Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Weekends in Rome

Its raining today, and we got soaked and had to leave site early, so with my new-found afternoon time, and because I don't particuarly want to get out of bed, I thought I would update you all on some of my weekend adventures in Rome. Because I am so slack.....I am two weekends behind the present. cough. So starting with 2 weekends ago, a week after the Naples trip.....

Saturday was the long awaited trip to Ostia Antica with the  Dr. Beckers - Jeff and Hillary. Ostia is the Roman port city, although by now it is several km from the shoreline due to some awesomely heavy silting. The same silting that preserved the city much better than any silly volcano. If you are ever in the area around Rome, I would recommend Ostia over Pompeii or Herculaneum. Its quieter, cheaper, easier to get to and much better preserved than either of the other sites I would say. Sure it has no preserved charcoal beams or dead bodies, but it provides this amazing view of a city that ran its natural course before disappearing under the silt. Not as dramatic a story as that of Pompeii - city trapped in time - but from a historical and archaeological view, more interesting I think. Going through a city with two proffessional archaeologists who are well versed in urban history and archaeology was awesome. You hit all the highlights, and given there are no signs at Ostia, you knew what you were looking at....and it was amazing. We saw a Mithraeum - a room where the mystery cult of Mithros met, a Fulonica in amazing condition - a laundry, some amazing mosiacs lining the Piazza outside the Theatre, some beautifully preserved insulae (apartments) and shops, where you could take stairs up to the preserved second stories. Many buildings were preserved up to 3-4 stories high. We saw the 'Basilica' of the early Christians, which has been redesignated not a church at all, we saw a synagogue, baths, warehouses, latrines, tombs, temples. Everything you could see in an ancient city we saw there. And the almost complete lack of barriers meant we got to go under the bath floors to where the slaves would have stocked the fires and wander through rooms that would have been blocked from view at Pompeii. One of the coolest bits where the giant Dolia (jars) that we saw. They were partially buried in the ground, because they were strictly for storage and probably never got moved. All I could think of was Ali Baba and the 40 Theives, although not quite the right continent.
After Ostia, I had planned on heading to the beack nearby, but it was already quite late in the day, so we headed into Rome instead to do a little shopping and suchlike and get some dinner. We went to Via del Corso near the Spanish Steps which is famous for its great (affordable) shopping. It was fun to wander through the stores with the famous July sales. The highilght was the Disney Store, which was like being a little kid all over again. I got a sweet Alice tshirt (which I'm wearing right now) and am quite attached to. I mulled over getting this sweet Marvel/Captain America hoodie, and when I cam back the next weekend to get it, having decided it was worth the 30E, it was gone :( I was very sad.

Sunday was a bit of a quiet day. I dragged my butt out of bed just in time for breakfast at 9.50, and resolved to catch the lunchtime train to Rome for some lunch and a little look through some pretty churches . I had originally planned on hitting up quite a few more churches, and maybe a small Museum, but the getting lunch and gelato took quite a bit longer than I had originally planned on. But I did see some beautful churches. The French National Church (real name....umm...not so sure) had 3 beautful Caravaggio's in one of its niches and a lovely Baroque interior with more than a little gold. The contrast between the white marble of the statues and the opulent gold and frescoes was both weird and beautiful. I then went the Dominican church, one of the fwe Gothic churches in Rome, which had the classic blue interior, with some nice Filippino Lippi frescoes. It was cool to be able to recognise parts of Rome that were painted into the background of the frescoes. The Church of the Jesuits was by far the most spectaclar Church I saw that day, and maybe one the nicest I have seen my whole time in Italy. It was massive, and the way the paintings were done so that they went outside of the outline sqaure.....difficult to describe but truly breathtaking in the artistry. Stand by for fb photos. Last stop of the day was a smal church near Termini station, which I only saw breifly, where my attention was taken up by the astounding Ecstasy of St Theresa which was every bit as amazing as Dan Brown described it to be.
I suppose this just sounds like me waxing lyrical about just about everything, but thats really the way I feel most of the time I in Rome in the weekends. Everything just seems to boggle the mind and sometimes I come home at night and I am like...holy shit. I just saw that today. I'm in Rome. In Italy. Working on an ancient city. You can't alwasy think like that or you'd never get anything done, but its good to  remind yourself once in awhile what you are doing and where you are, or everything just becomes so bland. Its the thought I use to drag myself out of bed each morning and motivate myself to leave Frascati in the weekends, when sitting on my ass in my room is joyously tempting. Even if I don't want to go and trek through the Forum, just grabbing my book or Ipod, some gelato and chilling out at one of the Piazza's, staring at the Column of Marcus Aurelias, or a beautiful Bernini fountain is mindblowing enough. It's times like that when I envy the Ostia kids who joined us. Living in Trastevere, just across the Tiber from the Forum area, a tram ride or short walk from the Colosseum or Piazza Navona....living in one of the most fantastic cities in the world. Jelly. I only manage the occassional taste on weekends, I don't know how I could sleep if I was living in Rome. Wow. Just wow.

Enough waffle though. Last weekend has still not been discussed! This was the last official weekend in Rome for the Gabii Project, although I am stealing an extra one after (mwahahaha!), so I thought it would be nice to stay the night in Rome, with one of my Ostia buddies - Amanda - and her flatmates. It was awesome. But I am getting ahead of myself. Saturday I headed to Tivoli to see Hadrians villa and the Villa D'este (home to beatiful Bernini fountains). It made a pretty full-on day trip but there was plenty of time to see everything for sure. Villa D'este was beautful, with some lovely frescoes rooms although the highlight was the gardens with the massive fountains shooting water everywhere and little hidden fountains and pools that had been allowed to grow moss and plants all over them making them perhaps more magical than they were new. The views from the Villa of the countryside were breathtaking and made me fall in love all over again with the Italian landscape. After exploring the Villa, we headed out of town to nearby Hadrians Villa which was a lot bigger than I had envisioned. To think this was one man's holiday home, even an Emperor, is crazy. When compared to some of the most opulent Villas of the Middle Ages/Renaissance, Hadrians Villa is more of a self contained town, with streets and more baths than any single person rightly needs. It was defintely more like one mans personl country town. There was a suprising amount of construction going on in some places, restoration work I expect, while other areas were beautifully deserted. For some reason, the caretakers of the site have a taste for modern art, because you would find weird classically inspired modern art pieces scattered in the randomest of places. They even placed a giant golden head of Antonius in the Canopus, to remind everyone that he drowned in the Nile and th Canopus is supposed to evoke that. It was...weird. Just weird. The three highlights of the Villa were the Maritime Theatre, which is basically a manmade Island with a moat inside a ciruclar wall. The Canopus with the Serapeum was exactly as we had studied it, so I really liked seeing it for real, even with Antonius' head randomly in it. Hadrians Astronomy Tower on the outskirts of the complex, was suprisingly amazing. The views from the highest preserved level of Tivoli and the countryside were awesome. One view of a golden field with a farmhouse stuck in my head as particularly spectacular, and rather Van Gogh-esque. The area was so deserted that we explored all through the tower which was exciting, although the bugs were a little gross and creepy.

After we returned to Rome from Tivoli, it was dinnertime and already getting dark. We met up with more Gabii people who were also staying with the same people and we wandered through Rome to meet them at their flat. By this time it was already pushing 10-11pm, so the night people had started to come out. On Tiber Island they were playing a dubbed version of The Social Network on a giant outdoor screen which was both random and awesome. The Tiber itself was beautiful at night and really gripped the imagination. At the bottom of the large banks, at the level of the water there is a little wharf running alongside the water, and a little nighttime market/bar district has grown up there which is quite possibly the most awesome place to have some wine and admire the scenery. We only got to have a closer look when we came out again later that night with the Ostia peoples, at which point I was getting very tired  and not quite all there. Still, I intend to go back and have a closer look next week when I am (hopefully) much less tired. While some of my mates stayed out till 5am, I was in bed a little earlier, although we did spend some 40min napping on the stoop of the apartment block because the flatmate we were with had forgotten her key and was waiting for another girl to get home and let us all in. So by early, I mean closer to 3.30, although I was sleeping for some of the time prior. Good night all round though. Rome at night is awesome, especially the way they light up all the monuments and fountains to maximum effect.
Sunday was a lazy day, as usual. I got up around 10.30 and got pizza for breakfast (nom nom, good breakfast food) and headed to the giant market of Porta Porthese to browse the antiques. It was much better than the part of the market I had experienced last time, and I fully intend to go explore it further before I come home. There is some truly random shit. After the market closed at 2pm, I wandered through Rome towards the Spanish Steps, taking in this and that and admiring the Piazzas and whatever random things I came across. I went a little roundabout for much of it, as I was trying to do it without my map, probably not the best idea in hindsight. I still got back to Termini in time for the 4pm train, but due to some fire or suchlike catastrophe at another major station, everything was running behind schedule and the station was packed with stranded people. Nothing about platforms turned up on the boards and so me and some other Gabii people I bumped into missed the train by a fraction because we didn't find the platform number till it was too late. I was pissed to say the least, as the next train wasn't for 2 hours. But we headed out of the station, got a drink or two to pass the time, so that wasn't too bad. I got a craving for a cheeseburger, so got one from Maccers, along with possibly the best McFlurry I have ever had. It was....wow. Just amazing. The cheeseburger was alright, not a patch on the NZ ones though. We did get the next train to Frascati which was a relief, so not such a disaster after all.

I think that makes all my weekends up to date! Phew. Quite a milestone. Anyway, home in a week and a half, so I can fill in the gaps in person for those of you who made it all the way through my ridiculously long and infrequent posts. Not looking forward to the pile of school work that is waiting for me, but nothing much to be done I suppose. I miss you all, but I dont especially want to leave Italy and break the magic. Sigh. Guess I can't have everything.
xoxo
Sheira

Monday, 18 July 2011

More exciting Italian adventures - my weekend in the Bay of Naples

Hi all!
This was actually last weekend to be specific, don't ask me the date though, I haave lost all sense of realworld time here. It was the weekend between Week 3 and Week 4 - my 3rd weekend while on the dig. So now that we are all orientated, let us begin.

Day One - Herculaneum, the Museum of Naples and Sorrento Shenanigans
In an effort to save money, I was convinced by Illana (fellow NZer) to get up at the crack of dawn and catch the most absurdly early train down to Naples on Saturday. Wake at 5.30, leave for the station at 6am, train to Rome from Frascati at 6.30, and leave on the IC train to Naples at 7.40. We didn't get a proper seat on the train, but managed to get a foldout seat in the corridor, which made the trip fairly bearable. We got to Naples close to 10am, and headed on the Circumvesuviana to Herculaneum. That train was disgustinly packed and we had to stand, which my sleepy self was unhappy about, but the awesomeness that was Herculaneum totally made up for that. We took it slowly, and were at Herculaneum for close on 4hours, which is a lot I think given the sqm of the site that is available for tourists. The great thing about Herculaneum is how you can explore every room and almost nothing is blocked off. Its also amazingly empty, so you didn't have to wind your way through throngs of tourists. It is, like Pompeii, completely stripped of most of its marble and all of statues, but what was really amazing was the preserved wooden charcoal beams. They had been left in situ, and supports placed in the course of excavation to hold things up. We even saw a set of preserved wooden stairs at one point. As this was our first city to explore, we stopped at every drain pipe and room and debated likely funtions of things and depaired at the people who threw rubbish into the impluvia. We explored an undergound cave which was most exciting. I wish I had the contacts to get into the theatre that is only viewable through tunnels built several hundred years ago.
After Herculaneum we trained back to Naples to look around the Museum for a few hours. We were there till practically closing time, although in honesty, we were quite tired and spent some of this time sitting and admiring random statues that happened to be near the available seating. We saw the Alexander Mosaic and all the famous mosaics and frescoes we learnt about in school. The highlight in all honesty....was the room with the dirty mosaics, which I like to call the penis room. I was expecting some pretty crazy things, but not at all the types of explicitness they had displayed. The anthropomorphised penis.......weird. Don't think I will be able to put many of the pictures on fb, so you'll have to take my word for it when I say it was classical pornography in all its raunchy glory, with animals featuring fairly heavily. You can see why they put a warning up on the door outisde and don't like to let children in. Many of the pieces had been banned in the past.
In the evening, we headed back to Sorrento where we met up with a few of the guys from Gabii and headed out for dinner and drinks. We also met a nice engineering student in our hostel who had been ditched for the night by his mate, so he came along as well. We got dinner and picked up some local wine and limoncello and attempted to head towards the beach. Turns out the sandy beaches I had expected......did not exist. Sorrento has cliffs, sheer crazy cliffs. We did spot a windy path going down towards a sort of pier, so we headed down hoping to find some nice rocks where we could dangle our feet. The path was scary to say the least, uneven and dark. At one point it went into the cliff face itself, which was all ominous and scary. But we made it down and found a tiny little stretch of sand, and decided to go swimming. The water wasn't actually that cold considering how late it was, and we weren't the only people who had the same idea. So we swam and chilled out. Things got ridiculous when we decided to dry off and head back up to the town. We made it to the top of the path no problem but turns out the cafe area we had wandered through to get to the path...controlled it or something. Because a gate blocked us at two points. Big spiked metal gates....which we somehow managed to get over, with a few scrambles and legups. The slliest part was a group of Italians outside the second fence who seemed to take great pleasure in sitting and watching us struggle over. After that the night wound down slowly and we got gelato and sat eating it in a park before trudging back to our hostel absurdly late at night.

Day Two - Pompeii and an eventful trip home
We woke up a bit later the next day, although still too early for my liking. The trip on the train to Pompeii went by in sullen morning silence on my part, but once we got there, my mood brightened considerably. The sheer scale of the city was mindblowing! The preservation difference between the two cities did not appear that obvious to me at the time, although the nature of the eruption meant that there were no preserved wooden beams and significantly fewer multistorey buildings. Pompeii made up for it however, with its endless streets and impressive public buildings. We explored the backroads for a while, which did not excite as much as Herculaneum in that almost every building was blocked off by a rope preventing you from exploring any further than the sidewalk. The few open buildings were definitely exciting, and we took great pleasure in engineering our "Christian Rock Group Cover Art" shots, against random ruined walls with everyone looking pensively into the distance. There were some pretty fun photo ops there as well as a great video of a gladiatorial combat in the Theatre (I know, should have been in the amphitheatre). We went from one side of the city to the other, exploring the amphitheatre and a fulonica as well as different houses and shops along the way. We were running low on time as we raced back across the city to the Villa of Mysteries, doing a quick tour through the House of Faun, with its reconstruction of the Alexander Mosaic and the dancing faun statue. The Villa itself was amazing, with two of the plaster casts of people found during the excavations (very chilling) as well as the original frescoes you all know so well still in situ. One of my mates intercepted a child who was throwing rocks at a fresco (unbelievable!)
After Pompeii we headed back to Naples where we had an hour or so to kill before our train back to Rome. We wandered a few blocks from the station, and I had hoped to find the famous rubbish heaps, but all we found was one overflowing dumpster and a burnt molten vespa. So grabbing a kebab we head back to station only to find out that all trains to Rome have been massively delayed. We ended up leaving Naples an hour late and missed the last train to Frascati. Only option.....take the metro out to the last stop in the middle of nowhere and then run around like headless chickens trying to get our hands on a taxi, which proceeds to stiff us for 10E more than the usual price for such a trip. We got back way later than planned and Monday followed as a haze of tiredness and sore feet.
All in all..... a pretty amazing trip I would say. The transport hitch at the end gave the weekend a bit of a downer ending, but the amazing ruins and the food and swimming and company of good friends made it an awesome two days.
More adventures to follow soon

Sunday, 17 July 2011

End of Week Four - catchup blogging

So, been even more slack than before in my blog posts and have several weekends and weeks of news to catchup on. I will be fairly brief then, but I suppose that means you will be spared my excessive rantings on the purty art or the crazy archaeology. So, starting with my second weekend in Rome.....

The Vatican - was amazing. As if I needed to tell you that. We booked our tickets to the Museum for 11am and were there till closing at 5.30 (absurdly early I must say), and we missed about half the Museum. We had planned to go straight to the Sistine Chapel before the busy post-lunch rush, but turns out you have to go through the entire Museum leading up to the Sistine Chapel. It was just me and a friend of mine (Jacob) and being the Museum whores that we are....we couldn;t just rush through, so we only got to the Sistine Chapel at like 3.30. On the way we saw the Raphael rooms, with the School of Athens and the Constantine rooms.....awesome. We also got sidetracked into the Near Eastern and Egyptian section for a wee while. The Sistine Chapel is truly mindblowing, and quite a bit larger than the term Chapel implies. We sat for close to an hour and just enjoyed the art and discussed the perspective. By then we kept wandering through, looking at awesome maps and statues and things. The Etruscan Museum was closed, which was a bummer. Also we tried to find the Prima Porta only to discover that the Museum was closing.....this was most irritating, but leaves something amazing for next time. We also saw St Peters Basilica which is totally different to all the Basilicas I've seen so far, which is nice. Its good when yet another church can still take your breath away with the artwork and sheer size.

Via Appia and the Frascati market - Sunday morning was the monthly Frascati market, which was full of antiques and lovely jewellery stores. I saw a beautiful Yad for sale, but turns out it was 100E, and a lady bought it while I contemplated liberating this likely looted piece of Judaica. I got a beautiful antique handmirror that needs a little cleaning but I am quite attached too. Then we headed into Rome in the afternoon to see the Catacombs on the Via Appia. The main one that was open was a massive disappointment. The bit you could see was completely reconstructed with hardly any original architecture visible. You also had to take the quided tour, who hurried you through in less than an hour and knew fuck-all about the catacombs or Roman/Christian history. He talked about barabarians invading Rome in 800AD, and when we asked him after which barbarians invaded in the 9th century he said "no, no 800AD, not 9th century" and didn't know which barbarians. We  looked it up later, turns out the Pope invited Charlemagne to invade Rome to kick out the Lombards.....dang those christian barbarians really fuck people up. After that we wandered down the Via Appia, stopping in for a look at some random churches and some interesting looking ruins from afar. We ended up sprinting back to the station in ridiculous record time to catch our train home. We flagged down a bus, sprinted from the bus to the metro, from the metro to the train....it was brutal.

It is way past my bedtime now (11pm)!!! I would have been in bed ages ago if I hadn't had a lovely sleep in and only in finds lab cleaning pottery tomorrow. Catchup blogging will continue on the morrow. Hope everyone has a great first day (or day) at uni! Missing you all

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Week Three is coming to an end :(

Again I have been super slack in updating this little blog of mine. It's not that I don't love you all, but it's hard enough motivating myself to get off my butt in the afternoons, let alone wrestle with the internet to write to you guys. But when I realised how much you had been neglected, I felt a little guilty. So here goes.

Excavation
A lot has changed in the site in the past week or so. I was chugging along in Area C, defining robbing trenches for walls and catching up on documentation and basically jumping from SU to SU as Jamie (area manager) needed me. Some exciting things were starting to come up in the two large cuts in the floor that I mentioned last time. Unforutantely I wasn't working on them, but I was nextdoor demolishing a bit of my wall.
In the circular cut, Evan Goldstick was digging the fill out and came across a small animal hole, maybe 30cm in diameter. These can be fairly common and easy to identify, so he kept digging and an hour or so later, his entire leg went through the bottom of the hole into a giant hole/void under the soil. The hole was so deep, that we poked a longhandled shovel down it and had to hold onto the very tip. The stratigraphy was quite odd, if this was a manmade hole, as it undercut (and therefore should predate) not only the floor, but also part of the adjoining wall. If it was some kind of cistern or grave, why would you build a wall on a huge hole, and why didn't the hole cause the wall to collapse? Could there have been some kind of organic material in the hole that had disinetegrated with time? It was very confusing, and Jamie called over the Field Manager Anna for her opinion and for the official word on what to do. She concluded it was an animal hole (some sort of giant goffer perhaps? this seems quite crazy to me), and excavation proceeded as normal.
In the oval cut next to this one, Nick Bartos was digigng and found heaps of semi-intact amphorae and huge chunks of tufa and basalt, which was rather irritating to excavate as I realised later when I helped him out for a bit. The hole turned out to ridiculously deep and the soil so loose on  the sides, that they stopped excavating for fear of collapse, even though the bottom of the hole had not been reached.
You might think that this was the exciting stuff, but there is so much more to come.
We got news from the directors, that 25 new students were joining us for the rest of the dig. Turns out the dig at Ostia Antica, run by the American Institute for Roman Culture and the University of Bologna had been cancelled, something to do with some monetary demands and permits and things. So Nic Terrenato, the head of the dig, had agreed to take on the students who had come to Italy to participate. I was actually considering going to that dig, funny how these things turn out.
So with all the new people coming, they decided to extend the area of excavation, by pushing our excavation area further south (to find the southern wall of the house) and adding a new Area E to the East of my area, to investigate the structures on the other side of the N-S road. So on Friday and Monday, we had a digger on site pulling back the top soil.
It was about this time that I had my rotoation in the Environmental Lab, which was thrilling as always. We were working on a sampling experiment they had conducted last year to see how efficient their method for artefact collection was (sifting through each shovelfull in the wheelbarrows with a trowel). So we had to go through bags of sifted sediment and after it had been seived in a fine seive, we went through with tweezers and removed all the tiny bits of bone and ceramic and glass. Its tedious to say the least.
Around this time I also had a little time excavating the SU from hell! It was impossible to define, because we could find basically no stratigraphic evidence for the cut of the giant 17th century canal that run next to it, and without being able to define the limits of the SU, we can't excatly document or excavate it properly without cross-contamination. It was hellish. The sun baked the soil so hard you couldn't tell anything, and when we came back to try again when the storm (see below) and moistened it all up....still nothing. Its a work in progress, and I think Jamie just decided to leave it because he doesn't want to have to deal with it right now.
But to get back to my Area. After the digger had removed a whole new section of the house, we go in to start cleaning up the loose dirt and seeing what there was. Unfortuantely, barely an hour into the morning....THUNDERSTORM! Torrential rain and lightening, means we all have to retreat to the little metal trailers for about an hour until the thunderstorm passes over. They were earthed though, otherwise I don't think we would have made it. Apparently last year, a lightening bolt hit and destroyed a tree in the next field, so they tend to pack it in when it gets bad like that. Despite the brevity of the storm, we come out and the entire southern section of our Area is flooded, and the rest of the site was muddy as hell. So the entire excavation team has to sit and wash pottery until some of the excavation areas were dry enough that you can walk on them without taking off half the stratigraphy as you go. Some people went down to our area and started to bail it out, but I don't think it did much good. The last few days have been spent cleaning up the mess left by the digger and subsequent rain, so that we can actually start excavating it properly.
I think that just about brings you all up to date, assuming any of that made sense to you. Its hard to talk about my area, because its all about structural relationships of walls and floors, not at all like the exciting stuff they are finding in the other areas. To give you a taster of what I don't get to play with.....Area D found a HUGE (2m deep) hole in the bedrock with 3 niches in the sides of it containing skeletons. In Area B, they have found several more bodies, including an infant in a terracotta sarcophagus with a thin lead sheet over top, and a woman buried in a triple-covered tomb (cappucini tiles, then thick lead sheets, then more tiles). Jealous much!!!!?????

I had planned to write about my last weekend in Rome...but its past 10pm and I'm tired. So I'll leave that for next time, which hopefully will be tomorrow. But I make no promises.
Miss you all!

Monday, 27 June 2011

The First Week and Weekend

I guess its a testament to how busy and tiring archaeology here is that it has been so long since my last update, although to be honest, the internet can be a bit of a tempermental biatch. But I did get around to putting up some pictures, so I think that makes up for it a little.

Excavation
This has been pretty awesome since I was last on here, despite the fact that I am itching and sore from head to foot. There are so many mosquitos, and I got stung by a bee/wasp/hornet last week which was quite painful. Last week I had my first finds lab rotation, which I really enjoyed. I was with some really cool people, with some music playing sitting in the shade. So already I was quite happy. Washing pottery is a bit repetitive, but its exciting to discover what pretty things hide under the dirt. You find some cool shapes, decoration and colours which Abby gave a quick tutorial on recognising different glazes, slips, fashions etc. Only complaint is that the stools make my ass hurt like hell, to be coarse. In terms of what we have been digging in my area....I defined my rubble wall, found a whole section of dressed wall that had been robbed out. And started exposing a room floor. This was so much easier in some ways from the rubble wall - there is a crushed tufa floor and its very obvious where it is. Unfortuantely you move a whole lot more dirt faster, so there was a lot of pick-axing and shovelling which my back and such did not like that much, although my knees approve of the decrease in kneeling and squatting. We found huge cuts in the floor, which we haven't excavated yet, but we think are later cuts, that have damaged the structural integrity of the floor. This is a little repititive compared to one area that found an infant burial buried in a large jar buried in a cut into the bedrock. Very jealous. Also of the several graves in Area B. Grrr. But I love the people I get to work with, its a really friendly fun environment, so I don't mind too much atm. If we find a dead baby, my area will be swarming with important high-up people and it would be less peaceful and fun. But the supervisors are really good at showing you around and letting you know how and why the excavation is going the way it is. And they always answer my questions, which I think I ask an inordinate amount of. We got invited to another Area to take a look at their skeleton Martha in the open grave. It was quite an amazing site, because the grave was undisturbed and skeletally intact. I would have loved to talk to the osteologist that came the next day to excavate and document the bones, but no luck. I'm sure she'll be back, I hear that area found 2 more graves today, which they think may be undisturbed.

Hotel Life
This is all pretty good, the hotel is under construction so there isn't really anywhere to hang out, except the lobby and the fireescape. We usually have some wine outside before dinner, although sitting on the fireescape is a little hard on the butt. Alcohol in Italy is absurdely cheap. I bought totally drinkable white wine for 1 Euro!!! Thats $2NZD, for a whole bottle. And as far as I can tell, its no worse than the $10 wine you get in NZ, very easy drinking, especially as I am not usually a wine person. The spirits is like $8-$12 Euro, which is also absurdely cheap, although mixer can be expensive. The food continues amazing, and the rooms are nice. Except for the tempermental AC and mosquitos, its totally luxurious.

Weekend in Rome
This was...wow. Amazing. Very tiring, and not sure how smart it was to try and do so much, in terms of walking for ages. But, to start at the beginning.....
Saturday
Had a little sleepin, and got the 9.30train to Rome. Seeing as we were going to Rome anyway, we all took our washing with us. I was with two of the girls on the train, and they helped me trek around Termini Station to find a laundromat. Cost $8Euro but they let me leave it there and come get it later, which was pretty helpful. Then we headed down to the main part of Ancient Rome, where Mussolini built Via de Fori Imperiali through all the Imperial Forums, past the Palatine Hill and Forum Romanum to the Colosseum. A nice road, but rankling in its horrible destruction of the archaeology underneath. Sigh. The massive Fascist monument near Trajans Column is great for reminding you what Rome almost would have looked like - all shiny marble and statues. The girls I was with were going to a random Museum, so I was all set to go see the Forum alone, but I randomly bumped into a large group of people for the dig, which was so lucky. But, to say what we saw......The Imperial Forums of Trajan, Nerva, Augustus, Julius Ceasar.... :) And we walked around the Colosseum, Arch of Constantine and down to Circus Maximus. We saw the line and decided to leave the Forum Romanum and Palatine for another day. We wandered down to Tiber and saw the Forum Boarium, then had lunch in the Jewish Ghetto on our way to the Pantheon. The Pantheon was amazing, after all the domes I had seen in Florence and Venice, I had to remind myself that this is a whole lot earlier, which makes the architectural achievement so much more vivid. We then went to the Trevi Fountain, which was hugely crowded but the statues were truly  beautiful. I threw a penny in, and seeing as we came  back the next day, I guess it works. :) We then went to the crypt of the Capuchin/Cappucini monks. You should google them for pictures, because I wasn't allowed  to take any. But basically they are famous for the crypts and preserved skeletons and monk bodies. They have dismemebered most of the skeletons and turned these little rooms into art of skeletal pieces. I was very disturbed, it seemed so.....wrong and tawrdy and disrepectful. I was much more disturbed by the skeletal art, then the complete skeletons, some still with preserved flesh and skin on them, standing along the walls in monk robes, holding crosses. In the last room, there was a sign which said, in several languages "What you are, we once were. And what we are, you will be". After the monks we headed down to the Capitoline Hill, and the Museum there. It was way too quick a visit for my liking, but I saw the Esquiline Hadrian, Commodus as Hercules (so very shiny), the Capitoline Wolf and the Colossus of Constantine (its huge!). The Museum is built over the foundations of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, so seeing the huge blocks of ashlar masonry it was built on was quite ridiculous. There was a lot more ancient statuary, and even Baroque artwork, but those were definitely the famous standouts. After that we got dinner at a little pizzeria and headed back to Frascati with our laundry. No crazy drinking that night, the day was crazy tiring - SO MUCH WALKING!!!
Sunday
We started a bit later, taking the 10.30 train, which was a trial as the ticket office was closed, ad we had to change trains half way through. I swear the train ldy was screwing with us when she said we had to get tickets before we got on the second train - that was a close call! But we got to Rome, and headed through the city, over the Tiber to the Porta Porthese - the biggest market in Europe. Its supposedly 2km long! Its called a flea market, but is not one in the traditional sense I'm used to. More just a normal market, although not completely tourist schtick, I didn't see a single souvenir stall, although there were a lot of  clothing and tshirt places. We didn't go the whole way through, after the really long walk, we only stayed for a little while before escaping to get lunch. We planned on getting some lunch, and wandering slowly back to the station, seeing whatever sights we chanced upon. But when we stopped for lunch, a couple of other people from Gabii wandered past. So we went with them to the Baths of Caracalla. I swear we took the most roundabout route, along some motorways and back through the gates of Rome. But we got the Baths, and they were truly monumentally huge!!!! All Roman brick and concrete, but I'm sure they had marble facing that had been robbed out. Its defintely a size impression though. Most of the walls remained practically to their original height, so you got a good idea what it might have looked like in antiquity. Then we raced back to the station, to get the 4pm train, even running part of the way. But we didn't take the most direct route, because I just went for the one I knew. And the bad decision to not take the metro, meant we were too late by a fraction. We were trying to open the doors (pressing the button) and it started to move away. Given that the next one was in 2 hours, we were more than a little pissed. But the two of us sat down at this nice grill in the station, and split an extremely tasty burger. That killed more than an hour, and then we went and ast on the train. Ended up meeting up with other people, two of which we had separated from in our race to the station, and had also missed it. I got sunburnt that day, becasue I was wearing a sleeveless dress. Its a little painful, but fingers crossed I won't peel. One of the guys here got burnt and has these weird bubbles on his skin. Its gross. All in all, it was another crazy tiring day, even if we didn't see as many famous things, but we have Wednesday off for St Peters Day, so if I'm exhausted by then, I will have a chance to rest.
Its almost 10pm, getting close to my bedtime. Time for me to go now. Early busy day tomorrow. Hopefully there will be lots of documentation and paperwork, because right now....the thought of digging makes Sheira a very unhappy girl (apologies for the atrocious third person there)
Sheira

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Frascati! Finally doing some archaeology

So. I should probably start from the beginning. I was at the main Rome station, and the train to Frascati didn't come for an hour. So I dumped by bag against a wall and sat down to wait. Turns out the chick I sat down next to....was going to Gabii. I only knew this because she was reading some articles, and I fully recognised them. Would have been quite embarassed if I was wrong. We got on the train, and there were a bunch of other Gabii people (the trains to Frascati aren't that often). I suppose I can't put all gossipy stuff here, because Gabii people might read it...but in all honesty....its a grat bunch of people. Pretty much a 50/50 split between boys and girls which is good for balance. All Americans, except for me and the two other Kiwis, so sometimes I have to NZ-out with Illana to escape some of the American overload. But a real variety of people, lots of different ages and cities. 8 Jews so far, which was pretty cool. Means I am not the only one doing the semi-Kosher thing, which is good. The hotel is really nice, although they are in the middle of renovating. Hopefully the dining terrace and pool will be done soon, because an evening swim would be super nice. Dinner is amazing, they insist on acutally serving us, and we get 3 courses and each serving is amazingly large and tasty. I got special chicken on the first night, cos it was pork meatballs, and they gave me 3 huge thick slices, basically like 3 chicken breasts. It was crazy. I have two roommates, but sleeping comes pretty easily at the end of a long day, so thats alright.


But on to the digging, becasue thats probably what you all want to hear about. First morning was equipment handout - gloves, steelcapped shoes etc. I didn't need a trowel....I brought mine and its been great so far. Then we got the EU compulsory safety talk thing, and a logistics tour of the site - they have to do all the artefact processing on site, because the Italian regulations are super strict. Then we got a tour of the city and the past excavation area which was super detailed and quite interesting. They are doing open-area excavation, which works well because they are looking at street systems and town plans and suchlike. They had gotten a mechanical digger to come through and scrap of over a metre of topsoil, which they had identified in the past through coring. I got assigned to Area C, which they are extending from last year. We are looking for the end of the city block and completition of a 2nd century AD house structure. When we have revealed that, they plan to take the floor up and see if there is an earlier structure, becasue in the area right next to it, they have found a much earlier house structure. They luckily will get a good look at the stratigraphy, because there is an 17th century canal cut right through the block that they used the digger to mostly empty and are tidying up atm. But..on the first afternoon we started cleaning up the excavation area, trying to trowel and sweep off the burnt top layer left by the digger and baked in the sun. My part that I have been working on yesterday and today, is what appears to be an extension of a rubble retaining wall on the edge of the road (it follows the line from the other half of the Area), its got a plaster wall on one edge, and a definite house floor on the other side. We started today on taking down the soil to expose the top of the rubble wall. This is a bitch, and we are continuing tomorrow. You can't just pickaxe it out, because you start dislodging the rubble itself and destroying the wall. So you pick, trowel, clean over and over again. And constantly sweeping. And having to stay away from the plaster, which is so flaky and degrading. Its not hugely hard labour though at this point, just repetitive, and frsutrating. Getting the hang of a pickaxe for different types of excavation in different situations takes a little while, but I think I'm getting there. Its pretty crazy hot, and its worse from about 11-lunch at 12.30, because its gotten super hot but the afternoon wind hasn't picked up. The work days are pretty short though, although the lunch break is short and there is not morning break. Because there has to be an Italian Govt supervisor on site when we are, and he insists on leaving at 3.45, we have to get off site then. Its a new thing this year, and its pretty ridiculous. They are negotiation with the Italians to extend that, but I don't know how successful that will be. We can't even go out earlier, because the guy doesn't get there till 7.45. All up, excavation is going really well. I wanted to be in Area B, where their houses were later reused as  a graveyard, and they have human burials to excavate. Very jealous. But in my topsoil stuff over the wall, I have found a whole lot of bone  fragments (Bioarch comes in helpful as identifiying it as I dig) and pottery, and tiles and Roman glass. Quite exciting stuff. Later this week I have a rotation in the finds lab, cleaning and processing pottery and bone, which I am looking forward too.

Thats all for now I think, might go and stop being all antisocial and chatting to all of you guys. Plus, dinner time is coming up soon.

A rewritten Florence post (i accidentally deleted the last one)

Rewriting a blog post is actually quite difficult when you have already had the giant splurge, but I suppose I can't just skip the rest of Florence for laziness. So here goes.

Day One continues

The aria selections were really amazing, sung by a single soprano accompanied on piano. She was a very good Asian woman and the power behind her voice was phenomenal. You really felt like she was giving it her all, not holding back so as to avoid overwhelming the small space. Tbh, the more exciting part of the night for me was that I actually met people and chatted and hung out and stuff. I met two Mexican brothers (cowboys apparently, no jokes) outside the church with the arias and they were asking me if it was any good. Turns out they are from some tiny little Mexican ranch town, so have never heard opera. I was a little horrified but also amused when they were so shocked by the sheer power of operatic singing that they laughed, combined with the expression on an opera singers face...its understandable. But they were really nice guys and I realised how much more enjoyable it is to walk around and look at statues with people and actually be able to talk about it. Had some Bellini, which is sparking white wine and peach, and is super yummy. Hung out on this dam thing that runs across the middle of the Arno, and its looks like you are sitting in the middle of the river, which is really quite trippy. Too much light pollution meant Florence had a grand total of 1 visible star. Tsk.

Day Two

The day was really dominated by the Uffizi. I could go into a lovely big art history rant, but I doubt many of you would be interested. So...the short version. The main hall had a collection of Medici 'classical' statues, although most of them have no known provenance. The coolest part was the mimiced the original Medici layout, so all the Emperors went in chronological order, so I kinda tested by recall against the statues. The medieval art was fairly brief, but  the proto-Renaissance period (I hate that term so much) was really interesting. Filippo Lippi and his followers really let you see the progression. Most people race through to the Botticelli room, but there are his two earliest works in the previous room which are astounding. I loved the Botticelli, although seeing his less 'famous' works was really interesting, and they are easily as good, if not better, than the more wellknown pieces. This part of the Museum got me thinking, that perhaps the LACK of overtly religious subject matter is a driving force behind the popularisation of a painting. In a modern largely secular (or at least not Catholic) society, fawning over the powerful symbolism and uplifting spirtualism of a Madonna is a little harder to swallow than 'pagan' gods, portraits or commoners. Its a theory in progress though. After Botticelli came Leonardo. They only had two, which was suprising, but it was two of my favouites! The Adoration of the Magi is so eerie and the forms so amazing, precisely because its unfnished. The Annunciation is an early work that I really quite like and appreciate. The rest of the Museum had less 'big names', although I will just say that I enjoyed the progression through Mannerism to the 17th and 18th century paintings. The Baroque Caravaggio stuff was so graphic and gruesome = awesome. The Uffizi took up almost 5 hours, and I went through fairly quick, I just got so very tired though. Its quite draining. The rest of the day.....not much got done. I wandered around to look for food, I hit up the San Lorenzo Market and gota  skirt and a marble statue of the Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna - cast from marble dust. Its so very purrrty. I also went to the Museum to the opera of the Duomo (the administrative body in charge of the cathedral, not the opera opera), which had all the old facades and designs - very interesting. Tucked away inside was Michaelangelo's Pieta - the one that he broke up somewhat because he didn't like it. This was quite unexpected, but really quite a beautiful scuplture.

The last part of the day was more Opera at a nearby church - La Traviata. They performed basically the entire thing, with 4 singers. Very intimate stage setting. The singers were quite amazing, although I got the impression that the Soprano had restrained her voice to avoid overwhelming the  church, and that this was the reason a few of her top notes didn't have enough oompf to them. The opera was amazing, although I would like to see it again on a proper stage when I am a little less exhausted.

Leaving Florence in the morning was pretty straightforward, got on my train and got to Roma Termini no problem.

Frascati news coming soon!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Florence - A first impression


Florence. How do I put this without hurting your feelings? You just don’t make a good impression. When I got home last night, I had all these amazing comparisons and metaphors in my head to describe what I thought of Florence, it was quite a rant stored up. My impression has softened as the memory of Venice fades and I got to spend some quality time with some pretty naked statues. But still…Florence is wrong, Florence clashes, Florence is a street whore to Venice’s refined and elegant courtesan. To be more specific, Florence is jarring and odd after the serenity and charm of Venice. Where Venice embraces and is wrapped up in its history, living it and breathing, Florence denies it and clashes with it and drives big streets and cars through it. This isn’t to say that Florence does not care for its  past or has fewer historical buildings, or in fact that every building doesn’t scream the antiquity of the city at you when you walk past…but the magic is somehow ruined by the car roaring everywhere and the motorcycles. And the people. Above all else, Florence is a city. It has nightlife and troupes of girls and guys wandering through the streets in inadequate amounts of clothing. This isn’t to say that I’m against the whole idea of nightlifes and cities, I really love the city….but it was unexpected. And after the serenity of Venice it was disconcerted. In Venice I occasionally felt to daring, as the people dress so conservatively, but in Florence I felt country and childish in my dress compared to the tiny dresses and short shorts of the other people. I felt uncomfortable and out of place. That feeling has passed more or less, possibly something to do with a good nights sleep, but the feeling of the wrongness of Florence still remains. The history is everywhere, but the modernity is also everywhere and not in the beautiful integrated manner I had loved about Venice. I may be comparing the city unfairly to Venice; they are very different places in very different circumstances. Venice could not build roads or bring in cars, as the very nature of the city itself demands its antique feeling. I think when I get to see Rome finally, I will have come to appreciate Florence and be equally disturbed by Rome.

Florence has many redeeming qualities, the first of which that I became aware of is the River Arno. Everytime so far I have crossed over it to the central area of Florence I get a different view. The river hardly moves and the reflections of lights and the sky in the water are breathtaking. On my way back to the hostel today, I realised how stagnant and polluted the water really is, but the views are more than adequate to allow me to ignore it. It also has a church not far from the hostel that puts on intimate versions of famous operas, practically a different one every night. Tomorrow I am going to see La Traviata (the whole opera done with 4 people, with only minor alterations to fit the setting), and  hope to get a ticket to a selection of operatic arias being sung tonight next door to my hostel.

Day One.

I woke up early and had a kerfuffle having to change rooms in the hostel, which was irritating. I then had the most stressful hour or so, trying to get into the Uffizi. I had a reservation number, but then I got totally and utterly lost trying to find the right door to get the ticket. I was the level of lost and disorientated that I realised later that I had walked right past the street with the Uffizi on it and not even realised. When I did find the right office, turned out they had no record of my reservation. So I hunted out and internet café and turns out my reservation was for the next day. Oops. So, with the scrapped I went to Palazze Vecchio which has Michaelangelo’s David outside it (a copy apparently, the real one had to placed in a museum after a riot damaged it and people kept pawing it. Figures). This was the personal house of the Medici family, and parts of it are offices for the Mayor of Florence now. There were beautiful frescoes all over the ceilings and walls, and this lovely parallel between two floors of the palace. The top floor was dedicated to the Elements and Pagan Gods, and this mirrored the rooms below, each one dedicated to a different member of the Medici family. Aw, paralleling terrestrial and heavenly gods, so cute.

Next up came lunch, which for a decent price was surprisingly hard to find around that area. Gelato is also more expensive in Florence, which does little to endear the city to me, Sheira needs her gelato. I did discover  a group of cheap little food hideaways, all I have to do is remember where they are in the morning, which is harder than it looks, as even with a map, Florence has a way of disorientating you very quickly. I was making my way to the Duomo when I got sidetracked into the Bargello Museum. It started out as a building for the merchants which I was a little unclear on, but they hired nobles from outside of Florence to represent them. Then it was a building for notaries and judges, and then it was a prison as well. At Italian Unification it became the first national art museum. I took in some Donatello, and pre and post Michaelangelo sculpture, as well as a few by the big man himself. I have to admit, that while I enjoy Renaissance sculpture, I think I need to take a paper on it, because I feel I am missing so much. Maybe because I learnt about classical sculpture, but my mind is all confused. I prefer frescoes, mosaics and paintings I think, I can understand those. Either way, the sculptures were quite amazing, as were some of the other bits and bobs in the museum. A cool collection of curios, like a Renaissance chessboard, with Backgammon on the back! And a spork. And some very funky looking keys. They also had a large collection of bronzes, which was a little repetitive I felt. There was a flayed man anatomical study which showed a disturbingly accurate knowledge of the muscular system. I think to appreciate bronzes, one really needs a very good knowledge of the Renaissance sculpture scene. Also some very nice ivory pieces which were extremely intricate.

Then came my first view of the Duomo – wow. Very very big. Not as pretty in my opinion as the Basilica San Marco (much heavier looking, and less ostentatious, although a lot bigger). Before I went in, I took a look in the Baptistry of San Giovanni opposite. This had a nice dome in it, with mosaics on the inside on an all gold background, was quite impressive. The doors had biblical scenes on them done in shiny bronze relief. The scenes in the dome were very identifiable – Adam and Eve, Joseph, Noah, hell, some Christian stuff…. Then came the Basilica and my first view of the inside of the Duomo. Wow. The  basilica itself was very simple, not at all ostentatious. The most impressive part of it was simply its size. There were some fresoces and statues, but not many. It was pretty awesome to see Sir John Hawkwood by Uccello which we studied in high school, and the whole perspective issue was much more obvious when it towers above you. The Dome itself was large and beautifully painted. Somehow I though it would be larger, but I think the painting actually shortens it and deceives the mind in many respects. Its hard to describe, but you know its huge and it looks huge…but when you go out and look at the dome from the outside, it doesn’t seem big enough. Strange tricks that the mind plays on you.

That’s about it for today, hopefully this aria selection will still have tickets, and tomorrow will contain the Uffizi and going up to Duomo and Belltower (hopefully) and maybe another museum or two. I will have to come back to Florence, there are so many museums still to see that I know I will never have time to see. Plus more opera.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Venice (The Final Phase)


Day Three
I booked another night in the hostel when I realised that my icky jetlag induced stomach ache had stopped me seeing everything I had planned on. So, next stop was Museo Correr in San Marco Square, for lots of painting  and frescoes arranged to take you through Venice’s history. It was more than a little nationalistic to say the least, but very informative and the art and architecture was amazing. In these museums you don’t know whether to look at the art or the room itself. There were some awesome maps and books, as well as some sweet armour and guns. There was even this one gun that had several barrels around the outside of   central tube. Kinda hard to explain, but basically a machine gun, or a rotating revolver/cannon/rifle thing. It was awesome. They also had lots of statuettes and ceramics and other artsy knickknacks. Museo Archaeologica came next. Some nice pottery and classical statues, mostly things I didn’t recognise but still pretty awesome. There was a room full of Roman busts and I think I spotted a Hadrian-style emperor or two. Two rooms of what was the National Library came next, it was built to house a collection of classical texts bequeathed to the city during the Middle Ages. The part you could visit was not a library anymore, but the decoration was stunning once again.

After lunch, I wandered around looking for Teatro La Fenice, in the hope of getting tickets for the Opera. It took forever and I retraced myself many times, but I found it eventually – no opera on atm. In my search I found a church which was a museum full of old instruments which was pretty cool. The thing in Venice is either to follow the signs (if there are any) or usually to wander aimlessly, because finding anything is impossible with a map. There are too many tiny streets and random turns to use a map.

The afternoon continued with the Galleria Accademia which had more medieval frescoes. Most of it was in the process of being restored, but the frescoes were mindblowing. I got pictures of the best ones here. This was followed by the Peggy Guggenheim collection, which was surprisingly small. Some lovely futurist and surrealist art. There were lots of lame super modern things that I didn’t like that much, but this is the trouble with the modern art museum. I have to say, after staring at a Jackson Pollock for some time, I still don’t understand. It confuses me. I understand that it is expressive art and so forth, and it does have a certain…something to it. But I fail to see if it is purely expressive, why can’t I do my own and hang it on the wall and call it art. Guess its the whole coming up with it first thing again.

The coolest part of the afternoon, cool in that it was totally unexpected, is the bamboo sculpture thingie that I found next door. I was heading further East to find a church I had seen in the maps and from the Sqaure and right next door I see this huge bamboo structure and a line. So I stop to see what there was to see, and it turns out that it was an installation for the Venice Biennale Art competition thing. Its supposed to be a living sculpture that people climb and there a group of people who build it from within. It was quite a remarkable creation, very interesting to try and figure out how they did it from an architectural perspective, anyway the view from the top was amazing. That was about the time that my camera died, so the rest of the evening is pictureless. But there is not much else to tell I suppose, I wandered back to San Marco Square to take in some more of the beautiful music and views and had a mildly early night.

Day Four
Today was meant to end much earlier than it did in Venice. I went to go catch a train, and turns out that getting an early morning train to Florence is not as easy as it seems. Ended up having to get my train at 1pm, which gave me several hours to kill. Decided to make the most out of the Museum Pass I had bought, and took in a whole bunch in quick succession. First up was the Museum of Natural History, which was midly interesting, in that there were some dinosaur bones and early hominid skulls, and some megafaunal skulls. The rest was mostly taxidermied animals and some African bits and bobs. The other cool part was a comparative anatomical collection, which seemed to have a whole bunch of animals split open and preserved so you could look at internal structure and organs. It was….interesting. My conclusion from the museum, New Zealand should totally have a dedicated Natural History Museum, because all the stuffed animals were cool. Next up was the Costume Museum, which I stumbled onto completely by chance. Some more beautiful rooms (of course) and some cool looking 18th century clothing. It was a pretty tiny museum, but the 18th century ceilings really drove home to me how much I prefer the later Venetian painting, its so much more light and naturalistic. You can almost see hints of Impressionism developing. The last stop before I hoped on the train was Ca’ Pesaro which houses the Museum of Modern Art in Venice. Nothing much there that was particualry impressive, some nice impressionist and late 19th century paintings and a Kandinsky. By this point I was quite exhausted so I may not have given it my full attention I’ll be honest. But there was some late 20th century Venetian painting and film, and that was just…odd. Way way too modern for my taste.

The only other thing of note that I can remember about Venice at the moment, despite its awesomeness, was a little gallery I passed which had some very weird paintings. I have some photos which will go up eventually, but lets just say……Marge Simpson as a pinup….and leave it at that. And that was the tamest painting too.

Florence meets Sheira coming soon.

Venice (Part Two)


Day Two
I get up early and head to San Marco Square to get in all the big monuments. First up is Palaze Ducale – the Palace of the Doge. The Doge is the head of the Venetian Republic throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. He is mostly a figurehead, so much of his palace was taken up with epic numbers of institution chambers where various councils and committees sat. There was also a Grand Council Chamber where over 2000 people would come and sit – every nobleman whose name was in the Golden Book. Massive frescoes all through each of these rooms, allegorical and religious as well as portraits of Doges. There is a continuous fresco along the top of the Grand Council Chamber with every Doge on it, except for one who has been blacked out because he tried to make himself Prince. The Paradiso fresco takes up one entire wall of the Chamber, and it is truly huge. Unfortuantely, most of the things worth seeing in the Museums I could not take pictures of, and there were guards to bitch if I did. So, you’ll have to take my word for the awesomeness, or google it. Either way. We also got a tour of the prisons attached to the Palace, which were quite funky and small. These are the famous prisons that Casanova broke out of, which was quite awesome. The secret tour of the torture chambers and secret passageways and other forbidden stuff was sadly booked out.

By this point I was feeling really really sick. I figured the Panini I had had the other day must have been bad, but I was fucked and my stomach was throwing a fit. Gruesome details aside, I managed to keep down a gelato eventually and sat for an hour or so trying not to fall asleep in the Square. I couldn’t go back to the hostel yet, because of lock-out, so I summoned the energy to check out the Basilica. As I mentioned above – lots of gold everywhere. This was basically all there is to say about it. Its ostentatious and huge, but the gold is so dominating that I didn’t feel for the frescoes all that much. Its very Gothic. So I didn’t explore a whole lot of it, simply taking in the main area. Plus there were no chairs. This is my one other bitch I will have here. It’ll be brief I promise. I wish more Museums would put chairs in their room, or a bench. I want to linger and enjoy the paintings, take in all the details and let the thing was over me. Now when you have 20 rooms of amazing paintings, I don’t want to stand in front of them for 2 hours, especially when I have been walking all day. The most irritating thing is when there are chairs in one room, and you are almost forced to go and sit there for a quick rest, staring a the same painting and summon the energy to check out some more. In the Peggy Guggenheim collection, it was in the Jackson Pollock room. I swear it was just to taunt me.

So sickly little Sheira wanders back to her hostel and has a quick nap. But she sleeps through the alarm she set, and has a 3 hours sleep instead. Oops. That night I wander through San Polo, taking in the random sights. I happen upon the Church of the Frari completely by accident, but it was closed. This was sad but there are so many churches and so many frescoes in Venice, I should leave something for next time. I had planned to go to a theatre I had seen that morning near the Rialto Bridge that was playing a selection of arias and duets form famous operas accompanied by a mini orchestra (1 flute, oboe, clarinet, viola, harpsichord/piano, double bass, cello, and 2 violins). It was in full 18th century costume in this beautiful little hall. The baritone and soprano were amazing, and very good at acting the parts, which was good as I had no idea what they were saying. I knew two of the operas well enough to be able to guess at where in the opera it was from, and who they were meant to be. The tenor had a bit of a nasal quality to his voice that I didn’t like, but he also got the more dense arias, whereas the baritone got the more fun pieces.

After the lovely concert, I headed to San Marco Square, which is beautiful at night. I wandered along the waterfront, and had gelato and listened to the live music. The Square was flooded already by high tide seeping through the cobbles which was quite awesome. It was this that highlighted how important it is to travel with someone. Times like that you want to sit back with some wine and chat and enjoy the ambience. One can try alone, but it is not quite the same. You also feel the lack of companions in museums where everything seems to be like a dream. When there is noone to voice your response to painting or a room, then you feel like you have been muted. There is noone to discuss the finer points of the armour and weapons displayed, or comment on the use of light and colour in a particular painting, or laugh with at the random woman wearing the ridiculous stiletto heels. To anyone who has taken the time to read my blog, and has gotten this far down this absolutely massive post, I have probably missed you at some point or another so far. I don’t think I have talked so little since I was a baby and didn’t know how. It develops into a sort of shyness where you don’t know what your voice sounds like or whether you should even talk. It’s weird. But tonight I’m staying in Florence in a big hostel with lots of other people, and the plan is to break that pattern.

Got a little lost on the way home. That wasn’t fun but its an occupational hazard in Venice.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Venice! (Part One)


Venice. Venice. Venice. That impossible city, that shouldn’t exist. A mystery wrapped up in an enigma and surmounted by an ostentatiously beautiful bow. Walking through Venice you feel like you are in a dream, a movie perhaps. My first view of Piazza San Marco – the big square with the Palaze Ducale and the Basilica and those columns with the winged lion on top (you know the place, you’ve seen it in movies) – was early in the morning, before any of the museums had opened, before the hoards of tourists had arrived. It was breathtaking. The huge expanse of the square, with the beautiful colonnades loggia on every side, the Basilica, with its golden insetted vaults and statues of Gothic splendour on the façade, the lagoon off to one side with Guidecca Island in the distance. Seriously takes your breath away. But its not just the big monuments that blew me away. Everywhere you look, Venice screams its history at you. And for the most part its not kitschy and touristy. The people there live and breathe their history, everyday they walk through the same streets and boat down the same canals that have existed for hundreds of years. There is nothing crazy and new, the shops are built into the buildings and even the shiny modern ones don’t upset the flow of the streets too much. Now, don’t g thinking that Venice is all fancy Gothic and Classical style buildings or anything, but there are no traffic lights, or cars or modern paving. The streets are cobbled, with little apartment insulate type buildings on every side with cute little window boxes. There aren’t even any electricity cables! The only hint of modernity, apart from the people themselves, are the motor boats on the canals and the masses of satellite receptors on the roofs of the houses.

Because Venice is one huge historic centre, around every corner you can chance upon a beautiful façade, or even a little fresco on a random wall. There are churches everywhere, and every single one is beautiful and the walls are covered with frescoes. These are frescoes that you could gladly  study for a week in an Art History course alone, and they are truly beautiful pieces of art. I will give the Christians this; their churches really inspire the soul and uplift the spirit. I found it was the less ornate churches that were the most  peaceful. The gold inlay of Basilica San Marco was amazing and breathtaking, but you feel shabby and small, and it’s just too ostentatious to uplift you in any way. Even though these lovely frescoes were of the Madonna, and Jesus and little angels, the colours and the vivacity of them is marvellous. The allegorical figures were everywhere, and I felt a little better being uplifted by those, same with the classical figures.

But this blog is starting to get a little all over the place. I should probably start at the beginning, and go from there, to make sure I don’t miss anything out. I’ll try not to wax lyrical about it too much, but no promises.

So, when I arrived in Venice, the first thing I see when I walk out of the station is the Grand Canal. And I laughed, it was so unbelievable. You don’t expect to walk out into a move just off the train, but that’s what it looked like. The beautiful stone bridge over the wide canal full of motor boats and gondolae with people everywhere. But I didn’t get to linger or anything, I gathered all my shit and headed to the heart of Cannaregio where my hostel was. According to my guidebook, this is the ‘ghetto’. It was a little fuzzy on the details, but I believe this was where all the Jews used to live early on in Venetian history, kind of like a Jewish quarter, not like a Nazi ghetto or a black ghetto or anything. Kinda funny how that works out I guess. I was pretty awestruck walking down the street, there were shops selling masks and Murano glass everywhere, and stalls with fruit and touristy kitch and so many people. A lot of them had suitcases, which made me feel a bit stupid for taking a pack, but watching them struggle over the steps of the bridges made me feel a little better about my choice.

I checked in blah blah blah boring. It was a nice hostel, although I had a couple of silent as the grave Asian girls to bunk with. All attempts at conversation were rebuffed. I gotta say though, those girls had the largest pile of toiletries I have every seen! I thought I was being a little extreme, taking such large containers of shampoo and stuff but they took it to another level. Countless little bottles of random things they would take and pat on their faces. I literally mean pat in this case, kinda like aftershave. My last morning in Venice, this girl got up at 6.30am, was out of the shower at 7, and when I left the room at 8am, she was still patting and preening at her face doing who knows what. It was absurd.

That evening I went out for a little explore. I was totally exhausted so only made it back to the train station, walking along that same road I’d taken earlier. The mask shops were the most striking. I had expected to see masks on the tourist stalls and maybe some fancier stores here and there, but these things are everywhere. It’s a recognised art form, and many people in Venice seem to practise it. After you go into a lot of mask shops, you realise that many of them are getting their masks from the same supplier, at least the smaller versions. Each shop was fairly unique in the more expensive ones it stocked, but a lot of them were all very much the same. Some of the masks had whole watercolours of Venice painted onto them, there are feathers and exotic shapes and lace and musical notations. They don’t let you take pictures inside the stores, but their window displays are even more stunning. I wanted to buy so many of them, but not only were they very expensive, but the most beautiful ones were extremely fragile in their decoration. I did on my wanderings on my last morning in Venice, come across a genuine mask creator. He showed me the moulds he used and how he made those from actual sculpture. He had some good priced display masks that were ceramic and much sturdier. That same morning I also found a comicbook/mask shop, where the mask maker had made masks and busts from movies! There was Sweeney Todd and the Hulk, it was quite amazing. 

Stay tuned for the next installment!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Bored on the train


Ok, I won’t lie to you. Travelling by yourself is tiring. You are constantly on alert whenever you are out of the bubble that is the train or airplane, and there is noone to absolve responsibility to when you just can’t be bothered thinking about it for a while. Now its obviously not all bad, things are looking a lot better now that I have had a nap and my stomach has settled back down to being on the ground, but those few hours where all I wanted to do was sleep and instead I had to lug my bag around the train station….not fun. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Where did I leave off last time?

Ah, that’s right. The second plane trip. I think I need to revise my opinion of airplanes again. Not the level of service, but simply add a proviso. Flying is only fun if there is hardly anyone in the plane. I was counting on my second flight to get some decent sleep. It was pretty much the middle of the night for me, and I figured if I got some sleep then, I could maybe nip this jetlag in the bud. Unfortunately, Cathay Pacific had other planes. The flight I was on was a plane-share thingie, so was absolutely packed. I was basically sitting in exactly the same seat (seriously, one row forward) but I had a new friend. Luckily she was quite nice (and didn’t take up much space). Didn’t get much out of her, but she was from the Philippines, on her back to Europe to her job in domestic help. She slept most of the time, and barely got up to go to the bathroom which is always a good quality in a window-seat passenger. So, with only me and my little chair, sleep was a bitch. I got a few hours of napping, but my legs were rebelling against the evil confinement I had subjected them too. So they ached, especially the knees. And somehow walking and stretching didn’t do much. I’ve been on the ground almost 6 hours now, and they still ache. Granted I have spent some of that time sitting on a train, but that’s just quibbling now. It was no surprise though, that when breakfast came, my stomach decided that I was a meanie and didn’t approve of all the bacon being waived past its nose. So like I said before – the flying experience is really dependent on the company. The fewer the better. I did learn one awesome fact though. I was going for a walk around the plane and saw a stewardess come out of this door in the middle of the plane next to the toilets. I caught a glimpse of what was behind it….stairs!!! I’ve been on double-decker planes before and I know that there is a lower level obviously, but had no idea it was pressurised or anything. So, turns out it’s a resting lounge for the stewards, and they actually have shifts on the flight where they get to go and sleep. With fairly real beds too.  Quite jealous really. But still, new fact :)

Coming into Rome was quite amazing. Its one thing to see it on a map, or the talk about it in class, but seeing the Apennines and the Tiber, the mind jumps to little Samnites in their forts and little squares of Roman soldiers marching in turtleshell formation at eachother. From the plane it looked a lot like NZ – patchwork fields, trees, farmland etc. A whole lot flatter though. As soon as you see the houses though, its very Mediterranean. It has those same style of apartment blocks that you get all over Israel, with the window boxes on the balconies and the yellowy coloured bricks. From the train from the airport to the city, you pass heaps of fields and long grassy patches that almost look like corn. And of course, no city or countryside is complete without huge amounts of graffiti along the train tracks. I swear we rode past an old aquaduct of some kind, or retaining wall, just casually covered with tagging. Some things never changes no matter where you go. Something about Italy is both amazingly foreign and amazingly familiar. I sometimes feel that I should be speaking Hebrew at them, but that’s partially to avoid English because then they look at you in this odd way. It’s and odd look to explain really, but given the few interactions I have had, I can’t really complain. Honestly, in my plane clothes, all gross lugging around my pack, I don’t think I was a particularly endearing sight.  And it’s not surprising seeing as they must see thousands of tourists every day, especially at the train station.

So, I got my ticket to Venice, decided to save myself $80NZD and take the slower train (6 hours instead of 4) that left a little later. I’m writing this on the train, and I’ll post it when I get to the internet. With over an hour to kill, I thought about dumping my bag at the locker things, but the prices were exorbitant, and I was too tired to really go anyway to be honest. So I found a convenient ledge and chilled. That’s when travelling alone really gets tiring. I would have loved to have had a little nap, but no such luck. Sigh. Luckily, the train is a pretty nice place. Just like the trains you read about in the old detective novels and Harry Potter, with the corridor and the little compartments. Although, they really should consider making the corridor a little wider, you get some severe traffic jams. There really isn’t much to do now, its too bumpy to read and I’m scared of napping too much and screwing with my clock. Instead, I had a massive bleurgh to all of you and probably put you off reading the rest of my posts this trip. But I promise, the next few will be way more interesting. In a few hours I’ll be in Venice, with all the canals. I’m pretty sure my hostel is in a neighhbourhood that used to be a Jewish ghetto during the times of the Venetian Republic. Odd how things work out. :)

Be seeing you
- S


Sunday, 12 June 2011

HK Airport

Its strange how some parts of flying long-distance never change. Airplane air stil makes me groggy and nauseous. You still always step off the plane a little bit more sniffy than you got on. No matter how much the change the seats around, its still gives you a sore ass to sit still for 12 hours. They still do that weird thing were they turn off the lights in the middle of the flight just to make me sleepy. And as hard as I try, I never seem to snag a nice row of empty seats. Just my luck that in a plane that is 1/3 full, I get a seat in the window slot, so I only have one extra seat.

But I must admit, flying has gotten a whole lot more pleasant in the last few years. They have perfected the in-flight entertainment to a fine art. Everything is completey on-demand, and their array of TV shows and movies is quite impressive, and not just limited to the big American stuff. Obviously the screens will always be small, but thats actually a good thing when its 30cm from your face. I managed to watch almost half of the latest season of House and this awesome British show Miranda, which I was showed some time ago on Youtube (thanks Hannah and Miranda) and is amazing. I think I prefer TV shows on flights, as the uncomfy seats makes my attention span amazingly short.

Food service is dramatically increased as well, although I always enjoyed Cathay Pacific. I managed to get noodles in a cup for a snack, and an honest to goodness APPLE was offered when I rounded past the stewardesses on a walk. It was red delicious, which doesn't taste as good now that I'm over 10, but still. A real apple.

Not particularly looking forward to another long flight. I need to get some serious sleep, as I'm arriving in Rome in the early morning, and if I'm fairly rested I might be able to crack this jetlag shit pretty quickly. Almost wish I had more time in HK, cos they have these amazingly comfy lounger things in a secluded corner of the departure lounge. Very comfy, if I didn't have to get on a plane in about 15 min, I would totally have a nap. This free wi-fi also gives HK an edge over Auckland international, that wanted to charge me $10 for the hour, although they did have some very comfy couches. And cheap fastfood.

All up, flying is definetly not as bad as it used to be. But I"m still holding out for teleportation. Or Concorde Jets. Or Space Travel. Or at least enough money to ride First Class the whole way.

- S.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

The first post

So, for all you lovely people out there who I wish to make crazy jealous....here is my Italian adventure blog. Learn about the exciting things I see and do, and then dig up. Might be a few photos here, but those will likely end up on facebook too. Not really much else to say here...but I hop on a plane tomorrow, and a disgustingly long flight later..... I will be in ITALY!

S.