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March 1, 2002
Roma: ancient treasures (Russell)

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The families at the Foro Romano

With our daughter and her family joining us in Roma, we once again have the situation of trying to plan activities around one family who is "living" ordinarily around the world and another family who is "vacationing" extravagantly in Italy.  Fortunately, Dawn and David's baby responsibilities have resulted in their keeping a fairly slow touring pace, not unlike our own.  Furthermore, we had previously refrained from seeing some of Roma's tourist sights specifically so that we could visit them together.

On February 28th, we made a return trip to the Piazza San Pietro and made our second attempt to visit the Musei Vaticani (the Vatican Museums).  Knowing now that the museum requires about 2-1/2 hours and closes at 1:30 PM, we made sure to arrive there by 11:00 AM.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, many of antiquity's priceless treasures were preserved by the Catholic church.  The Vatican and the various Popes of the Dark Ages and Renaissance collected paintings, sculptures, and artifacts of ancient civilizations, as well as commissioned new works of art.  With both Rick Steves and Dawn at hand, we explored masterpieces of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Etruscans.  Highlights included a 3,000-year-old mummified Egyptian woman, the Laoco÷n (the most famous Greek statue in ancient Roma, and known only through legend until it was miraculously found and unearthed in AD 1506), the Raphael Rooms, and the Cappella Sistina.

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Learning about Egyptian art

Raphael painted the walls of the Raphael Rooms, the private apartments of Pope Julius II, when he was only 25 years old.  These gigantic frescoes depict, among other things, the conversion of the Emperor Constantine to Christianity.  (In the year AD 312, Constantine saw a vision in the sky that told him he would win his battle under the sign of the cross.  He stuck then-forbidden Christian crosses on top of his Roman eagle banners and won the battle.  He converted, legalized Christianity, and the rest is history).

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In the Raphael Rooms (unlike the Cappella Sistina, photos are allowed here)

At the same time that Raphael was painting the pope's private apartments, his competitor Michelangelo was down the hall painting the ceiling of the Cappella Sistina (the Sistine Chapel), the pope's private chapel.  After first saying "no" and then being harassed incessantly by Julius II, Michelangelo spent four years of his life lying on his back six stories up in the air.  The stress almost killed him, but the result is one of the greatest artistic masterpieces in the world.  (When painting "fresco" -- on wet plaster -- if you make a mistake, you have to erase the entire thing and start over.)  Demanding completely free reign, Michelangelo painted nine scenes from the Old Testament (including the "Creation of Adam"), ten prophets, and eight ancestors of Christ on the 600 square metre ceiling... and every brushstroke was painted by the master's own hand.  Michelangelo even returned 23 years later to paint "The Last Judgment" on the altar wall.  The Cappella Sistina has recently been completely restored, and we were treated to bright and vibrant colors that have not been seen for almost five hundred years.

On March 1st, our last full day in Roma, we dragged ourselves out of bed at 7:30 AM in order to arrive at the Colosseo by 9:00 AM (well, we were actually 20 minutes late).  There, we met Lorianne, an American-born guide from the Scala Reale tour company.  With her background in the Classics and archeology, she proceeded to gave us an informative four-hour tour of ancient Roma, as we strolled through the ruins of the Colosseo (Colosseum), Palatino (Palatine Hill, site of the Imperial palaces), and the Foro Romano (Roman forum, ancient Roma's civic center).  We were grateful that Dawn had arranged a private tour; with the combination of Keegan's feedings and Cameron's and Joss' attention spans, we had to pause many, many times along the way (at one point, Gail carried Joss on her back -- African style -- after he banged his knee).

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Il Colosseo, outside and in

On both days, we rewarded our sore feet and hungry stomachs with ristorante lunches.  On February 28th we had pasta at La Rustichella near La CittÓ del Vaticano, topped off with gelato next door at the GelaterÝa Millennium.  On March 1st we had pasta at the Trattoria "Giggetto" in the Jewish Ghetto, just across the Fiume Tevere from our apartment.

While the World Trippers spent their afternoons resting, Dawn, David, and Keegan continued their excursions (they came back one day having purchased a baby chair, a baby toy, and a new stroller).  And while the World Trippers spent their evenings babysitting, Dawn and David were able to take some extremely rare alone time (actually their first since Keegan was born) in order to enjoy dinner out among Roma's picturesque mazes of back streets.  As of March 1st, Keegan is now officially six months old, and we have a lot of baby bonding to catch up on.

 

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