In my last post we stood in St. Peter’s Square and looked at St. Peter’s Basilica. This time we go inside plus visit the Vatican Museum as part of my armchair travel series. This post is based on a 2015 post.
St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is one of the world’s great churches. It is simply breathtaking. Walk inside and you are ready to join the Faith… whether you are faithful or not. The church was built during the Renaissance utilizing the greatest artists of Italy when Italy had the greatest artists in the world.
Visiting, you might say, is an indulgence of the highest order. In fact the church was built on indulgence… or, more correctly, indulgences: lots of them. Let’s say you committed a very, very BIG sin. No problem, if you were very, very wealthy. The church was willing to sell you forgiveness, an indulgence if you will. It was a guarantee you’d make it through the Pearly Gates.
The practice was so widespread, and so profitable, and so corrupt in fact, that it led a relatively unknown monk by the name of Martin Luther to tack up a list of 95 demands on the doors of a German church and kick off the Protestant Reformation.
But that is all far behind us in the very distant past. I, for one, am glad that the Pope found a way to pay for his splendid monument. And, I suspect, given a few minutes alone with Michelangelo’s Pieta, the most protesting of Protestants would agree.
If St. Peter’s isn’t enough to pull you into the Vatican, its magnificent museum with over four miles of art should. The tour ends with the Sistine Chapel where Michelangelo spent four years on his back filling 5900 square feet with art.
Our tour of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum was far too short. Even cutting out half of the museum, I felt like an Olympic sprinter. Give yourself a couple of days to explore these outstanding treasures.
Today we will visit St. Peter’s Square as part of my armchair travel series for the Age of Coronavirus. This is based on a post I did in 2015 after a visit to Rome.
Our hotel in Rome, the Giulio Cesare, was within a mile of the Vatican. We walked over twice, getting mildly lost both times. It didn’t matter. Rome is chock-full of fascinating architecture and tantalizing history.
The first time we went via the Tiber River, passing by the Castle St. Angelo and its neighboring bridge, the Pont St. Angelo. Eventually this brought us to the broad avenue leading up to St. Peter’s Square and Basilica. Mussolini built the avenue to provide visitors with a better view of the church. He also gave the 100-acre Vatican its independent nation status. Today the Vatican serves as the religious center for some one billion Catholics.
I had another post on Rome in the armchair series ready to go. All I had to do was hit the publish button. And then Floppy brought by her twins late yesterday. She has had them well hidden ever since the bear made an appearance. But he hasn’t been around for several days. Apparently it is safe now. Anyway, I promised you photos of Floppy’s babies. Here they are. Enjoy. Peggy and I kept handing the camera back and forth so these pictures are from both of us.
Today, I am continuing to dip into my archives as part of my armchair travel series in the age of Covid-19. On Wednesday we visited Rome’s impressive colosseum. Today, Peggy and I go on a walk-about visiting various historic sites and dodging pickpockets. In terms of coronavirus, I had an amusing thought: It must be much harder for pickpockets to work when 6-foot social distancing is being practiced!
If you’ve been following this blog, you know we like to walk extensively when visiting a new city. It’s a good way to become acquainted with the region and its people. Plus it’s great exercise. While Rome is huge, the historic section is confined to a relatively small section. It was large enough, however, that we used mass transit for longer distances.
There were two challenges. The first was figuring out the where and when of catching a train in a language we didn’t speak. The second was that the subway is a great place for pickpockets, especially during rush hour. Rick Steves, in his book on Mediterranean Ports, was constantly admonishing us to be on theft alert.
Peggy, who is more paranoid than I, is always urging me to transfer my wallet to my front pocket when we are in a crowd. Sometimes I even comply. Once, she didn’t even have to ask. We were in Amsterdam and the city had put up huge banners across the streets warning people about thieves. Neither did I require urging in Rome. Folks in Southern Europe were suffering from serious Euro Deficit Dysfunction. Times were tough. We both wore money belts.
The stories are legendary about various scams. Travelers love to share tales. One of my favorites is a woman will ask you to hold her baby while her compatriots grab your wallet. No way was I going to hold a stranger’s baby. Heck, I’ll hardly hold the baby of a woman I know. Babies are known to burp and pee on you. Can you imagine the insult added to injury if a baby was burping and peeing on you while someone was stealing your wallet?
While the stories are fun, the problems are real. A man staying at our hotel lost 2000 euros. A woman told us she was waiting at the airport when a nicely dressed couple told her something was sprayed all over the back of her jacket. The woman took it off. Sure enough, the jacket was covered with green goop. While her husband took the jacket to the restroom to wash, the couple kept her company. They left when her husband returned. Only later did she realize that her purse left with them.
We were at the Termini, a major transfer point on Rome’s transit system, when our turn came. It was at the peak of rush hour and the train was crammed full. John, Peggy’s brother, and his wife Frances had climbed on first. Four little kids, maybe eight years old, jumped on in front of us. Peggy and I were squeezing in when John shouted. He had felt someone reaching in his back pocket. Meanwhile, the four little kids were trying to jump off the train. Peggy, being the ex-elementary school principal she is, thought the kids were confused and tried to shove them back on. The little pickpockets, of course, thought she was trying to collar them. They managed to escape just as the doors were closing. Fortunately, John was also wearing a money belt. He kept his euros and we had a story to tell.
Besides our experience with the pickpockets, we had managed to visit Trajan’s Column, the Trevi Fountains and the Pantheon on our day’s walk-about.
NEXT POST: No trip to Rome is complete without a trip to the Vatican.
I’ve been reading Mary Beard’s history of early Rome, “SPQR,” so I had fun going back and revisiting Rome with my posts from 2015. In fact, I had so much fun, I’ve decided to share them with you as part of my armchair travel series. We will go on a walk-about where Peggy and I barely avoid pickpockets, visit the ancient Forum, stop off at the Vatican, and take a trip to Rome’s grand Colosseum where I met a ghost of the great cats that once fought gladiators.
I first viewed Rome’s grand memorial to gladiators in 1967 on my way home from serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa. I was as impressed with the number of feral cats living in the ruins as I was with the structure. Massive renovations have taken place since then. Today’s Colosseum is crowded with tourists instead of cats. We joined the throngs.
Originally the Colosseum was known as the Flavian Amphitheater, after the family of emperors who built it. Nero, who had a bad case of self-adulation, built a huge statue of himself nearby. It was known as the Colossus. At some point, the name was applied to the Colosseum. A later emperor removed the head from Nero’s statue and affixed his own stone likeness on top. Why pay for a whole statue? It became the custom with each succeeding emperor. So much for everlasting fame…
When completed in 80 AD, the Colosseum could seat 50,000 screaming people. During its 100-day inauguration, some 2000 gladiators killed each other and 9000 animals.
While their taste in entertainment left much to be desired, the Romans’ engineering abilities were superb. The Colosseum is high testament to this. Modern stadiums are still built on a similar model, designed to move large numbers of people in and out quickly. I was amused to learn that the Romans called the entrance/exit passages vomitoria– hence our word, vomit.
Spectators were issued tickets on pottery shards that listed their entrance gate, section, row and seat numbers. The higher your rank, the better your seat. The top rows were saved for slaves, foreigners and women. Some people, such as actors and gravediggers, weren’t allowed in the Colosseum at all. Now actors are idolized and even elected as presidents and governors. Gravediggers still dig graves.
The top could be covered for bad weather by a large canvas awning that was put up and taken down by sailors from Rome’s navy. The true gem of engineering was the floor, however, which covered a network of tunnels and cages where wild animals and props were stored. Eighty different elevators operated by pulleys served to bring scenery and wild animals to the surface. You might be in the middle of an African jungle for one scene and a Greek city the next. Imagine the job of being prop master! The floor could even be flooded for sea battles.
You never knew when or where the next wild animal might pop up, which could be bad news for gladiators. Cats at the Colosseum then meant lions and tigers with long claws and sharp teeth. There were also elephants, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles and even giraffes— although I can’t imagine why or how you would fight a giraffe. I once chased a herd across the Serengeti Plains in a Volkswagen beetle, however.
Gladiators came from the ranks of slaves, poor people, and criminals. (Contrary to legend, there were very few Christians.) The most successful earned fame, fortune and freedom. Rick Steves, in his book, Mediterranean Ports, reports they even gave endorsements. I can see it in neon lights, “Barbarian Bob eats at Papa’s Pizzeria.”
Barcelona’s public market, La Boqueria, was on our must-see list when we visited the city in 2015. It’s rightfully famous for its size, variety of food, tapa bars and number of tourists. Not surprisingly, Catalans have become a bit grouchy about the latter. “Buy fish, don’t take photos!” one yelled at me. Little did he know that I was helping him out. If more people featured ugly seafood in their photos of La Boqueria instead of chocolate and oranges and mushrooms, and peppers, and corn, and garlic and strawberries, and cheese, and delightful tapa bars, fewer people would visit. Heck, fewer tourists would likely come to Barcelona. Problem solved.
So think of this as my campaign to help the Catalans who are hoping that the tourist numbers don’t climb into the stratosphere again when the coronavirus ends. The slogan for the campaign is, “Barcelona: Stop and Smell the Fish— but Don’t Let Them Bite You!”
“Curt,” Peggy called, “come here quick! There is something small moving through the grass.”
I hurried over to the window. You never know what new animal, bird, snake, lizard, etc. is going to drop by for a visit. This time it turned out to be a fawn, probably on its first venture out from wherever it had been hidden by mom. The doe had just jumped over our fence, leaving her baby behind. Peggy’s mother-instincts kicked in. No need, the fawn easily crawled through the fence.
Peggy started snapping photos. So did I but my camera was beeping at me. I’d forgotten to put the memory card back in after downloading photos. Oh well, Peggy took enough for both of us. It was our first fawn of the season.
And now for the bear.
Peggy and I came out of a deep sleep at 2:30 am yesterday. Something was crashing around outside our bedroom window. “Bear!” we simultaneously exclaimed! Our neighbor Bryan had texted us on Wednesday to tell us that a large, black bear had rummaged through his garbage the night before. Apparently, it was our turn!
I jumped out of bed without getting dressed, grabbed our heavy duty Mag-lite and made a dash for our patio door. Bears can do a lot of damage in a short time. I threw the door open. Nothing. Our garbage can was my next thought. I had spotted fresh claw marks on it a couple of weeks earlier. I ran though the kitchen and threw open the back door. Again, nothing.
Then I heard a crash on our porch. Damn, the bear is going for the grill, I thought, and went charging through the kitchen, dining room and library. We had already had one Weber grill tipped over and damaged by a bear. I didn’t want to see it happen again. I threw open my third door of the night, this time shining my light on the grill. It, too, seemed fine. Then I noticed that the bird feeder was swinging back and forth and been turned into a crooked parody of itself. The bear had been playing tether ball with it! I pointed my flashlight up our driveway to see if the bear had taken off. He hadn’t.
He was standing 30 feet away staring at me. And he was big, as in BIG. I had only seen one that was larger, and given that it was standing on its hind legs with its feet and claws raised above its head growling at me, I may have exaggerated its size.
“What are you staring at Bear?” I asked. “Haven’t you ever seen a naked man before?” And then I yelled. He leisurely turned around and ambled off up our road. I prefer that my bears run.
I’m sorry I don’t have any photos for you. My mind was a bit preoccupied. He really was a magnificent creature. I suspect we will have more opportunities for photo ops. But here are three pictures for perspective. I’ll close with a final ‘cute shot of mom and baby.
NEXT POST: I’m assuming it will be on the fabulous market in Barcelona unless the bear comes back or more fawns show up. (Grin)
My blogging friend Kelly at Compass and Camera posted photos a week or so ago that showed stained glass windows and reminded me of Gaudi’s masterpiece cathedral, Sagrada Familia. The soaring faith required to imagine and build this beautiful sanctuary in Barcelona is a reminder that faith and hope together have tremendous power, enough to build a soaring cathedral— and enough to get through the darkest night, which is a comforting thought given the troubling times we have experienced the past few years and are especially experiencing now. (These photos were taken on a visit that Peggy and I made to the Cathedral in 2015.)
Barcelona arrived in the Twentieth Century with its own brand of Art Nouveau, Modernisme. Combining whimsical and practical with a healthy dollop of nature, Barcelona’s Catalan artists and architects did a makeover of their city. Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), the best known among the Modernistas, added strong religious belief to his work and became the architect of Sagrada Familia, the Church of the Holy Family.
Started in 1883, the church continues to be a work in progress today. Like the great cathedrals of the Gothic and Renaissance periods, it is a work of generations, and like the great cathedrals of Europe, is a masterpiece of art and architecture. Peggy, our traveling companions, and I walked inside and could only stare in awe at the beauty. I’ve selected the photos for this blog to provide a sense of why.
Every couple of years I update Bone’s travel history because he continues to wander the world. This time, I’ve added his 750 mile trek down the Pacific Crest Trail. As you read this post, he is preparing for another 7,000 mile journey in Quivera the RV to some of the remote corners of the contiguous United States in honor of Peggy’s 70th Birthday. He’ll be wearing his face mask and reporting along the way!
Sometime in the 1900s Bone started his life as part of a horse wandering through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The horse was allegedly eaten by a bear. Bone ended up in a high mountain meadow practicing Zen and being nibbled on by a miscreant rodent.
1977: He was ‘discovered’ by two lost backpackers (Curt Mekemson and Tom Lovering) on the Tahoe Yosemite Trail south of Lake Tahoe and launched his career of wandering the world.
1980-81: Bone commenced his first World Tour with Tom. He visited Asia including Japan, Hong Kong, Bombay, Delhi and Katmandu where he trekked to the base of Mt. Everest. He then wandered on to spend spring and summer in Europe stopping off in Greece, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Austria, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium, England and Ireland. Getting cold, Bone headed south and hitched a ride in the back of a truck through Algeria, Niger, Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Zaire, Sudan, Kenya (where he crossed the Equator), Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. He signed on with Tom as crew of a sailboat in Cape Town and headed north to Mallorca, stopping off on the islands of St. Helena, Ascension, Cape Verde and Madeira. Back in Europe he explored his possible Viking roots in Sweden, Norway and Finland.
1983-86: Bone assumed Cheechako status and moved to Alaska with Curt where he was stalked by a grizzly bear on the Kenai Peninsula, explored Prince William Sound by kayak, learned to winter camp in 30 degree below zero weather while listening to wolves howl, backpacked in the Brooks Range north of the Arctic Circle, and discussed the finer points of eating salmon with Great Brown Bears in Katmai National Park. He escaped briefly to the warmer climate of Hawaii and participated in the New Orleans Mardi Gras.
1986: He backpacked the Western US for five months with Curt exploring the Grand Canyon, the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico, the Rockies, and the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming before returning to his beloved Sierras.
1989: Bone joined Curt on a six month 10,000-mile solo bike tour around North America visiting 18 states and 4 Canadian provinces. He ended his journey by meeting Peggy in Sacramento.
1990: The International Society of the BONE was formed at Senior Frogs in Mazatlan, Mexico, where Bone spent the afternoon being pickled in a pitcher of margaritas and being kissed by lovely senoritas.
1991-97: Various members of International Society accompanied Bone on numerous adventures. Highlights included a White House Press Conference with Bill Clinton, being blessed by the Pope in St. Peter’s Square, visiting with Michelangelo’s David, going deep-sea diving in the South Pacific and Caribbean, doing a Jane Austin tour of England, and exploring the Yucatan Peninsula. A group adopted him as a good luck charm and took him back to visit the base of Mt. Everest one year and to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro another.
1998-99: Bone embarked on 40,000-mile journey in the van, Xanadu, through the US, Canada and Mexico with Peggy and Curt, visiting over 30 National Parks, driving the Alaska and Baja Highways, checking out Smokey the Bear’s and Calamity Jane’s graves, kayaking in the Sea of Cortez, leaf peeping in Vermont, jetting to the Bahamas, pursuing flying saucers in Roswell, New Mexico, and completing his visits to all 50 states.
2000-02: Bone journeys up the Amazon, returns to Europe, cruises to Belize, Cancun and the Cayman’s, and goes to New Zealand where a misguided customs agent tries to arrest and jail him as animal matter.
2003: Bone undertakes a 360-mile backpack trip in celebration of his discovery and Curt’s 60th birthday. They begin at Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe and end by climbing Mt. Whitney. Various friends join them along the way.
2004: Bone visits Hemingway’s grave in Idaho, goes horseback riding with Australians and Bahamians in Montana, and makes his first pilgrimage to Burning Man in Nevada, a very Bone like type of place. He also jets off to Costa Rica.
2005-2007: Bone returns to Burning Man twice and revisits Europe twice including special stopovers in Portugal, France, Holland, Germany, and Belgium. He also revisits Mexico.
2008 – 2011: Bone commences another exploration of North America. This time he travels in the van, Quivera, along with Curt, Peggy, and Eeyore the Jackass. His journey takes him over 75,000 miles of American Roads. Along the way, he barely escapes the hangman’s noose in Tombstone, Arizona. In May of 2010 he helps Curt initiate his blog, and rafts 280 miles down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
2012-2017: Bone goes into semi-retirement in Southern Oregon. Please note the semi, however. He continues the exploration of the West Coast ranging from Big Sur to Vancouver Island, where he kayaks for a week in search of Killer Whales. He wanders through England and Scotland helping Curt find his roots and spends a week traveling by Canal Boat. Later, he returns to Europe again, traveling through the Mediterranean visiting Turkey, Santorini and other Greek Islands, Dubrovnik, Venice, Rome, Pompeii, Florence, and Barcelona. He returns to Burning Man several times. On one trip, he is married to the lovely Bonetta, who he met while exploring a swamp in Florida. Rumor has it that it was a shotgun wedding. This past year he traveled with Peggy and me on our 10,000 mile trip around North America retracing my bike route. He made a very special trip with fellow blogger Crystal Truelove to visit with Native Americans of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.
2018: Bone joins Curtis in celebrating Curt’s 75th Birthday by backpacking 750 miles in Oregon and California. Highlights include the Rogue River Trail, Three Sisters Wilderness and the Siskiyou Mountains in Oregon. In California, Curt and Bone more or less follow the Pacific Crest Trail through the Klamath Mountains, Marble Mountains, Trinity Alps, Cascade Mountains and Sierra Nevada Mountains— taking detours whenever the mood strikes, including revisiting where Tom and Curt found him in 1977! Along the way, Bone meets and chats with numerous through-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail who are hiking from Mexico to Canada. He also spends a lot of time dodging horrendous forest fires. Peggy joins Curt and Bone for three sections of the journey and provides welcome backup for the rest of the journey.
2019-2020: He joins Curt for a trip down California’s beautiful Highway 395 among the Eastern Sierras and visits the Alabama Hills where cowboy movies of yore were made with the likes of John Wayne, Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger and a host of others— voices from the past that have echoed down through time. “Hi-yo Silver away.” Planned trips for 2020 including a journey through the Panama Canal and up the Rhine River have been cancelled because of the Coronavirus, but don’t count Bone out. He is madly planning another trip across the US where he will home-shelter in Quivera the RV.
It’s time for more nature tales brought to you by the wild animals that live on our property and entertain us continually by doing what comes naturally.
Our property is a regular herpetarium. We have wall to wall lizards ranging in size from tiny babies that have hit the ground running up to foot-long alligator lizards that can scare the heck out of you. We also have skinks, beautifully iridescent lizards with bright blue tails.
Fence lizards dominate, however. You can’t go outside without seeing dozens at this time of the year. They are fun to watch as they scamper across our yard in search of bugs. And they are even more entertaining when they try to impress another lizard by doing push-ups and puffing up their bodies to almost twice their normal size.
They are also quite curious. Or at least they seem to be. Anytime I am outside working around the house, they show up and watch me, often choosing a high perch for a better view. If I do something that chases them away, they’re back in a minute or two. The fellow below came out to watch me when I was building a brick planter around our yellow rose bush earlier this week.
I think we have seen all of one wren since Peggy and I moved here. But a couple of weeks ago, a pair showed up looking for a home. It was pretty funny. The male wren, it turns out, is responsible for house hunting and nest building. The location may be a tree cavity, a birdhouse, a drain pipe, etc. Even an old shoe will do in a pinch. Once he finds what he considers the ideal site, he fills it with twigs and invites his lady love over to check it out. She’s the one that makes the ultimate decision about his nest finding abilities. I can see where she might be concerned if he has picked an old shoe. The poor guy may find himself building 3 or 4 nests before she finally says yes.
I think ours must have been on number four— or maybe five— when he showed her our bird house. He seemed very eager, or maybe he was nervous, like a real estate agent about to close or lose a big sale. He talked and talked and talked. Finally, she hopped in to take a look. And immediately hopped out with a feather in her mouth that she spit out. I could almost hear the discussion. “You are trying to sell me a used house!” “No, no sweetie. Think of it as an already feathered nest.” Whatever he said, she went back inside and came out with another feather. This time she ate it! Apparently that meant yes because the little guy started hopping around and talking twice as fast. Then he zoomed off to pick up some grass to add to the nest. Soon, they were both busy at work.
I’ll close today with a few more photos of the deer herd. Do you remember when I did the post on young buck and his fearless leaps over a wall and a fence to get at our honeysuckle and native shrub garden? Well, it turns out he isn’t so young…
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