Travels of the Elderly

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Rome – October 12

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We attended the regular Wednesday audience of the pope and had fairly good seats.

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The crowd was huge.

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“Triumphs and Laments” is a 500 meter long frieze on the Tiber River, created by selectively erasing the biological patina on the embankment. It celebrates the greatest victories and defeats of Rome from mythological time to the present. The display officially opened in April of 2016.

This is the end of our trip and, God willing, we will be home tomorrow afternoon.

Rome – October 11

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Our first cool and rainy day. Nice to take it easy with a morning visit to Piazza Navonna.

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And then to the Pantheon, also pretty quiet.

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We visited the Galleria Doria Pamphilj. This is how you might live if you were the nephew of Pope Innocent X.

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Garden of the Galleria Doria Pamphilj.

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The most hated (by Romans) monument in Rome.

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We went on a tour of the Jewish Ghetto (or at least the area that was the Jewish Ghetto until its destruction). This is the Teatro Marcello (near the Capitoline Hill), originally a theater but with an interesting history. Old photographs show the that the ground level was completely buried by centuries of neglect and accumulated dirt, largely from the annual flooding of the nearby Tiber River. The upper level windows show us that the upper levels of the theater were converted into apartments, which today would be valued over a million euros.

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Recognition of the thousands of Jews who were taken away to Auschwitz.

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Our terrific tour guide for the afternoon: Simone, who is Francesca’a business partner at Joy of Rome.

Rome – October 10

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Monday provided some of the worst moments of our trip and also some of the best. We started our day with an early visit to the Vatican Museum as a small group tour. Here we see the ceiling of the Map room. Just a little ways beyond was the Sistine Chapel, where we moved freely about the room and even found places to sit on the both sides.

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Our tour then moved into other areas of the Vatican Museum. Here, the famous Pineapple at one end of a large outdoor space.

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And continued though many other areas with little competition.

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Apollo Belvedere, 2nd century A.D.

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“The School of Athens” by Raphael.

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The crowd viewing The School of Athens. Pretty dense but not nearly as packed as the Sistine Chapel as we visited it again. In fact, the Sistine Chapel was so packed that, trying to exit we stood stationary for ten minutes. No one could move. Margaret nearly panicked. The kind of situation in which a stampede could occur. The announcer who normally asks for “Silencia” was himself silent. The guards did not do anything to resolve the situation. Finally, after ten minutes, we saw the banners of a few tour guides start moving through the exit and finally we, also, were able to slowly move to the exit.

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In the afternoon we went on a tour of the Basilica of St. Clement and another site as well: the Coelian Roman Houses under the Church of Saints John and Paul.

St. Clement was built about 1100 A.D. on top an earlier basilica from the 4th century (converted from the 1st century home of a nobleman, whose basement had previously served as a small Mithraic temple); that is built on the remains of a republican era villa destroyed in the Great Fire of 64 A.D.

We visited the various levels and heard about how the lower levels were re-discovered in the 1860s because an Irish priest, Fr. Mallooly, was curious about the sound of running water below the floor of the church.

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One surprise was that the tour guide, our old friend, Francesca Pagliari from Joy of Rome, brought Francesco along on the tour. And afterwards the four of us went for drinks at a bar near the Coloseum. Truly a delightful visit.

Rome – October 9

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We are staying at a small hotel, one floor up, in a rather nondescript building.

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The building happens to be across the street from Largo Argentina, where Julius Caesar was assassinated in a futile attempt to restore the Republic. This morning we awoke to see thousands of bicycles passed by on the far side of the site.

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We had a reservation to enter the Borghese Museum at 11:00 and we had printed the email confirmation sent from the Borghese. The lady at the ticket desk told us that the reservation code was invalid but after some hesitation, she gave us tickets anyway.

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The Rape of Proserpina (by Bernini).

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Nice bust but Margaret really likes the wallpaper.

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Pauline Borghese as Venus.

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David (by Bernini). My throwing stance must be wrong because I always think he has the wrong foot forward.

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Apollo and Daphne (by Bernini).

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Boy with a Basket of Fruit by Carravagio.

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Six euro coke at the Spanish Steps.

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View from the top.

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People on the steps. Many, many people below.

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Security is a new feature that we did not notice three years ago.

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Trevi Fountain.

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A few of the people surrounding the fountain. Really quite a dense crowd.

Rome – October 8

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St. Peter’s Basilica and the moon. A shot from yesterday that someone neglected to include in the previous post.

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Morning visit to the Pantheon.

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One of the big changes from three years ago is the presence of heavy security at all the major sites. And even airport-style security checkpoints at some of the major sites.

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Fountain of Neptune at Piazza Navona.

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We toured the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill on our own, having been there with a guide three years ago. The entrance location has changed because of metro construction and there was a 20 minute line because of security checks – even though we had tickets in hand. The number of visitors was much larger than on our previous visit.

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Roman Forum

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Roman Forum from above.

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Stadium of Domitian on Palatine Hill

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Church of San Giovanni in Laterano – the home church of the bishop of Rome. In the afternoon we took a guided tour of three churches.

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Floor mosaics in San Giovanni in Laterano. In addition to being decorative, they also provide a reference for cardinals to line up.

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Chair for the pope.

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Scala Sancta – the home of the holy stairs

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According to tradition, these are the 28 steps leading up to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate and brought to Rome by St. Helena in the fourth century.

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St. Paul’s Outside the Walls.

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Another papal chair.

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Passing the coliseum on our way to Santa Maria Maggiore.

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Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, a church that Pope Frances occasionally visits.

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Local people at Mass in a side chapel of Santa Maria Maggiore. This was our view from a bench against the side wall. There were at least 20 men in the santuary. One of them took a bunch of photos during Mass.

 

Rome – September 7

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Castel Sant’Angelo was the starting point for a pilgrimage to the Holy Door.

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Popes used to travel in style.

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Our present pope has a different view of his place in the world.

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The double helix Bramante Staircase has two entrances at the top and the bottom, each leading to a separate path so that pack animals (and people) could travel upward at the same time as others were travelling downward on separate ramps.

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The upward view from the bottom is quite different.

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Pope Francis is apparently quite a soccer fan and this display draws as much interest from visitors as many of the more famous displays.

Pompeii, Naples and Herculaneum – October 6

For today we had scheduled a tour of Pompeii and Naples with Ada Abbodante, a self-employed licensed guide. We chose the right person.

As soon as we met her, Margaret proposed a change to the itinerary, adjusting the plan to add Herculaneum to the tour. Ada agreed to the change and we started with Pompeii.

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Pompeii is a very large site, covering 160 acres. Of course we only saw a small part of the whole city. Pompeii was covered by 40 feet of ash in 79 A.D., so the inhabitants suffocated and the city was forgotten until its rediscovery in the 1700s.

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This ancient venue for musical performance still exhibits fine acoustical characteristics.

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A mile long street in Pompeii.

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The streets were filthy when it rained so they placed large stones for crossing the streets. They were placed to allow wheeled vehicles to pass through.

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A bakery, complete with oven.

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A room in a large home.

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Laundry tub where slaves would wash clothes in urine.

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Kitchen, complete with original items.

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Cast of a man covering his head as he tried to breath.

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The “basilica” or courthouse. Notice the remnants of a second story.

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After Pompeii, we had a little tour of Naples, including this huge “mall” from the early 1900s.

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The castle. We saw much more than is shown here. And then we moved on to Herculeanum.

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Herculaneum was buried by a flow of hot mud from Vesuvius rather than ash, leaving a most interesting site for modern exploration.

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Over 300 bodies were found in a warehouse next to the sea. These were all women and children waiting to escape by boat. The men were a short distance away waiting for the sea to become sufficiently calm to launch their boats.

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The greenery was the seashore of Herculaneum. The city is on the left and the warehouse shown above faces out to the sea. But where is the sea?? The wall on the right, the modern level of the land, consists of the mud that buried the city and the sea is now a mile away.

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The floor of a house.

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A window with bars. The bars are encased in mud and the wood frame (of which a portion is visible on the left) was carbonized by the heat.

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In this exceptional room, we see a sliding door and an upstairs railing totally carbonized and preserved. There is also part of a metal bed frame above, though not visible in this picture.

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Here we see a carbonized door and shutters.

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On the outside of a wine shop, there is a menu (protected by a plastic case) that even shows the prices.

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And we took this picture on the way back to Sorrento.

Tomorrow we go to Rome.

 

Amalfi Coast – October 6

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We are at the end of our three nights in Sorrento. Our hotel is a pretty nice place.

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View from our balcony.

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Touring the Amalfi coast yesterday. We hired a driver for the day – the only sane way to tour the coast. Carmello is probably in his late 70s, a lifelong resident of Sorrento and a professional driver. He drove slowly and carefully, all the while telling us about the history of the area. Again and again we passed between buses and parked cars with mere inches of clearance. The road itself is good but fairly narrow; and the traffic is ridiculous.

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Positano

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In the old days mules did all the hard lifting. Now they are still used to carry things to difficult locations.

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Amalfi

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Terraced hillside above Ravello

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Ravello

Sunday and Monday: October 2 and 3.

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We spent Saturday night in Urbino at the B&B Paradiso. Very nice facility, helpful staff who spoke very limited English. Other guests provided answers to our questions. The owners were apparently home in the ground floor level but we never met them.

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View of Urbino from the window.

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Little firetruck at a gas station next to the B&B. Rick Steves does not cover Urbino so we had to figure things out on our own. We learned (too late) that there was an elevator at one of the entrances to the town.

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The streets are very steep. And the steepness continues for a long ways.

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The cathedral in Urbino.

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Entrance to the duchal palace next to the cathedral.

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The palace is a museum and entry is free on the first Sunday of each month.

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Portrait of a Young Woman (also known as La Muta), by Raphael. He was born in Urbino.

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Oratorio di San Giovanni Battista (or if you prefer, the Oratory of Saint John the Baptist).

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La Crocefissione

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La predica di San Giovanni Battista

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Scenes of Urbino.

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Views on our drive after leaving Urbino.

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Hilltop town.

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The road from Urbino to Rigutino included a lengthy section like this. And when we got near Arezzo, our GPS took us onto a really narrow, winding road that barely allowed two cars to pass. This is another example of Garmin messing up: there was a really fine road available.

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Our B&B in Rigutino: La Cantia Relais – Fattoria Il Cipresso. This B&B has everything you want. Just outside a small town but with an onsite restaurant so you don’t need to drive. We seem to be the only Americans but have had great conversations with people from Estonia and Brazil.

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The owner (actually son of the owner) is super enthusiastic about the B&B and the restaurant and the wine. He showed us the attic of the B&B where they produce Vinsanta, a wine that requires keeping the grapes in a place where temperatures change seasonally. So this year’s grapes are spread out (for four months) and there are barrels containing the production for each of the past five years.

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The restaurant, a few steps from the B&B. A bottle of nice wine from il Cipresso Fattoria cost just eight euros.

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View from our room.

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On Monday we visited Cortona, setting of “Under the Tuscan Sun” so it is full of American tourists. Urbino  could benefit from outdoor escalators such as these.

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Square in Cortona.

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Tuscan countryside from Cortona.

Tomorrow we turn in our car in Arezzo and train to Naples. From there we go to Sorrento for three days. We have all day tours scheduled for both days so we may or may not put a post up while we are there.

Ravenna: September 30 – October 1

On Friday we picked up a car in Venice and drove south to Ravenna, a town known for its 1500 year old churches decorated with Byzantine mosaics. The churches and mosaics date from 400 to 600 A.D. We are posting many pictures today but the highlight is the amazing mosaics.

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Basillica di San Vitale

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Sanctuary filled with mosaics.

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Emperor Justinian with military and church leaders.

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A beardless Christ sitting on the celestial globe and flanked by St. Vitalis and ???

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Theodora, the emperor’s wife, and her entourage.

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In the upper part of this section there are 80 different birds from the sixth century. Most of the species can still be seen in Ravenna.

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Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.

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A section of the interior: St. Lawence being martyred by fire. A library of the four gospels on the left.

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Ceiling is filled with stars along with St. Mark’s lion, St. Luke’s ox, St. Matthew’s angel and St. John’s eagle.

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We selected some items to purchase at a bakery but the server would not let Margaret pay her: she had to put the money into this machine instead. This is something we had never encountered before. The machine accepts only paper money and spits out change. The workers never handle the money.

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Around the corner and down the block we found a bunch of people gathered to listen to a couple of skilled and lively Italian musicians, the “Lovesick Duo”. They perform country western songs such as Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere”, sung with perfect accent. We purchased their CD and they were impressed that Margaret has seen Johnny Cash perform.

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Piazza del Popolo.

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Our B&B, Giardini di San Vitale.

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Our private garden.

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Saturday we continued our exploration of sites in Ravenna. This is the Basillica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo.

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These three studied the mosaics with great interest. Not sure whether they are members of an eastern rite or what.

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Magi bringing gifts to the Madonna and Christ child.

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A procession of 26 martyrs walking toward Christ at the left end. At the right end is a cityscape.

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Basillica di San Francesco.

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Flooded mosaic-covered crypt. Today’s water table is about three feet above the Roman crypt’s floor level so there is a pool with goldfish over the mosaics.

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Dante’s tomb.

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Neonian Baptistry.

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Interior of the Baptistry.

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John the Baptist baptizing Christ.

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Detail of a ceiling area with empty chairs in heaven waiting for the newly baptized.

We wish we had devoted more time to Ravenna. The is a lot to see that we missed for lack of time.

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To enter the parking lot at McDonalds, you must first take a parking ticket from the machine. And you will need to put that ticket into another machine at the exit. If you spend more than two hours in the parking lot, you will need to pay.

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This McDonalds is next to an amusement park and safari land. Either it is off-season or the park is a failure because at noon on Saturday we were the only people in the McDonalds.

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One of these cars is the Audi we are driving.

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Leaving Ravenna, we drove to the tiny country of San Marino, not to be confused with the several Italian towns of the same name. The Garmin GPS prefers to target the Italian towns. Rather frustrating when you can see the country but only get directions to an Italian town.

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High on a mountain is the historic village of San Marino (in the country of San Marino) in the distance.

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We failed to reach the top but did get pretty close. This is the view looking down.

We are now in Urbino. More on that in our next post.

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