Travel Journal – Italy, Part Two


Oct. 3, 2007  POMPEII

The Forum at Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius in the background.

The Forum at Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius in the background.

For the first time, we got up without a plan, wandered into town, and ended up at the train station with a ticket to Pompeii. There is a small train system that runs from Sorrento to Naples and points in between, very easy to use. The trains are covered with graffiti, though, and no one seems to mind. These are rattletrap train cars unlike the first-class coaches we had been riding on, but they serve the purpose.

We got off at Pompeii – could we really, truly be here? I’ve wanted to see Pompeii since I first heard of it as a child. Probably everyone has – who can resist a city devastated by a volcanic eruption? Mt. Vesuvius, by the way, is the only active volcano in Europe, but hasn’t erupted since 1944.

It was almost noon and we knew we needed a long time to tour the ruins, so we stopped for a panini outside the entrance. It was a very attractive café, and again, the food was surprisingly good. Finally, we were ready to enter.

Pompeii was a thriving city since at least the 6th century B.C. It was invaded several times and when the Romans helped defend it, it became an allied city with Rome. There were more wars, and then in 80 B.C. it became a Roman city.

In A.D. 62 an earthquake badly damaged the city. By A.D. 79, the damage had not been repaired completely when the volcano erupted. The whole city was buried under ash and cinders although it seems that all but about 2,000 of the 20,000 inhabitants escaped. Pliny the Younger left a written record about the actions of his father Pliny the Elder, who commanded the Roman fleet at the time and aided in the rescue. The nearby town of Herculaneum was overflown by mud flows and completely devastated but better preserved.

In 1594, an architect, Domenico Fotana, cut a channel for the Sarno River and came across the buried city. Nothing else happened at that time, but in 1748 the King of Naples started excavations. The only interest was in art objects and the ruins were often reburied. But as interests changed, an effort was made to preserve everything and give a complete picture of life at that time. And that brings us to our visit.

We entered through the Porta Marina, a gate dating from the 2nd century B.C. We could hardly believe it. I hadn’t realized how big the excavation is – 45 of the 66 hectares have been excavated. It is also incredible how you can piece together life at the time without knowing anything, just by studying the site.

The walls inside the baths were so beautiful and elaborate.

The walls inside the baths were so beautiful and elaborate.

Water sources were regularly placed for use of the citizens. Rome is of course famous for its water system. In Pompeii there were three systems and in a water shortage the first to be cut was the public baths, then the private homes, and last of all, the public fountains. There were numerous “restaurants” – buildings with counters that had big holes for pots to sit in. There were well laid-out streets, two theaters, a huge amphitheater, and public areas like parks, even with swimming pools. And the public baths, where no differentiation was made between women and men or where it was, depending on which bath and who you ask. In the fancy baths, the Terme del Foro, clients went into a gymnasium where there was a changing room with niches like lockers, then a warm bath, the tepidarium, where they could get a massage, progressing into the caldarium for hot water. They had fluted ribbing on the walls to carry drips from condensation so water wouldn’t drip onto the floor. Then in the frigidarium, there was a huge marble basin in which people cooled off.

The forum was a huge public space where the government buildings were. Rome had a very democratic and people-centered government, at least until Julius Caesar decided he should be an emperor. There are also many temples to Venus, Apollo, etc., so there is a mixture of Greek and Roman civilizations.

We saw too much to describe here. There was much tile work preserved, mosaic floors, frescos, even writing and business signs on buildings. Many buildings had lush courtyards and fountains, but apparently residents were mixed and there wasn’t a wealthy section per say.

The first fast-food restaurants?  These were all over Pompeii.  The recessed areas held big pots.

The first fast-food restaurants? These were all over Pompeii. The recessed areas held big pots.

The amphitheater and theater designs were so excellent that we still use the same formats today. The amphitheater in Pompeii is one of the oldest and best preserved in existence. If I understand correctly, a riot broke out during a gladiator battle between Pompeii and another city in 59 A.D., and as a result things were canceled for the next 10 years. I don’t know if that means everything, or just between the two cities.

We spent almost four hours and didn’t see everything. The weather was beautiful, clear and not too hot. We were pretty exhilarated by what we had seen, but tired, so we stopped at a supermarket on the way to the hotel and bought food for dinner. And that was a great day.

Nov. 4, 2007  SORRENTO

Today we decided to relax and walk around the town. We were beginning to enjoy Sorrento, now that the bad traffic episode was over – everyone leaves town on Friday afternoons I guess, just like in America.

We thought we would bring some books, sit in a city square or by the ocean and read, but we were diverted by a parade. Nov. 4 is Italian Veteran’s Day, and there was a local parade down the main street with a band and different groups of veterans. Then there was a wreath-laying at the War Memorial and some speeches, the singing of the Italian national anthem, and so on. It was fascinating.

Veteran's Day Parade down the main street of Sorrento

Veteran's Day Parade down the main street of Sorrento

Then the promenade. I guess after church on Sunday people promenade. The main street was filled with people, families, kids, babies in buggies, strolling up and down the streets – slowly! And in the streets. I mean the streets were chock full of people. Somehow when cars came through, or busses, people just moved out of the way and then back into the street.

Look at this cute little guy who walked in the Veteran's Day parade

Look at this cute little guy who walked in the Veteran's Day parade

We browsed some shops, walked through a lemon grove – Sorrento is lemon country – and had a lunch that put us into food heaven. Il Buco, in the basement of an old monastery, is a beautiful, subtle and perfect restaurant. The kind where the service is perfect and no one has to be snobby about anything. Of course it was also an expensive restaurant, but our lunch was only 102 euros (ok, so that’s way over $100) but it was a splurge well worth it. We don’t mind spending for something worthwhile and this lunch will be remembered. A fabulous wine, wonderful dessert, and everything in between was fresh and perfectly prepared. We rolled back to the hotel (we were a lot fuller than we realized) and now Mark is taking a nap, I am writing this, and then we will prepare for Rome tomorrow. Our luggage has expanded but thanks to Rick Steves we had two extra suitcases – official Rick Steve’s suitcases that fold up into a little pocket sized thing.

Sorrento is lemon country!  We discovered Limoncello.  Yum.

Sorrento is lemon country! We discovered Limoncello. Yum.

General observations about Italy in no particular order:

As in France, checkers at supermarkets sit at the checkout, and people are expected to bring their own bags.

People in general seem to be better dressed than in the U.S. – you don’t see kids in baseball caps, jeans are stylish, nothing is baggy or hanging down, and while the woman are in jeans, they are stylish, wear boots or nice shoes, jewelry – generally it’s casual but not Bakersfield casual.

Although the transportation system can seem chaotic, it’s not really. The roads are well maintained, even the small country roads, the Italians understand the sign marking system, and the autostrada works for them.

The charges on the autostrada depend on the time you take from one point to the next, but speed is controlled also. It’s just a way to keep slow cars off and keep things moving.

We haven’t seen one accident anywhere.

Scooters and motorcycles are a primary mode of transportation, and they zoom in and out of the cars, dodge pedestrians and busses, but everyone seems to understand the system. I think the bicyclists have lots of courage, though.

And lots of very small cars, also.

And lots of very small cars, also.

And there are lots of bikes with people of all ages riding them. Lots of what look like biking clubs also.

Walk, walk, walk. People walk everywhere. Few elevators, at least in older buildings.

We haven’t seen any fat people – not even the stereotypical Italian mother making spaghetti sauce.

The food is uniformly good, even at street stands. Probably because it is simple and fresh. But in a tourist place like on Il Campo, you can expect not such great food at too high prices.

The prunes we bought in the supermarket were from California.

We have developed a taste for gassy water – frizzante.

Laundry hangs from buildings everywhere and it doesn’t look messy, it looks interesting.

People seem to have a bit of a drink at lunch and wine at night.

In the best restaurant we were in, Il Buco in Sorrento, everyone was given a free glass of a sparkling wine, complements of Peppe, the chef – even the kids. They were given smaller amounts.

People eat lunch late and dinner late. Restaurants don’t open for dinner until 7:30.

I’m sure Roma and Milano are different, but people don’t seem rushed. They seem to be having a good time strolling around and chatting.

We discovered Limoncello and have bought two bottles already – to drink. It’s a very sweet, lemon-flavored aperitif. We love it.

Although the conductor checked our tickets on the trains we took first-class, no one else seems to check tickets. Not on the vaporettos, public busses, or the trains between Sorrento and Naples. I guess there are stiff fines when you are caught without a ticket. We rode a bus without a ticket because we weren’t sure how to get one!

Police seem to manage things, but not enforce. There are many fewer regulations about everything than in the U.S. It’s actually rather refreshing.

Church bells ring everywhere all the time and it’s nice.

We are loving Italy. At first, I wasn’t sure, but as we’ve been here almost three weeks, the country grows on you. It’s a little less formal and more outgoing than France, and I could live here. But not Sorrento or Florence.

Nov. 5 – 9, 2007  ROME

I take it back. Compared to Rome, I could live in Sorrento or Florence.

We got up so early today to take the bus to Rome. We had turned in the car and decided that a train involving a transfer in Napoli was too much trouble – switching baggage, etc. So we had a taxi to the train station where we caught a bus and had a problem-free trip to Rome. And after a taxi to the Hotel Aberdeen, we had reached our last stop. This hotel is ok but the bathroom is so cramped. It’s ok – it works. And the two beds are little. For sure, they are smaller than normal twin beds and most of the night I was conscious of feeling as though I shouldn’t fall off a cliff. But we slept well.

The main mission of the day – the private tour of the Sistine Chapel. In the afternoon we headed out to St. Peter’s Square and Basilica. The place is just huge. I mean, it’s so big and full of concrete – nothing green – that I found it very impersonal and oppressive. But It’s impressive also, and I guess that’s the point.

St. Peter's Square

St. Peter's Square

Here’s some perspective on it. The square was designed by Bernini. It has 284 columns that are 56 feet high. On top of the columns are 140 saints, ten feet tall each. And the square is 660 by 500 feet. Oh, it’s not a square – it’s an ellipse. In the center is a 90-foot-tall granite obelisk weighing 300 tons. It was originally erected in Egypt over 2,000 years ago, but the Emperor Caligula had it moved to Rome. Can you imagine the ship it took to move that thing, and all the workers and slaves?

We went into St. Peter’s Basilica. Here is where the statistics are unbelievable. The church is two football fields long and covers six acres. The lettering in a gold band on top of the columns is seven feet high! They’ve done some tricky things. For example, a statue on the bottom of the column will be 15 feet tall, and the statue at the top of the column, which is six feet taller than that at the bottom, seems the same size so the church seems more intimate. If you could call it anything close to intimate, which you can’t.

This was all explained so well in Rick Steves’ guide.

Also, the dome is higher than a football field – 430 feet from the cathedral’s floor. But the dome seems smaller because a huge bronze canopy over the altar is taller than a seven-story building.

The whole thing is marble and mosaic, stucco and gold. And columns of stone. Michelangelo designed the dome. When he died at age 89, he’d only completed part of the dome, but it was finished according to his designs. Michelangelo actually lived in the dome while he was constructing it. Here’s some dome information. Florence wanted a dome that was inspired by the Pantheon, but they didn’t know how to do it, so they just left the hole. Eventually, when they could complete the dome, it served as the inspiration for St. Peter’s dome. By the way, it is interesting that the population of Rome had been over 1 million before 300 AD, but when Michelangelo was there, the population was only 45,000. Dome de dome dome.

The bones of St. Peter are under the altar 23 feet down. Are they really his bones? According to Rick, a papal pronouncement came up with a definite maybe.

The best thing for me about the basilica was Michelangelo’s Pieta. Unfortunately it can’t be seen up close because of the attack on it in 1972. It’s now behind bulletproof glass.

The Pieta, the only work Michelangelo "signed" - it's on the sash.

The Pieta, the only work Michelangelo "signed" - it's on the sash.

After the wonderful intimacy of the St. Francis of Assisi cathedral, the beautiful duomo in Sienna, and the equally beautiful one in Orvieto, it was hard to connect with something as large and “sterile” at St. Peter’s. But we’re glad we saw it.

And now for the best part: we paid for an exclusive after-hours tour of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. They are not conducted very often and the 5th was the only date available anywhere near our visit. Thus, Rome was last. But I’ve wanted to see this chapel since I was a young kid and had a first awareness of it.

We met in front of the Vatican Museum. There were 20 people – many of whom read about the tour in the L.A. Times, which is where I read about it. An attorney from Washington D.C. was there and said many people there wait years for a chance at an after-hours tour and schedule vacations around it. Anyhow, we were divided into three groups, each with an expert guide. We were the lucky group – we got the most time in the Chapel itself.

First, the museum. The museum started as the home of the Renaissance popes. After the fall of Rome, the Catholic Church began collecting art, and they basically took what they wanted from wherever, and used it as furniture and decoration for their palaces. From Egypt to the Renaissance, it’s here. We saw some wonderful tapestries and sphinxes, but we concentrated on the Rafael Rooms. To really see the entire museum and to look at what you are walking by takes years – few people there have been through the entire thing.

Rafael decorated these rooms, which were the living quarters of the Renaissance popes. Can you imagine? We learned so many interesting things about the paintings and I can’t recount them all, but there is one particularly interesting bit. In The School of Athens, a famous painting, Rafael paid homage to all the thinkers and scientists of ancient Greece – Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euclid. But Plato was pictured as da Vinci, which was supposed to show that Renaissance thinkers were equal to those on ancient Greece. Rafael put himself in the painting, and Euclid is represented by the architect Bramante who designed St. Peters.

At the same time Rafael was painting his rooms, Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel (frescos, actually) and Rafael marveled at his powerful figures. Michelangelo understood the human body because he had dissected and studied cadavers, which could have cost him his life as it was contrary to the Christian religion. Rafael wanted to “beef up” his figures because he recognized how much better M’s were, but to do so without somehow giving “homage” to the master could have cost him his life. It sounds a bit like plagiarizing. So to solve this, he added one more person to the painting – Michelangelo with a block of marble!

One interesting item in the Vatican Museum is a bust of Nero – maybe the only existing. I guess that if someone disgraced himself or was banished, so were any references to that person! They disappear – poof! In the Capitol Hill Museum, we were to see a picture of I think Marcus Aurelius in a chariot and his son used to be in the chariot, but after being banished, he was also taken out of the picture.

My husband Mark in the Sistine Chapel - notice the lack of other people!

My husband Mark in the Sistine Chapel - notice the lack of other people!

And now to the Sistine Chapel. It is so beautiful, so moving, but especially it’s art without compare. It moved me to tears just contemplating the sheer mastery of Michelangelo. The figures are so alive – the one we all know of God giving life to man is so magnificent in the original. I’m not really going to say more about that because I could rave on like a lunatic; it was enough to stay in that chapel with only 20 other people for over an hour, and look. We did learn some things we didn’t know before. For example, on the God giving life to man, the “thing” God is in is a placenta shaped like the cross-section of the human brain. This shows that God’s gift was intelligence. The blue streamer coming from it is thought to be the umbilical cord. Since Michelangelo had studied the body, he knew what the brain looked like. And in Adam’s knee and lower leg, you can see the shape of a woman – the breasts and the torso. Amazing. And the apple tree is a fig tree in the serpent section.

Michelangelo embedded many messages in the ceiling, including letters of the Hebrew alphabet, pagan symbols, and of course his women looking a bit like men in body as a testament to his homosexuality. There is a book coming out in 2008 that will describe much of this, and our guide, who works and studies at the Vatican Museum, described what it was like listening to the assemblages of art historians, artists, rabbis, priests, etc. debating all these things.

What it came down to was this: Michelangelo had the skinny on Pope Julius II. He knew Julius had syphilis and had fathered a child. Because of this, Julius didn’t dare put too many restrictions on what Michelangelo frescoed.

Twenty-three years later Michelangelo came back to do The Last Judgment, the absolutely indescribable fresco on the back wall of the chapel. Some years later, after Michelangelo was dead, the church modified this fresco by covering up the genitals of the figures they could reach. Luckily they weren’t able to touch the ceiling because they were not able to reconstruct the scaffolding that Michelangelo had had to invent.

To know that I was there and took this photo myself still overwhelms me.

To know that I was there and took this photo myself still overwhelms me.

What else to say? We were overwhelmed and overcome.

And after the tour, we went to the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square to wait for Shari Fortino, a good friend from Bakersfield who is in Rome visiting her daughter Christeal, who is studying here for four months. Christeal was the flower girl at Jennifer’s wedding.

We hardly have time to see each other in Bakersfield – we had to come to Rome to do it! We met up with Christeal and went to a restaurant in the Trastevere neighborhood, which was a fun place to walk around in. Less touristy and more youth oriented. We ate at Hostola Comenic or something like that. I’m pretty sure that is actually quite wrong. But it was fun! Christeal is young and blond and pretty, and the waiter took every opportunity to flirt with her all night, which gave her a chance to practice her Italian. And upstairs, where we sat, was full of Italian families and men, and at one time an older man (really older – 80?) got up and did a tap dance! We had good food and a good Montepulciano wine and good fun.

Me in the center with Shari, left and Christeal, right.

Me in the center with Shari, left and Christeal, right.

Leaving the restaurant, we wondered about the flashing, fast stream of police motorcycles going around and around as if creating a drag net. It was a bit disconcerting, actually. But we got back to the hotel – late, but happy, and slept well.

Tuesday in Rome

We walked to the Colosseum. We all know what it looks like, but it wasn’t the big thrill that seeing David was. Mainly I think because this imposing structure is in the middle of a big, built up city now, with traffic zooming all around, restoration going on, and you don’t get to capture the feeling. But no complaints – we were here.

Unbelievable - the Colesseum in person!

Unbelievable - the Colesseum in person!

There are lots of guides around asking if people want tours, and I said to Mark we were having a tour – I was tired of reading things aloud from the book, then looking up, etc. This turned out to be a very smart move. The women who led our group made the history come alive and she knew so much about ancient Roman life as well as the structure itself. This was one bloody facility! We enjoyed the tour and she said we should all come back at two because “Jay” would lead a tour of Palatine Hill and the Forum at no extra cost. So come back we did. “Jay” was an incredibly knowledgeable young man about all things historical during any time period in Rome. The tour he gave us was lively and interesting.

Michelangelo's Moses at St. Peters in Chains

Michelangelo's Moses at St. Peters in Chains

Between the Colosseum and Palatine Hill, we slipped over to St. Peter in Chains. The main attraction there is the Michelangelo sculpture of Moses. Without that and the chains that bound Peter, this church wouldn’t be worth a look. I wonder how Moses got in there. Anyway, it’s another astounding and powerful Michelangelo sculpture. Moses looks like he has horns – the Hebrew word for “rays of light” had been mistranslated as “horns.” It’s thought that Michelangelo knew the real translation but wanted to give Moses some oomph. Or, as the Sistine Chapel expert told us, Moses was intended to be placed much higher in setting, and rays of light could emanate from the horns, sort of giving it another dual Michelangelo message.

Palatine Hill

Palatine Hill

Palatine Hill is now a conglomeration of ruins, restorations, and construction from the Roman Empire through the Renaissance and the early 20th century. While Mussolini wasn’t good for much, I guess he was good for Roman antiquity because he was interested in preserving the structures of history.

Looking down at the Forum in Rome

Looking down at the Forum in Rome

We walked almost all day and were tired so we came back to rest. Tonight we are going to an opera concert at a church a couple of doors down from our hotel. Shari is coming to our room first and we will have some limoncello, our new favorite drink.

Note of interest: while we were walking today, some police motorcycles zoomed by, lights flashing, followed by military cars full of soldiers with drawn guns. Back in the room, we saw on CNN that many terrorist suspects had been arrested today, including 11 in Italy! Maybe what we saw last night had something to do with that also. Even though no arrests were made in Roma, who knows?

Another note: dinner at McDonalds. They have fantastic shrimp and little empanada-type things.

We finished up the night with an opera concert at Chiesa di San Paolo, conveniently right near our hotel. It was a perfect program – not too long, enjoyable, a fine orchestra and singers. The acoustics in this church were truly amazing.

Wednesday in Rome

Today needed to be more leisurely. Sleeping is getting harder and we are getting more tired. But Rome is growing on us and we are actually finding our way around. Lots and lots of walking, which we are enjoying.

This morning we set out for the Pantheon. Rick says that this is perhaps the most influential building in art history. The dome was the model for the dome in Florence, done by Brunelleschi, which launched the Renaissance and also the model for Michelangelo’s dome of St. Peters.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon

The light source for the Pantheon is an oculus 30 feet across at the top. It’s open, so when it rains the water comes into the structure and then drains out the slanted floor and little holes here and there. The floor is 1,800 years old. Almost everything in the Pantheon is original, and the only reason it survived the Dark Ages was that it had become a Christian church. It started as a temple for all religions – pan meaning all, and theos meaning god, or religion, and if Christianity hadn’t been incorporated, it would have been cannibalized. The only damage this building has suffered was in the 17th century when the pope took the bronze plating from the entry ceiling and used it at St. Peters.

Fabulous gelateria near the Pantheon.  This was one of the settings in the Audrey Hepburn/Cary Grant movie Roman Holiday.

Fabulous gelateria near the Pantheon. This was one of the settings in the Audrey Hepburn/Cary Grant movie Roman Holiday.

There are a few tombs inside: Rafael, and two Italian kings.

We did stop at a Gelateria near the Pantheon that Rick mentioned, and it had more flavors than I knew existed. It’s the best gelato we’ve had yet. I got two scoops – honey and sesame flavor – fabulous – and mascarpone.

We hit a number of churches in the area. In the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, we were trying to find a chapel decorated by Caravaggio, but we’re not sure we got it right. Signage is sometimes in English but usually only in Italian.

The Gesu Church was quite exciting. Rick says it is the best symbol of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. This structure was at the cusp of baroque and it was something we’ve never seen before. The painted bodies and objects on the ceiling are mixed with stucco 3-D bodies and so the figures seem to escape the confines of the “frames” right into the sky.

The Gesu Church was incredibly exciting.

The Gesu Church was incredibly exciting.

More bodies here – St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier. This is the church Bernini attended. Next church was Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. There is an Egyptian obelisk outside on a Baroque elephant and the church is Gothic. It’s build over (sopra) a pre-Christian, pagan temple of Minerva. It’s the only true Gothic church in Rome.

We had already seen St. Catherine’s head in Sienna, but her body is here. This is also where Galileo prayed at the altar before his Inquisition in the Sopra Minerva monastery. He had to renounce his belief that the earth revolved around the sun. There is a Michelangelo statue here, Christ Bearing the Cross, and this is the most buff Christ I’ve ever seen. Michelangelo left the face to someone else to complete. And Christ was naked, but during the Counter-Reformation, someone added a golden girdle to cover his privates. Fra Angelica’s tomb is here also, so I’m confused between the Fra Angelica here and the one in Assisi. Of course, there could be two people with the same name. A very real possibility is I have some names wrong by a letter or two.

We stopped at the Church of St. Ignazio, and an interesting thing there is that the dome is flat – the illusion of a dome is created by painting. I guess they ran out of money or something.

The headquarters of the Carabinieri Police are outside this church and there were police stationed all over. In fact, the route we walked must have contained all the offices of the government because there were police and guards everywhere. Some streets were blocked off and it was clear someone important was going to be coming down the street, so we waited a while and finally left. Maybe the King of Saudi Arabia, who is in town? The street closure caused a massive backup of traffic and busses; in fact, all the busses were letting passengers off at the end of the street and masses of pedestrians kept coming down.

Romulus and Remus, with the She-Wolf

Romulus and Remus, with the She-Wolf

We were up for one more visit so we went to the Capitol Hill Museum. We know we are skipping the Borghese and the National Gallery of Rome but there were a couple of things in the Capitol Hill Museum we really wanted to see. One is the statue of the She Wolf suckling the twins Romulus and Remus, the symbol of Rome. This statue dates from the Etruscan era, 5th century B.C. The other was the large equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, the emperor and philosopher. When I was studying philosophy I liked the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, so I was anxious to see what is supposed to be the greatest equestrian statue of antiquity. The only reason this even exists today is that while the Christians were destroying pagan statues, they thought it was a statue of Constantine, the emperor who allowed Christianity to take root in Rome, so they didn’t destroy it! Also noteworthy in this museum was a Bernini bust of Medusa. Mark thinks it looks a bit like Jim Morrison.

Bernini's Medusa, who my husband thought looked like Jim Morrison

Bernini's Medusa, who my husband thought looked like Jim Morrison

This museum was very nicely laid out and easy to understand. It includes also the ruins of an ancient Temple of Jupiter. This temple was called the capitolium, thus the name Capitol Hill for the museum and area. Every Roman town had a copy of the capitolium.

We ate lunch in the museum overlooking the city and its many domes, and walked back to the hotel. Mark took a nap and I worked on this journal, and then we walked to the Spanish Steps and met Shari for dinner. We ate at Il Gabriello near the Spanish Steps and it was excellent – very simple, clean flavors, well prepared. After dinner we took a cab back to the hotel, and the cab driver wanted to know where we ate, what we thought of the food, and he talked lots about food. He considers himself a gourmand. He obviously spoke good English since we speak no Italian. He’s the first cab driver we’ve had who wants to talk!

Now Mark is asleep and I’ll try to plot out tomorrow. We are liking Rome more and more. But it’s way too noisy.

Thursday in Rome

Today was the day for roaming, seeking out fountains and piazzas. But we started with the Baths of Diocletian, which is right near our hotel. These baths were remodeled around 1561, the redesign by Michelangelo partially (that guy sure got around), into the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. When they were baths, they covered over 10 acres and could accommodate 3,000 bathers.

The transept of the church, which is as big as a football field and seven stories tall, used to be the central hall of the baths. There are criss-cross arches in the ceiling, and that design was unable to be repeated for over 1,000 years. There are eight original red granite columns from ancient Rome.

The baths were open to all citizens and cost hardly anything. Apparently Romans bathed once a day, and the baths also had health clubs, libraries, shops, bars, brothels – something for your every need. Bathing was only coed during Nero’s reign.

The really interesting thing here is a brass rod which is embedded in the floor. It’s a meridian and points north and it acts as a sundial. There is a hole in the wall high up that lets in the beam of light. This rod also served as a calendar and the sun would travel up the rod through the signs of the zodiac. This meridian, because it was so large, was able to help people predict Easter and other holidays years in advance.

The Meridian in the Baths of Diocletian

The Meridian in the Baths of Diocletian

The baths were one of the last great structures build before the fall of Rome. Parts of the original 18-foot wall still stand.

So after our only official “sight” we headed off to the Trevi Fountain. Last night we spent time at the Spanish Steps, so Trevi was on schedule for today. I know we should see it at night, but we just aren’t going to! It is a pretty amazing fountain. It was constructed in 1762 under the orders of a pope who was celebrating the opening of an ancient aqueduct. It’s build against a palace which serves as the back wall. The fountain represents “Ocean” – water in every form. The water goes underground from this fountain and comes up again in Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain.

Me at the Trevi Fountain

Me at the Trevi Fountain

We went through the Piazza Colonna which has a second-century column honoring Marcus Aurelius. We walked down the Via del Corso to look at shops. That street is named for Berber horse races that took place there until the 1880s. The thing about the races is the horses were riderless, and after a horse trampled a man to death in front of a queen, they were stopped.

There are obelisks everywhere – Rome has 13. I don’t know if we saw all thirteen or saw the same ones over and over. A couple of them are ancient Roman copies of Egyptian obelisks. The Romans like copying others – especially Greek statues, which they greatly admired.

One of the many obelisks in Rome

One of the many obelisks in Rome

We went to Bernini’s famous Four Rivers Fountain at the Piazza Navona, but it is under rehab and mostly fenced. We could see through some plastic panels, but couldn’t appreciate the fountain. There is an obelisk in the fountain and we could see that.

So we ate at a restaurant full of Italians in a hurry near the Pantheon and headed back to the hotel. We have had it. We are done with Rome. We packed and are now just waiting to have dinner at an Irish Pub – really. Rick says we’ll see more Italians there than anywhere! So why not?

Note on pub: terrible idea. A step above Chef Boyardee. But our attitude at that time was: whatever.

Tomorrow to the airport for the grueling trip home. But how can we complain? We have had the most amazing trip, seeing such sights and making history come alive. Everything about it was great and we wouldn’t change a thing.

Friday, Nov. 9 – The trip home

Smooth trip, but one last encounter with Italy that could have messed things up. We had our taxi there at 7 – could have gotten to airport much cheaper but would have meant hauling suitcases, taking bus, transferring, etc. We were glad we made that decision! As we drove off in the cab, some guests were still waiting for their busses. Oops! There was a metro and a bus strike. We really don’t understand these strikes that are called suddenly for defined time periods.

So to the airport in the taxi, through check in, all smooth, with our flight due to take off at 10. Then the announcement airport-wide: There will be a strike at 10, lasting eight hours. Expect delays. Our plane was able to take off – what a relief, and all the flights were on time and smooth. We got home to Bako with all our luggage, went to bed, and are happy to be home.

You can see just a fraction of the pictures of Italy here.

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