Italy and Austria 2017: Day 6 — Pompeii

This was a day long trip. We had to arrive at our departure point at 7:30 in the morning. Luckily, it was a quick two-stop trip on the Metro and a short walk. The day was cool as we started out, and our bus was so air conditioned that I was actually cold.

Pompeii is just outside Naples, and it was nice to get out of the city to get a glimpse of the Italian countryside between Rome and Naples. Alone the way, nestled in one of the hills we got a glimpse of Monte Cassino, site of a monastery and some fighting during World War II. We also saw a famous palace (which I forgot the name of because I didn’t write it down). Both Thing 2 and I got a bit of sleep on the ride. After about an hour and a half, we stopped at an Italian rest stop. The unfortunate thing was that a bunch of other tour busses stopped at the same rest stop, so a mass of humanity was at the café inside trying to purchase small pastries, coffee, and use the restroom. Thing 2 and I bypassed the restroom in favor of sweets (since we hadn’t had breakfast before we got on the bus). We scarfed down our food, got back on the bus, and within an hour, we were in Naples.

Naples is . . . not so pretty. I found it rather trashy looking, actually. It is made up of lots and lots of apartment buildings of about six to seven stories each. In nearly every window, washing was hanging out to dry in the sun. It is also very hilly. Our driver, Mario, navigated us through the scenic, hilly part of town to show us the coast. We stopped to take in a very picturesque view of the Mediterranean with Mt. Vesuvius in the distant background. Of course, I took Thing 2’s picture there. We also stopped for lunch in Naples before moving on to explore Pompeii in the afternoon heat. Our lunch consisted of a penne pasta in a red sauce (first course) and then some thin steak with mozzarella cheese (second course). [Italian menus follow the same pattern in that “antipasto” is listed, then first courses (which is pastas), then second courses (meats, chicken, and fish dishes), then sides like broccoli or potatoes, then desserts.] In Naples, we were also joined by the man who would be narrating our tour through Pompeii. He is currently a working archaeologist and has helped to excavate a lot of Pompeii with his students. He has been working around Pompeii for nearly twenty years, so he totally knew his stuff. [That has been the best thing about our tours: they’ve all been narrated by working art historians and archaeologists.]

We lucked out in that Pompeii wasn’t as hot as I expected it to be, largely because we were near the coast and there was a nice breeze. It was dirty and dusty, though, and I felt pretty grimy by the end of the day. It was pretty thrilling to walk through streets and see the original paving stones — some even with the ruts of Roman cartwheels still in them. We also saw some original Roman lead piping leading in and out of some of the houses and businesses. Our guide (Fabiano) told us how to distinguish between the ruins of a business versus a home in Pompeii. Houses had marble entrance stones; businesses had regular grey sandstone entrances, with grooves in the stone where a shop door would have once fit. We got see a house of prostitution, and a bakery. (Archaeologists have excavated 25 houses of prostitution and 44 bakeries. The house of prostitution even still had a few of the racy frescoes still on the wall. It also had a toilet.) We were able to also see the “House of the Fawn,” named because of the fawn statue in the entryway of the home. It was the house of a wealthy citizen because it had six rooms, two atria, a garden, plus a garden after that garden, its own kitchen, and a huge entryway. It even had a Latin mosaic greeting in place of a modern-day doormat, which translated to “Welcome.” In another doorway we saw the very famous mosaic floor depicting a dog and the words “cave canum” which means, “Beware of dog!” Pompeii also had a very preserved Roman bath, complete with steam room, original mosaic floors, and frescoes. We saw the ruins of temples and other buildings in their forum, or public area. There were just so many amazing things to see. Our last stop before Fabiano left us and we could explore more on our own was the “storeroom” where remains of artifacts that have been salvaged are kept. We saw the “bodies” of a dog, a slave, a teenager, and a toddler. Additionally, we saw amphora and other tools that archaeologists found and made casts of as they have worked.

We had about an hour to walk around on our own, visit the bookstore, and do a bit of shopping before it was time to hop back on the bus and head back to Rome. Thing 2 and I poked around a bit at a few more things, but the heat of the day had caught up to us . . . like I said, it was cooler than I thought it would be, considering we were near the ocean, but still warm after one has been walking out in the sun for hours. Visiting the bookstore (air conditioned!) provided a bit of a relief. I got some books, and then we visited a shop across the street from the entrance to get a few more souvenirs. It was a welcome relief to get back on the bus (with air conditioning!) and have a relaxing ride back to Rome. It was also nice that I wasn’t on my feet quite as much as I had been in the days previous. My ankle wasn’t as swollen at the end of the day today as it has been in past days.

***

Thing 2 and I needed to have a good meal before bed, so we headed off to a restaurant that wasn’t too far away from our hotel and one that was rated well on Yelp. I got exactly what I wanted: delicious pasta in cream sauce with Italian bacon and mushrooms. I drank an entire liter of frizzante water. I slept so well with a full belly and all tired out. 🙂 The good news: We could sleep in the next morning . . . a little.

Italy and Austria 2017: Day 4 — The Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Castel Sant’Angelo

UGH. After such a tiring day yesterday, we had to wake up early. The good news is that we slept well, and woke up feeling pretty refreshed.

Today marked our first foray into the Rome Metro as well. Previous to this, we had just been riding the bus and tram. Surprisingly (or maybe not, now that I think on it), Rome only has two underground lines. It is such a large city that I was surprised that they did not have more, yet it is so old and has so many layers that I’m not surprised they haven’t built more. It seems that one cannot go ten feet without finding something of archaeological value. I can just imagine how they would start to dig, but then have to stop to excavate something, thus pushing the project timeline back. Interestingly, the city is in the midst of digging a new line, Linea C. The dig for it is going RIGHT NEXT TO the Colosseum and Forum, which boggles my mind, as this is truly in the oldest part of the city. Wouldn’t the vibrations from all the digging cause more potential collapse? I’m sure they have engineers and archaeologists who can certify the dig is okay to move forward, but it was just surprising to see.

So first impressions: the Metro in Rome is SO not as nice as the Tube in London. I mean, it doesn’t even compare. The Paris Metro is even better, and I didn’t like that one because of how confusing it was. This one is more simple – just two lines as I mentioned – but it is not as well maintained. The English love their Tube; they even have a whole museum and gift shop devoted to it, so it shows. The Roman Metro? No.

Anyway, we rode the line and navigated our way with two Australian ladies who were also making their first trip into the Roman Metro and also going to the Vatican. They were here for their first trip, too, so we compared places we’d seen. Thanks, again, to Google Maps, we were able to find our way to our meeting point for our tours. We arrived early enough that Thing 2 and I were able to stop in to the little cafe right in front of the entrance to the Vatican museums, the Caffé Vatican, and get a pastry and something to drink. Thing 2 got a chocolate muffin and a donut; I got some sort of a pastry with chocolatey goodness inside.

Our guide was a gentleman named Emanuele, and he was an art historian who really knew his stuff. He took us through the Vatican Museums and explained everything we saw. We started off in the picture gallery; all of the art here was arranged by date from the earliest Christian art through to the Baroque period. We also saw an amazing room full of enormous tapestries. Not only were they large, but also they had gold threads woven into them to provide richness and a luminous quality. He also showed us lots of different sculptures and early Etruscan funerary urns. We also got to see the Bramante Staircase, which was actually a ramp.


It was called a staircase, but it was a ramp because it enabled the Pope to travel up and down it on a horse. Not everyone gets to see this, so we felt really special. From there it started getting more crowded as we traveled through the rest of the rooms in the old Papal Palace. My favorite room was one of the Raphael Rooms, the Stanza della Segnatura, because this room contains Raphael’s painting, The School of Athens.


This painting is in many history books, including the one that I use with my own students. So, seeing it in person was WAY cool.

Another amazing hall that we passed through was the Gallery of Maps. This was even more amazing (in some respects) than the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. The Gallery of Maps is 120 m (393 ft.) long, while the Hall of Mirrors is only 73 m (239.5 ft.) long.



Along both long walls are a series of maps which showed all the regions of Italy; there are twenty maps on each wall. So, all regions of Italy were represented, plus islands such as Corsica and Sicily. (Corsica belonged to Italy at that time; it is now French.) Each map is nearly square (15 by 16 ft.) and includes details such as cities and rivers. Above each map is a painting that depicts some miracle that took place in the map below it. Every inch of the gallery is decorated; the ceiling is magnificent. I have to admit that, at first, I thought we were moving into the Sistine Chapel. (It was that magnificent.)

The Sistine Chapel was nearly our last stop. It was amazing. It was supposed to be silent inside, but there were so many people inside that the murmuring got loud. Occasionally, the museum guards would call out, “Silencio!” We also needed to ensure that we had our shoulders covered and our knees. Like the Gallery of Maps, every inch of the Sistine Chapel is decorated. The ceiling, of course, was magnificent. The door that we entered was actually the door behind the altar. So, we entered, turned around, and then saw Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. All told, we spent about 15 minutes in there, taking it all in, noting some of the details that Mr. Emanuele told us about before we entered. It was forbidden to take pictures, otherwise I would have posted some here.

Lastly, we visited St. Peter’s Basilica. It is almost overwhelming how large it is. According to our guide, sixty thousand people can fit inside. The main nave of the church is huge; along the side are two levels of statues. The statues at the first level are twelve feet tall; the statues at the second level are 15 feet tall. The Latin writing near the ceiling of the basilica is nine feet tall. The chapels off to either side of the nave are immense. One was dedicated to Pope Saint John Paul II. Several people were inside his chapel sitting in prayer or silent reflection. In another part of the church, one could go to Confession. Priests were available to hear confessions in several different languages. Thing 2 and I opted to visit the grottoes where many of the popes are interred. Saint Pope John Paul II was in the grottoes until he was elevated to the sainthood; now he is interred in the chapel devoted to him off the main nave. We also had a chance to see Michelangelo’s Pietá.


This was a very crowded part of the basilica, because so many people wanted to see it. It is behind glass, as someone in the 1970’s took a hammer to it. It is restored, but must be protected now.

Before we left St. Peter’s Basilica and Square, and the Vatican in general, we took an opportunity to mail some postcards home from the Vatican. They have their own stamps and postal system – plus their own radio tower.

Hot and more than a little weary, Thing 2 and I walked to a little “pizza on the go” place a few blocks from the Vatican. It was soooooo good. The restaurant had all sorts of personal-sized pizzas made up on focaccia bread; you chose the one you wanted and then put it in the oven for a few minutes and brought it to you.


It hit the spot after a long morning of walking around. At this point, it was our plan to visit the Parthenon and then visit Castel Sant’Angelo. But we were over-ambitious and underestimated how tired we were. Plus, Castel Sant’Angelo was very close to the Vatican, so we headed over there lazily and got our tickets for our guided tour at 4 p.m. I also took some great shots of the Tiber River from the bridge that is right out in front of the fortress.

The Castel Sant’Angelo is similar to the Tower of London. It is an old medieval fortress, and actually it was originally built during the time of Emperor Hadrian to house his cremated remains.


Once Rome became Christian, they got rid of the remains and used the complex as a fortress and prison. It had a nice defensive position right on the river and on the hill. They even built a “secret” two-story passageway from it to the Vatican itself (which we walked in). Not a whole lot of people get to walk in there, either, so we felt even more special.


When Rome was under siege during the 1500s, the current pope actually escaped through the secret passage way and stayed in the Castel Sant’Angelo for six months until the siege was lifted. So, one of the things we also got to see on our guided tour was the pope’s bathtub!


Yep, the picture above is where he cleaned off. We also visited the dungeons and saw the storerooms where they stocked their provisions (like olive oil and wine).

By the time this tour was over Thing 2 and I had serious foot problems. I had developed blisters on my feet from so much walking and Thing 2 was just plain tired. We used Google Maps to find our way back to the hotel. One of the things that we passed on the way home was a water fountain. They’re actually all over the city of Rome and not what one would normally think of when thinking of a drinking fountain. But they’re not a fountain at Disneyland either. Sometimes they’re decorative, and other times not. But there is a constant, running stream of water coming out of these fountains. People walk up to them and put some in their hands to wash their face or wash their hands.


Others fill up their water bottles, like we did. (If you are a tourist, we quickly found out you only need to buy a water once, and then the rest of the time, fill up your bottle with water from the fountain.) The water is totally fresh and COLD, so it is a welcome treat on a hot Roman day. They had one at the Forum, too. And our guide at the Forum (more about that in the next post) told us that they’re constantly running, reliable and fresh, come from underground aquifers (some of the same that the Romans tapped into themselves so long ago), and is so plentiful that no one in Rome has a water bill. There was one such fountain right across the street from our hotel.

I cannot remember what we had for dinner. I think it was gelato again? 😀

Italy and Austria 2017: Day 3 – Capitoline Museums, Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, Baths of Caracalla, and … an Aborted Attempt to See the Appian Way and Basilica di San Sebastiano Outside the Walls

Though I had hoped we wouldn’t experience it, jet lag struck Thing 2 and I early this morning — about 2:30 or 3 in the morning to be exact. We gave it the good ‘ol college try and rested as best we could, but when it started getting light around 5 am, we got up and got busy. We turned on Italian TV, I wrote the previous blog post, we showered up, and got ready to eat breakfast.

Our first stop of the day was the Capitoline Museums, located on the Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills on which Rome was founded, and near the Forum.

The piazza in front of the Capitoline Museums –there’s actually three buildings in total.

We got transportation tickets good for two days from the local tobacco shop (marked with a big black and white T outside; they sell stamps and stuff, too) and used Google Maps to route us to the museum via public transportation. Our tickets worked for bus, tram, and subway. The bus heading in the direction of “Fori Imperiali” was packed, and that’s where we got off. It was still relatively early in the morning (around 8:45 a.m.), too. We headed up the hill, bought our tickets, and started walking around. As we walked up, we could see parts of the Forum on two sides of us. The highlight of the Capitoline Museum (for me) was being able to see the bronze statue of the she-wolf that saved Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.

The very famous bronze statue of the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus; Romulus would go on to found Rome.

There was also a huge head of Constantine (and other parts of his body) that I had seen in photographs, and now I finally got to see it for myself.

The head of the Colossal Constantine
The head of the Colossal Constantine, with Thing 2 for scale
The toes of one of the feet of the Colossal Constantine

The museums also had some great sculptures by the master, Bernini.

A sculpture of Medusa, also by Bernini.
A sculpture by Bernini, of Pope Urban VIII

After the museums, we decided to try to find some lunch. I looked on Yelp and found a nicely rated restaurant in Trastevere, which was across the river from the rest of the city. It was conveniently located near a church I wanted to visit, the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, so that was good.

Our lunch in Trastavere, a neighborhood of Rome.

Thing 2 ordered herself a lasagna and I ordered a pasta carbonara. Both were delicious. Our restaurant was located near the piazza in front of the church. Tiny streets led out of the piazza; I thought they were pedestrian walkways through that part of the city.

From our restaurant in Trastavere, looking down the street on which cars and scooters still drive.

But, NO, cars and scooters still drive down these streets – and often. As a pedestrian, one must watch out! Also, all the streets are cobbled with these small black squares. They are hard to walk on after one has been walking all day. What I wouldn’t give for a smooth Orange County sidewalk! It was fun to people watch people walking up and down the streets as they went about their business, and trying to avoid the cars and scooters. Anyway, as a treat, the waiter gave us two shots of limoncello to top off our meal.

My after-lunch treat. 🙂

Thing 2 had a sip and decided she didn’t like it, so I downed both shots. 😁

The church, of course, was amazing. Behind the altar of the church, the ceiling was domed, and it was decorated entirely in mosaics. They were AMAZING.

The inside of the dome behind the altar in the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere

We spent about 30 minutes in the church, looking into each of the chapels off to the side, and we said our prayers.

The ceiling of the nave of the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere

From there, it was our plan to visit the Baths of Caracalla (Terme di Caracalla). He was an emperor at one time. The baths, in their time, were large enough to hold 6,000 people. The complex even included a library and was multi-storied. The ruins were immense.

The Baths at Caracalla . . . Just one view of them.

We found a shady bench to sit at for a bit to rest our feet. In the shade, and with the breeze, it was pleasant. But walking around in full sun, whew – it was HOT.

Lastly, going further south from the baths, we hoped to visit the Appian Way and the Basilica of San Sebastian fuori le mira (Outside the Walls). Our feet were killing us by this point, mostly mine. We got on the (overcrowded) bus again to get us down to the Appian Way. This street was cobbled and rutted and there was no sidewalk to speak of. I mention this because after the bus dropped us off, we had to walk a bit further to get to the Appian Way.

The street said Appian Way, but we didn’t see it!

So, with cars and scooters whizzing past us, we set off . . . except we couldn’t find the entrance to the park . . . so we thought, “Ah, let’s skip it and just head, instead, straight for the Basilica di San Sebastian fuori le mura. It is one of the seven pilgrim churches of Rome. So we walked to the next stop on our bus route and figured we’d ride the rest of the way to San Sebastiano. But when I consulted Google Maps, I realized the bus only went one more stop, and we’d have to walk even more. In fact, we’d have to walk further from the bus stop to the basilica than the bus was going to travel to the next stop. So, sweaty and tired, and keeping in mind we’d been up since 3 am or so, we took our lives in our hands to cross the street to get to the bus stop on the other side. (There are walk / don’t walk indicator signs, but not everywhere.) There are crosswalks indicated in the street, but one just has to step out and start walking and (hopefully) cars and scooters will stop.

[Funny story: Earlier in the day, on our way to lunch, we needed to cross a huge intersection outside the Capitoline Museums and in front of the “wedding cake” (more on that later) . . . We were standing by the crosswalk, waiting until what seemed like a good time to cross, except there weren’t any. Then, on the other side of the street, I saw a young priest just start walking out into traffic. I said to Thing 2, “That man has God on his side!” And once everyone saw him walking out and traffic stopping for him – I mean, whose going to accidentally hit a priest!?! – they started crossing, too. As we crossed by him in the street, he let out a huge grin, knowing that he helped us all out.]

Anyway, we waited for our bus and headed on back to the hotel.

Hot and tired, a selfie before getting on our bus to head back to the hotel.

Since we had had a big lunch, we opted for gelatto for dinner – an even bigger serving than our first night.

We were back to our hotel at around 17:30, and I immediately took a shower and crashed. I think I slept until about 8 while Thing 2 listened to music. I woke up and read a bit before going back to sleep for good. And, we actually got a great night’s sleep – both of us. This was good because we had to wake up early for our next day’s agenda: The Vatican.

(For a few more pictures, including some you see here, of our day, view this link.)

Italy and Austria 2017: Day 1 and 2 — Getting to, and Arriving in, Rome

So getting to Rome was a lot easier (in some respects) than getting to Paris, which was the first leg of my European journey a few years back. My traveling partner this year is Thing 2.

This time, we opted to get to LAX to catch our flight via the Disneyland Resort Express bus. Mr. Rovira dropped us off at the Disneyland Hotel; this was easier for him, too, because it meant that he, Thing 1, and Mr. T wouldn’t need to brave afternoon/early evening LA traffic on the way home after dropping us off. Our flight was due to leave Los Angeles at 18:05 on 05 June.

We breezed through security at the airport and then waited for a while until it was time to start boarding our plane. The first leg of our journey to Rome had us traveling into London’s Heathrow airport. We would have a two-hour layover, and then arrive in Rome right around 18:00 on 06 June. Our flight to London was uneventful. A huge boon for me was that I slept for most of the flight. After our initial drink/meal service, I tried to cuddle in to my seat to try to sleep — and I did. That usually never happens. Thankfully, that allowed a ten and a half hour flight pass rather more quickly than I was expecting it to. Meanwhile, Thing 2 was enchanted by the movies-on-demand at our seat, so she spent her time watching movies instead of sleeping. Bad move on her part, I think. She ended up with a no-sleep headache later on.

We landed in Heathrow’s Terminal 3 and had to make our way to Terminal 5. That took longer than expected, and once we got to Terminal 5, we needed to pass through security again. There was an initial problem reading my ticket to even get through to be screened by machines. Then, as we were taking off our shoes and putting our backpacks in buckets to pass through x-ray, I forgot to take my phone out of my pocket. That caused me to beep as I went through. A pat-down found my phone, so they took that out to put through the x-ray machine separately. Meanwhile, Thing 2’s backpack had a “suspicious” sharp object in it, and so it got pulled out for personal searching. Apparently, as she was cleaning it out after school’s end, she forgot to go into the compartment that had scissors and glue in it, so these got pulled out and confiscated (which was no biggie, since who needs scissors on vacation?). Now we were getting really nervous because we had only 20 minutes until our flight to Rome was due to depart. The security woman was very kind, and we said we were sorry for causing unnecessary problems . . . And it kinda made me wonder about security in LAX if we were able to get the backpack through there with scissors. Hmm.

So we stuffed the contents back in the backpack and began running at top speed down to our gate. Passports and boarding passes in hand, I then realized, “OH NO! My PHONE!” It was still back at security. I started running back up to security, not knowing the nice lady who searched through Thing 2’s backpack was on her way down to us with the phone. So, back I ran to the gate, where she was waiting with my phone. We got on to the plan . . . Maybe we were the last to board? It was a little stressful. But, we made it! We were sitting next to a nice woman from the Bay Area who also was traveling to Rome for the first time on vacation; she was meeting friends here. She had missed her previous connecting flight to Rome because her other flight from Oakland was late coming in. So all three of us were glad we were Rome-bound.

Arriving in Rome, we got through customs easily and got our passports stamped. The customs officers were really cool; one was listening to (Italian?) punk music, and they were sort of nodding their heads along with the music as they stamped us and welcomed us to Italy. We easily caught the Leonardo Express train  to Roma Termini (the station nearest our hotel, and one of Rome’s main train stations). From there we got a taxi to our hotel. I’m sure that our taxi driver took us on a longer route than needed to get to our hotel, but it was nice to see some of Rome by car – including our first view of the Colosseum (squeee!)

We checked in without problem. Our concierge, Roberto, was great. I took a quick shower to get rid of travel grime, and we went out for a quick reconnoiter of our surroundings. We ate a quick pizza on-the-go that was delicious, and made our way to an awesome gelato  place for a sweet snack. We also stopped by a pharmacy to pick up some ibuprofen for my ankle. (I forgot to pack the Advil!) Roberto was even kind enough to give me a special pack in which to put ice so I could ice it down. A bit of reading up and reviewing the calendar for the day ahead is how I ended my night. One of the things that we had planned was to visit the Trevi fountain, but that will just have to be done another day, as it was getting dark, and I didn’t want to be out after dark on our own.

(Unfortunately, a bit of jet lag caught up with both Thing 2 and I, so we didn’t sleep past around 3:00 am. We gave it the good ol college try to get more sleep, but eventually called it a night and started getting up. This allowed us to use Yelp to try to find a good place for breakfast and research how to get there on public transit. I also got to write this blog post. 😀)