Vatican City Issues Special Stamps After Papal Resignation

Vatican City, Vatican stampsCall me old fashioned, but when I’m on the road there’s something special about writing a postcard, sticking on some local stamps and sending it to loved ones back home. Receiving mail from overseas is almost as much fun.

I especially like rare stamps from smaller or less frequently traveled countries. Sadly I couldn’t send any postcards from Somaliland because they don’t have a mail service. I was also disappointed that on my recent trip to Iraq we never stopped at a post office.

Luckily you don’t have to go so far to find strange and soon-to-be collectable stamps. The surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has forced Vatican City to issue a special set of stamps.

They are emblazoned with an angel holding the Arms of the Apostolic Camera and the words “Sede Vacante MMXIII” (“Vacant See 2013”). They come in four different denominations of 70 and 85 euro cents, 2 euros, and 2.50 euros.

Stamps for the vacant see are designed shortly after a new Pope takes office and are kept until he dies, to be used for the brief period before the next Pope is elected.

Stamp Magazine reports that since the Vatican started issuing stamps, the Vacant See issues have only been used for a total of 20 days. I suspect this means that franked (used) Vacant See stamps will later become pretty valuable owing to their rarity. So if you’re in Italy, head on over to that little country inside Rome and send out some postcards. Your friends and family will thank you for it a few years from now.

[Photo courtesy Vatican Philatelic and Numismatic Office]

The 10 smallest countries in the world

ten smallest countries in the world

The world’s ten smallest countries in terms of area fall into two general categories: European microstates (Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican) and small island nations of the Indian Ocean, Pacific, and Caribbean (Maldives, Marshall Islands, Nauru, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Tuvalu.) Some of these countries are quite new as independent nations: Tuvalu gained independence from the UK in 1978, while the Marshall Islands gained full independence from the US in 1986. Others have been around for a very long time. San Marino dates its founding as a republic to 301. These countries vary greatly from one another along other axes as well: population, income, life expectancy, industry, tourist facilities, and membership in various international organizations.

%Gallery-145376%

[Image of Tuvalu: Flickr | leighblackall]

Photo of the day – St. Peter’s and a puddle

photo of the day

When taking travel photos, we spend a lot of time looking for the right background. Whether it’s capturing a candid portrait or framing the perfect landscape, it’s not always easy to convey a beautiful scene in a photograph. Flickr user John Overmeyer used a humble puddle of rain to elevate this night shot of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Of course, flawless composition, lighting, and luck didn’t hurt, but it all comes together for a beautifully romantic shot that makes the puddle look like a grand river.

Show off your perfect travel shots by adding them to the Gadling Flickr pool. We may choose yours for a future Photo of the Day.

Rome – 3 days in Italy

rome

With the bustle of a large European metropolis and the detritus of a monumental past, Rome delights with a frenetic pace and antiquities lurking innocuously around each bend in the road. Here, history has been built on top of history for thousands of years. Seeing bankers in candy red Alfa Romeos zipping by millenia old ruins frames the endurance of this old city. Each sediment in time is visible and speaks to the ancient tale of decaying empire and modern function. The past is everywhere. You may be taking a stroll to sample some Trippa for a late lunch and accidentally stumble upon the Pantheon. There is a certain beauty to this unplanned chaos, and the overlapping of ages is historical mayhem at its most charming.

Rome is estimated to have been settled over ten thousand years ago. It has been a destination for a very long time. It is said that all roads once lead to this settlement on the Tiber. Thankfully, getting to Rome is inexpensive care of European budget air lines. Easyjet flies to Rome from several European cities such as Paris, London, Berlin, and Amsterdam for under $200 round-trip. Three days is plenty of time to see the highlights of Rome, but budget more time to truly understand this storied destination.

%Gallery-119063%
rome

Day 1 – Roam the streets of Old Rome

One of the most amazing qualities of Rome is the integration of the ancient city into the modern metropolis. Most ancient sites beautifully disturb the modern order of things. On an old square, a McDonald’s faces the Pantheon in a worthy example of the strange compromises the present has made with the past. Due to this integration of the historical and the proximity of many Roman landmarks to each other, Rome is a great city for wanderers.

Start at the Colosseum, and take in the crumbling feat of ancient engineering. The queue at the Colosseum can be rather daunting, but booking tickets in advance or purchasing a Roma pass bypasses the line. Here is a great online resource for line skippers. Around the Colosseum, also seek out the Arch of Constantine. It is hard to miss.

From the Colosseum, start heading northwest towards Foro Romano, or the Roman Forum – the ancient seat of Roman government. It is a ruined old structure, and its considerate ambitions can be ascertained by the remnants. The Foro Romano is just east of Palatine Hill – one of the seven hills of Rome. The Circus Maximus, or old chariot racing ground, is just on the other side of the hill.

rome

Continue northwest along Fori Imperiali road and slowly make your way to the heart of Rome. You will pass Foro Traiano, Piazza Campidoglio, and several other breathtaking landmarks. Eventually, if you stay the course, you will arrive at the doorstep of the Pantheon. The Pantheon is such a feat of engineering that it is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. During the renaissance, master architects such as Brunelleschi studied the Pantheon’s construction to reverse engineer advancements in the architectural field. This was 1300 years after the Pantheon’s construction. To call the Pantheon a marvel would be an insult. It stands as a testament to conquering impossibility.

Next the Pantheon, duck into Tazza D’Oro for some caffeine rejuvenation. Tazza is accused of making the best cappuccino in Rome. The place is busy and confusing. Follow someone who looks like they know the lay of the land.

Head north and east to the Trevi fountain, where well wishers toss away an estimated 3000 Euros per day. It is said that if you toss a coin into the Trevi fountain, then you will be guaranteed a return trip to Rome. North of the Trevi fountain is the Spanish Steps – the longest and widest staircase in Europe. Climb from the Piazza di Spagna to the top and cherish the view out over Rome.

For dinner, find a busy restaurant and order a lot of food. Rome is a mecca for food and has multitudes of delicious options. It is difficult to find a bad meal in Rome, so be adventurous. Hostaria Antica Roma on Appian Way is highly recommended.

Day 2 – Vatican City and Sistine Glory

Vatican City is a sovereign city state ruled by the Pope. With a population of less than a thousand, and only 110 acres in total size, the Vatican is considered the smallest country in the world, edging out the micro-state of Monaco. This center of the Catholic world boasts immaculate gardens, a heavenly basilica, and one of the top museums in the world.

rome

The best way to reach the Vatican is on foot by crossing Ponte Sant’Angelo over the Tiber River. Castel Sant’Angelo is framed gloriously between winged angels on both sides of the bridge. The castle is a great first stop of the day, and houses a museum and Hadrian’s tomb. Castel Sant’Angelo has been a tomb, a castle for the popes, a prison, and also figures prominently int the novel Angels and Demons by Dan Brown.

West of Sant’Angelo is Vatican City. Entering on Via della Conciliazione is probably the most dramatic way to approach the holy place. Once in Vatican City, take in the breathtakingly large Piazza di San Pietro (St. Peter’s square) before entering the basilica. The square boasts an obelisk that was relocated from Egypt almost two-thousand years ago.

rome

The height of the Michelangelo designed dome in St. Peter’s Basilica is so lofty that you could fit the entire statue of liberty within the dome with room to spare. The interior of St. Peter’s is a heavenly place, festooned with gold finery and artistic masterpieces. You can climb to the top of the dome for a stunning view out across Rome, or take to the crypts beneath the marbled interior to check on some papal tombs.

If you happen to be in Rome on a Wednesday, then you can be blessed by the Pope himself. He hands out blessings at 10:30am on Wednesdays. Check with your hotel or guesthouse to arrange tickets for the event. The Swiss guard also hands out tickets on Tuesdays from their post near the bronze door. Be sure to check the Pope’s schedule before getting too excited about being blessed. He is a busy man and routinely leaves his Vatican home.
rome
The Vatican Museum is my favorite museum in the world. From entire rooms filled with the works of masters to hallways covered with brightly painted maps of an uncertain world, this place is an unbelievable experience. Budget plenty of time to take it in. The museum is laid out to move you through several gorgeous rooms and immaculate hallways before climaxing at the Sistine Chapel. The museum is free the last Sunday of each month, and is not open any other Sundays. The rest of the week is fair game.

Finish your day with a stroll down the Tiber river just as dusk blankets Rome.

Day 3 – Trastevere and personal interests

With so many options around Rome, pick something personally interesting to do on your last day. Take a cooking class, check out the art at Galleria Borghese, go to a wine tasting, explore catacombs and crypts, check out Florence (only an hour and a half away by fast train), go to a football game, or perhaps just take to some serious shopping.

On your third night in Rome, spend some time in Trastevere. Trastevere is a cool neighborhood on the west bank of the Tiber filled with locals, expats, artists, and college students. It is a great place to sample authentic Roman food, explore, and get inexpensive lodging. The area feels less like a museum than ancient Rome and is a great place to get in touch with the city’s less touristy side.

All photography by Justin Delaney

The tombs of Rome–where art meets death


If you’re going to your eternal rest in the Eternal City, you should go in style.

Sure, you can’t take it with you, but you can show off what you had, and with all the competition in this place you have to do something special to make an impression. Rome is filled with grandiose monuments to the dead. First there are the giant tombs and temples of the Roman emperors. They were worshiped as gods, so they always got a nice sendoff. The most famous is the mausoleum of Hadrian, a giant circular building by the River Tiber. It was so splendid that the Popes preserved it and expanded it with additional stories and fortifications before renaming it the Castel Sant’Angelo. Just a cannon shot away from Vatican City, it proved a convenient bolthole for the pontiff back in the days when he ran the Papal States, an independent nation in central Italy, and warred with his neighbors. It saved Pope Clement VII when Charles V sacked Rome in 1527. Neither Rome nor the Vatican had great defenses, but the Castel Sant’Angelo proved too much for the invaders. It’s not often a mausoleum saves lives! While it’s not one of the ten toughest castles in the world, it is an impressive tomb/fortification all the same.

Then you have the early Christians with their miles of catacombs, and the churches filled with saint’s relics. More on those in two later installments in this series. There are so many tombs and monuments both pagan and Christian that sometimes it seems Rome is dedicated to death. The city even has a Purgatory Museum.

The Renaissance was a golden age of church building. Italy, while still divided into several different nations, was a rich place. Seagoing merchants dominated the lucrative trade in the Mediterranean, and the Pope’s coffers were full from tithes and donations. Much of this money went to sponsor the great architects and artists of the age. These talented men built lavish churches and adorned them with giant paintings. The rich and powerful vied for one another to be buried in the most prestigious churches, and they commissioned tombs to match the glory of the buildings.

Every Renaissance church in Rome is filled with these masterpieces of funerary art. Marble bishops lie in state flanked by angels. The walls are adorned with paintings of noblemen surrounded by reminders of life’s brevity–skulls on wings, hourglasses, and the grim Reaper with his scythe. Even the floors are covered in tombs. Most are smooth flagstones, but on some floor tombs bishops and cardinals had their likenesses carved in bas-relief. While these are not the most impressive of the graves, they’re perhaps the most poignant. Centuries of visitors have walked over them until their features have blurred beyond recognition, and their epitaphs have been lost. These powerful clergymen, respected and feared in their time, have all but melted away.

This is the second in a series about my Vacation with the Dead: Exploring Rome’s Sinister Side. Tune in tomorrow as we visit Italy’s fallen heroes in the Military Museums of Rome!

%Gallery-102256%