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1 August 2015

Rome, day 3 of 3

View Europe 2015 on OhMissLia's travel map.

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

View Europe 2015 on OhMissLia's travel map.

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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