Saturday, June 17, 2017

Grand Tour, Day 27: Roma

There is not much sleep to be had sloshing around on the lower bunk of a rattling train that makes occasional, mysterious extended stops at various waystations.

At 8 am, our porter brought us trays with rolls, butter, and jelly.


Though we expected to arrive in Rome at 9:22, it was closer to 10:22 when we got to the Roma Termini.

The station was hot and  crowded. That would be a recurring theme for the day.  Our hotel was within walking distance from the train station, so we walked there as soon as we arrived. Though the dingy carpet at the entrance did not make a good impression, the woman working the front desk was friendly, our room for five was large, clean and quiet, and the WiFi signal was strong. The room was hot when we got there, but when we turned the AC on full blast, it cooled down.

The woman at the front desk called a taxi for five, but that meant the front seat was a bench seat, so Nina rode beside me--her first time to ride in the front of a vehicle.

Unidentified, red-banner-waving political demonstrations blocked some streets (maybe they were railway workers?), so our driver stopped frequently to confer with gabby traffic cops, which felt quintessentially Italian.

When we got the Vatican, Emilio felt queasy, but the "fresh" air and the water I put on his head helped.

We had to navigate an 800-meter obstacle course of aggressive, insistent touts who wanted us to join their tours which would, they said, allow us to skip lines. When we finally assumed our spots at the end of a long line in the shade beside one of the walls on the north side of the Vatican, we ended up waiting 45 mostly painless minutes before we got in. The kids took 15-minute turns on Mari's phone.

When we got the tickets, we also invested in audio guides for the kids, who also got treasure hunt maps.

I insisted that we start with Raphael's rooms and the Sistine Chapel, I but utterly failed to get us to either one quickly. The museum signs and maps were little help. In fact, they seemed designed to take us by the longest route possible to get where we wanted to go. We seemed to walk through dozens of rooms filled with busts, sculptures, and tapestries, and every room between us and the Sistine Chapel seemed crowded.

The Vatican is also the hottest museum I've been in--there was no AC at all in many places. Climate control seems to be a high priority in most museums I've been to, but I guess the truth is that most works of art in those museums were created and stored in times before AC even existed.

When we finally got to the room where Raphael's School of Athens was featured, Mari and the kids were carried straight on through like driftwood on the human current, and I was just able to pull them back in time.


The photo above is the Internet's. If the School of Athens were as crowded as the School of Athens room was on the day we visited it, I don't think the quality of the discussion would have been so lofty, and Diogenes of Sinope would not have been able to adopt his comfortable lounging position on the floor.
In 1508, when he was 25, Raphael moved to Rome, and Pope Leo X asked him to decorate his library at the Vatican. When Raphael finished the room, including his most famous work, “The School of Athens,” the Pope was so pleased he kicked out the painters he had asked to paint other rooms and asked Raphael to take over.

Raphael and his team of painters continued painting the pope’s rooms until Raphael’s sudden and unexpected death in 1520. He was 37 years old at the time.

The four rooms Pope Leo X asked Raphael to paint for him are now commonly known as “Raphael’s Rooms.”
This photo of the ceiling in the School of Athens Room is not mine, either..
I came to see the School of Athens, a group portrait in motion that favorably compares with the group portraits by Rembrandt that we saw in Amsterdam. I was struck, though, by the brightness of the golden ceiling art in the room.The circular frescos clustered around the hexagon in the middle are allegorical figures that relate to the paintings on the walls below them. Read as a clockface, that's: Theology at 12, sitting between two cherubs (putti) holding up signs that read "Divinar Rer Notitia" ("Knowledge of Divine Things"); Justice at 3, holding a balance and wielding a sword; Philosophy at 6, holding two books ("Morals" and "Nature) between two genii (no wings) whose cards read "Causarum Cognitio" ("Know the Causes"--attributed to Cicero)--this one's above "The School of Athens"; and Poetry at 9, wearing a laurel wreath and holding a lyre.

The rectangular figures between the circles, starting with the the upper right quadrant and continuing clockwise, are Adam and Eve ("want an apple?"), the Judgement of Solomon ("let's cut this baby in half"), Urania, a.k.a. Uranus (the astronomers' muse), and "Apollo and Marsysas." Marsyas apparently challenged Apollo to a musical battle, lost, and was flayed alive. My friends on the internet think it wasn't Raphael who painted this one.

After we left the Raphael rooms, we walked through a captivating 2013 art installation called "In the beginning (and the end)" by Studio Azzuro that invited visitors to touch the smooth black walls of the room. Doing so had the effect of summoning spectral images in modern dress to the surface, where they told stories in Italian and in sign language. Take your hand away and the images fade as well.

This art installation was part of the Vatican's first pavilion to be included in the Venice Biennale (which I'd love to see some day), and it became a part of the itinerary at the Vatican museum in 2016.

The experience of reaching out to the walls to summon life from them reminds me of the gesture Michelangelo placed at the center of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, except that in this case instead of God creating the human in his image, it is the humans who are producing digital images of themselves.

In the center of the floor of the Studio Azzuro room was a circle of projected light. We extended our hands into the light to create the image above: a Ruiz Benton floor to complement a Sistine ceiling.

No photos are allowed in the Capella Sistina.

When the Vatican traffic cops in the room weren't policing surreptitious cell phone usage, they were repeatedly demanding that the people in the crowded room turn down the volume on their voices.  The dynamic was not unlike that of a cafeteria lunch room in an elementary school, except for the massive work of art on the ceiling above us.

The cops compelled the masses to congregate in the center of the room where I spent my time looking to vulture some of the seats by the wall--which I eventually nabbed for us.

The chapel was built for Pope Sixtus IV (hence the name) between 1473 and 1481. Michelangelo painted the ceiling between 1508 and 1512 and was called back 22 years later to paint The Last Judgement on the wall, which he finished in 1541.

Not my photo, Sistine Cops. In the image above, Daniel looks like he's taking notes on the puzzling behavior of the chapel visitors. No lions here.
The boys over Daniel's shoulders seem to be touching their neighbors in unwelcome ways. And is that a Dementor peeking out from behind Danny's shoulder? 
Thoughtful, half-shaded Daniel (see above) stuck with me.

Not my photo.
The boys were impressed by Bartholomew, who is holding his own skin in his hand during the Last Judgement. According to popular legend, Bartholomew was himself skinned alive. The boys' audio guides tell them that Michelangelo painted his own portrait on Bartholomew's discarded skin. Cheeky internet commentators say it may have been because Michelangelo would rather have been sculpting than painting the Sistine Chapel.

After we left the Chapel, we ate pizza, fries, and tiramisu in the cafeteria before heading to the museum's Pinacoteca (art gallery). Highlights included: a very large Raphael painting ("The Transfiguration"), which he was working on at the time of his death in 1520; an unfinished Da Vinci ("St. Jerome in the Wilderness"), whose sketched sections provided a fascinating look at the painting process; unfinished clay sculptures by Bernini that reveal the straw sinews beneath the model's surface.

Another highlight was Caravaggio's large "Deposition"  (Entombment) at right, which was painted between 1600 and 1604.

Caravaggio's dramatic religious paintings emphasize the poverty of their subjects. I've done some reading about Caravaggio for my legendary, unpublished book A History of the World for Nina, Pablo, and Emilio, so I know that Caravaggio himself hung out with people who were shunned by the Italian elite--sometimes for good reason. Beginning in 1603, Caravaggio was arrested on several occasions for disturbing the peace, and on May 28, 1606, he killed one of his critics in a duel, fled Rome and became a fugitive.

In 1608, Caravaggio shot a man in Malta and was locked in a cut-rock cell in the 1000-year-old Castel Sant Angelo Prison, which we walked by after we left the Vatican Museum.

Escape from the Castel Sant Angelo was considered impossible. But with the help of a friend, Caravaggio eluded the prison guards and lowered himself down a 200-foot cliff (the height of an 18-story building) into a waiting boat. 

One year later, Caravaggio was attacked outside a rough tavern in Naples by four men who disfigured his face.

He died in the summer of 1610 at the age of 38 and was buried in an unmarked grave

After we left the Vatican, we took this picture with St. Peter's Basilica in the background.

This was one of the days when my phone figured out how to map the path we walked and saved the image, so I know that when we left the Vatican, we walked down the Via Crescenzio until we got to the Parco della Mole Adriana, which surrounds the Castel Sant Angelo, where Caravaggio was once imprisoned.
After circling the Parco we walked along the Tiber past the Pont di Sant Angelo.

The Ponte Sant'Angelo was built during the reign of Hadrian the I (117-138) and completed about 135 to connect the publicly owned areas south of the Tiber with Hadrian's mausoleum (later-the Castel Sant'Angelo) on the north side.  Hadrian was from Spain, and his imperial portrait depicted him with a beard, though for the previous hundred years every emperor had been depicted with a clean-shaven face. After 117, every imperial head is bearded.


Ten statues of angels, designed by Bernini were mounted on the bridge in 1688.

Souvenir stands along the Tiber featured Pope Francis bobbleheads for 8 Euros.

The RB walks are fueled by mulit-flavored gelati cones. Mari was our quality control officer.

I took this photo of St. Peter's and the Ponte Sant' Angelo from the Ponte Umberto I, which we crossed to get to the Piazza Navona.

Built in the 15th century,  Piazza Navona was the city's main market for almost 300 years. When Mari was 9-years-old and her grandfather was the Argentine ambassador to the Vatican, she spent a month living at the Argentine embassy. It was during the Christmas season (which is summer in Argentina), and the market was filled with stalls selling ornaments and sweets.  It was one of her favorite places.

There are several fountains in the Piazza Navona.  After this fountain was created in 1574, it was known as the "Blacksmiths Fountain,"because of all the blacksmith shops nearby. The statue of Neptune fighting an octopus was added in 1878.

Our next stop was the Pantheon, which was begun in 27 BCE and mostly finished during the reign of Emperor Hadrian between 118 and 128. Until modern times, the dome was the largest in the world.

After leaving the Pantheon, we stopped for dinner in a plaza in front of the San Ignazio di Loyola church at restaurant called the La Cave di San Ignazio, which is also called Da Sabatino. The Church dates to the 17th century; the restaurant to the early 1900s.

The photo above is my emotional memory of the place. Everything we were served--potato and rice croquettes, green salad, tortellini with cream, spaghetti alioli, and spaghetti carbonara was delicious--but I loved the bruschetta.

78€ was probably the most we spent on any meal on our trip, but we spent almost as much feeding the five of us at Two Frogs Grill in Ardmore, and I have fonder memories of this meal in Rome than I have of that one in Oklahoma.

After supper, we made our way to the Trevi Fountain, where we threw in coins that promised we would return. The fountain was built in 1762. The coins are now collected daily and given to charity.


On our walk home, we walked through the Emperor Trajan's Forum, which was illuminated at night. The Forum was built between 106 and 112. Trajan--Hadrian's predecessor--was the last of the clean-shaven emperors. He was also from Spain.

Our path home was not direct (my phone did not record our route) in part because some of the streets were blocked off for Rome's first "mezza maratona."

Our walk home took us path the Roman Colosseum, which was built between the years 70 and 80 during the reign of emperor Vespasian, in part to commemorate his victory over Jewish rebels (the booty from the war paid for it).

The Colosseum was also on the half-marathoners' route.

I made a couple of wrong turns on the way from the Colosseum to the hotel, and since some of us  were quiet tired, we ended up taking a taxi ride for the last few blocks of our trek home.

We were happy to arrive in our cool room.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Grand Tour, Day 26: Austria

When I woke up, I called the Salzburg tourist office to see if they could offer suggestions for a day trip outside the city, mostly because we'd been doing city touring for a few days, and I thought it would be a nice break to get into the Alps. I ended  up being transferred multiple times. Nobody at the tourist office wanted to talk about day trips out of Salzburg, so we decided to head to the train station to see if the tourist office there would be more helpful.

The kids got up at 9. The hotel manager told me it could takes a long time for a taxi for 5 to arrive, but after she called, the taxi showed up quickly. By 9:45, we were loaded up.

According to the hotel's website, Mozart and his sister once spent the night here. Above: Emilio and his sister await a taxi.

At the train station, the tourist office employees wouldn't talk about train schedules, and the ticket office employees wouldn't recommend destinations.  After walking back and forth between each office, I got everyone to agree that we had time to take a train to Zell am See and take another back before the night train to Rome was scheduled to leave the station.

The train to Zell am See left Salzburg at 1. We were on it.

If we had traveled this route at night, we would have missed  dramatic Alps, chalets on steep mountainsides, snowy peaks, and the roiling, milky jade river running beside the track.

We arrived in Zell am See at 1 and after we got off the train, we realized that Pabi left his fleece aboard.

We walked to the tourist office, where we got directions to a ski lift that would take us to a mountaintop hike. The chair lift was not for anyone who is afraid of heights, we were told. Also, the cloudy sky would inhibit the views. But it might clear up later.

We took our chances.

A public bus delivered us to the foot of the Schmittenhöhe, the "mother mountain" of Zell am See.  There we learned that round trip lift passes cost $110, but we were in too deep now to back out.

There were two lifts. The enclosed lift went to the higher peak, but the saleswoman assured us that the path between the two peaks was not steep (Austria "steep," and Oklahoma "steep" are two very different things, though).

We chose  the chair lift to Sonnkogel (the "Sonnenalmbahm" above) the lower of the two peaks, because we wanted to make sure we got a chance to ride in the open air chair lifts (the "Sonnkogelbahn").

Our journey began with an enclosed ride into the clouds.
Halfway up the mountain, we got off the enclosed lift and headed for the open chair lifts. Along the way, Nina enjoyed a "Hills are alive . . ." meadow run.

We were mostly alone on the mountain.

Emilio and Pablo rode with me; Nina rode with Mari.

At the top of the mountain, there was a mini-zipline and a slide that the kids played on.

The map at the chair lift landing was confusing, but the chairlift operator pointed us in the direction of the Schmittenhöhe. We then headed out on a gravel path above.

I got winded climbing this slope, though it was not (Austria) steep.
The kids? Not so much.


We saw pink and purple wildflowers all along the path.

At times, a window would open in the clouds revealing distant mountains and valleys below.


At the top of a hill halfway to somewhere (we weren't sure that it was the Schmittenhöhe), we decided to turn around to save time, but mostly because we liked the chairlift experience (and we were tired).

Before we turned back, though, Emi and I climbed the Salersbachköpf (1934 meters) , and he added a rock to the peak, making it just a little bit taller.

Pabi and I sang "My Favorite Things" on the walk back.


At the top of the hill near the chair lift landing, there was a wooden swing and a restaurant that featured buttermilk on its menu. We thought of Mom, of course.

On the way down, the clouds began to clear, and the valley seemed to be waking up from a nap.

Bananas are not native to the Austrian Alps, so I did a double take when I saw this from the chair lift. I decided it was modern art.

The sun turned on the color switch.


We enjoyed the chair lift ride so much that we went up and down again. You can see Zell am See in the distance in the photo of Nina above.

As a result of our second round trip up and down the mountain, we had to hustle to catch the bus we needed to make our train connection. We caught our bus, though, so we ended up having time to buy snacks at the grocery--rice cakes, water, dried cranberries, apfelstrudle, potato chips.

The train from Zell am See to Salzburg left at 5:15. Some in our company napped before our 6:51 arrival in Salzburg.

At the Salzburg train station, we got a map of the old city and took a bus to the Rathaus (old town hall).Our first stop was the house where Mozart was born on January 27, 1756.

I visited the interior of this house when I hitchiked in the snow from Vienna to Salzburg in the spring of 1988.


That's the steeple of St. Peter's Abbey behind Nina in the photo above. A Benedictine monastery was founded here in the year 696. That onion-bulb dome dates to 1756, while construction of the church itself began in 1130.


There are tombstones behind the grates on the right in the photo above of St. Peter's Church cemetery. The oldest tombstone here dates to 1288.



Mozart's sister Nannerl was buried in this cemetery in 1829.


St. Peter's Church cemetery looks like the cemetery where the Von Trapps hid after their winning performance at the musical festival Max organized.

Some internet killjoys say that this cemetery was merely an inspiration for the Hollywood set where the actual scene was filmed. That was not the story I was told by our tour guide when I visited Salzburg in 1982 on my first trip to Europe.


This giant sculpture by Stephen Balkenhol is titled "Sphaera." It was installed in Salzburg's Kapitelplatz in 2007. Balkenhol is the same artist who designed "Man with Outspread Arms," which we saw in Munich.



At the foot of the Sphaera is a giant chess board. The kids were tempted to play.


We rode the Festungsbahn--a diagonal funicular cable car--up the hill to visit the Hohensalzburg castle.


The Festungsbahn was first built in 1892 and has been modernized many times since then.


These panoramic windows were added in 2011.

Though the car can fit 55, we were the only 5 passengers on our ride. We climbed 30 stories in one minute.


The castle is one of the biggest medieval castles in Europe. Construction of the fortress began in 1077. Its ring walls and towers were built in 1462. The current external battlements were completed in the 17th century out of concern that the Ottoman Turks would attack the city (they almost conquered Vienna in 1683).

That's the Salzach river in the distance.


We climbed the stairs to castle's interior and had free run of the place. According to Rick Steve, this courtyard was "the main square of the castle residents, a community of a thousand--which could be self-sufficient when necessary. The square was ringed by the shops of craftsmen, blacksmiths, bakers, and so on."


During World War One, Italian prisoners-of-war were kept here.

We left the castle at 8:50, walked though the narrow avenues of the old town and up the Judengasse until before catching a taxi back to the Hautbahnhof.

At the train station's grocery store, we loaded up on mixed-fruit juice, apple juice, water, cream cheese, sliced bread, and sushi (for Mari).

Our train arrived early at the platform, and we were delighted to learn that the sixth bunk on our cabin would be unoccupied.  We didn't believe it, though, until we'd pulled out of the station, and no drunken, bleeding Swedens stumbled down the aisle.

I gave the porter our breakfast orders in ugly German, and she helped us fix the privacy curtain on our window.

Some of us played cards after dinner.

Lights out after midnight.

Some of us soon learned that sleeping in a train is much more like camping in a tent than it is like sleeping in a hotel.