Thursday, May 22, 2008

May 22. My plan was to go see the Sistine Chapel this morning. I was told by more than one or two folks to "get there early". It opens at 10 a.m., so I figured 9 a.m. would be a good time. As I approached the chapel (it is part of the Vatican Museum), I thought I was in luck because there was no crowd or long line. As I approached, I saw a couple of Catholic priests walking away and figured something was up. As it turns out -- the museum and chapel were closed today!! Good planning on my part, right? So, as I've been stating new rules for myself from time to time -- the rule for today is: "get there early, make sure it's open". Makes sense, right??

I then decided to go to the Rome Termini (the main train and metro station) and find out about the train times to Pompei. After enduring yet another long line, I was rewarded with a English speaking clerk (ok, sort of English speaking). I made reservations on the 9:55 a.m. train to Pompei tomorrow. It's around a 2 hour train ride, and I'll have about 6 hours in Pompei to see and do the sightseeing I plan. At the same time, I made a train reservation for Florence and will be leaving Rome on Monday morning bound for that city. I'll spend at least one overnight there.

Since I was at the main station, I found the Tourist Information Booth and plotted a course for the Jewish section of Rome (suggested by Jennifer yesterday). As it turns out, I was able to visit the Jewish section, the Pantheon and the large and beautiful square called Piazza Navona. On the way to the bus, I spotted a "barbarie" and figured out how to get my hair and beard cut. For 10 Euros, I look like a human being again, and I had wished I brought my own clipper. Oh well, next time.

I figured I had found the Jewish section of the city when I saw a restaurant that said "Roman Jewish Cuisine". I made my way to the main synagogue for Rome and found that it is treated as a museum when religious services are not being held. I paid my entry and wandered through the interesting and informative display of artifacts. At 1:15 p.m. there was a tour with an English speaking guide. She was difficult to understand, but at the end of the tour I thought I had learned alot about Rome and its Jews.

As was the case in many parts of Europe, it's Jewish population has lived through its share of acceptance and rejection. For more than 1500 years, the Jews lived in Rome since its rise of Empire, and in 1555 Pope Paul IV segregated the Jews into a ghetto. There were three gates to the ghetto, all locked at night, and Jews were required to listen to compulsory Catholic sermons on their Shabbot. These conditions, and similiar restrictions existed for the next 300 years, and the Jews of the ghetto were re-accepted into Italian life in 1870. Of course, there was the Nazi occupation and deportations as well. There are now approximately 13,000 Jewish living in Rome with around 35,000 living in Italy. The Jewish section pretty much occupies the old ghetto boundaries. As I wandered through the section, I found it vibrant and friendly. Everywhere, people were talking, laughing, playing cards, eating and enjoying the day. Lots of tourists were there and it was wonderful to see life in that part of the city thriving.

I then walked to the Pantheon. This is a beautiful building built to "all the gods" in 125 CE. It's a majestic place, occupying a dominant place in the square. A fountain is in the center of the square and there were a huge number of tourists and visitors. I managed to exchange some comments in Spanish with a couple of kids from South America, took some pictures, wandered the square pretty thoroughly and completely enjoyed the sights.

I ended the day with a visit was to the Piazza Navona. It is an absolutely HUGE square, with a fairly large oblisk in the center and two large fountains at each end. It was once a circus and later a market. Today it is full of artists and restaurants. People sitting around the fountains and even a "San Francisco type of still-man" posing as a Roman statue in silver.

So, tomorrow I'm off to Pompei. Can't wait to see it and report back to you. Stay tuned.....