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.

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.

 

Old Town in Wroclaw, Poland

Day 11, Thursday September 5, 2019.

Today is a much needed quiet day. For some reason I only slept a few hours last night so I stay home and rest and do a bit of blogging. Bob goes for a walk and scouts out the route to the Old Town for tomorrow. Here is our view from the apartment, with our white car in the parking lot. Bob is in there too, but you can barely see his head as he walks along the street behind the hedge. 

 

Day 12, Friday, September 6, 2019

On our walk to Wroclaw’s Old Town we cross one of its canals. It looks so peaceful here.

Soon we are approaching the old part of town. There are many places where we see the old and the new side by side. These two buildings were across from each other.
Here’s how big items get delivered!

Wroclaw Town Square, another huge square with beautiful buildings. These date back to the 1600’s!

The flower market.Wroclaw has an ever growing populations of gnomes.  In fact, our guidebook states “the little buggers are currently rumoured to be running rampant to the score of over 300 making it literally impossible for us to try to keep track of them!”  I think they are delightful and I am happy to make their acquaintance .

A view of the glass panel fountain … and more tenement houses in the town square. The interior of St. Mary Magdalene’s Church which dates from 1330. We climb 147 steps up to the walkway between the two towers. In times past women suspected of being witches were forced to cross this walkway (there were no railings then) and if they made it across safely they were branded as a witch. If they fell to their death, then they were innocent of the crime of being a witch! You certainly didn’t want to be accused of witchcraft!  I am very glad there are railings now and I meet another couple of gnomes. We have great views of the city from up here. Here is a view of the walkway, way up there between the two towers.There were steeples on these at one time, not sure if they were destroyed during the war? More ornate colourful buildings.
I wish I knew the recipe for the bubble mixture this guy was using! He made hundreds of bubbles at a time with his string between two sticks.  Kids had such fun chasing all the bubbles.We found quite a few more of these little fellows, on doorsteps, or tucked into corners.

There was some sort of celebration happening with lots of women wearing fancy outfits and some very interesting hats.

The two little houses in the corner called Hansel and Gretel are the only two houses left of streets that used to surround a cemetery. The cemetery closed in 1773.  I wonder where the graves went?The interior of St. Elizabeth church dates to the 14th century. It was severely damaged during the second world war and then by a fire in 1976.

So it’s stained glass windows are modern. This one is quite unique.

More colourful houses on a side street…
and more busy gnomes.

We stop at a sidewalk restaurant for lunch and now we are ‘those people’ who take pictures of their meals! My salmon with a balsamic reduction was delicious.  It was one of the best restaurant meals I have had and Bob enjoyed his sausage and potato pancakes with spinach .

At the university we visit an ornate lecture room… and an interesting collection of artifacts.  This is a chart for determining eye colour.

I love all the old wooden cabinets with all their drawers. The Music Hall is under restoration but we are allowed a peak inside. We. climb another 203 steps up the Math tower, which has displays along the way.  

These are beautiful old compasses, some dating back to the 1600’s.The top of the Math Tower…
and the views. Notice the very modern looking tower among the old.

Bob standing on the Meridian line which runs through this University,  This meridian line demarcates the 51st parallel which runs right through the Math Tower as well. I just love all the reflections of the old buildings in the glass walls of the modern new buildings! Churches here are either very ornate…or look like this. The late afternoon sun was shining through the windows casting everything in a lovely olden glow.

We stop for tea and cookies in this little garden with its Baroque well. Then we visit the market and buy some fruit. Food prices are very reasonable here. More reflections. We catch a trolley bus home. We haven’t seem many paved streets or sidewalks here. Most of the streets and sidewalks here are cobbled in one fashion or another. All the uneven footing is hard on the feet and ankles. We walked 16,700 steps today and climbed the equivalent of 31 floors!

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.

The Wieliczka Salt Mines In Krakow, Poland

Day 6, Saturday, August 31, 2019

We had a quiet day today.  I rested and did some blogging and Bob checked out the train station and where to buy groceries.  He had a great idea, to use our empty carry on suitcase to haul our groceries. So mush easier than carrying heavy bags.

Day 7, Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Wieliczka Salt Mining Tour is on the agenda for today.  It is a twenty minute drive and we arrive early so we sit in a nearby park where it is cooler until it is time for our tour.  It is going to be 31° today, so going into a mine where the temperature is a constant 17° seems like a good idea. Immediately upon entering the mine we descend 54 flights of stairs, 380 steps down to the first level of the mine which is 64 meters deep. This photo is looking down the crack between the flights of stairs…and we were already almost halfway down when I took this! There are dioramas showing some of  the old mining techniques and machinery. These men are lifting ‘salt logs’ which weighed between 200 kg and 2 tonnes. The first shaft was sunk in 1280 and salt is still mined here today. The salt was formed 13 million years ago by an inland sea. The salt preserves the logs that are used for reinforcement. These are newer ones but we see others that are hundreds of years old. These sculptures are carved out of salt by the miners in the 20th century. These figures illustrate the legend of how the salt mines were discovered in Poland. Horses were used in the mines from the 16th century until 2002. Up to 350 horses worked and spent their whole lives underground. Interestingly, they did not go blind being in the darkness most of their lives. These horses operated a machine that moved the salt logs from one level to another. There are nine levels and 2 km of shafts and tunnels but we only visit about 1% of the mine. There are white seams of almost pure salt in some places.  Most of the salt mined was between 80-90% pure.  There are some strange creatures living in this mine. Stairs go down and down and down…there are 800 steps that we descend in all! Apparently gnomes make good miners! Looking down one of the long tunnels that we are not allowed to enter. Wow! This is St. Kinga’s Chapel. It is entirely constructed from the salt in the mine. Most of the stairs on our route are made of wood, but these two staircases we walk down are made of salt.The miners built over 40 chapels In the mine. It was very dangerous work so they would pray before their shift that they would be safe and then they would offer thanks before they went home. This representation of da Vinci’s last Supper is carved in salt, as are…  all the sculptures… the main altar. Even the chandeliers are made of salt crystals!

The floor looks like stone but is salt worn smooth by the millions of visitors to the mine.

An underground lake with scaffolding and stairs high above.

Another of the mine’s inhabitants!  This guy is a bit scarier than the little fellow we saw earlier:) This chamber connects the two levels of the mine and is 35 m. high. Because the roof is so high it needed to be strongly reinforced with all these high timbers. Another underground brine lake. The water in these lakes is 33% salt. Ocean water is only 3% salt. Luckily we do not climb this set of stairs! They disappear in to the darkness at the top of this chamber. One of the many long tunnels we walk through. At one time visitors rode boats through this part of the mine and were treated to a fireworks display 90 meters underground!  Today the mine has over 1.5 million visitors a year so it is impossible to still offer this experience. There is an underground banquet hall and restaurant. Another of the chapels we visited. A close up of the mine walls. We were invited to lick the walls, and taste the salt. We only licked our fingers and then touched the wall so we could taste the salt. I didn’t relish the thought of actually licking the walls!This enormous chamber is 135 meters below ground on the third of nine levels. The entire mine occupies about a 5 km x 5 km area. The ceiling here is 36 meters high and a Guinness World record was set here for an underground hot air balloon flight!

I was hoping to sketch underground but there just wasn’t the time, so I made notes instead, but I did sketch one of the tourists before we went underground.

On our way back to our car, these comical characters caught my eye, but there just isn’t room in my suitcase. 

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.

Prague and the Zizkov Television Tower

Day 2, Tuesday August 27, 2019

We go for a walk to explore our neighbourhood and notice this tower near our apartment. It is the Zizkow Television Tower which was once ranked as the fourth ugliest structure in the world!  The tower stands 216 meters (709 feet) high, and the observatory is 93 m.(305 feet) high. You can click on blue highlighted words for more info.

Three of the pods are used for equipment related to the tower’s primary function and are inaccessible to the public. The other six pods are open to visitors, and give a panoramic view of Prague and the surrounding area. The lower three pods house a restaurant and café bar.If you look down in the lower right corner you can just make out some of the headstones of the old Jewish Cemetery which located beneath all the trees in the bottom of this photo. Prague is a pretty city with lots of parks and green spaces.The old Jewish Cemetery is thought to contain more than 100,000 graves, some with multiple bodies stacked up to twelve deep.  There are ten six foot tall babies crawling on the tower. It is quite the sight, and it does make us smile, They were placed on the tower to help make it more appealing to the people of Prague, who were not in favour of the tower when it was built.

We sit in a park we saw from the tower, for a snack and I sketch this building for 45 minutes. Bob starts a crossword puzzle but then he has a little nap on the park bench.

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Walking home we passed these whimsical apartments. They look like they belong in a storybook.We go home to pack for the beginning of our road trip tomorrow through the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany,                                  .

 

Climbing St. Peter’s Dome and Not so Wonderful News!

Day 98, Monday December 11, 2017

This was our last day in Rome, and I really wanted to climb the dome at St. Peter’s so that is where we went today. It was cloudy and windy but it wasn’t raining so that is good. I think they close the dome when it is raining so I kept my fingers crossed that we get to do this today.
After a twenty-minute wait to get through security there is no wait to climb the dome. I was willing to climb all 551 steps to the top but Bob thought we should take the elevator for the first 231 steps so we did that. When we get off the elevator we go inside the dome and get an up close look at the mosaics and the beautiful interior of the dome.
We will be climbing up to that little circle of light high above us!Everything in the Church far below us looks very small. This is the area where the service for  Peace in the Congo and the Sudan was held the first time we came to St. Peters. This is our third visit to St. Peter’s.From one of the windows, we see the backs of the huge statues on top of St. Peter’s. 
There are another 320 steps that we climb to get to the cupola on top of the dome. We are inside the walls of the dome so they slant quite steeply. It is very strange to walk with such sloping walls.The stairs get progressively smaller and more enclosed. I wouldn’t recommend this climb for anyone with claustrophobia.
Here we are on the cupola high above the ground.  At 450 feet high, this is the tallest dome in the world, and we are standing on it!On the way up I took the first photo from a window. It felt pretty high already. Notice the dome with the scaffolding in the first photo, and then see how much higher we climbed by comparing it to the same dome in the second photo.This is the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel.  You can see how long the hallways were on either side of the interior courtyard. Also there were inscriptions carved onto the roof of the dome with Pope’s names and dates.You can see them in the bottom of the photo.
St. Peter’s Square with the Christmas tree, and the road that leads to the river and the Castel Sant’Angelo. The view from up here is amazing even with it being an overcast day.It is very windy but no rain, so we are happy. We spent at least an hour up here, just enjoying the view. We even had our tea and cookie break on the sheltered side of the dome. Not sure if we will ever get back here so we wanted to soak it all up!This is looking up towards the cupola just above our heads. These are the windows that are visible inside the church at the top of the dome.
The Vatican Gardens look beautiful. We didn’t get a chance to tour them, maybe another visit?This photo clearly shows how apartments are often built around an inner courtyard that is not visible from the street. Also another look at an inscription on the dome.
We climb back down the 320 steps and we are delighted to discover that we get to walk the roof of the basilica. How amazing is that? We get up close and personal with the huge statues, check out a souvenir shop, a cafe and the bathrooms, all on the roof top of St. Peter’s!There is a great view of the dome from the roof top.
We were right up on the top, behind the railing. I was very excited about the whole visit.We walk down the last 231 steps and emerge inside St. Peter’s. Looking up at the dome it is crazy to think that we were up there. We were on the inside just below the windows and then on the outside away up above that tiny opening, which isn’t really all that tiny and walking above these beautiful ceilings!We visit the grotto below the church which contain chapels dedicated to various saints and tombs of kings, queens and popes, dating from the 10th century. The holiest place is St. Peter’s tomb, visible on the right side of this photo. The monument to Pope Paul VI (1978) is here but the tomb of Pope John Paul II (2005) is upstairs in the church. I took a photo before I was told that no photos were allowed and it just happened to be this one of St. Peter’s tomb.Back outside we watched changing of the Swiss guards. I love their uniforms. They are inspired by Renaissance uniforms and they are the colour of the House of the Medici.On our walk back to the metro we pass shops that sell robes for the clergy. This was a surprise for us but I guess they need to buy these vestments somewhere. We wonder if you need to show ID to make a purchase?When we arrive home we check our flight to Amsterdam tomorrow and find out that it has been cancelled due to bad weather in Amsterdam! This is the third flight that has been cancelled on us this trip!!

We spend the next five hours trying to figure out how we are going to get home. No use booking another flight as it may get cancelled too, and there are no busses that would get us there in time. The train can only guarantee to get us to the German-Netherland border and then we “should” be able to stay on the train and just pay the conductor to get to Amsterdam!  That means there is a chance we might get stranded at the border late at night!!

In the end our best option is to rebook our flight and fly from Rome to Munich, then to Reykjavik and finally home. Instead of a short flight to Amsterdam, a relaxing night in a hotel and then a flight home, we now have a 24 hour travel day starting at 4 am and it cost us a lot more money!!  Oh well, we decide to not worry about it and at least we will still get home on December 13th. Luckily we are able to book another night in our bnb so we didn’t have to move somewhere else for one day. We finally get this all sorted out near midnight. Not a nice end to a lovely day in Rome.

 

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.

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!