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A visit to Italy

by Jenny and Charlie Plesums

October 2-12, 2011

Charlie had been to Italy around 25 years ago, on a business trip, so getting back was not high priority. Jenny had wanted to go for a long time - and we almost made it in the spring of 2005, until Pope John Paul II so rudely died, and made Italy a very popular (busy, no bargain tickets) tourist destination. Finally, 6½ years later, we got there - Jenny offered to go alone, but Charlie agreed to go as her adult handler. Jenny did a lot of research before we left, which allowed us to visit at our own pace and choices, without being constrained by a tour.

Based on feedback in the first couple days this has been available, we have made a couple corrections, and have added some comments, if you are interested.

Getting There

Usual transatlantic trip from Austin included the required two flight changes - this time Austin to Chicago to London then British Airways to Rome, then a train to the city, then a subway to the hotel (one block from the subway). I swear American Airlines took out another inch between seats, because it was the most uncomfortable coach flight ever. But the connections were reasonable and flights uneventful - Leave Austin Sunday afternoon and arrive at our hotel in Rome on Monday evening (remember - 7 hour time change).

Day 1 - Monday October 3 - Arrival in Rome

The Hotel Silla was in an office and apartment building - ring the buzzer, like a visit to a resident, and they remotely unlock the door, then an elevator ride to the lobby. Just what we would expect for a hotel lobby, but not on the ground level. Nice facility, absolutely great location - just a couple blocks to the Vatican Museum, and a couple blocks more to St. Peters, only a block to the subway (an option we didn't feel the need to use this time) and not many blocks from the start of the antiquities. We would be glad to stay there again. There are an amazing number of hotels in Italy that do not have a street level lobby, which took some getting used-to.

It was late when we arrived on Monday evening so we took the hotel recommendation of a nearby restaurant ... we ordered a couple pizzas, a half liter of wine, a non-alcoholic beer for Jenny, and shared a desert. When we asked for the check, I hoped the total would be under €50, the owner sat at out table, rounded down prices, came to a total of 31, scratched that off and made it 30, and as I reached for my wallet he threw €20 on the table, before I had even pulled the €50 note from my wallet. The food was so good and the price so reasonable (by local standards), that we went back on Wednesday for a "full" dinner. But see the note about Eating in Italy.

Day 2 - Tuesday October 4 - Rome

St. Peters, Try 1

By the time we got up, it was mid-day. We went to St. Peter's, unofficially the Pope's church, but the line was several hours long. See the people ahead of us, heading right? That is near the end of the line which starts to our left, then when it gets to the columns at the right, it follows the columns forward, then through security (the yellow things at the base of the front columns are airport-type metal detectors), up the steps, and finally into the Basilica. We found a guard who spoke English, who said there was always a line, but it would be shorter if we arrived when they opened, at 7 am, or before. Maybe they should charge admission to cut down on the number of tourists!

Where do all these people come from? Look at the line of tourist busses! And towards the end, they are double parked. So today became an opportunity to tour the city.

A couple blocks away, along the Tiber river, is Castle Saint Angelo, at some-times a hide-out for the pope, connected to the Vatican by secret tunnels or passageways. It is now open for tourists. The guide books didn't list this as a prime site, so we took a few outside pictures and went on. (Upon doing more research later, this may have been a mistake - apparently it is very interesting.)

Antiquities

   

On the way to the Colosseum, we casually stopped in a church, of which there are many. This one didn't have a "no pictures" sign, and wasn't considered a tourist stop, but look what we found. (I think it may have been Chies del Jesù - Rome's first Jesuit church).

Monument Victor Emanuele dates from the late 1800s , built to honor the Italian unity of the separate city-states. It includes the tomb of the Italian Unknown Soldier, a museum, and other tourist facilities.

Continuing towards the Coloseum, we passed the Forum of Trajan, outside Trajan's Market that survived Nero's fire in 64AD.

You can see the several layers of excavation - for example, the fine brick (?) wall behind the heavy stone wall, and even a column still partially buried in the grass at the bottom, just off the tip of the street light.

A few blocks past the Colosseum we visited the Church of San Clemente, one of the more interesting churches in Rome. Unfortunately it strictly enforced a no picture policy, so here is an outside view, with the "upper" church from the 12th century at street level, built on top of the lower church from the 4th century - you can see the entry to the lower level, accessible from the door seen here about 5 feet below street level. But the lower level was built on top of Roman homes and shops dating back to the time before Christ, where early Christian met in homes rather than churches. (This part of Rome is in a valley, so the steet level has gradually risen over the centuries with erosion from the surrounding hills.) When you go through the lowest level (for a fee) you can still see the alleys between homes, and an underground spring still brings water to that now buried community. I would have loved to have been allowed to take indoor pictures!

We returned past the Colosseum, constructed around 72 AD, and at it's peak, seating about 50,000. One report said about 1/3 was still standing.

This is the other side of the Colosseum. Although much of the guts are gone, the amount that is still standing is amazing. When I was in Rome 25 years ago, this area at the base (with the vendor stands) was part of the highway around the Colosseum ... it appeared to be in the center of a traffic circle! The roads have fortunately been rerouted farther away. When we were in Germany we toured a smaller Roman Colosseum where the underground facilities were still complete, allowing us to appreciate where the gladiators, lions, and other competitors waited.

The Arch of Constantine, from 315 AD, is nearby. That is the Colosseum in the background on the right.

You can't leave Rome without seeing the fountains of Rome. On the way back to the hotel we stopped by the Trevi Fountain

Then we went on to the Spanish Steps. The first McDonalds in Rome is still about a block from here, but I maintained my record of never eating at a McDonalds in Italy.

At the foot of the Spanish Steps is another fountain, of course.

The water in the Roman fountains is drinking water, not recirculating water, so Jenny filled a water bottle, hoping that this was not the fountain with fertility powers.

Day 3 - Wednesday October 5 - Rome

St. Peter's, Try 2

Since our plan to tour St. Peter's on Tuesday was thwarted by the crowds, our plan for Wednesday was to make a quick tour of St. Peter's from 7 to 9, then take advantage of our pre-purchased tickets to the Vatican Museum at 9 am. As advised by the guard on Tuesday, at 6:30 on Wednesday, we joined the line to get into St. Peters. Finally we realized that this line is to get into the Plaza to hear the pope speak at 10:30, and we were behind people waiting to get a good seat. St. Peter's would not be open at all until afternoon. Second try at St. Peters wasn't going to work. The tickets to the Vatican Museum cannot be changed. Rome would be nice if the pope wouldn't interfere with our plans. Maybe on Thursday...

It was not even 7 am and our reservations for the Vatican Museum were not until 9 am, so fortunately the hotel was only a few blocks away, and we could go back to the room to relax, and cuss having gotten up so early. We were back at the Museum about 8:30, and the guards allowed us to enter the museum with a 9 am reservation.

Vatican Museum

The Vatican Museum is huge. If you tour briskly, you might walk through most of the rooms in 6 hours or so. The tour includes the Sistine Chapel, where the pope is elected (but the stove and chimney where the ballots are burned is only installed for the elections; not on display). I got some great pictures when I was there 25 years ago, especially with the famous ceiling half restored, but the "no pictures in the chapel" was strictly enforced this time. (Maybe later I will find the old pictures and digitize them).

Shortly after you enter the museum you can go out on a balcony overlooking the Vatican Gardens - numerous office buildings, walking paths, and even a train station on a private rail spur. From the balcony you can see St. Peter's Basilica Dome, which is large, but St. Peter's Church is so large that you cannot see the dome when you are near the building.

There was practically a whole building with ancient Greek, Roman, and other stonework, especially burial vaults. Interesting in life, but boring in pictures, so here is a sample.

More modern, as in Medieval and Renaissance, there were huge galleries of sculpture - busts, statues, and scenes. This is just one hallway of many, to hopefully show the scale of the museum.

   

And yes, we were really there

The weather was beautiful, so we took the opportunity to walk in several of the Museum Gardens

Most of the signs were in both Italian and English, but at the end of one garden path, there was a stairway down underground with a sign only in Italian. People seemed to be happy as they returned, so it probably wasn't an exit or torture chamber, so we went. It turned out to be the Vatican transportation museum, large enough to be a decent museum itself, so if you are interested, you can link to our garage tour.

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In countless rooms the art was the room itself, not just the pieces displayed in the rooms. The best artists of the day were commissioned to paint these rooms, some of which were used as "royal" residences before the Vatican Museum became a museum.

I am not ready to have this type of art painted in my home, but it sure is impressive

Note that the big light in the bottom of the picture is taller than the people in the room - at the height of the big doorways - the scale is huge.

   

The museum is not just history of Western or Christian Culture - This is a Japanese Shogun outfit on the right, and the dress-up outfit from a Chinese warrior on the left.

This stained glass window was displayed in front of an open window. It was amazing how many people were taking flash pictures, which would not show the beauty of the light coming through the glass.

It is also a bit of Science Museum. They not only explained embalming and mummification, but had an actual ancient mummy on display. (Many of the church altars in Rome have Saints or Popes in their altars - entire bodies or skeletons, not just a relic fragment. Of course, this guy was older than the saints).

Some of the art was new (if I remember right, about 60 rooms of new art). The metal sculpture told a story with three groups on each side of the room, approaching "heaven" in the center - at the right of this picture.

Many of the hallways are lined with hundreds (literally) of cabinets containing smaller items such as gifts collected by the popes. Most of the cabinets are painted institutional colors from the 1930s, but some are beautiful in themselves... I couldn't resist a picture of this open cabinet, even though the intent is to display the contents, not the cabinet. Gradually they are converting the cabinets from storage to display.

Here is one of the cabinets that has been converted to display ... long enough ago that it was time to clean and dust.

A barrier was placed in the hallway to keep the visitors back, a work table was brought in (marble, or course), the items were removed and dusted, and the case was cleaned. I was shocked that the workers were not wearing the usual protective cotton gloves. The guy behind the workers was a guard who paced back and forth as they worked.

On the way back to the hotel (now 4:45 pm - remember we were at St. Peters at 6:30 am) we walked by an ordinary apartment building a couple blocks from the Vatican. In the sidewalk were three brass plates

What a grim reminder but a great memorial to three people who were arrested here and sent to Auschwitz - a couple on October 16, 1943 (the husband was executed a week later), then they apparently came back for their son on April 16, 1944, who died March 19, 1945.

Day 4 - Thursday October 6 - Rome

St. Peter's Try 3

Today will mark the third assault on St. Peter's Basillica - to hopefully finally get to see it inside. Again we arrived at 6:30 am (and were not the first in line). At 6:45 they started clearing us through airport-like security - metal detectors, put the cameras and electronics on the counter for examination.

After clearing security we waited at the front door for the 7 am opening.

Looking back across the plaza, towards the river, the city was just starting to wake up

At 7 am the door opened - success at last. Sort of. Priests from all over the world were celebrating Mass at the dozens of altars around the church. Some had brought swarms of nuns and friends to celebrate with them. One was even saying mass alone. So... all those altars were closed. "No problem, the masses will be over by 8 am, and you will get to see everything."

While waiting we wandered, exploring the 30% that was still open to the public.

Despite the bullet proof glass added since my last visit, the Pieta was still beautiful, on the right as you enter.

The inside of the dome was spectacular. It is also high, 433 feet (43 stories) as we proved later when we climbed to the top (between the inner and outer layers of the dome).

It was pretty clear that everything would not be open by 8 am, but there was almost no line to go to the top of the dome, so we diverted again, and moved the climb ahead of the tour of St. Peter's.

You can take an elevator to the first level, about 10 stores up, and walk around a balcony inside the dome, looking down at St. Peter's. From this vantage point, you can see three of the many masses still being celebrated in the church below, despite being after 8 am.

One of the problems of a church this large is that the artwork has to be even larger to be seen from below. Note this huge mosaic on the balcony. One book explained that a typical statue, to seem "right" at ground level, needed to be 15 feet tall, but a statue above the first needed to be 25 feet tall to seem the "same" size.

We could also see them setting up for the "big mass" that was going to be celebrated at the main altar (behind the high altar) at 9:30. Note all the chairs added in the center for the officiants. When we later saw the procession (endless) we counted over 10 bishops in miters. When they took off their miters, the skull caps were scarlet. Thus the concelebrants appeared to be 10 cardinals, not merely bishops. Rumor later said that 50 or 60 Americans who had completed their studies in Rome were being ordained deacons. We met one of them, from Pennsylvania, celebrating at dinner with family and probably 50 friends (they took most of the restaurant where we were having dinner).

Not far above the balcony, you can walk on the roof, or take the 320 steps up (and another 320 down) to the top of the dome. The climb is interesting... at first you can stand vertically on the stairs, but as you go higher, the walls slope and the VERTICAL distance from the steps to the outside wall is less than 6 feet. For part of the climb, I had to walk with my shoulder sliding along the inside wall, my feet not directly under my body.

From the top you get a great view of St. Peter's Plaza, through the morning haze (it was only 8:45 am).

From the other side of the dome you get a good panorama of the Vatican grounds.

Back on the roof, these are the 12 foot tall statues you can see from the plaza.

Back inside, down from the cupola, you can see the 90 foot tall canopy over the "Papal" High Altar, well illuminated because of the ordination mass still going on at the main altar behind it.

After being "buried" under St. Peter's for over 40 years, The body of Pope John XXIII was exhumed, and brought to a "crystal" coffin under one of the Altars in St. Peter's. (His burial place was then available for Pope John Paul II in 2005.) There was a fairly continuous line of visitors to see his body, but the guards must have thought we had a special reverence for him... there were seats in front of that altar where we sat, waiting for the big Mass to end at 11:00, 11:30, 12:00, 1:00....

At 12:30 the ordination mass did end, and by 1:00 pm all the visitors had been ushered out, and the portable chairs were being removed. By about 1:30 we couldn't understand why the barrier was still up, and found a guard who said it would be closed for the rest of the day. And since it was closed, of course no visitors allowed to the crypt under the church.

Conclusion: the guards are very pleasant and unobtrusive, but they don't have a clue. One who spoke better English admitted that when he came to work that day, he had no idea how much would be closed for how long. We wasted a half day waiting to visit the crypt, based on the uninformed guesses of the guards. Yes, the lack of information, and misinformation (guesses) made us unhappy.

Done trying St. Peter's

Not enough fountains yet, so on to Plaza Navona, originally built as a track for chariot races, with this fountain at one end (Jenny was a recent addition to the fountain).

This fountain and Obelisk in the center of the Plaza

And this fountain at the other end.

Then on to the Pantheon - built in the Centuries before Christ, used to worship various Roman Gods, then converted to a Catholic Church in the early centuries of Christianity. From the outside (approaching from Plaza Navona) you can see the age of the structure.

On the inside, the statues of the Roman Gods have been replaced with Christian Sculpture, and the building has been well maintained.

This altar is not as fancy as those at St. Peter's, but it, and it's building, are many times as old.

The large dome has been standing for thousands of years, and was the inspiration for other church domes including St. Peter's. There is a hole in the top which proudly allows a circle of sunlight to shine on the inside walls, moving around depending on the position of the sun. Of course that hole in the dome also lets rain enter.

And the outside, at the other side, shows the thousands of years wear, but still firmly standing. Note how the flutes on the outside of the column are worn off, but still visible on the protected inside (next to the guy with the blue shirt).

One final fountain, in front of the Pantheon. An amazing place.

Day 5 - Friday October 7 - Florence

We checked out of our hotel in Rome, and caught the train to Florence. The new high speed train only takes a couple hours, flying along at about 250-260 km/hr (around 160 mph) - very much like the bullet trains in Japan. The trains are new, so the second class seats are very nice - so we were advised to not upgrade to first class on those trains.

Our hotel in Florence, the Hotel Bellettini, was similar to the hotel in Rome - upper floor with no street-level lobby - but not as nice. It was a half dozen blocks from the main train station, and a couple blocks from the landmark Duomo Cathedral in the center of the city. Off an entry vestibule on a small side street you take a few steps up to an old elevator door that you take a long way up one flight (to the first floor, as it is called here and in most countries). The elevator only holds 3 people if you are not overweight. We only got stuck in it once. The hotel lobby (the only place with WiFi) was furnished with comfortable chairs and sofas, none of which had springs (you sank to the floor). The included breakfast was good, and the evening desk clerk was wonderfully helpful, but the paint in the room was peeling, there were no pictures or decoration in the room, the furniture in the rooms had evolved to used junk, even though a decorator might have called them antiques. The bathroom (an option for which we paid extra) was almost as small as a travel trailer. (The shower in the middle went all the way across the middle of the room, and the shower curtains were short enough that the entire bathroom floor, from the toilet and bidet at the back, to the sink by the entry door, got soaked when you used the shower. Next time I would choose a different hotel.

Our plan for when we arrived on Friday afternoon was to visit the Accademia, the museum that houses the famous 17 foot tall marble David statue by Michelangelo. Even Jenny agreed that the original is far more impressive than the copies (and even plaster casts) that we have seen. However, the museum strictly enforced the "no picture" policy, so this is a picture from the Internet. (I will have to eventually find my slides from 25 years ago, and digitize them).

David was not the only feature of the museum - there were many tutorial exhibits on painting and sculpture techniques, including making plaster and bronze copies, using historical examples. There was also a special exhibit of musical instruments including several by Stradivarius.

The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, known to everyone as Duomo for the dominant dome that can be seen from "everywhere" is certainly impressive, and was only a short distance from our hotel. That dome, completed in 1436, was the largest in the world - larger than St. Peter's in Vatican City, larger than the Pantheon in Rome, larger than St. Paul's in London, larger than the US Capitol in DC, until new technology allowed stadium size domes to be constructed. (Of course, how many of the new stadium domes do you expect to still be standing in 575 years.)

The only rain of the trip occurred while we were in the Accademia museum, and ended before our walk back to the hotel, so things are wet and dark when we came back past Duomo, around dinner time.

The tower is just to the right of the main church. The baptistry is a separate building in front of the church (better pictures later in the trip)

As we were walking, Jenny saw some beautiful fabric in a store window, and went in. She has good taste. It was Valentino fabric, at €250 per meter - roughly $350 per yard. The store was fun... they had a collection of antique cash registers, and even had a hand loom that customers occasionally operate. The owner was delightful.

Day 6 - Saturday October 8 - Florence

Saturday was dedicated to the Uffizi - an art museum built in 1581 (yes, 430 years ago) - probably the world's oldest museum. (Be sure to get your tickets in advance.) Start by climbing two long flights of stairs to the beginning of the galleries. The first part was poorly labeled identical size portraits of popes and politicians, hung along the ceiling. Then we learned that these were copies of larger portraits, the copies made by famous artists of the 1500s, in matching size and style, for the Medici, and displayed that way in their palace. No photos again, but there were lots of copies of famous sculptures, by contemporary masters, sized to the requirements of the Medici's interior decorators. The Medici didn't seem to worry about having a copy rather than an original if they were well done, nor were copyrights a concern.

Half way through (following the museum map) you could look out on a great view of the Ponte Vecchio bridge, but more important, could see the private passageway from the Pitti Palace on the other side of the Arno River, over the bridge, and into the Uffizi (which was the Florence Town hall in addition to the museum). Lots of people cheated and used their cameras, like we did, for this picture.

Initially built by the Romans, the Ponte Vecchio bridge is lined with shops originally favored by butchers, who simply dumped their offal into the river. The smell was bad, so in 1595 the Medicis prohibited butchers from selling there, and the shops have primarily been occupied by goldsmiths since.

The lines on the museum map that suggested we were half way through were deceptive... countless extra rooms and corridors in the second half showed a vastly larger collection of artwork. Further, construction is under way to drastically expand the museum - apparently a large portion of their collection is simply in storage.

Outside of the Uffizi is the Plaza Vecchio - the old city hall.

From here we could see the tourists at the top of the Duomo - look at the metal rail just above the orange tiles. Having climbed St. Peter's Dome, we didn't want to bother with this one, even though it is slightly larger.

As we wandered the streets on the south side of the Arno river, we happened on this "7-11 in a box" in a residential area. We were impressed. Three vending machines (or some would say, two vending machines and a coffee machine) plus a microwave oven available to patrons. It offered groceries (pasta, milk, wine, cheese, cookies, mustard, mayonnaise, bread, etc.), batteries, shampoo, deodorant, shaving cream, razors, and even ready-to-heat dinners.

Wandering back towards our hotel, the Arno River seemed particularly peaceful
 

Day 7 - Sunday October 9 - Florence

Sunday morning we attended Mass at the cathedral - Duomo. Their biggest concern is that nobody get in without paying tourist admission. We apparently looked sufficiently prayerful, and joined the small congregation, but were ushered out quickly after mass - no looking around. Jenny discovered that the "bulletin" had the readings in four languages, but the mass itself, and the sermon, was in Italian.

The octagonal baptistry is a separate facility in front of Duomo, rebuilt in it's current size and style in 1059.

The doorway called the Gates of Paradise by Michelangelo include 10 gold plated panels with old testament scenes, carved in 3D using perspective (a radical new technique at the time). Surrounding the 10 primary panels are statues and busts, the two in the center (just below the tour guide's pointer) are the artist and his father. It was built from 1425 to 1452 by Ghiberti. Don't tell anyone that the originals have been moved to a museum for preservation, and these are only copies... the protective steel fence (lowered to only about 5 feet tall during the day) is still raised at night.

This set of baptistry doors (four of the eight sides have doors) are less dramatic, but historically very significant.

Being a baptistry, we need statues of a baptism. I haven't figured out how John the Baptist happens to be carrying a cross... that seemed to come a lot later.

As we wandered in the city, the market by the old Roman Gate was having a wine tasting festival. Buy a souvenier glass for €5, and get as much free sample wine as you want from the vendors from various wineries. We saw that approach in Sydney Australia, but weren't planning on staying in the area today long enough to enjoy it.

I doubt if there is anything significant about this building, but both of us thought it was very pretty as we were walking around.

Doesn't every market have a high arched roof with sculptures in the columns?

Back at city hall (Plaza Vecchio) there are quite a few outdoor sculptures. Outdoors means there is not way to keep people from taking pictures. This one is the "Rape of the Sabine Women."

This one is part of a fountain

This amazing area is basically outdoors - we saw a wedding party gathering, apparently for a Justice of the Peace type wedding.

Notice the details on the top part of the columns.

Back outside the Uffizi, Jenny was intrigued by the the series of statues of famous people of the period, each in an alcove in the columns around the courtyard.

Okay, can you identify the mime, looking for a contribution?

The end of the Uffizi courtyard (location of the statues), towards the river, has an attractive arch.

About a block away is the Gallieo Museum. The Obelisk in the courtyard is a combination sun-dial (clock) and calendar. My $15 quartz crystal wristwatch is easier to use.

I don't think this statue dates from ancient Rome! One soldier protecting his wounded comrade during the Liberation of Italy (World War II?)

We decided to walk along the old Roman wall to "Michelangelo Park" overlooking the city. It may honor him, but that is not were he lived or played.

The park did have an outdoor copy of the Michelangelo "David" statue

And a pretty spectacular view of the city including City Hall (Plaza Vecchio)

And a view of Duomo, from which you can see how massive the Cathedral, Tower, and Baptistry (behind the tower) really are.

I am not even sure what this little church is... we missed visiting one!

Back in town, we did discuss where our next trip might be - perhaps to some country just emerging from behind the iron curtain, that isn't yet swamped with tourists. The only native may be the policeman. Note how everyone loves the gelato (ice cream).

Day 8 - Monday October 10 - Venice

Monday was a day-trip to Venice by train. The trains are great, but see the challenges of buying tickets with American credit cards. We left Florence at 8:30 and arrived at 10:33.

As you probably know, Venice is a series of islands, the main island has no cars (or grass or trees). The main streets are rivers (or does that make the main island of Venice many separate islands?). The busses are big boats, the taxis are smaller boats.

The tourists and romantics take a gondola for a price that would allow you to buy the boat.

The pedestrian streets have bridges (up the stairs and back down) over each river.

If you live here, you may have a small motor boat tied up at your front door.

We decided to walk across the island (not a big deal) to Saint Mark's on the side opposite the train station. Along the way, we enjoyed the architecture and street scenes.

Half way to St. Mark's, the Rialto bridge crosses the central "Grande Canal"

The Rialto is covered with stores, reminiscent of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence

I wasn't prepared for how huge St. Marks is - I was expecting "just another big church."

There is no fee to enter St. Mark's, and (thankfully) the line wasn't long. Of course, once you are in, there is a fee to see the treasury with the plunder from the 4th Crusade (end of the 12th century), a separate fee for the museum, a fee to see the gold altar, etc. And as seems to be common in Italy, no pictures allowed.

Notice the variety of materials in the entry columns.

After paying an extra fee to see the famous Gold Pala (Altar Piece - normally hung behind the altar or on the front of the altar) I didn't feel too guilty sneaking a picture like most of the other visitors. It was started about about 1000 AD and work continued over 300 years, ultimately including almost 2000 precious stones in addition to the gold.

Evangelist St. Mark's remains are entombed in the high altar, as seen in this surreptitiously taken picture. In 828 A.D. two merchants from Venice, who had stopped in Alexandria to pray at St. Mark's Tomb, stole the body, hid it in pork and vegetables to avoid Muslim control, and brought it to Venice where the church was built to house it.

These are the stairs from the ground level to the balcony level of the church, where the Museum is located (and where we got the pictures from the outdoor balcony). I suspect they realize that by the time you climb the stairs, you are going to be willing to pay the fee, not just say "that's too much" and go back down.

We strolled back to the train station, planning to make our reservation and buy a ticket, then eat an early dinner before taking the train, but the next train left in 10 minutes, at 4:27, so we took it, and were back in Florence at 6:30 for dinner.

Day 9 - Tuesday October 11 - Florence

When we were in Venice we met a couple listening to the free Rick Steves Audio Guide to the Museum. The application, and the data files for various attractions, are large, so we waited until we were back at the hotel (free broadband connection) to download it. We tried a Florence walking tour... the pictures have largely been shown, above, but our enjoyment and understanding skyrocketed. We will be sure to download similar guides in the future, before we leave home.

Day 10 - Wednesday October 12 - Return

This was a painfully long day. Grab a quick breakfast at the hotel at 7:15 (breakfast didn't officially start until 7:30) so we could catch an 8:10 train to Rome (arriving at 10:33), walk to the far end of the Rome train station to catch the train to the airport. Go through security for British Airways to London. Go through Security for the American flight to Chicago, plus get profiled twice by American Airlines. Go through customs and immigration in Chicago, then go through Security in Chicago for our flight to Austin. That last time through security they found a small pocket knife that I had tossed in Jenny's purse, and had forgotten to move to our suitcase. Sure glad all the previous security checks were so thorough that they missed a pocket knife.

It was around 1 am by the time we arrived home, and close to 2 am by the time we were settled in bed. We should be pleased that we could get up at 6:00 am in Florence, and land in Austin the same day (by minutes, taking advantage of 7 hours time change). Or looked at another way, we were up for 27 hours. But all our connections were tight, so we were tense and more tired than usual. Sure it isn't fun to have a 5 hour layover like some previous trips, but I don't like a tight international connection either, like we had on this trip.

Overall it was a great trip. Jenny is already planning our return - perhaps we will get to the St. Peter's crypt the next time.

And just for the record (Jenny wears a pedometer), we walked over 70 miles if you count our trip over...

Date Steps Miles Comment
Sun Oct 2 Forgot to record departure thru Austin, Chicago, etc.
Mon Oct 3 9,702 4.28 Through London, Arrive in Rome (late)
Tue Oct 4 28,199 12.46 Walk Rome
Wed Oct 5 20,939 9.25 Vatican Museum day
Thu Oct 6 16,824 7.43 St. Peters, then more walk Rome
Fri Oct 7 8,994 3.97 Train to Florence, then David Museum
Sat Oct 8 15,606 6.89 Uffizi Museum, them walk Florence
Sun Oct 9 16,755 7.40 Walk Florence
Mon Oct 10 16,488 7.28 Venice
Tue Oct 11 11,945 5.27 Easy day in Florence
Wed Oct 12 11,306 4.99 Mostly in Airports
Total 156,758 69.22
Average 15,676 6.92

 


In case you missed them, or want to go back to them again, these "extra" pages were referenced in this travelogue:

A page on the vehicles in the Pope's Garage

A page on food and eating in Italy

A page on Changing Money, Credit Cards, and buying Tickets for museums and trains

A page on Guide Books and Audio Guides - lessons learned from Italy

Extra notes and comments based on your feedback

 


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