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Thanksgiving in Rome  

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Friday, November 24

I woke-up this morning without having to worry about what we were going to do - the reason was we had an 8-hour walking tour with Scala Reale. But I had forgotten what we were suppose to be touring today. After breakfast we gathered in the hotel lobby to wait for Gregory. Promptly at 9 a.m. he walked through the door.

He asked if there was anything in particular we would like to see and suggested we start our tour at Santa Maria Maggiore. I let him know we had already been there and he quickly changed plans. I did suggest that we would like to visit St. Peter in Chains and San Clemente. 

Let me give you a little background on Gregory. He has lived in Rome for five years. He originally came to Rome with a friend who was flunking out of college and came for a summer of intense Latin. Gregory (not Greg mind you) came along and decided to stay. I believe he must be an art student although I don't remember if he ever told us. What I do know is that when it comes to art he is an expert! I learned as much in this single day as I did in a semester of Art Appreciation in college. And Gregory is very passionate on the subject. He almost literally dragged us from one site to the next so that we could get in as much as possible. He also would criticize (and rightfully) people taking pictures of paintings with a flash. 

What do I think of Gregory's performance as a guide: Positive) He is very passionate, knows his stuff, friendly, patient, pleasant, seems to enjoy his work; Negative) Needed to communicate itinerary for the day and in his eagerness tended to "drag" you along. Overall, I would highly recommend Gregory as a guide and wouldn't hesitate to make use of his services again.

Personally, I don't see why people try to take a picture of a picture: 1) the pictures you take don't come out that well, 2) using a flash is very destructive, 3) its much cheaper and you get a much better picture by buying either postcards or a book of photos. I purchased several books of photos for less than the price of getting two rolls of film developed.

So what did we see today? 

St Peter in Chains and Michelangelo's Moses - The main reason I wanted to visit this church was to see the carving of Moses by Michelangelo. Be sure to have some coins to turn on the lights (many places have coin-operated devices that will light up the paintings/statues for 5 to 10 minutes). Moses has horns! This was due to a mistranslation of the Hebrew text in the 16 century. In the Bible it states that Moses face shown with beams of light when he descended from the mountain. I believe the word "beam" was mistranslated as "horn". The church also contains two sets of chains which supposedly held Peter and Paul while in prison.

Baths of Titus - We walked past these on our way to St. Clemente. 

St. Clemente - The most interesting part of this church is the basements. There are actually three buildings built atop one another. The sub basement is a Roman "Mithra" worship site. Mithra was a "secret" religion that was very popular among the military. The next level up contains the remains of an early Christian Church. The walls are covered with ancient frescos. One of the frescos includes the earliest know writings of the Italian language. The writing is on part of the Fresco that would have been covered over by the floor and thus would not have been seen by the ancient worshippers. It was obviously put there by the workmen knowing that no-one would ever see what they wrote. The fresco shows two men carrying a large stone column (workmen). In comic bubbles above their heads one is saying to the other, "Pick the damn thing up, its heavy." The other man replies, "Shut up, you S.O.B." Wouldn't that make you proud of your language?

Exiting St. Clemente we found that it had started raining very heavily. Gregory said wait a few moments and a Pakistani man would come by and sell you an umbrella. Sure enough, a few minutes later here he came. Gregory, Jody, and Margaret all purchased umbrellas after haggling with the man for a few minutes. Pat and Sallie both had panchos they had brought along. Alan and I both had waterproof jackets with hoods so we were set.

We waited on the street for 10 minutes for a taxi but none passed that were available. Finally, Gregory suggest that we walked to the Colosseum a few blocks away and get a taxi at the taxi stand. We took two taxis from the Colosseum to the Pantheon. The cost of our taxi (with 3 people) was less than $5.

We toured the Pantheon and were all very impressed with this marvelous building. In fact, it is probably the most impressive building in Rome. We also saw the grave of Rafael.

Afterwards, we walked a few blocks to the Church of St. Ignaisius, the founder of the Jesuits. The church contains a magnificent false dome.

It was approaching 12:30 and Gregory hurried us along to the church of San Luigi dei Francesi which contains paintings of St. Matthew by Caravaggio. Not knowing our schedule Sallie, Jody, Margaret, and Alan stopped to buy gelato. Pat and I continued on with Gregory as the church was about to close. The two of us were able to see the paintings while the rest of the group stayed outside and ate their ice cream.

Our next stop was in the Piazza Navona with the Fountain of Four Rivers. The Piazza was originally a race course and still retains the shape. Gregory explained the history of the fountain and the church that it faces - it seems that one was built by Bernini and the other by Barmini and that neither man really liked the other.

There was also a man wrapped in a skin tight gold suit with an Egyptian mask standing on a box in the square. In front of him was a box in which you could throw a coin. If you placed a coin in the box he would very slowly bow - other than this he never moved. Gregory rightly stated that the man knew that Italian boys would gladly throw in money to see something this foolish. Jody, being the big Italian (sarcasm), threw in a coin and we were rewarded with a bow.

It was now time for lunch and Gregory took us to a small restaurant nearby. The food was very good and very reasonable. Sallie ordered a potato pasta dish and I ordered a large salad and we split the two dishes. Alan had a spinach-filled ravioli with pumpkin sauce. This tasted good (very sweet) but I don't think I would order it myself. Jody ordered a steak (beef, not horse - which was on the menu) and Pat and Margaret each had pasta.

After lunch Gregory pointed out a talking stone. In ancient Rome there were several stones scatter around the city on which people were free to place messages. The stones were dedicated to themes such as politics or religion. The one we saw was a "religious" stone and had several pro and con messages concerning the Roman Catholic Church.

We then got two taxies to take us to the Vatican Museum. I had read how at times it took 2+ hours just to get inside the museum due to the crowds. We walked right in, purchased tickets, and were on our way. The museum is huge and you could easily spend a whole day seeing all the exhibits. Gregory, being an art expert, concentrated on the works of art. He did skip the Egyptian exhibit with the mummies which I would have enjoyed seeing. What he did cover he covered in detail. I could write pages about the paintings, tapestries, sculptures, maps, engravings, etc. that we saw and he explained - but I won't.

The main reason that everyone goes to the Vatican Museum is to see the Sistine Chapel - but take your time and enjoy the museum. Outside the chapel are posters showing the paintings. Gregory used one of these to explain everything in great detail. Inside the Sistine Chapel you are not suppose to talk - but everyone whispers and occasionally a voice over a loud speaker reminds everyone in 142 languages (seemingly) to shut their traps.. 

A restoration of the paintings was completed recently and they now look as if just painted. Soot had blackened the paintings over the centuries has been carefully removed leaving behind the brilliant colors. Gregory informed us that art historians are re-evaluating Michelangelo's use of color based upon what has been reveled. Two small sections were left covered in soot to show how it looked formerly. The difference is astounding. The soot turned the brilliant paintings into dim, black drawings.

The chapel was fairly crowded with people - probably the most crowded place on the trip. Along the walls are benches where you may sit and stare upwards. We all sat and stared. After twenty minutes of staring and beginning to get a neck cramp (plus the place was about to close) we left. We exited the Chapel right next to the ticket booth to climb the dome of St. Peter's. We had already thoroughly toured St. Peter's on our own but Gregory had a few items he wanted to show us.

As we were entering St. Peter's Sallie and I were goofing off which resulted in a Gregory rebuking us. Once inside we took another look at the Pieta. Alan and I stopped to take a picture and lost the rest of the group. The church was fairly crowded and we couldn't spot them anywhere. We walked to the center of the church and were headed back to the front doors before we finally found them.

After showing us a few other items in the Church our 8-hour tour was finished. Outside, we paid Gregory for the day, and parted ways. It had been raining all day and was still drizzling steadily. We walked across the square and spent some time in a large book shop / souvenir shop. I purchased a book of pictures showing Rome and a "Then and Now" Book. This book has pictures with plastic overlays. The overlays show how Rome looked 2000 years ago and the picture shows the same site today.

We were all very tired by this time and thought about getting a taxi back to the hotel instead of trudging to the Metro. There was long line at the Taxi stand and we decided not to wait. We completely figured out the Metro by this time and soon found ourselves back at the hotel.

After a short rest, during which a thunderstorm came through, we went to the pizza place on the corner to buy supper. Tonight we bought pizza, rice balls, stuffed tomatoes with rice), water, etc. and brought the food back to hotel and ate in the large lobby. Afterwards, we played Spades for several hours with Sallie and Margaret vs. Jody and John.

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