Thursday, July 29, 2010
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Saturday, July 10, 2010
My arrival in Beijing, China marks my 25th country visited, my fifth inhabited, and my tenth language attempted (none of these include the U.S.). Wow.
Friday, July 9, 2010
Thursday, July 8, 2010
We weren’t able to check into our room yet because it was so early, so instead we headed back into the city center, about a 20-30 minute train trip.
We stopped by the Trevi Fountain first, and then tried to have lunch at a restaurant nearby, but when they found out that we wanted to share the menu of the day (not a cheap menu, either) they wouldn't let us. Andrew was really sick and didn’t have much of an appetite, and we were trying to save money, so sharing a three course meal seemed the best option. We were pretty peeved when they said we couldn’t share so we walked away and instead grabbed some sandwiches to go. Our next stop was the Pantheon, which was a tad disappointing to me.
It’s one of the best preserved buildings in all of Rome, and the inside is beautiful, but I was expecting more of a classical mark on the place. Because it was eventually converted into a Christian church, all the Roman statues had been replaced with Christian ones. Like I said in an earlier post, if I ever see another Madonnna and Child or a statue of Jesus on the cross, I’m going to throw something across the room. Here, we also saw the tombs of the first president of Italy and the artist Raphael.
After cooling off in the Pantheon, we re-entered the heat and walked to Piazza Navona. This was a pretty square with the famous Bernini fountain, The Four Rivers.
The next morning began with a stop at the doctor’s office in Rome for Andrew. I was feeling much better, but he was considerably worse. It took us a while to find the place, but thankfully one of the doctors spoke English and the entire staff was really friendly. We were seen within a couple of minutes of arriving, and after examining Andrew they gave him some steroid shots to allow him to breathe a little better and a prescription for antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory. The medical visit was free, and the medication at the pharmacy was only 18 euros. Feeling better, we made our way to the Colosseum and joined the long line to get inside. After about an hour’s wait, Andrew decided that while he could breathe better and wasn’t coughing as much, he felt really out of it and wanted to return to the hotel. He left and I entered the Colosseum on my own.
Secret passageways under the Colosseum
I thankfully had an audioguide to keep me company during my afternoon in Paris, as I spent hours wandering the Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine Hill. My favorite part of the day was the Forum. I got to see where the Senate used to meet, and where Marcus Anthony made his famous “Friends, Romans, countrymen…” speech, and where Julius Caesar’s body was burned after his death.
Around 5pm I was starting to feel a little sick again, probably from dehydration and heat exhaustion, so I returned to the hotel and checked on Andrew, who was feeling loads better. That night we ate at the restaurant again, sharing a plate of linguini with calamari and lobster in a red sauce and a glass of Chianti. Andrew finally slept the night through with very little coughing, so the next morning we headed to town early.
On the itinerary was the Via Appia (where Spartacus was crucified, if you remember) and the catacombs of St. Callistus. The catacombs were where the Christians buried their loved ones in secret back when the Romans declared Christianity illegal. They cut into the tuffa stone little niches just big enough for the body and then covered the outside with a piece of slab. There were lots of spaces for babies. About 500,000 people have been discovered buried there in the 20km (of 300km!) of the catacombs that have been excavated thus far. We were both disappointed in the tour, as we weren’t actually able to see any of the bodies. We just saw the empty crevices and a mosaic or fresco here and there.
It took most of the morning and afternoon to get to and from the catacombs, so we returned to Rome in the afternoon pretty late, around 2pm. The real catastrophe of the day is that I somehow lost my sunglasses during the day and had to buy new ones. Once we were back in Rome, we stopped by the Colosseum to get some (cheesy) photos taken with “gladiators,” who charge a ridiculous 5 euro to pose with you.
We also stopped by the once-great Circus Maximus, or racetrack, but it’s just a stretch of dirt now and there’s nothing to see.
We popped across the Tiber River to the Trastevere, a trendy little neighborhood with not much to do. Along the way we saw the world’s smallest inhabited island, Isola di Tibernina. It’s home to a large hospital that used to be a temple to Asclepius, god of healing and medicine. Rome’s oldest standing bridge, Ponte Fabricio, connects the hospital with the left bank. Nearby you can also see the remnants of Rome’s first ever stone bridge, which stands eerily out of the water like some tall, stone island.
Andrew also found the “Mouth of Truth,” a giant ancient manhole cover that has an interesting legend to it. If you stick your hand inside the mouth and tell a lie, the mouth supposedly bites off your hand.
We ended our long tour for the day at the Spanish Steps, a large staircase commissioned by the French, leading up to a French church. Not really sure where the name comes from…It’s a popular lover’s spot.
From there, we discovered a cheap, popular Chinese restaurant and jumped on the chance to eat something that didn’t belong to the holy trinity of Italian food: Pizza, Pasta, and Panini. We told ourselves we were getting ready for our big move to China, but the truth of it was, we were just sick of Italian food (and prices!). We returned late to the hostel that night, and unfortunately, Andrew was literally up all night coughing and hacking, again. Neither of us slept more than two hours.
Since our last full day in Rome was to be a trip to the Vatican (notorious for its long lines), we ignored our burning eyes and tired limbs and climbed out of bed at 6:00am. The rest of the day we were both a little like zombies as we moved through the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica, which took all the morning and a good part of the afternoon. I wasn’t overly impressed with the exhibits, though it was neat to see the Pope Mobile!