29 January 2016

Legendary Pompeii

L and I both wanted to see Pompeii so we set aside a day during our Rome leg specifically for that. I spent a fair amount of time investigating how to get there and in the end we decided to book ourselves a shuttle "tour" with Enjoy Rome. This agency offers many tours and what we ended up booking was basically just a bus ride to/from Pompeii. I don't remember the price off the top of my head but I do remember that it was comparable in price but easier than booking a 35 Euro train ticket each way to Naples where we would transfer to a local train to take us to Pompeii.

The larger of the two theaters in Pompeii
A thermopolium

The size of Pompeii alone is impressive. Although over the last couple hundred years there certainly has been time to do major excavations. After its burial in ash in 79AM Pompeii was first rediscovered in 1599 but recovered only to be 'properly' rediscovered during the excavation of nearby Herculaneum in 1748 and has been a tourist destination for over 250 years. Not to sound like a ruins elitist or anything...but I've seen cooler. As a snapshot of ancient Roman life, art, and architecture it's phenomenal, don't get me wrong and the surviving frescos and artwork are beyond words. However Pompeii had nothing outstanding to single it out; no Roman Colosseum, no Ephesian Celus Library, or Athenian temples. Had it not been preserved by tons of volcanic ash Pompeii would have lived and died and been forgotten by history.

Traditional villa courtyard

Enjoy Rome offers two options with the shuttle deal: just the shuttle, or the shuttle and a two-hour guided tour. L and I chose to take the guided tour. While we didn't see as much of Pompeii as we could have done on our own we got a lot of information we wouldn't have got just from the guide book. Some of what he told I us I learned (but if I'm honest I learned then forgot) from the Roman architecture class I took. Some of it was very new.

Stepping stones for when streets flooded

Wall detail

For example, the old Latin word for brothels is lupanare. The root word for lupanare is lupus, wolf. I'd heard before that brothels were called lupanare and always wondered why. Our guide explained that in order to advertise their presence and guide customers through the streets to find them, the girls would lean out the windows and howl. If you needed more help than that to find the lupanare you could follow the penises etched/embedded into the streets that pointed the way. Seriously. Some of the surviving Pompeii frescoes are in the lupanare. According to our guide, the different paintings advertised a girl's particular skill or "game" and the stone beds in each room encouraged customers to play through quickly and not linger.

Ceiling detail
Public bath
A lupanara

Brothels weren't the only place to get your party on. You could also find 'company' on the floor above a thermopolium. Aside from the wealthy who had other people to do it for them and space for a dedicated kitchen, cooking was not a high priority. Many people got food from thermopolii where you could also enjoy a brief, unlicensed "game" upstairs. A thermopolium was like an ancient fast food place with large jars sunk into a counter where cold/dried foods and wine were stored and served to go.

'specialty' fresco in a lupanara
stone bed in a lupanara-does not encourage lingering!
'specialty' fresco in lupanara

After our tour we did not have much time left to wander around on our own. Choosing morbid curiosity over vivid frescoes we headed to the amphitheater where there was a special exhibition about the dead of Pompeii (will post about that soon!). As that didn't take quite as much time we suspected we elected to book it all the way across the city to visit the Villa of Mysteries.

On the outskirts of Pompeii, the Villa of Mysteries, despite also being buried in ash, sustained very little damage and many of its frescoes were found to be well-preserved after the villa was recovered. The villa gets its name from the frescoes in the triclinium (basically a dining room) which people believe depict a young girl being initiated into one of the more secret cults of Bacchus. If I were going to join a secret cult it would definitely be one headed up by the god of wine. Bravo young girl.

The triclinium

27 January 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Suvla 2014 Öküzgözü

It's been a while since we've featured a wine by Suvla. The problem with finding a wine producer that you really like is you (or I at least) burn through all their wines really fast and then there are no new wines to taste! That doesn't mean I'm not still drinking Suvla wines, in fact I had a bottle of their Boğazkere recently, but it does mean I don't post about them so often. However today we are talking about one of their newer wines, the 2014 Öküzgözü.

Öküzgözü grapes usually produce a softer light to medium body wine and Suvla's is no exception to that. On the nose I initially got light scents of cotton candy and raspberry which deepened with black mulberry, plum, and dried oregano as the wine opened. I thought I also may have got a bit of honey but since I was already a bottle in when we opened the Öküzgözü I might have just been a little tipsy.

On the palate: juicy forest berries, plum, dried herb. It was a little on the thin side for me, super low tannins, low medium acid, medium alcohol, not much of a finish. 

What I found very interesting about this wine was that the grapes come not from Suvla's vineyard in Gallipoli but from the Bekilli Vinyard in the Güney Plateau in Denizli where they were hand-picked and taken back to Gallipoli for processing.

I can't say that this was a very remarkable wine however that's not to do with any fault by Suvla. I tend to prefer Öküzgözü in a blend rather than on its own. If you prefer a softer red though this is a good choice wine for you and at only 29 TL (at Suvla) it won't hurt your pocketbook.

25 January 2016

Che Bellisima-The Food of Rome

Rome isn't all just churches and the remnants of ancient worlds. Like many cities with seeming impossibly long histories (like Istanbul, Cairo, Amman, etc.) the old stands flush alongside the new. So much of what has allowed these places to survive in Rome is the long history of repurposing.

Castel Sant'Angelo

Bridge over the Tiber Castel Sant'Angelo (behind), St. Peter's (R)

Altare della Patria

The Castel Sant'Angelo, completed in 139 AD, was originally a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and his family and later emperors. In the 5th century it was converted to a military fortress and sadly much of the original treasures and the ashes were lost to Visigoths (there's something so satisfying abut the 'Visigoth') in the 400s. It wasn't until the 14th century that it because a Papal refuge, residence, and even prison. Now it's a museum.

Not quite so respectful to the city's history is the 1925 AD Altare della Patria, also known as the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, and less respectfully, the Wedding Cake. Built to commemorate the unification of Italy but it's first king (Victor Emmanuel) the base houses the Museum of Italian Unification and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with an eternal flame. As the construction of this rather ostentatious thing destroyed a large part of the Capitoline Hill and leveled a medieval neighborhood it's not the most beloved site by Romans.

One way to explore a city is to just wander and get lost and I have always been a proponent of that method. Another favorite method: food tours. L and I discovered Trastevere that way with Eating Italy. I would be happy to go back to Rome and do nothing but Eating Italy's tours.

Da Enzo

We met our guide on the Isola Tiberina and crossed into Trastevere to the first of our seven stops. At Da Enzo we were greeted by the owners and a glass of prosecco. Here we had burrata, a fresh (and not easy to find) cheese made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella but the inside is a mix of cream and mozzarella. For my DC peeps-sometimes Dino in Cleveland Park has this. We also the most amazing artichoke I've ever eaten. I can't remember the type of artichoke but basically all the do to it is pop it in peanut oil for a couple seconds then sprinkle it with salt.

Spirito di Vino
Spirito di Vino
Spirito di Vino

While I would happily have just stayed at Da Enzo for the entire evening I'm glad I resisted the temptation because the next stop was not to be missed. Spirito di Vino not only serves up amazing wine and food made from traditional, Roman recipes that date back to the emperors, the building itself is older, OLDER than the Colosseum. Here we ate pork cooked in red wine, apples, onion, honey, vinegar, and spices from a recipe created by Julius Caesar's chef. Whaat?! Yes.


From there we wandered Trastevere's charming and picturesque streets to Innocenti where this family has been baking its cookies since 1920. We were offered a section of biscotti but I believe the resounding favorite was the brutti ma buoni (middle above). These cookies, translated as 'ugly but good' are a meringue hazelnut cookie that are stupid good. Since we lack not at all for hazelnuts in Turkey I may try my hand at making these.

Antica Norcineria

After leaving Innocenti we had a longish walk of about 10 minutes for which I think we were all pretty grateful. We were feeling a bit on the rolly polly side and we weren't even halfway through the tour! Eventually we came to Antica Norcineria, a delicatessen offering amazing cheeses including Parmesan and Peccorino Romano and the city's best porchetta. I deeply love the description of porchetta: a savory, fatty, moist, boneless pork roast. the body of the pig is deboned, arranged carefully with layers of stuffing, meat, fat, and skin then rolled, spitted, and roasted for hours over wood. Every evening the family who owns Antica Norcineria prepares its porchetta which is then sent out for the roasting so its ready to be sold the next morning.

I asked if I could marry into the family but was told there were no sons of any age. Maybe they'll adopt me.

I Suppli

When it looked like things couldn't get any better we arrived at our next stop, I Suppli for Italian street food favorites suppli and pizza. Suppli are a balls of rice that's been mixed with tomato sauce, stuff with cheese, and deep fried. What can go wrong there?! We also had squares of Pizza Marinara which was just pizza with sauce, no toppings. I say 'just' but as soon as I tasted the marinara sauce with its perfect balance of biting garlic and sweet oregano all I wanted to do was dive into a vat of it and eat my way out.

Enoteca Ferrara

At this point, even I was getting pretty full but we still had actual dinner to go!At Enoteca Ferrara we were treated to a dinner or hand-made gnocchi, spinach and ricotta ravioli, and tonarelli cacio e pepe which is the fist pasta dish ever made. It was also my favorite of three.

How we managed to put away more pasta and wine is a little beyond me stuffed as we all already were. However there was no question of not being able to indulge in some gelato at the evening's last stop: Fatamorgana. It was here that I had one of the most interesting gelatos ever which I will try to recreate as soon as I can find enough fresh basil. Yes...basil. Fatamorgana carries a lot of the classic flavors you find anywhere else but they have also their own creations like: black cherry and beer, chestnut and myrtle, banana and lime, chocolate wasabi, Gorgonzola, cream of lavender and chamomile...the list goes on. However my favorite was the basil honey walnut. It was a revelation. Unfortunately I have no picture because I gobbled it down too quickly.

So basically...take at least one Eating Italy tour!

23 January 2016

The Enigma That Is Istanbul

Today is my three year anniversary living in Istanbul! I'm not really sure what I thought would happen or how long I thought I would stay when I first came here in 2013 but part of me is a little surprised that I'm still here. This place is kind of insane. Sometimes charmingly so; other times not so much. On this anniversary though I thought I'd take a moment to share some of the things to which I've finally become accustomed and some of the things that still completely baffle me.

7 Things to Which I Am Now Accustomed:
  1. Tea: It's ubiquitous and I never turn down a glass in a restaurant (and usually accept it in shops). At home however if I drink tea instead of coffee I usually just drink one-off cups of Lipton Yellow Label. I know, I know, it's a sacrilege but who has time to go through the process of a double pot tea steeping ritual when all you want is one lousy mug?!
  2. Getting groped on public transportation: Yes this happens, it happens often and more likely than not on the tram. Chances of it happen increase apace with the number of tourists in the city. Note: if this ever happens to you don't ignore it or be afraid to do something just because you don't speak Turkish. I started elbowing, yanking back fingers, and outright punching people. Seriously.
  3. Turkish bureaucracy: I wish putting this here meant that I even remotely understood anything that was going on or that I'm at all confident about my residency renewal in yet another new system but it doesn't. This really just means that I am used to the fact that that it exists, its awful for everyone (Turks and foreigners alike), and, like tea it's bloody everywhere; but not nearly as pleasant.
  4. The call to prayer: I barely hear it anymore really; it's just part of the general background noise now. Sure when the mosque nearest my apartment was renovated and got a new loudspeaker I spent a couple mornings cursing Islam during the 5AM call to prayer. But not even that wakes me up now.
  5. Cats everywhere: A New York Times article a few months ago correctly said that Istanbul should be renamed Catstaninople. There are cats everywhere and, for the most part, they are well cared for. People put out water dishes and food and you can often find boxes that have been repurposed as cat houses. Most business (even restaurants!) don't mind cats wandering in and out and a lot of them have regulars.
  6. J-walking: This is a city of 18-20 million people, and a lot of them drive so traffic is a nightmare. Given that you can imagine how dangerous the roads are and would think that might limit the amount of j-walking. Not so. It is entirely common to see people jog across a 4-6 lane street dodging cars as they go. There are sidewalks here but they are largely ignored in favor of walking in the street. Although to be fair sidewalks are often narrow and/or already occupied by shop ware or cafe tables. When I'm abroad now I have to be reminded to use sidewalks and only cross the street at the appointed place and when pedestrians have the go!
  7. Turkish lines: In a way I am used to this. People here don't really seem to like to queue. Really it would be quite helpful if the British were to colonize the world for a brief period of time and teach people how to bloody queue. A Turkish queue looks a bit like a rugby scrum, complete with the pushing and shoving. I'm getting a little better at pushing my way to the front but I'm still a little too Mid Western to really do it successfully.

7 Things That Still Baffle Me:
  1. Turkish language: Obviously I'm in a much better position than I was when I moved here but after 11 classes (11!!) much of it still eludes me. Sure I mostly understand but using a lot of the fiddly little bits is just beyond me.
  2. Getting groped on public transportation: Yes I know I have this as #2 above and while I am used to it happening I am not used to the culture of hypocrisy that surrounds it! If some guy is bothering you all you really have to do (if you can) is turn to the nearest guy not assaulting you and say: big brother, this guy is bothering me, can you please help me? And dude will throw down for you! I have seen this happen. You are now his sister and he will go full-on fisticuffs to defend your honor. But here's where the hypocrisy comes in: five minutes ago your knight in shining armor could have been assaulting some other girl. This is why I recommend punching guys in the throat or grabbing their junk, squeezing as hard as you can while laughing maniacally and asking how they like being touched. I've done that too (although that was India).
  3. Turkish bureaucracy: Sensing a pattern, no? It's everywhere. I'm not sure you can sneeze without having to pay a tax or get a piece of paper stamped. It would be marginally less painful if they would just STOP. Changing it. Every. Damn. Year. Specifically the residency system which each year gets more complicated and messy. And you know, even if they want to change it every year that would be okay if: 
    1. They changed the system AFTER they decide what the final process will be.
    2. Again they wait until they have a system in place to implement the new system.
    3. They provide instructions to all the relevant offices about what the new system is and what paperwork is required.
    4. They tell ANYONE ON THE PLANET what the new system is and what paperwork is required.
  4. The lack of international cuisine: Turkish food is good, it really is. But there's a lot of sameness. We are lucky to have a couple decent Thai, Korean, and Japanese places but I have yet to have Chinese food that doesn't make me sick. The Indian food is nearly always disappointing (and overpriced!) and while pizza and burgers abound there's not a lot outside that. I hear rumors of Ethiopian and other ethnic foods but where the are I don't know. I got spoiled living for so long in DC with decent renditions of just about any ethnic food within easy reach. Thank goodness for Pop Up Istanbul and my Georgian connection!
  5. The price of alcohol: Don't even get me started. Thankfully we have bringing it in down to a science. Did you know you can get 10-12 bottles of wine in a normal sized suitcase and still be largely within your weight allowance? And that you can buy from Duty Free in the airport you're leaving and again when you get to Istanbul? This is how we survive.
  6. Stairs: The bane of my existence. It's not bad enough that I live at the top of a five-floor walk-up. To be fair I did that to myself but living here does mean I carefully plan each excursion so I can keep my trips back up the stairs to a minimum. Walk-ups are one thing but streets that are so steep that they can no longer be streets but become giant staircases are another. That's when you have to just say no and figure out more sensible city planning.
  7. Discrimination against foreigners: The Turkish word for foreigner is yabangee which is often used here derogatorily. Foreigners are more likely to be the ones harassed on public transportation, until recently even those of us with residence permits couldn't get mobile phone contracts (it's still not an easy thing), and then of course when you shop in markets and bazaars, engage services -especially anything remotely touristic- there is always the yabangee tax; the higher price we pay simply for being foreign. It really makes me miss Taiwan where I never heard the word 'foreigner' used without 'friend' going with it. We were always the 'foreign friends' there. 
It has been a rather crazy three years and if I manage to make it through the residence permit renewal process again it will be another crazy year here. However after that I think I'm done. I love you, Istanbul but I think we may need a break from each other...

20 January 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Likya 2013 Pinot Meunier

A while ago I was at La Cave in Cihangir looking for new wines and picked up this Likya. I've never heard of Pinot Meunier and decided it was worth the 70 TL investment to find out what it was all about.

Turns out it's all about Pinot Noir. Pinot Meunier, which is one of the three grapes used to make champagne, lives in the Pinot Noir family from which it is likely a mutation. Lighter in color and higher in acid than a Pinot Noir it does share some similar flavors but has less of the earthiness often found in Pinot Noirs. Thus says Google.

In the glass Likya's dark purple Pinot Meunier was darker than I anticipated after reading the Google search results. The nose was a lovely blend of black fruits, plum, raspberry, pomegranate, clove, and rose.

In the mouth it had more tannin than I expected being from a grape out of the Pinot Noir family. The high acid was really evident though; this one needs some airing.

I had an up and down relationship with this one. Initially it was a little sour, like unripe raspberries and pomegranate. I could taste some dried herbs and tobacco but they were really buried under the tartness. However it really mellowed as it opened, the tannins go away a bit, and the black fruit and tobacco become more prominent.

At 70 TL a bottle I did not like this enough to buy it again but I was glad for the experience. Three stars.

17 January 2016

The Camel Wrestling Festival That Wasn't

I've been curious about camel wrestling for ages. What is it? What does it involve? What's the appeal? What does camel meat taste like? After booking a trip to Selçuk over a month ago with E&M I was all set to find out.
People seem very split over both the merits of the sport and treatment of the animals. The camels don't seem to harm each other, just push and shove a bit. There are rumors that they're starved in advance of the fight but I've found no evidence of that. This would have been one of my questions to ask at the festival.

But the festival never happened.

All Saturday I was feeling tired and about the only thing to hold any appeal was the idea to cancel my trip. But no, I had to go because camel wrestling! This is how I find myself now in an impossibly narrow seat on a Turkish Airlines flight I had to pay extra for. Ayıptır, Türk Havayolları.

We arrived in İzmir late Saturday night, too late for a shuttle to Selçuk but at least there were four of us to split the 180 TL cab ride. We arrived at the Paris Hotel at about midnight, exhausted (especially our friend visiting from the States who had been traveling for 32 hrs) and just fell into bed.

E&M are far more budget conscious than I and M chose the hotel, but I don't think he expected stained and dirty sheets, plumbing problems, and wet bathroom floors. Tired as I was I had a difficult time falling asleep, convinced there were bed bugs (happily no). Also not helping me sleep was the screaming wind. I knew we were expecting rain despite all my crossed fingers and toes. But the wind...that was a portent of more than just a little rain.

We got up early the next morning hopeful of both clear weather and beating 10-20,000 other people to a good seat. I was down in the lobby earlier and spent my time having a rousing conversation about politics and animal rights. In Turkish, thank you very much.

Sadly that was the only successful part of the weekend. Shortly after E&M came down so did the word; cancelled. The only happens one day a year camel wrestling festival was cancelled. Sadly a poster was the closest I was getting to camels today.

After walking around in the rain trying to find a cafe open on a Sunday where we could get a coffee I called it quits and got the mini bus back to the airport. My return flight was at 10:30 pm and I was hoping I could get something earlier.

Getting to the airport was its own adventure. The mini bus between Selçuk and İzmir stops in a few places, including the airport, but not really the airport. The exit off the highway to the airport. Normally not a problem, I've walked it before and at night no less but never in rain so heavy I could barely see. Luckily there was a taxi waiting in the medium and another gentleman and I made the dash across the highway in the pouring rain to get the cab the rest of the way.

Unfortunately Turkish Airlines, which I usually enjoy, failed me today. After standing in a Turkish line for a while it was finally my turn. The very nice girl behind the counter told me I could go on a stand-by list for the 6:00 pm flight but everything else was full. Full how I asked showing her on my phone all the not full flights on Turkish Airlines' website. She just shrugged at me.

In the end I booked a brand new one-way flight for 300 TL. Annoying but money well spent as it saved me 7 hours of waiting. My flight was a little delayed, of course, but after 2 hours of sitting in one of the narrowest plane seats ever made I arrived back to more pouring rain in İstanbul.

And the worst part of the whole thing? Was not missing the festival, although yes that totally sucked, it was missing my favorite priest's last mass at my church. :(

13 January 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Tellus 2013 Merlot-Syrah

I'd had a rough couple work days and really just wanted to wind down my Friday with a nice glass of wine. Sigh.  This did not help my rage. (There was rage the week I drank this).

The Tellus was another one of those purchases I make even when I know I shouldn't. I don't like Merlot. I just don't but I bought this anyway because the gentleman at La Cave really recommended it. The gentleman who does not drink. So really I deserved this.

Initially I was really excited about the color. I've said before that I can often tell by the color of the wine whether or not I'll like it and the plummy purple of the Tellus Merlot-Syrah in my glass made me all hopeful. This! This would be the Merlot I would like!

My dreams were quickly dashed when I realized it was that my purple place mat was reflecting in glass. The wine was really a brownish-red color. One disappointment lead to another as I investigated the nose. I couldn't pick out any distinctive fruits just an overwhelming sense of hot, spice, and sickly sweet.

Really this wine was not helping with my rage. Fueling the fire more like. Especially when I started sipping it. Light tannins, high acid, it kind of burned going down; like Coke does. But without that really satisfying I'm drinking Coke feeling. Again no fruits that I could really distinguish, just hot and jammy-and not jammy in a good way.

So, rage not assuaged and I was drinking wine that was basically a hangover in a bottle. Hopefully I at least learned my lesson and will stop listening to the guys at La Cave when they tell me something's good. At least this time I was only out 25TL.

12 January 2016

The Vatican and Churches of Rome

You cannot go to Rome and not visit The Vatican, and everyone wants to go to the Vatican so I was guaranteed at least one church to which I didn't have drag my less than church-loving friend. It has been a very long time since I was last in Rome and while I'm not saying we just walked casually into every single church/museum/monument I do not remember the lines being like this. And I was there during peak season last time! Good thing we'd bought those Omnia Cards!

The Basilica of Saint Peter
St. Peter's impresses before you even get inside

There are several places to buy the Roma Pass/Omnia Card (or you can purchase online and pick them up at the same place). Figuring that the sales point outside Saint Peter's would be crazy busy we bought ours at Saint John Lateran's which had the added benefit of being only a couple blocks away from our AirBnB; and so glad we did! Part of the service that goes with the Omnia Card is a timed entrance to Saint Peter's so we turned up the next day, shuddered at the seemingly interminable line of people waiting to get in, found our group, and sailed past every one else. L and I chose to go through the basilica on our own but we could have followed our group and also received (for no extra fee) the audio guide.
Michelangelo's Pieta
The alter under the dome

After you get into the basilica and once you're done being overwhelmed by the immensity and grandeur of the building (as L said she'd give us Catholics one thing-we know how to build a church!) there are a few not to be missed sites. The first, behind a wall of glass and surrounded by people jostling for position with their cameras (including me...) is Michelangelo's Pieta. The glass, which is bulletproof, was only installed in the 1970's after a wackjob Hungarian-Austrian geologist took a sledgehammer to Mary while shouting "I am Jesus Christ; I have risen from the dead." True story.

The newest feature inside St. Peter's, but no less crowded/photographed for being new, is the tomb of Pope Saint John Paull II. There's a sectioned off area in front of the tomb set aside for prayer, the line to get in stretches pretty far and they're really serious about not taking pictures there.

One of the main features of St. Peter's is the dome that soars overhead. Visitors can go up into the dome (for an additional nominal fee) to take in the view both inside the basilica and outside of St. Peter's square. There are two options for getting to the top of the dome: elevator and stairs combo (5 Euro) or just stairs (3 Euro). What I think they don't really tell you though is that after the elevator there are still something like 10 flights of stairs to be scaled. AFTER the elevator. Given my relationship with stairs, one L shares, we skipped this. Although I suppose if I were fall down some stairs and die this would be the place to do it.

St. Peter's bones supposedly lie under the alter
Looking into the apse

Saint Peter's isn't the only point of interest in Vatican City. The Vatican Museum is a draw all on its own and despite my general impatience with museums this one is not to be missed. In addition to being a gorgeous building, the Vatican Museum houses an impressive collection of art and religious and historical artifacts. The biggest draw though is of course the Sistine Chapel. There's really no way to describe it. It's mind blowing.It's also a little tricky to find. Even if you the express route (there are signs throughout the museum leading to the chapel and there really is an "express" route).

Moderno's nave
My portrait

After long museum corridors, twists and turns, and up and down what look like the servants' stairs (which they may well be as the Sistine Chapel is technically in the Papal Palace, not the museum) you finally reach the chapel where you are instantly mesmerized by Michelangeo's ceiling which according to Wikipedia is "...a masterpiece without precedent, that was to change the course of Western art." It's pretty humbling to be in the presence of something like that.

Once we managed to shake off the awed stupor we left the Sistine Chapel and made out way out of the museum. Even the Vatican Museum apparently believes in saving the best for last though as at the top of a large, multi-storied, steeply slanted staircase (which give the angle of the slant was really more of a ramp) there was a portrait of little old moi! Incredible the way they captured my essence.

The Pantheon-completed in 126

As L said we Catholics know how to build a church. However while we're not quite as well known for it we also know how to take an ancient building and make it a church. In fact that's how a great many of the old Roman temples have survived. The Pantheon, completed in roughly 126 AD by Emperor Hadrian was dedicated to all the god (ergo pantheon meaning 'all gods'). It was converted to a church in 609 AD and dedicated to St. Mary and all the Martyrs.

Also there's a gelato place nearby...if you stand with the Pantheon on your left looking at the exchange office (terribly rates btw) to the right is a gelato place that has killer chocolate orange gelato.


Sant' Andrea

On the day L was incapacitated I wandered around Rome on my own which gave me the chance to peek into a lot of churches. You can't spit in Rome without hitting a church. And not just a little, simple church...a CHURCH. I was on a mission to find the Gesu church which is a very long story about how I can't read a map and ended up wandering around for an hour when in fact I had breezed right by it. However on my journey I discovered the Saint Me church - Sant'Andrea. Of course it's not Saint Me but the Italian Saint Andrew. How many times I've told my parents they gave me a man's name...

Triumph of the Holy Name of Jesus fresco

Church of the Gesu

I did finally find the Church of the Gesu or la Chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Gesu all'Argentina. It's a mouth full. Gesu (as it requires less typing) is a Jesuit church conceived by Saint Ignatius of Loyola and consecrated in 1584. Somewhat fascinating is the St. Ignatius Chapel where his body is kept. During the day a large painting covers the statue of the saint but every day at 17:30, to the accompaniment of loud music, a mechanism slides the painting into the floor to reveal the statue. A mechanism built sometime around 1700 AD. That's pretty cool.

To me the real draw is the ceiling of Gesu (which can be better seen if you follow the narrow, windy stairs up to the museum) designed and painted by 22 year old Giovanni Battista Gaulli. Unfortunately Wikipedia glosses over this but if you go upstairs to the museum a lovely man who speaks very good English will show you the details. When I first looked at the ceiling I thought it was beautiful but felt there was something odd that I couldn't quite figure out. It wasn't until he pointed it out that I realized that Gaulli had done the ceiling in such a way that the painting spills over the frame giving it a 3D effect. He even painted shadowing on the frame and some of the angel figurines are black. This might be sacrilegious in the art world but I was rather more impressed by this that I was the Sistine Chapel...

Alter in the Gesu museum

In the end the Gesu was my favorite of all the churches I visited in Rome. There are truly no words to describe the Gaulli frescoes; they must be seen.

Two posts about my Italy trip down and four or five to go! Hopefully the blogger's block doesn't come back...