Travel: Longest Travel day EVER (III)

Finally emerging from Bari Castle, I was absolutely starving! I dragged my bedraggled and tired body back on route to the port hoping to grab some food on the way. Unfortunately, being a smaller coastal town, there weren’t a lot of options. I didn’t really have time for a sit-down, and the one food truck I passed didn’t have anything available! (Or simply didn’t understand my pointing or limited and slaughtering of the Italian language).

As a result, I finally make it to the port! (and consequently purchase my sustenance on board)

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The important thing to note is that the journey from Bari to Patras lasts for a minimum of 18 hours. The basic ferry ticket does not include a bed or an official seat. There’s some assigned seating in the form of small auditorium, but the rest is a lounge or public space. As a poor, traveling, recently graduate student, I opted for the base charge that went with my EuroRail pass. Therefore, I ended up sleeping on one of the booth seats that you often see in diners. Not exactly the most comfortable way to pass the night, especially if you are carrying all your earthly possessions in a backpack.

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Fortunately, I passed the time with some avid reading of my Kindle, some book-keeping for my expenses in my beloved Moleskine, and the uploading of all my media onto my Macbook Air. When it came time to pass out, I used my carabiners to strap the loops of my backpack to my belt-loops (This way I didn’t have to sleep on top of a lumpy bag, or cuddle it on my stomach. (Carabiners are my best friend).

18 crawling hours later, we dock in Patras Greece, exiting the ferry doors to the smell of the sea and fresh sunshine. Finding the bus-stop required to take me to town, I met up with some backpackers, a few traveling solo, and a few with friends.  1 hour later, we arrived at the main bus terminal. From there, it was either a 30 min walk to the train station (with questionable service) or tickets on a bus for about $25 Euro. We just went for it. (At this point we were waaaay too exhausted to even consider the alternative option).

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Starving, we used the time we had to venture up the street for food. And I got my first official taste of grecian food in the country of Greece at a placed called Snoopy’s!

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Granted it was a Gyro, which is actually pronounce yero, but for about $3 Euro, I got two Gyro’s and they were absolutely fantastic!

A 4-hour bus ride later, we reached the outskirts of Athens. (We meandered about confused for awhile until an english-species grecian helped us out).

The ride into the city center took us about 45 mins. Getting off, we had to take a bus in the opposite direction because the bus driver failed to notify us of our stop.

So let’s sum up my estimated travel time from Rome to Greece.

  • 3-4 hours train
  • 18 hour ferry
  • 1 hour bus
  • 4 hours bus
  • 45 min bus

Equals, it took me MORE than a FULL day to successfully physically relocate my body from the peninsula of Italy to the Peninsula of Greece. Whew!

 

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Travel: Bidding Addio to Rome

Italian is an artful and complex language, it tops my  list of five languages that I want to gain fluency in,  and it is with this prose that I bid Addio to Rome. It was a long and prolonged day for both myself and my poor, ravaged feet. Despite this, I wanted to cherish the feeling of history beneath my footsteps, and inhale my final breaths of roman air.

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I could think of no better place to experience this, than to ponder the epic feats and legends of Ancient Rome whilst gazing at the Trevi Fountain at dusk with the sun retracting its golden rays. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I passed by the Pantheon during my stroll, I’m still not sure how this two-thousand year old structure missed my list of must-sees.

The circular building is composed of a portico supported by large granite Corinthian columns  beneath a pediment. This links to the rotunda which lays beneath a coffered concrete dome containing a occulus. To this day, this dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome at a diameter and height of 43.3 meters (142 ft). It is from this building, that Paris’s pantheon derives its name.  The Pantheon contains the tombs of Raphael, Peruzzi, Carraci, Corelli, two kings of italy, and one queen. I will certainly have to remember to visit this beautifully preserved structure at a future date.

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Nonetheless, I continued onwards to treat myself to some Gelato from the famous Giolitti‘s. As the oldest ice cream parlor in the city, it has been owned and run by the same family since its founding in 1890.

 

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Famous amongst tourists and locals alike, it maintains a diverse range of unique flavors, such as champagne, ricotta, and rice. Not aware of this, I opted for some more traditional choices.

I rounded off my night by tossing a Euro into the Trevi. The tradition is to use the right hand to throw a coin in over the left shoulder.

 

One coin means you’ll return to Rome, two mean you’ll return and fall in love, and three mean you’ll return, find love, and marry. I wish I had known about the superstition behind multiple coins, because my love life is seriously lacking . . .

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Travel: Barbarians or Heroics?

Although my muscles were silently crying tears, I made my way onwards toward the Colosseum that silently towers in the background. However, I first attempted to give my bones a reprieve by pausing in the shadows of these ancient roman giants and taking in their confident stances that have stayed steadfast despite the centuries.

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I know I’ve used this word far to often, but the first thought that comes to mind is ‘breathtaking.’ Its no wonder that it has consistently held its title as a ‘Wonder of the World.’ The structure is a monstrosity after all; built of concrete and stone, it has weathered the ages and remains the largest amphitheater ever constructed to date.

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The iconic name ‘Colosseum’ is believed to be derived from the nearby (although no longer in existence) colossal statue of Nero that was erected in bronze and towered at a height of 30m within the vestibule of Emperor Nero‘s imperial villa the Domus Aurea.

Considered a pinnacles of Roman Architecture and Engineering, it lies east of the Roman Forum and was erected during the Flavian dynasty under the reign trifecta of VespasianTitus, and Domitian.

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Shadows creep as the sun sets.

It held between 50-80 thousand spectators and was the site of gladiatorial contests and public spectacles for the entertainment of the public.

Events such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, reenactments of famous battles, classical mythological dramas, and even executions were regularly on display.

Unfortunately, it fell into disuse in the early medieval era, and was only reincarnated by necessity as  grounds for housing, workshops, religious quarters, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine. It even maintains close connections with the Roman Catholic Church, as each year, on Good Friday, the Pope leads a torchlit “Way of the Cross” procession originating from the Roman Ruins surrounding the Colosseum.

An epigram by the Venerable Bede often misattributed as a reference to the colosseum states the following:

 Quamdiu stat Colisæus, stat et Roma; quando cadet colisæus, cadet et Roma; quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus 

“As long as the Colossus stands, so shall Rome; when the Colossus falls, Rome shall fall; when Rome falls, so falls the world”

Although the correct structure in question was the previously stated Statue Of Nero, one can’t help but consider the subtle symbology behind this statement.

The Roman’s were certainly an articulate and knowledgeable civilization that flourished for centuries despite systematic weaknesses. They knew how to effectively wield power across long distances, develop a unified army, distribute responsibilities amongst individual civil administrations, develop a system to control public finances, and maintain a class system. The empire didn’t fall in a sudden blaze of glory, but was whittled away at by circumstance, much as the Colosseum continues to lose it skeleton to greedy stone robbers.

I realize this is a de facto analogy, but it really causes one to ponder. What do you think?

Travel: In the Steps of Michaelangelo

English: Capitoline Hill, Rome. Image:Fratelli...

Before we could enter the Roman Ruins that day, my new friend and I stumbled upon the tail-end of a parade in celebration of some unknown national holiday. I’m still not clear on what it was, but I would have been thrilled if I had managed to catch sight of all the festivities. Unfortunately for us, we discovered that it delayed the opening of our attractions for the day. Rather than being open that morning, neither the Imperial Forum, nor the Colosseum were going to open until that afternoon. Instead, we took a long stroll around Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome and the original Citadel of the first generation.

The Abduction of the Sabine Women, by Nicolas ...

It is at this site that the Sabines, were granted access by the Roman maiden Tarpeia. For her treachery, she was the first to be flung from a steep cliff overlooking the Roman Forum. Later named the Tarpeian Rock after the Vestal Virgin, it became a frequent execution site.

The first Sabines immigrated to Rome following the Rape of the Sabine Women.

You may recall an earlier post from the beginning of my trip when I went to visit the Fatima Sanctuary, the following brings to mind how individuals can be so devout to subject themselves to pain in the name of their faith. Legend says that  Julius Caesar approached the foot of the hill and Jupiter’s Temple on his knees in penance for his actions in the civil wars and to avert an unlucky omen of Jupiter’s wrath. He was moved to do so after he suffered an accident during one of his triumphs. Despite this, he was murdered six months later, and Brutus and his conspirators barricade themselves within the temple.

Excuse me, I’ve gotten a bit off track from my original topic., back to Michelangelo!

What I’ve come to love about Rome are the subtle nuances that pervade every cornerstone and recess of its ancient culture and architecture. A prime example of this is the Piazza del Campidoglio.

Michelangelo's design for Capitoline Hill, now...

In his prime, he was commissioned by the Farnese Pope Paul III to design a plaza. The Pope wanted a symbol of the new Rome to impress Charles V, who was expected in 1538. Having an opportunity to build such a monumental civic space, granted Michelangelo the opportunity to make a resonating statement reestablishing the grandeur of Rome.  His initial designs for the Piazza date from 1536 and were formidably extensive.

In an emblematic display, he chose to accentuate the reversal of the classic orientation of the Capitoline. Instead, the gesture turned Rome’s civic center away from the ancient Roman Forum  to face the direction of Papal Rome and the Christian church  represented by  St. Peter’s Basilica.

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His made a bold metaphorical statement:

“This full half circle turn can also be seen as Michelangelo’s desire to address the new, developing section of the city rather than the ancient ruins of the past.” ~In the wise words of Wikipedia

I have so much more I want to say about how Michelangelo used his ingenuity to address problems such as a sloped site and the lack of building facades facing each other squarely, however, I will leave that to your research. The structural engineer in me is trying her hardest not to bore you with devious architectural solutions.

Travel: Roman Ingenuity

I suppose I could have visited these vestiges of Roman Power earlier on during my stay in Rome, but those days were fraught with cloudy skies and doubtful rain. The scenery and the nobility of these shrewdly crafted sprawling complexes is best observed by admiring their height against the deep, blue sky, and pondering the shadows they leave behind. Still standing 2 Millenia later, the longevity of these structures are a testament to the Roman Empire‘s influence and power.

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The word awe-inspiring has certainly been used by me more times on this trip than I can count. In this case, I feel that it is well deserved, although my tender feet may not acknowledge this compliment since the square area that was traipsed across tested their limits.

As you can imagine, the lines to get into these archaeological ruins tend to be lengthy, I ventured there with a girl who was staying at the same hostel as me, unfortunately, it is at the lines that we split up. I had invested in the Roma Card, a visitor pass that allowed me to bypass the lines, and I was simply not eager to bide my time with her.

My first stop was the Roman Forum.

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This complex was located in the center of the city and houses the important government buildings of this ancient civilization. It was the main social environment for its citizens, a square for public speeches, criminal trials, triumphal processions and elections. The venue was used for gladiatorial matches and was the nucleus for the commercial affairs of the city.

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I literally lost more than half my day here! There are so many towering structures and secret little niches that are delicately foiled in bright green moss. It’s definitely not an area that you can rush through, because smelling the air, and envisioning the daily lives of Roman Citizens is a must.  Believe me, my feet were absolutely KILLING me by the end of it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to rush through the subtle nuances of heritage that are exuded with each step. (I think that is a grammatically correct sentence…)

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: Beneath the Streets of Rome

My day started off fairly morbidly as it began by exploring a Capuchin Crypt beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. When moving from an old monastery in 1631, the monks arrived bearing 300 cartloads of deceased friars. Fr. Michael of Bergamo then oversaw arrangement of the bones amongst soil that had been brought from Jerusalem by order of Pope Urban VIII.

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During the lifetime of the crypt, as monks passed away, longer-buried remains were exhumed to make room for the newly-deceased and the reclaimed bones were added to the decorative motifs.The average time span of decomposition was 30 years, and the total skeletal remains number 3,700.

Six rooms with individual themes bear the following names:

  1. Crypt of the Resurrection
  2. The Mass Chapel
  3. Crypt of the Skulls
  4. Crypt of the Pelvises
  5. Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones
  6. Crypt of the Three Skeletons

If you recall a former post, from my visit to Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic, despite modern-day opinions on death, bones, and gore, one could understand the thought behind such a display. It is not meant to be macabre, but a gentle reminder that each lifespan is but a swift passage on earth and even we can not escape our own mortality.

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Experiencing a strong desire to bask in the roman air and sunshine, I emerged from these depths to stroll above ground. This led me to pensive pondering while admiring the infamous Trevi Fountain. I’ll speak more about the history and myths behind this landmark site in a future post as I came back to this location a multitude of times.

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A hop, skip, and jump away is an archaeological dig called the ‘City of Water.’ Discovered in 1999 during reconstruction of the former Cinema Sala Trevi, it is a little-known tourist destination.  The excavation is merely 400 m², but reveals a 4th century Roman mansion built upon two former insulae and a section of aqueduct. This section is part of the Acqua Vergine and actually connects to the Trevi Fountain!

 

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