Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Roman Holiday Day 2

Ok, so we finished day one in the pouring rain. In fact, here is the last picture we took on that day. It's me in the pouring rain on the Spanish Steps. Ironically the first picture the next day was also me on the Spanish Steps. We just picked right up where we left off, but with better weather!

We walked through the lovely streets of Roma to the Ara Pacis, which is a Roman altar built to honor Augustus' victory over Spain and part of France and was intended to symbolize the ensusing power and peace of the Roman Empire. It is quite pretty and so is the building it is in. The picture below shows what the area looked like in ancient times. The altar was on the big marble quare in the middle. At the bottom of the picture you see the Pantheon which we visited later. The wide empty space was a miltary parade ground.

Here is the actual altar. They were working on cleaning it, so it was hard to get a good shot of it. I was glad that they allowed us in the building during the cleaning. It would have been a shame to have missed it. The bottom half of the altar is covered in an intricate floral relief of native flowers. Their symmetry and shows Roman control and order over the natural world, and the varying states of the flowers show a continous cycle of renewal. All the images on the altar are symbolic, but I don't know a lot about it. This why I think art is so interesting-- it carries a message.

After the Ara Pacis we headed up to a castle. Here is Brian and Iain walking by the Tiber River on our way to Castel Sant'Angelo. Like seemingly everything else in Roma, the Castel Sant'Angelo has a long and convoluted history.

There it is. Pretty impressive, don't you think? It was originally the Roman Emperor Hadrian's tomb, but somewhere along the way it was annexed by the papacy and became a papal fortress. The Vatican is within sight of the Castel, so the Pope could quickly flee to the castle in times of danger.
Besides all that, the Castel Sant'Angelo has some really amazing views of Roma. Can you see the statute on top of the building? That's Michael the Archangel. You can climb all the way to the top terrace where he is. Here are some of the shots I took from the top. I have lots more. Brian could have stayed up there for a long time just looking, but it started to rain afer we had been up there a few minutes.

It was very windy up there. Poor Iain hates the wind. Mama was able to get a half smile for the picture though. He was glad when we climbed back down.

There are good views from the top floor of the castle too. This is my attempt at a self portrait. It's pretty funny I think. The Castel was just lovely and we really enjoyed climbing all around it.

After the Castel, we were on the move again though the beautiful maze of alleyways that is Roma to the building that I most wanted to see in Rome-- the Pantheon.

We stumbled on this guy-- his name is Pasquino and he is a "talking" statute. In the 16th century it became popular to post anonymous pieces of political satire and dissent to statutes in the dead of night. Pasquino was the first and best known. You can see he is still talking away.

And here is the Pantheon. The ancient temple to all the gods, with the incredible domed roof. It has a large hole in the center of the dome, called the oculus. This is the best surviving temple from ancient times. Nowadays it is a church and it is considered the highest honor to be buried inside.

After checking out the Pantheon, we visited a church called Sant' Ignazio di Loyola. This caught my eye in the guidebook because the church was orginally supposed to have a dome, but funds ran out and they painted an illustionist fresco of a dome instead. There was also another amazing fresco on the ceiling there. It was too dark to get a clear picture, but it was one of the best works of art I've ever seen. It was supposed to be Loyola being received into paradise. Whether or not he is actually there is not for me to say, but this painting was so realistic that you almost felt as if the roof of the church had been lifted off and you were about to float up too. We sat and looked at that for a long time. I think it was better than the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

After that we met up with our friend Athena, who is a native Roman. She took us out for a great Italian dinner and helped us choose the best things on the menu, as well as translating and giving us the inside scoop on life in Roma. Spending the evening with her was one of the highlights of the trip.

And here is our boy, looking like a real Italian. Daddy made the mistake of sharing his tiramasu with Iain, who loved it!

Another lovely day in Roma gone. What a great time and great memories!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A very cultured baby indeed!

Yesterday Jordan, Iain, & I went to the Evangelical Library in London to hear a lecture by Paul Helm, pictured left, a noted Christian philosopher and theologian and former professor at Regent College, King's College London, and University of Liverpool. It was great to finally meet him; we've been e-mailing for a couple years, but until yesterday we had never met face-to-face.

After the lecture, Jordan & I reflected: Iain's not even eight months old, but he's already gotten around the academic circles quite a bit. He's attended lectures by and met both Paul Helm and Quentin Skinner. He's visited with and even been held by numerous well-known scholars in both the US and the UK, including Robert Reymond, Cal Beisner, Palmer Robertson, D. James Kennedy, and Knud Haakonssen. He's been prayed for by Ligon Duncan, Andrew McGowan, and Terry Johnson. He's spent much time with numerous up-and-coming scholars at Knox and Sussex. He was even baptized by Warren Gage. If he keeps this up, he's going to be pretty well connected in the academic world!

But for right now he's bawling in the other room . . . I'd best go take care of him before Mama comes home.

Roma Adventure Day 1

Roma was better and more beautiful than I possibly thought it could be. We all had an amazing time. There are ruins and lovely parks scattered throughout the city center. Rome not only was a great city, it is a great city. But I'm going to let the pictures tell the story, because they convey more than I can by writing, although they are wholy inadequete to show how immense and interconnected everything was. This is our hotel room balcony.

The first thing that we went to see was the Colosseum. We walked from our hotel, and I kept telling Brian I thought we were going the wrong way because we were heading down an alley... surely the way to the Colosseo wouldn't be down an alley. Surely there would be lots of billboards advertising it or something. But no, that's part of the beauty of Rome. There are tons of alleyways and suddenly you pop out into a piazza with a beautiful fountain or church. There is adequete signage (all the roads are marked-- unlike the UK). So we strolled down the hill to the Colosseo and it kept getting bigger and bigger as we got closer. Here is is from the hill. It is actually in a valley though, so it is even bigger than the picture shows.

Now you can see its height a bit better. Look how little the people are. In its glory days the Colosseo would have been completely covered with marble and each of the 80 arches on the second and third floors had an over life-sized statue in it. It was built using slave labor and only took 8 years to complete. In the picture you can see a bit of the Forum in the background.

Here's our globe-trottin' boy at the Colosseum.

And this is what remains of the interior. All the marble has been stripped off over the years for other statutes and monuments. The Colosseo was originally built over a drained lake, so there are two floors underground which are not open to the public. These were used as a place for keeping gladiators and animals before the fights. There would have been wooden planks and sand in the center of the stadium to cover these levels. The sand was to soak up the spilled blood. The modern use of the word arena comes from the Latin word for sand. It is a pretty gruesome form of entertainment and it is hard to fathom that sucessful gladiators enjoyed such celebrity that some free men actually signed up to become gladiators. Our guide told us that the Colosseo was not a place that many Christians died. Apparently most of the martyrs died in the nearby Circus Maximus. It is hard to imagine living in such times.

After touring the Colosseo, it was time for lunch. We ate at a great place across from the Colosseo. We had pizza of course. It was good, but definitely different than American pizza. Ours was topped with hard-boiled eggs, olives, mushrooms, and and Italian ham. It was very good, despite my initial skepticism about eggs on pizza. Here's my boy in a highchair. He is getting so big! He was a big hit with our waiter, too, because the waiter had a one month old daughter. He wanted to know all about what Iain could do and how old he was. Iain was pretty popular the whole trip actually. He got tons of attention and everywhere we went we heard "Ciao, bello!" (hello, beautiful boy!). Iain thought that was great of course.

After lunch we went up to the Palatine hill. Lots of wealthy Romans and emperors built their homes here overlooking the Forum, including Augustus, Domitian, and Titus. I could see why-- the area was just amazingly lovely. And when you add all the ruins it takes on a romantic, dream-like quality. This was probably my favorite place in Roma.

The picture below shows the remains of Domitian's indoor private race track. The one above shows his private baths.

And as if beauty and ruins weren't enough going for it, the Palatino also has a former Renaissance mansion and formal gardens on it. Roma is like that. You think something is lovely or interesting and then you turn a corner and find another beautiful surprise. The gardens are called the Farnese gardens named after the grandson of the Pope who had them built and enjoyed living in those plush surroundings.

Iain thought the garden's goldfish were pretty nice!

Here we are on Palatino hill at the Farnese villa overlooking the Forum.

After exploring the Palatino, we clambered down the hill and walked through the Forum, wich was the heart of ancient Roma. Here are the remains of the Roman Senate. Not much left, but still impressive. All the ruins are enormous. Roma is definitely a city that evokes the imagination. I guess that is why so many artists and writers are continually drawn to this city.

At the end of the Forum, again tucked behind a corner, is the Mamertine Prison. It is believed that Paul and Peter were imprisoned here. It was a smelly, nasty place. It was cramped and very dark. Our camera has a very stong flash, so you can see the altar here quite well.

Here is a picture of the ventilation shaft that I took without using the flash. Was it really here that Paul wrote " I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death." We took a moment and prayed here for our little son that he would be such a man.

After the prison it was raining and we were tired, so we decided to stop for a drink and an ice cream. Roma is famous for its yummy gelati (ice creams). We had a chocolate tartufo (ice cream shaped like a trufle). It was a really yummy dark chocolate flavor with cocoa powder sprinkled all over it. We split one scoop and even then it was almost too rich for me to eat my half--and I adore chocolate!

After our stop, it was dark, but we decided to keep walking around the city. The rain had slowed, but it hadn't stopped. This is the Victor Emmanuel II monument. He unified Italy in 1870 and was the first king. It is right next to the Forum and it is the biggest monument I have ever seen.
We continued our stroll through the lovely Roman streets until we came to the Fontana de Trevi (Trevi Fountain). It is also very large and lovely. They say if you throw a coin in the Trevi, you are guranteed to come back to Roma. So we all did, including Iain!

We didn't hang around the Trevi as long as we would have liked because there were a lot of con artists preying on tourists there. This was the only place that we had any problems when we were in Rome. There were tons of guys who would try to sell roses and when you refused, they would try to to "give" them to you. They were very persistant and followed people around. They also tried to take your picture for an exorbitant fee. The police were there and every now then would make their presence known, at which time the hucksters briefly took off. While they were gone we made an agreement to have another tourist couple from the States take our picture and we took theirs. The woman was holding some roses. Apparently one of the guys "gave" them to her and then the police showed up, so he left. While we were taking pictures he reappeared and demanded payment for the flowers. The woman told him that he could have them back and he snatched them out her hand (hope there were no thorns-- ouch!) and started cursing at her. Brian challenged him and the man walked away. (I love my brave husband, but I do worry about his safety sometimes. But if you know Brian, you know what a "don't mess with me" air he can have when he wants to. The man apparently took the hint.) Brian spoke to the police and they were very nice, chatting and joking with him about it. The guy was gone, so they didn't get him, even though what he did was illegal. There were just so many of them.

After Trevi we walked up to the Piazza Spagna and Piazza del Popolo, which was a pretty long walk. It was even longer back to our hotel and while we were walking it started pouring and one of our umbrellas broke. The streets were uneven and full of puddles and it wasn't long before we were both soaked. Thankfully Iain was nice and dry under his plastic rain cover in the stroller. We were so happy to get to the hotel and get dried out! Yuck! We laughed about it though, because it has become a bit of a family vacation tradition to have one long, painfully exhausting walk.

So that was a first day in Roma. It was great and we saw a ton. The city was so beautiful and it was thrilling to be someplace that I'd only dreamed of going and have it be even better than I expected, even with our little man in tow. More to come soon!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A very cultured baby

Brian had to go up to London for a conference early this week, so on Monday Iain and I went with him and spent part of the day in the British Museum. If you are interested in art or history and ever get the chance to visit London, you should definitely plan a visit there. Iain and I strolled around looking at ancient Greek and Assyrian artifacts and took in a tour of the Egypt rooms. I think he was the youngest person the guide had ever had on a tour with her. He was a good boy as usual.

This is the Reading Room in the center of the musuem. Boy, do I ever wish I could have a room in my house like that! How come libraries are never this nice? Ah well.

And here is my budding scholar. :) When he plays with his books Brian and I joke around that he is "doing his research". Oh my. We're pathetic, aren't we? This poor kiddo.

And on Monday, we're off for Rome. Can you believe it? I sure can't. It is a dream come true. I'm looking forward to sharing those pictures and stories with you when we get back!