So, it’s been 5 weeks since my last post; my apologies for that. I was in Split, Croatia, from 2/23-3/23, and, just a couple of days before I left, Spring started in Split. Which wouldn’t be a problem, except that things started blooming, my allergies flared, and sniffles, itchy eyes, and headaches kicked in. I got them under control for the trip itself, but the first week in Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, was me feeling crappy from the aftereffects, tamping them all down, etc. And, just a couple of days after feeling myself again, Spring kicked in for Zagreb with a vengeance. Every gods damned green thing in this city started blooming — my gods, it smelled like a perfume shop out there. And I mean a perfume shop, not a flower shop — I’ve never been in a flower shop that was that pungent. It was nuts! And the pollen coated everything, like we’d had a dust storm. I had maybe an hour I could walk around, to get groceries and the like, before my reactions became increasingly unmanageable — and then I’d have to be home with the doors and windows closed, maybe shower to wash the residue off, and I wouldn’t be really over it until the next day.
So, ever since then, I’ve basically been a shut-in.
When I was feeling my worst, right at the start, I just wanted to veg, and so I got back into playing Fallout, got my second wind playing it, and have spent the better part of the last month doing little but that. I could get into the aspects of the game that have really sucked me in, but not now I think. The long and short of it is that, between being trapped in the apartment and feeling intermittently lousy, I just sort of lost myself to the game and everything else fell rather by the wayside. It was only a little over a week ago that I made the travel plans for my week at the end of May, going between Zagreb and Ireland. (Spoiler: Edinburgh, here I come!)
But, now I’m coming up for air again. Which is more breathable — we seem to have passed the core of the blooming season, nature’s brothel is settling down a bit, and occasional rains have given me windows where the air was clearer and I could get out and walk around. So, I find my attention is pushing outwards again, and that brings me back to useful sorts of activities like the blog, and reading. (Not that the SimCity/Minecraft style building mechanics in Fallout aren’t useful. My post-apocalyptic settlers appreciate their new settlements, with food and water and proper defenses and unisex bathrooms. But you know what I mean.)
So, with that out of the way, I can get back to the remains of my Roman Holiday.
In my last blog entry, for Thursday, Feb. 4th, I described my trip to the impressive Villa Borghese and Borghese Gallery, after which I saw the unimpressive Spanish Steps, the very pleasant Trevi Fountain, and the very disappointing Pantheon. In my previous few days in Rome, I’d been to the Colosseum, and the Forum and the Palatine Hill, and followed them with my day in Vatican City, along with some other wandering about in between. But none of those were my primary goal, and it occurs to me that I really should mention what that goal was. What I really wanted to be sure that I did while in Rome, was to make a point of walking all of the legendary Seven Hills of Rome. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I seized on this goal. Perhaps it’s because I’m a bit of a completest, and having a single, coherent thing that in a sense “summed up” Rome, and being able to do that thing, was innately appealing to me. I’d never be able to see everything in my 8 days there, but having “walked the Seven Hills of Rome” has a nice ring to it.
I was sorely tempted to simply start this blog entry with a clip from the movie of that name, which I confess that I’d never heard of until I started trying to find out what the Seven Hills were and how one walked them. But I looked up clips from this on YouTube, and wow, this movie has not aged well:
So perhaps I should stick to the facts. If you ever wanted to be lectured on Roman geology by a low resolution video game lumberjack in a dress, boy do I have the video for you!
Clunky lecture? Yep. Boring? Mmmm, could be. Better than Mario Lanza? Oh hells, yeah!
The tl;dnr version of all of this is that Ancient Rome is commonly and rather arbitrarily considered to have had 7 central hills, and having heard only that much in advance, I had determined that I meant to visit them all, preferably in one day. I spent some time hunting for a good definition of what these hills were and — more importantly — how I would locate them on Google Maps, and my initial searches were not terribly helpful on the latter point. Eventually, I found this page, which not only listed the hills but gave helpful sites that could be seen on each one, and I ended up using this as my guide.
Friday, February 5th
Psych! I actually did nothing on Friday. I’d been walking around like mad ever since I arrived in Rome, and I decided to take the day off. It’s the Eternal City, it’s not going anywhere.
Instead, I relaxed at home, read Twitter, got takeout from the deli Max had recommended, played a bit of Fallout, read a bit, and chilled. I did get some really nice gelato from another nearby place that Max had recommended, but that was the highlight of the day. Well worth it.
Saturday, February 6th
Ok, now I did stuff. I set out a little before 9:00, and thought I’d start by visiting St. Peter’s Basilica, which I’d missed on my Vatican trip. This was as close as I got:
So, I turned away and kept going, north along the Tiber River, with an eye to crossing it and heading towards my first stop, the Quirinal Hill. Thanks to the website I mentioned above, I’d worked out the list of hills, the sights on each one that I could target on Google Maps, and a rough order for the ones I hadn’t been to yet:
|Aventine Hill (Latin, Aventinus; Italian, Aventino)||Aventine Keyhole; Via del Tempio di Diana||5|
|Caelian Hill (Caelius, Celio)||Villa Celimontana & Mattei Obelisk ;||4|
|Capitoline Hill (Capitolinus, Campidoglio)||Capitoline Museum||☑|
|Esquiline Hill (Esquilinus, Esquilino)||Colosseum; Domus Aurea (& Baths of Trajan)||3|
|Palatine Hill (Palatinus, Palatino)||Palatine Hill||☑|
|Quirinal Hill (Quirinalis, Quirinale)||Quirinal Obelisk & Fountain of Castor and Pollux; Quirinal Palace||1|
|Viminal Hill (Viminalis, Viminale)||Ministry of the Interior; A few blocks south of the Four Fountains;||2|
You may or may not recall that I had already been to the Capitoline Hill (behind the Piazzo Venicio, with the Michelangelo’s Campidoglio on it) and the Palatine Hill (above the Roman Forum). (On Tuesday, I believe.) So, just 5 more to go. (Technically, I’d been to the Colosseum and hence had hit the Esquiline Hill also. But it’s really at the base of the hill, and hardly feels like it counts.)
I had marked the landmarks with little stars on Google Maps the day before, to guide me. Here’s a snapshot, with my approximate route marked
Walking along the Tiber from St Peters (off the map to the upper left), I passed one of the many “Gosh, I should come back and see that some day” places in Rome.
Equally impressive was this piece of retro-fancy technology:
Ooo, look at what I found in my phone’s camera!
As I walked eastward into the city, I passed the Trevi Fountain, continued up a steep street, and by a little after 10:00, I had reached my first stop, the Quirinal Hill.
From the Quirinal Hill, I continued northeast to an intersection known as The Quattro Fontane (Four Fountains). The reason for the name is surely lost to history, but there were some nice carvings:
From there, I walked southeast to the famed Ministry of the Interior.
Continuing on southeast towards the Esquiline Hill took me past an unanticipated cathedral.
Those little tents have metal detectors, and you empty your pockets and run your backpack through a scanner, and all that sort of thing, as if you were going through an airport 30 years ago before the airports all upgraded to Paranoid++. I’m not sure why this cathedral was so protected, when the Trevi Fountain is an open intersection packed with tourists, and the Pantheon is equally crowded. Maybe it depends on the nervousness of the head priest.
<Damn it! WordPress ate several paragraphs of text and pictures when I hit save. Then, refused to save any new drafts. I had to copy what I had so far into a new post, and start saving to that instead. Weird, and bloody annoying. Fine, I’ll rewrite it, damn it.>
< Oh, thank the Maker! WordPress stores the captions with the pictures, and I don’t have to try to recreate them from memory! I’ve sometimes been annoyed by that feature, but now? Calloo! Callay! >
St Maggie’s had a collection box, for donations to support it. I figured they’d already been paid in the blood of minorities they’d oppressed to build their institution, at least four of which I’d been a member of (Jews, pagans, gays, and scientists), so I’d pass, thanks for asking.
I left St. Maggie’s and continued southeast before turning southwest, right around the location of a local comic shop.
I reached the Esquiline, with the Domus Aurea and the Baths of Trajan, but was somewhat underwhelmed.
Still, it counts as the 3rd station of the day, and I continued past the Colosseum:
From there, I headed on to the Villa Celimontana on the Caelian Hill for the 4th station.
I came down past the wedding, and past another church, and found that I’d ended up at the end of the Circus Maximus, looking up at the Palatine Hill (which I’d already been to).
I continued up a hill to my 5th station, the Aventine Hill, featuring the Temple of Diana!
From there I continued to my other Aventine Hill stop, the Aventine Keyhole.
The Wikipedia page for the Villa del Priorato di Malta explains this in more detail, but, basically, if you peek through the keyhole you see St Peter’s Basilica nicely framed through it. The wiki page has a really good picture of that. You’ll understand if I say that the iPhone, however generally competent a Swiss Army knife it may be, was really not designed for that sort of photography.
And that was the end. The Aventine was the last of the 7 Hills that I’d hoped to visit, and my mission in Rome was officially complete. Woo-hoo!
From there, I walked down the hill, crossed the river, and stopped at a local beer joint that Max had recommended, “Bir & Fud”, which had a vast selection of beers on tap.
I passed some appropriate poetry on the walk uphill towards home, afterwards:
There was a *lot* of graffiti in Italy. You’d think they’d invented the damn stuff.
I got home fairly early, around 3:30, which gave me time to, among other things, continue a bit of reading from the day before. In the Nice Places To Sit And Read, the place is simply my room, which was entirely pleasant. The book was Light, by M John Harrison.
This book was pretty much everything hard sf should be. I’d only heard of Harrison fairly recently, after he died and Twitter revealed to me that he’s been an institution in British sf for some time. Light is one of his better known works — even better known now, that I’ve read it, and you’ve read about me reading it. It tells 3 very loosely connected stories, from the present day to the far future, of 3 people who cannot be said to be happy, but can be said to be interesting. And it’s the kind of futuristic sf that I really appreciate, where the world and technology of the future are sufficiently advanced and weird that you can really kind of forget how impossible it is to imagine anything further than a hundred years or so. I mean, it’s really not hard to comprehend how even tech we already know about could utterly change our existence — for example, nanotechnology could eventually allow us to completely transform our bodies and our world — but how much science fiction really uses that? And, honestly, how could it? What are you going to do to write an engaging story, when the implications of modern technology are that, if we survive the damage we’re doing to the world right now, the very physical structure of our reality may become effectively fluid? And how do you make that story seem believable? I just recently finished another book that explores that theme a bit, Postsingular, that was largely a failure of absurdist sciency handwaving. It’s legitimately hard.
Light is not that. It goes far enough into superscience to be fascinating, but not so far as to be unbelievable or unrelatable. I wouldn’t want to say any more about the plot than the Amazon blurb will give you, but it reads like a stew of Niven, Zelazny, and Silverberg, with some Murakami seasoning. I really liked it, and I’m clearly going to have to read more Harrison, now that I know he exists.
Sunday, February 7th
This will be short, because in all honesty, there wasn’t much new here. It was my last full day in Rome, I’d seen the places that I mainly wanted to, and mostly I just wanted a sandwich. So I went back to the shop next to the Trevi Fountain, and had another one from the same place I’d eaten on my way to the Pantheon. It was still excellent.
“But surely you did more than that?”, I can hear you asking. Well, yeah. I walked around a lot. But, in truth, there wasn’t much that we haven’t seen similarly before now. A few parks, a couple of churches, no pictures that aren’t pretty much identical to all the earlier ones, so I’m having a hard time finding a reason to include them or comment on them. I did find a Chinese restaurant!
And I did run across the Largo di Torre Argentina, a ruin that includes the theater where Caesar was killed, so that’s something.
The far left corner has some sort of cat hostel, with about 20 cats lounging around in a small garden below street level. I did take a picture of them but I’m not impressed with it, so just imagine a bunch of cats in a modest sunken garden and I’ll give you this instead.
And that was really about it. The next day, Monday, I left for Florence.
I have to say, I really liked Rome. Weird religious things aside, it was very cool to see all of this classic history in front of you. And the people were nice enough — they had a peculiar vibe that was a little hard to pin down. I’d say that they were used to seeing tourists as external visitors; most of the people I dealt with were friendly and businesslike, pleasant but in a constructed, neutral sort of way. As opposed to, say, Thailand, where you felt that they engaged with you as a person. Or Japan, where they did *not* engage, and you knew it. The Romans’ vibe wasn’t at all unpleasant, though it felt vaguely itchy. But the city as a whole had a good energy to it, and I’d have happily stayed another week and visited some museums and other landmarks. It was too expensive for that, really, and after last year where I spent really at my max budget, I was very self-conscious about what I was spending as I started this year. But I can totally see coming back some time.
And there we are.