Monday, July 30, 2012

Vatican Museums

After two whole months in Rome (where did it go?!?!?) I finally went to the Vatican Museums! We booked online the day before and just had to scramble to print the tickets. Our tickets were supposed to help us cut the line and our entrance was at noon.

So of course we were running a few minutes behind and had to power walk through the blistering Roman heat only to find that:
1. There was no line. For some reason, on a Saturday in high tourist season, there was NO LINE TO GET IN. So much for the 4Euro early booking fee and scrambling to print the voucher.
2. The entrance time meant absolutely nothing.

Then we were in! The museum itself was kind of frustrating, lacking in signage, nothing to tell you what was in which gallery, about four galleries closed for the day with no notice until you walked all the way there to find it shut... Maybe I'm spoiled because I've been to a lot of really nice museums, but the quality of the layout and space have a huge effect on my experience of the art. In a way, I felt like I wasn't that impressed by the art at the Vatican museums because of the layout. Really I should just get over that but it's not easy! It's also not easy when you're surrounded by groups of 50 tourists all taking pictures and cutting you off and blocking entrances/exits/paintings/etc. And it's hot.

Another major frustration was that whole rooms of Roman statues were closed off. There was a rope over the entrance and you could see in, but couldn't see anything up close or read any of the signage about when/where/who/why.

Final complaint- after you finish the museum in the Sistine Chapel you can't just exit. Only groups can just exit. If you aren't part of a group you have to walk back through the ENTIRE museum you just walked through! It took us at least 15 minutes of walking to exit.

So finally, I'm glad I went because there are so many beautiful works of art. But I will never ever go back in the summer again. I threw a coin in the Trevi Fountain so I'll be back to Rome again some time and I'm really really really really hoping it's in the winter!

The visit was salvaged by how incredible Raphael's School of Athens is/was/will always be, and the delicious gelato we ate afterwards.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Love locks

On the bridge I walk from my apartment to the orange garden (will post about separately!) there are tons of locks. I had heard about this tradition happening in Venice on bridges but discovered it all around Rome too! Couples buy a lock and etch/write on it, and lock up their love forever on a bridge. Not sure the symbolism there. Maybe that love is the bridge between two people? Maybe there's no symbolism. But they're lovely.

Monday, July 16, 2012


On a whim based on RyanAir flight prices, I spent a long weekend with Luca in Budapest! We left late Thursday evening and arrived a little after midnight in Budapest! Walking off the plane was an instantly  beautiful thing- Rome is 95 degrees and humid and Budapest was about 70! We talk a fast/cheap/easy shuttle that dropped us off at our hostel- the Central Backpack King Budapest. We checked in and the guy working recommended a ruin bar about 10 minutes away and we started walking. Budapest was an immediate shock from Rome! The streets were straight and close to being laid out in a grid. Most importantly... they were empty! The street we live on in Trastevere is packed with people until 3AM every week day and the streets of Budapest were deserted. It was a little creepy.  We got to the bar (Instant) with no trouble but decided not to go in because it looked a little crazy (more on that later). Instead we went down the street to what looked like a local bar called "Cheers!" and had a pint. Two pints cost 580HUF or $2.46.

The next morning we visited St. Steven's basilica, half a block from our hostel! St. Steven was the first king of unified Hungary and conveniently also the first Christian ruler. His right arm lives in the basilica as an important relic but the chapel that houses us was inconveniently closed both times we went. We climbed up to the dome to see beautiful views of Budapest! 
The church was different than the churches in Rome but it's hard to express why. The architecture was set up as a Greek cross instead of a cruciform cross. The interior was less ornate and darker/more solemn. A big difference was just that St. Steven's is a relatively modern church, it was built in 19th century.

After exploring the church we ate falafel and it was SO GOOD! and it was SO GOOD to eat something other than pizza and pasta!

We spent the rest of the afternoon going to the Hungarian museum and walking the main shopping drag. One main thing I learned during the long weekend is that I'm super impressed by Hungarians! Hungary was first a Roman province, later ruled by the Huns, and then part of the Habsberg controlled Austrio-Hungarian empire. Hungary was constantly attempting to establish it's independence by fighting against the empire when they were sucked into WWI. After WWI Hungary lost a lot of land and a lot of citizens, and during WWII they were invaded by Germany. The fascist Arrow Cross ruled Budapest ruthlessly and murdered many Hungarians and Jews. After the fascists left the Soviets swept in and forced Hungary to become communist and part of the Soviet bloc. Somehow throughout all this foreign rule Hungary has a unique cultural identity. They also were one of the few groups of people to stand up to the Soviets in 1956.

After walking through the shopping district we stopped to eat some goulash at a cafe. A lot of the cafes provided blankets if you wanted to sit outside and the temperature was less than warm- it was perfect!

That night we went out with some other Americans from the hostel to Instant- the bar we skipped the previous night. It's a ruin bar, basically an abandoned building turned into a bar. It has about 25 rooms all decorated differently and playing different music, it was a really unique experience!

The next day we slept in a bit then walked to Parliament. My breakfast included a ricotta and cherry strudel bought from an old lady who set up a table selling strudel and lemonade along the Danube. It was delicious!

That afternoon we went on a free Communist walking tour to see what Budapest was like under Communist rule. Because the Eastern bloc was only opened in 1989 all our guides had lived under Communist rule. The only good thing they had to say about it was that high culture (opera, plays, classical music) was easily accessible for the average person. There are some really ugly communist buildings around the city- see below.

A statue of Reagan erected by the USA walks toward Russia's obelisk memorial to communist rule.

Bullet holes peppered the walls of buildings.

On a lighter note, we went on a wine tasting that night in Buda! We sampled just three wines- a Hungarian white/red/dessert.
The walk back was magical because of the night lights along the Danube- most of these photo credits go to Luke.

 We ate an incredible dinner that night! The exchange rate was definitely in our favor. Duck and steak for about $10 each...

Friday, July 6, 2012

Santa Maria in Trastevere

I have the luck of living a 5 minute walk from the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere. At night it's filled with Romans taking a passaggiata, tourists tripping over cobblestones as they look at their maps, and young people eating gelato and drinking beer around the fountain. The piazza is named after the basilica Santa Maria in Trastevere that graces the northern end.

The original sanctuary was built in 221 AD, and the basic plan and wall structure dates to the 340s. The church claims to be the first church ever built dedicated to the virgin Mary, but that fact is challenged by Santa Maria in Maggiore (also in Rome). The church has been restored twice, in the 1100s and the late 1800s.

I am blown away by the mosaics at the alter! They date to about 1290. The colors are so vivid, and the fact that shading can be achieved with small tiles is fascinating to me. Here are a few pictures of the basilica I took yesterday-