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?


LP said...

I hope you're keeping track of all the ingrediments so you can make some of these things for us later.

LP said...

PS I didn't know the Tarquin family was of Etruscan origin!