European Vacation Recap 1 - Rome

European Vacation Recap 1 - Rome

Sorry I've been away from the blog. It's nothing personal. It's just that my cousin got married in Paris and my wife and I decided to visit Italy for a week before celebrating with the family. We barely had access to email and only sporadic some Facebook action, so there's some catching up to do… Wendy and I landed in Rome, where the train from the airport dropped us off in Italy's equivalent of Chungking Mansions with a ton of Chinese fashion knockoffs and Indian fast food joints. Totally cobbly sidewalks and streets meant no skateboarding but there was still a ton of graffiti everywhere (like above). We walked up to our hotel mid-afternoon and I asked the counter guy where Grinderman was playing. It turns out seeing Nick Cave's band would have required 50 Euro taxi rides both ways, so it was off to the monuments–probably the right thing to do anyway.

After hoofing it for a mile or two, Wendy and I wondered if we were going the right direction to see the Coliseum. Then we looked up from our map and saw the historic structure peeking out from the modern buildings, roads, and traffic. It wasn't that different than the L.A. Coliseum where the Raiders used to play. Or at least the bathrooms were about the same.

It was already dusk, which meant we were just in time to take it in during the Magic Hour. It was easy to imagine the sounds of the spectators, lions, or even Bruce Lee. The time of day also meant that the tours had stopped and the rush of tourists was waning. As we walked around the building, we could see the souvenir hawkers, dudes dressed in gladiator outfits posing for pictures, and fruit trucks. Back to reality.

We walked further from the hotel, passed people dressed as Egyptians looking for handouts, and saw rows of red lanterns that had something to do with Italian-Chinese relations. It wasn't long before we reached the Forum, or what's left of it. Floodlights indicated where columns once stood, marking where Roman orators did their thing.

The trinity of high school Western Civ was complete when we made it to the Pantheon, which was obscured by scaffolding and construction. Still, a ton of people, both local and tourists stopped there to hang out on the steps and smoke. By the time we arrived, we were tired and starving, and I had my first pizza in Italy… I had at least one a day while in the country. It's a meatless, relatively cheap, and easily accessible meal in a nation where meals are a lengthy, expensive ritual with a ton of courses that usually entail meat and wine. It was good, but I was also really hungry. Wendy's spaghetti came with wine, and it was the only time we had to stop ourselves from saying, “When in Rome…”

Re-energized and with plenty of adrenaline to fend off jetlag, we walked to the Fountains of Trevi. Yet another place with a ton of people hanging out, smoking, taking pictures, and avoiding glow-in-the-dark flying toys being hawked by Indian street vendors. What's up with that? They were also in France.

Looking back at this selection of photos, you'd think it was just one monument after another. However, each of the plazas and sites is connected by a web of alleys filling in gaps between the major streets. But even at midnight, it wasn't that sketchy. I was warned about pickpockets and Gypsies, but Italy turned out to be a country of people eating ice-cream cones. After all that walking, we took a subway back to the hotel.

The next morning, we squeezed in a visit to the local basilica before hitting the train station. It looked pretty boring from the outside but the insides were really opulent–painted and gilded everywhere. I guess I'd see bigger and more significant ones later in the trip, but this one was the most mind-blowing to me, possibly because it was the first–like the Crystal Cathedral x 1,000,000. It was empty and echoing when we walked in… Some locals were going to confession, etc. (and one booth advertized Tagalog), but the staff seemed totally cool about tourists taking pictures. I guess every site has its attractions, and Laterno's claim to fame is that the frame around one of its principal wall hangings is made out of wood taken from the table that the Last Supper was eaten on. What! (Not shown below.)

I think the dude on the right (below) was buried here, too.

Less than 24 hours in Rome and about half that many miles walking. Next stop, Florence…