Italy, On Toward Rome

On the fourth day of our journey (hey, that sounds like it should be a song) we enjoyed our “usual” breakfast, scrambled eggs (that weren’t ever cooked quite enough), ring bologna or bacon (which most of us avoided because it was quite undercooked), and various fruits, juices, rolls, sweets, coffee, etc.

No vacation is complete without at least one picture of the hotel room, right?

While our itinerary says “head to Rome”, before doing so we crossed the Arno river for a brief stop at the Piazzale Michelangelo, a beautiful park overlooking Florence. Although it was quite hazy, we had a great view of the city with its tile roofs, steeples and domes.

While Teresa and I bid farewell to Florence,

Bonita decided that “David” needed a little extra support:

Deb Oswald, I did mention there’s another David here for you, didn’t I?

Ann, Diane and Jean try to pretend the bright morning sun isn’t blinding them

Back on the bus, there were a few scenic points I tried to capture through the window. Alas, they all looked like pictures taken through a bus window…

After a drive (or maybe it was a nap) through the beautiful Tuscan countryside, we arrived at our hotel in Rome where we were delighted to see posters advertising our concert! As we explored Rome over the next few days, we saw quite a few of them.

When we checked in, it seemed that Hotel Michelangelo didn’t want anyone to walk away with their room key in their pocket.

Each brass key fob weighed about a pound! We were expected to drop them into a slot at the reception desk whenever we left the hotel and claim them when we returned. Never once did they check our ID to see if we were claiming the right room…

After a quick lunch (yummy pizza) at the sidewalk cafe closest to the hotel entrance, Elisabeth our guide taught about 20 of us how to use the train system. We took the Rome Metro from the “San Pietro” station to the “Piramide” station where we transferred to a regional train known as the “Ostia train”. A few stops later we found ourselves at Ostia Antica, the oldest known Roman sea port. Back in the day, this is where the Tiber River flowed into the “Tyrrhenian” (Mediterranean) Sea. As you can see in this picture, the trains are electric.

And, the train crowds weren’t much different from those seen on any other mass transit system I’ve used, including a wide array of fashion statements.

Over time, the Tiber flooded many times, burying portions of the city and eventually the course of the river changed some and the area which is now dry has been excavated by archeologists. One of the first things we noticed as unique to the area were the “umbrella pine” trees.

Actually called the “Italian Stone Pine” (Pineus pinea), these beautiful trees commonly grow to 34-40 feet but have been known to stretch to 100 feet tall! Some of the very old trees in this area were much taller than 40 feet. Unfortunately they need a more temperate climate than we have in Wisconsin, or I’d try.

The first thing we saw in the site was a cemetery, with both stone coffins

and in-wall (mausoleum-like) crypts

All of the burial spots we saw had been plundered…no skeletons or treasure left. There were signs

and statues

and roads and buildings dating back to the 4th century before Christ.

Historians and archaeologists believe that approximately 2/3 of the ruins have been excavated and that the city may have been founded as early as the 7th century before Christ. It was rather humbling to walk through structures which have stood through a multitude of wars, earthquakes and floods over the last 2500 years and think about our throw-away society where buildings might last 50.

The ruins are quite extensive and we only had time to explore a portion of them. Apparently “community” was the in thing back in the day, as the baths were public, and quite ornate. This mosaic bath floor dates to the 2nd century AD.

The rooftop “patio” overlooking the baths was a great spot for a group photo

The baths weren’t the only thing that was public…this bathroom had seating for 25!

Note the “slots” in the front face of the stone supporting the seats. Hygiene needs were met with a sponge on a stick, manipulated through the slot. The trough running in front of the bench was to collect urine, which was used in the laundry process due to its ammonia content. TMI? Sorry…

Other daily needs were met at the well

And at the bakery where grains were milled by “donkey power” harnessed to wooden poles inserted through the holes in these millstones

Adjacent “rooms” or “buildings” (it’s not clear which based on what remains) contained brick ovens for baking.

Hospitality needs were met at the “House of Diana”, which wasn’t open when we visited.

However the tavern across the street was (open)

And an inviting place for our group to gather

The “ice bucket” on the bar was in great shape, as were the display shelves built into the wall

 and the artwork on the walls

I bet if we go up the stairway across the street

we’ll get a great view of the entrance to the bar

Note the mosaic tiles at the entrance. This was quite common. The rooftop patio was a great overlook of this section of the ruins

Nearby was the market area of the ancient port city, where a mosaic in front of each vendor’s stall described what could be purchased or traded there

Most of the stalls, we couldn’t read the Greek text or understand the meaning of the image(s) in the mosaic. This one was obviously where they went to purchase pet elephants:

After the group picture, we dispersed to explore on our own or in small groups for a while.

I took advantage of this time to check out the flowers,

 spider webs, lizards, statues and shadows

One impressively large building was used, at different points in history, as both a military building and a temple

Although it wasn’t the only temple we saw

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of our side-trip to Ostia Antica was finding an auditorium over 2000 years old!

Even though much of it has been destroyed, it still seats over 4000 people and is still used periodically for concerts. How could we keep from singing?

Our audience was small but appreciative!

After a few moments to revel in the joy of the occasion,

And smell the blossoms,

We marched like good Roman soldiers back to the train station

After an adventure with schedules – the trains run on schedule, “more or less” – we freshened up at the hotel and took over a nearby restaurant for a late dinner and much wine.

You can use these links to learn more about Ostia Antica, or explore the area using Google Maps. And, in case you want to see all of my pictures from this day, I’ve posted them as a slide show on Flickr.

As always, your feedback, comments and questions are welcome!


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