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3 August 2015

Ercolano, Pompei, Sorrento

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Woohoo and boohoo, my final full day in Europe! Today's agenda: visit Herculaneum and Pompeii, then spend the remainder of the afternoon and evening in Sorrento, enjoying a good dinner before catching a hydrofoil "water taxi" through the Bay of Naples--hopefully getting some shots of the Isle of Capri along the way. (As always, more photos from this day are available at Flickr.com, username OhMissLia.)

First stop: Herculaneum, or, in Italian, Ercolano. Named for, yes, Hercules, this prosperous little coastal town suffered horribly from the 79 A.D. eruption of Mount Vesuvius, roughly five miles to its east-northeast. Rather than its ash cloud, which traveled toward Pompeii, Ercolano was struck primarily by the volcano's pyroclastic flow, resulting in well-preserved remains that include organics like wood and skeletal material.

Standing where water used to be, looking over Herculaneum toward Vesuvius. The row of arches at the lowest level were boat loading areas; the only place where bodies were found, except for the priest at the Temple of Hercules. The theory is that the residents were evacuating when the pyroclastic flow came in at about 100mph. The "bones" here now are fakes; the priest's body is real, but behind a closed gate.

The best-preserved part of the Temple of Hercules. Some of the floor's tiles remain, and the frescoes are clearly seen. It must have been magnificent in its prime, with gleaming marble and statues everywhere!

The temple's priest was found in his bed, the only body found within the city--he must have chosen not to evacuate. This is behind a closed gate; our tour guide is one of the excavators, and showed us how to stick our arm through an opening to blindly take a shot.

Outside a wine shop. The painting is a description of what was being offered that day, with prices, kind of like today's blackboards with the colorful chalky stuff.

Gutters which took away gray water. Our guide very much wanted us to understand that Roman cities did not have sewage in the streets--solid waste was used for fertilizer and liquid waste was used in laundry for its ammonia.

The ladies' spa! First, the room where you'd store your stuff, then the bath itself, with marble bench. There's a massage room, too!
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Roman fast food joint. Your food would be served in a lidded pot in these holes, which kept the food hot or cold.

A panorama of someone's home. The detailed mosaics are just incredible, and there is quite a bit of it visible throughout the site.

Naturally pink marble. Can you imagine seeing this all over town?

Okay, that's enough. There are lots more photos, but I can't post them all. They're on Flickr (OhMissLia) but don't have descriptions yet--so if you're wondering "Why did she take a shot of a splash of water on the floor?" just look more closely... you'll probably see the reason. :)

Next stop: Pompeii, or, in its modern spelling, Pompei. Far larger than Ercolano, Pompei was a busy city of 11-16,000, about five miles to the southeast of Vesuvius. The eruption filled in much of the bay; the site of this port city is now 1.25 miles inland. I confess that I hurried through Pompeii--the terrain of both Herculaneum and Pompeii required my wearing the closed-toe shoes that were hurting me so much; plus I was really starting to bake after spending all day in the Italian sun. Pompeii is huge; you could spend all day here and not see it all.

Pompeii's Forum, with Vesuvius in the background. I had to keep reminding myself that it was ONE volcano, not two; I'd mentally make a triangle from the two peaks to get an idea of what it must have looked like prior to 79 A.D.... and then I'd picture all the tourists in togas. :)

The remains of the Temple of Jupiter.

Just a cool shot looking down the main drag, with Vesuvius framed by the aqueduct arch.

The brothel. This fresco, above one of the rooms, is sort of a menu of services available.

Roman plumbing--a metal pipe! (This is a photo of the ground. That's my left toe on the left side of the shot.) The city had three pipe systems; one for public baths, one for private homes, and one for public fountains. If there was a water shortage, the systems were turned off in that order, ensuring folks had drinking and cooking water as long as possible. Unfortunately, the pipes are made of lead.

A statue in the courtyard of the House of the Faun, clearly the home of a very wealthy family. The house takes up an entire block, had heated floors, and was decorated with an eye to history; very sophisticated. (The statue is a replica; the original is in the museum in Naples.) My question is... aren't fauns supposed to have goat's legs?

Roman crosswalk. The streets were regularly flooded (either by Nature or by the public utility guys) so these stones are there to keep you from getting your sandals wet! Note the chariot marks; sizes of chariot axles and crosswalk stone spacing were all standardized. (But contrary to popular belief, are NOT the reason our railroad tracks are the width they are.)

Roman streetlights. The sidewalks are inlaid with white stones that gleam under a handheld lamp, guiding your way like a row of white cat's eyes.

Like Herculaneum, Pompeii is still being excavated. The exit from the site brings you right past a work area where more fabulous things are being discovered, dusted off, and appreciated by human eyes for the first time in 2,000 years.

Final stop: Sorrento. Smaller and less hectic than Naples, it's often the "base" for people visiting the Amalfi Coast, just to the south. I'd heard a lot about this resort town, but I was just as excited about changing out of my uncomfortable shoes!

It was about 4pm when I got off the train. Based on the information I had, the last water taxi to Naples should be leaving sometime around 7-8pm. I wanted to confirm the time frame, then head to the shore to find a seafood place and relax with some good Italian wine. I felt like a freshly-baked calzone; hot and steamy. Visions of cold wine and a breeze off the bay are all that kept me upright.

I wandered around a bit, taking photos and buying souvenirs...

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...until I found the place with the water taxi schedules. And discovered that the last one had just left. I'd walked through the entire town to get here, so in theory, I'd seen everything there was to see without being on the shore. And if I wasn't going to get on a boat, I didn't want to hike all the way down to the shore, because, duh, I'd have to hike all the way back up. So... I was done. I'd reached my limit, I could go no further. I decided to spend my water taxi money at the fancy restaurant next door and an expensive--but air-conditioned--train back to Naples.

It was only 5pm at this point, early for dinner, so when the host (whose attention I had to spend considerable effort to get) told me to sit anywhere I wanted, I did. I chose one of several lovely tables with a water view. After I'd settled in, a waiter came over and asked me to move. He insisted that this table was reserved, and made me move down to a table with no tablecloth. I wondered if "tablecloth" signifies "reserved." There was no other difference between the tables, other than a very slightly obstructed view. Something about this exchange bothered me, but the view was still basically fantastic, so I blew it off. My mistake.

I decided to order linguine with prawns and shrimp freshly caught from the bay below me. I wanted a white wine, so I perused the beverage menu and found something called "grappa" that had both a "bianca" and "rosse" version. Thinking that would be a wine, I ordered a "grappa bianca" with the food, then settled in to write out my postcards while enjoying the view.


When the food and drink arrived my first thought was, "Jeez, what a tiny wine glass!" I'd expected one of those half-carafe things I'd been getting everywhere else. Then I tasted it... UGH! NOT WINE! Turns out "grappa" is some kind of brandy. It was really strong and not to my taste at all, but I sipped at it until it was gone. (I'm shuddering as I type this weeks later, just remembering.)


I paid for my food, still getting a strange vibe from the waiter and cashier. Even now, weeks later, I still don't know why. Maybe it was a cultural thing--restaurants in Europe, particularly Italy, don't rush you out the door like they do in the US; leaving you alone as much as possible so you can eat in peace is good service--but I didn't feel like that was the case. I wasn't left alone, and the attention I got had a questioning feeling to it. It felt more personal, but I was so exhausted that I didn't trust my judgment on that. Maybe they just thought it was weird for an American woman to eat alone and sip brandy. :)

After dinner, I had plenty of time before my train left. I took my time walking back through town; mailing my postcards and buying gelato. Sorrento really is a pretty town, but I wasn't getting the friendly vibe that it's famous for--but again, I didn't trust my own judgment, because it was entirely possible that my tired self wasn't being nearly as friendly as I thought I was! I ended up hanging around the train station until my train came... annoying various employees by not knowing which platform to go to (it wasn't on the ticket, nor was there an info board anywhere!) and by daring to sit in a seat not-clearly reserved for patrons of a nearby cafe. It was the first time in three weeks that I felt even faintly frustrated at not being able to read the language around me.

Eventually, my train arrived. It wasn't nearly the "luxury" ride that was promised, but the faint air-conditioning alone was worth the fifteen euros. I dragged myself up to my hotel room, showered, did a little journalling, then said goodnight to Mount Vesuvius and went to bed. The final day of my big adventure had completely worn me out. :)

Posted by OhMissLia 16:10 Archived in Italy Tagged italy sorrento pompeii herculaneum pompei ercolano summer_2015 3_august Comments (0)

2 August 2015


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The day began with an early morning train out of Roma Termini. I settled into my section alone and pulled out my computer, thrilled to have two hours to work on blog entries and peaceful writing time while the Italian countryside slid past my window. That blissful thought lasted until I’d written one paragraph; then three young ladies slid into the remaining three seats in my section, each with a coffee and wrapped sandwich in hand, and began to chat over their breakfasts. I sighed, put my computer away, and plugged into my audiobook. An hour later, it was quiet. The two girls across from me were lost in their own headphones and the young woman next to me had gone to the restroom when a little girl came down the aisle. Just as she reached my section, she leaned over and vomited all over the aisle, splashing my shoes and lower legs—had my neighbor not chosen that moment to go to the restroom, I probably would have been spared. I sighed, cleaned myself up with the wipes that I carry when I travel, and hoped that I had used up all of my bad luck for the day.

For a while, I thought that I had.

I made it to Naples and dragged my stuff to the hotel I’d booked, thankful that I’d had the foresight to choose one right across from the Centrale train station. I’d anticipated being tired, and I was. I’m sure I made quite a picture, in my lacy white dress, with my purple day bag slung crosswise over my body in one direction and laptop slung crosswise in the other direction, dragging my somewhat uncooperative not-quite-carry-on-sized roller luggage behind me while trying not to limp on sorely abused and vomited-on feet.

As expected, it was too early to check in, so I had “second breakfast” at a sidewalk café then headed to the Archeological Museum of Napoli. I decided to take a taxi to the museum. I thought the taxi ride in Rome had been video game-esque, but that was 8-bit compared to this. In Naples, it’s the pedestrians who are the problem. No one—whether driving or scooting or walking or rolling—pays any attention to crosswalks, crossing lights, lane demarcations, or speed limits. Cars, scooters, motorcycles and walkers whiz around at crazy speeds, paying attention to other people only enough to not hit them. It’s like a live version of Mario Kart. (Later, across from the Centrale train station, I saw someone wheel a person in a wheelchair into the street against the light, right into oncoming traffic—and this is one of the few intersections that actually has a crossing light for pedestrians!)

Anyway, my good-looking cab driver with the bald head didn’t speak English, but after I started chatting with him, managed to communicate some information to me. He pointed out the main thoroughfares, where the shopping district was (laughing when I made a face, surprised to find an American tourist that doesn’t like to shop), and the three castles in Naples. All while managing not to hit anyone before depositing me to the door of the famous museum.

All Italian museums offer free entrance on the first Sunday of each month, so I was waved right in. This museum’s claim to fame is its housing of the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which I intend to visit tomorrow. While I did enjoy myself, there was no air conditioning to provide respite from the 90+ degrees and high humidity, so right now, at the end of the day, that’s mostly what I think of. They tried to provide better ventilation, but when even the locals are wiped out, you know it’s bad. (I can’t imagine what damage the humidity does to the artifacts!!) Here are a few highlights of the Archeological Museum of Napoli:

"Hercules at Rest." This is a Roman 4th-century copy of a Greek 2nd-century B.C. original.

A tile mosaic from Pompeii.

Home decor from Pompeii. Yes, these are what you're thinking they are... intended as symbols of fertility and prosperity.

After the museum, I continued with my original plan: to walk around the city until I didn’t feel like walking anymore. The intention was for today to be a built-in half-day, to rest a bit before my final hectic day and the trek home. So, I walked. Some discoveries:

Piazza Bellini. A small, non-touristy piazza, surrounded by old buildings. I found it haunting: the lonely piazza and the graffiti'd statue, surrounded by humans going about their lives, much as they have here for 2,500 years.

In the piazza, the city wall built when “Neapolis” was a Greek city, about the 4th century BC.

A few other sights:


Statue of Dante.


After a while, I needed a break. Even in a lacy dress, I was simply too hot to continue. It took a while because most things are closed on Sundays, but I finally found a place to go for something to eat. I ordered a pizza and Gatorade and gulped it down. They even turned on the air conditioning for me. :) When I felt better, I headed back out to discover that I didn’t care to go on. I was tired, and nothing else in my guidebook interested me enough to continue, so I found a cab and went back to the hotel.

I felt so decadent… two cab rides in one day! This cabbie spoke a few more words of English than the other (and had more hair, but was equally good-looking). He talked and conducted business—even filling out paperwork—while managing to avoid the other cars, scooters, and pedestrians that kept popping up like whack-a-moles in front of us. I swear, Italian cab rides are worth the fare just for the thrill.

I checked in, indulging in more decadence—a bellhop! When I got to the room, I was thrilled. There’s a balcony with a view of Mount Vesuvius!


My back was killing me and my feet have been screaming for a soak for weeks, but alas, there is no bathtub. (I’d asked—not available.) Interestingly, though, there is a bidet. Hmmm.

After a rest, I decided to head out for a pizza and some postcards. Naples is, after all, the birthplace of pizza. I wanted to go to the very famous L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, but they are closed on Sunday, so I went to the little place I could see from my window: Ristorante Franco. The manager (Franco?) was about my age; I smiled when he walked by and winked with a “Ciao, bella,” while I waited for my pizza cooking in the woodfire stove:


After I collected my pizza, I wandered off in search of a place to purchase some postcards and stamps, maybe a magnet (I get magnets everywhere I go) and something to drink. Limoncello, I was thinking, if it was available--something I'd been looking forward to sampling. I went off in search of a tabacchi shop (yes, they sell tobacco, but also touristy things like postcards, stamps, and magnets). Just as I was about to give up and go back to the hotel empty-handed, I saw a good prospect and headed inside.

I was greeted by a slightly built, average-looking man in his early to mid-fifties. As I stood there looking around, he gestured at me to put down my pizza box. He did it with such a genial smile that I thought he was suggesting that I set it down and eat it right there; so I smiled, and wandered further into the store, because I wasn’t seeing postcards anywhere. The man came out from behind the counter looking a little frustrated, and gently took the pizza box from my hands and set it onto the counter and smiled. I was confused… was he afraid that I might shoplift something by stashing it in my pizza box? Whatever. I smiled and tried to make conversation—and apologize for whatever transgression I’d committed—by asking him what kind of limoncello he recommended. A lively, smiley, very gesticulated conversation ensued; then the man took a bottle off of the shelf, picked up my pizza box and gestured me to follow as he headed toward the back of the store.

I immediately began looking around—was there a separate room, where are the exits, is there a door to an upstairs apartment? Is this safe? I saw that it was only an open partition separating a small office from the rest of the store, and asked myself, “Well, isn’t this just the kind of ‘cultural experience’ you’ve been hoping for?” Besides, I could totally take this guy if I really had to. So I allowed him—Pasquale was his name—to lay out a picnic for me atop the somewhat messy desk. He brought me utensils to cut the pizza, napkins, and cups for the limoncello, which he poured. All very gentlemanly. He was interrupted once by a customer’s entrance, and when he came back, he sat down next to me… then put his arm around me and kissed my cheek. Repeatedly.

This went beyond my comfort zone, and thankfully, another customer arrived just at the point where I was sure this was way more than the usual number of kisses for any Italian greeting. I hastily packed everything up and went to the front of the store before that customer left. I thanked Pasquale, told him I had to go, accepted the “free” candies he gave me but paid for the limoncello (he overcharged me, but I wasn’t about to squabble), declined his request to return at 8pm, and got the hell outta there.

Maybe I was being overly cautious by Italian standards, but by American standards… well, there’s no way in the world I would have left sight of the front of the store, had we been in the States. So much for my “cultural experience.”

I happily spent the evening in air-conditioning, with my pizza and my limoncello—alone.

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I did sit out on the balcony for a bit, observing the less-chaotic-than-earlier traffic below me, with the moon over Vesuvius in the distance.

Posted by OhMissLia 17:02 Archived in Italy Tagged italy naples summer_2015 2_august Comments (0)

1 August 2015

Rome, day 3 of 3

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My final full day in Rome. What’s on the agenda? The Vatican. I have a Scavi tour scheduled at 9am, and my admission ticket to the Museum is for noon. The hope was that I’d planned for enough time in between to explore the Basilica and eat something—turns out the plan was a good one.
First, St. Peter’s Square, early in the morning.


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Next, the Scavi tour. No photos were allowed, but WOW—what an amazing experience. It’s a tour of the pagan necropolis below the Basilica; an entire city of the dead. It’s kept at 96% humidity, with sections of the city partitioned off with sealed doors. It makes for a VERY stifling environment. One woman didn’t make it past the first five minutes of the tour—claustrophobia got the better of her. We saw several huge mausoleums dating from the first through fourth century. Eventually, we came to the original shrine from the second century, inscribed with “Peter is here.” Then we saw the box found within that shrine, containing what is believed to be the bones of Saint Peter. One does not need to be Catholic to appreciate the magnitude of that sight, one need only be human.

We completed the tour by walking past elaborate private chapels and sarcophagi of various Popes. When I exited the building, I found myself at the entrance to the elevator to the Basilica, so I bought my ticket and went up. The elevator doesn’t take you all the way, though. Oh, no. It only takes you to the rooftop—to the level with the statues of the saints.

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From this level, you can walk into the upper part of the dome and look down on the tiny people…

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…but you have 304 stair steps to go to the very top. It’s a long climb, and I was suffering—dress code for the Scavi tour required closed-toe shoes, and covered knees and shoulders; not to mention that my physical stamina was wearing pretty thin after nearly three weeks of constant on-the-go. I took many small breaks during the climb, and eventually made it.

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After resting and enjoying the view with some food, I went downstairs to see the interior of the Basilica.

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Finally, it was time to head into the museum. I took a long rest before beginning; I was physically suffering at this point, and the Vatican's Museum is over four miles long!


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The museum tour concludes in the Sistine Chapel. I took another long rest here, sitting for about 45 minutes, listening to a recorded audio tour explain what I was looking at. I couldn’t believe that I was actually here!


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After exploring the Vatican City State quite literally from bottom to top, I was satisfied. :) I took the metro back to the Colosseo stop, but before going home I headed once again into the Forum, since I’d mostly missed it the evening before. WOW. I am so glad I went back. Seeing ancient Roman sites was a priority for me, so this was definitely a highlight.

Looking down the Via Sacra. You can see the top of the Altar of the Fatherland in the distance, with its twin quadrigas.

Gardens and rooms of the House of Vestals.

What remains of the steps outside the Curia, the Roman Senate. The area was fenced off; this was a difficult shot to get.

Inside the Temple of Julius Caesar. After his assassination, Caesar was cremated upon this rock. There are often flowers left in this spot.

More photos can be found on Flickr, username OhMissLia. It will be some time before they have full descriptions, but they are there. :)

When the Forum was once again being closed, I headed “home” for my final night in Rome. After three days, I finally felt like I was getting to know the city, understand her. The not-so-great things, I found, were the things common to any large city: dirt, especially the dirt that comes with age, plus high temperatures and humidity that makes every dust speck and exhaust molecule stick to you; cigarette smokers everywhere (I even had a shopkeeper bring his cigarette in from the street, ugh); panhandlers and hawkers of junk.

What was uniquely Roman? Traffic—not congestion, but insanity and indifference to pedestrians. The sense of relaxed humanity—that we’re all in this together, and it’s all good. Couples holding hands—any couple, any combination of age, gender, relationship. I loved that. I saw elderly parents holding hands with adult children, younger parents holding hands with teenagers, friends holding hands, and lovers of all ages and genders holding hands. I think we all need more of that. Perhaps the Eternal City still has something to offer the world.

Visiting Rome was quite literally a dream come true. I never saw Giorgio except as my waiter, but I am still, weeks later, wearing the string “bracelet” that the man tied around my wrist in Piazza del Popolo. When it finally wears through and breaks, I will try not to see it as losing my final tie to Roma. Eternal, indeed.

Posted by OhMissLia 17:04 Archived in Vatican City Tagged italy rome vatican vatican_city summer_2015 1_august Comments (0)

31 July 2015

Rome, day 2 of 3

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My first full day in Rome! I bounded out of bed (okay, my heart was bounding... my body was significantly slower) and headed downstairs for a beautiful continental breakfast made all the more beautiful by yet another young Italian godling asking me, “May I make for you espresso? Macchiato? Cappuccino?” He was taller and blonder than Giorgio, even more of a movie star, but it’s the accent that gets me. Ah, bello!

These reliefs are on the wall of the breakfast area… the hotel cut away the drywall to show them off. You can tell the bricks are old by how thin they are. Exactly how old, I have no idea, but I know the bricks of Herculaneum and Pompeii were thin like this.


Those reliefs just being IN the wall like that, all by themselves in this old building, exemplifies the way I felt while in Rome: that everywhere I looked, something cool unexpectedly popped up. I didn’t know where to put my eyes half the time! There was just so much to look at!

After breakfast, I packed up my things to drag them over to the Airbnb apartment that would be “home” for my final two nights in Rome (I hadn’t been able to extend my stay there when I decided to arrive a day early). I was truly sore from dragging my things around; I knew I wouldn’t last long, but it looked like a short walk. The apartment was near the Colosseum, so I asked for directions there. My walking instructions were, “Take a right outside the hotel, climb up the steps at the train station, turn right onto Via Cavour, then turn left a few blocks down. Just turn left when you see the Colosseo. It's not far.”

Wow. “Just turn left when you see the Colosseo?” Did someone just say that to me? Am I really here?

The directions proved useful—when I turned the corner off Via Cavour, there it was:


Eventually, I found my accommodations and dropped my luggage off. It was the top floor of a residential building—what Americans would call the fourth floor and Europeans would call the third floor. No elevator, of course--I almost didn't make it, LOL. A woman named Cristina lives there with her caregiver Elsie. Cristina’s daughter Francesca maintains the Airbnb listing. They all greeted me warmly, showed me the room and the beautiful terrace on the roof. I was eager to get back out and see some things before my scheduled tour of the Colosseum at 4pm, so I headed out before I collapsed.

View from the apartment where I stayed.

I walked to the Colosseo metro stop, picked up my handy Roma Pass (providing “go to the front of the line” entrance to different places [worth twice as much just for this feature!], as well as transportation on anything except taxis), and headed out.

I first found myself at Piazza del Popolo.

Porta del Popolo, the northern gate of the ancient city. This is actually the backside, taken from inside the piazza.

The center obelisk was brought to Rome from Egypt in 10 B.C.! Sadly, it was surrounded by fencing on this day, so the four fountains at its base aren't visible.

The "twin churches" opposite the gate.

This fountain, on the east side, features Dea Roma between the rivers Tiber and Aniene. Note the she-wolf nursing Romulus and Remus. The Pincio is behind it.

The Fountain of Neptune, at the west side of the piazza.

Near the Fountain of Neptune, I was approached by yet another man selling a bunch of stuff to tourists—selfie sticks being the most common. I tried to wave him off, but he advanced and thrust a bunch of red roses at me, saying, “For you. Free. Present for pretty lady.” It was either grab them or let them drop, and dropping flowers is a sin in my eyes, so I caught them… and so I was caught. I chatted with the man for a while; when he asked if I was married and I said no, he tied a rainbow-colored string around my wrist and tied it three times, making three wishes for me to find the right person. I told him I was looking for the Goethe museum, and he chattered, waving me toward a direction that I was pretty sure was wrong, so I thanked him (and gave him the coins he inevitably asked for), and went on my way.


I found Casa di Goethe (right where I thought it was) and spent a fair amount of time there. Having recently become acquainted with Goethe in the German Literature and Culture course I’d just taken, it was interesting to learn even more about the writer who not only spent a lot of time in Italy (like many of his contemporaries), but wrote a whole book about it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_Journey

The iconic painting of Goethe... and I couldn't resist getting a shot of the shot of Andy Warhol next to the iconic painting of Goethe. (I had a fascination with Andy Warhol when I was young. ;D)

After hanging out with Goethe, I purchased my first gelato…


…and moseyed to the Pantheon, catching this amazing sight along the way.


The Pantheon was open now, and every bit as incredible as I’d expected. It’s been a Christian church for centuries, but it wasn’t hard to feel its ancient origins. This building has been in use for 2,000 years!




Raphael's tomb.


I finally tore myself away from the Pantheon because I needed to get to the Colosseo well before my scheduled tour time. I took a bus, which was interesting in and of itself. This gargantuan building, the Altare della Patria, or “Altar of the Fatherland,” is something that I didn’t get to explore up close. This view, shot from the bus I took to the Colosseo, was the closest I got. It’s a monument to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy, and completed in 1925. It’s HUGE.


Finally, the Colosseo. Visiting the Colosseo is a HUGE bucket list item for me; I’ve often dreamed of walked beneath its arches and imagining the festivals and events held there. I wouldn’t want to witness the actual events, but what an unbelievable atmosphere that must have been. (If you are as fascinated by the Colosseum as I am, and aren't put off by my poor photography skills, there are lots more photos on my Flickr site with the search tag "colosseo." https://www.flickr.com/gp/43163337@N02/F56114 )

I had a tour scheduled that would take me both “underground” and up to the highest tiers, but I had some time to explore the main "general admission" areas before the tour began.

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Finally, it was time for the tour. Even booking way in advance, the English tours were full, so I’d booked one in Spanish. My Spanish is nearly nonexistent, but I was familiar enough with the Colosseum to follow the gist of what was being said… most of the time.

First, we were allowed onto the partially rebuilt wooden floor of the arena. Here's a gladiator's-eye view of the Flavian Amphitheatre.

A panorama, with the emperor's box (now marked with a large cross) at the north end, directly across from the Vestal Virgins' box.

Can you imagine walking through this tunnel to a crowded amphitheatre?

Close-up of the emperor's box. "Ave Cesare! We who are about to die salute you!" There is debate over how often this was actually said, but according to an overheard tour guide, it is in the historic record at least once.

Then we went below.

Under the seating area. Imagine hundreds of people running around down here, backstage.

This grate in the floor shows the source of water the ancients used to flood the arena for aquatic theatrics that often included actual ships.

This is shot from below the partially rebuilt floor.

I managed to ask, in Spanish, if this is the same elevator which recently raised a wolf (symbol of Rome) to the arena floor—the first animal to be so raised in the Colosseo since ancient times. The answer was “Sì.” http://www.history.com/news/1500-years-later-killer-animal-elevator-returns-to-colosseum

We then climbed up to the highest tier of the Colosseo, only part of which remains today. These nosebleed seats are where the poorest citizens, and even slaves, were allowed to sit—and women who weren’t of the noble class. Personally, I think it would have been better up here than down below: less smell, more shade (the Colosseo had a partial cover, so the upper parts were always shaded), and a beautiful view to look at should you happen to be sickened by the carnage below you.

View toward the arena, from the third tier.

View toward the outside, from the third tier. Arch of Constantine on the far left. The road to the Forum left of center, lined with columns. Palantine Hill in the distance.

After the tour, I wandered around the first tier, pausing occasionally to ponder random Roman refuse—a broken column, an empty statue base, a forgotten rock. I did this partly because I was exhausted (heat, stairs, smashed toes) but also because I wanted the chance to close my eyes and imagine the Colosseo in all its original glory, with the roar of the toga-clad crowd bouncing off of marble and countless works of art. I pictured all of the tourists around me wearing togas. :)

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I stopped for a moment at the box for the Vestal Virgins.

These scary-looking army types are always outside. Those aren’t pistols they’re carrying. And oh, that's the Arch of Constantine behind them. The Colosseo is just out of frame of these photos, to the left.


After the Colosseum, I realized that I hadn’t eaten all day and I really needed a WC. I decided to take care of both of those needs at a small cafe at the tourist information area, then head to the Forum. But a funny thing happened on the way there (ba-dum-dum)… the cafe was closed, and there were no bathrooms!

I decided that my water bottle and hazelnuts would do, and there had to be a WC at the Forum, right? Thankfully, there is. I refilled my water bottle, and found an ancient curbside to sit on. I sat and munched my hazelnuts, contemplating the chariot marks in the road and finding myself amazed to look up to the sight of this building:

The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. http://www.italyguides.it/en/lazio/rome/ancient-rome/roman-forum/temple-of-antoninus-and-faustina

I was just finishing up when another funny thing happened (AT the Forum)… I got kicked out! They were closing much sooner than I thought. Plus, I imagine that trying to round up tourists in that big place is pretty tricky, so they probably start early.

Honestly, I was pretty wiped out, and was very glad that I’d ended my day already close to “home.” I stopped at a deli just a block from the apartment and picked up a calzone, a Roman beer, and some canoli for tomorrow’s breakfast. I hauled everything up to the fourth floor and declined Cristina’s generous offer of coffee--wayyy too hot! With my last remaining energy, I brought my food up the winding iron staircase to the rooftop terrace to enjoy a quiet meal with Mongo, Cristina’s cat.


Mongo and I watched the sun go down behind the Colosseo (only 804 more years before the Colosseum has seen a million sunsets!) and shared the calzone. But not the beer.

Buona sera!


Posted by OhMissLia 15:35 Archived in Italy Tagged italy rome pantheon colosseo colosseum summer_2015 31_july Comments (0)

30 July 2015

Rome, day 1 of 3

View Europe 2015 on OhMissLia's travel map.

I said my goodbyes to my fellow students early this Thursday morning, then enjoyed efficient, uneventful German travel—a train from Essen to Dusseldorf, then a plane from Dusseldor—to Rome. The minute we landed, however, everything changed.

Rome’s Fiumicino airport (aka Leonardo Da Vinci airport) has suffered from a number of fires this year, including one the day before I landed. Apparently, this had resulted in our gate being closed (or burned down, they didn’t really say), but no one had told the pilots. In fact, the Rome airport seemed surprised that we had dropped down from the sky; we sat on the tarmac for half an hour while officials scrambled around for a place to put us. Finding none, they finally dispatched a couple of large buses; we deplaned right there and rode the buses to the terminal. I made some comment like, “Jeez, you’d think they’d know we were coming. This is a daily flight!” The lady sitting next to me laughed and said, “Well, that’s Rome for you.”

Oh boy.

It was a long, hot ride on yet another train, but eventually I dragged myself to my hotel, checked in and dropped everything, resisted the desire to take a nap, and headed out to explore.

Just strolling down the street, suddenly there's this beautiful building, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.20622800802_9f7bd6acea.jpg

This guy was just hanging out on the curb, clipping his toenails... ??

Eventually, I took the metro (Rome has a surprisingly sparse metro system—is this a result of inefficient government, or the need to protect underground relics?) to the Spanish Steps. When I emerged, the hot, sunny day had broken into thunderstorms. The exit from the metro was actually blocked by people crowding around to get out of the rain, but I was so claustrophobic that I welcomed the opportunity to get away from the throng. Getting wet bothered me a lot less than being part of the herd. I snapped a few photos on the Steps and around Piazza di Spagna before the skies opened up again.

Looking up the wet steps.

Looking down the wet steps at my first Bernini fountain, Fontana della Barcaccia. Keats loved this fountain. Read about Keats and the reason why there's a shipwreck in a Piazza here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fontana_della_Barcaccia

I paused for a selfie or two...

...and passed by the Keats-Shelley House before leaving Piazza di Spagna.

I wandered around, periodically checking my guidebook and snapping random photos. I stopped to get a shot of a famous restaurant’s sign, framing the photo to show the crazy street—typically Italian, it looks like a pedestrian zone to an American, but trust me, it’s not!—and the “old looking building” that was peeking through at the end of the street.


Imagine my surprise when I walked on and discovered that the “old looking building” was the Pantheon!

It was closed and I was ready for a good meal, so I allowed myself to be cajoled into one of the restaurants on a nearby side street. I was led to a small table by a slim young man with movie star looks and a quick smile. He looked me over and declared that it would be his pleasure to seat the “sexy lady.” His description of linguine with fresh portabella mushrooms and truffles sounded divine, but with that accent, he’d’ve been able to convince me to eat the tires off of my Pathfinder. I ordered the linguine with a white wine, and sat back.

The waiter stayed busy with his tables, winking at me every time he passed by. Once, he stopped to check on me by standing behind me and massaging my shoulders ever so slightly. I smiled and asked if there’d be an extra charge for that. He leaned over and said in my ear, in that delicious accent, “Oh Bella, you like that? You come see me later tonight, yes?”

The linguine arrived, and it was as delicious as promised. But I couldn’t eat more than a third of what was served—there was so much food! And between the lack of air-conditioning and the constant attention, I was uncomfortably hot, so I piled my hair on top of my head and held it there while fanning myself. “Are you hot?” said the lovely voice in my ear. “I shall cool you off…” And suddenly I had my own personal fan blowing cool air every so softly over my shoulders. He smiled, pulled out his card, and wrote his name on it: Giorgio.


“Ten tonight, yes? Is that how you say… ten?” He held up ten fingers to ensure that I understood what time he’d be off of work.

I was sticky sweaty, footsore, and deliriously tired, and ten o’clock was hours away; there was no chance that I’d be physically or mentally up to any kind of tangoing with Giorgio. I could barely speak as it was! I told him that tomorrow night would be better, and left… with a smile on my face.

I passed the Pantheon again, pausing to take in the atmosphere. It was the last few moments of twilight; the piazza was full of people just hanging out. Somewhere a guitarist played "Stairway to Heaven" while I stood by a horse-and-carriage taxi to wave at my mom, half a world away, via a webcam. It was surreal, and I loved every second of it.

Eventually my wandering found me in Piazza Navona, gazing at the incredible Fountain of the Four Rivers and other amazing art, and wandering around amongst artists and musicians and very happy people. I hadn’t yet learned how to take low-light photos with the iPhone, so they aren’t great.

More Bernini! I've always wanted to see this fountain. :) That's Sant'Agnese in the background.

Bella luna!

This artist had music playing on his boombox, and sprayed his paint in time to the music. Literally performance art!

I watched these guys for a while. The sax player was awesome.

The relaxed, jubilant atmosphere was incredible. I tried to capture the moment with a couple of videos, but they are even darker than the photos, and my camera skills suck in general. Here’s one; hopefully the atmosphere can be conveyed even without light.

To get back to the hotel, I found a taxi. I always find taxi rides an interesting endeavor, and being in a taxi in Rome is a lot like being in a video game. An enjoyable way to end an amazing first day in a city I’ve spent a lifetime wanting to see.

Posted by OhMissLia 20:01 Archived in Italy Tagged italy rome summer_2015 30_july Comments (0)

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