Finally, some photos from our tour of the Vatican. We were lucky to have a guide that does an early morning tour, so we saw the Sistine chapel in the company of perhaps 100 rather than 1000 or more people. No photos are allowed in the Sistine Chapel, so I was on best behavior and kept my camera turned off, though it was difficult.
Luckily, other areas of the Vatican are camera friendly, so here goes:
This is the painted ceiling of one of seemingly miles of Vatican hallways. The artistic effort involved in creating these spaces is almost beyond comprehension.
And of course, you know if there's a way to include birds here, I'll find it. These sculptures of mute swans done by the Boehm porcelain company were a gift from New York (city or state, I can't remember which) and they are exquisite.
This stained glass window of Madonna and Child looks almost like a modern interpretation of an older style.
Here's another ceiling view, this one in a sort of hallway alcove. The blue pigments used remain so brilliant.
The Swiss Guards in their colorful uniforms stood outside the entrance to St. Peter's Basilica.
This is the famous Pieta, completed when Michelangelo was 25 years old. It is now displayed behind glass, after being damaged by a vandal.
Finally, this is my favorite photo, showing the light streaming in through the high windows of St. Peter's. The arched ceiling's ornate carved decoration is covered in real gold leaf, and the Latin phrases around the top of the walls are done in fine mosaic tile. The artistry itself and the wealth needed to create it are mind-boggling.
I had no idea beforehand of the beauty and wealth contained in the Vatican Museum collections. In four hours of a guided tour, we barely skimmed the surface. It was simply amazing.
We're home now, but thought I'd share some Rome photos, since wi-fi wasn't to be found while we were there.
Sunday morning, we took a guided walking tour of ancient Rome.
First stop, the Trevi Fountain, where the incoming water from the ancient aqueduct system still runs fresh and clean after 2000 years. A tap for drinking is located off to the far side of the fountain.
At San Pietro in Vincoli, Michelangelo's Moses marks the tomb of Pope Julius II. It's amazing to see the delicate physical details, such as veins on the hands and forearms, that Michelangelo perfectly sculpted from a block of Carrera marble.
The Colosseum is so huge, it's difficult to capture enormity of it, but I loved this shot of its weathered ancient architecture against the soft summer sky.
This is the Temple of Vesta, goddess of the hearth, where the Vestal Virgins (who were actually female priests) had to keep the sacred flame burning.
Upon entering the Pantheon, this beam of light streaming through the roof opening was magical. The Pantheon is a circular building that dates to 125 AD and has an amazing poured concrete dome with the open center (oculus) as its source of interior light.
The Pantheon was originally a temple to the Roman gods, but in the 7th century it was converted to a Catholic church, Santa Maria ad Martyres.
On Sunday evening, we walked along the Tiber and found some mature wild fig trees (with fruit) growing out of crevices in the walls along the river. My guess is that they grew from seeds deposited in droppings of birds that roost along the wall's narrow ledges.
(This post was written Saturday, but couldn't be posted until now, as we couldn't find any wi-fi spots near our hotel in Rome. We're home again and pretty jet-lagged.)
I'm writing this on the train from Foligno to Roma. We surrendered our lucky (automatic) Avis rental car, as there's no way we'd try to drive in Rome. Anyway, last night before dinner, we walked around Bettona taking photos, so here are a few of the local sights...
A luxuriant doorway garden tucked in along the narrow winding streets.
A mystery-to-me plant (one I don't recognize from the U.S.) with such an intense color.
The sweet painted entry sign for a Franciscan mission monastery.
A car on a typical Bettona street, with barely enough room to open both doors at once.
This is probably why... John could almost touch the walls of the buildings on either side of the street -- yes, this is a Bettona side street. Think medieval scale.
And from the back of the hotel, the neighbor's lovely tomato garden with a view of sunflower fields in the distance below.
Finally, this photo is for our kids... they'll understand!
Well, Umbria has been a bit of a different driving experience, as they tend to omit directional signs here and there, just to provide some extra mystery and/or to make you earn your destination. Today we got lost several times on the way to and from Assisi, even though the desk clerk assured us "there is only one way to Assisi from here". Ah, yes... but so many more ways (plentiful unmarked intersections and roundabouts) to go astray!
One wrong turn led us to stop beside this field of sunflowers in their prime, so I took photos while John re-evaluated our location. (Never come to Umbria without a good GPS, we've learned that lesson repeatedly now.)
But this field of sunflowers made a wrong turn seem like a blessing in disguise.
John thought I was nuts for taking this picture, but Assisi has the most civilized parking garages I've ever seen. Beautifully clean & painted, with clear directions leading you to town, spotless restrooms, a cafe/gift shop on the first floor, and soothing classical music playing on a sound system through the whole garage.
We were impressed by these ornate iron dragons, just a sample of the elaborate ironwork found throughout Assisi.
However, it's not a town for the faint of heart or the weak of knee, as there are some steep climbs to get from one place to another.
Our ultimate reward was reaching the Basilica of San Francesco. This beautiful church was built in honor of St. Francis, the humble friend of the poor, both needy humans and vulnerable animals. A basement crypt was built around St. Francis' once-hidden grave, and the huge two level church was erected in his honor. Picture taking was not permitted inside, but it is the most beautiful church I've ever seen, and when we get home I'll update here with links to published photos if I can find some.
This was the window display of a bakeshop in town, though we somehow managed to resist their temptations.
Evidence of our cleaned-plate lunch at a cafe on on the central piazza... we chose the cafe in part for their shaded outdoor seating, but the pizza was delicious!
And here, an ancient arch framed a lovely view as we headed back to Bettona (and got lost again!) for a well-earned rest. One great thing about visiting these hill towns is that you can enjoy a delicious lunch and know that the walking is burning off the calories! But the Italians really do seem to eat a much healthier, fresher diet, and maybe that's part of their Mediterranean secret. Tomorrow we head back to Roma for our last few days.