The Vatican has a lot of money – Rome, Italy

It is the smallest country on Earth, supporting only 825 people, and settled in the heart of Rome. It is also the seat of power for the Roman Catholic Church, and brings in millions of visitors, and pilgrims every year. Most of them tour the Vatican Museum so they can have an opportunity to view Michelangelo’s famous painting of the Sistine Chapel. But before they are able to make it to this piece of art, they have to make their way through their vast collection of art and antiquities collected from Roman excavations and the surrounding areas. And what a collection it is. For instance, you could ignore the ancient Roman marble statues that are hanging around the room, or the ornate mosaic floor that is over 2000 years old, and just focus on the large bowl in the center of the room. This was a bathtub used by the emperor Nero, and is made of one single piece of a rare red stone called, porphyry. This is not to mention the architectural dome that hangs over this artifact, and is a masterpiece in its own right. All of this combined adds up to a large chunk of change that could be used to create its own museum.

But it is only one of many rooms that hold masterpieces not only from Ancient Rome, and some of the greatest works of art from the Renaissance period as well. This is a depiction of one of the many frescos that are painted on the walls by the master painter, Raphael. There are others as well from Michelangelo that include some of his sculptures, and of course, the Sistine Chapel. I think I even saw a couple of paintings from Dali and Picasso hiding in the corners of the labyrinth of art.

The collection does not only contain priceless pieces of art from Europe. There is also a substantial amount of Egyptian art that was collected during the early expansion of the Roman empire. At first they seem a little out of place among the classical Greek and Roman features, but then thinking about the history of this area, the pieces seem like they should belong with all of the rest of the collection. It demonstrates the spread of the Roman influence and how open they were when bringing in other cultures as long as they accepted their gods as well as their own.

The vast collection of art is not the only thing that will turn your head if you visit this sight. The building itself is one of the few that are featured in the Vatican. It has architectural wonders that date all the way back to the Renaissance. The Church hired the best from this area to create the museum, and one of its greatest features is the dual staircase that leads to the exit of the museum. It sit below a dome and after a three hour tour of magnificent piece of art, it will have people stopping to marvel at it. It is one of the more modern sights in the building, but feels right in place among all of the other classical pieces of art.

I have been to a lot of impressive museums in my lifetime, and I have seen some amazing pieces of art, but nothing like the collection that is held in the Vatican’s museum. I have also toured some of the world’s greatest houses that have gathered a vast amount of wealth, but once again, nothing like the collection that is housed in the Vatican’s museum. It is a jaw-dropping experience, and almost distracts you from the fact that you are standing in front of a great work on art from centuries ago that has long withstood the decaying of time. It is a place that would require a few visits to really let your mind wrap around what it is your seeing. I believe that the best way to think about it during your first visit is to not think about the wealth that is housed here and appreciate the art instead. It will give you a different perspective at what you are looking at.

The Colosseum – Rome, Italy

I know that there are many colosseums around the world, but when someone mentions the Colosseum, thoughts of the one in Rome is the one that is instantly thought of. It may not be the oldest one ever created, but it definitely is the one that brought about the height of the sports as a form of entertainment to ease the passions of those living in Rome. It does not live up to the glory that it once had when it was first built, but it is still the one whose structure and history has caught the imagination of the world.

It is obviously one of the greatest tourist sights in Rome, and now is a great time to visit. Even if you have seen this sight before, they have been able to excavate more of the basement level and discover what it was used for due to the fact that there were no tourists able to visit the sight during Covid. Because of this, we can now take tours through the same tunnels that set the stages for the battles and fights that were staged on the massive arena floor. It is not part of every tour, but there are a few that will take you down there. We were able to combine a tour of the Forum with the underground tour of the Colosseum through a company called the Tour Guy and it was a great experience, and a perfect way to get down to this part of the location.

The underground part of the Colosseum was a series of tunnels that housed the various animals and gladiators, so they could be prepped before they were brought up to the stage for the entertainment of the masses. Many other workers navigated through the hallways to get these fighters ready for their battle, and there were even a couple of longer hallways that led to the training grounds of the gladiators, so the spectators would never see them before a match.

Right before one of these battles, they would bring the gladiator and his opponent to an intricate elevator that would raise them to the arena floor. They would hear the crowds cheering as they rose, not knowing who or what they would face in the battle they were about to have. A trap door would open right before they hit to roof of the underground section and the would be splashed from the sun that could not find its way down these dark tunnels. When their eyes would finally adjust to the the bright light, they would eventually see their opponent for the first time. It could be one of the wild animals that were brought from exotic places, or another gladiator, or even their best friend that they trained with in the training grounds not far away. Whatever they saw, it would be accompanied by the screaming crowd looking for blood.

It was fun imagining the lives of these long ago stars of the Roman era, and it is a great edition that they have opening up the lower parts of the Colosseum so we can go down there and see all that there is to offer. What used to be a must see when visiting Rome has upped its game even more, making it one of the greatest archeological sights that anyone can visit in the world. If you do go though, make sure that you are adding the lower levels of the Colosseum to your agenda because it is not one of the things that you will regret that you have done.

The Forum – Rome, Italy

I have been experiencing the far reaching extent of the Roman empire all year long. Every place I have ended up traveling to the school year has led me to ruins that this culture left behind. Some of them have been well preserved, and some of them have been just piles of rocks that are still being excavated so the world can enjoy them again. But I found that if I really wanted to see the best of what these ruins have to offer, I should go to the source, so I packed up for a quick weekend, took a short three hour flight from Amman, Jordan and touched down in the first of Western Civilization’s empires. I was instantly transported to a land of Roman ruins and some of the most famous are among the landscape of Rome.

I did not have a lot of time in the city, so I had to be selective about the places that I would visit. High on my list was the Forum. I had heard about this location as being a great place to highlight what this ancient civilization had to offer. Despite the fact that I knew that it was the original square of Rome, I did not have much more knowledge about this place. This is why when I finally made it through the gates, I was blown away by what I witnessed.

A lot of Ancient Rome has been preserved, allowing people to walk through the old streets, and look at the places where temples were built, and rulers were murdered. The glory of Rome is brought to life here, all the way down to the architecture, and statues that decorated this place. Time has worn them down a bit, but with a good guide, the stories of Ancient Rome can be brought back to life.

My favorite was the home of the vestal virgins. I have heard of these women spoken about in the past, but I had never heard about how they were forced to live. They were young women that held on to their virtue for the pride of their families. It was a great honor to have a vestal virgin among your children and at least one daughter would alway be asked to take on this task. Our tour guide asked if anybody knew what happened to the vestal virgins who did not live up to their promises, and there was a fourteen year old girl there with her family who knew the answer to this. Apparently, if the virgin did not hold on to their virtue, they were buried alive because it was against tradition to shed the blood of any of these women.

It made me laugh that the young lady was able to answer this question in front of her father. I had to think about what kind of conversations they had at dinner which allowed her to answer this question so quickly, and if her dad would ever let her date before the age of thirty-six.

Rome is obviously filled with a bunch of amazing sights, so it could be very easy to skip over one of them, especially if you are there for a limited time. If there is one place that you should make sure you see though, it is the Forum. This sprawling expanse of Roman ruins is filled with amazing stories and incredible architecture that have stood up over the millennia. It will probably still be around 1,000 years from now, but it is worth seeing the first opportunity that you can.

The End is Near

I see you have reached the desperation
Of a fool whose options are running out,
So you strengthen your contamination
While weakening what you are all about.
This does not mean we can let our guard down
For you’ll return with a new mutation,
But even that will have lesser renown
When facing the anger of this nation.
You may keep our smiles behind a thick mask,
And we may continue to jab our arms,
Making the routine no longer a task;
We will not fear your diminishing harms.
Though history will be filled with shed tears,
We will get over these bitter, old fears.

The Tomb of Kings

The lives that they lived were the lives of kings
Though the blood in their veins was not royal.
The comfort and happiness that wealth brings
Is not always based upon life’s toil,
And the select few who strut these cities
Did not break their backs to build their roadways;
Instead, they pointed to the groves of trees,
Deciding that there the buildings would raise.
They would sit back with their glass of red wine,
Sighing while watching all of the legs run.
They’d brag at how their money made things fine
After the hard labor’s work was done.
But all this greatness was soon forgotten
When they were sealed in a tomb to rot in.

Commandaria

The seeds had been found in an earthen jar,
Buried for saving, centuries ago.
Even the wearing of time could not mar
The vineyards that would eventually grow.
From this ancient grape a new production
Brought back to the world the sweetest nectar,
Recalling an old epic seduction
Of Odysseus’s long adventure.
Legend even tells of lion hearted
Royalty praising the drink’s great value.
From Earth, the recipe never parted
As stories of it glory only grew.
It is the reason for this aria
That we will sing for Commandaria.

An Off-Season Vacation – Paphos, Cyprus

One of the nice things about living so close to Europe is that I can be in a different country after a short plane flight. Another thing that is nice about this is I can visit some of the world’s most coveted destinations during times where the tourists are gone. It means that I have access to this town with lots of amazing sights and great restaurants without having to fight my way through crazy crowds. This is what I did on my latest vacation. I took an hour flight from Amman, Jordan to the island town of Paphos, Cyprus to enjoy this town before it exploded with tourists during the summer months.

There are some disadvantages to enjoying a tourist sight this way, the biggest of which is the weather. Most of the time people travel to Paphos to enjoy the sun and warmth along the sea shore, but when I was there, I had to bundle up and brave the wind in order to enjoy the outdoors. I was told that it was unusually cold this year, but it still made for a different spring break environment than what I was hoping for.

The businesses were a little more ambitious in getting me to go to them then they usually would as well. I believe a lot of this is because they are gearing up for the upcoming tourist season, and they are really looking forward to this season more than they have in the past. The last couple of years have hit businesses hard, and they need a good summer to bounce back, so they were pulling out all stops to attract that much needed business. There were numerous people that would point to their menus and try to engage in conversation as we walked by. My favorite was the pink pelican that was obviously someone’s pet, and the mascot of the restaurant with the same name. The small amount of tourists that were there were always drawn to this spot to get up and close to this animal that would otherwise be elusive.

On the other hand, the sights that would usually have throngs of people at them were empty. It opened them up to give them the kind of exploration that you always hope to give these historic points. I have been in Europe before where it is almost impossible to move around some of these sights, and they put you in a line to shove you along so they can get as many people through as fast as possible. That was not the case with my trip to Paphos. I could enjoy these sights at my leisure, and rarely did I see other people. If I did, we never got in each other’s way.

In a couple of months, this waterfront will be crowded with people, and I am happy that it will bring in the revenue that is need to keep this place thriving. I know that I will soon be one of the people in some other European town exploring what it has to offer, but until then I will enjoy this quiet European town before the mad rush. It is fun to get to experience it in this way rather than the usual madness that comes with the height of the tourist season, and I can’t wait to experience other European sights in the same way.

Changing Seasons

Not only the changing of the seasons
Are buried during the Earth’s rotation
Numerous times again around the sun.
The tide will also take our creation,
And cover it with the beach’s fine sand
To compress it into a hardened stone.
History will take this forgotten land
To turn it to a place where plants have grown.
It will take a man with a fine-haired brush
And the patience of the centuries lost
To push away the silence of time’s hush,
Reminding us of a past that we tossed.
The mosaic that once laid on the floor,
We can now admire like once before.

Blue Wine – Cyprus

It is not a trick of the eyes, or a way to play with the light. It is really a glass of wine of a new variety, blue wine. To be fair, it is not new, but it is a rare thing, and there are not many places in the world where you can get a glass of blue wine. The mistake that first brought this wonder into the world was in California, but five other countries repeated the process to produce their own blue wine. One of the wineries that produces this delicacy can be found in the hills of Cyprus outside the small village of Omodos called Linos.

Omodos is a charming village in the heart of the wine country in Cyprus, and is a short hour drive from Paphos by car. It is one of the places that everybody should visit if they make it out to Cyprus, and not only to taste the blue wine. The village is a fun place to stroll through that transports you back in time when streets were narrow and the only way to get from one place to the other was by walking. It is covered now with touristy shops and restaurants, but looking around, you can still see and imagine the way it once was.

It is also nestled right in the heart of wine country. Linos Winery is one of the bigger and older wineries in the region, and the only one to boast about the blue wine, but there numerous wineries around that allow you try the nectar that they have created. They have many traditional variations, and few grapes that can only be found on the island, but the one that the people of Cyprus brag about the most is commandaria. This is a desert wine made from raisins, and it is not a sweet as I would have thought. It falls more into the category of a lighter sherry and goes great after dinner.

Commandaria, like much of the other things that can be found in Cyprus, dates way back in history, and holds the distinction for being the oldest variety of wine in the world. According to people on my tour, they made the wine all the way back in the Hellenistic period using old presses much like the one pictured above. They would squeeze the raisins and grapes between the two large beams while men twisted the press below. They would then collect the juice in these large earthen jugs to ferment, and when the wine was ready, they would serve it to their guests.

The process has changed over the years, and now they collect the wine in oak barrels to age, but this does not take away from the history of the wine making process of this region. Commandaria is the wine that is talked about in Odysseus’s voyages, and Richard the Lion Hearted drank it during the crusades. It adds to the flavor of going out on a wine tasting tour in Cyprus.

It is easily one of the things that you should plan to do when taking a trip to Cyprus. There are many tour companies out there, and the one I took was called Cyprus Wine Tasting. They came to our place earlier in the morning and drove us to three different wineries while talking about the history of the island and the wine. The tour included a traditional lunch, and walk through the village of Omodos. And the most important thing was the driver to safely transport us from place to place. This is a great company to work with if you decide to take a tour and the one I recommend.

In the meantime, I raise my glass of blue wine to you and hope that someday you make it out to this part of the world.

The Tomb of Kings – Paphos, Cyprus

Don’t let the Yelp review that complains about this “den of lies” deter you from making your way out to the the Tomb of Kings in Paphos, Cyprus. The writer of the review was mad that the title of the place did not live up to the expectations because they never saw a single king while they were visiting, and yes, there was some truth to this claim. Do not expect to come to this sight to see the vast tombs that hold the bones of once ago mighty kings. In fact, do not come out here expecting to see any bodies because there are none. I am not sure what happened to them, but I was amazed at the way I did not see any of them when strolling through the grassy knolls right off the ocean, but I don’t think that would have made this place any more exciting.

Basically, the Tomb of Kings is an old cemetery for the wealthy individuals who lived on Cyprus in the Hellenistic period. They built elaborate tombs to place their bodies, and then, like a lot of other places on Cyprus, time slowly buried them until centuries later archeologists came along and found them again. They started to unearth the tombs again, so people could come out and see the way people used to live over 2000 years ago.

The writer of the Yelp review might have been mad that all they got to see was a bunch of holes in the ground, and at first glance this is what this sight looks like. From the entrance to this archeological dig, there are a few tombs that were dug into the earth and to get there you have to walk down a precarious set of steps to get to these holes in the ground. But if you visit this sight, you need to move further down the shore and keep exploring those holes.

The tombs get more elaborate the further that you get into the sight. They still might not be tombs that were designed for kings, but they are still worth the effort to see. It highlights all of the classical architectural features from that era, and I can see why people want to come and see these tombs. It also makes me wonder how many more of them are buried underneath the ground that I walked on while I was visiting. There has to be more of these structures there, and I am sure that it only a matter of time before they are unearthed.

Despite the truth behind the Yelp review, I do not believe that the Tomb of Kings is really a den of lies. If you do not take the time or effort to really explore the sight, it does look like a bunch of holes in the ground. There is so much more to this place than that though. It may not have been kings who were buried here, but you get the royal treatment if you take the stroll to the end of the shore, and it is amazing how few people are willing to do that. Take the time to explore it fully before giving a review that might not be the truth of the place, and may even be creating your own den of lies.