This holiday is a family affair, a two week journey beginning in Paris, continuing in Rome, and then meandering up through a few highlights in the Italian north. I don’t have much to say about Paris, which I explored with my sisters Jessica and Shaina. We saw some of the major tourist sights, and documented them in this slideshow.
Specifically, we toured Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, the Tour Eiffel, and the Catacombs. We also walked a good bit, wandering through side streets and the Latin Quarter, seeing the Seine, traveling down the Champs Elise from our starting point at the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre, and then across the river to the Musee d’Orsay, where we spent a couple of hours before closing time. We never quite made it to the Pompadou Center, an inside-out museum. In the end, thanks to a few morning mix-ups, we got to the airport a mere six minutes after the check-in window closed for our Vueling “discount” flight to Rome, and, even though the airplane was delayed for over an hour, we were not allowed to get our tickets and enter the terminal. We were forced to rebook for the later flight, which itself was delayed by almost two hours since, after all, it was the same plane that had to go to Rome and back. Ninety euros poorer for no apparent reason, we arrived in Rome.
Rome! The capital of unified Italy, Rome is a large metropolitan located in the center-west of the country, in the province of Lazio. Rome’s rich history goes back a good 2,500 years or so, with the highlights being the rise and fall of the Roman empire and the ascendence of the Catholic Church. It all started, as these things do, with a creation myth involving two brothers, Romulus and Remus, who had a bit of a fight. Romulus was victorious and so the hillside became known as Rome, and over some time it got bigger, peaking around a million inhabitants.
The Romans, apparently posessed of a Greek inferiority complex, build stupendous works of architecture. There is also a tradition of “borrowing” from one masterpiece to create the next, with many major instances of some monolith or gate or stadium being torn down or scavenged for parts by the succeeding generations of rulers. Most of the stone for these monstrosities came from Egyption quarries, and the Romans liked to show off by doing things like making massive fountains out of a very rare red marble, or trucking in huge columns to build Colosseums.
The Roman leaders apparently thought that a happy citizenry was an unrebellious citizenry, so much of their building was enormous public works projects, equivalent to our subsidized sports stadiums. Frequent free chariot races, gladiator matches, and the like were used to keep people happy. Alas, this practice was perhaps the Roman’s undoing, because over time the twelve hour meals and general leisure led to the increasing desire to fill the ranks of their great armies with Germanic mercenaries rather than have to take up arms themselves.
Anyway, the Roman empire declined, relatively quickly in fact, for some combination of a hundred possible reasons that historiographers like to debate ad nauseum today. Rome the city was abandoned, the Dark Ages came, many of the great monuments were scavenged for scrap metals, and the Roman legacy lives in buildings and statues, but little in the way of the written word. Architects, yes, and inventors, but not ponderers. Thus the generous appropriation from the Greeks.
After the dark times came the Renaissance, although that was focused more in places like Florence, one of our later destinations. I won’t get into it all, because my history is incredibly rusty, I’m doing the whole timeline no justice, and I’ve gone on for too long already for what is supposed to be a travelogue. Suffice to say, the Popes came, the Church took over Rome, and the whole “God” phase lasted quite a while.
Anyway, back to our travels. Shaina, who has already been to Rome, had to return to her school for the week. Jessica and I met up with the parents at a swank hotel in a slightly less swank area and headed out on foot for a good meal at a place recommended by that great personal travel advisor (err, that is to say book editor) Rick Steves. What we call alleys at home they call streets here, and the concept of a grid pattern is foreign to them. Lots of angling and curving and backtracking got us to our restaurant eventually, where the food was…fine. Nothing special. A nice liver patee antipasta, apparently a traditional dish, but the rest was pretty standard.
Perhaps at this point I should explain that, for this family, cuisine is a common passion, and good food was to be one of the highlights of our trip. If you have seen the Paris pictures and videos, you will known that we visited many supposed “bests” of that city, including the “best falafel,” “best gelatto,” etc. We also had some crepes, some sandwiches from street corner vendors, churros, and a fancy three course meal at a restaurant recommended by one of Jessica’s food bloggers. All of it was delightful, food was enjoyed, pictures taken, lips licked, bellies filled, purses emptied. In Rome, in contrast, most of the restaurants in the areas we travel looked relatively touristy and unpleasant. The best luck I had was a hot dog on a baguette from a food cart near the Colosseum. So perhaps we were doing something wrong. Anyway, at least the gelatto flows plentifully here, like the water. Roma’s water supply is something to behold. Like I said, these folks were good with the public works. Fresh, pure, tasty water everywhere. So at least there’s that.
In the slideshow, many a picture from most of the major historic sites: the incredible grandeur, the beautiful decay, the sad looting over the centuries, the disappointing pollution and crowding and tourist-baiting and money-making. Sites included are the Pantheon, Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, as well as the Vatican Museum, overwhelming in its decadence. What to make of Rome? I’m not sure I feel fit to judge such an old city. It is, it astounds, it confuses, and it serves as tribute and memorial and graveyard and caution all at once.
Hint: use the slideshow controls! After clicking play, the bottom right button maximizes the show to full screen, and the bottom left pauses it, allowing you to move at your own pace. Click “Show Info” to see the extensive captions, and use the “Next” and “Prev” buttons on top to navigate.