Our arrival in Istanbul followed a two and a half hour flight from Rome. We have a cute three room apartment with an upscale bathroom (including an interesting shower we had not seen before) and our own spacious balcony/patio. Surrounding us are stores,shops, and restaurants.The Blue Mosque is only a five minute walk from here. It is an amazing sight to see so many big cargo ships on the Bosphorus just outside our windows. Because of some rain, we spent today working on the next leg of our journey (we need to stay one to two months ahead). The exploration of Istanbul should start tomorrow.
Many people have emailed or asked us how this journey came about and whether or not it is economically feasible for them to replicate this trip. So, we thought we would discuss the process and the economics involved.
Last summer, while we were getting ready to sell our house and give away our belongings( the cost of transporting, insuring, and/or storing our furniture until we needed it, would have been more than the value of the furniture), we began to explore where in the USA we wanted to move in order to be away from snow. Nothing immediately jumped out at us as ideal. Listening to our children's suggestions, we decided the time was right for this adventure. Other than wondering if we could afford to make this journey (which we will discuss later) three major obstacles presented themselves. First up was how to get our medications while traveling? Our doctor was willing to provide us with enough written prescriptions to get us through the year. We thought about having our son, who would be acting as our power-of-attorney, fill the prescriptions at a local pharmacy every three months and mailing them to us. However, mailing medications overseas to individuals is illegal, so that option was out. Researching filling the prescriptions in Europe seemed to be the next best option. Everything we read indicated that European pharmacies could be helpful, at least to the point of connecting us with local MD's to countersign the prescriptions. We went with this option and it turned out to be the correct one, at least here in Italy. We now have a 3 month advance supply of medications.
The next big obstacle we faced was travel health/medical evacuation insurance. Our Medicare insurance does not cover us overseas. Most of the travel insurance plans we explored would only cover us for 90-180 days. Researching this topic, we got in touch with Travel-Ex insurance which offered a one year coverage plan, including medical evacuation if needed, for a reasonable fee.
The biggest obstacle we faced was the Shengen treaty. Twenty-six countries of those comprising the Europen Union signed this treaty in 1985. The advantage of it was to provide open borders, easing the need for constant passport control. The main disadvantage, at least for those of us not citizens on the EU was that we could not stay within the Shengen zone for more than 90 out of any 180 days. The only ways around this were either to marry a citizen of the EU, apply for a student visa, or apply for permanent residency. None of these options were applicable to us. Thus, we had to plan our journey carefully so that we would spend 3 months within the Shengen zone and 3 months outside of it for each 180 day time period. While this would mean hop-scotching around, it added some interesting travel options for us that we had not considered at the beginning.
Which now brings us to the question, is this trip worth it? Certainly, the educational and intrinsic value of the places we have visited so far were worth the effort. But what of the actual costs of the trip? We have found that we have been living consistently below our pensions and thus able to bank money into our accounts. For the first month, October when we were in Florence, our total expenses, including one way air fare, rent, food, and all entrance fees, totaled just below $7000 US dollars. For the month of November, while in Rome and when our daughter and her husband stayed with us for a week, our expenses were around $5000 USD, which included train fare to Rome from Florence, plus a day trip to Pompeii. December was even cheaper with expenses falling to under $3000 USD. As we move into January, of course we anticipate that our expenses will increase some as we will have the added expense of air fare to Istanbul.
The bottom line is that financially, this trip is quite affordable. As long as your health is good and you plan your trip carefully, just about anyone can do what we are doing.
One last item needs to be addressed; family connection. Since our children and their families are spread across the US, we customarily saw them only once per year each for an extended visit. Upon returning to the US from this one year adventure, we will once again visit our children's families for extended visits. In the meantime, we stay connected by sending postcards to the grandkids and making frequent phone calls to our children. In addition, each of our children have said that they plan to visit us with their families during this journey. Therefore, they are following along as members of this journey.
People we have met in Rome
We have met a lot of very nice and interesting people during our stay in Rome. While there were many, the following pictures are a sampling of them.
To all of these, and many more we met along the way, Ciao Roma. We would like to take this moment to extend a special thank you to our first Roman landlord, Stefano, who went above and beyond to make our stay very special. It is very obvious that he loves his Rome, and now, thanks to him, so do we.
Basilica San Clemente
Situated on Via San Giovanni approximately a quarter mile south of the Colosseum is the basilica San Clemente, dedicated to Pope Clement I and the designated basilica of the current Cardinal from New York. The basilica proper is ringed with several frescos and sculptures ranging from the second through the tenth century. What makes this an attraction for tourists is that the facility is a three tired complex (i. e. A church, built upon another church, built upon a home).The upper-most level is the present basilica originally built just before 1100 AD. Approximately four meters below this level is a mid-4th century to early 5th century basilica, converted out of a home of a Roman nobleman. Historical documents indicate that this level briefly served as a church during the first century and the basement of this mid-level structure during the 2nd century may have served as a pagan temple ( a place of worship for the followers of the mysterious religion known as Mithraism). The lower third level was the home of the Roman nobleman which was built upon the foundations of a republican era building destroyed by the great fire of 64 AD. You can explore the remains of the earlier Basilica and the nobleman's home by crossing the present-day Basilica and through the bookstore on the far side and going down the stairs.
Archbasilica San Giovanni
Approximately one mile south of the Colosseum is the Archbasilica San Giovanni in Laterano. Built in 314 AD by Emperor Constantine the Great, it is the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome (The Pope). This is the first Christian Church built in Rome, and in the whole world. As such, it is designated as an arch-basilica and as the Mother Church of all churches. The Archbasilica San Giovanni ranks above all other churches within the Catholic community, including St. Peter's. It was built over the remains of a second century fort of the Mounted Imperial Guards and over the first century palace of the Family Laterani (thus the reason for the name San Giovanni in Laterano).
Baths of Caracalla
Approximately one half mile south of the Colosseum are the Baths of Caracalla. Built between 212 and 216 AD by Emperor Caracalla, they were the second largest public baths in Rome. The Emperor did not have a very good reputation, so he had the baths built for political propaganda purposes, namely so the people would like and remember him. The baths were free to the citizens of Rome. The Aqua Marcia aqueduct was built specifically to provide water for the baths. In the sixth century, the Ostogoths took control of the baths during the Gothic War and destroyed the hydrolic system, thus ending the use of the baths.
Looking from the gardens towards the main complex. Underneath this part was the huge heating and storage facility. Approximately ten tons of wood per day were burned to heat the pools. The storage rooms could hold 2000 tons more of wood. Thus, the complex could run for 7 months before the wood had to be replenished.
Christmas Eve celebrations
We were debating whether or not to try to attend midnight Mass at St. Peter's when, at 9:00 pm we began to hear singing coming from the square. Since our apartment is only 100 meters from St. Peter's square, we decided to see what was going on. To our wonder, there was a full-blown Mass/celebration already underway within the Basilica. Inside attendance was apparently by invitation only. However, everything was being displayed live on five very large screens in the square. We were quite comfortable watching the Mass from the outside as the weather was fairly warm and the crowds well behaved. For us, being outside was an advantage because you had a better view of the proceedings and one could take photos (which was not allowed inside during the Mass). It was quite interesting to watch approximately ten priests on the screen walking through the Basilica each carrying a chalice filled with hosts, and then actually seeing them exiting St. Peter's and descending the exterior stairs. Many of the onlookers were familiar enough with the proceedings to move towards the bottom of the stairs prior to the exiting of the priests in order to link up with them and receive communion. As the Mass was ending Pope Francesco picked up the statue of the baby Jesus and appeared to carry it towards the main doors of St. Peter's. At that point, we followed the crowd toward the Crèche in the square anticipating that the Pope was bringing it there to be placed in the manger. Much to our surprise, some civilian assistant dressed in a suit, shirt, and tie, walked to the back of the manger scene, only to reappear a moment later carrying the baby Jesus statue like a football under his arm and placed in the manger. Neither the Pope nor anyone connected to the clergy was anywhere to be seen. Such a disappointment!
In search of Christmas
For the past couple of weeks, we have had the sense that it does not feel like Christmas here in Rome. Unlike in the United States in which decorations are everywhere, here they are sparse. Several tourists we have met have had the same comment. There are approximately 2000 churches in Rome and we have visited about 100 of them (and many more were closed and locked when we tried to visit), but we have found only five of them that have displayed Crèches. Even in the public areas, there does not seem to be very much in terms of decorations. There were only three typically decorated Christmas trees; one by the Colosseum, another in Piazza Venizia, and the third in St. Peter's square in front of the Vatican. In the area around via del Corso, there were some streets decorated with overhanging lights, and a few stores with decorations around their storefronts, but of course, this is the high end commercial district. No one seems to be selling live Christmas trees, nor have we seen any being transported on car roofs.
Rome is not totally void of Christmas spirit, however, as evidenced by the following pictures.
So we did find Christmas after all. We would like to wish all of our friends and blog followers the very merriest of Christmases (or whatever holiday you observe) and the happiest of 2015.
Carl and Lorraine
Santa Maria in Via Lata
Along the Via delle Corso (one of the busiest commercial districts in Rome) and beside the Palazzo Doria Pamphili, is a tiny 17th century minor basilica, the Santa Maria in Via Lata (the ancient street name for via Corso). Early documents indicate that the original building on this site may have been a warehouse. The lower portion of the basilica (I.e. About 20 meters below street level) was the home of St. Luke (secretary to St. Paul). The documentsentioned above also indicated that in the fifth century, this was the first Christian place of worship in the chapel (oratory) in a Roman building, now beneath the current church. It was also here that St. Paul spent two years under house arrest while awaiting trial for his beliefs (he was allowed to stay in lodgings of his own choosing in the accompaniment of a soldier). St. Paul often summoned followers to the crypt in order to continue his preachings. In addition, some documents indicate that St. Peter would visit St. Luke and St. Paul here while St. Paul was under house arrest.
Is the art...?
Along the Via Vittorio Veneto is the church of the Capuchin Friars (officially known as Santa Maria Della Concezione dei Cappuncini). Beside this rather plain looking (at least on the outside) church is the Capuchin Crypt museum. The Ossuary of the Capuchin Friars -called Capuchin because of the hood attachment to their habit, "capache" in Italian - contains several tiny chapels that run beneath the church. In 1631, the Capuchins left the friary of St. Bonaventure near the Trevi Fountain with 300 cartloads of the remains of deceased Friars and bodies of the poor (all told close to 4000 bodies). Because the ossuary area beneath the church was not really large enough to adequately hold the skeletal remains as well as room for the Friars, they sought permission to create..."a silent reminder of the swift passage of life on earth and of our own morality."
We must warn you that the following pictures may be disturbing to some. The Catholic Order of Capuchins insists that the odd decorative designs are not meant to be macabre. We leave it up t you...is this art?...or something else?
So....is this art?....Otis it creepy? You decide.
Situated next to the Borghese Gardens, and just a short distance from the Trinta Di Monti church at the top of the Spanish Steps, is the Villa Medici, which currently houses the Academy of France. Ferdinand I de Medici acquired the property in 1576 when he was Grand Duke of Tuscany. There are a series of grand gardens throughout the property. Ferdinand I had a study built on the northeast side of the gardens, above part of the Aurelian Wall that marked the perimeter of the estate. He used the study as a retreat from the every-day pressures of his office. The whole estate is considered to be one of the most elegant and worldly settings in Rome. For a time, this was the Grand Duke's embassy to the Holy See. In 1737, when the male line of the Medici's died out, the property passed to the house of Lorraine. Napoleon Bonaparte came into possession of the property in 1803 and transferred it to the French Academy of Rome. Today, the Academy hosts up to two dozen artists of varying genres who apply to stay there from 6-18 months in order to complete their projects.
While the facade facing the street appears rather plain, because it was at the time of Martin Luther and the Reformation, and folks were upset with the opulence of the wealthy, the part facing the gardens is quite spectacular and were kept a secret to only those that were invited into the gardens.
This part of the gardens is dedicated to the legend of Niobe and her children. According to the legend, Niobe was quite proud of her 10 children and scornful of Leto's twins, Apollo and Artemis. At the insistence of their mother, Apollo killed Niobe's sons and Artemis killed her daughters. Niobe, again according to the legend, was inconsolable at the loss of her children, weeping incessantly until she turned to stone.
December 8th is a huge day in Rome and throughout Italy. It is the Catholic celebration of the Immaculate Conception and for most it is a holiday from work. Italians from all over the country travel to Rome just to be near the column of the Immaculate Conception, a mere 100 meters from the Spanish Steps, and hopefully to see the Pope. Tradition holds that the Pope comes here every December 8th to say a few prayers to the Mother of God and to lay a wreath of flowers at the base of the column. Irregardless of your personal religious persuasion, this is a spectacle to see and experience. While the crowds are very large, they are mostly respectful and well behaved. We were fortunate enough to have had great weather all day, as well as to have met several very interesting people (i.e. Folks from Sicily, Milan,...and North Carolina).
Following the formal ceremony, Pope Francesco greeted special members of the crowd (those in wheelchairs). In addition, his aides carried young 3-6 year old children to him for his blessing. The mothers of these children were moved to tears because their children were singled out for this honor. This was a very emotionally charged scene. We had an excellent position to view this part of the day.
The Appian Way
Some journeys merely give you a glimpse back in time. Others affect your spirit as well. This was one of those latter journeys. In 1958, at the age of 13, Lorraine saw a picture of the ancient Roman road, the Appian Way (the "queen of the long roads" -Statius) in her Latin book. She made a vow that some day she would stand on that same road. To make this dream come true, we had to wait two extra days for rain showers to clear out. After all, this ten plus mile round trip walk would not have been enjoyable in the rain. We followed the Tiber River south, past the Circus Maximus, the Palentine Hill (home of the Emperors), and the Baths of Caracalla, until we reached the Porta di San Sebastián along the Aurelian wall (the defensive wall protecting Rome). We had finally arrived at the Appia Antica, the old Appian Way, one of the earliest and most strategically important roads for the old Roman Republic. This 350 mile long road linked Rome with the harbor town of Brandisi but more importantly was the main military supply route for the army bases along the way. Construction began in 312 B.C.
A little way into the Appian Way, we came across the church of Domine Quo Vardis (..."Lord, where are you going?"). Legend has it that St. Peter met a vision of Jesus here while Peter was fleeing persecution in Rome. He asked Jesus the above question to which Jesus replied he was returning to Rome to be crucified again. St. Peter then returned to Rome himself.
A new friend
While walking through central Rome today, we came across a sign on a building that made us curious. With what little Italian we had , we could only ascertain that it had something to do with the Nazis of World War II. In an effort to learn the translation of the sign, we went into a little clothing store beneath the sign to ask some questions. To our surprise, the owners of the shop, Alberto and Serena Valentini, were as interesting as the object that originally caught our attention. Alberto, who happens to look like a younger Albert Einstein ( even though he admits to being 70 years old, and who's birthday happens to be very close to Lorraine's) is known as a world renowned tailor whose " ...flamboyant looks and surreal creativity..." has had him dubbed the "Salvador Dali of the tie" (the item that helped to make him famous). Alberto's claim to fame has been his ability to take vintage fabrics from the 1920's through to the 1960's and make unique ties and suit coats out of them. He is very proud of his handiwork, even displaying in his shop a picture of him presenting the Pope one of his hand-made leather coats. During our discussions, we learned that Serena and Alberto were married the same year that we were, only 8 months after us. They were extremely gracious hosts, spending well over a half-hour talking about our families and our work. It was a delightful break in our routine.
Alberto and Serena in their shop.
Some of the clothing that Alberto created and tailored.
This is the sign that started this little mini-adventure. Apparently on March 23rd, 1944 several German soldiers came across ten young Italian boys sitting on the doorsteps of this little street and inexplicably shot them all. This sign was created a year and a half later and hung on this wall to commemorate this event.
Located a couple of miles away from the Keats/Shelley museum-house is the Protestant Cemetery where the two poets are buried. Often referred to as the "Englishmen's Cemetery", it is located near the Porta San Paolo (a Roman garrison barracks protecting part of the ancient wall of Rome) and next to the Pyramid of Cestius. In addition to Keats and Shelley, other notable personages buried here include an American Minister to Italy from mid-19th century, a US ambassador to Italy from mid-20th century, the first Ambassador to Italy from India, and a Prussian General.
A view of the Pyramid of Cestius from near Keats' grave
Keats's grave on the left and his friend Joseph Severn in the right
Memorial plaque to Keats
During Madonna and Josh's visit, one of the sites we visited was the Keats/Shelley house. Located next to the Spanish Steps, this museum is dedicated to the English Romantic poets. It was here that John Keats died in 1821 from TB. His bedroom is preserved as a shrine. The more than 8000 volumes displayed in the libraries contain many of the works of the Romantic poets. Purchased in 1906 by the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association the museum is situated on the bottom ride side of Spanish Steps
This is Keats' bedroom where he died from TB in 1821
Part of the library collection
More volumes and memorabilia
November 26th was our son-in-law's, Josh's, birthday. We took him and Madonna to Pompeii as part of the celebration for his special day. Pompeii was originally founded by the Greeks somewhere between the 7th or 6th century BC. In 80 BC it was conquered by Rome and became a Roman colony following an unsuccessful rebellion against the Roman Republic. Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, killing 2000 of its inhabitants and burying the city under 25 feet of ash. Pompeii was rediscovered around 1599, but extensive excavations were not begun for another 150 years.
One of the main roads through the town. The streets were not named but were given symbolic representations on the wells at intersections to indicate the area.
The amphitheater near the main entrance to the city.
Approximately 80% of the city has now been excavated (taking nearly 400 years) and restorations are still under way.
Part of the columns in the central market area outside the main fish stalls.
Some more pictures of the ruins of Pompeii. It is estimated to be only 80% excavated (after four centuries of work) and there are approximately 6000 structures already exposed.
Our first view of the city from the main entrance area
We are getting closer to entering the city
The sports complex as you enter the city
The largest bakery identified in Pompeii
The Vatican, in addition to being an independent country and the headquarters for the world's Catholics, houses some of the most amazing works of art in the world. However, it was not always here. The site upon which St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican were constructed once was a hill outside the city limits of Rome. For many years, there was a circus next to the hill where chariot races, gladiator fights, and executions were held. There is some documentation that St. Peter was crucified, upside down, in this circus around the time of Nero and buried somewhere in the hill. In fact, at that time, Roman law prohibited burials of any type within the city limits. Many wealthy families built mausoleums in the side of the hill for the burial of their entire household, including slaves. When Constantine decided to build the Basilica, he leveled the hill, thus covering over all these mausoleums. Centuries later, during some renovations to the underpinnings of the columns supporting the Basilica, the existence of the mausoleums were rediscovered, but nothing was done about them at that time. Not until 1939 did any real effort occur to excavate (thus the term Scavi) the mausoleums. These efforts were kept secret until well after World War II. Today, there is a special tour, organized by the Vatican, of this area, but limited to only ten tours of 13 people each. Folks can book this tour through the Vatican Scavi office. During our visit to the Vatican museum (Sistine chapel included) and St. Peter's Basilica, we went on the Scavi tour. Unfortunately the Vatican does not allow any pictures to be taken during this tour.
The famous double spiral staircase in the Vatican museum, based upon the Fibonacci formula.
The fabulous artworks in the Vatican collection include many statues and sculptures.
We even met a relative of Lorraine's (although distant) in the cafeteria of the Vatican. Like Lorraine, her maiden name was Shea and she was from county Kerry in Ireland, and also like Lorraine, she married an Italian man. It is a small world after all.
Rome, with all of its famous artworks and historical sites, is one of those cities that is best experienced when sharing with others (and not alone). Our daughter, Madonna, and her husband Josh, have joined us for an event full week. Today, we visited Castle St. Angelo, the Spanish Steps, and the Shelly/Keats house.
Castle St. Angelo was originally designed to be the tomb of Emperor Hadrian. Later, it was transformed into a fort for the protection of Popes. This is the famous passage way between the Vatican and the Castle on which Popes would be spirited at times when the Vatican was under siege.
This room was originally the actual tomb location for Emperor Hadrian. Later on, it became the treasury.
The sunshine on top of the Castle was thoroughly enjoyable.
Once the Castle was transformed into a fort, various Popes added to the defensive fortifications.
Carl and Lorraine Aveni are two retirees planning on traveling through Europe for at least one year.