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 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 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.

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