Route 66 West to East: Day 2 – A Sky So Wide

We left Laughlin early the next morning and drove south until we met up once again with Route 66. First order of business–coffee. Not as many kiosks in parking lots as we find in Oregon, where it seems every other corner has one. Pickings were slim, but we finally got caffeine before either of us felt the effects of withdrawal.

Fortunately I had fruit and protein bars with me, because it was a long time until we had a real meal.

The first stop of real interest, route-wise (I  had to say that because the entire ride was glorious–I never knew a desert could be so beautiful in its wild desolation), was a tiny town called Oatman. When I saw the sign, I told Paul to start looking out for burros, because they roamed the streets. A little info from the town’s signs themselves:

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Well, crud–I was hoping this second picture would be clearer. OK–from the Route 66 Adventure Handbook: “…the town’s most celebrated inhabitants are its burros, descendants of the beasts of burden that were brought here in the gold-mining days.”

And as we came around a bend into the main part of town, there they were–walking shoulder-to-shoulder down the middle of the road, as if they owned the place. Come to think of it, they probably did.

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We got up abreast of them and stopped, and I rolled down the window, hoping I wouldn’t spook them.

Quite the opposite–and one of the best experiences on the trip!

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I got to pet their soft noses and scratch their faces for them, and they were so sweet. It was hard to believe they were feral. There are feed dispensers in various places in town, but it was far too early to see if we could find them. So–the joyfulness was over–on their part–in short order when they realized we weren’t going to feed them. I got the gimlet eye

and they were off to the next possible food source.

We drove up a ways, found a place to park, and took pictures of the town and some of the rusty old leftover machinery scattered here and there. Artfully. (There are a lot of tourist shops here–it’s not abandoned by any stretch of the imagination.)

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Just outside of town was an old abandoned mine–we couldn’t get too close though.

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The next bit of road is called Sitgreaves Pass, and it was a real challenge to drive back in the original days of Route 66. I can believe it–so many hairpin turns and such a steep grade! But what a reward as we neared the top!

As we approached the summit, we passed the Gold Road Mine

and were soon far above it. There was a turnout that looked photograph-worthy–and was it ever. It was obvious that we had hardly been the first ones to find it a good spot to stop. Many people had memorials erected, and Paul even found ashes in one place.

Once we looked around at the nearby stuff, we raised our eyes and…

…the view took my breath away.

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A song by Fernando Ortega came to mind when I looked out over this vast and empty plain below us:

“A sky so wide, you can hear your heart turn quiet”*

There is something about this desolate beauty, this silence, that makes all other things so trivial. I have stood at the lip of Mt. Vesuvius and looked into its crater, and I have climbed to the highest point of the Colosseum in Rome and gazed into the immensity of that arena, and in neither place have I felt so close to the face of God than this spot.

A few people actually met their Maker up here, unfortunately. Remnants of the proof remain:

We met up with a couple of guys who lived in the area, and had a nice chat for a few minutes. One of them had actually lived pretty close to where Paul and I live now. Small world–yet again!

All too soon we had to tear ourselves away from this beauty and head off to the next sight.

Not that there is much to it anymore, but at one time there was a town called McConnico a ways further down the road. Just west of it can be found a restored building–Cool Springs Camp. It is now a tourist shop, all out there in the desert on its own.

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The books had little to nothing on the history of this place, so I found something on the interwebs: http://www.route66coolspringsaz.com/

Of course we had to take jillions of pictures of it. I saw that there was someone living in an Airstream trailer right behind the building, which meant that the owner (and manager) was still there. Hard to get pictures without its TV satellite in the way.

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We were also very glad of the facilities that were provided:

 

(Portapotties behind this false front)

OK–on to the next thing…

Which was…Kingman, Arizona:

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This town takes the whole Route 66 thing to heart, at least on the main drag.

This was the only place where we stopped at a museum. I’m thinking they were all pretty much the same, save for whatever local spin a particular place would have on the Road.

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We found this bit of info amusing. I don’t think the numbers would have been as interesting in metric:

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And here we are–the Road Royalty:

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Inside, we found a cool map reference, and a picture with a phrase I think I will use from time to time:

The park across from the museum had a train as its centerpiece, so of course we had to go and photograph the thing to death.

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And across the street to the park’s right was a thing of beauty–especially since we hadn’t had a real breakfast and it was lunchtime plus:

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It was not here when the Mother Road brought folks to and from wherever, but it sure has caught the feeling–from the outside of the building:

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…to the memorabilia, the jukebox, the menus, and the furniture.

And it’s lunchtime!

Me, I insisted on a milkshake. Seemed disrespectful NOT to get one when I was in such a place as this.

After a bit more walking about, we drove toward the east end of town, where a more prominent Kingman sign welcomed westbound travelers. We also got a good look at the train station and the old Hotel Beale, which was an original on the route.

http://kingmanhistoricdistrict.com/buildings/hotel-beale/index.htm

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The next stop was Hackberry, which wasn’t a real town–or at least it isn’t now. What a place though! A Route 66/photography lover’s paradise.

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I don’t know if these Burma-Shave-styled signs were authentic, but the Route did have them back in “the day”. There were actually some still on the side of the road in one place.

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So–zombies like it in Hackberry.

 

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Water will cost you extra, fella.

 

Lots of little places between here and Holbrook. The day was getting on, and we still had a lot to see. So off we went again.

Truxton, AZ, had a section of old Route 66 with a motel and several other buildings. The “EZ66 Guide” that we had along with us said that this motel and the other places were being restored. This was as of the book’s writing in 2015. I don’t think the idea panned out:

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By the way, did I write that Paul and I were listening to audiobooks while we were on the road? It’s a really good way to pass the time, and to keep from getting on each other’s nerves. Our first selection was Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”–which probably wasn’t the best choice right before we went to Carlsbad Caverns, but was definitely enjoyable. Librivox is a wonderful resource for audiobooks–I highly recommend them.

A little further down the road, and we hit actual Burma-Shave signs:

Not too clear, I know–but I was driving and Paul was asleep.

Seligman was next…just a blip on the road, and one of those towns where it was hard to discern Route 66 relics from modern economic downturn. This is the home of the “RoadKill Cafe”–a place we did NOT look up. Well, at the time we didn’t know about it, but still–even I have my standards…

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We didn’t spend any more time here than it took to get these pictures–just kept going.

Only thing of interest for some time was seeing a fire in the distance. As we got almost on top of it (still a long way to the right of us), an electronic road sign let travelers know that it had been a pre-planned fire. So I hope it all went the way they wanted it to. Still a little scary to see–especially since we didn’t know if we would be driving through it.

Twin Arrows was next–a place held together by memories and a lot of spray paint.

The books said that there wasn’t a place to pull off–at least for eastbound travelers. Well, where there’s a will (and an overpass), there’s a way.

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This puts me in mind of “WALL-E”

 

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This used to be a diner, gas station, and trading post. Now it is a canvas for grafitti artists, it seems.

This property is now owned by the Hopi nation, who also owns the casino across the highway (which we couldn’t even see). I didn’t think about it being private property–I just jollied on into the buildings. Not creepy at all…

Definitely an interesting place.

We missed a lot of towns along this way because we were in a high hurry to get to Meteor Crater. This part of the road is the segment we will be revisiting in October.

Speaking of Meteor Crater:

 

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Quite a few stairs–I didn’t get all the way to the top this time.

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Here’s a close-up of the center^.

Here’s a Wiki site to read more about it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meteor_Crater

And of course the area around it had its businesses, which have come and gone.

There’s an old observation tower off in the distance, nothing but ruins now:

Below is Meteor City, an abandoned trading post which will probably end up collapsing in on itself someday:

We spent a considerable amount of time at Meteor Crater, both inside the center and outside, and the day was getting older and dimmer. Off we went again.

Winslow, Arizona–such a fine sight to see. This is a town we’ll have to explore in more detail next time–we only had enough bandwidth for The Corner–made famous by The Eagles.

Standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona//Such a fine sight to see//It’s a girl my lord in a flatbed Ford//Slowin’ down to take a look at me”

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And this would be that corner, that Ford, and that guy on said corner. All fiction, but the townsfolk decided “what the hey” and financed this set-up.

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Short visit, but so fun!

Joseph City was next, home of the Jackrabbit Trading Post (still in operation). We didn’t go in–just got the pics.

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Yes, you’re allowed to sit on the big grey bunny rabbit. Not that we did.

I wish we had.

OK–next stop–Holbrook, Arizona–home of the Wigwam Motel, which is where we spent the night.

We had the wigwam on the end, which was enhanced by the blue Ford Falcon van and the green Nash Airflyte.

This is what the rest of the place looked like:

I love this!

Even the lobby of the motel was dressed to the nines.

Then it was off to get some dinner:

Then it was time for bed. Good night!

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Tomorrow we head away from the Route to spend the night in Roswell–on our way to Carlsbad Caverns.

* My thanks to Sara Sanchez of Trinity Entertainment Group for the permission to use Fernando Ortega’s song lyrics in this blog.

 

 

 

 

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Route 66 West to East: And off we go!!

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This was a trip for the ages! It was one that Paul and I had both been looking forward to, and we were not disappointed.

Daughter Dearest was good enough to take us to the airport at a (very rare) reasonable time–for which she and I were both grateful. The flight was short and uneventful, and we soon found ourselves exiting the airport in Ontario, California.

Our beast of burden was ready and waiting:


and we jumped in and headed off. Our prime objective was the overnight stay, and then to meet with the sibs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The afternoon stretched ahead of us, so there was only one way to spend the time:

B & J met up with us in the late afternoon, and took us away to the surprises they had in store for us.

Ever hear of the Cabazon Dinosaurs? Not actually on the Route 66 menu, but they definitely fit right in:

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Kind of cool to see that brontos had venting and a staircase on their sides. Who knew?

Actually there was a gift shop inside Bronty here, and of course we had to go check that out. Didn’t find anything worth getting though.

https://www.cabazondinosaurs.com/

The sibs also took us on a side jaunt to some other cool places, then on to a genuine Route 66 site: the Wigwam Motel in Rialto, CA.

This is the sister to the Wigwam Village in Holbrook AZ. It was restored in 2004.

What was really cool was that they peppered the property with vintage cars. This was fantastic–but wait til you see what they had at the site in Holbrook! (That will be posted in a few days.)

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Now, in reality, Route 66 starts/ends in Santa Monica CA, but we had no desire to get into urban Southern California any more than was necessary. Been there, done that, got the scars from the traffic and density memories. No thanks! This was good enough for us.

We bid a fond good-night to the sibs and headed to our motel. The day would start early enough tomorrow.

DAY 1 – San Bernardino to Laughlin, NV

We started fairly early the next day–since it was a Sunday, church was the first priority.

We caught the earliest service we could find, which was a Mass in Spanish. Now, ordinarily, I can pretty much catch what is being said, although I am not fluent by any stretch of the imagination. I grew up in California, so Spanish is not a language I am unfamiliar with.

But the priest at this Mass spit out words like a jackhammer. It was only too evident–by the way he constantly mopped his brow and sang several measures ahead of the choir–that he really wanted to be done with this service and go to someplace cooler. The man did not miss too many meals, I can tell you that, so the bright lights at the altar and his heavy vestments only added to his discomfort. I was surprised the congregation wasn’t reeling in confusion by the time it was over. I know I was.

We walked out of there, and the caffeine-deprivation headache that had started earlier was now taking center stage. I longed for something with caffeine in it.

However, we took the scenic route back to the hotel–this is something that we do on a regular basis–and we saw something that made the extra driving worth the time:


wild burros, within a mile of the urban boundaries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once we’d gathered our things at the motel, and had some of the breakfast fare provided by that establishment (nothing to write home about), we started eastward on our sojourn.

The two books we had used to research our trip were invaluable, but both were aimed toward the traveler moving from east to west. Okay, one of them had info for the west-to-east traveler, but it was still difficult to work out, because the main info still had to be read from the bottom to the top of the page. It was really strange, trying to catch everything we wanted to see by reading from the bottom of the page to the top, and then flipping the pages from back to front. I’m not sure if there are any books that actually treat the trip for the traveler working his/her way from California to Illinois.

We used these two references:

Route 66 Handbook by Drew Knowles, published by Santa Monica Press, and

EZ 66 Guide for Travelers by Jerry McClanahan, published by the National Route 66 Federation

The latter is the one that had the west-to-east driving directions.

Great info, both of them–but the pictures were sparse and in black-and-white only. Lucky for you, our pictures are in color–and we have more room here for elaboration.

Now for those who have no idea what Route 66 is, or its significance–here’s a Wikipedia article for you to check out. I don’t want to spend a lot of time with the history and background, since my space on WordPress is limted:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Route_66

So–back to our adventure:

Here’s what our trip on Day 1 looked like on a regular map. Part of it, anyway.

 

 

 

And what the route actually looked like. Nothing daunting–as yet.

One of the things to keep in mind is that we did NOT hit every town and gee-gaw along the way. In hindsight, we both feel that we should have tackled this adventure in three parts. So much to see, so little time.

Our first stop of note was Oro Grande, having bypassed Victorville and the Cajon Pass area without so much as a glance. It was a short block of old but well-cared-for/restored buildings. We spent a lot of time taking pictures here…only the first in many instances of doing so. (Some towns took us a half hour or more to get through, even though the main thoroughfare may have only been a mile or so long.)

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The pictures below show the original walkway…

After taking every conceivable picture from every angle, we headed off again. Helendale was up next, and the “Bottle Tree Ranch.” This was not an original site along Route 66–it’s an ongoing art project. However, authentic Route 66 signs take up a lot of the space.
There is even an old car door hoisted on a pole with a drive-in food tray attached to its open window!

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We spent a good deal of time here, because there was something new around every post. But the constraints of time finally made its way back into our memories, and we took off for the next thing to gawk at.

Barstow, CA, was the next destination. This town is a big supporter of keeping Route 66 alive, as seen by the roadside structures placed every 500 feet or so:

And we almost always knew we were on the right road:

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The Route 66 Motel is keeping the dream alive with its restored buildings and fidelity to its past. Every motel room has its own garage–and there are plenty of vintage cars parked around the property to give it a feel of nostalgia.

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Seemingly by contrast, the El Rancho Barstow, just a little further down the road, has a  totally different look and feel. It definitely smacks of the days of the “Mother Road” though. The buildings were built mostly using railroad ties discarded when a railroad line went defunct.

(this is the original cement)

OK–on the road again…

Dry Creek Station in Newberry Springs was a colorful example of the days of the past. Like a lot of places we stopped to photograph, this one had people actually living on the premises–as evidenced by the three dogs who came to yell howdies at us. Thankfully they were behind a chain-link fence.

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What I really liked about the weather, at least at this point and place, was that it was warm with a promise of hot later in the day–and we wouldn’t be there for that hot portion. Certainly we were heading through desert, but at least for now, it being springtime, the weather was tolerable. I was hoping for some spring desert flowers, but there weren’t a lot.

Our next major stop was Amboy Crater, but first we had to drive through several small towns in various stages of disrepair and resurrection. Sometimes it was hard to tell what was a victim of the I-40 bypass and what had just been abandoned due to a generally bad economy. I tried to just take pictures of things that we saw in the books, but that wasn’t always possible. Some ruins were just so picturesque that they got included in the photo gallery.

The Bagdad Cafe was definitely in the books–it was the film site for the movie of the same name–but the trailers and the motel sign just came along for the ride.

A little more driving–

–and here we were in Ludlow. This cafe is on the grounds where the original one stood, which burned down a number of years ago.

Another one of those add-on sites:

Soon enough, we found ourselves in Amboy, site of Roy’s Motel, which was founded in 1927. In 2005, restoration began on the buildings.

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It was fun seeing others out doing the same thing we were–following the Mother Road and snapping pictures. There was a group of bikers who, when the (sparse) traffic cleared, all posed for a picture in front of the Route 66 sign painted on the road. I felt a kinship of sorts whenever we ran into folks with the same goal.

However, my attention was caught by the sights across the road from Roy’s, so I had to go nose around there for a few good pics.

Such a tiny post office–and yes, it’s in operation.

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I don’t know if this church was still in use, though. Interstate 40 is just beyond it.

Below are some shots I took of Roy’s and a school building from across the street. According to the Route 66 Adventure Handbook, someone bought the whole town in 2005 and had plans to renovate the entire thing. It doesn’t look like he’s gotten too far.

OK–let’s go on to the crater, shall we?

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This is as close as we could get, once again due to time constraints. We could have walked the trail to get there, but we had other craters and caves to explore.

Want more info? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amboy_Crater

On we went–through desert,

lava fields,

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and into the mountains, where we came across some sort of mining venture. Don’t know what it was they were mining.

We stopped at a business not in either of our books, in a small town called Fenner. Lots of kitschy things to look at and buy, but we were more interested as to whether or not their plumbing worked…which it did, thankfully. I remember a hand-written sign that reminded customers that it was quite a distance to this place and it cost a lot to get things trucked in. Basically, they were asking people not to complain about the prices since they didn’t have much control over them. Made sense to me.

On the road again…we were now being chased by the knowledge that the afternoon was going by much too fast. Therefore we had to take I-40, thus missing out on anything from Fenner to Needles. In fact, we zipped through Needles too. But it had to be done.

On to Arizona!

Our goal here was Lake Havasu City, and the London Bridge.

Here’s a brief Wiki history:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Bridge_(Lake_Havasu_City)

 

Of course, what is the first thing I see?^^

Of course, if we hadn’t gone in, I would not have gotten the above shot of the bridge–through the restaurant window.

The beer was pretty decent, by the way.

 

 

After wandering around and taking a picture from every conceivable angle, we headed back onto the road. McLaughlin was getting ever closer.

And the scenery was jaw-dropping!

Soon enough, we were in Laughlin. Here’s our view from our window:

I found it interesting that, this morning, we had been surrounded by worship in the Spanish language. Now we were experiencing crowds of Chinese-speaking tourists. Funny that…

So–dinner buffet, then off to see if we could find some pictures that would look good in our photo gallery. To get a really good shot of Laughlin, we had to cross the river back over to Arizona and find a safe-looking spot to stop and snap. We were relatively successful.

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Or…not…

Back to the other side–close-up shots of the buildings were a lot more successful.

We wandered thorough the Colorado Belle, where Paul dropped a few dollars into the slots and came up rose stems. The guy next to him, however, was waiting patiently for his machine to stop adding to his wins so he could cash out. He looked about as bored as if he was sitting in an empty room staring at a wall. Gotta wonder…

The view from our window at night was a lot more dramatic. One of these pics was one of my arrangements–I had been about to take a picture when I noticed Paul standing behind me with his phone light illuminating his face. This was the result:

Creepy, yes?

OK–I’ll post the non-creepy one:

And so it was off to bed. After all, it was going to be an early start and a lot of driving the next day.

Comments? You know where to put ’em…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our last day in Roma

Our last day in  Rome–time to see everything we possibly could. Which meant another early wake-up call so that we could beat the crowds to the ticket booths.

First order of business though–pack up and ckeck out. The nice people behind the desk held our luggage in the back like before, and so we set off, unfettered and free, ready to join an incredible number of like-minded tourists. Also some non-like-minded citizens. I have to admire how they go about their business, seemingly oblivious to the scores of foreigners that block their way. I know I couldn’t do it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being there at the Colosseum so early was a real boon–we could take some very nice pictures without a lot of people around.

  

 

Soon enough, though, there was more excitement than we had anticipated. Remember how we had heard voices over a loudspeaker from our room earlier in the week? Well, there it was again, from way over at the other side of the Colosseum. It got louder, and not much later a group of people with a banner proclaiming something about education came around the corner, accompanied by a smoke bomb going off. It didn’t seem to faze anyone, except maybe a few tourists…

Speaking of which–they were pouring into the area more and more by the minute!

We were lucky to be where we were in line–if only we could figure out which line we were supposed to be in. We had a lot of company with the same quandary. It didn’t help that the sign pointing one way for the individual tickets and the other for group tickets was turned around the other way!

Anyway–finally, tickets in hand, we were on our way into the Colosseum.

Once again confusion reigned, as those with tickets mingled with those who were in a line to get tickets from a booth inside the building.

We sorted ourselves out quickly enough, and got into the correct line–through the ever-present security gates. Man, that sort of thing got tiresome. But I can understand their purpose.

There was an exhibition in the upper floors along the outer perimeter. I found the information and relics fascinating, but we weren’t able to spend a lot of time there.

                                     

 

 

Seeing the city and environs from the inside of the Colosseum gave my imagination a lot to dream about.

   

 

Occasionally reality threw itself in…

All of this was fascinating, but we couldn’t spend a lot of time there. We had come to see this:

Wow…just…wow…

 

…ummm…I think I’m being watched…lol!

We saw about all that we could see, and took a couple of humdred pictures as well, then left that wonder to go and wander the next ones–the Forum and Palatine Hill.

So much history! So much architectural wonder. Everywhere, marble and stone allowed to lie exactly where it had fallen–or stand as a testimony to the ancients. I’m so grateful to whoever it was who set these grounds aside in order to keep them safe for all the generations that followed.

I think I’ll let the pictures tell the tale:

 

After a long stroll through these grounds, we headed up Capitoline Hill to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Museum (which we didn’t go into).

Oh look–stairs…

This time I stayed at the foot of the building while Paul went up and took pictures. He did a great job.

Our last tour thing–we caught a streetcar and then a bus to get to the top of the hills that overlooked the city. Still more wonders!

This lighthouse was given to the city in 1911 by Italians living in Argentina, to commemmorate the 50-year anniversary of the creation of the Kingdom of Italy.

Then another bone-rattling bus ride back down into the city. We got out near St. Peter’s Basilica, and took one more walk through that awe-inspiring space.

 

We got back to the hotel, retrieved our stuff, and caught the train to the airport.

Addio, Roma–we’ll be back!!

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Pompeii and Vesuvius–the brutality of a volcano and the kindness of strangers

It’s difficult to recall the splendors of Italy while in front of my computer a month later. Especially since I’m in my robe and PJs after a dinner of toast and peanut butter. But I will give it my best shot.

This day was still night when we got to the assembly point for our tour of Pompeii. We found ourselves practically the only people in the Piazza del Popolo, and the photo opps were once-in-a-lifetime. I’m pretty sure that this was the only time in the day when it would be this empty.

It started filling up fast though. There were other tours waiting for their buses, and interspersed with them was an increasing number of the citizenry trying to get to work or wherever. I could see why the tours would start so early. How else would they be able to keep track of all us foreigners?

Our guide was Louise, an Irish gal who’d been in Italy for some time. I found out from her that, not only did she live here, she had a master’s degree in Italian. And boy did she use that mastery throughout the day! Especially at lunch time, when she had to get all of our orders straight…

Our route had us passing under the watchful gaze of Montecassino, a place I had hoped we would visit on this tour. Alas, I was sorely disappointed. So much history! Another “next time” thing.

Louise told us a number of fascinating historical details about this place, but sadly they didn’t stay in my mind. I did find an informative website though:

http://www.abbaziamontecassino.org/abbey/index.php/en/

It took quite a bit of time, but we finally made it to our destination: Pompeii.

We had a pretty good view of Vesuvius as we approached. There it sat…silent…waiting…

But I digress.

Our group got connected to another tour guide, whose personality was stellar but whose name is long forgotten. Great guy–very informative. Louise stuck with us too–had to keep track of everybody. She’d stand by every door, counting us as we went by. Wonder if she had been a sheepdog in a previous life–ha!

Our guide took us up and down streets…

(That last picture–you can see where wagon wheels had made ruts in the stone.)

Through an amphitheatre and environs…

…through a bath house…

…into a brothel…

through a high-end home…

and finally out into a plaza/public area.

Everywhere we looked there was a new thing to wonder at. A few things he told us I remembered from our trip to Herculaneum, but there were other things that were new as well.

We finally got to the place where some of the castings of people and animals were kept. They were behind glass, along with rows and rows of jars and equipment, so it was not easy to get pictures. These were not the only casted bodies in Pompeii, but they were the only ones we were able to get to today:

(That last one is a dog’s head.)

This was the first time I’d gotten so close to the castings of the human remains that made this site, and Herculaneum, so famous in the first place. I wish we could have seen more, but the day was waning and we had one more stop.

We got back on the bus and headed up the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius. I’m pretty sure I heard it chuckle under its volcanic breath as we approached our stop.

 

 

Louise told us we had exactly “X” amount of time (I can’t remember if it was an hour or not) to get up to the top and back down because the bus wouldn’t be able to wait for stragglers–there was not enough parking space to accommodate all the buses that came and went. No pressure, right?

I had a look at the switchbacks leading to the summit, and all the people of all ages going up and coming down, and decided, “What the heck? I won’t get this chance again. How hard could it be?”

Yeah, that “famous last words” thing…

So up I started. Paul was already ahead, as usual (I’m not a fast walker), but he stopped on occasion to take pictures. And to catch his breath, I imagine. Gave me an excuse to do the same.

(That’s the coastline down there.)

The incline was extremely hard on my legs, but I’m too stubborn to let that stop me. Despite the hate mail I was getting from them, I strove onward and upward.

Near the top are some concrete constructions, which I found curious. There seemed to be no info about them anywhere around. Odd things to find on the top of a mountain…

Later, back on the bus, Louise told us that they had been part of a funicular railway that had been built there for the tourist trade. However, the people who used to get paid to accompany hikers to the summit saw a threat to their livelihood and sabotaged it. Plus, Vesuvius tried to shake the thing off a couple of times as well, so it was finally given up as a bad idea.

http://www.vesuvioinrete.it/funicolare/e_funicolare_storia.htm

(The info on that link is in English, by the way.)

Looking into the maw of the beast at its very summit was awe-inspiring, to say the least. In my own area of the world, the closest we have to that is Mt. St. Helens–but that one blew the side of itself off, so there is no pronounced crater like this one. It’s still inecredible to see, but not quite as breathtaking as looking down into Vesuvius’ immense and dangerous space.

This was not fog–it was a plume of smoke. Proves that ol’ Vesuvius is merely taking a nap. I would not want to be anywhere near it when it finally woke up…

 

 

 

 

 

Time was getting short, so we started back down at a fairly brisk rate. It wasn’t fast enough for Paul, though, who envisioned us left behind and having to call a cab. I told him to go on ahead, which he did. As for me, I did my best to keep up with him, but my legs just are not as long as his. By the time I got to the bottom of the trail, they were ready to give in entirely.

I’m sure you’ve seen video (or the real thing) of newborn calves/foals/deer getting up on their feet for the first time. They wobble around, unstable and ready to fall at any given moment. Well, that was me, as I finally made it to a stop on flat land. I didn’t quite make it to where Paul was standing, and he was oblivious to the fact that I had finally arrived. He was keeping an eye out for our bus, not sure if it had arrived yet or if it had left. I, for my part, didn’t have enough energy left to let him know that I had landed, so to speak.

As I stumbled around, trying not to fall, I suddenly felt a presence behind me–a presence with a chair. A couple who had been seated near the gift shop (there is always a gift shop) saw me and came to my rescue. The woman helped me into it and asked if I needed water.

Um…very much so.

The manager of the gift shop came out and said I’d have to move, because we were where the buses turned around. The kind lady who had brought me with the chair took it back to the patio, while the manager helped me toward it. Then he went inside and got me a bottle of water. The couple sat beside me and kept an eye on me.

This all happened within a minute or so, and without a lot of fuss. So it was no wonder that Paul didn’t realize that what was going on was happening to me. But he finally did, and after checking on me he went into the shop to get me a bottle of water–at the same time that the manager was bringing one out to me.

Of course I shared…

The tour group was now re-assembling and the bus returned a few minutes later. Fortunately all of the riders were accounted for.

I thanked the nice folks who had helped me, and headed back to Rome.

Phew! It’s beer time!

(I laid the fork there so we would remember how big these steins were.)

Word to the wise: don’t try to climb Vesuvius, or any mountain, if your legs aren’t up to it. A month has passed, and I’m still having trouble walking any great distance. My fault for being obstinate.

But for me it was worth it!

***

Next–When in Rome, see all the sights–with half a million of your closest friends.

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Day 5 – sheep in a park and green brains on the road

Source: Day 5 – sheep in a park and green brains on the road

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Day 5 – sheep in a park and green brains on the road

Off we go again – back to Rome via the high-speed train.

In the station, I caught sight of this sign,

and took a bet with myself that it would translate into something important.

It did.

According to Google Translate, the sign reads:

“From this station…hundreds of people arrested in the town and province (by) from the Nazi Fascists were deported to the death camps”

A bit of very important history.

 

We got seats that were across from seats that faced us. I was figuring on a trip spent trying to avoid eye contact with people whose language I couldn’t understand.

Instead our seatmates were two really nice people from Washington DC. We spent the entire trip chatting away, and before we knew it we were pulling into the train station in Rome.

Back into the mobs and down the street to Hotel California again. I was beginning to feel at home, even though I had only learned a smattering of Italian.

Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we left our luggage with the desk crew and took off to the Metro terminal again.

We had entertained the thought of taking a bus to our destination, which was the Catacombs of St. Callisto, but we couldn’t find a straight route. Last thing we wanted to do was to ride an express bus out of town by mistake.

So–Metro it was.

We rode until we got to the stop for the Pyramid of Caius Cestius–which I had never heard of. We didn’t go see it, so here’s a picture pulled from Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyramid_of_Cestius

Naturally, this site has been tucked into that “see next time” file.

We still weren’t sure where we were going, but we started forward anyway. Paul used the GPS on his phone – a LOT – and although we had a somewhat roundabout route, we did finally get to where we were going.

I loved the fact that, once again, we were traveling through areas that weren’t seen by the usual tourist crowd.

A couple of miles of walking down Viale Marco Parco/Via Cilicia convinced me of one thing: motorcyclists here are on a different consciousness level than the other motorists. I don’t know–either they are immune to the speed limit laws or they’re simply complete asshats. They roared past us at twice the speed of everyone else. Funny enough, I saw this same phenomenon in Brazil too.

In retrospect, if we hadn’t passed straight over the road we needed to go down (which was impossible to get to from where we were anyway), we would have missed out on the most peaceful and beautiful part of our sojourn that day. You see, I just now used MapMyWalk to see how far we walked that day (4 miles), and noticed we probably went a mile or so out of our way.

But, as I said, we would have missed something lovely – going through the “Parco Regionale dell’Appia Antica”.

We must have entered it through the back door or something–there was no sign telling us what this natural area was until we got to the other end. I recall simply turning off the street and down a path to a fence, where we entered through an opening.

I did pass a sign further on that said a Roman villa once existed near there, and at my feet were signs of that reality; scattered in the soil, as far as the eye could see, were innumerable shards of tile and pottery of all colors and sizes…very small pieces. I picked up a couple, and I had to work hard to keep from getting more. It was like picking up shells at the beach, and could have easily gotten out of control.

As we rounded a bend, I was surprised again – someone was herding sheep in the park! I had no idea…a flock of sheep in the middle of a large city!

Once we got to the entrance of the park,

(There it is!!)

Paul checked once again that we were going the right way, and we set off again–down a road that was walled on both sides with very little room to walk. Cobbled road, straight as a rod–

–we soon learned that we were on the Appian Way, which had been the main road connecting ancient Rome to points south.

There were brains – green brains – scattered everywhere. Or so it seemed.

I didn’t take a picture of them, unfortunately, but after a lot of research tonight I did find out what they were–Osage oranges.

Here’s a video about them. It’s kinda long, but you can get the gist in less than six minutes:

Something else I saw a lot of were hubcaps–counting them kept my mind occupied for a short while. I needed to take my mind off of how very tired I was getting.

Almost a mile down the Appian Way, we finally came to the catacombs. With a sigh of relief (we hadn’t gotten lost!!), we read the sign outside.

What caught our eye was this: “Closed on Wednesdays”.

Today was Wednesday.

Lovely. All that walking…

Fortunately, there was another catacombs site further down the road. So we went to that one–the Catacombs of San Sebastian.

As we waited patiently for the tour in English, we meandered around inside looking at stuff for a few minutes. Then a guide took us down into the depths. We were not allowed to take pictures inside, so I’ll just have to try to describe it.

Stairs and inclines and declines, oh my! Also low ceilings (Oof! – that must have hurt!).

We passed through narrow corridors in a maze that I am sure I would have never been able to navigate on my own. There were niches and shelves dug out along the way, and side alleys that led off to other resting places. No bodies, no skeletons, no remains.

Probably best.

I wrote a book that involved a colony of vampires in New Orleans (not published yet) that lived in an underground space like this. (Also under a church.) The tour really helped bring that to life in my head.

We came up out of the underground into a beautiful church. We could take pictures here, and we took advantage of that.

Once we were through with the gawking and the gazing, we caught a bus to the Circus Maximus, and from there we caught a Metro train back to our place. We retrieved our luggage, took it to our room (with another disco shower), and then went to dinner.

That was pretty much enough for us for one day. We would be having another long adventure tomorrow.

Next: Mount Vesuvious claims another victim…me.

 

 

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Day and night over Florence

Our first plan of action today, after a bite to eat and some coffee at the hotel (I’ve learned to like cappuchino, because black coffee is atrocious here), was to catch a bus and ride up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, which affords a very dramatic, sweeping view of the city.

There was a replica of the statue of David, but he’s decently covered in a fig leaf.

Oops–wait. No…it’s just the weathering…

We were up there early enough that there was only a smattering of tourists so far. That afforded us some nice un-cluttered pictures–including this very different-looking coffee bar.

Back down into the city we went, on a bus that was more like a people blender. Those cobbled streets, plus a not-great bus engine, meant a lot of shuddering and juddering. I swear I was still vibrating an hour after we got off the thing.

Our next objective was the Galleria dell’Accademia, the art museum that houses Michelangelo’s David–the real deal, that is. On our way we saw a lot more great sculptures and such.

Then we found the end of a line that was waiting to get into the Galleria.

Oops–wrong line. Fortunately we found this out before too much time had passed. This was the line for tour groups and those with reservations.

Our line–the one for the uninformed heathen (ha!)–was at the other side of the entrance. This one stretched around at least three corners of the building.

We stood there a bit, wondering how long it would take to get in. As we were thinking about giving it a pass, a man with an Irish accent happened by, culling English-speaking tourists from the crowd. He had a tour going, which would take place in about a half-hour.

My legs needed a rest, and it sounded legit, so we took him up on it. I’m so glad we did–we found out late that, from where we were standing, it would have taken three hours to get in.

Our tour was actually going to be in about an hour, so we detached ourselves from the crowds and went to have coffee.

After that we wandered the local streets, eager to take in what we could.

We passed a building that was absolutely creepy in its architectural embellishments.

And…we’re walking…

Hey, look–a church! Let’s check it out!

The chapel of St. Antonino…

…with its namesake still in residence.

Kinda creepy, but not unusual in Europe.

Soon it was time to re-convene for our tour. I was so glad that we hadn’t been hoodwinked. Hey, we’ve been burned before…

We still had to spend some time waiting, since only some 500 people are allowed in at a time. There was plenty to snap pictures of while we waited.

Our tour guide

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “windows” on the right are merely painted on the wall–it looks like they were blocked off at some point in time.

 

 

 

 

 

The Galleria was a lot smaller than I originally thought. However, it held some fantastic artwork.

And all of it led to…David! The original!

Its base will soon be redone and replaced–it’s showing cracks and needs to be strengthened.

I didn’t know this, but at one time this statue was slated to perch atop the Duomo. I’m glad that didn’t happen–it probably would have fallen and smashed to bits by now.

There were plenty more art masterpieces…

which kept us busy for a good length of time.

When we were through here, we trekked across a good number of streets

to the Uffizi Gallery, which holds the Botticelli’s painting “The Birth of Venus”–or “Venus on the Half-Shell”, which is what my sister-in-law calls it.

We did not take this picture–I pulled it from the Internet.

 

 

 

The line to get in here was just as insane as the last, and after not moving for about 20 minutes we decided to give it a pass. Still, we got some good shots around the area.

On to the Ponte Vecchio–also a great place to visit. We didn’t spend a lot of time there, but it was enough to fascinate me. All these shops on this bridge–shops that had been there for eons. Makes anything “old” in the U.S. seem brand-new in comparison.

I would have loved to stay and look around some more, but we had other things to do.

Such as have drinks and a snack at the Hard Rock Cafe Florence.

This was only a relatively short walk from the Ponte Vecchio.

A couple of drinks at the Hard Rock Cafe and a purchase of a shirt, then it was back to the hotel to drop it off and unwind for a bit.

As it approached dinner time, we wended our way back toward the cafes that lined the Arno River. We found a nice seat with a view of the river and the sunset, and ordered dinner.

I got my Tuscan sunset and my glass of wine. Bucket List Item summarily kicked.

We took the bus back up to the Piazzale Michelangelo and took some night pictures of the city. Breathtaking!

What a wonderful way to end the day!

Tomorrow–back to Rome, and the longest walk so far.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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