Sunday, July 01, 2018

Florence, The David and Church

We woke up bright and early to walk down to the city center and get in line to see The David, Michelangelo's most famous sculpture.  The museum was built around it and includes other statues and paintings by various artists.  Additional statues by Michelangelo are featured.
A close up to keep this blog's G rating.

The museum also had the very first Stradivarius  violin, according to our guide, on loan from the Medici family.

Afterwards we walked to a small International church for Sunday service.  So fun to meet other Christians!  About half the church was tourists.
It was a very small room and it contrasted so much with the opulence of some of the churches we have seen on this trip.  I wondered if the early church met in small rooms like this.  Maybe - maybe not.
Lunch at an outdoor cafe--love them!  So fun!
Yum!
We got a gelato in an unsuccessful attempt to cool off.  It was in the 90's and let's just say...Europeans need to learn how to use air conditioning.  First they leave all the shop doors wide open and then they must have the thermostat set on 85.  Ugh.  It's only 5 degrees better than outside in every shop.
So cute!
Next, my mom wanted to take me to see the famous Ponte Vecchio Bridge that she and my dad had seen years ago.  My dad was a history buff and loved the story of how the bridge was saved during the Nazi occupation in WW2.  A German consul stationed in Florence had written letters to the German Ambassador to Italy asking to him to try ask Hitler to protect Florence from destruction.  Hitler had loved Florence on an earlier trip so agreed to keep as much of the city intact as possible.  However, when the Allies were approaching, it was decided that all the bridges had to be blown up.  Here the story takes on several theories.  One is that Hitler himself decided to save the bridge.  Another is that the Germans always left one bridge to try to ambush the Allies when they crossed it.  And still another theory was that American tanks were too large to cross the Ponte Vecchio anyway so there was no need to blow it up.  These theories all have some merit and the truth is probably a mix of the three.  The bridge was originally built in 996 and destroyed twice by floods but the current structure has been there since 1333! It is also known for having shops built on the bridge.  The back shops have been there since the 17th century.  They were originally butcher shops but are now mainly jewelry and watches.

Since my dad loved this bridge we asked someone to take a picture of us in front of it.
We walked around Florence all afternoon, shopping and sweating.
Incredible street art
Since had already eaten gelato, we couldn't have these but mmmmm.....they looked amazing.

Good-bye Florence!
Tomorrow we go to Pisa, Verona and end up in Venice.



Saturday, June 30, 2018

Assisi and Florence

I'm too tired to blog tonight so I will just post pictures from the bus trip and a few stops we made along the way.  We are in Florence at a pretty dreadful hotel (i.e: allergy attack from moldy smelling, ancient room with unfriendly staff - ha).








Pretty much the prettiest village ever.  Gah!  Tomorrow we are going to an International Christian Church and will also see 'The David."  In the afternoon we are free to wander around Florence.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Colosseum, Mamertine Prison, and Ostia

The Colosseum was the first area to visit today.  What an incredible structure!  


This was just inside. It was very much like a baseball stadium - except arches and ancient rock.  ha.
You can see the pits in the bottom.  There was a floor over them and all the gladiators, animals and prisoners were down there.  During the games, there would be multiple events going on all over the stadium to keep the interest of the spectators.
You can see where the floor would have been in this cutaway.
Because earthquakes are common, the stadium was built to be able to flex.  The guide described it like giant Legos.  These holes are where large brass knobs held the 'lego' pieces together.  When Rome was conquered, the brass was taken down and melted.  I forgot to ask the guide how it was held together now.  heh
  Closer view of the lower level.  There is some disagreement over whether or not Christians were thrown to the lions here.  Some say it never happened.  Others say it happened occasionally.  Some say it only happened to criminals.  I would venture to guess that since criminals were thrown to wild beasts here, there were probably some Christians who were considered criminals because they would not bow to the Emperor, Caesar. 
I'll leave it at that.
Just outside the Colosseum is the triumphal Arch of Titus.  He destroyed Jerusalem and brought back all the gold from Solomon's Temple and used the money to build the Colosseum.

We then walked a short distance to the Mamerine Prison where it has been recorded that Paul was imprisoned for a period of time.  He was under house arrest for two years, set free and then rearrested at a later point (possibly after Rome burned and Nero blamed the Christians for starting the fire).  It was after that second arrest that Paul was imprisoned here.
Looking down into the cell.  This is where the food was thrown down to the prisoners.  It is believed that since Caesar's palace is nearby and Paul, when under house arrest, talks about the Christians that lived in Caesar's palace, (Philippians 4:22) they may have been the ones who brought him food.  Presumably, at great risk to themselves.
Mamertine Prison was the worst of the worst.  According to Roman historian Sallust, it could have been called the House of Darkness.  Few prisons were as dim, dank and dirty.  It's 'neglect, darkness and stench" gave it "a hideous and terrifying appearance."  It is lighted now so we can see it but since it's underground with no windows, it would have been pitch dark except for small oil lamps if the prisoners had them.  
The room was so small I could not get back far enough to take a picture of the ceiling and all the way down to the floor.  The round hole in the ceiling is the same food hole in the previous picture.  Prisoners were not fed by the Romans so they were dependent on family or friends coming to the prison and bringing food to them.
The hole in this photo was actually a spring where Paul could get water.  It is said that he baptized any converts he made in the prison with that spring water.  Normally, prisoners were not held for more than a few days prior to their execution but Paul seemed to be an exception.  Perhaps Nero wasn't sure what to do with him.  Some scholars believe that Paul wrote the book of 2 Timothy while in Mamertine (with Luke as scribe).  In 2 Timothy 3, Paul asks Timothy to bring his cloak before winter.
"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day..." 2 Timothy 3:6-8

Seeing the prison, while heartbreaking, was my favorite part of the day.  It is so easy to read our Bibles and not really comprehend what the early church endured.  Paul was their leader - a very beloved one.  And he was in chains...in prison...  What a sweet passage there is in Act. 28 where it says that as Paul was being taken on his journey to Rome some of the Christians came a long way to greet and encourage him.  
(Acts 28:14, 15 "....and so we came to Rome.  The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us.  At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged.")

After lunch we were taken to the ruins of a city called Ostia that has been uncovered.  There are extensive ruins there which were interesting for the first hour and then we were tired, hot, and dirty so they all started to look the same.  heh

The menorah on the top of the pillar proves there were Jewish people living in the city.

Those cool mushroom shaped pine trees that I'm fascinated with?  Turns out they produce these huge pine cones and inside them are pine nuts!  I have eaten them many times.  The pine cones were extremely heavy.  I would have loved to bring one home but it probably wouldn't have traveled well.

Tomorrow we ride the bus to Florence.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Vatican, St. Paul's Basilica and Tre Fontane

Our first stop today was the Vatican.  The crowds were absolutely overwhelming.  I have seen anything like it - not even in China.
The high walls around the Vatican
Crowds like this stretched around the block with a 3-4 hour wait.  Our tour group had a reservation so we didn't have to wait in that line, thankfully.
UGH!  It was like this inside as well...just a swollen mass of humanity (and sweat) surging from room to room.  When exiting the Sistine Chapel we all had to squeeze through a doorway only large enough for two at a time.  I kept thinking what a horrific fire hazard it was. ha!
Unfortunately, no one in our group could understand our guide due to her heavy accent so I have no idea what most of these rooms/paintings, etc. are.  I will just post a few without comment.

I'm obsessed with windows and doors.  ha!
These colors look oversaturated but this is an unretouched photo.


Inside St. Peter's Basilica
I found the blue sky to be a simple, calming beauty.

Our second stop was at St. Paul's Basilica where it is thought that Paul was buried.  It is said that after he died, mourners came to visit the spot and erected a memorial.  Eventually, Roman Emperor Constantine had the Basilica built there.  

St. Paul's Basilica was much more peaceful than the Vatican and about 7 km from the city center.
The portico
Inside the Basilica
Ancient wood carving of what Paul may have looked like.

From there we drove to the site of Paul's execution by beheading.  It is called Tre Fontane.
It was so peaceful here.
There is a building built here over a spot where they found a small jail - more like a holding cell.  The Romans executed their prisoners quickly and didn't require many jails.  This may have been where Paul was held a day or two before his death.
We walked down into a basement area where there were two cells.  The is the larger of the two.
From the jail there is a walkway to the spot where it is said that Paul was executed.  As I walked along, I wondered if Paul was rejoicing as he walked these last few steps, knowing he was minutes away from meeting his Jesus for whom he had suffered so much.  I can imagine he was counting down the moments, knowing he had finished the race that was set before him - and he had finished well.  A warm welcome awaited him as he stepped into eternity.

"For to me, to live is Christ but to die is gain...I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far..."  Philippians 1:21, 23