Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Buon Giorno, Italia

This is going to be a fairly long post. I'm fitting two days in Italy into one posting since I missed a day while I was fretting about my hair yesterday.

I have my priorities, you know.
The Roman Coliseum has been around over 2,000 years. Incredible. It's a massive structure that dominates the area it's in. Our guide, Paula (pronounced Pow-lah), was magnificent and shared so much information with us. She also had words with a French tour group. Those French.

J. and K. were very enthusiastic about this part of the trip since they were studying the Coliseum and the Roman Forum in their Latin classes.
Neat facts about the Coliseum:

  • It held 60,000 people and could empty them out in ten minutes!
  • The latrines were 20-seaters. Male togas kept them covered while they sat.
  • It was the people who decided to give mercy, not the emperor. If a fighter asked for mercy, the crowd gave either a thumbs up or thumbs down. Thumb up pointed away from the jugular (the thumb represented the gladiator's sword) and meant mercy. Thumb down pointed the thumb toward the jugular and meant no mercy, death instead.
After the Coliseum, we walked over to the Roman Forum. LOTS of ruins. This was basically a meeting place for all Roman citizens. Interesting tidbit from Paula: Rome is in desperate need of more public transportation, ie. subways, but every time they go to dig, they find more ruins and the historical/archaeological government officials get involved. As a result, no more subways since they can't find enough space to build them.

The above picture shows the street level today and what they've excavated from the past, below street level. Ruins are being found below the level they've excavated.
We walked to the Trevi Fountain after the Forum. Lots of tourists. We couldn't get close to the fountain without expending a lot of energy. Tourists are tough cookies.
Instead we explored the piazza around the fountain. And found a church with hundreds of combination and key locks on the metal fence around the church. They are symbols of everlasting love for couples. Evidently, the couples put their names on them and then lock them onto the wrought iron fence.
We left the Trevi Fountain and headed to St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican.

Opulent.

Breathtaking.

Magnificent.
Michelangelo's Pieta. It's behind glass now since someone tried to damage it several years ago. It symbolizes Mary giving up her claim to her son, Jesus Christ, and her obedience to God the Father in this.

You can see it in books but it's incredible to see it in person. Michelangelo did this. Wow.
We left Rome very tired and very ready to go back to the ship to eat and sleep. The roads were crazy busy, cars everywhere. Not many minivans or SUVs around. Most vehicles are super small. Lots of scooters and those guys are nuts. They dart in and out of traffic to the point of ridiculousness.
The next day in Italy was a tour of the Amalfi coast and Pompeii. The drive down the coast was dizzying, hair tingling, and steal-your-breath-away-because-you're-so-close-to-the-edge-of-the-road.

We also celebrated the Man's birthday today. What a great place to spend your birthday.

The coast line is dotted with tiny village after tiny village nestled into the cliffs at each bay. The area is filled with lemon groves on the sides of the cliffs. That's what they're famous for. The groves are tiered up and down the cliffs.
We had a couple hours to explore Amalfi. The guys went one way, K. and I went another. You guessed it...we shopped a bit! I took plenty of pictures but we also wanted to find some Italian leather bags.

And we did. Several of the girls in my family got bags that day. That's what we brought back for souvenirs.
Everywhere you turn, there's a hidden piazza. Outdoor cafes, open air restaurants, all very picturesque and makes you feel like you're living in a postcard.

After visiting Amalfi, we headed to Pompeii but stopped along the way for lunch. The restaurant was on the side of a cliff and the view was simply gorgeous. We had lunch with Gisa, the tour escort from Royal Caribbean. They send crew members on various tours to make sure they're run okay, that the tours are good, the food is good, etcetera. Gisa was from Brazil and had been working for Royal Caribbean for about a year. We had a very enjoyable time visiting with her and learning more about Brazil.
Mt. Vesuvio erupted in 79 A.D. and buried Pompeii under 25 feet of ash. Everything you see in the picture above has been excavated out from under the ash.

Interesting facts about Pompeii:
  • the coliseum here is about 50 years older than the one in Rome
  • Pompeii used to be on the shore but because of all the eruptions of Vesuvio and the subsequent lava rock that was laid down, it's about a kilometer inland now.
  • the Italian government offers residents around Vesuvio 30,000Euro to move because of the threat of eruption.
Pompeii is unbelievable. I know I keep using that word but it fits most everything we saw.
Pieces of pottery that they haven't put out into the ruins yet. Still being cataloged.
A body discovered while excavating. We saw an exhibit in San Diego the year before we went that had several of these bodies on display. Very sobering to see them.

Italy is a beautiful country. I'd like to visit it again.

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