Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rome: Journey to Rome and Vatican City

The kids had a week off school which made a good excuse to visit Italy; Rome to be specific. We had an interesting trip to Rome as nothing went as planned, which thankfully has been very rare for us.

(angel from top of the Castel Sant'Angelo)

February 13 is the anniversary of the Dresden firebombing (Febuary 13 – 15, 1945) by the British and Americans. The Dresden bombing is controversial, among the reasons being:
  • The date was right at the end of the war (the Russians were 80 miles out of the city when it happened).
  • Dresden was considered by some Germans as a peaceful city with limited military significance.
  • Dresden was a gathering point for many civilians and refuges.
  • The number of people killed in the bombing ranges from 35,000 from some reputable sources up to 285,000 (by more biased sources) which by either number was the highest casualty rate.

I just finished a real good book on this called “Dresden Tuesday 13 Febuary 1945” by Frederick Taylor, about 500+ pages dealing with topics around this event.

On this anniversary there are public mournings and gatherings including a 5 hour "moment of silence". Additionally there is a large protest by the neo-nazi’s and other rightwing groups, the ones that believe the higher numbers, as this controversy is used as political fodder. There is a counter protest to block the neo-nazi’s from entering the AltStadt part of town. The counter protestors form a human chain around the whole Altstadt area. It would have been interesting to participate in the chain however we had our trip planned. The counter protesters were successful in blocking the neo-nazi's from entering the old city.

The protests were to take place around 13:00 and we had a bus scheduled to leave at 10:00 so we thought we would be fine. However the days leading up to the 13th and the walk to the train station were a little concerning as there were a lot of police and people not from Dresden. We waited for our bus until about 10:30 as we saw some of the neo-nazi’s gathering at the train station. Finally we gave up on the bus and quickly decided to take a train as German trains are never late. So after buying our tickets and barely missing the departure time (Noah has a knack of needing to visit the bathrooms at the worst times) we made it to our train with 3 minutes to spare.

What we didn’t realize however is that the whole Neustadt area, where our train was going and where our bus was coming from (explaining the no show for the bus) was totally closed due to protestors and counter-protesters. We had to wait in our train for over an hour for the people to clear the tracks. The train was later rerouted to skip the whole NeuStadt area because that whole area was closed. As we waited some of the neo-nazi’s and riot police gathered on the train platform right next to ours. They all tried to get on another train, packing it to capacity with still people trying to get on. Then the train’s sign switched from “NeuStadt” to “don't enter”, after which they all had to get off the train. We were thankful they didn’t try to board ours).

Picture i took from the window of the train after they all were forced off (sorry the train windows were dirty).

It appeared that the riot police were trying to keep all the neo-nazi protesters on the platform and not allowing any more trains to be boarded from that platform. After watching a few dashes by the crowd and the riot police following to block them our train finally started to move, diverted to bypass the trouble areas. For German trains this is a very rare event.

So we were on our way however much later than we expected and now concerned that we were going to miss our flight. On the train we had to figure out how to get to the Berlin Schonefeld airport quicker than going into the Berlin HBF (main station) then coming back south again to the airport. We decided to get off at the southern Berlin train station called Berlin S├╝dkreuz and from there we would figure out how to get to the airport. It was obvious that we were going to miss our flight if things didn’t go perfectly for us and the only way we could make it was to get off before the Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main station) and make it up as we went. Finally we got a break as we found they had a 20 minute bus to the airport; it was also free with a train ticket. As we entered the airport, now only 20 minutes before our flight and not yet through ticketing or security we decided to kept going through the motions. Shortly after we entered the airport we noticed that our plane was delayed for at least an hour so our trip was back on track; we got a big break.

After this the flight and a taxi to our flat near Vatican City were uneventful however we were all exhausted, but glad to have made it. We arrived late Saturday night and with most stores closed we treated ourselves to a local Italian restaurant. We had a great time unwinding with traditional dishes including some house Italian red wine, which was all excellent and we melted the stress away.

Melissa and Noah relaxing after a long journey.

Our first day in Rome we decided to see Vatican City area and the Castel Sant'Angleo; a castle near the Vatican where they would from time to time take the pope when the Vatican City was in danger.

Vatican City is a really impressive area with the columns, the Basilica of St Peter, the Obelisk, and other interesting areas. The Castle was a big hit with the whole family and if offered great views of the area.

Vatican City our first of many visits:

Statue and top of Basilica of Saint Peter:

More of Vatican City, looking toward the Basilica:
Vatican City:

Leaving Vatican City (part of the gateway from the castle to Vatican City, on top of this gate people can travel between in times of trouble):
The Castel Sant' Angelo (again notice the elevated walk way to Vatican City on the right, above the arches):
Noah found a cool toy inside the castle:
Melissa and Noah clowning around:
David up top, Vatican City in the background:
Another shot of the Basilica of St Peter:
Noah Guarding the Castel:

Bridges over the Tiber River, the bridge in the foreground leads to the Castel Sant' Angelo front gate (Ponte Sant'Angelo):

Inside the castle:
Original angel that was once on the top (by Raffaello da Montelupo). Now the very first posting of this blog entry shows the newer angel on top:
Outside the castel, having quick pizza with the Italian tourists. Cheap and good pizza down an alleyway. A lot of the places are for the non-italian tourists and are very over priced. David noticed this place and it was a great place with really good pizza, you picked they kind you wanted and how big of a piece, then they would cut it fof you. You had to be a bit assertive to get served and the outside seating wasnt ideal, but all in all a better option then the tourist traps places along the main strips.

Inside the St. Peter's Basilica:

The Pieta sculpted by Michelangelo (inside the Balica):

Keith with the Swiss Guard, protectors of the Pope and Vatican City:
End of a great day in Vatican City:

Being a Sunday we still couldn’t go to a grocery store so again we found a different local restaurant, and were again treated to even better Italian food and wine.

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