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

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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Day 3 – our foray into Florence

This morning found us at the train station, luggage in hand, waiting for the high-speed train that would take us to Florence–or “Firenze”, which is what it’s called by the Italians.

It was a nice, quiet ride–truly fast, but not so rapid that we couldn’t watch the beautiful countryside go by.

The food cart came by a little ways into our trip, and I asked for coffee since I hadn’t had any yet that day (or very little, anyway). I knew I had to stave off the caffeine-deprived headache that would be inevitable without it.

The nice lady obliged–and served me a cup about 2 inches tall. Looked like the type of cup once finds in a dispenser.

…Really?…

So I had to ask for another. The nice lady had to work hard to keep from rolling her eyes. Hey–I drink a LOT of coffee. This Dixie cup was a drop in the bucket in comparison to my usual amount.

The city of Florence showed up a lot faster than I thought it would. For some reason I had gotten it into my head that it would take a couple of hours to get there. This was not the case. I was really enjoying that train ride.

Florence has the reputation of being a very compact city (at least as far as the tourist areas). We learned early on that what could not be reached by walking could be gotten to by a very efficient bus system–even though the buses we rode all seemed ready to vibrate apart at any given moment.

Our hotel was only a couple of blocks away from the train station. Paul found the address on his GPS app (which we used a lot in the coming days), and we had no trouble finding it.

Wow–if we thought the elevator was tiny at our first hotel…this one made it look huge.

And it was the old type–open the outside door, then push the double doors in to get inside. Hardly enough room for two people and their luggage–and we were traveling light!

Our reservations were for a room in the Hotel Angelica, but it turned out we got the “better room” (according to the British man behind the desk) in the Hotel Beatrice, one floor down. Yes–sometimes two or three hotels will share a building. I don’t know how that all works out.

No complaints here–the man behind the counter at the Hotel Beatrice was one of the warmest, nicest, most helpful people we’d met so far. He gave us a map and ran a pen around the areas he thought we’d be most interested in. Chatty fellow–actually, I wouldn’t have minded spending the afternoon in his cozy little den, just talking to him.

Since our room wasn’t ready yet, he took our bags to storage and sent us on our way for the afternoon.

So much to see in Florence–we didn’t get to nearly as many sites as we would have liked.

So–that means a second trip to Florence in a couple of years. So sad–(ha!)

Florence is a tad easier to get around in than Rome. Not quite so much vehicular traffic, at least not where we were.

We decided to go to the Piazza San Giovanni, which was less than a mile from the hotel. Our route would take us past the church of San Lorenzo, so we thought we’d check that out too.

On our way, we walked through an area that was just loaded with shop stalls, which were set up in the street against the sidewalks. These were right in front of established shops in the buildings, but I don’t think that was a problem for the owners/employees. This was the only street where this arrangement was set up, so it might have been an agreement between the city and the more permanent establishments. The stalls were taken down every night and set up again in the morning.

And–well, if you couldn’t find what you were looking for there, you probably didn’t need it in the first place. Florence is renowned for its leather goods, so that was the main thing the merchants had. Lovely smell, leather. I ended up buying most of my souvenirs here.

When we got to the church, we didn’t go into the building itself. That meant an admission ticket. We’d seen the insides of many churches, so I’m pretty sure that, although it would have been magnificent, it still wouldn’t have been anything we hadn’t already seen elsewhere.

We did walk thorugh its inner cloister area though, which was very nice.

After meandering down a couple more streets, we came out onto the Piazza.

IT…WAS…INCREDIBLE…

The buildings that occupy this piazza are the church of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Campanile di Giotto (Giotto’s Bell Tower), the Duomo, and the Baptistery. They reign over the other buildings in a circle of land all their own, and the shops and restaurants keep a sacred distance.

Pictures do not do them justice. They are just jaw-dropping in their scope, size, and in their intricate decorations. I couldn’t help but wonder at the work that went into making these masterpieces.

We had a look around the outside of the Baptistery first, and were fascinated by the North Door, which is a restored replica of Lorenzo Ghilberti’s original (1403-1424).

Once we’d gotten admission tickets, we decided that the first thing we’d do would be to go into the church.

…And I thought it was magnificent on the OUTSIDE! This place was massive, gorgeous, awe-inspiring.

And then…we went down to into the area beneath the church. I had had no idea.

Once we came up for air, as it were, we headed over to the Baptistery, or Battistero. Also massive, soaring, magnificent.

(Actually, I was more impressed with the floor designs–I could imagine creating a quilt with their patterns, but it would take forever to piece it.)

Outside, the entire piazza was, of course, wall-to-wall humanity. Getting good pictures took a little bit of time, some measure of patience, and a good push if time and patience were in short supply. Most people were obliging and did the same thing we did–snapped a picture and got out of the way. But there were those who didn’t–so #3 up there had to be used from time to time.

This was true at the “Gates of Paradise”, the east doors of the Baptistry.

I found a very informative article on them:

https://www.florenceinferno.com/gates-of-paradise/

These doors were replicas. The real ones have been restored and are now housed in the Museo dell’Opera de Duomo, which was our next stop.

Yep, they’re there:

Along with some other very impressive work…

All that sight-seeing and gawking can make one very thirsty. We took care of that next.

We were pretty sure our room was ready by now, and we ourselves were ready for a short rest, so we headed back.

Yep–all set for us.

After a bit we headed back out for dinner and a stroll among the lit-up landmarks that make up Florence.

As far as I’m concerned, the lights of Las Vegas have nothing on Florence’s. They do so much more with less.

Tomorrow: the Florence skyline and a lot more walking

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Out and about in Rome–Day 2 of our adventure

Today being Sunday, it was primary in our minds to find a church. It being Rome, we figured you couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a Catholic church.

Well, true enough–but if you’re in the wrong place, that church may well have been turned into a museum, as we were to learn.

We walked past St.Maria Maggiore again–it’s even more incredibly massive in the daylight–

                                                                                      and headed toward where Paul thought he and Joe had attended Mass eleven years ago. Well, being as to how we have a penchant for walking into the lesser-known streets, we soon found ourselves near the Roman Forum and other Roman ruins.

I kept hearing church bells, but none of the cross-topped buildings we passed by had anything churchish going on.

Around 9am, we finally decided to get serious about finding one. It’s really easy to get distracted here.

Not too far from the Spanish Steps, we found our quarry. Well, a working church, at least. And we were just in time for their 9:30 Mass!

Of course it was all in Italian, but the layout’s the same worldwide. I could mutter the prayers in English under my breath at the appropriate times.

The interior of the church was a real distraction, with its ornate pictures, frescoes, and statues. But we carried on as best as we could. I guess when someone grows up around this fantastic grandeur it becomes second nature–I’d hate to be immune to the incredible beauty around me. (Rather like living in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains–how does someone become inured to that kind of beauty?)

Note: for whatever reason, the Italian militia had a presence outside this church. I saw something about the crucifix inside being miraculous–I’ll have to look that up.

Okay–maybe this is it. I really don’t know:

http://romananglican.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-miracle-of-crucifix-of-san-marcello.html

Once we left there, we found that we had been fishing in the wrong pond earlier, as it were–a city block later, we found a church with a Mass in English. Not far from there was one with a Spanish Mass. And on and on.

From that area we went to the Pantheon, which was closed until 12pm due to…Sunday Mass…

Gotta say, I was surprised. I was not aware that the building had been Christianized. Shouldn’t have been much of a surprise, but it was.

With that stricken from our plans for the time being, we decided to check out the Trevi Fountain. I think we got back on the Metro to travel to this one.

SIDE NOTES:

  1. Italian men are GORGEOUS! Ladies are very pretty too.

2. Afternoon naps are wonderful. I’m looking forward to today’s already.

Okay–back to the day’s activities. Where was I?

Oh, right–Trevi Fountain.

Again, much different from when it was being renovated two years ago. A lot more people around too. Getting close to the fountain itself took some chutzpah and not just a little luck.

The light was exactly wrong for a good picture where we ended up (at least for what we wanted), which resulted in us fighting (semi-politely) for another spot on the other end of the fountain. Getting good pictures of the fountain itself wasn’t the problem–we had one of those rare instances where we wanted to get shots of ourselves in front of it. That’s where the problem came in. While on vacation, we usually try to keep people out of our pictures, including ourselves. Now we were trying to change it up.

So here we are.

We fought our way out of the crowds (nicely–we are civilized, after all, and there were stairs involved), and took the Metro to the area where the Colosseum and such were located.

AND…the crowds were in abundance. Well, it was the weekend and a lovely day at that, so could they be blamed?

After waiting for a few minutes in the ticket line, we decided to give it a pass until another day. We still had plenty of time before we had to go home.

There’s been a…thing…some sculpture, or something, planted beside the Colosseum. I suppose it’s art–but it doesn’t enhance, it doesn’t support, and it doesn’t agree with anything around it. I am not too surprised that neither of us took a picture of it. Some sort of gigantic thing that kind of looks like a pomegranate–total waste of space, as far as we were concerned. Look it up if you’re interested–we were totally underwhelmed.

Well, enough of that.

We wandered around to take in what we could see for free, and took lots of pictures. Those will be posted later–when we could actually get in to take pictures of those edifices close up.

This was where we saw most of the Beggars’ Union–or so it seemed.

These people cannot be believed. They’re all old ladies – maybe. (Wh0 can tell?) They’re dressed the same, they’re all hunched over and carrying a cane, and their donation cups are all the same size. Their behavior is also carbon-copy–shake the cup, mumble something, shake the cup.

There was one, earlier in the day, who did her (?) best to shove her cup under my nose when I ignored her. Talk about chutzpah!!

As mentioned before, there are a LOT of churches near the Forum. It’s interesting to see just how many buildings around this area have incorporated some of the ancient Roman edifices into their own structure.

Several churches sat cheek-by-jowl with ancient columns and stoas. We went into one of them–a place that sat on the very edge of the Forum area.

This looks like a little telephone box to me. Hmmm–so they have God’s phone number? Cool!

 

 

 

 As with a lot of European churches, there were burial plots in the floor. This one was just at the entrance–have to wonder why anyone would want to be buried as a doormat.

 

 

 

 

 

Ceilings are always a big deal in churches. If the sermon’s boring, you still have something to keep you busy.

We then hiked over to the Circus Maximus, which is really no more than a large park anymore. There are a few ruins at one end, but for the most part it looks like one big greensward.

Oh look…stairs…

We had to go down a number of stone steps, then we walked the length of the Circus. There were a few people, and a number of very happy dogs sniffing everything and running around (the dogs, not the people). So–your average park.

We wandered a lot of streets, through areas populated and some not so much. Everywhere we went, there was something new and fascinating to see. Some had explanations as to their history–

–any many didn’t.

(Actually, it’s not that they didn’t have descriptions–it’s just that we didn’t take the time to take pictures of the signs.)

This is what we love about visiting foreign places–wandering the streets and seeing what the natives see on a regular basis.

I can’t even map all the streets we walked. There were shortcuts, workarounds, backtracking–just a follow-our-noses walking adventure. We went through an indoor farmers’ market, crowded with residents and tourists all vying for counter space at stalls of every kind–leather goods, meats, vegetables, tourist trinkets, baked goods, etc. We got through the phalanx back to the outside world, only to find that there was no exit off the property at that end. Back through the gauntlet–phew! Fascinating place, that market, but way too peopled for my comfort.

We went here next:

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

This is a cat sanctuary–Roman law forbids killing feral cats. They get nipped and clipped and sent here to live out their lives. I like that idea.

This was a place Paul and Joe visited eleven years ago–looks like there’s still a good number of kitties enjoying their lives here. It was fun trying to see how many we could find.

After that, we passed through the area known as the “Jewish Ghetto”–apparently no one seems to be bothered by that name. I didn’t know that this is what it was called, but I knew it was definitely Judaic in nature. Lots of kosher restaurants and men dressed in the traditional Orthodox Jewish tradition.

Then it was back to the Pantheon. We got in line (“I hope that the ride’s good at the end of this line” is something I thought of a lot during this trip), which moved pretty fast, and were finally able to get inside.

Wow. Just…wow…

Vast, majestic, soaring–and noisy! Every once in a while, a recording in several languages would admonish the crowds to quiet down (because it was, after all, a sacred place). Didn’t work so well.

After the picture-taking and the gawking was done, we made our way back to the hotel. It had been a really long day, which meant another afternoon nap and a late al fresco dinner.

Tomorrow–our foray into Florence.

********************

 

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Marble butts, fig leaves, and a subway fistfight–our first full day in Rome

We got up relatively early and took the train (Metro) to Vatican City. Along the way, I re-learned what I’d already known from other trips–there is no such thing as “personal space” in Europe. Especially on public transit. If you’re not willing to mash and smash your way unapologetically into an 8″ x 8″ space to ride the Metro, you’ll be left standing at the platform all day.

Vatican City was still in the same condition it was in the last time we were here, except for two things: the aforementioned military presence – EVERYWHERE – and the abundance of people selling kitsch, also everywhere. It reminded me greatly of the people who accosted us on the streets of Istanbul. (Hmmm…they even LOOKED the same.) As the hours and days went by, they became increasingly irksome. (The peddlers, not the militia. Those guys did their jobs and stayed out of the way.) It seems you can’t go five yards without someone shoving junk in your face to get you to buy it. No wonder the good citizens of Rome are starting to fight back. (We witnessed a couple of marches/demonstrations. One of them, at least, centered around the issue of those escaping the devastation of their homelands. This one was actually in their defense.)

There were already a lot of people waiting to get in when we got there, but since we’d purchased tickets in advance we were able to bypass most of the crowd. Once in, however, we were on our own.

First order of business – the “Breakfast at the Vatican” option we’d bought.

Not what I had expected, really. Here I thought it would be some sort of restaurant experience at least near the papal quarters.

Not…really.

There was a covered area in a courtyard of the Vatican Museum, where there was a buffet set up.

 

The food choices were sausage (quite decent), bacon (greasy and tasteless), scrambled eggs (cold), and an assortment of pastries (unspectacular). The coffee tasted like very thick instant, and needed a lot of doctoring to get to a drinkable level. And the cups were tiny–I had four of them just to get to half of my usual caffeine intake.

The Vatican Museum itself was just incredible in its scope and grandeur. We spent most of the day there, wandering the many areas–from Egyptian

to early Roman

to Byzantine

to Etruscan

to all points in between and beyond.

We took so many pictures–I’m surprised I haven’t run out of room on my phone.

We also saw the Sistine Chapel. It was a lot smaller than I’d imagined. The pictures we were able to take of the rooms preceding it were pretty much what was in the Chapel, so I didn’t feel like I was missing out on the picture-taking.

Crowds? Oh yes. And the languages! And we were all getting along just fine. Why can’t we all do that on a global scale?

Once we’d seen all that the Museum had to offer, we headed toward St. Peter’s Basilica.

The line to get in was tremendous., so we gave it a pass (saw it last time, except for down below–the “Popes On Ice”, as Paul calls it), and made our way to the Tiber River.

(I can supply pics from our tour of the Basilica, if anyone is interested.)

We took a lot of pictures and strolled along tree-shaded sidewalks. It was wonderful to be away from the madding crowds for a bit.

Our next place of interest was the Hard Rock Cafe, so it was back onto the Metro. And this is where I could have gotten into trouble.

When the train arrived, the car looked like what would happen if a bunch of people had been put into a blender and poured into that small space. Only a few passengers tumbled out when the doors opened, so Paul and I had to push through.

Some brazen broad pushed me pretty hard in order to barge her way through. I was just tired enough that my temper was extremely short. I pushed back – HARD! I mean, she’d have been on the ground if there had been room. Poor gal was the one chosen in my day to dance on my last nerve.

Well, she pushed back hard. No question about it. And I pushed back and gave her my patented “You are in deep sh*t” glare. She backed off with a wounded-sounding “Excuse me!” I just sorta growled.

(…”Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…”)

We found the Hard Rock Cafe without trouble. It wasn’t too far from the Spanish Steps

which we passed without paying too much attention. Last time we were here, they’d been closed off for renovation. Now they were stuffed with humanity. Yikes!

The Cafe was as noisy as anywhere else. And crowded! But we were able to get seats at the bar.

Guess what? I ordered a non-alcoholic drink! Scary, right?

I appreciate the fact that English seems to be the second language of choice among Italians. I just wish I could speak some of their language. U.S. people are spoiled in that they don’t have to learn fluency in another language. But it seems every other county has to learn ours. Doesn’t seem fair.

I don’t even try to pronounce Italian. Like I told the waiter the previous night, I have too much respect for the Italian language to mess it up with my ignorant attempts at pronunciation.

Back to the matter at hand:

After Hard Rock, we decided to go back to our hotel. When we descended into the bowels of the Metro, we heard raised voices–and they weren’t singing for joy.

We were just in time to see a scuffle between two people outside the train and a couple inside. Outside Man punched Inside Man (actually they were teenagers, I’m sure), and pulled him out of the train. The doors were closing, and Inside Man was pulled back in while Outside Woman was ready to go at him. Inside Woman risked getting beheaded as she stuck her head out the door to yell at Outside Woman. There were others involved, but they were mostly trying to keep these four apart.

Outside Woman was ranting and raving long after the train left.

These young people were not Italian. Their looks and language were of the Asian variety–which one, I have no idea.

The next train provided no such entertainment, so the ride back to our stop was uneventful.

We got into our room, plugged various devices into chargers, and unplugged ourselves for a couple of hours.

The march/demonstration and the woman’s voice on the loudspeaker in the street below woke us up. We were five floors up from the street, so it was difficult to make out just what was going on. But she sure didn’t sound happy.

After a bit, we went down and had dinner at a restaurant about 20 feet away in another direction from the previous evening’s choice.

Another bottle of chianti, more nice food, and it was the end of another adventurous day.

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Beer at breakfast, wine at dinner: on our way to Italy

Okay–so flying transatlantic is better than swimming it–but only just.

I love traveling, but I never look forward to long flights; my tailbone (and now my legs) gets put out by the long sitting time. I swear, the airlines should set some space aside for at least a treadmill.

We actually set out at a relatively decent time for once–we’re usually on the road to the airport at stupid o’clock. Since we had no one to take us to the airport, we caught a local bus, which took us to our city transit center. From there, we went northwest, and caught a commuter train through Portland to the airport. Pretty much the usual commuter people–nothing out of the ordinary. (The un-ordinary would come later, in the underground Roman Metro line.) Good thing–I’ve been particularly ornery lately–this, too, will prove itself later.

Got through TSA unscathed, except that they took exception to something in one of my bags. Sure–give me a coronary. I thought I’d left my brass knuckles at home. (Just kidding–I don’t have any. I believe that one’s regular knuckles and a penchant for self-defense more than makes up for such things.)

They seemed to have taken exception to the bottle of hair conditioner I’d brought. It went through okay though. What a dumb thing to stop someone for. It was travel size, for the cry-eye…

I decided I needed a puzzle book to get me through that sleepless flight, so I started looking for one as we made our way to the gate.

Plenty of time to browse. Because all of our bus connections were on time (!!!) and we had no problem at the ticket counter (we were trying an airline new to us–Condor–so we arrived early in case there were glitches), we were there about three hours ahead of time. But–no luck on the puzzle book. I may have to have words with the PDX airport about this…

We ate at the Laurelwood pub close to our gate and, even though it was barely 10am, I had a beer with my…brunch?

Treehugger Stout. Good stuff.

I thought I should get a good beer while I could, since I had no idea what Italy thought was good beer. Turned out to be a wise choice.

Afterward, we took up residence near our gate, and from there I scoured a couple of terminals for the type of puzzle book I wanted. No luck whatsoever. There were crossword, word searches, and Sudoku. No variety books. I was, well, puzzled.  I’d always found them here before.

We count that as Matchstick #1 on Crabby the Camel’s back. More to come.

The flight to Seattle was short and without incident. However, we ended up spending a lot more time there than we were scheduled, since the flight to Frankfurt was delayed by two hours. This meant that our layover in Frankfurt was NOT going to be five hours, which suited me fine. It also meant more beer.

We did find the type of puzzle book I wanted–hooray. I got started on that right away.

We left on the re-scheduled departure pretty close to on time. Now to settle in for the 9-hour flight…

How I wish I could have slept!

The airline, Condor, has all the amenities one would expect in cargo class. But there is almost no leg room. I felt it a lot during this trip because of the problems I’ve been having with my legs.

The (pre-ordered) meals were okay. About what one would expect–except they trusted us with REAL DISHES and REAL UTENSILS!! However, ain’t no way I was going to eat the slice of green cheese on my plate. Fuggetaboutit.

There were 60 choices in the premium movie line-up. Nice variety–but only two interested me. I watched “Beauty and the Beast” and the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. Other than that, I tried to sleep, but it was not going to happen. I read a lot, worked my puzzle book, whatever–might as well keep busy.

We got into Frankfurt with an hour between flights. This was where I had had enough. I really had to downgear the fit I wanted to throw.

The reasons that I was at this level were many. For one, I’d been up for over 24 hours. For another, the cramped quarters and the resulting leg aches had made me extremely uncomfortable.

The ramps and stairs in the airport made things even worse. Trying to move quickly with cramped, aching legs is almost impossible.

Also–have you ever noticed that you always fall all over things until you need them, and then they suddenly disappear? Like, um, passports?

By the time I got to Customs and had to find that passport from wherever it was hiding, I was in a mood most foul. The Customs guy had to get my attention so he could match my face to my passport picture!

And then the whole TSA thing again. I had to practically unload one of my bags to satisfy the agent.

Then my bag was stopped–again! This time it was the bottle of water I never drank during the flight. I’d completely forgotten it was there.

From the looks I was getting from Security, I’m pretty sure they were ready to take me in for questioning–or kick me out of the country outright.

But we finally got out of there unscathed, and I didn’t cause any more problems. I’m pretty sure Paul was happy about that.

From Frankfurt to Rome–nothing to note there. Very short. Very German. Very…indecipherable for someone without the correct background.

Then it was off to the train that would take us to Rome.

…Oh look–stairs…

This trip is either going to kill me or cure me.

It was a nice train, really. It passed through rolling countryside and into Rome proper in very short time. As we passed trees and fields, I couldn’t help but think of the eons that these lands have been cultured, and how many hundreds of generations have looked upon them.

The train station was very close to our hotel, which was wonderful. My legs hadn’t recovered from the flight yet, so it was difficult going even that distance.

Our hotel room was comfortable–bed, drawers, shelves, a desk and TV. We had to insert our room key card into a slot next to the door in order for the lights to work, but we’re no strangers to that. Our lights in the hotel room in Brazil worked the same way.

The plumbing had a really weird set-up though. The commode (and bidet!) had its own room, but one wall was frosted glass which separated that room from the shower. No, it was not a door…

And the shower itself had a light switch that allowed alternating colors to shine on you as you washed. Gotta wonder what they were thinking when they put that in…

Okay…yeah…just–stop…

And the shelf–across the mirror–was exactly the right height so that I couldn’t see my face. Not that I really cared, but other short people might be put out.

One of the most wonderful things about where we were staying was the wealth of restaurants on (and in) the street below us. Every establishment has its tables on the (very wide) sidewalks, and there is no end to the variety.

   

We had dinner no more than twenty feet from the front door of our hotel! Nice bottle of chianti, a bit of dinner, and we were off exploring again.

We went to the other end of the street, where we were able to take pictures of the lit exterior of Santa Maria Maggiore. Looks like it’s being renovated, so we didn’t get to see the inside. The outside itself was fantastic in and of itself though.

What surprised, and somewhat scared me, was the presence of the militia in full uniform, weapons at the ready.

Sorry to see that. The military presence is everywhere–something we didn’t see two years ago.

This was the extent of our exploration for the day. We were really tired, and sleep came easily that night.

Tomorrow–the Vatican Museum, and some very un-Christian behavior on the Metro underground.

 

 

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