Saturday, July 21, 2007

Hedonism on the Sea, Part 2

First stop in Italy was Livorno, which is just a short hop from Pisa, and the leaning tower therein. As a side note, on the way to Pisa, the road was lined with large shade trees, underneath which were- at 100-300 yard intervals- pretty women wearing very little clothing. Some had plastic chairs, some didn't. One was speaking to a man in a car who had pulled over under her tree...

At this point you may draw your own conclusions.

We, of course, opted for the smutty conclusion.

In all our travels I believe Germany is the only place (Ghana and the U.S. included) where we haven't seen practitioners of the world's oldest profession, and that's probably because we just weren't looking. It's the one thing that just about every country has in common.

But on to more enlightening stuff...
Pisa is one of those places that it's fun to go to after a lifetime of reading about it. Once you enter the city walls, it's an easy shot to the Leaning Tower and it's exactly as advertised.

It's actually a bell tower, and this is the church to which it belongs...

If you get up close, this is the view to the top...

And on the face of the tower just about eye level are lots of these details...

We headed down this street just looking around...

and here's a shot of the Arno River as it runs through town.

All in all, a very satisfying stop.

The next day we were off to Rome.

I'm not sure what I expected exactly, but it was so different from my imaginings.

I always had a mental picture of Rome as a big flat city full of open piazzas and lots of ancient Roman stuff I guess.
What it actually is, is a big, hilly city full of narrow streets and hidden piazzas with lots of ancient, old, new and indeterminate stuff all jumbled together.

To my shame, most of my ideas about Rome were apparently all obtained through movies. But the Rome of Roman Holiday and Three Coins in the Fountain bears little resemblance to what is actually there.

So we sucked it up (it's so hard when your illusions are shattered) and started exploring.

First myth busted- The Trevi Fountain. It's not round, it's not in the middle of a big piazza, and it's stuck on the front of a building. Had I not seen the street signs...

I would never have known what I was looking at. It's a lovely fountain - just not what I ever thought it would look like in person.

As you can see from these two shots to either side, it's strangely situated on a small wide spot deep in the city, surrounded by buildings and basically isolated from everything.

From there we headed for the Roman Forum. Ha!

For this monumental misconception, I blame Zero Mostel. :-)

The gaps in my historical knowledge of Rome are wide and deep and apparently the place that knowledge should occupy in my brain is filled to the brim with dippy Hollywood images and ideas.

It's not a single place- Forum to the Romans meant "market" basically, and it goes on forever. There are tons of ruins running through the center of Rome...

in all sorts of conditions and ages...

And it includes the actual Caesar's Palace (thanks for nothing Las Vegas!) high on a hill above the forum...

Lots of good history and interesting building practices here- new things were built on top of the old things and unfortunately, things built by unpopular leaders were destroyed to keep them from being remembered.

A flawed practice at best, since basically everything Nero did here that didn't burn was destroyed and he's probably as famous 2000 years later as many of his more recent peers.

Note to Roman Tourism Authority: Lose the Centurions.


Although there was no shortage of tourists happy to pay costumed locals to have their picture taken with a guy who has a Mohawk whisk broom on his helmet, it doesn't add to the atmosphere in the forum, but does contribute to the wacky Hollywood view of Rome.

Not good.

Now all this time we have been catching glimpses of the Coliseum as we wandered in that general direction, and that was the big draw for Coop (teenaged boy + place where people were eaten by lions on purpose = worthwhile tourist attraction).

Finally, we headed for the Coliseum itself.

It's very cool, and even today it's easy to imagine it whole and filled with people.

The original stadium.

If you stand to one side you can see the cross section that shows the outer ring that used to circle the entire Coliseum.

We had a great time picturing the ancient equivalent of a TicketMaster admission ticket on papyrus or something that designated one's personal seat in the Coliseum as Gate LII, Row VI, Seat XXIV.

All the gates were really numbered that way!

No matter what, Zero Mostel, Mel Brooks, Monty Python and the rest of those jokers pop to the front of my brain. ;-)

That left the Vatican.

It was fun to see the plaza where all the people gather on important occasions and check out the windows in the Pope's apartments and stuff. My big aim here was to see Michelangelo's Pieta, and I wasn't disappointed.

The picture quality is not great because of the security surrounding the sculpture (this is the one that the crazy guy with the hammer went after a few years ago...), but in person it is a terrific piece to see- you'll have to trust me on that.

We didn't make it to the Sistine Chapel, mostly because although we have always loved the "Spark of Life" painting (known in our family as "Pull My Finger"), we had to choose between going there and missing the boat.

We chose the boat, and a gorgeous sunset from our balcony...

(Ted took this picture, and I made fun of him at the time,
so now I have to tell you all that it's his picture or he'll pout.)

Next up, the second week of vacation and some tidbits from The Monster of the Seas...