Italy 2009

We took my nephew Joshua and his wife Jennifer to Rome at the end of May.

Upon our arrival at the Leonardo da Vinci Airport, our portrait included a poster in the background that was totally ignored. More on that a little later.

On our last visit to Rome in 2002, Carol did the traditional coin toss into the Trevi Fountain, as a "guarantee" that she would return. Since it worked for 2009, she repeated the gesture! This was our first day back in Rome, and strolling around some of the tourist sites was a good way to get over jet lag.

The high temperature in Rome was 93F on the first day, and fell just a few degrees every following day. We went through a lot of water! We found out that most of the outdoor piazzas and tourist sites had freely-running water spigots that allowed us to refill our bottles as often as we needed. A few of the street vendors actually sold frozen bottles of water that felt good to hold, while the ice lasted.

Just a week before our trip, this movie was also released in the US. Although the physics and plot in the movie was pretty bad, we saw it so that we might recognize some of the sights in Rome and the Vatican. One theater near our hotel was showing four movies, and the marquee indicated that some of the movies were in English or Italian, depending which screen you were interesting in viewing.

Each time I see an Egyptian obelisk or ancient granite statue, I am convinced that Earth was visited by extraterrestrials. If someone gave me a stack of long stones and a bag of hand tools, it would take me a century just to successfully carve details over one square foot one one obelisk and another century to polish it flat! Even with lots of slave labor, its impossible for me to understand how these could be made without power tools. This obelisk is in the Piazza del Popolo, featured in the movie.

After a good rest, our first full day in Rome started with a visit to the Colosseum. Jennifer and Joshua figured out most of our itinerary, and helped interpret a lot of the sites, based on their educational backgrounds. Carol and I were able to relax and go along for the ride!. It was easy to smile early in the morning, before it got too hot. We walked here from our hotel, but later in the week, learned how to navigate the buses, the Metro, and the local trains. Some short trips were pretty crowded, but we never felt threatened or unsafe.

We found out that a major soccer final was being held on our third day in Rome, and many of the tourists in town were from Barcelona or Great Britain. If you waited in line for a few hours, you could get your photo taken next to the trophy. An area near the Colosseum was set up with sports vendors.

Lots more sports fans, supporting one or the other football clubs. The Arch of Constantine seemed ignored.

In the Circus Maximus, a small arena for a different version of the same sport was set up. Not exactly sure of the connection to the European Football Finals, but they might share some fans. We heard that tickets to the game in the Olympic Stadium were being resold for 1000 euros; it looks like tickets to this game might be considerably less costly.

The Domitian Stadium in the Palatine Hill area just outside the Colosseum.

A few headless statues still remain in the House of the Vestal Virgins.

The people of Rome still lay fresh flowers on the altar in the Temple of Julius Caesar, built by his nephew Augustus.

The altar in the Mamertine Prison, over the cell that once incarcerated St. Peter and St. Paul.

My first real meal in Rome (aside from McDonalds); ravioli pasta. Pizza, with a thin crust, was also popular. Note that there were five McDonalds between our hotel and the train platforms in the Termini station, a ten minute walk. Three of the outlets were visible at one time from a certain spot within the terminal!

A series of ceiling paintings in the entry part of the Vatican Museum area used shading to make the 2-D image appear remarkably as a 3-D carving. It is just as remarkable now as it was 7 years ago.

While Joshua told me of the the symbolism here, the image of children playing with a crocodile still seems funny!

Carol remembered the Vatican cafeteria being forgettable, and eating tuna and artichoke pizza reinforced that memory! The toppings were not labelled, and this choice (was it ham or chicken?) seemed more attractive at the time than the sliced hot-dog-topped pizza alternative. She should have tried the plain cheese variety. Everyone was too sore and tired to walk all the way out of Vatican City to eat a proper lunch in Rome, so we suffered through this. The regular cafeteria lines looked pretty long, while the lines in the pizzeria were short. Any wonder?

The sun streaming through windows in St. Peter's Basilica made nice crepuscular rays. The trinitarian image from one light source could easily be symbolically interpreted. Joshua, you can use this image in one of your sermons!

The Pope had an audience in the morning here in the square, but toward evening, most of the crowds have dispersed. It seemed earlier that an overwhelming fraction of visitors were wearing Barcelona Football Club jerseys, a few hours before the game.

Barcelona beat Manchester United by the score of 2-0. We were watching the game in our hotel room, but could hear the roar of the crowd in the pub next door when both scores were made.

The view from near the upper part of Assisi was beautiful.

Our visit to Assisi ended with a tour of the Basilica of St. Francis; the weather was as gorgeous as the scenery.

We always consulted our guides before we decided to move on. We don't expect to return to most of these places for a very long time, so we wanted to make sure all the highlights were covered. The town of Assisi is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

On Friday, we all split up so we could see places of personal interest. I went to see the mineral collection at the Sapienza University of Rome. Unfortunately, the secretary had a dental appointment soon after I arrived, and I could only spend 20 minutes here. I was the only visitor, and she had to unlock the door and turn on the lights for me.

There were a number of very attractive specimens of Sulfur, the local specialty, but not much else through the museum. The short visit was actually almost sufficient. This is part of of the geology department, not necessarily a public museum full of eye-catching specimens. According to the secretary, there are no other mineral collections to see in Rome, nor were there any mineral dealers.

Since I had plenty of time, I attempted to visit the other academic museums shown on the campus map. The physics museum was closed, but the mathematics museum was open. It consisted of a few cabinets in the hallway. Models of surfaces, well before computers, filled most of the shelves. The right-most cabinet had a very old abacus and a sculpture with a figure using one.

The Pantheon area was not so crowded.

Another crepuscular ray from the Pantheon's central oculus. I combined imaged from two exposures to produce an image that shows the clouds as well as the inner dome.

Drains in the Pantheon floor.

According to Rick Steves guidebook, this is the most famous gelateria in Rome, not far from the Pantheon. They had a nice variety of flavors, but all the labels were only in Italian, and the servers did not seem as friendly as other, comparable gelaterias. Because of the hot weather, we sampled at least one gelateria every day.

After nothing but pasta at so many places, a real cafeteria in the train station offered a wider selection (American style). One of the local specialties was porchetta, served with the pig's head on the platter.

I always try to find an evening concert, and Carol selected this small chamber orchestra with the performers dressed in period costumes singing a series of short arias. By lucky coincidence, the church that hosted this series was practically next door to our hotel. Click on the photo to hear a few seconds of one of the pieces (its an 18 Mb Windows .mov file, so it will take a few seconds to download.).

In Pompeii, we used audio guides to help enhance our visit.

A kitchen area still has some still life paintings on the wall.

So does the brothel.

The last time we visited Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius was totally obscured by clouds. Today, we had a wonderful view over some of the temples.

The amphitheater on the far side of Pompeii was not very crowded.

Inside the amphitheater, no seats, but an interesting combination of orange and yellow wildflowers.

The next day, we visited the old Roman port city of Ostia Antica.

While the ruins in most places simply have brick walls, this room has the marble facing put back in place. It really makes it clear how attractive this type of home could be.

The Pyramid of Cestius is adjacent to a portion of the ancient Roman wall, and is just outside a metro train stop. It took less than a year to build around 12 BC.

On our last day in Rome, we returned home just after the Tour of Italy bicycle race concluded its 2009 race at the Colosseum. The riders passed right in front of our hotel. We never anticipated that two of Italy's greatest sporting events would occur while we were visiting the city. We had a wonderful time, covering all of the highlights at our own pace. Our next Italian trip will probably include only the northern or southern parts, but we look forward to it, as we say farewell to Rome.

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