Dave and Danielle arrived a few days before Christmas, and we spent about half a week here in Rome enjoying the city and celebrating the 2000-and-change-th birthday of Jesus. Wow he is old. There are A LOT of things to see here, and we didn't get through half the city in that time. A little bit of that was due to the need for recuperation from jet lag and a semester full of Italian lectures, but nonetheless we were blessed with uncharacteristically beautiful weather while we painted the streets with a little American red, white, and blue.
|Typical moment of my vacation. Danielle and I sneakily taking photos of Dave taking photos.|
|Danielle is a statue.|
|After over six months in Rome, I FINALLY went inside to check out the Colosseum. A pretty impressive sight to behold, and still in wonderment as to how something like this could have been built.|
|Not a bad view.|
|What is the difference between this picture...?|
|And this picture?|
|A view we got of St. Peter's and the Tiber River on our walk back to the College from the Spanish Steps. You can see the Christmas tree lit up in St. Peter's square.|
I'm looking through my photos and it doesn't look like I took that many of Rome. Blast. Besides these sights, we also saw three of the four papal basilicas, including St. Mary Major which I had never been into before, as well as the Pantheon (although we couldn't go in b/c it was closed at the time...bummer), Piazza Navona, a few other random churches, and I don't remember what else... By far the coolest thing we did in Rome was celebrate the midnight Christmas Mass with the Holy Father in St. Peter's basilica.
As Providence would have it, we finally got into the basilica with our tickets 20 minutes before Mass and were seated behind the main altar looking forward toward the front nave, about 50 feet from the pope. I was so excited that Dave and Danielle were able to have this moment and such close proximity in their first ever "pope experience". I am continually blown away and grateful for the visible unity of the Church which gathers around its shepherd, the one whose apostolic patrimony links the entire church directly to Peter the Apostle. I know I've said it before, but moments like this are always an awesome reality to be able to participate in, and one of the many reasons I love so much being Catholic.
Being in St. Peter's Square before Mass on the eve of Christ's birth was a little surreal, but there is a unique atmosphere which draws you in when you are amidst so many pilgrims gathering and waiting for a papal celebration of the Mass. I was wearing my cassock (the long black robe with Roman collar), which never fails to attract attention. Generally one of the more common reactions to someone wearing priest garb is, "Ah yes, look at him there he must know all the answers, let's go ask". So while I stood in line some of these questions from random people included, "Do you have any extra tickets?" and, "What is going on here tonight? How do we get in? Do we have to pay?" and, "Where is the end of the line?". But I also found myself in the brief position of English-Italian translator/interpreter between the basilica staff and the family in line behind us, as well as soundboard for someone upset that so many people were cutting the line. I couldn't tell if he expected me to rectify the situation, all I was thinking was that I would make a more convincing bouncer if I were 6'5" and 300 lbs. The Mass itself was beautiful and moving, of course it was EXCELLENT to be seated so closely to the Holy Father. Afterward we came back to the NAC for a little College tradition of midnight Christmas hot chocolate and panettone (Italian Christmas bread). A great way to finish off a great evening, and the perfect start to the celebration of Christmas.
We slept in and Skyped the parental units on Christmas day, then did some more strolling around town and lazing about. I was surprised, I thought more shops would be closed on Christmas day, but there were many open for business, especially around St. Peter's Square. We even managed to swing by the standard NAC dessert shop, the Frigidarium, so that D2 could have their first experience of gelato. I kept thinking of my dad as we got the most chocolatey-chocolate flavors. Nom nom nom.
We skipped town the morning of the 26th on the bullet train headed for Florence. A bit of an interesting morning, Danielle was almost sliced in half by the bus door while we were changing buses (not really), and we almost missed the train, but we spared ourselves the hassle of re-booking by about three minutes. I was a little bummed with our time in Florence, only because it was cloudy and rainy almost the entire time we were there. In comical fashion, we emerged from our hotel the morning of departure to sunny blue skies. Naturally.
|Better view of the nave. The Duomo is over 500 feet in length, which makes it one of the longest churches in the world. No worries though, St. Peters is about 375 feet wider and 225 feet longer than the Duomo.|
|But when you finally get to the top, what a great view of Florence!|
|>The two lovebirds.|
|A nice perspective shot. I patted myself on the back for this one.|
|Actually, going down the dome was even scarier than going up! You can see where you'll be landing if you misplace a step.|
|Giotto's campanile. It, the cathedral, and the baptistery are clad with green, white, and pink Tuscan marble.|
|We meandered down to the Ponte Vecchio as day turned into dusk, which made for some nice photos.|
|Like this one, which is what the walkway of Ponte Vecchio looks like around Christmastime.|
|More of Florence riverfront property.|
|Taking more photos of Dave taking photos.|
|While we were up on the Piazzale Michelangelo I snuck this photo of Dave and Danielle which I thought was framed nicely.|
One of the other bummers about Florence is that most of the cool stuff seems to cost money to get into, including a few of the churches (which personally I think is a little scandalous...), and in many places the staff are really strict about you not taking pictures. We were able to see both the Accademia and the Uffizi, which are among the more well-known galleries in Europe, particularly in Italy. Unfortunately, I don't have any shots of some of the spectacular things we saw in them, like Michelangelo's David and many of Caravaggio's famous works. Alas, neither can I project my mental images onto this computer screen, although I hear that at some point in seminary they teach us to do these things. In the meantime I'll give you a short book report and you can use your imagination and Google Images to complete the story.
The Uffizi was built for the famous Medici family in the latter half of the 16th century as an administrative office of sorts for Florentine politicians and VIPs of the day. But Cosimo Medici also wanted a place to show off the family's substantial art collection, so the family began gathering and / or commissioning great works of art for this building, allowing visitors a tour of all things grand. The collections slowly began to take over more and more parts of the building until eventually the entire Uffizi became a gallery of epic proportions. Walking through the main corridors of this building you will most certainly see entirely fresco'ed ceilings from beginning to end, as well as hundreds of Roman marble statues and busts from the 1st and 2nd centuries. The gallery also contains various works from some of the most impressive names in European Renaissance art, including Giotto, Boticelli, da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, and Caravaggio.
The Accademia is a much smaller gallery, built also by the Medici family and intended as the premier Florentine art school in the 16th century. Today its prize piece is the original David by Michelangelo (as impressive in person as it is in the photos). The attendants were super strict about no photos whatsoever being taken of this statue, so I can't provide one. Also here are some of Michelangelo's unfinished marble works in progress, which were so interesting to see! Four statues called the "Prisoners", which were intended for Pope Julius II's tomb, and one of St. Matthew the Apostle.
For the sake of moving things along, I'll post this now and finish the second half of our vacation in a second post. I need to gather more photos and do some more writing!