Friday, November 30, 2012

And Then Came A-Tapping

Nov 25

I've decided this apartment is haunted.  Why, you may ask?  Well, first of all, it's a 16th century convent.  And by the international decree of ghostly hauntings, any building that existed prior to 1910 and was used for anything besides an office building, or the ordinary residence of ordinary, boring people who didn't decorate or do anything interesting ever, it has a very strong likelihood of being haunted.  So a 700-year-old building for female religious devotees is a great candidate.

But where is my evidence?  Well.  Take your pick.  There is a creepy white-curtained inlet near the ceiling in the bedroom that flutters gently whenever I talk about it.  There are cemented-over doorways, one in particular by the bed.  And right in front of that spot is...a hot spot!  Well, it's a warm spot, and only on the floor, but it's very random and, like I said, right in front of the door.  Ghosts, of course, can control temperature with their emotions.  Cold spots are for fear and anger.  Warm ones mean they're happy, so I'm not worried about these ghosts.  Also.  ALSO.  I was sitting on the bed the other day and there suddenly came a tapping from inside the closet, like someone was asking politely to come in the room...oh my.

I'm not worried about sharing the apartment with the ghosts of nuns.  They probably died old and happy.  Anyway, I don't really think it's haunted.  OR IS IT?

Ok, now here we go for real:

Today we slept in, as planned, and then, once ready to go, sat down to see what we could do.  We planned just to walk around, but realized the things we wanted to see the facades of were close, and we'd be done in about twenty minutes.  So we looked up other stuff we plan to see, and, since it is Sunday after all, nothing was open after 1 or 2pm, or it was only open for an hour, or whatever.  Finally we found that Santa Croce was open in the afternoons after 2pm, so we decided to go there.  It wasn't originally in the itinerary anywhere at all, but I'm not really sure why, because it has some pretty cool stuff there.

It was somewhere between 11-12 when we left the apartment.  We didn't get very far before hitting a massive crowd and a metal barrier blocking the street at the Ponte Vecchio.  Confused, we moved closer, and saw people running in the street.

Yay Italians running!
Ahhhhh!  It was the Florence Marathon!  We'd heard some woman talking about it up at the Piazzale Michelangelo yesterday, but it hadn't really sunk in.  It quickly became clear, as we tried to move through the narrow sidewalks so thick with people it was like moving through molasses, that our plans were going to have to be altered significantly.  
I love this guy.  He made kissy noises at me.
Hey, Sam got a picture of him too!
But I wasn't irritated a bit.  Everyone was in very good spirits.  There were people blowing whistles, ringing cowbells, honking little horns, clapping, and enthusiastically yelling "Vai!  Vai!" "Bravo! Bravi!"

Everyone we went past seemed to be in a festive mood.  Shopkeepers (when they got a chance, businesses must've boomed today with all the crowds) came into their doorways to watch, a small middle school band struggled through motivational songs, dancing and smiling as they played (smiles during the rests, you know).  We tried to move through the tiny crowded sidewalks, and potted plants were often knocked over, getting the short end of the stick (more puns??).  Although it appeared the race had only recently begun, the avant-garde runners had finished and were moving through the crowds in space blankets.

Space blankets and Santa Croce
We stood at the railing and watched for a while, taking some pictures of runners.  I smiled and clapped for a bit, but I mostly loved watching the people.  The spectators were so animated, and so hilarious, and seemed so excited and happy whenever their people went by.  It was great to see the looks on the runners faces when they heard their friends and family cheering for them.  They yelled and waved back, and a few took pictures from the track.

As I mentioned, navigating through the streets was very difficult.  We had planned to go the baptistry at the duomo, but it was across the raceway, and appeared closed anyway.  So we tried to find Santa Croce (it's another cathedral), but it was difficult to move through the roads.  Several people actually came up to us (all in Italian) and asked where Santa Croce was, but we had no idea.  Eventually we deduced that the end of the race must be at Santa Croce.

Eventually we made it to the cathedral (we had to cut across a couple of times, causing Sam to exclaim proudly, "I ran in the Florence Marathon!") and watched the finish line for a while.  We checked the church visitor hours, and we still had another hour or so until they opened, so we walked back to the main touristy area and found a place that sold pizza by the slice.  Sam got a caprese sandwich (approximately 1.2 million times better than the ones we got at the Chelsea Market in NYC over the summer, which I guess isn't saying much, because they were soggy).  I got a slice of crispy-crust pizza with a bit of shredded mozerella, fresh sliced tomato, and shredded fresh browned tuna.  Sam was shocked I was trying it, especially since I hate tuna, but it actually looked very delicious, and indeed it was.  I made Sam try some, and he said that, yes, it was very tasty, but not something he would ordinarily think to try.  I'm not sure I will get it again unless I was very hungry, but I certainly got brownie points for being adventurous with food today.  Tuna pizza.  Yum.

After the filling lunch, we walked back to Santa Croce (the race was wrapping up in most other parts of town, which made pedestrian travel easier).  We paid and went inside, and spent a while gazing at the masterful frescoes of Giotto.  The cathedral/basilica was pretty interesting.  The altar area was covered in scaffolding for renovation, which was sad.

We read before coming that it was possible to see a tide line on the walls and pillars in the church from the flood in 1966, and we searched for them until our eyes started inventing them, but there wasn't really anything.  It was kind of a bummer.

There are a few "interesting" people entombed in Santa Croce.  There was Rossini, a musician of some kind who sounds familiar, Machiavelli, who you'd better recognize or I will disown you, a monument to Dante (he is actually buried in Ravenna, too bad we aren't going there after all), Michelangelo (yes, that Michelangelo), Galileo (yes, that Galileo), and the fellow who invented the radio.  
Machiavelli's modest tomb...

...Especially compared to Michelangelo's
We had a bit of fun poking at Michelangelo, who, ever the exhibitionist (and with everyone ever so eager to please the genius), had detailed his own tomb and requested it be placed directly to the right of the entry doors so that it was the biggest, most colorful, and very first thing everyone saw when they came into the church (assuming they weren't looking towards the altar, of course).

Galileo's tomb was also cool, mostly because it was Galileo.  He didn't go all out like Michelangelo did, but there were statues of draped women holding a map of the heavens, some mathematical calculations, and other such relevant things.

There was also another tomb of some guy who was irrelevant in my mind, except for the fact that his tomb consisted of a larger-than-life statue of a woman placing a wreath on his coffin.  Her eyes are neither open nor closed, but mostly closed, and her face is one of great sadness, without being overly emotional.  It was captivating, and I stared at her for a long time.  Sam came over, and I pointed out her face to him, and he made me aware of the creepy fact that the bust of the dead man (ten or so feet above the woman) was glancing down at her without moving his head.  It was actually pretty creepy.  We moved on.

So thoughtful...
But who's that up there?

Forever watching.
After the basilica, we moved out into the cloisters, which were very pretty.  Off of the cloister is the Capella Pazzi, which is a little domed chapel designed and built by Brunelleschi (the guy who did the duomo at SMdF).  It was pretty cool, especially inside, where the dome was painted with a fresco of the night sky/constellations.

Cloisters and the capella
Adjacent to Santa Croce is the Museo dell'Opera, which was included in our admission.  We went in and saw a few generic medieval paintings, and several little exhibits on the restoration of art objects, particularly those from Santa Croce.  There was an interactive screen where you could compare pre- and post-restored paintings. Also in the museum was the Crucifix by Cimabue, which used to hang over the altar in Santa Croce.  It was pretty cool, but it needs restoring.

With the sun setting and everything closed, we decided to walk along the river to the Santa Trinita bridge and take setting-sun pictures of the Ponte Vecchio, but the sun was already too far gone, so we kept walking into the less touristy part of town near the train station and purchased bus tickets to Siena for tomorrow.  We also got a little more cash for the next couple of days and walked home, completely beat.

I made dinner tonight.  We had tagliatelle with pomodoro-romano sauce topped with zucchini (which looks pretty different from American zucchini, but tastes the same, although the texture is also a little different) sauteed in olive oil, balsamic vinger, salt, and oregano.  We also had sliced fresh Italian bread, toasted and drizzled in olive oil.  There were also grapes that we bought last night.  Everything was incredibly delicious.  The grapes, however, have tougher skin then we're used to, and they all have large seeds.  It's a little too much work for me, which is disappointing because they are so sweet and juicy, so I didn't have many.  It's a good thing Sam doesn't mind the work.

Yumness of all
Sam just got back from a quick trip to the store to get orange juice and laundry detergent so we can have clean socks and underwear.

I like staying in an apartment.  It's much less stressful than staying in a hotel.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dogs in Hoodie Jackets

Nov 24

We got a late start today, which I'm okay with.  We didn't do much, but it was nice have a little slower of a day.  We went out first to find the Galleria dell'Academia, where the David is.  The price had been raised to twice as much as it was about six months ago when I first looked it up.  Yikes-a-roni.

Personally, I found that Michelangelo's David was perhaps the most interesting thing in the Galleria.  I mean, there was other great stuff, but it should not have cost as much as it did.

We first took a look at the miniature musical instrument museum as part of the Galleria.  My favorite part of it was a little exhibit on the development of the piano.  They had a try-it-yourself demonstration on the differences in how the strings make sound in a harpsichord versus a piano.  We got to look at the little mechanisms (particularly of the tiny plucker for the harpsichord).  I learned that the difference in the sound between the two comes from the plucking versus hammering (as well as a special wooden bar that gently touches the string in the piano, allowing it to vibrate).  Anyway, it was cool.  There was also a little interactive computer music library thing that we fiddled (pun alert!) around with for a bit.

After the musical instrument museum we went through pretty much every other gallery.  There were a few Renaissance paintings, and then there were a few modern art-type sculptures flanked by unfinished Michelangelo sculptures.  The last was his "Pieta," which was kind of interesting.  It originally was just a Christ with an unfinished Mary, and Michelangelo was so frustrated with the turnout that he never finished it, just quit with it looking so crummy.  One of his pupils came in later and added a partially done Mary Magdalene to make the sculpture a little more balanced.  That crazy Michelangelo.  I swear he had some kind of complex.

At the end of this short high-ceilinged room was the David.  It was exquisite, as I imagined it would be.  The wrinkles on the last knuckle of the index finger on his right hand, and the veins in the depression where his arm bends…I mean really, you could draw blood from those, they look so real.

On the back of the David were teeny wires and what looked like small test strips.  I speculated they were some type of seismograph to monitor the stability of the statue.  A few feet away we saw a sign that indicated just my supposition.  Tra la la.  It was interesting to read about.

Near the David was a room full of plaster models of statues covered in little black dots.  Signs talked about how students would make and use these plaster models to create marble copies as practice.  The dots were used as reference points to make precise measurements with calipers of various sizes.  It was pretty interesting, but there were, I think, far too many plaster sculptures in there, and the room was unusually hot for a museum.  Maybe plaster has special needs.

The rest of the museum was full of Medieval triptychs, which were interesting for about the first 2.  After that, they got pretty repetitive.  I guess we did learn a few things though.  We learned what the suicidal swan/pelican symbolized, and why it is always placed above Christ's head in a crucifixion scene (the pelican's blood squirts out dramatically into the mouths of little baby pelicans.  Think about that).  There was also a kind of cool panel with several symbolic illusions to various events that happened during the day before and day of the crucifixion.  There was a long list, and we stood there for a while searching for each in the painting, sort of like a grown-up "I Spy."

That was pretty much it at the museum, like I said, not quite worth the price we paid just to see the  David.  But cool anyway.

We headed back over the Ponte Vecchio towards a bakery that sold mini margherita pizzas, so we ate those as we walked through the streets.  We found a shop we'd seen the day before and got several souvenirs/presents there for people for Christmas (no I'm not telling).  We browsed through a leather street market and got something else for someone, but not leather.  There were several things I'd really be interested in buying there, but for the expense.  In any case, it was an experience to walk through the narrow stalls and inhale the sharp scent of worked and oiled leather.

After the little bit of shopping (for a pretty good price too, we got almost our whole list and didn't spend more than 20 euros), we headed back to the apartment with our goods to put them away and get the fancy camera.  We paused there for milk and cookies and looked up some stuff we needed to decide about our schedule for tomorrow (Siena, Fiesole, or another day in Florence?) and sat and talked for a bit and relaxed.
Soon it was shortly after 3pm, so we decided to start the walk up to the Piazalle Michelangelo (known alternately as a few other things around here, but I'm too lazy to look them up).  We were recommended the spot as a sunset-view by not only Francesco but also Sam's dad.  It was worth it.  It was a good thing we left a little early though, because we took a wrong turn and wound up in a completely residential and touristically uninteresting part of town past the Palazzo Pitti.

We backtracked and found the way, taking on the hike of the steep and endless stairs that lead to the top of the hill just outside of town.  Eventually we made it to the top (almost speeding past others who had foolishly taken on the hill with strollers, irritable dogs, or the mere assistance of a cane).  It was indeed a beautiful view up there.

There was a woman playing the guitar and singing into a microphone who, at first, seemed quaint and added to the idyllic nature of the situation, and then quickly became very annoying when she overemployed the use of vibratto.  We got several good pictures of the Florence skyline and surrounding area, found the tower in the distant hills that marked Fiesole, where we'll be going sometime this week, and decided to explore the rest of the piazzale.

Florence skyline
Cloudy clouds
We were going to splice these pictures together...
But obviously that's not possible.  Oh well.
In the center of the area is a bronze replica of Michelangelo's David, as well as the Day, Night, Evening, Morning sculptures he did for the Medicis.  This monument, and the piazzale, are dedicated to Michelangelo's genius and artistic contributions to the area, and other such amazingness.

Dedicated to our dear Michelangelo
We were trying to interpret which of the Medici statues was which, when I suddenly noticed we were being yelled at in rapid Chinese by an angry old woman.  Then, a middle-aged man with a camera yelled, "Hey!  Excuse me!  Get out of the way!" violently waving his hands to the side.  They wanted to take a picture and we had so RUDELY decided to be in the way of the monument (which prior to our standing there had been completely abandoned on all sides).  Tourists.  Psh.

We then walked a little more up the hill to get a better view of what we couldn't tell was either a church or a castle (they're so alike, you know).  I think it was a church.  What I remember better was looking out down the hill and realizing that the view was almost perfectly how I imagined Italy would be, particularly Tuscany.  The rolling dark green hills, the cypress trees, the large Mediterranean houses, even the mist over the setting sun, reminded me not just of pictures I'd seen, but of a foggy morning in the hills of Fallbrook, watching the sun rise over grassy hills and cypress trees, with the lines of a vineyard in the distance, and houses dotting the rise.  It felt joyful.  It felt almost like home.

Le sigh
On our way back home, we stopped at the grocery store to grab some grapes.  We have yet to try them, because I forgot to wash them before dinner, and I am so very lazy.  We had ricotta and spinach tortellini with basil sauce.  It was pretty good.  We also had canned peaches…it felt very much like the old days in our silly Utah apartment.  Oh wait, we still live there.

After dinner we set out to find a gelateria we'd passed on the way to the Piazzale earlier.  It had appeared to have the richest, most chocolatey of gelato I've seen on the whole trip.  It must have been a dream, because we couldn't find it anywhere in the neighborhood.  We also could find neither hide nor hair of the gelateria Francesco recommended to us.  So we gave up and went instead to one right near the end of the Ponte Vecchio on the side near our apartment.  It was very tasty, and they had the kind of cones that I like, not the gross styrofoam ones we've been getting everywhere else.  It was very yummy, but there was a bit of a disaster trying to get the lactaid into my mouth in the middle of a  busy 16-inch wide sidewalk, with my hands holding two gelatos, Sam's holding a water bottle and the other simultaneously trying to toss the little pills into my mouth.  Needless to say, not all of them made it in.

It has been very cold today, so we are bundling up.  Tomorrow we plan to be another slower day, since we are tired and would like to sleep in, and many things are conveniently closed or not running (aka buses to Fiesole).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I Don't Want to Hear Another Word

Nov 23

Hello from Florence!

We woke up some time around 8ish and spent the morning packing and cleaning up.  I think we left the apartment cleaner than when we came, even though it took almost no effort.  The hardest thing was sweeping, honestly.

We finished about an hour before checkout, so instead of wandering around with heavy bags for longer than was necessary, we just sat on the couch and chatted about our overall impressions of Rome, and what we hoped Florence would be like.  Our conclusions?  Rome was fun and cool, but overall a little too modern, and not really how either of us imagined Italy.  We loved the apartment, and the proximity to the metro and Termini was terrific (plus the cool basilica and the grocery store just down the block), but we couldn’t really just wander around to see things.  Esquilino, the neighborhood where we were staying, is primarily made up of immigrants from India and Africa and thereabouts.  It was fine, it just didn’t feel Italian.  I think next time we will get an apartment very close to the Centro Storico (we’ve decided to make it a goal to return in about 19 years, future desires permitting, for our 20th anniversary).

On our way out, we took some pictures of the courtyard at our apartment building, something I'd been meaning to do for days.

Reminds me a little of the courtyard in Only You
Anyway, so at 11am, we walked to Termini and took the metro to Tiburtina.  Right as we went through the gate, I realized we’d forgotten to grab cash for the Florence apartment from the one ATM we knew would take the card.  We decided to look at Tiburtina station, so I sat in the Italo (the Eurostar-type train we took to Florence) office while Sam went to look for another ATM.

Unfortunamente, he walked ten minutes in the wrong direction, then had to come straight back because it was time to board the train.  Rar.

The train ride was quick and relatively uneventful.  We got crackers and cheese from the snack car.  This wasn’t your run of the mill HandySnax though… this was a few real crackers about the size of a chalkboard eraser and a tiny block of parmaggiano reggiano (or whatever)!  There was even a tiny mouse in a sweater vest on the front of the package.

So we got to Florence, and I was disappointed to see that it looked essentially the same as Rome (at least from the view from the station).  Then began the greatest wild goose chase you ever did see.

We calculated we’d need about 680 euros for the apartment rent, cleaning deposit, and money for stuff for a couple of days.  We saw a Bancomat that appeared to be of a bank that would take our card.  We went to it and tried it three times.  No luck.  We had a short list of Bancomats that were supposed to accept our card (we looked it up on Wells Fargo earlier), so we went looking for them.  Three of them did not exist.  The fourth we had great difficulty finding, and when we finally did, we realized it was not an actual ATM bancomat, but a bus ticket booth with a Bancomat symbol.  The guy at the window was very helpful and nice, and offered to give us what cash we needed anyway, but when we told him the amount, he was shocked and said he didn’t have that much.  He directed us to an ATM under the train station, so we went looking for it.  After a great turn-around search, we found it.  But it did not speak English.  So Sam went into the bank itself and they were about to dispense the cash when they decided/remembered that they had recently severed ties with Visa.  Right.  So they told us about an ATM upstairs.

We went to it.  It was the one we had tried right off the train.  Sam tried miniscule denominations, and was able to get about 140 euros out of it before it decided it didn’t like his card anymore.  We had been trying to avoid buying the Euros directly because it is so expensive, but eventually we gave up and got the remainder there.

At this point we were an hour late to meet Francesco, the apartment manager.  We started the walk to the apartment (only about 10 minutes) and called him.  Fortunately, he had just been waiting for our call.  We were nearly to the home stretch, when we ran into construction completely blocking off the Piazza Santa Trinita, which we needed to get through to get to the bridge, which the apartment is right next to.  We walked 15 minutes in the wrong direction trying to get around it before going back and realizing there was a gap in the fence for pedestrians to go around the construction.

Anyway, we finally arrived and took care of business (and we didn't even need to pay the cleaning deposit after all, it was an extra the booking company had thrown on for no reason).  Francesco was really nice, he provided snacks, cookies, and a bottle of Merlot wine for us (oh la), and offered suggestions for numerous restaurants and told us where to find a supermarket.

The apartment is great.  It’s on the bottom floor inside a foliated courtyard (both apartments have been off of courtyards guarded with heavy locked wooden doors, don’t worry).  The building is an old 16th century convent.  I wish you could see our bedroom door.  It’s two heavy wood slabs with giant rusty hinges and a massive iron latch.  The floors and ceilings are giant red brick, and wood beams support the ceiling.  There’s even a giant stone/cement/something old chimney uptake in the kitchen that they put all the kitchen bits under.  It’s really cool and pretty.  And the bed is way more comfortable and the water heater a lot bigger, so I am very happy.  BONUS it is very close to sites!

After getting settled, we planned on walking up to the Piazzale Michelangelo (about a 10-15 minute walk down the street and up the hill) to watch the sunset, but the sun had set by the time we got to the bottom of the hill, so we walked back to the supermarket, which was on the way, and did our shopping.  We got more food this time than last time because I felt bored with breakfast the past week, and we got more fresh pasta and cool sauces.  Did I mention we’ve been able to find lactose-free milk here?  I’m so glad, I get to have cereal in the mornings yaaaaay...

We put the groceries away and walked down the street to one of the restaurants Francesco mentioned, called Gusto Osteria.  It’s a family place that mostly gets locals, but Francesco said they get enough tourists we shouldn’t have any problems.  We got there, but it hadn’t opened yet (mind you, it was 6:15pm at this point, dinner places here don’t even open til about 7 or 7:30), so we walked back to the apartment, ate some bread to curb our hunger, then decided to walk around town a bit.

We paused at a little Pinocchio shop, a place where they sell identical creepy wooden puppets in all manner of sizes and forms that you can imagine.  The store was small and the whole staff was standing eagerly behind the counter, impatiently staring at us, so I decided to mull it over longer and not stand there and make a pressure purchase.

Anyguay, we walked a little further down the street, debated over gelato, decided against it until after dinner, and kept walking.  Before we knew it, there were millions of bright jewelry stores all around, and we were on the Ponte Vecchio (it’s literally a few blocks from the apartment (our address is 18 Via Della Sprone, if you want to look it up).  We walked across and kept going, not really sure where we were headed, just biding time.  We saw a sign for the Santa Maria del Fiore (the cathedral with the famous duomo), so we turned to go towards it and WAHBAM there it was!  I actually was in awe for a bit, I couldn’t stop looking at it or yammering (didn’t expect it be directly around the corner, for one), so we had to stop and take some pictures with my phone.  Holy moly.  It is amazing.  It is bigger and brighter and more beautiful than I imagined, or even than it looks in pictures.  Maybe it’s just because it was night time, but I don’t know.  Few things can I say that I saw that I considered spectacular, but Santa Maria del Fiore is definitely one of them.  We walked around the baptistery and looked at the doors, then walked around the rest of the church and took it all in.  We have a half moon, and it was lurking behind some clouds next to the duomo as we looked up.  Beautiful.

Chicka boom
Boom chicka
Eventually we had circled it and the baptistery a few times, so we headed back across the Ponte Vecchio (everyone was closing up shop) and made our way back to the Osteria.  They were open, and only a few people were inside, so we got seated, ordered our food, and enjoyed the atmosphere.

We got a mixed bruschetta appetizer thing.  It came with three bruschettas of different types.  One just had olive oil and shaved parmesan, the second had pickled artichoke hearts, prosciutto, and parmesan, and the third had goose liver pâté.  We promised each other we would try at least one bite of the pâté.  I thought it tasted a little like weird fish, with the consistency (and kind of the smell) of wet cat food.  It wasn’t terrible, but I don’t think I’ll volunteer to take another bite ever again.  Sam feels the same way.

I had the lasagne Bolognese to compare, and Sam got rigatoni with eggplant.  Both meals were very filling and hot and delicious (great for a cold day filled with lots of walking and wandering).  The lasagna was good, but not as saucy and ultimately not as delicious as the one I had in Rome.  It was hearty though, and we both got very full.

Let me say (and Sam really wants me to point this out, so I’m not just highlighting it for reasons of jest) that Sam really put on The Awkward Show at the restaurant tonight.  Within a few-minute period, he had spit fine droplets all over our table (literally) while trying to speak, yelled a little too loudly to the waiter that pâté was too refined for his tastes, dropped pickled artichoke in my water, and blown out the candle on our table with his nose by accident.  At that last point, I broke down laughing at it all, and wouldn’t let him hand me anything over the drinks again.  We had a good time.

Stuffed and sleepy, we skipped gelato and came home, showered, and are now sitting here on the bed.  I’m very excited for Florence.  Within only a few hours, we both have been more impressed than we were in Rome, and the next week will hopefully be a great one, perhaps slower, more filled with good food, and a leaning towards spontaneity when we can.

Also, grapes.  Apparently it's grape season and they sure look delicious every we go.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

As We Descend Into the Tomb

Nov 22

This morning Sam headed out to find a printer near a hotel in the neighborhood that Andrea recommended to us.  How handy!  The place we looked for before was clear out near the Piazza Navona.  Anyway, all went well with that, we didn't even have to pay, I was so relieved.  While Sam was gone I got ready and threw in a little more laundry.  It is drying on the couch now.  I wish we had a clothes line.  Nobody uses driers here as you may know.

Anyway, we had a train to catch to Tarquinia at 10am, so we ran up to Termini and got there a few minutes before the hour.  The couple ahead of us was taking dang forever (Americans.  Ugh.) and this dumb kid kept trying to push buttons on the biglietteria for us so we would tip him.  I literally waved my hand in his face to get him to go away.  Silly boy.

Anyway, we got our tickets, which indicated we still had a few minutes, so we walked over to the binaria (track), which was clear on the other side of the station, so it's a good thing it wasn't leaving right at 10.  We remembered to validate the ticket, then hopped on and sat down for the 1h15m ride.  It was nice to be able to just sit for a while.

The countryside was pretty, but actually reminded me of the stretch the Amtrak takes from Oceanside to LA.  There was even a part that looked like Camp Pendleton, with the sea on the left and a bunch of Mediterranean (obv) houses.  Anyway.

So we got to Tarquinia (pronounced here, not "Tar-kin-ee-uh" but "Tar-kween-yah," which I actually like better, it sounds cute).  The directions I'd gotten said you had the option of taking the bus right from the station or walking into town.  We decided to save the money and walk.  So walk we did.

There weren't any signs for ruins or anything, just a signpost with an arrow for the town, so we headed in that direction.  Only a couple other people had gotten off the train when we did, and they'd all taken the bus.  Absolutely no one else was around.  It felt a little like getting off the train at Thirsk and having to figure out which way to walk on your own.

There were no sidewalks, and the road was turning into a pretty busy highway, with speeds at somewhere above 50kmh, whatever Italians see that as.  We were fording through tallish grass and weeds, and heading towards a hill with a medieval tower, which we assumed was the town (after Etruscan times, the next major settlement was a medieval one).  After trudging for about 20-25 minutes, we realized we were never going to make it, because not only was the hill pretty far away, it was a pretty steep hill.  Sam thought we could make it if we moved more quickly (we also had to allow enough time to check out the museum and the necropolis, and make it back to the train station before 4:30, when the train back left, and it was already almost one o'clock) so we walked a little faster.

I was starting to wonder how in Hades' name these people with the directions had ever made it to the museum in 20 minutes from the train station, when we ran into a barriered part of the highway, with the other side being some kind of irrigation ditch.  We pushed through it for a bit until the weeds were knee-high and we were slipping on some unseen trash or other into deeper holes.  I'd had enough.  So we decided that maybe the bus would be back soon ("but it only comes every 1-2 hours!  And it might not even be running that frequently today!") and walked back to a less weedy area and looked it up on the phone (I am becoming ever more grateful we bought that temporary international data plan).  By the way, nearly every driver on the road was craning necks to look at those odd people high-stepping through weeds on the side of the highway.  Hm.

Turns out the dummies meant it was a 20-minute walk from the museum to the necropolis.  Fantastico.  So we walked back to the train station.  We figured out which bus we needed to take and stood there at the dinky station with no one around and no bus coming for ages.  Fortunately, since our excursion had taken so long, we were back at the station only 10-15 minutes before the next bus was supposed to arrive.  A few wrong-buses and conversations on hooded crows later, the bus came, we hopped on (€.60/each too!) and rode it up to the gates of the medieval wall.

Tarquinia is a cute town.  Like I said, it's a medieval battlement on top of a hill, and you can see from one side to the sea, and from the other to a valley and rolling hills (I'll get to that later).  The roads are narrow and the buildings old and tall.  There were dog-walkers, locals conversing in the street, and a whole road had been closed down (the main one, even) just so they could paint a wall.  We thought about eating something, but we decided instead to tackle the museum first, since it was right by the town gate.

Tarquinia's Medieval walls
Streets of Tarquinia
The Museum of Etruscan Antiquities of Tarquinia (or whatever it was called) was in an amazing old building.  It had a courtyard with a little colonnade and I believe four floors.  The objects in the galleries were nearly all from the necropolis.  There were (possibly) hundreds of sarcophogi or partials.  All the labels were in Italian, but a few of the rooms had interpretive cards you could carry around printed in English.  We were absolutely the only patrons in the whole building.  And it was huge.  There were other cool things, gold jewelry, crematory vases, all kinds of ceramics (apparently the Etruscans went through the Orientalizing Period at the same time as the Greeks because they were in such constant trade for metals.  I didn't know that!).  There were many other awesome objects that I can't recall all of at the moment, but we took a lot of pictures.

They had some frescoes recreated from the tombs, but we only quickly glanced at those because we were obviously on our way up to see the real thing, and we were short on time.  There were also some neat winged horse statues that someone claimed were alone worth the trip from Rome.  I disagree, but they were still impressive.

After browsing the whole building (most of it quickly, I admit), and an "Arrivederci!" from half the staff, we were on our way to the necropolis.  It was a brief-ish walk mostly uphill, but it was, like I said, through cool narrow cobbled streets lined by old buildings.  Everyone was closed for the afternoon break, so again, no snacks.  Or lunch, for that matter.

Medieval churchlet
Eventually we came to the necropolis, got in, and walked around.  The way it works there is the excavated tombs in the grassy field have cement and tiled roofs over a long underground passage to the tomb entrance.  There is a plexiglass window to look through, and it is completely dark down in the pit until you press a button at the bottom of the stairs, and it briefly lights up the tomb so you can see the frescoes.

Crematory urn field
We started by going down into every tomb, but soon realized that we'd never make it with all the dozens of tombs there are.  A few of them that I wanted to see were closed today, which was sad, but most of the ones I was eager to see were open.  It was amazing to be sitting there in the musty darkness looking at the vibrant colors painting scenes from elite Etruscan life from over 2,000 years ago.  I loved it.

A two-roomed tomb (say that ten times fast)
This is a very famous fresco.  Take it all in.
At the edge of the hillside there was a giant map display board that showed where Ancient Tarquinia was in relation to the necropolis.  It was located on another large plateau across the valley, surprisingly quite far away.  Apparently back in those days, an enormous temple to someone or other (Reggina?) stood on the town hilltop and could be seen for miles.  I wish I could see it from back then.
That hilltop to the left of the middle there is the one in question.
After a while, the sun began to get lower in the sky and it was time to head back to the bus stop since we didn't know when it left, so we headed back down the hill.  We waited for a while at the bus stop and talked about where to eat for dinner in Rome.  The bus came a little before 4pm, so we were glad we hadn't dilly-dallied any longer at the necropolis.  It dropped us off and we waited at the station with a bunch of old Italian couples waiting for the train (we imagined they were going on some kind of group vacation-- they had suitcases and were all chatting with one another).  An announcement declared the train was very late (that would never happen if Mussolini was around), so I was glad I knew at least my numbers and a few travel verbs.  Even if I didn't though, the lively old folks sighed and whined and (finally) cheered in unison with every announcement about the train.  We all piled on and were on our way.

The ride back was uneventful, besides the beggarwoman and the non-existant ticket collector.  Oh well.

In Rome we decided to head out to a pizzeria we read about in one of those travel magazines.  I'm so glad we did.  It was amazing.  It was called "Pizzarium" and had Sicilian/Roman style pizza by the slice, and priced by weight.  We got about 3/4kg total of four different kinds and tried them all.  It was delicious.  We got a sun-dried tomato, sweet onion and rosemary, mozarella and potato, and basil and buffalo (cheese).  I like the onion one best, I think.  Sam's was the sun-dried tomato, although he agrees that the onion one was very good.

Bonci's Pizzarium

They use a gas oven, but they make a first-rate pizza
After dinner, we went in search of gelato.  We were looking for recommendations from the same food/travel magazine, but the one we tried first didn't actually exist at the address they printed, and we had walked all over looking for it, so we headed back to the metro to try another, when we spotted a random gelateria and decided to stop there instead.  We tried hazelnut, chocolate truffle, cream, and melting chocolate.  I was disappointed in all of them besides the melting chocolate.  Sam agreed that one was indeed the best, but he was nice enough to let me eat the rest of it.  I don't think we will be returning to that gelateria.

After that we thought about finding a bakery, but most everyone was closing up shop by that point, so we just came home instead.  It was a long, crowded metro ride and there were these women taking up several seats with giants boxes of celery stalks and wine.  Party in the making?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanks Be to Robin Hood

Nov 21

Sort of a mixed bag today, but I would say overall quite enjoyable.  We ignored the alarm this morning as we normally do, but this time, when we woke up, it was exactly 11am.  Yikes!  So much for an early start!  We ate breakfast for early lunch (I believe the term for this event is "brunch"...) and I showered and put in some laundry to run while we were gone.  We then hopped onto the metro at Termini and rode it to the end of the line, then hopped onto an urban train and rode it down to Ostia Antica, which is a few stops before the coast.  We got there around 1:30pm.

In ancient Roman times, Ostia was a port town started by the military, and then later turned over to primarily economic function (mostly milling grain, but imports and exports too).  The walk to the ruins from the train station was brief and pretty.  Everything is so green and wet here, and it's beautiful and vegetated everywhere.  Anyway, we got into the ruins for free (thank you Roma Pass!) and wandered around.  I printed off a little easy tour guide thing from Rick Steeves before we came, so we used that to guide us as we walked around.

We wandered through the extensive necropolis first, which was really cool.  There were broken sarcophagi littering the whole area, and partial urns sticking out of the ground (from cremated bodies, you know), and what I loved was that we could walk in and around and through and jump over walls and walk through lower areas and everything (carefully, keeping preservation in mind; we are archaeologists after all).  It was great.  Also, there were only a handful of people at the site the whole time, so we mostly had the place to ourselves.

Look!  Body slots!
Sometimes things are thorny.
We kept walking down the old Roman road through the town and saw the ruined city gate, and several old shops lining the way.  At first I was a little disappointed because I remembered the buildings being significantly taller when we learned about it in one of our classes (by the way, the town layout grid plan was one of or the first instance of implication by the Romans when making new towns, and other town plans that came after followed this pattern.  Also, Ostia was the first Roman colony, and it says/honors that in the inscription on the city gate).  But soon we walked into the greater part of town, and saw that the buildings were much taller, about 60 feet high (Ostia building code).  The sun started going down (I told you it goes down a little before 5-- today it was scheduled for 4:44 exactly) and I got really nervous because archaeological sites here close about an hour before sunset, so we started to rush a little, which was frustrating because there was a lot of cool stuff.  One other disappointing thing was that several of the mosaics, especially at that supposedly sensational Baths of Neptune were covered in weighed-down tarps for the rainy winter.  Quelle dommage.  But there was one great one of Amphititre (that's Neptune/Poseidon's wife) that was uncovered.

Amphititre.  Fishy.
Just a mosaic on a wall in a grassy field, nbd.
We then spent some time in the Square of the guilds, which had some cool mosaics of the different things the various guilds did or sold back in the day (mostly covered in tarps).  Next to that was the main Fora.  There were also several single-family homes and middle-lower class apartment buildings.  That's one other reason that made me want to come to this site instead of Pompeii-- Pompeii is mostly the life of fat comfortable rich people and Ostia, being an industrial port town, is more indicative of how life for "real" Romans was.  There were a few apartment buildings with stairs intact enough for you still to be able to climb, so we went up to the second/top floor of one and had a great view of the whole site and surrounding area.  It was beautiful.

Stitched up?
Near that building there was a pretty well-preserved tavern, with cool mosaics (you could even walk on these ones, uncovered), frescoes on the walls (there were several partial frescoes all throughout the town, even in the necropolis), a marble bar (Sam pretended to serve drinks), and a cool built-in shelving unit with frescoes above it of wares for sale that would've been shelved there for purchase. It was pretty neat.

It comes in pints??
Down the road a bit was a gigantor building known as the Capitolium or something, that was the main temple dedicated I think to the gods that protect the Caesar.  I think?  Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.  Anyway, it was a hugely important building back in the day, and although the marble facing was all gone (carted off as a prize in the Medieval days), it was still an impressive building.  Romans sure knew how to build huge things with brick, let me tell you.  We got to walk up all the stairs to the top and see the main altar, which was neat.

I sat on the bottom step and my feet were almost dangling, fyi.
Across the street from that was an old temple to Roma and Augusta.  A few of the statues were still there, and a couple of them were nearly complete (no heads though).  Near that were the Fora baths, which were the main baths for the area (I think the ones earlier were primarily for wrestlers?).  We walked through the caldarium and saw exposed piping in some degraded walls.  We wandered into a courtyard with some huge Corinthian columns stacked on top of each other, as well as a headless statue of some Imperial dude (headless) in the middle of a meadow.  Around the corner from that were the toilets. In the doorways you could still see the post hole where the pivot for the spinning doors would've been.  Cool!  The toilets were cool too.  I guess when Rick Steeves was there, you could sit on them, but today they were fenced off with chicken wire.

Ostia, Ostia, wherefore art thou Ostia?
We dodged a small group of archaeology students mapping part of the site (for practice, I assume) and went around to a grassy side path and saw stairs leading down into a tunnel.  We went down in there and realized we were inside an old under-floor heating system.  It was really neat.  We went pretty far, but then the vault roof became more solid and it was incredibly dark, so we went back, so as to avoid dead bodies and creepy vermin.  Anyway, it was neat.

We walked back down the main road toward the exit, and just in time, because the park was closed and they were about to start herding people out.  In case you're wondering, I have absolutely no reservations about skipping Pompeii for Ostia.  It was a better experience as far as learning about Roman life, as well as being able to interact with the ruins.  My only thought was that Pompeii may not last much longer because it is disintegrating from too much exposure to tourists and that I might miss it before we get to come back to Italy one day.

Oh!  I totally forgot, there was an awesome theatre before the Fora that I think could seat 4,000 people!  Apparently they still sometimes hold concerts there.  Pretty neat.  We were going to walk up to the top, but there was a woman sitting there sketching it, so we refrained.  As we were coming out of the amphitheatre, a guy approached us, speaking Italian, and when we looked at him blankly, he switched to French.  I told him we spoke English, and he was quite taken aback.  He explained in French that he worked for the "house" (assuming he meant the people that own the site) and was looking for people that spoke either Italian or French (Sam thinks he might've been a tour guide.  My automatic assumption was that he was telling us it was time to get off the property).  He apparently gathered that I comprehended his explanation, so he was like "Are you sure you don't speak French?"  I told him I only spoke a little, so he asked Sam what he spoke, and Sam was like "Ingles.  Solo." (and apparently a little Spanitaliano).  The guy said, in English, that he didn't speak English, we all had a funny laugh, and he walked away.  The end.

Anyway, so the original plan was to hop back on the train and go down to the beach (in modern Ostia, or Ostia Lido) to watch the sunset, so we did that.  We walked in the general direction of the sun, but felt no closer to the sea, and it also appeared that the sun had gone down already, and were about to turn back to the train and go home, but felt instead that we should go up a huge set of stairs to look at this random giant church, and directly down the street from the top of the stairs, we saw the water.  So we kept going.

On the way, we were about to pass a couple of guys sitting on a bench, and just as we passed in front of them, they glanced at each other and hopped up.  My immediate reaction was my heart stopping and grabbing tightly to Sam, ready to run.  Sam's reaction was his stomach sinking, his arm half-way to hitting someone and the urge to yell "Aiuto!" which means "help," which he learned last night while he was watching an old Robin Hood movie on tv while I was writing yesterday's email (I can't stop laughing about that).  Anyway, turns out they were just jumping up to get on the bus, which was pulling up right as we passed.  Sam and I had a funny laugh for several minutes.  Mugging averted.

Anyway, we got down to the end of the road, but there was no way down to the water, just a huge long line of changing huts blocking the view behind a locked fence.  Eventually we walked far enough that we came to a little pedestrian plaza where some teenagers were playing street futbol or whatever.  Sticking out of that was a short little stone pier.  We walked down that and paused in a little outlet.  The sun had already gone down, but the clouds were lit up bright reddish pink.  An old man busker was playing his guitar a ways away, and it was melodious, romantic, Italian-sounding music.  He played the song on a continuous loop for several minutes, to my liking.  A steady cool breeze was coming in off the sea, the waves were low and gentle, and men stood on small boats, presumably fishing, a few hundred yards away.  It was incredibly quaint.  Sam was equally interested in some algae growing on a rock and the graffiti on the railing, and an assortment of other things that were not the sea, the sunset, the breeze, me, or the fact that we were in Italy,  watching a Mediterranean sunset.  I reminded him of this.  He said the graffiti was really interesting.  I looked down and saw a drawing of a person picking his nose.  Very interesting.  Anyway, we had a romantic Italian sunset smooch (Sam diverted his interests) and walked back to the station in the semi-darkness.

Sunset over the Mediterranean, or probably Tyrrhenian Sea.  Beautimous.
It was nice to be able to sit down for a good while as we rode our way back to Rome.  Eventually we made it back to the apartment, did the dishes, switched out the laundry from the washer, and made dinner: fresh fettucine with pomodoro-romano sauce.  It was extremely delicious.  I may never buy dry fettucine ever again.

We then went out again to look for the cyber cafe with a printer that we'd looked up (near the Piazza Navona).  It was closed permanently.  Grand.  So instead we grabbed gelato at a place in the Piazza we'd spotted a couple days ago and ate it by one of the fountains.

Gelato.  My first time.  It was amazing.  Just like a very rich chocolate ice cream, and soft without being melty.  It was very, very good.  I was not disappointed.  I've decided that one thing that differentiates gelato from American ice cream is the way people lick it: down to up, instead of circular around the edges.

Anyway, we came home and now it is time to end the day.  I've emailed Andrea to see if he has a suggestion of where we can print off our train tickets.  I've told him we are desperate in hopes that he will take pity on us and perhaps offer a personal printer.  Hm...

PS Tomorrow is Tarquinia and a lot of eating, in honor of the holiday.  And more gelato.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Rats With Wings

Nov 20

In the morning we had breakfast at home (the orange juice here has a guava-y aftertaste, it's kind of weird.  Sam loves it though).  Then got all packed up (brought some cookies as a snack this time--dark chocolate tear-shaped cookies we got at the store last night) and headed out to Termini.  We could've taken the metro from the stop closer to the apartment but we needed to get the sandwiches for lunch, which are at the Despar in Termini, so we took the train from there.  Rush hour.  Very warm in the car.  No seats.  Many stops.  All these things make an unhappy Shannon.

So we got off and braved the (almost literally) crowds of "tour guides," souvenir sellers, and who knows what else.  I'm trying not to pay attention anymore.  I was approached in French.  Awesome.  First time I haven't been mistaken (well...) for an American so far.  Anyway, so as part of our OMNIA passes, we got free entrance to everything at the Vatican.  Well, we thought we did.  After getting through security and taking some pictures of/in St Peter's Square, we saw an offshoot line for the Cupola, and we thought "Hey that'll be cool" so we got in it, but they didn't honor the Vatican Pass for this particular "activity."  Oh well, it was only €5 apiece.  Anyway, so we climbed a bunch of stairs to an overlook on top of the basilica, took some pictures, it was cool, la di da.  I felt a little gypped.  Then we noticed people were disappearing through a little door in a small dome, so we followed them and found another set of spiral stairs!  So we went up it, and it took about ten thousand years, and people were all breathing heavily.  Eventually we popped out inside the duomo of the basilica (sort of like the Whispering Gallery at St Paul's in London if you recall).  It was very high.  I don't know if it's higher than the Whispering Gallery, I'll have to look it up to see how the churches compare in height.  We had a cool view of all the branches of the basilica, and took a lot of pictures of the dome and the mosaics on the walls, and everything else.  Then we went through the "Uscita" door and there were MORE stairs!  Yay...  I did mention that I wore my legs into the ground yesterday, right?  Well, I spoke too soon.  So we kept going, having to stop periodically to breathe.  The stairs got narrower and shallower and the ceiling leaned in and the spiral got tighter and it was rough.  We finally got to a landing and saw that there was yet another teeny spiral staircase with a rope coming down the center for people to hold onto (it was sticky and gross).  We paused in a tiny niche for a breather and laughed as we heard peoples' reactions as they saw it, which were similar in reaction to ours: "Mon Dieu!" "BELLa donna!" etc.  It was pretty funny.

Stopping for a breather.  No end in sight.
So we went up the narrow tower (not really) steps for about a million years or so and finally FINALLY made it to the top and we were spit out onto a landing that surrounded the top of the duomo.  But it was a beautiful view.  We could see all the way to the/some mountains, where rain clouds were congregating.  We could see all of the Vatican gardens and what I assume is all of Rome.  It was great.  We took lots of pictures, of course.  Eventually, we gritted our teeth and headed back down.  It was a little quicker, being downhill and skipping the middle gallery, but it was still steep and rough.  The couple we were stuck behind we're pretty sure were a young awkward American Mormon couple.  Like us!  We didn't ask.  It's more fun to speculate.
Finally made it.  Worth the view!
Finally we made it back down to a huge porch type thing at the same level as the one after the first set of stairs that we thought was the top.  We were right behind the giant statues of Christ and the Apostles that line the top of the basilica and right next to the bell tower's top, or at least the place where they keep the bell.  And right as we were walking up to it, it rang noon!  It was loud, but it was fun mostly watch the bell itself ringing, which you could see if you stood on your tip-toes and peeked into the shaft.
On top of the basilica

We took the opportunity to wash our hands of all the greasy grime of tourists through the ages and the dust of a thousand popes.  The sinks were cool/weird, in order to get the water in the faucet running, you stepped on a small pedal on the floor beneath the sink.

The stairs from that area put us in the line to go into the Basilica.  They didn't ask for tickets.  In fact, I didn't even see an area that sold or collected them.  OMNIA pass again disappointing me.  We spent a while inside and tried to get as many pictures as we could, but obviously the light was bad.  We saw the Pietà, which was cool of course, and I marveled over it.  Ah-mazing.  There were a bunch of other cool statues, and everyone was standing in line to touch the feet of one of Christ with holy water.  Or just regular water.  It was interesting to see people symbolically washing the feet of Christ, and I was annoyed by the dumb tourists who skipped the water and just posed for a photo with their hand on the foot of the statue.  Oh well.

There was some kind of liturgical reading or prayer (I think it started with one and ended with the other) in one chapel, so we watched part of it, and I really wanted to take pictures, because it was near a window, and because the Priest's vestments (his chasuble?) were pretty and green, and he was standing with his arms raised and his back to the crowd, and it would've made for an awesome photograph, and I know some people don't mind, but there was a guard chastising anyone who even brought the camera up from hip level, so I stayed back and got really bad pictures of it instead.  I wish I could capture people and what they do and how they feel on camera.  There's nothing wrong with that, in my opinion.

Anyway, there are a lot of statues in there.  It got tiring.  Some of them were really neat, others were kind of generic or even silly.  So we moved on outside, plus I was about to die if I didn't get to sit down after all that hiking.

There was a carving of some saint being hanged on the door we went out of.  Also his (anatomical) heart was below it, in deep relief.  Creepy.

We pulled out the sandwiches from the Despar and ate them on the steps around the colonnade.  They were not nearly as good as before, probably because they were squished and warm.  Mine made me gaggy after a while, so we experimented with the local pigeons and grumpy/snatchy seagulls.  We coaxed them close and tried to see how near we could get them to come to us.  It was really funny to see them a few inches from my shoe sort of dancing around trying to get up the courage to got between my legs.  Finally they did, so I gave out rewards and pretty soon almost every pigeon in the Vatican was deeply interested in us.  They started walking across my feet, so that was enough.  Fortunately, a little kid with his mom had pulled out some bread and they lost interest in us.

We walked around the Vatican wall to go into the vatican museum entrance, and got through security, then tried to figure out how to use the omnia passes to get in.  We asked three people (all grumpy eye-rollers that tell you the obvious and then tell you nothing helpful at all--sadly a majority of people we ask for help are this way, but primarily at the vatican...maybe they are underpaid.  Or overpaid.) before finding out that normally you can find a person to show your passes to to get tickets waiting underneath a tv screen by a column by security.  But there was no one there.  So we sat around confused, then made good use of that emergency data plan and looked up how to use them.  It said you had to call to make an appointment a day in advance to get someone to meet you there and give you the tickets.  What the haystack.

So we basically couldn't get in for free like we were supposed to.  That means about €120 wasted.  Compounded with the fact that I realized yesterday I hadn't actually printed our Eurail passes for Friday, I felt like a complete fool and got very sad, especially since Sam thought I was mad at him and was getting very animated.  Eventually we decided to pay the €15 apiece and go in anyway.  The museum maps were smelly and inaccurate.  We skipped most of the stuff, because it was all about the imperialist agenda impressed on other cultures in attempts to convert them to catholicism ("ethnographic missionary work"), and looked at the Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Etruscan collections.  We had a good time talking symbolic theory in classical statuary.  I'm so glad we can do that.  I told Sam about the Djed symbol, and the origins of Hermes through the installation of herms, and a little bit about chthonicism.  It was fun.  

We noted a bunch of negative things about the museum (hard not to do when you have to take so many classes on museum theory), such as the allowing of flash photography everywhere but in the tapestry room (still not enforced), and the random placement of a papal calendar painted on some shutters as the center focus in a room full of Etruscan pottery.  Relevance?  None.  Also hardly anything had labels.  BUT they did have the Laocoon Group statue, so that was really fun to see!

The museum is attached to the Sistine Chapel, so we went in there.  It was a lot smaller than I expected, and while it was neat to see the paintings I've learned about in person, it was a bit of a disappointment. 

It had begun to rain while we were in the museum, so we walked to the metro station in the rain.  I had a couple of cookies and ignored some annoyed scarf-sellers.

We finally got home and I decided I could not walk another step today.  We still had some errands to run (ie finding an ATM that took our card, getting more juice at the grocery store, etc), so I lay down while Sam went out on his own to get stuff done.  I didn't want him to go alone because I'm paranoid and I can't protect him (ha!) when I'm not there, but it all went well, and he finished everything in 45 minutes.  A few people even approached him for help, speaking in Italian, and no eye-rolling happened when he was strutting the streets of Rome.  Apparently I'm the one who makes us look like a tourist.  Boo.  Of course, the whole Oh-I-mistook-you-for-a-native-Mediterranean thing is nothing new for Sam (look at what happened in Turkey), but still.  I feel dumb.

While he was gone, I finished reading "Bellwether" by Connie Willis, which was very funny and fun and even though a lot of it didn't make sense, it all came together in the end in ways that had me going "OH that's what that meant!"  It felt a little like the writing style mimicked the mention of chaos theory in the book.  I decided I will recommend it to other people along with "To Say Nothing of the Dog."  Connie Willis is a great author.

Anyway, we just finished a dinner of fresh ricotta and spinach tortellini with disappointing "puttanesca" sauce (really just bland marinara with about a thousand sour green olives-- I guess it's possible to have cheapo brands of Italian food even in Italy).

Tomorrow we go to Ostia, and I am excited, because the ruins are supposed to be amazing, and hopefully no one will be there.  We might eat lunch in town.

Ok, Sam wants to watch a movie before we go to bed, so I'm off.  Write tomorrow!