Our Own Hop-On Hop-Off Tour of Berlin

Day 18, Thursday, September 12, 2019

First stop today is Potsdamer Platz which is an area that used to be the Dead Zone when the Berlin Wall was in place. After the wall came down these three skyscrapers were built and became the focal point for this new area.
There are some pieces of the Berlin Wall here and for some strange reason they are plastered with wads of chewing gum left by visitors. Notice behind the wall is the Canadian Embassy.
The display was very informative. Bob knows a lot more about the history of Berlin than I do so I found these panels quite interesting. This one shows the Dead Zone, which was the unoccupied area around the Berlin Wall, and the developed area now.
The cobbled line Bob is standing on is where the Berlin Wall used to be located. We walk to the Sony centre and find this interesting building that has part of an old hotel interior enclosed in glass as part of its exterior wall. Wow! This LEGO giraffe is the biggest giraffe I have ever seen… and Bob found a pretty huge Angry Bird! We make our own Hop-On Hop-Off tour by catching the #100 bus. First stop is the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. It was destroyed by the bombing in WWII and is now an anti-war memorial to peace and reconciliation. This is what the church used to look like.The little bit of the interior that remains is covered in beautiful mosaics… even the floor is completely decorated with mosaic tiles.  It must have been an incredibly beautiful church.Outside we see this memorial for the victims of a terrorist attack on December 19, 2016 on the steps of the Memorial Church,  A stolen truck was driven into the crowd at the Christmas Market and twelve people were killed and seventy were seriously injured. The names of the deceased are engraved on the steps and the bronze crack represents the fracture the attack inflicted on society.  It is like a scar and shows that healing and everyday life are possible, but we should not ignore or forget the scars we bear and what caused them.  We walk inside the Memorial Church and I am quite overcome.  Something about this space moved me to tears. It is unlike anything I have seen before. This Christ figure was beautiful. There is a concert here tonight and we sit for a while listening to the two organists practicing for tonight’s performance. You can see them in this photo.  To listen to the organ music click this link. The walls are made of 22,200 panes of stained glass and each pane is made of many individual glass pieces. The floor is covered in circles of many colours and sizes. It made me think that all those little pieces of glass and all the circles on the floor could represent people who have died and are memorialized in this church.The outside walls show how each piece of glass is embedded in mortar within each individual pane. The outside of this church gives no hint of the vibrant colours inside. We walk down the broad boulevard between the lanes of traffic. Here is a view looking back towards the bombed church.

We were looking for the KaDeWa department store. With over 60,000 square metres of selling space, it is the second largest department store in Europe after Harrods in London. We make our way up to the sixth floor and find a whole floor of yummy things to eat. Too bad there are no gluten, dairy and egg free options for me.

We have noticed that European men like colourful socks. Here is what fashionable girls are wearing in Berlin.  We continue our tour on a double decker bus.  This is the first time we have sat up front on the top of one of these busses. !t does give a different viewpoint. Bob notices something strange about this stop sign. We drive through the centre of a huge park and around this monument. The Victory Column with Victoria, the Goddess of Victory in the centre of the Tiergarten park is one of Berlin’s most famous landmarks.We drive past the spot where the old book market was yesterday. Bob did a bit of research and discovered that this is the University where Eisnstein and the Brothers Grimm taught and where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles studied . It was also the site of the burning of thousands of books by the Nazis in 1933. Next stop is Alexanderplatz, a large public square and popular gathering place in Berlin. We find a bench for a tea break and witness a little drama unfolding behind us. It took eleven police officers over half an hour to move this fellow in handcuffs from beside the fence to the police wagon. There was lots of interviewing of bystanders and note taking but we don’t have a clue what it is all about. This is the view in front of us.I wanted to go to the top of the Berlin TV Tower but it cost €16 which is almost $24 each. That seemed a bit too much. The Neptune Fountain is is very ornate.

We manage to get on a bus going in the wrong direction on our way home, so we hop off and decide to take the subway instead. It is faster and easier to figure out than the bus system.

Berlin, Germany

Day 15, Monday, September 9

I am still not feeling well and spend the day in bed resting and watching a Netflix series. Bob binge watches a series on Netflix, reads and rests too. Guess we both needed a quiet day.

 

Day 16, Tuesday, September 10

Another quiet day, but I do manage a couple blog posts and we go out for much needed groceries.

Our Berlin bnb is on the fifth floor, without an elevator!  Every window we look out of we only see trees. It feels a bit like we are living in a treehouse. This is the view from our living room window. Day 17, Wednesday, September 11, 2019

We want to go to central Berlin, but first we need to figure out the public transportation system.  Finally figure out that there is a 7 day pass that gives unlimited travel on all the busses, metros and trains. There are beautiful big trees in our neighbourhood but I have no idea what kind they are. We also notice that the leaves have begun to fall so I guess summer is really over.

We caught the wrong train so we end up at the main train station, which is huge and modern looking. There is a big food court here where we have something to eat before we start exploring.The Parliament building has a huge dome on the top that requires a reservation to climb. We book a Friday tour and then find a nice park to sit and have tea and cookies.  I am moving a bit slow today so lots of rests are in order.

This is the Brandenburg Gate. It was built in 1791, and was modelled after the Acropolis in Athens. Hundreds of thousands of people celebrated before the Brandenburg Gate as the Berlin Wall fell on November 9th, 1989.  Since the end of the Cold War, the Gate has come to represent German unity and freedom.       We think these protestors were in support of the Chinese government’s actions in Hong Kong.
This huge wall garden was a colourful surprise. We walk to the Gendarmenmarkt which is an 18th century square used for gatherings and events. On either side there are two identical churches. The one in the photo is the German Cathedral, the Deutscher Dom. It was heavily bombed in the second World War and has been restored as a museum with displays on the parliamentary democracy of Germany.  Bob noticed this reflection in the door to the German Church of the identical French Church across the square. We went in for a look and somehow got separated. The place is a bit of a maze and I felt like I was never going to find Bob or my way out!  That did it for me… I went and waited outside and Bob had a look around. This photo he took shows some of the old building and the reconstructed concrete parts, and one of the crazy stairways that I got lost on!

A quick peek into the Konzerthaus where the Berlin Philharmonic plays. For some reason the lighting turned green when I took the photo. We both thought the seating looked rather uncomfortable. This is the French Cathedral directly opposite the German one. It was closed for renovation so no idea what was in there.There was outdoor market of old books, postcards and papers in front of the building below. There were some rather interesting erotic postcards from the early 1900’s!  We did better this time and found the right metro line to get home. 

 

 

Slawenburg Raddusch, A Nordic Fort In Germany

Day 14, Sunday, September 8, 2019

We were both tired last night so we left our packing and cleaning until this morning. By noon we are on our way to Berlin. We stop at truck stop just before the Polish border to get lunch at a KFC and spend what Polish money we have left.  I have never seen so many trucks in one place! There are nine rows of trucks like this parked here. There are lots and lots of trucks on Polish highways! We pass by lots of trees that appear to be grown for timber. Their lower branches have been trimmed so that the trunks grow straight.Not far into Germany we stop at Slawenburg Raddusch, which is a reconstruction of a fort built by Slavic people in the 9th and 10th Centuries. It is surrounded by a moat for added protection.

There were about 40 of these forts in this area. They were used to store food supplies and act as places of refuge during attacks.

We find this huge fellow on our walk to the fort.  A 10 m wide wall was built in a circle.  Long oak beams were alternately stacked in a criss-crossed direction and the spaces between the logs were filled with earth and stones. The almost circular inner surface with a diameter of 36 m. originally contained a few small houses and four wells. This well is 40 feet deep. In the wells were found: ceramic fragments, knives, lance tips, whetstones, sledgehammers, bone skates, wooden mallets, spades and a rare, valuable brass bowl. The walls of this reconstructed fort use concrete, so the interior of the walls is  a museum where the artifacts found in this area are on display. We climb to the top of the wall which offers a great view of the surrounding landscape.  In the 1980s, this area was strip mined for coal.  Before the giant excavators ate their way through the landscape, archeologists found that the Slavs were not the first settlers in this place. Under the wall, Germanic remains from the 5th / 6th century were found. The earliest findings, however, date back to 2200 -800 B.C. Unfortunately the strip mining destroyed most of the archaeological remains in the area along with 50 villages that were here before the mining started. Imagine displacing all those people to mine coal! This model shows what the original fort would have looked like… and how it was constructed. The dirt used to fill the walls came from around the base of the fort and created the moat. The “Götze von Raddusch”, an idol from 926 A.D.,made from an oak split-beam with a head-like finish and a perforation in the chest area was found  in the excavation of the youngest well. This was a rare find. I thought these straight pins for sewing were pretty amazing, considering they are so ancient. Here is a view of part of the museum with its large display of pottery,,, and burial pits, where cremated remains were placed along burial gifts for the deceased. I was intrigued by the shapes of some of the pottery. All the pottery was made by hand without the aid of a potter’s wheel. I wonder what these pots were used for? The tour was great. We rented an audio guide for €1.5 and it was very well done. We got so much more out of the display because it. We managed to finish our visit through the museum just as it was closing at 6:00 pm. We see lots of wind-farms on our way to Berlin. We arrive in Berlin as it is getting dark and check into our home for the next two weeks.

 

The Largest Wooden Church in Europe and Książ Castle, Poland

Day 13, Saturday September 7, 2019

I realized that I forgot to put a link to our apartment in Wroclaw so here it is for those of you who are curious about the apartments we are staying in. Yesterday I started not feeling very well with a bit of a sore throat and a very tight chest. We had planned on going to the zoo today but it is cool and raining so we decide to take little road trip instead. I didn’thave the energy to walk around a zoo in the rain today. The smaller highways are often lined with trees which I think are very picturesque.

First stop is…

A Unesco World Heritage site, the Lutheran Church of Peace in Swidnica was built in the mid-17th century and can hold up to 7,500 people. It was built without any nails.

“The Church of Peace was founded by virtue of the Peace of Westphalia which ended the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Before the war, the townsfolk of Świdnica were free to follow Luther’s ideas and Lutheran services were held in the town. When the war broke out, the Protestants were deprived of the right to have their own faith and their own churches.

However under the Peace of Westphalia, the Catholic emperor Ferdinand III of Habsburg was obliged by the Swedish to allow the Protestants… to build one so-called Church of Peace in each duchy.

The consent of the Habsburgs had many severe restrictions – the Protestants could only build their place of worship outside the town walls, it could not have any towers nor a belfry, and it could only be built from non-durable materials like wood, sand, straw, or clay. The building could not look like a church and the construction works could not last longer than a year.

Against all odds, the Protestants at the time displayed extraordinary resourcefulness. Even the poorest of the community brought something to the table, if only one wooden board. All social classes were involved in the construction process – the nobility, the burghers and the peasants.

The hard work paid off, as construction was completed on time and in 1657 the first service was held in the Church of Peace in Świdnica.” ~tourspoland.comWe walked into this church and we were amazed at the size and ornateness of the interior. This photo is looking towards the altar. The walls and ceilings are decorated with painted panels added after the construction of the church was completed in 1657. The back wall with the organ. A view of one of the sides of the church with it’s two tiers of balconies. The spaces between the wall timbers were filled with clay and wattle. The pulpit is extremely ornate. A view of part of the painted ceiling. I loved the old pews with their carved backs and worn seats.There is a cemetery surrounding the church. As we walked back to our car we passed this interesting door. Makes me curious about who lives here. Next stop on our day trip is the Książ Castle, the third largest castle in Poland which dates from the 13th century.  One of the the views from inside the castle.  The entrance buildings and front grounds of the castle. An old photo showing the castle atop an impressive rock cliff. It has been destroyed and rebuilt and expanded various times and in different styles (from Gothic to Baroque and neo-Classical). The latest family to reside there, was the Hochberg family, one of the richest and most influential families in Prussia. In the 14th century they transformed the original defensive castle into one of the most beautiful residences in this part of  Europe. The Hochbergs lived there for many generations, until 1941, when it was confiscated by the Nazis. Bob caught my reflection in this old mirror.
The Black Courtyard is decorated with the coats of arms of the castles many owners. We walked through many halls, some simple… and some very ornate. I suppose a castle with over 400 rooms needs lots of hallways and stairs, and we did climb lots of stairs. Another view out one of the castle windows of the Chestnut Terrace with four large chestnut trees. As always, we must remember to look up. So many of the ceilings are ornately decorated. There was an exhibit of blown glass in some of the rooms and another view down one of the many hallways.
We weren’t able to see the Last Supper when we were in Italy two years ago (we didn’t know you had to buy tickets far in advance) but there is a Da Vinci exhibit here in the castle with a replica. Not as good as the real thing but interesting none the less. There were replicas of many of Da Vinci’s paintings, including the Mona Lisa, and models of some of his inventions. Looking out one of the windows we get an idea of some of the renovations and reconstruction that has taken place over the centuries. It is quite a convoluted building. One of the restored and decorated rooms. The Nazis stripped the castle of its furnishings and paintings and it is just now being restored. A photo showing a much more elaborately decorated room than we see today. The Maximilian Room has been restored to its former glory. There is a balcony on either side, one for the prince’s apartments and one for the princess’s apartments, that overlook this elegant room. And what castle would be complete without a Japanese influenced room. They were very popular. “The castle became an important part of the Riese Project, for the Nazis. It was an elaborate plan to create an underground military industrial complex complete with tunnels, roads, rail links and subterranean arms factories. The castle itself is said to have been prepared as the new headquarters for Hitler. For this purpose, thousands of prisoners, many from concentration camps like Auschwitz, were used as slave labour. Towards the end of the war, with the Red Army approaching fast, the Nazis destroyed much of the complex. The destruction continued when the Red Army ousted the Nazis. The Nazis’ exact plans with the castle remain a mystery. Were they building a secret weapon? Did Hitler plan to use the castle as a personal bunker? Little is also known of the fate of the prisoners who built the underground complex, though one can only guess.” ~ Velvet Escape.com. It is thought that valuable works of art and other treasures may still be hidden underground in these tunnels. This a model of the underground tunnels. It is possible to tour the tunnels but we did not have time, or the energy to do that today,  As we finish the tour of the castle, we are led out to the gardens and terraces surrounding the castle. The grounds are beautifully maintained.An interesting view of the castle.
We have no idea what all these small arched nooks with their iron grates are. As we walk back to our car we pass a pond with blooming water lilies. 

Schindler’s Factory Museum, Krakow, Poland

Day 8, Monday, September 2, 2019

We should have pre-booked tickets for Schindler’s Factory Museum today and for Auschwitz tomorrow. There is a chance of getting last minute tickets at both of these sites so we are up early for our 45 minute walk to Schindler’s Factory today.  We arrive shortly after it opens at 8:30 and we are relieved to get tickets. It’s an interesting walk. Here is some street art we see on the way.

I never watched the movie ‘Schindler’s List’ because movies about terrible factual events  haunt me. We visited Dachau years ago when we travelled to Europe one summer with our young daughter. I still remember that day and I know that today and tomorrow will be difficult, but it is something that is important to do. This is one of the signs we read after entering the museum. Jewish people were hung along the train tracks for all to see.
Walking through this dark exhibit about the wall around the ghetto. It was thought that starving the Jewish people was an effective way to weaken and destroy the morale of the Jewish population, especially the young people.

Some of the exhibits as we walk through the museum. This shows the crowded conditions inside a home in the ghetto. The corridors are covered in articles and photographs. There is so much to see and read. More exhibits, this one of everyday life in Nazi occupied Krakow. …notice the armband that Jewish people had to wear so they could be identified as Jews. One of the camps.
A hiding place in the cellar of a house in Krakow. Even though it meant death for anyone found helping a Jew, by hiding them or even offering food or assistance of any kind. many of the Polish people did exactly that.  Oskar Schindler was one of these people. He really wasn’t a man of great character, he lied, cheated and stole what he could, but he was instrumental in saving the lives of 1200 Jews. He also treated the Jews working at his factory better than in any other factory or work camp. There are videos of survivors talking about their experiences during this time.  Some of the people that were saved by Oskar Schindler. Two of the survivors became doctors and one became a Supreme Court judge. Everything in this museum is difficult to watch and listen to, but we need to know and remember what happened. I have heard it said that we need to do this so history will never be repeated, but I wonder. There is so much hatred and racism in the world today that I can no longer believe that something like this will never happen again. It is frightening wondering what the future will bring. We stop for tea at the Modern Art Museum cafe. It gives us a chance to recover form the heavy content of the Schindler Museum.  On the way out I notice this vending machine. Notice the name of the drink it dispenses. I try out the cement bicycles… and Bob checks out an installation in a town square.  Interesting artwork in one of the shops we pass. We cross this pedestrian bridge over the river and we cannot decide how these sculpture stay right upright. They appear to be balancing on cables with no support wires yet somehow manage to stay right side up. We just can’t figure it out. Here is an interesting way to keep an old building while erecting a new modern one!  We stop in at a basilica near the old town which has a very impressive altar. I wonder if it is real gold on all these altars? OK, just did a bit of research and it appears that real gold foil is used. I always peak into open doorways. They are often not very attractive doors but they sometimes open on beautiful interior courtyards and gardens. A typical street side restaurant on our walk back to our apartment. More street art on the way home.

The sky is getting darker just as we enter the main old town square. This church has one of the most impressive altars in all of Poland but there is a service happening so we are not allowed in. There are lots of horse drawn carriages for hire. I was tempted but it really felt like the rain was coming. These are enormous, about a foot high and cost between $14 and $20 each! This guy tried to challenge Bob to a fight, but no luck, so… He tried to win me over!  An interesting sculpture of Jan Matejko who was a 19th-century painter native to Kraków.  He is renowned for his large oil-on-canvas paintings of historical events in Poland.  This street leads towards the train station with its huge attached shopping mall. One more church on the street just before the train station. It was dark inside except for the light shining on the altar. A typical building in Krakow old town… Juxtaposed with the interior of the train station shopping areas. It is huge, three floors with hundreds of very modern shops.

We pick up a few groceries for supper and head home, in the rain. It has been a long day, We walked 21,262 steps!  No wonder we are both tired.

Olomouc, Czech Republic on the way to Krakow, Poland

Day 5, Friday, August 30, 2019

We are driving to Krakow today and stop to visit Olomouc on the way. We find parking easily, which is always nice, and walk to the town square. One of the first buildings we pass has this charming little still life on a window sill. I wonder who put it there and how many people passing by notice and appreciate the effort?

We are amazed at how huge the town square is. There aren’t very many people around but we imagine that in the peak tourist months it is probably much busierBob gets a couple pastries at the first bakery and we sit on a bench to eat them and watch the people walking by. It is hot again today, 29°.  I have heard that European flours are often tolerated by people with gluten sensitivities, so I have a couple bites. 
Doesn’t everyone want to ride on a turtle? I almost went right over backwards when I climbed on!
The Holy Trinity Column dominates the town square. “The column is dominated by gilded copper sculptures of the Holy Trinity accompanied by the archangel Gabriel on the top and the assumption of the Virgin beneath it. The base of the column, in three levels, is surrounded by 18 more stone sculptures of saints and 14 reliefs.” ~wikipedia. It even has a small chapel in the base. 

I said I want a flower column like this in my yard! We wonder what this shop sells? These figures were made out of straw. It was closed so we couldn’t go in to find out. We climb another bell tower in the Church of St. Michael just off the square. There wasn’t any place to see outside and get a view over the city, which was too bad. The same church had steps to a crypt so we went to explore,.. and we found this little shrine and a small pool of water. These ladies caught my eye.  St. Wenceslas Cathedral was originally built in 1131 and was rebuilt in the second half of the 13th century. The facade was renovated in 1999-2008. It is very impressive. Of course the interior is just as impressive. We visit Archdiocese Museum which is much more interesting than I had anticipated. It is only $3 Cad each and we probably spent a couple hours exploring. Each room was closed off by a door which was opened by an ‘older’ woman who then made sure that we saw every exhibit that was discussed on our audio guides. They opened and closed doors behind us, which was actually very helpful as it wasn’t easy to figure out which doors we were supposed to go through. I love the statues and paintings of the Virgin Mary. There is something very appealing about the way the artists depicted their faces. More fountains in the town square as we make our way back to our car. This bar catches my eye. I am sure I know this name and look it up. Sure enough, it is the name of a show on Netflix about a gang in England in the early 1900’s.When we cross the border into Poland we are surprised that there is no indication that we were leaving one country and entering another.  One of the interesting things about travelling is how different things are from home. Sometimes the differences are challenging and sometimes the differences make me smile. This is what I saw in the first bathroom I entered in Poland.

Bridges on the highway into Poland are certainly different.We were frustrated when our SIM card stops working once we cross the border. We were told it would work in all the countries we were visiting. We finally find a MacDonalds so we can contact our bnb host, who is waiting to hear from us. It is late when we finally make it to our new apartment, which wasn’t very easy to find in the dark, but we are here, and tomorrow will be a rest day for us.

The Roman Catacombs, Italy

Day 96, Saturday December 9, 2017

We get a wave from a friendly Santa this morning on our way to catch the bus to the catacombs.

We arrive at the San Sebastiano Catacombs only to find this note tacked to the door. Too bad they didn’t bother to update the website. We visited the San Sebastiano Basilica, at least that was open. The remains of Saint Sebastian were at one time buried in the catacombs below the church.

The basilica has a beautiful carved and painted wooden ceiling.We shelter in the entrance of the church and have our lunch then head down the Appian Way to the Villa di Massenzio. We ran out of time to visit here on our last visit to the Appian Way.  This structure was the triumphal entrance gate to the Circus that was on this site. A circus is a Roman chariot racing stadium. In the background is the Tomb of Cecilia Metella that we visited when we walked the Appian Way on Bob’s birthday .
A view of the Circus. There is a tomb here built by Emperor Maxentius. I make like a statue in one of the niches.

Walking back to the San Callisto Catacombs ,which were closed until 2:00, we see this tree being carved outside the San Sebastiano Basilica, which is in the background.Our tour of the San Callisto catacombs is fascinating. Twelve Christians were killed by Roman soldiers in this small chapel known as the Crypt of the Popes as five early popes were buried here.In the 20 km of tunnels spread over 20 acres, archaeologists have found the tombs of 16 early popes, dozens of martyrs and the remains of half a million Christians. No photos were allowed so these are photos of postcards I purchased in the gift shop.

The Crypt of St. Cecilia is the tomb a young woman who was martyred in the 3rd c. because she would not renounce Christianity. When her body was exhumed in 1599, more than a thousand years after her death, it was apparently perfectly preserved, as depicted in this statue.We decide to walk to the Domitilla Catacomb nearby. The catacombs of Domitilla are about 17 kilometers long and extending to a depth of around 30 meters. Our one hour tour only visits the little area highlighted in green at the top of the map.The tombs were carved into the tufa rock which was fairly soft. The oldest tombs are the ones higher up. When there was no more space left, the grave diggers lowered the floor level and put in more tombs.  The different levels are connected with staiways.

No photos are allowed but our guide, who happens to be the Director of the Catacombs, says it is OK if we take a few photos so I take advantage of his offer. Bodies were wrapped in shrouds, placed in the carved niches and then a cover was plastered over the opening of the niche. There are many very small niches as the infant mortality rate was very high. We see some bones in a few of the niches, but most of the bones where tourists visit have been moved because some of the tourists were talking home ‘souvenirs’.Our tour began and ended in this Basilica that was built at the end of the 4th century AD above the tomb of two martyrs, Nereus and Achilleus. Most of this Basilica is underground.  The top of a ventilation shaft is just visible in one of the fields above the catacombs.

We continue along the Appian Way, and end up walking all the way home which took almost an hour. I loved the light on these trees.

Pompeii, Italy

Day 92, Tuesday December 5, 2017

We start our visit to Pompeii with the colosseum which is the oldest surviving Roman amphitheatre. It had a capacity for 20,000 spectators. The Colosseum in Rome was built over a century later.

A display nearby had these 2,000 year old charred loafs of bread, dates and almonds.

One of the first houses we visit is called the House of Venus in the Shell because of a fresco on the end wall of the garden.

We are amazed at how well preserved and how brightly coloured the frescos on the walls are. I took almost 300 photos. There was so much to see and I want to remember it all. I won’t subject you to all those photos and I am not going to try to identify all the different houses by name with a lot of information. If I do that this post will never end! So just come for a walk through Pompeii with us, and see the sights.This was a fast food restaurant. Only the rich had their own kitchens, the rest of the people ate at these shops.Maintenance is an ongoing project here, along with new excavations. These structures were never intended to survive for 2,000 years and be exposed to not only the weather but also to the damage caused by 2.5 million visitors every year. In many areas we walk on the original mosaic floors!These big stepping stones kept pedestrians’ feet dry, as the streets were often used to dump sewage. Water from fountains overflowed onto the streets and helped to flush them clean.Tucked in to the corner of a house we see skeletons of some of the victims of the Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79 A.D. I felt quite emotional all day, walking through the streets and homes of the people who died here. I imagine the panic they must have felt when the volcano erupted.In the back room there are stairs to a second floor visible.

This is a view down into a room from a second floor. Most of the rooms in the houses were quite small, often between 7’x 7′ to about 10′ x10′, although the villas of the rich people also had some very large rooms.Some more well preserved frescos.  Red was the most expensive pigment so it was used by the wealthy.The decorated walls have some lovely small panels.One of the large rooms in a villa with a pool and an open skylight to collect rainwater.We find a high spot for some great views over Pompeii and have our lunch.

There are temples,

marble floors,and a theatre which we thought was the main theatre in Pompeii. Then we discover this one…
with this practice area for the athletes and gladiators. This is a bit of info on the plaster casts of Pompeii.

These cast are in a house near where they were found. These casts of the victims of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius are powerful. Their features are clearly visible and their contorted postures reveal the moment of their deaths. I have been feeling emotional all day and seeing these body casts has a strong impact. 

The next building we enter is the Lupanaro (the brothel), named for the cries of the prostitutes calling to their customers. They were thought to sound like she wolves! There are paintings on the walls above the doorways that were thought to have been sort of menu of the services available.The rooms were small with short stone beds and pillows. They certainly don’t look very comfortable but they would have had with cloth mattress and pillows on top of the stone.
A bakery still has the stone mills that were used to grind wheat and…an oven that looks very much like a modern day pizza oven.The long, straight streets were lined with shops and rooms that we think must have been houses for the common people.One of the large houses has some rather startling imagery, however we discover that they are simply letting the viewer know that along with wealth, fertility was also necessary for true happiness.The Pompeiians were masters at faux painting. The walls of their homes were covered from top to bottom with paintings and faux architectural details and finishes.Looking into a courtyard.At the end of a street I notice a building closed to the public and go take peek into the windows. I am rather startled to find more body casts. A child is frozen in time, as is this dog  who is caught in the moment of his agonized death.We walk through a necropolis with tombs for the dead towards…  the House of Mysteries.The house is named for these frescoes. This is an interesting article about the frescoes.The floor is a different sort of mosaic. The surface is very even and smooth, and yes, we walk on this ancient floor too.

The wooden doors and shutters of the House of mysteries are petrified.As we head back towards the town of Pompeii we see Mount Vesuvius. I read up a bit on this volcano and it is expected to erupt again. I don’t think I would want to be living anywhere nearby, yet 3 million people live within 20 miles of Mount Vesuvius’ crater. There is an evacuation plan in effect in case of another eruption but I wonder how effective that would really be. This is an interesting posting about why people live so close to a volcano.As we leave the archeological area there are several large outdoor rooms filled with amphoras and other pieces of archeological finds.  In the midst of these there are some more body casts. I think it seems disrespectful to see them displayed this way. The sun is setting and the light rakes across the ruins…giving everything a golden glow.There is a bookstore and museum near the far entrance so we have look around before heading back through the park towards the entrance near our apartment. There are more body casts here. It is a strange feeling looking into the faces of people who died almost 2,000 years ago. We walk through another necropolis on the way back to where we started our day.
When we exit we notice that there is a building with even more body casts on display that we missed seeing this morning.Again I have the feeling that there is something not quite right about how these are displayed, but I don’t really know what would be a better way of doing it.

Museo Nationale Romano and the Capuchin Crypts

Day 89, Saturday December 2, 2017

Saturday was a quiet rainy day. I worked on catching up on my blog and Bob went for groceries, several times! It isn’t easy to find what we need in one store so shopping sometimes requires several attempts to find everything on our list. I don’t know how Romans manage. Even something as simple as spinach is often not available.

Day 90, Sunday December 3, 2017

We thought today would be a bit quieter, just a little walk about but we ended up doing quite a bit. Bob found out that the four Museo Nationale Romano museums were free today so we thought we would visit the one near the train station. It was much bigger than we thought and we spent several hours there. This museum had lots of information on the history of writing and…lots of examples of writing on stone. What made it interesting was that all the pieces on exhibit had Italian and English translations. There were lots of informative videos and other kinds of information but it would have taken more than a day to do all that. There was a very interesting exhibit about the Fountain of Anna Perenna. Anna was an ancient nymph and the fountain was a place of magic. It was discovered in 1999 when work began on an underground parking facility. Many ‘magical’ objects were found in the well including several curses. This one is for a man called Cassianus who was cursed because he hired some women to rob the author of the curse. It shows a demon flanked with magical symbols. There were many curses on display as well as directions for casting spells.We tend to forget that ancient statues and reliefs were painted in bright colours. There was lots of pottery from settlements from the 9th to the 7th century B.C. The large pots held cremated remains.

This is a model of the Museum. The large green square…is this courtyard  and the buildings around it house the museum. This was built in the 15th century. Bob found a few interesting statues here. The large animal heads are located around the fountain in the centre of the courtyard. There were also horse heads, a ram, a camel, an elephant and a rhinoceros!
The complex behind the courtyard is the Baths of Diocletian which were built in 300 A.D. They held 3,000 people! It was hard trying to take pictures as the baths are so enormous.
This room was somehow used as a water reservoir. 
Here is an aerial view taken from a film about the baths showing their location in modern day Rome. The big white building in the corner is the Termini train station.Here is a close up of the baths. The building with the cross in the lower left is the best preserved section of the baths. The tepiderium was restored and converted into a basilica using Michelangelo’s architectural designs in the 16th century. It is now the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiria. This sculpture is on the door to the Basilica.The basilica interior gives us a good idea what the interior of the baths would have looked like with all their decorated walls and ceilings.

The basilica is a place of worship, art and science. I liked this enormous head on display. It is about three feet long.

We find one more obelisk!Republic Piazza is beside the baths.  Many of Rome’s streets are cobbled and it has made for some very rough bus rides.

Another branch of Rome’s National Museums, the Palazzo Massimo is right beside the Republic Piazza so we decide to visit it as well. There are some wonderful works inside.  The Discus Thrower and…the Boxer at Rest are amazing and..this sculpture of a hermaphrodite is interesting.The massive Portonaccio Sarcophagus from 172 AD is unbelievable. It is five feet tall, and most of the complex intertwined carvings are still intact.
This room with garden frescoes was discovered in 1863. The frescoes were moved to the museum in 1951 as they were in danger of being damaged from water seepage. There are more well preserved frescoes from an Imperial Villa on the banks of the Tiber River.We still want to visit the Capuchin Crypts which are a short walk from the museum. Everywhere we walk in this city there are interesting buildings and piazzas.The sun is setting but there isn’t much traffic even though it is 5:30. I find that rather curious.There is a famous Caravaggio painting, St. Francis in Meditation, in the Capuchin museum. We visit the Capuchin Crypt but there is a strict no photo policy and I restrained myself and didn’t take a single photo. So, do check out this link for a trip through the crypt. It was certainly different. I liked it but Bob didn’t.

The church ‘Our Lady of the Conception’ is above the crypt and after a quick visit we are more than ready to go home. Our short day out turned into a bit of a marathon!

 

 

 

The Vatican, Rome

Day 87, Thursday November 30, 2017

We bought tickets online for the Vatican in order to avoid the long line-ups we have read about. Arriving at 10:00 we are able to enter right away, but so is everyone else. There are no lineups anywhere.

The map provided by the museum isn’t the best but between it, a Rick Steve’s travel app, and Bob’s navigational skills we manage to find our way around.  If you walk through all the galleries, it’s 7.5 km, or 4.5 miles long and yes we walked through all the galleries!

Be warned, this is a long post, so you might want to get a cup of something hot before you visit the Vatican Museums with us!

One of the first sculptures we see is this copy of Michelangelo’s Pieta. the original is now behind glass because it was badly damaged by a deranged man 45 years ago. I think this is the closest I will get to taking my photo with this incredibly beautiful statue.
We see many examples of Early Christian and Medieval art. Before this trip I didn’t have a lot of interest in this genre but I discovered that I am rather fascinated by depictions of the Madonna. We even saw a pregnant Madonna, the only one I have ever seen.Next stop was a huge room with several very large tapestries. They were so finely woven that they almost looked like paintings.

This very large angel from1666 was one of four preparatory straw and clay models for bronze castings by Bernini.A enormous collection of ancient sculptures, sarcophaguses, reliefs and  building parts was next. There was also a display of drawings, which I found interesting.  I speculate that there must have been a drawing workshop.
This is a floor mosaic that I remember seeing in books. I always liked the little mouse. The tiles are very small. I can almost feel the wind blowing these garments about.One of the reliefs on display.There is a large collection of vehicles used by Popes over the centuries.
We didn’t know that all papal vehicles come equipped with a throne!The Vatican has an extensive collection of Egyptian artifacts many of which are superior to the ones we saw in museums in Egypt! It is easy to forget that all these hieroglyphs were at one time bright painted like the inside of the coffin.The painted bas-relief fragment is from 2400 B.C.The Mummy of Taymen is from 750-525 B.C. We never saw anything like this in Egypt. It was fascinating, but I know this person never intended to be on display in a museum!There are many galleries of Greek, Etruscan and Roman artifacts and these which are from Syria-Palestine during the Neolithic period 8500-3000 B.C.

We descended this staircase to emerge …

in a very long hallway lined with over a thousand sculptures!There were several museum workers busy dusting and cleaning. I imagine that by the time they finish it must be time to start again.The gallery above opened into this one, lined with even more monumental statues. It simply takes my breath away.A Roman copy of a Greek original dating from the 2nd century A.D. The affection for the child is evident in the way he is held and regarded. I can’t imagine that something so life-like can be carved in stone.I am fascinated with the carved flowing robes. I have a hard time even drawing folds never mind chiseling them from stone.This is the Nile River God with another sculpture filled niche behind.

There is an outside courtyard with a covered display area all around the exterior walls. There we see the biggest toe. Can you imagine the size of the statue this once belonged to? That is my foot beside it.

There are many incredible statues on display…  but I am particularly drawn to these three. The Belvedere Apollo, the Belvedere Hermes, and the Laocoön. The Laocoön was unearthed during  Michelangelo’s time and it had a great influence on his work. 

This sculpture of the River God Arno was the inspiration for Michelangelo’s David in the Sistine Chapel.

The Belvedere Torso was also the inspiration for Michelangelo’s God in the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel.We need to remember to look up. The ceilings in these galleries are as incredible as the art work below them.The Hall of Muses with its magnificent dome, mosaic floor, statues of the nine muses from the 2nd century A.D. and the largest carved stone basin in the world.These statues are monumental! Oh, and we are walking on the beautiful old mosaic floor here too.
It looked like the statue was trying to give this rather bored looking guard something.These bronze hands decorated with gold buttons are from the 1st half of the 7th century B.C. I thought they looked like a modern work of art.More display rooms with ornate ceilings…and lots more pots and other artifacts. In fact there were many rooms like this. We walked through all of them but I have admit that after a while we didn’t even try to look at all the items.
I did love these two horse heads…and there were some great views of Rome from the Gallery windows.Bob is trying to figure out where we go next.Turns out it is this room, with even more sculptures and carved stone artifacts, and yet another incredible ceiling.We both remember seeing a copy of this little boy with his goose in the Louvre many years ago. Interesting that we see it here in Rome too.The Arazzi Gallery is a long hall with more tapestries on both sides.This tapestry has an optical illusion. As we walk by it appears as if Jesus’s eyes are following us and he even seems to move through the doorway. It is very strange.

The Gallery of Maps is astounding. It seems to go on forever. The walls are lined with huge maps of all of Italy but it is the ceiling that grabs our attention. It is covered with paintings and sculptures and ornate frames.The lighting makes the ceiling look golden in the photo above but this photo shows its true colours. I just don’t know what to say. Words are simple inadequate to describe this very, very long ceiling. It is almost unbelievable.
There are more galleries but we are getting very tired. We decided several hours ago that we need to come finish seeing everything another day. We make our way to the Sistine Chapel. We are so lucky, because it is late in the day there are not many people in the chapel. We find a seat along the wall and look up. There is so much to see. I think it is amazing that we are sitting here, in the Sistine Chapel looking at this masterpiece. We probably spend almost an hour here but it is time to go as we still need to visit St .Peters and see the Pieta.It is night when we leave the Vatican Museums. We go through the ‘secret passage’ that allows us to enter the basilica without having to line up and go through security again.There she is. The Pieta, in all her glory. After spending some time with the Pieta, we walk around the basilica. We wanted to visit the grotto beneath the church but it is already closed. I like the little dragon between the bottom two figures in the sculpture.
St. Peter’s right foot has been rubbed almost away by the touch of thousands of pilgrims over the centuries.
There is a mass taking place so we listen to the organ music and singing for bit before we finally head home. It has been long day. We spent 8 wonderful hours in the Vatican Museums but we are both very tired..