Travel: Longest Travel day EVER.

The last leg of my trip, I was excited to rendezvous with some good friends from home sweet home, New Jersey. ūüôā Unfortunately I was meeting with them in Athens, Greece, and getting there from Italy is not quite as straight forward as it seems with the EuroRail Pass. I first had to manage to get myself to the Eastern side of Italy to a town called Bari. From there, I was to hop a ferry (paying only the fuel surcharge and port tax) which would get me to the Grecian Peninsula Town of Patras (I’d figure out the last leg when I got to Greece.)

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Rather than rushing through each transit option, and to avoid a stopover on my train, I chose a 7 AM train. This allowed me a few hours to explore Bari before being sequestered on a ferry for the 18-hour cruise time.

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Arriving in this quaint town around 10 AM, I strolled to the port to acquire my tickets and stretch my legs. Being a port town, the sun was bright, the air was fresh with salt, and the atmosphere was relaxed.

2013-06-03 05.49.38After obtaining my tickets and boarding time, I decided to embrace the concept of aimless wandering, particularly because I hadn’t planned on having time to explore Bari.

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I first ventured into the Basilica di San Nicola.¬†¬†Built between 1087 and 1197 during the¬†Italo-Norman¬†domination of¬†Apulia, the foundation of this church has roots in the theft of St. Nicholas‘s relics from his original shrine in¬†Myra¬†(present-day Turkey).

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 According to the legend, the saint, having passed by the city on his way to Rome, had chosen Bari as his burial place. Despite the competition against Venice, Bari succeeded, and the relics safely landed on May 9, 1087 under the custody of its Greek custodians and Muslim masters.

It has maintained  religious significance as an important pilgrimage destination both for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians from Eastern Europe.

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I paused to take a picture of my self with St. Nicholas himself! The storage place for luggage was closed since it was the off-season and a Sunday, so I did all this exploration with an approximately 25-lb backpack strapped to my back.

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Travel: Roman Art

After exploring the depths of Rome, I ventured onwards to¬†Trajan’s Forum. This¬†Fora was the last¬†Imperial fora¬†to be built, and was overseen by¬†Apollodorus of Damascus. Built between 106 to 112 AD, it was constructed from the spoils of war amassed from the conquest of¬†Dacia.

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The most notable icon of this sprawling complex is Trajan’s Column, a triumphal tribute commemorating Trajan‘s victory during the¬†Dacian Wars. Completely freestanding at 98 ft high (125 ft including the pedestal), the shaft is composed of a series of twenty 11 ft diameter colossal¬†Carrara marble¬†drums, each weighing ¬†32 tons. It is most recognized for its spiral¬†bas relief, at a total length of 625 ft, the¬†frieze¬†winds around 23 times, and depicts the epic wars of Romans Vs.¬†Dacians.¬†(I saw a miniature replica of this exact column wrought in gold in the museums of Vienna, Austria).

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Taking another breather (after all, one can only ponder the historical significance or art and architecture for so long), I stopped by to admire the Monument to Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy.  This monument is also home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a sobering reminder about the tragic losses of war.

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Around the corner I decided to take a leisurely stroll through a park. This area was formerly the Circus Maximus, the first and largest stadium used primarily for Ludi in Ancient Rome. Ludi are public games directly connected to Roman Religious Festivals, and were sponsored by noble Romans or the State for the benefit of the people and the gods.

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The last stop of my day was the Vatican Museum After Dark. Despite not having a full day, I was so proud that I discovered these tickets as it allowed me to enter at an allocated time and avoid the massive lines that tend to form during the day.

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I can’t even explain the overflowing stores of art that burst from the confines of each room. I was completely overwhelmed by the detail of the marble sculptures, the intricacies of the woven tapestries, and the breathtaking wonder that overtakes you when mortal eyes lay their gaze on the beauty of the Sistine Chapel.

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Do you not feel humble when you see the masterpieces of renowned artists that consistently challenged the constraints of art? Are you not jealous of the skill that they were blessed with? If you could have any artistic talent, what would it be, why?

Travel: Capri

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Since I had a flexible schedule due to eliminating a few of my planned cities along the original route, I decided to meet my friend (we became acquainted in Venice), on the gorgeous island of Capri. She was staying in Nerano, I was staying in Naples, and hopping on ferries to rendezvous in the middle of the sea happened to be the best compromise

Capri is about a 1-hour ferry ride from the western end of the Italian Peninsula. It lies on the south-side of the¬†Gulf of Naples¬†within the¬†Campania¬†region of¬†Italy. As a result, I set out early in the morning; It was a joy to be on the water and feel the wind in my face while watching the large wakes the boat’s speed left behind.

2013-05-29 04.55.21According to the greek geographer Strabo, and confirmed by archeological findings and geological surveys, Capri was once part of the mainland. Evidence of human settlement during the Roman Era indicates that the city has been inhabited since the  Neolithic and the Bronze Ages.

It is on these shores that the emperor¬†Augustus¬†constructed his villa; giant bones and “weapons of stone” were prominently displayed in the garden of his Sea Palace. He is the individual credited with the urbanization of Capri, seeing it as his own private paradise. Temples, villas, aqueducts, and gardens built to complement Augustus’ Vision.

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His successor,  Tiberius, went on to build a series of Villas, the most famous of all, Villa Jovis, remains one of the best-preserved Roman villas in Italy. It is from these shores that Tiberius ran his empire from 27 AD until his death in 37 AD.

 

 

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My friend and I hiked up to the main town foregoing the funicular. With no set plan, we merely traipsed around the paths catching gorgeous panoramic views of the island, and absorbing some Vitamin D. After, we grabbed some deli sandwiches (my european favorite being the Caprese with Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella), and relaxed on the beach.

She, being an inspirational late-20’s Marathon runner, ¬†went off to run, and I sun-bathed and caught up on a bit of my reading. After grabbing some wine upon her return, we split off of each other, and I hopped on a round-the-island tour to see all the hidden coves and imaginative rock formations that Capri had to offer.

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Unfortunately, due to extenuating wind conditions, I was not able to kayak into the infamous cavern known as the¬†Blue Grotto¬†(Grotta Azzurra). It is one of the most visited sites on of Capri, and considered the island’s emblem.

 

Travel: Napoli Underground

Italy is a surprisingly long peninsula, requiring my trip from Venice to Napoli to last around 7 hours. Therefore, I took a night train and arrived in Napoli in the wee morning hour of 7 AM. After hauling my backpack to my hostel, I departed to explore the historic centre, without an inkling of a plan. (I had chosen Napoli as my rendezvous point so that I had easy day-trip access to Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii. )

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Don’t get me wrong, this city is the only one on my list that legitimately terrified me. At present, the city has one of the highest crime rates in Italy; high unemployment paired with severe waste management issues continue to plague the city.¬†Rumors¬†of blackmail, extortion,and illicit contract tendering have emerged questioning the ethical viability of the local government. Read up on¬†Camorra Organized Crime for a better understanding of the powerful opponents that challenge elected officials.

 

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Some of the most interesting churches I have visited are here. In my wanderings, I stumbled into the Church of Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco, an abode that has gained a cult-like following for the dark, yet hopeful atmosphere housed beneath it’s floors.

 

Traditionally, Roman Catholics view Purgatory as a state or place of purification or temporary punishment. It is where souls that died in a state of grace are believed to be preparing for the Beatific Vision in Heaven. No one in Purgatory will remain forever, or be banished to hell.

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Origins of the ‘cult’ can be traced back to the early 1600s, when a church sought to establish a liturgical link between the living in the dead. The modes of worship for these souls vary, but express the possibility of developing a relationship through the ‘adoption’ and caring for of an individual’s remains. This ancient cult, survived despite wars and famines, and was so pervasive that Cardinal Ursi prohibited it in 1969, although it is still practiced.

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One of the most famous remains is ‘Princess Lucia.’¬†According to legend, the skull was that of an 18th-century teenage bride, whose tragic death evolved into her becoming the¬†unofficial protector of young brides.

 

My next destination was a stop at San Lorenzo Maggiore; as a church and monastery, its presence is rooted in the¬†Franciscan¬†order, one that existing during¬†St.Francis of Assisi‘s lifetime.¬†Its location is at the precise geographic center of the historic center of the ancient Greek-Roman city. I was able to explore the streets of the original Roman Market at the intersection of¬†via San Gregorio Armeno¬†and¬†via dei Tribunali.

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