no matter where you go, there you are

Thursday, May 27, 2010

most of my treasured memories of travel are recollections of sitting - robert thomas allen

One week down...In 7 days I had seen Paris, Pompei, and Rome. Next up was meeting my sister, Anne, and her roommate, Lauren, in Florence. But since it was only Thursday (Thanksgiving, actually) and I wasn't meeting them until Friday morning, it meant I had a day to kill. I had spent enough time in Rome for my purposes and had seen most of what I wanted to on my budget so to Siena I went.

While in Italy I wanted to see some of the Tuscan countryside if I could, and though Siena was a city, it gave me the chance to see Tuscany while not being surrounded by cars and masses of people. And little did I know, that I would see a lot more of the area than I expected. I arrived around 10 or so if I remember correctly and according to a google search I'd done, there was baggage storage at the train station. When I asked the workers at the station about it they said they didn't have any in the station but there was storage at a Piazza Gramsci.

One thing that is important to know about Siena is that it is built amongst the hills. Therefore, my original plan of walking to the Duomo was not going to happen, especially if I had to roll my suitcase up the hills. So I go to the bus guy and as him what busses got to Piazza Gramsci. His English is VERY limited and I don't know if he ever fully understood my question. He told me all of the busses go there. The second I step out of the station there is a bus waiting to go. Going against all my instincts of checking the schedule and routes, I hop on and pray it goes to Gramsci.

We pull out and I have a general idea in the direction of the downtown area and we head in the complete opposite direction. Lo and behold we do not go to Gramsci. We drive around the outskirts of the city and it ends up being a nice bus tour of the area, but its quite frustrating that it doesn't go anywhere near where I want. When we pull back into the train station an hour later I get off and find a bus that will take me to where I want. By this point, I also never paid for that first bus ride which was really confusing so I end up buying a ticket this time as you're supposed to do before you get on.

The next bus I get on heads in the right direction, yay! NOT, since busses don't announce the stops and you have to know where you're going. I try and count the stops but as it doesn't stop at every stop that proves useless. We stop at a busy area and almost everyone gets off. I should have trusted my instincts and gotten off, especially since I could have easily gotten back on a different bus without paying again if it turned out to be the wrong place. However, right before we stopped we passed a piazza sign that wasn't Gramsci so I assumed this wasn't correct. Oh it was Gramsci I later learned.

So I ride the bus for a little longer and decide I need to get off and maybe I can figure it all out once I'm off the bus. Nope...I just start walking and end up in another more ritzy outskirts of the city (the "burbs"), which I later realize was on a completely different hill/section of the city where I wanted to be. After 30 minutes of wandering I find a bus stop and ask the woman there if this goes to Gramsci. She speaks English really well and assures me it does. YAY!!! So I get on and we head to Gramsci. She's kind enough to let me know this is the stop and I have finally arrived. I find the underground area used for bathrooms and luggage storage and its the most gosh darn expensive luggage storage ever!! BOOO!

Collecting myself, I move onto Piazza del Campo and the Duomo. From this point on, my visit to Siena got much better and I loved the layout of the city. Tight, small streets with almost no vehicles sit upon the hill and there's a lot of up and down walking. I enter the Piazza del Campo, a very famous piazza where they have a horse race once a year. The piazza is at an angle and is kind of like a shallow bowl...really neat.

I follow signs for the Duomo and it's hard to miss. The massive church sits at the peak of the hill and is a beautiful combination of stone and white and black marble. The white and black marble stripes I later learn very common among the architecture of Tuscan churches.

Inside, the massive cathedral is beautiful and is even striped inside. There are busts of all the popes, I think, along the top of the walls and the dome is painted beautifully.

There are gorgeous marble designs in the floor, particularly one of Romulus and Remus with the wolf which is the symbol of Siena. The pulpit is really spectacular; it looks like a carved marble mini carousel ride outside of BJs. But obviously not an actual carousel.

There's also a side room with a beautiful ceiling and has really really really old documents preserved.

I move onto the next part of the Duomo complex which is the Museo and it's pretty interesting. All of the artwork was religious themed but it was different than what I'd seen in Rome. The best part of this building was the tower/lookout they have. There's not too many stairs to climb since you start on the third floor and as the duomo is already on a high point of the hill, it doesn't take much height to be higher than the rest of the buildings. The lookout was wonderful and had two levels to it. To get to the upper level you walk through a teeny passageway onto the stairs.

From the top lookout you could see forever into the rolling hills of Tuscany. The farmlands and the vineyards...everything. It was gorgeous! There's also a great view of the church and of Piazza del Campo.

Because I had no other plans to see anything in particular besides the Duomo complex, I took the time to relax, clear my mind and enjoy the gorgeous, wonderful views. The wind made it a little chilly but I didn't care. I wish I could have stayed longer, but after 30-45 minutes I had to move on. The crypt and battistero were next and though interesting, there wasn't anything spectacular about either of them. I think it was this crypt that made me realize there wasn't anything special about crypts so unless it was free, I didn't need to visit anymore. The battistero on the other hand was a new feature to the ancient churches that I hadn't seen before but after just one, I was satisfied with not going to anymore. What I liked most was the innate carving and use of pink marble with the black and white on on the exterior of the battistero. Really pretty!

I still had some time before I needed to get my bag, ride back to the station and head to Florence for the night so I walked around the Piazze del Campo, got gelato, loved my gelato and walked around the shopping streets.

I visited a neat little bookstore and was shocked at how many more people were out and about after sundown than there were when I got there only a few hours before. The bus ride back to the train station is slow because of traffic, but its not bad. The train ride up to Florence gives me time to reflect about the day and I decide it definitely wasn't a total washout. I got to see the Duomo and Piazza del Campo, and I have now seen artwork by all 4 of the Ninja Turtles. I also got to see parts of Tuscany I never would have had I not gotten lost. All in all, not as bad a day as it might seem.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

if you are alone you belong entirely to yourself... - leonardo davinci

A person needs at intervals to separate from family and companions and go to new places. One must go without familiars in order to be open to influences, to change. – Katharine Butler Hathaway

There are both pros and cons to traveling alone. Pros include: 1) choosing your own destinations as your not trying to please friends, family etc. 2) at each place you can take as much time as you want as no one is waiting, or holding you up 3) housing is easier to find with less people; you only need one bed. Cons include: 1) never having anyone besides yourself to say "ohmigosh that is beautiful" 2) never having anyone to take your picture with, or take a picture of you 3) no one to sit down and eat with.

All the cons I listed above are certainly cons to traveling alone, but they're not the be all end all. You can work around them, and some of them have cons themselves, therefore making them a pro? Though it would be fun to admire the Colosseum with my mother or act out "The Sound of Music" scenes with my best friend in Salzburg,
solo trekking around Europe didn't lessen any of its beauty. Mumbling repeatedly to myself how amazingly spectacular everything was was just as cathartic as jumping up and down and squeeing to a travel companion. This goes along with eating too. It can be done alone, even if it's not as much fun. You might save money too cause the incentive to eat in a restaurant is lessened significantly when you're alone. Or at least it was for me...

Con #2 is easily solved if you're a perfectionist about pictures as I am. I don't take pictures as a hobby, but I know what I like in terms of framing and I like things in focus so if either of those 2 are off, I tend to redo and delete later. I took 3500 pictures in Europe; I kept 1900. And since only I know how I want the picture framed, even if it's just a picture of me and a landmark, I've learned I don't like other people (foreign, tourist or sibling) taking the picture. Also, when you're traveling alone you learn quickly how to get your head and the landmark in the picture while minimizing the number of takes you have to do. Though a little embarassing, I found it easier to do it myself than have someone do it and the picture ends up being crappy. I wonder what the people thought of me who volunteered to take a picture for me yet I turned away politely. Anyway, by not having a buddy you lose out on getting full body with the landmark pictures, but even alone there is still the option to ask someone to snap the photo for you.

Like I said above, physical loneliness has both pros and cons, but they can be dealt with. And as Katherine Butler Hathaway said, "one must go without familiars in order to be open to influences, to change." What is much harder to get past is the emotional loneliness. When your heartstrings are being tugged so hard you'd give anything to be surrounded by people you love, people who you can reflect on the day's travels with and share in this wonderful opportunity together.

I found it really, really interesting that while surrounded by 1000s of people I didn't know and couldn't communicate with I never felt lonely. Yet, talking for only 10 minutes with 1 or 2 people at my various hostels, I felt more alone than ever just wishing someone could have made the journey with me. Overhearing an English-speaking family on the train, or in the streets of Siena, made me nostalgic for family vacas and wishing my entire family were with me seeing all these wonderful things. Nothing else I ran into or found myself surrounded by affected me in this way except using and/or hearing well spoken English. It really hit me. When you can't understand the language you're able to tune everything out; but the second you understand, it's like a dog hearing a high pitched whistle. You perk up and can't concentrate on anything else. Just how you wish you had someone to communicate with, to experience with.

The emotional loneliness was an issue I didn't encounter often, therefore I never got a chance to figure out a way around it. Unlike all the other cons of being alone where a solution was possible, there was never a moment when I heard English and didn't want someone to be there next to me. But I wouldn't give up my 3 weeks of travel for anything. It was an opportunity not to be missed and I saw and learned so much. It was an eye-opening experience and maybe it would have been better with a buddy. But travel companions bring decision making, which means an increase chance of a dispute... So in the words of my good friend Lumiere, "then again, maybe not."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

experience, travel - these are as education in themselves – euripides

Though I had finished my adventures through Ancient Rome and had returned to the present and modern buildings, it hit me that even the "modern" architecture of Rome was still really old and beautiful and so completely different than the style of American cities. I loved it. I loved that aspect of Europe when I was in London in 2002 and I continue to love it today.

I pass through the Circo Massimo and head north towards Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. I walk along the Tiber river and pass by the Sinagoga with it's giant menorah displayed on the front lawn. From here I cut through to the Fontana della Tartarughe (Tortise Fountain). Between my map and the google map image I had in my head, I originally thought this walk would take awhile as there were so many streets. Little did I know was that I had stepped into the Roman Ghetto and it was more a series of connected alleys than the city streets I thought they were. Twas' very interesting and a new segment of the Roman culture to explore within this vast city. I found the Tortise fountain easily and it was interesting, but nothing spectacular. I guess the good thing to come out of wanting to find it was that I got to see the Ghetto.

I soon hit a main road again and while only a few blocks south of my destination I discovered yet another wonderful facet of the city of Rome. While there are ruins that are isolated tourist attractions such as the Roman Forum and Colosseum, there are also ruins excavated and sitting amongst the modern buildings for the enjoyment of the passerby. All of a sudden I was looking at a small area of what appeared to be a ancient temples (just a guess based on layout) and I immediately thought I'd missed something from the guidebooks. Nope, it's just the inherent coolness that is Rome.

Piazza Navona was a great walk-through. Another obelisk stands in the center shooting towards the sky and there are a couple of interesting fountains as well. The Palazzo Pamphilj sits to the west side and towers over the piazza in all its grandeur. It's so wonderful and I can imagine this to be a very popular place in the high tourist seasons, or even just a warm summer afternoon.

Only a few minutes from Piazza Navona is the Pantheon, a former temple for the Ancient Gods of Rome built in the early 2nd century. It has the perfect dimensions of 141 ft high x 141 ft wide and is one of the best preserved monuments in Rome; it's large, original bronze doors are still intact. It is HUGE and surrounded by tightly built smaller buildings so it sticks out like a sore thumb. Not that it is ugly or anything, but its very unique. Another obelisk sits in the center of the piazza out front.

The inside of the Pantheon very simple. It's a large circular space with various chapels and tombs along the sides with an altar directly across from the entrance. Raphael is buried here along with former kings of Italy. The dome is HUGE, entirely symmetrical, made of carved stone and the largest built up until the 20th century. It is gorgeous! The 30-ft opening in the center acts as a natural skylight and illuminates the large space well. Despite all the other tourists, I was able to place my camera in the middle of the floor and take a picture the famous dome.

After the Pantheon, it was a few minutes more til Sant'Ingnazio, a Jesuit church well known for it's nave ceiling. Instead of an actual dome, the ceiling was painted so that at the perfect angle looks like a grand cupola that isn't there. Combined with the stunning ceiling along the main part of the church, Sant'Ignazio is certainly unique. A wonderful place to stop by while traipsing about the streets of Rome.

After Sant'Ignazio I walk towards the Trevi Fountain detouring slightly, stopping in the middle of a crazy intersection to admire the Vittorio Emmanuele II monument. It is massive and the sun illuminates it beautifully while the cloudless sky is a perfect backdrop.

When I arrive at the Trevi Fountain, it is packed. The area itself, like most I'd seen in the last couple hours, was small and enclosed by tons of streets and alleys. The fountain is really big and feels like the Pantheon a little. I'd use the sore thumb metaphor again, but the fountain blends into the surrounding architecture much more than the Pantheon did. I sit and observe all the people throwing their coins into the water and snapping pictures while doing so. I toss a Euro penny in and luckily there is no need to make wishes as I'm not good at that sort of thing.

Its getting to be around 230 or so and my stomach starts to growl. There are plenty of shops around the fountain but the gelato one on the corner pulls me in. I'm a sweet tooth by nature and ice cream is one of my favorites so it only took one bite into the creamy deliciousness for me to fall in love. Mmmmmm.

When planning my day, I purposely took a route that would land me at Palazzo del Quirinale at 3:20 for the guard change. I'd read about it as a sight to see as every day at the same time, the change of the guard occurs. When I get there around 3 not many people have gathered but as there are barricades up, you know they're expecting some crowd. Quirinale has another obelisk, which are slowly becoming a trademark of Rome to me, and I admire and wait for the march to begin. Like watching a parade, I hear the drums of the marching band in the distance. Like clockwork, right at 3:20, the marching band and around 50 guards dressed in black with red capes march up and enter the piazza. They stop and the brown uniforms with green capes march from inside the palace to join them. The ceremony continues and the leaders of each group come out and march with their swords. They then switch sides and their groups follow suit. Finally, an anthem of sorts, most likely the Italian National Anthem, is played and the crowd sings along. It's quite the show. Finally, the black and red guards march inside the palace while the band and the brown and green uniforms turn and march back out of the piazza. Only a 20 minute ceremony but the fact that this occurs every day is really outstanding.

Palazzo del Quirinale sits atop a hill and with one more stop on my list, I head back down towards the Vittorio Monument and the Colosseum. I pass by another section of ruins though this one is much larger and part of an actual tourist spot I think. There is no sign so I can't be sure. My favorite piece from this section and one I still am in awe of was a column, or monument of sorts, with detailed carvings telling a story (I have no idea what story) as it spirals up. It was beautiful and so so so so so detailed that it was really neat to look at.

As the sun begins to set, I finally arrive at San Clemente a church famous for the layers of archaeological history beneath. San Clemente is a 12th century church built on top of a 4th century church which was originally built on a 2nd century pagan temple. Though the admission price was on the more expensive side, I got a free tour of sorts because there was an English school group getting a tour so I just listened to the tour guide and learned about San Clemente's history. It was a little jarring at first because one of their leader people came up to me while I was reading one of the info panels and told me all about something I had no idea what he was talking about. But when we made it to the lowest and oldest level I enjoyed learning about the lifestyle of the people and the natural water source that still flows through. Very cool.

Instead of taking the Metro back to the hostel, I opted for the walk across the city. After learning that what may look like a long distance on the map actually isn't, I didn't mind the 15-20 minute walk back. I got to see a residential neighborhood which was neat and it was cool seeing how the city changes at night. Back at the hostel, I repacked my bag for the next day and prepared for the rest of the week in Italy.

Friday, May 14, 2010

friends, romans, countrymen. lend me your ears.

Day 2 in Rome began quite nicely. Though pulled from my sleep by my lovely alarm clock, I felt rested and ready to roll. Breakfast began at 8 so I made sure to be there and got a lovely bowl of cereal and took a couple of packaged croissants. Then it was off to the Roman Forum thanks to a short ride on the Roman Metro. The sun was still finishing its ascent over the horizon so it was chilly with no jacket. It takes a few moments to get my bearings and I take my time observing the layout and detail in each of the artifacts strewn about the area. Was this really how they found each stone, or has there been some change in where the smaller pieces have been placed and laid out? The silence is incredible; besides a small school group I see in the distance, I think I'm the only one here. For being one of the top attractions in Rome, this is a unique experience indeed.

The first few stone pieces I pass are bottoms of columns which make it hard to visualize exactly what the buildings looked like in Ancient Rome, but glancing towards the Saturn Temple and the Arch of Septimus Severus smothers all doubts I may have about the enjoyment factor of the Roman Forum. It's going to be awesome. Even if I have no knowledge of the history behind it. The beauty lies in the architectural feat of these temples and arches. The ornate carvings, not only on the Arch of Septimus Severus, but on small pieces of chipped away rock are beautiful and being so close that you can touch is pretty awesome. You're immediately immersed in the size, vastness and beauty of the place. The gorgeous blue skies with wisps of pure white clouds make for an outstanding backdrop. There are so many picture opportunities and its hard to not snap one of everything.

By the time I've made my way to the Arch of Titus at the other end of the Forum, the chilly air has warmed and more and more people are filing through the gates. Though the Colosseum looks gorgeous from here and is beckoning me to discover its history, I must first make my way through Palantine Hill.

Upon following a path that may lead me towards the main attraction of Palantine Hill I come across a beautiful overlook of the Colosseum. It's so gorgeous and I stupidly walk away without a picture. However, I almost immediately regret that decision and turn back to snap a portrait of the famed arena. (It turns out this was a good decision since there's no way to get a full view picture of the Colosseum when you're actually there.)

After this overlook I then find myself at another, this time looking down upon the entire Roman Forum. It's wonderful and I love that I can see how the entire place was designed and laid out. With the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument standing tall in the background, the ancient ruins make for a gorgeous view.

Palantine Hill isn't as exciting and interesting to look at as the Forum was. Palantine Hill was the former residential palace of the Emperors of Rome and there are a lot less ruins left compared to how large the original structure was. The land is still there so imagining how large it was isn't difficult, but trying to picture the grandeur of it all is much harder. Though I appreciate what is there I don't feel as obligated to spend as much time seeing every little thing.

The Arch of Constantine standing next to the Colosseum is just as spectacular as those of Septimus Severus and Titus. The detail in the carving is outstanding and only adds to its beauty. Its size is also a wonder and I can't help but think about how it was made back in ancient times. And I wonder if our society today is smart enough that we could figure how to build something as beautiful if the crutches of modern technology were taken away.

I move onto the Colosseum and get to skip the entire line. *HINT* The Forum, Palantine Hill and Colosseum are all 1 ticket so see the Forum/Palantine first so that when you get to the Colosseum you don't need to stand in any ticket lines. *END HINT* The Colosseum is something else. Almost 2000 years old, it is the largest ampitheater built in the Roman Empire and was used for gladiator contests and other public spectacles. There is a lower level that you can see as there is no floor left in the center which had ramps and stuff built in so that they could release animals into the arena. One of the pieces I really enjoyed seeing, though far away was the small section they have uncovered that shows distinct rows of seats. Its scary how much they look as if a small renovation would make them fit for a modern day sports arena. In addition, seeing the multiple levels of seats is astounding and though ancient, seem so modern. One thing I find really interesting is that they have to rotate which stairwells are used by tourists to get to the second level because so many people visit that if only one were used, they would be so worn out they wouldn't be safe anymore.

The 2nd level is even better than the first because you can look into the center area easier and see the maze that was the lower level. I spend quite a bit of time reading up on the history of the place in the museum they have and almost all of it has an English translation which is really helpful! It then transitions into a special exhibit which changes periodically and I can't remember what this one was about. I know they talk about various Emperors but I got sleepy reading so I left to go back and admire the arena once again. Its really really gorgeous and the panorama below gives a good perspective as to how it looks from one end. And it doesn't look like there are TONS of tourists, which there were. The Colosseum was definitely one of the more crowded attractions I went to.

By this time, it was approaching midday and I knew there was still much to be seen and all of it had to be done on foot so off I went, wishing as I'd done with so many other places that I could stay a few minutes more.