Rome – Friday

Today was a free day (no scheduled events until dinner).  We joined some colleagues for a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, and the mosaic workshop at the Vatican:

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My pictures don’t do St. Peter’s justice.  Because it was designed as a mausoleum and monument (and not as a museum), all of the interior decorations are stone (sculptures and mosaics).  Our tour guide gave us too much information about individual popes through history, and not enough information about the art and architecture, but at least we saw Michelangelo’s Pieta (behind glass):

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…and the beautiful dome designed by Michelangelo and decorated with mosaics:

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This bronze canopy (created by Bernini) helps identify the small altar, which would otherwise be lost in the vastness of the Basilica:

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Some of the bronze for this canopy is believed to have been recycled from the bronze that attached the marble facing to the outsides of other, older buildings, such as the Colosseum.

The highlight of the visit was the private tour of the mosaic workshop, where all of the mosaics in St. Peter’s and the Vatican are maintained and restored, and new mosaics are created.  We watched an artist melt glass to get the exact color she needed:

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…then shape the glass and cut it to exactly the shape of pieces she needed:

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Here’s one of the works in progress:

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…and two of the finished mosaics on display:

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After some caffe latte and pasta:

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…we wandered around the area for several hours, including wandering through the Mercato Trionfale:

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We finally made it back to the hotel in time for a short rest before our last company event, a cooking class & dinner at a winery south of Rome:

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…with a Roman road running through the grapes and olive trees:

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We made the pasta that we would eat for dinner:

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Rome – Thursday

Morning – Guided tour of the Flavian Amphitheater (aka the Colosseum), the Roman Forum and Capitoline Hill.

Only about 1/3rd of the Colosseum still stands; it was originally covered in marble (which was removed for use in newer buildings or baked to make lime for concrete):

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Here’s what’s left of the original public toilets in the Colosseum:

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“Backstage” area (really under-stage area), where animals and combatants were staged before being lifted up to the stage on one of 80 different rope & pulley elevators:

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After touring the Colosseum, we walked through the Roman Forum, including a section of one of the original Roman roads:

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Our guide described Rome as a lasagna, with layers built upon layers. This was originally the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina (built in the 2nd century AD).  In 1550, the building was re-purposed as a church, and the green door (behind the column) was installed at what, by then, was street level.

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After the tour ended, we hiked to the Pantheon, built around 120 AD by Emperor Hadrian, to honor all gods:IMG_20170427_131525147_HDR

The dome was the largest made until the Renaissance, and is made of concrete with a coffered ceiling to reduce the weight:

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Light comes in through the open oculus at the top of the dome, and illuminates the beautiful marble and sculptures:

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This is the sculpture that Rafael commissioned for his tomb before he died at age 37; his tomb is just below the Madonna and Child:

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As we were debating where to eat after leaving the Pantheon, the skies opened up with a heavy shower, so we ended up eating a sidewalk cafe right in front of the Pantheon.  This was our view for lunch:

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Florence – Wednesday

We took the high-speed train to Florence for a day-trip today.  It was just enough time to whet our appetite to come back when we have more time.

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We viewed the huge Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore from the outside, including seeing the platform where Michelangelo’s David was designed to be installed (but was never installed there):

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…then did a very quick tour of the Academy of Fine Arts to see some of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures:

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…as well as David:

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Words can’t adequately describe how it feels to be so close to this masterpiece.

We then did a quick walking tour of the ancient parts of Florence, including seeing several Medici palaces, the Uffizi Gallery (from the outside), and the Ponte Vecchio.

The Piazza della Signoria includes a number of original sculptures, including the  Rape of the Sabines:

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…and Perseus with the Head of Medusa:

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These are among the sculptures installed in the plaza outside one of the palaces used by the Medici, all of which share themes of conquest and domination – not-so-subtle messaging for the people.

After lunch, we wandered around on our own for about an hour:

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…past the Mercato del Porcellino (Market of the Little Pig, named after a sculpture at the market):

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and down a number of narrow, winding streets:

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After returning to Rome tonight, Keith & I wandered out on our own and found a little neighborhood tavola calda (small cafeteria-style restaurant), where we enjoyed cannelloni and rice-stuffed tomatoes.  Pimsleur lessons paid off — we were able to order food and then ask for directions to the nearest gelateria in Italian.

Gelato is definitely my new favorite food group:

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Rome – Tuesday

My company provided a once-in-a-lifetime experience — a private after-hours tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel.  Instead of viewing the collection and chapel with 25,000 of our closest friends, there were just 60 of us.  The only downside is that we only had 1.5 hours inside, so it was a quick trip through a limited number of galleries, to give us more time to enjoy the Sistine Chapel.

Photography is not allowed in the chapel, but here are a few of my favorite shots from the Vatican Museums.

One of the lions supporting a red marble sarcophagus, made to hold the remains of a daughter of Emperor Constantine:

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Mosaic of Athena on the floor in front of the sarcophagus:

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Bacchus statue with the original glass eyes:

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The Map Gallery, and some of the scenes on the wildly ornate ceiling:

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These bas-reliefs were actually flat paintings on a curved ceiling:

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We did a short photography tour in the morning, with stops at the Gianicolo (Janiculum Hill), the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola, the Teatro di Marcello, and the Arch of Constantine:

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Up next – Florence.

Rome – Monday

After a business meeting this morning, we did a group project at the Scuola Figlie di Nostra Signora Al Monte Calvario (a Catholic school for about 300 students in the southern part of the city).

Our project was to spruce up a small outdoor playground, including painting walls, gardening, and assembling some new playground equipment:

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…and to play basketball with some of the boys (who were having a great time):

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Coming up on Tuesday — a day of walking (photography tour in the morning, tour of Palazzo Valentini in the afternoon, and an accelerated tour of the Vatican museums and Sistine Chapel in the evening).

Amsterdam to Rome – Sunday

The Dutch certainly know how to party, as they demonstrated outside our hotel room until the wee hours of Sunday morning, about the time that we gave up trying to sleep and got ready for the taxi to the airport for our flight to Rome.

After a quick nap at the hotel, we joined my work colleagues for a quick orientation tour of downtown Rome, which is breathtaking.  We spent most of the time at Il Vittoriano (the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II), in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy.  The memorial also includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the base:

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Most of that time waiting in line for the one working elevator to get up to the top of the roof.  The wait was worth it:

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On our way back to the bus, we stopped for gelato at Trevi Fountain.  This weekend was the 2770th anniversary of the (legendary) founding of Rome, so sites were even more crowded than usual (according to our tour guide).  The crowds were too thick at the fountain to toss a coin (or even get a photo), so we’ll have to find another time to do that.  The gelato was delicious, though — I think I’ll need to do daily sampling.

Monday will mainly be work-related events, so probably no photos.

Haarlem & Amsterdam – Saturday

We started the morning poking around the Saturday-morning market stalls in Haarlem.  The flowers were beautiful:

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This mom was shopping for produce with her two young children warmly ensconced in her cargo bike:

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One of several cheese stalls:

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At the main market, a coffee vendor went from stall to stall offering coffee to the vendors:

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We took the train into Amsterdam again today, and explored the area from Dam Square, into the Jordaan to the Anne Frank house (didn’t have reservations, so didn’t go in).

Now this is a train station:

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The stairs have a slot along the side to make it easy to roll bikes up and down the stairs:

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Here’s yet another beautiful building, built in 1662:

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Buildings were taxed based on the width of the frontage, which is why the buildings are thin but deep.  (We’ve seen 1- and 2-window wide buildings as well.)

This is the Magna Plaza, built in 1899 (practically new!), which was previously the main post office and now is a shopping mall:

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Here’s one of the beautiful canals in the Joordan area:

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In the middle of a very crowded, up-scale shopping area just off Dam Square, you’ll find the De Papegaai (“The Parrot”) Hidden Church.  This church (which previously had an exterior that looked like another merchant’s house, with a parrot over the door) was used by Catholics after Protestant extremists took control of Amsterdam in 1578 and outlawed the Catholic church.  Inside is a beautiful, narrow church with a very tall (3 stories high) ceiling.

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This is my favorite view of the leaning houses along canals.  When they were originally built on wooden pilings, the ocean was close enough that the groundwater was salty and preserved the wood.   As more and more land was reclaimed from the ocean, the groundwater eventually became fresh, and the wooden pilings began to rot.  (The buildings now generally have concrete foundations.)

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Back in Haarlem this evening, we wandered around after dinner and came across this restaurant.  I suspect that the trademark attorneys at Pixar might have something to say about this:

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The annual Flower Parade (from Noodwijk) will end in Haarlem sometime later tonight very near our hotel.  The parade apparently includes about 20 flower-covered floats, 30 specialty vehicles, as well as marching bands and performers.  Sleepy little Haarlem is really bustling this evening.

Here’s what the street looked like this morning:

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Here’s what it looked like this evening:

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Up next — a 4:30am taxi pick-up tomorrow morning for the airport.