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.


LP said...

Fascinating and funny!

LP said...

PS Amphitrite? Don't you mean Amphrodite?