janice’s youngest son Boaz was living with her. He is a very passionate young man and has now taken a NGO job up in Nazareth helping young people. From what we know of him, he will do very well at this. Today we had an opportunity to spend a few hours with Janice’s older son Hanan who is an opera singer. We sat around the living room doing some singing and then talked more about Jewish tradition and history. Another wonderful young man and we are again so happy for the chance to spend time with real people.
We have enjoyed our time in the Holy Land and we are amazed at how much we have seen and done during these last 17 days. We explored the Old City of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. We floated in the Dead Sea and walked the ruins of Masada. We spent Christmas Eve in Bethlehem and walked in Jesus’ footsteps in Nazareth and along the Sea of Galilee. We wandered through the ancient Crusader city of Acre. We experienced the quietness and reverence of a Shabbat and know that we want to take that feeling home with us. We learned a lot about the politics of this country and realize that there are no easy answers to bringing a forever peace. We discovered that we can navigate throughout a country that has very little English, thanks to the kindness of strangers and a lot of help from Google Maps!
We leave tomorrow for Athens, Greece and though we are excited to be moving into Europe and discovering new things, we would be lying if we said that Israel has not had an effect on us. Ever since my Gran gave me the book “In His Master’s Footsteps” when I was a young girl, I have wanted to walk in these holy places. And as Richard said in an earlier post, to walk the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem has always been on his bucket list. We have now trekked through the places of our dreams and find that we can only begin to appreciate the spirituality and perseverance of all those that have gone before. We are content. Shalom…..