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Monday, January 8, 2018

Must See In Rome, Italy - Preparing For Our Mediterranean Cruise

Visiting Rome, Italy has the number one spot on our bucket list and it's the reason why we started to think about going on this Mediterranean cruise.  I still can't believe that we have our reservations made and we will be seeing this amazing city in a few short months.  It is truly a dream come true.  Trying to see Rome in the small amount of time we will have there is going to be challenging though.   Our cruise ship is arriving in Civitavecchia, Italy at 7:00 am and leaving at 7:00 pm.  The port is miles from Rome so the first thing we had to figure out was how to get to Rome the quickest and easiest way possible.   We decided to book a Train Transfer By Roma Express that we found on the list of excursions offered by Royal Caribbean.  A shuttle bus will take us from our cruise ship to the train station where we will board a vintage train to Rome.  There will be an escort on the train who will provide us with a map of Rome and who will answer any questions we might have.  The train ride will take 50 minutes and will bring us to San Pietro Station which is a 10-15 walk from the Vatican.  We will then have 6 hours to explore on our own before taking the train back to the port.

Port 4 - Civitavecchia (Rome) Italy

The main reason for us wanting to go to Rome so badly is to visit Vatican City to see the greatest, most important Catholic Church in the world, St. Peter's Basilica with Michelangelo's Pieta and for a chance to see Michelangelo's ceiling in the Sistine Chapel.  If we think we have enough time for anything else, we would like to see the Colosseum, just the outside.   I am pretty sure we won't have time to venture inside.  We would also like to see Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon but we would not be disappointed if we didn't make it to these sites.  It would give us an excuse to come back!

Our plan at the moment is to buy tickets in advance to get into the Vatican museums.  If we can get them for 12:30 pm it will give us 3 hours to explore the museums and 3 hours to get to the other sites.
This is what our schedule might look like:
10:00 - Get to San Pietro Station.  Look for Bus 64 here to take us to Piazza Venezia stop.   30 minute bus ride and 12 minute walk.  
10:45 - Arrive at Colosseum - This 2000 year old building is one of those sites you dream about seeing in your lifetime.  It was a venue that saw many gladiator contests among other things.  Only 1/3 of the building remains having been destroyed by earthquakes and builders taking stones from here to build other buildings.  The exterior of the Colosseum is not impressive or beautiful as it was built by engineers and not artists.   If you go inside and look down into the arena, you will see the underground passages where prisoners and animals were held.  There are private tours you can book to avoid lines here but I couldn't find any information about getting online tickets in advance from the Colosseum itself.
11:15 - Walk 20 minutes to Trevi Fountain.  
11:35 - Arrive at Trevi Fountain - I will be looking for Neptune in his shell-shaped chariot and Triton blowing his conch shell.  I won't forget to bring a coin to throw over my shoulder to ensure that I get back to Rome one day.
Now it's time to decide if we have any time to do the 8 minute walk to get to the...
Spanish Steps - Many people have spent time hanging out on these steps, which are over 300 year old steps, including British poet John Keats.  I will be looking for the Sinking Boat Fountain at the bottom of these steps.  Then if we somehow have saved time somewhere we will walk 14 minutes to the...
Pantheon - This Roman temple was dedicated to all gods and is what the word pantheon means.  It is now a Christian church.  It was originally built in 27 B.C. but because of a few fires had to be rebuilt  around A.D. 120.  It is a great example of architecture of the Roman Empire.

I would like to have at least 1 hour to get to Vatican City from this area.  The trip back should take 30 - 45 minutes by Bus 64.

Vatican City

St. Peter's Basilica - is free to enter but costs 5 euro if you want to climb the stairs or 7 euro if you take the elevator up to the top of the dome.  We are not packing shorts and making sure all my tops cover my shoulders because of the dress code of this and most of the other churches we want to get in to explore.  We will follow Rick Steve's walking tour here.
Holy Door - is one of five doors that lead into the church.  The Holy Door is the one on the far right.  This door is only opened during Holy Years and special Jubilee years and on Christmas Eve every 25 years.   The pope will knock three times on the door with a silver hammer to open it.
Charlemagne's Coronation Site - On the floor in front of the central doorway is a round maroon colored stone.  This is the spot where Charlemagne was crowned Emperor.
St Andrew Statue and View of Dome - Near the altar, on the left hand side, is the statue of St. Andrew holding an X-shaped cross.  If you stand in front of it and look up you will find the dome 448 feet above you.  I will be looking above the windows to find Jesus, Mary, saints and angels and further up God.  He is so far up that he will look like a blur of blue and red.
St. Peter Statue - To the right of St. Andrew we will find St. Peter.  There will be a line of people waiting to kiss the big right toe of this statue as a sign of respect.  I will take the suggestion of Rick Steves and kiss my fingers, then touch the toe!
Pope John XXIII - is laid out to rest in a lighted glass tomb in the Basilica.  Some say that it is a sign of a miracle that his body was completely intact after being buried for 38 years.   Because of the amazing condition of the body, the authorities decided to put it in the church for all to enjoy.  Pope John XXIII himself performed a miracle when he cured an Italian nun who had a stomach tumor.
Main Altar - Look for the 7 story bronze canopy and you will find the main altar.  Only the pope can say Mass here, when he is in town.
BERNINI - Dove Window and Throne of St. Peter - In back of the main altar is a smaller front alter that is used for everyday services.  Here we will be looking for Bernini's dove window.  The six foot dove is used as the symbol for the Holy Spirit.  Underneath the dove is the Throne of St. Peter.  It is an oak chair that was built in medieval times for a king.  Bernini encased it in bronze and it is now a symbol of papal authority.
St. Peter's Crucifixion Site - To the left of the main altar we will look for the exact spot (according to tradition) of St. Peter's crucifixion.  When he was told he was going to be crucified like his Lord was he asked to be hung upside down because he was not worthy to be treated the same as Jesus.
RAPHAEL - Mosaic Copy of The Transfiguration is something I will be looking for near St. Andrew's statue.  The actual painting is in the Vatican museum.  Every painting in the Basilica are mosaic copies because the smoke and humidity would damage real paintings.
MICHELANGELO - Pieta is the reason why we will be in this Basilica.  To be this close to the actual pieta after knowing about it all our lives and seeing pictures of it will be more than amazing.  Seeing a mom holding her lifeless son in her arms is just too sad but it is one of the most famous works of art in the world and we can't wait to see it.  I think seeing this piece will be very emotional.
Tomb of St. Pope John Paul II is located under a painting of St. Sebastian, his favorite saint.  This Polish pope was the first non-Italian pope in four centuries. 
The Treasury Museum - is located near the altar and contains the tomb of Sixtus IV along with church ornaments, statues and various objects which are mostly gifts from kings and princes.
Blessed Sacrament Chapel - is located on the right-hand side of the church and is a peaceful place to meditate and pray. 
After you have looked around the church you can go down to the crypt where the tombs of popes and memorial chapels are.  You can also go up to the dome (there is a charge for this) to see the one of the best views in Rome.  Both areas are claustrophobic so Soko can go himself if he wants.

Vatican Museums - is a four mile complex of museums.  It takes 2 hours for a quick look around or 3 to 4 hours, if you have time, to be able to enjoy the museums more.  It is impossible to take it all in on one visit.  We will arm ourselves with a map of the museums and highlight where the must-sees on this list are.  After researching on the web, looking at travel guides and asking friends who have visited Vatican City and the museums, I have come up with this Top 5 list.
Belvedere Courtyard - is where we will find two statues that are not to be missed.  The Apollo Belvedere is a large white marble sculpture showing Apollo just after he has shot an arrow.  There are different ideas about what he has just shot at.  And Laocoon which is a marble sculpture showing Laocoon and his sons struggling with and getting overpowered by a serpent.  There are a couple of stories about who sent the serpent to kill the three and why.
Spiral Staircase - We can't miss finding this because it will be the first thing we see when we walk into the museum but I want to make sure we take it all in and take lots of pictures as it is the one of the most photographed staircases in the world.  Good to know: I read that we should not go through the doors at the bottom of this staircase as it will lead us out of museum and we will not be able to get back in. 
Raphael Rooms - are four rooms that are famous for their frescoes by Michelangelo and Raphael.  We will be on the lookout for one in particular, School of Athens, which was done by Raphael and his assistants.  This fresco gives us a preview of St. Peter's, which was under construction.  Raphael includes great thinkers, Aristotle and Plato and great painters, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo in this remarkable painting.
Sistine Chapel - is the main reason for everyone being in these museums.  I know it is for us anyway.  I will definitely have my map of the ceiling so I can understand what is going on up there.  Basically it is the story of creation with the central panel being the Creation of Adam.  This painting is what I think of when I dream of seeing the Sistine Chapel.  Especially where God's strong hand is reaching out to Adam's limp hand with their fingers almost touching.  After the ceiling, we will look for Michaelangelo's powerful Last Judgment behind the altar, with God separating the good from the evil.  If we are hurrying to get to St. Peter's Basilica  we will take the shortcut exit at the far-right corner of the chapel but if we have time we will go into the...
Pinacoteca Vaticana - where we will find Raphael's last work, Transfiguration.  If we went into St. Peter's first we would have seen the mosaic replica of this stunning painting.  After admiring this painting, we will find the souvenir shop to exit the museum.

Our itinerary looks a bit ambitious for a 6 hour day but we will try our best.  We will get a better idea of timing when we get there.  Only 8 more months until we are boarding the Vision of the Seas in Barcelona!