Monday, July 25, 2005

Log 37 - June 2005 - Hello Italy and a Visit to Rome

"Through travel, the world becomes a classroom." - Unknown

Our Route to Sardinia and Corsica , then the Crossing to Rome...finally mainland Italy. 

Our travel route east.

Well, we safely make the passage from the Balearics to Algehero on the west coast of Sardinia, Italy.  Since the islands of Sardinia and Corsica are on our return route next summer when we will travel west and north to enter the canals of  France, we pretty much just pass through them now.   We do take the time to hop from Sardinia to Corsica to see the much raved about Bonifacio before yet another passage to mainland Italy to visit Rome!

Saturday, June 11th - Buongiorno Italia!

Raising the Italian flag.
Yesterday morning we raised anchor in Spain, and voila, we are in Italian waters and the island of Sardinia looms on the horizon.  As we have done so many times over the years, it is now time to switch to the Italian courtesy flag.   A closer look at the photo shows that Joel and Gerrit continue to hold their Canadian heritage dear to heart....they are both draped in Canadian flags!   Late in the day, we drop our hook in the large bay at Algehero, a lovely old city on the north west coast of Sardinia.  We spend the next few days hopping north along the coast and then luckily have a fabulous sail across the Strait of Bonifacio, which apparently has an evil and well-deserved reputation.   Now on the south coast of Corsica, we head for Bonifacio. 

Wednesday, June 15th - Bonifacio, Island of Corsica, France

Shores of Bonifacio inlet

Well, this commercial, fishing and yachting harbour almost defies description.  Our guide books say this harbour is certainly the most spectacular and attractive natural harbour in Corsica and probably in the was not kidding.  The narrow, deep, fjord-like inlet, with high almost vertical sides of white rock crowned by a medieval walled town and Citadel, is without a doubt the most spectacular we have seen!  

Bonifacio harbour

This extremely strategic natural harbour has been in use almost since the beginning of time.   As with most Mediterranean ports,  it has had its ups and downs, including a plague in 1554, which decimated the population.

Thursday, June 16th - Rue des Deux Empereurs (Street of Two Emperors)

Entrance to the Citadel

This day finds us exploring the old walled town and Citadel.  We climb up the cobblestone streets and enter the Citadel through the drawbridge dating from 1598.   

Napolean Bonaparte house

Once inside, the streets are colorful and very narrow, lined with tall, narrow stone houses.  We are in search of Rue des Deux Expereurs, aptly named because Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles V once slept in the houses at Nos 4 and 7.  Bonaparte was based here for several months in early 1793 while planning an expedition to Sardinia.   

This is an enlarged picture of the upper right plaque, seen in the photo above, dedicated to Bonaparte.      

Underground tunnel.

One of the many things we really enjoyed about Bonifacio was the availability of great hiking trails amongst the cliff tops.  The white limestone cliffs sculptured by the wind and the waves, drop almost vertically into the sea and numerous lookouts afford dramatic views of the sea and across to Sardinia.  Our exploration finds this old underground tunnel, part of a maze of them built for defense purposes.  It is  spooky as we proceed through the narrow, dark and damp walkways, where we eventually clamber down steps and come out to old gun positions at the sea.   This kind of thing is a real hit with Joel and Gerrit as they imagine the stories of those who would have once built and used these fascinating tunnels. 

Friday, June 17th - Wow! What a Ship!

Tall ship in the Bonifacio harbour

This beautiful 'Tall Ship Adventures' craft came into the harbour at Bonifacio and tied to the dock directly across from where we were anchored.   It is one of the many tall ships, which provide the opportunity for youths to go to sea for a year, while completing their education.   What an adventure for kids!  Tomorrow we'll have a beach day and relax before raising anchor once again, on route to Rome.  

Tuesday, June 21st - Fiumicino Canal, Rome

Fiumicino Canal
After an overnight passage from the south coast of Corsica, fortune is with us and we arrive within 5 minutes of  the daily 3 o'clock opening of the bridge, which allows access into the canal at Rome's seaport of Fiumicino, and we didn't even know it was an issue!  We had heard this location is the nearest, convenient location for visiting Rome, as buses and trains are frequent into the city centre, and it's free!   We tie Tioga to the wall in front of the Coast Guard's office and are soon astounded as to the garbage coming down the canal.  At one point, a refrigerator floats by...oh well, the price is right!  We spend a day in Fiumicino getting organized and deciding how best to tackle the vast city of Rome.   Fortunately, with our boat moorage being free, we are able to spread sights out to avoid fatigue and have some down time in between. 

Thursday, June 23rd - Colosseum

Colosseum exterior

On our first day, we decide to tackle the Ancient Rome section of this wonderful city.  First stop, the Colosseum where we pay for a guided tour, which turns out excellent!

Built when the Roman Empire was at its peak (A.D. 80) for gladiator contests and public spectacles, the Colosseum represents Rome at its grandest.  In essence,   the Romans pioneered the use of the rounded arch and concrete, enabling them to build on this colossal scale, thus coloss-eum.   There was even a structure of wooden beams to hoist an enormous canvas awning when needed....the first covered stadium!  Only a third of the original Colosseum remains, earthquakes destroyed some of it, but most was carted off as easy pre-cut stones for other buildings during the Middle Ages. 

Colosseum interior

Once inside, our guide does a fabulous job of bringing the arena to life as our imaginations scramble to visualize the ancient activities.  One can clearly see the underground passages beneath what was once the playing surface, which would have been originally covered with boards, then sprinkled with sand.   Like a modern stadium, the spectators ringed the playing area.  The gladiators would enter the arena, parade around and stop at the emperor's box (the 50 yard line), raise their weapons and shout, 'Hail Caesar! We who are about to die salute you!'...and the fights would then begin.  These fights pitted men against men, men against beasts, and beasts against beasts.  The gladiators were usually slaves, criminals, or poor people who got their chance for freedom in the ring, while the animals were every sort imaginable from all over the world, kept in darkness with no food for up to three days before the fight....great way to improve an appetite!

Gladiators give Gerrit the 'thumbs down'

If a gladiator fell helpless to the ground, his opponent would approach the emperor's box and ask, 'Should he live or die?'  Sometimes the emperor left the decision to the crowd, who would judge based on how valiantly the man had fought.   They would make their decision with the thumb in, to let him live , or the thumb down, which meant lop off his head!  Here, Gerrit gets the thumbs down...yikes!

Arch of Constantine

This arch marks a great turning point in history for Christians of the world, the military coup that made Christianity mainstream.  In 312 AD, Roman Emperor Constantine defeated his rival Maxentius in one crucial battle.  Apparently, the night before battle, he had a vision of a cross in the sky.  Once in power, he legalized Christianity, making a once-obscure Jewish sect with a handful of followers, now the state religion of the entire western world!  Before the coup, you could be killed for being a Christian, now you could be killed for not being one!  Church enrollment boomed and Christianity evolved to what it is today. 

Roman Forum

The Arch of Titus 

After a couple hours of break, our tour continues into the Roman Forum, which was the political, religious, and commercial center of the city.  As the Roman Empire expanded, these few acres of land housing the most important temples and halls of justice, were considered the center of the civilized world.  

Entry into the Forum is through The Arch of Titus, which turns out to be one of the best preserved structures remaining of the Forum.  It was built to commemorate the Roman victory over Israel in 70 AD, and clearly displays Roman propaganda in the carvings, such as soldiers carrying a Jewish candelabrum and other plunder. 

Roman Forum
As you can see, the Forum is now pretty much rubble, but that is where our great guide came in!  As we walked through, his natural talent and obvious passion for his job made the center square bustle with life once again.  Not only did he bring Julius Caesar back to life to be executed once again, we also felt the horror of a Vestal Virgin being buried alive in a crypt for breaking her 30 year vow of chastity!    Amazing to us was the fact that many of the history books Joel and Gerrit have been reading, came to life in Rome.  They were questioning and answering the guide like none other.  One man in our tour actually approached the guide and asked, "How do those kids know so much stuff?" 

So, what became of all this glory after the fall of Rome?  There are many rumors as to who plundered the glorious art, marble work, columns etc., but the number one thought is that  Christianity was now prospering and St. Peter's Basilica was being built!  

Saturday, June 25th - San Giovanni in Laterano

San Giovanni in Laterano 

This poking-about day has one main item on the agenda, to visit  the first Christian church in the city of Rome.  Built in 318 AD, when Christians could finally 'come out' and worship openly without fear of reprisal, it has served as the center of Catholicism and the home of the popes until St. Peter's Basilica.  Until 1870, all popes were crowned here, and even today, it remains the home church of the Bishop of Rome - the Pope himself!  

Inside San Giovanni in Laterano 

Scala Santa - Holy Stairs

Holy Stairs

Next, we cross the street to visit the Pope's private chapel and the Holy Stairs.  In 326 AD, Emperor Constantine's mother brought to Rome the 28 marble steps from Pilate's residence.  Jesus climbed these steps on the day he was sentenced to death!  Each day, hundreds of faithful people climb these steps on their knees, and today we join in the pilgrimage. 

Monday, June 27th - The Pantheon

The Pantheon 
Today's highlight doesn't look like much from the outside, but it is considered the most influential building in art history.  Originally built as a Roman temple in 27 BC, it was a one-stop-shopping temple where people could worship any of the gods whose statues decorated the niches.   Its impressive dome being the model for many great buildings, including Washington D.C's Capitol Building,  is as high as it is wide (44 meters).  The walls at the base are 7 meters thick, while near the top they're less than 2 meters thick, and amazingly the only light source is from the 10 meter oculus (eye-in-the-sky) at the top.   The list of amazing mathematical perfectionism goes on and on.....

Thursday, June 30th - Vatican City 

Vatican City grounds
For some extra excitement today, we are going to leave Italy, and visit another country!    That's right, the Vatican City is a tiny independent country of just over 100 acres, contained entirely within Rome.  It has its own postal system, armed guards, heli-pad, mini-train station and radio station.  Politically powerful, the Vatican is the religious capital of 800 million Roman Catholics.  Small as it is, Vatican City has two huge sights:  the Vatican Museum displaying the glories of the ancient world including the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Basilica, the greatest church in Christendom built on the memory and grave of the first Pope, St. Peter.  

Vatican Museum
We decide to go to the Vatican Museum first to avoid the line-ups later in the day.  Well, no such luck!  As we walk up and begin searching for the end of the line, we are astounded to follow the line around the first corner of the block, then the next, and the next and the next.  We are a bit discouraged and know the boys will never have patience for what appears to be hours.   A tour guide behind us rattling off information to her group, assures them it will only be about 30  minutes so we are relieved and wait.  Sure enough, the line moves very quickly and we are in, in about 40 minutes. 

The Long Hallway inside the Vatican Musuem

In short, with the fall of Rome, the Catholic (or 'universal') Church became the great preserver of civilization, collecting artifacts from cultures dead and dying.  These glories of the ancient world are displayed here in the Vatican Museum, a lavish papal palace, decorated by the likes of Michelangelo, Bernini and Raphael.  The place is absolutely mind boggling and beautiful.  With recently cleaned paintings and marble sculptures, the likes of nothing we have ever seen, we have a marvelous time. 

The Egyptian room

The Egyptian room was very cool, especially for Joel and Gerrit who once again get to put history books into reality when they see this mummy as one from their many great history books.  They proceeded to explain to their out-of-touch parents that this women died three millennia ago.  Her corpse was disemboweled, and her organs placed in the jar nearby.  Her body was then refilled with pitch and dried natron, wrapped in linen and placed in a wood coffin, the top of which is shown standing against the wall.  Double click to see how well preserved she is! 

Sistine Chapel ceiling

The way our guide book lays out the tour, The Sistine Chapel is left to the end.   Being the personal chapel of the Pope and the place where new Popes are elected, it is obviously very special.  When Michelangelo was commissioned by the Pope to paint the ceiling, he insisted he was a sculptor, not a painter.  The Pope pleaded, bribed and threatened until Michelangelo finally consented, on the condition he be able to do it all his own way.  He spent the next four years (1508-12) bent over on his back on scaffolding six stories up, covering the ceiling with frescoes of Bible scenes.  In incredible detail, it shows the history of the world before the birth of Jesus.  We could see God creating the world, creating man and woman, destroying the earth by flood and so on.  Along the sides he painted the Old Testament prophets foretelling the coming of Christ.    

Sistine Chapel - The Judgment Wall

The blue backed portion of the wall, below the double arch, was painted by Michelangelo 23 years later in 1533.  In these 23 years, many events had occurred within Europe, which had Michelangelo questioning the innate goodness of mankind.  His Judgement Day altar wall is painted in a very different mood.  The powerful figure in the center, raising his arm to strike down the wicked, the dead at lower left leave their graves to be judged, the righteous ascend to Heaven, while the wicked on the other side are hurled down to Hell, where demons wait to torture them.  The grim picture, where no one is smiling, apparently caused a public sensation when unveiled, and the Pope is said to have dropped to his knees. 

St. Peter's Basilica and Square

St. Peter's Basilica

We head out a side exit of the Sistine Chapel and find ourselves in St. Peter's Square.  Nearly 2000 years ago, this area was the site of Emperor Nero's Circus - a huge Roman chariot racecourse.  The 27 meter high obelisk you see in the second photo, stands where the chariots made their hairpin turns, while Christians were being killed for half-time entertainment.  One of those killed here, around 65 AD, was Peter, Jesus' right-hand man who came to Rome to spread the message of love.  Peter was crucified upside-down on a cross because he felt unworthy to die as his master had.  His remains were secretly revered for 250 years, until Christianity was finally legalized in 313, and Emperor Constantine built a church on the site of Peter's death.  Old St. Peter's lasted 1200 years, until it was pretty much falling apart.  The larger Basilica we see today was begun in 1506, and took 120 years to be built around the old one, which was then dismantled and carried out the door! 

St. Peter's Square

Baroque architect Bernini designed the square and also did much of the work inside the Basilica.  The Square is ringed with 284 columns, each 17 meters high, topped with Bernini's 90 favorite saints, each three meters tall.  Today, the obelisk mentioned above, watches over the church, a reminder that each civilization builds on the previous ones. 

Next, we head up the steps into St. Peter's Basilica. 

Inside St. Peter's Basilica
Entry into the Basilica is through one of the five famous bronze doors, leading into the church, the centre one being from melted down bronze of the old St. Peters.  Once inside, the sheer magnitude of this church becomes very apparent.   We'll give you some quick facts and then leave it to you to try to envision:   The church covers six acres, the golden window at the far end from the entrance is two football fields away, it has a standing capacity of 60,000 worshippers, the dome soars higher than a football field on end, the lettering in the gold band along the top of the pillars is two meters high, the marble babies at the base of the pillars in the main hall are adult size, and.....get the picture? Its huge!

The Pieta (pee-ay-TAH)

The Pieta
This famous Michelangelo sculpture of Mary with the dead body of Christ taken from the cross, sits just inside and to the right of the entrance to St. Peter's Basilica.   We are amazed to read of the subtle 'unreal' features Michelangelo meant to portray, like how small and childlike Christ is compared with the massive Mary, said to accentuate her maternal love.       The Pieta, with Mary cradling her crucified son in her lap is Michelangelo's only signed piece of work.  The story goes he overheard some pilgrims praising his finished work, but attributing it to a second-rate sculptor from a lesser city.  He was so enraged he grabbed his chisel and chipped 'Michelangelo Buonarotti of Florence did this' in the ribbon running down Mary's chest.     Unfortunately, on Christmas morning, 1972, a madman with a hammer entered St. Peter's and began hacking away at this beautiful sculpture.  The damage was repaired, but now this beautiful piece of work is only viewed through a piece of bullet proof glass. 

The Crypt - Pope John Paul's Tomb

Pope John Paul's Tomb

We finish off our day with a trip into the Crypt of the Church, where we are able to go down to the foundations of old St. Peter's containing tombs of Popes and memorial chapels.  When we toured Europe 20 years ago, we were lucky enough to stand in St. Peter's Square and listen to Pope John Paul II give his weekly greeting to the masses.   Now today, standing in front of his tomb, memories came flooding back and the reality of us all being mere mortals hits home. 

Sunday, July 3rd - Good-bye to Rome

Private Beaches of Fiumicino

Once again after a glorious two week visit, it is time for us to head south and we must leave this magnificent city.  Rome truly is one of the greatest cities in this world, definitely Sheila's favorite!  Our log can't begin to portray all we did and saw while here.  Numerous museums didn't even allow cameras, thus their images must remain forever etched in our minds.  We sure hope you enjoyed the few photos of our highlights.   As we head out this morning to grab some last provisions before we head off on our overnight passage south to the Naples area, we come upon the beaches and  rows of umbrellas.  Most beaches are private in Italy and this one is sectioned off with various proprietors selling you your piece of the beach for the day!   Yikes...what a foreign concept to us.  I think we'll stick to swimming off the boat as we travel the west coast of Italy and its wonderful islands. 

Join us in Log 38 as we visit Pompeii and head to the Strait of Messina