04 June 2010

...Do as the Romans

Day Two was busy! We were up and out of the hotel by 8 a.m. and on the way to tour the Colosseum. While the architecture wasn't as glorious as what the Greek's produced, the engineering is a marvel. Taking two amphitheaters and putting them together to create the first arena, with a cover on top (domed arena), pulleys and elevators to bring animals and gladiators, and prisoners to the surface for battles of "sport," and the ability to seat 50,000 people who could all get out of the building at the end of the day within 15 minutes. Anyone who has sat in post-game traffic can appreciate that fete.

We then headed over to the Arch of Constantine and on to the Roman Forum. Lisa called the Forum the "Pit of Death" after she returned from visiting Rome in June several years ago. We were there on a lovely spring day with highs in the low 70's, but the lack of any shade and being in a bowl several feet below street level did make me appreciate how horrible it must have been for her and her companions. It was amazing to see the Rostrum, or "Speaker's Corner," and the Temple of Julius Caesar, where his body was cremated, along with the House of the Vestal Virgins and the remains of several other temples, but it was the Curia, or Roman Senate, that made this political geek's heart soar. I mean, here, in this spot, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Brutus, and Augustus, among so many others we know, debated, deliberated, and in many cases, plotted to overthrow by one means or another. Here also was the beginnings of a republican (little "R") form of government. I was overwhelmed again.

Next we were supposed to head to the Pantheon, stopping on the way to see a Michelangelo and a Bernini, not to mention getting a bite to eat. However, I decided to let Mom do a little of the guiding, and so handed over the map once we were in front of the Victor Emmanuel Monument, ready for her to take us a few blocks northwest. We headed down a quaint little roadway, farther south than I thought was necessary, but she was in charge. It was so lovely to walk through some back streets where you didn't worry about the traffic running you over. We enjoyed some street music, while still wandering back streets, and then we turned a corner and I knew exactly where we were. We were in the ghetto. Mom was horrified, quickly looking up from the map, thinking we were going to be mugged any moment. But it was a perfectly good neighborhood, and not what Americans think of when we use the word "ghetto." I meant the original meaning of the word. The Jewish Ghetto, that is. Every deli and restaurant sign declared Kosher food. It was fun to see, but having studied the map for a long time, I knew we were also several blocks south of where we wanted to be. That was the end of Mom's time as tour guide.
Finally we wound our way north and found some lunch, and some gelato. We also finally saw Bernini's elephant, which stole Mom's heart, along with our first of many Michelangelo's.

Then we were at the Pantheon. The oldest, continually used building in Rome. Originally a temple, turned into a Christian church, and the burial place of Raphael and two of Italy's first kings, it is another engineering marvel. And it was just lovely inside, lit up by the ocular "eye in the sky." We listened to a RS audioguide and enjoyed the cool air.
Afterwards we moved on to Piazza Navona, where we had an early dinner and enjoyed the Four Rivers Fountain and street art. We were still feeling pretty good, even after a long day of playing tourist, so we decided to try to follow Rick Steves's Night Walk Across Rome, from the Campo de Fiori to the Spanish Steps. We backtracked a bit, as Piazza Navona was the third stop on the walking tour, and visited the statue of the heretic Bruno, along with the remains of the old Pompey Theater, which was where Julius Caesar was assassinated while the Senate rented space in the building. We moved on through Piazza Navona and back to the Pantheon, where we ran into the beginning act of a mime. He was so good that we stayed and watched him for 45 minutes, by which time no one was willing to walk through the circle of spectators ringing around him for fear of unwittingly becoming part of the show.

We continued on, getting more gelato along the way and finally, finally making it as far as the Trevi Fountain, after a little confusion as to where we were. By that time the 13 hour day and the many miles walked were beginning to wear on us. We decided the Spanish Steps could wait for a different day, and Mom "encouraged" the idea of a taxi, which we gladly took back to our little hotel by the Colosseum.

This was the one and only day on our trip where we did not take a break from morning until night. We felt so good after a full night's sleep and we were so excited to be in Rome and with so much to see that we just kept going. And were exhausted by the end of the day. From then on, we spent just a little time every afternoon taking a break in our hotel room. All in all, I think there were only a few minor places that I had on our ambitious itinerary that we didn't get to, and the rest was well worth it. After all, I certainly intend to go back!

03 June 2010

When in Rome...

At the end of April Mom and I hopped on a plane bound for Italy. Rome, Florence, and Venice to be exact. While I've been all over North America, this was my first "overseas" trip. And even though my mom was an experienced traveller, I was the one completely in charge. I used the Rick Steves Italy 2010 guidebook and his podcasts of audioguides for major sites in all three cities. I cannot recommend these books highly enough - Rick never once led us astray, and his tips truly made the trip more enjoyable and efficient. His books will be my go-to guides for all of my future trips to Europe.

Things I learned along the way:
  • I don't function well without sleep, and I rarely if ever sleep on planes. I actually knew this about myself, but man, oh man, was I aware of these flaws by the time the plane landed in Rome at 8 a.m. and I had been up for over 24 hours.

  • Taking a short nap will not kill your ability to adjust to the jet lag. We wandered around the neighborhood of our hotel and had lunch while mostly comatose, killing time while we were waiting for our hotel room to be ready. Then we took a 2 hour nap, got up and out, and were still able to sleep soundly that night. After that the time zone felt completely normal.

  • IKEA is everywhere:

Our hotel was literally around the corner from the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Even though we didn't visit these sites until the next day, it was just amazing to see that much history. Nine days later I was still overwhelmed by it all.

We mainly wandered around the Colosseum, Piazza Venezia, and the Capitoline District that first afternoon and evening, not straying too far from "home base."

Piazza Venezia is home to the Victor Emmanuel Monument, which is what I'm 'holding up' here. While Romans apparently deride this monument by dubbing it the "wedding cake", "typewriter", or "dentures", it did serve as a great landmark because it's basically in the center of the city. The Colosseum, Forum, and Capitoline Hill are just south, the shopping district with the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain are to the north, the Pantheon is just the the west, with Vatican City being further west past the Tiber River, and the National Museum and train station are to the east.

So far I've uploaded 624 pictures from the trip to my Flickr page, and am slowly going through and identifying them all. However, there are probably another 200 or so that I still have to upload to my Rome set, as we were there for over 4 days and I've only uploaded pictures 2 1/2 so far! I'm going to pick out a few favorites from each day to blog about, more as a reminder to me than anything else. Feel free to enjoy these few snapshots, or take the much longer trip through my Flickr account.