On Pincian Hill

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From the notes of Day 39: 6/18/2011

The jazz band is swinging over the edge of Pincian Hill.  Behind them are the piazzas and pizzas of Rome.  The Ancient Egyptian obelisk of Piazza del Popolo fills the foreground.  Further west there is a dome that covers a sizable portion of an entire country.  I am sitting against the railing at the cliff side of Pincian Hill listening to a swinging band and waiting for the sun to set over the Vatican.  It is just past noon so I have a while to wait.


I opened my blanket into the grass and took a seat.  This part of the park was full of people who were picnicking and napping.  I had a difficult time deciding which one to choose so I did both.  Success all around.

When I woke up from my nap it was still early in the afternoon.  The sun would not set for hours.  I packed up my blanket and walked to the east.  The path led straight as far as I could see.  It also broke off down smaller paths every few sets of steps.  I took one of the paths and found that it paralleled a row of marble busts.  So did all the other paths.  I saw Ancient Greeks and Romans alongside the bust of Charles Lindbergh.  I even saw what purported to be the bust of a wizard from Volinor, though I have my doubts.  At the end of one of the trails I found a small outdoor sculpture exhibition featuring pieces by Salvador Dali.  I circled the exhibit and headed back to the trails.  The busted paths opened into sidewalks, boulevards, and bridges.

I took the high road.

I sat on the guard rails of the bridge looking down at the street below.  On the bridge behind me were weavers and winders on wheels.  They danced and dashed among miniature construction cones on their blades of wheels.  A shirtless man with tattoos and a drum provided a reactive soundtrack.  The bladers slid one footed along the pavement, whipping left and right around the cones.

As the first cold of evening moved in the bridge emptied.  I followed the long, straight path back towards the lookout point of Pincian Hill.  The fountains and statues on the path were lit by the gold of the ready-to-set sun.  I circled them quickly so that I could see the horizon as it went through the spectrum of colors.

I arrived at the lookout point and was soon joined by many others as we watched the sun set over the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica.  The jazz band had been replaced by the smooth sound of a nylon string guitarist.  Rome, never one to give up without a fight, battled back against the darkness.  The streets and buildings of the city glowed yellow-orange and hummed electric.

Rome stayed alive as the night began.  My plans this night were far to the north so before the final train ran I walked down the forever flights of stairs to the Flaminio stop.  I saw the last train warning and people scrambling up and down the platform looking in the cars for an open spot.  I knew that getting a seat would be impossible but I was nearly as certain that I would be getting on this train.  I did.

By the time the train reached my stop most of the passengers had deboarded.  When I arrived back at the campground a new adventure had already begun.  I will share that story some other day.  Until then here are some pics from the day’s adventure…

The obelisk in Piazza del Popolo

Bust of Pythagoras

Bust of the wizard Gandalf

“Nobility of Time” by Salvador Dali

“Surrealist Piano” by Salvador Dali

From the Ancient Roman Legend of Batman Versus Superman

Wheel Dancing

Reverse Wheel Dancing

High Flying Wheel Dancing

Statue in the Sun

And now the view on Pincian Hill as the sun sets…


But This Is Rome!


May 11, 2011

I woke up this morning hungry for adventure.  Today was my first day in Rome.  I had seen Roman and Romanesque statues, plazas, and architecture throughout Europe.  Croatia was home to an impressive Roman palace.  The ruins of a Roman Amphitheater in Ancona, Italy gave me a glimpse into public life in first century central Italy but this was Rome.  This was where The Empire began. My morning began with a quick metro trip from my campground on the Tiber River to Piazza de Popolo.  I stepped out of the station and Rome towered before me…

This is the northern gate of The Aurelian Wall, which stands at the entrance of Piazza de Popolo.

Inside the Piazza de Popolo a stage was being erected for use at a voting rally later that evening.  I was walking to the opposite side of the open plaza to admire Giovanni Ceccarini’s Fountain of Neptune when I heard a loud thud and a squeal.  Behind me the rally’s sound man was starting a mic check.  Italian words crashed against the marble walls across the plaza and came racing back at the God of the Sea and I.  Then the echos increased in frequency as they bombarded us from all directions.

Behind me is the Piazza de Popolo.

The Fountain of Neptune

As I neared the southern end of the piazza I had to make a decision:  Which street do I take?  I had never been to Rome but I had a general idea of where the Pantheon was located so I headed down the Via del Corso.  Many hours later I realized just how general of an idea I had about the location of the ancient Roman temple. As I wandered the unfamiliar streets I came upon a familiar sound.  It was the buzz of activity that accompanies street performers and artists across Europe.  It was the salesman and the tourists who followed them everywhere.  It was the sound that becomes comforting to adventurers like myself.  It meant that I was almost guaranteed to see something unique and unforgettable.  When I walked into Piazza Navona I got all of those things…

In the foreground is an ancient Egyptian obelisk atop The Fountain of the Four Rivers. In the background is the Church of Saint Agnes.

Ganges, the River God, on The Fountain of the Four Rivers.

The base of the Fountain of Four Rivers in Piazza Navona.

I left Piazza Navona having forgotten what I was looking for.  I wandered the streets until they turned into tiny alleys that hid from the buzz of Rome.  One path ended abruptly so I turned around and headed right.  I was poured out of the cramped alley into another plaza.  This plaza seemed more familiar than the others.  At the far end of it there was a dome.  I had seen this dome many times before.  It was in every book that I had ever read about Rome and appeared on half of the covers.  This was The Pantheon.

I circled the temple twice, respecting the ruins and revering the renovations.  Then I stood inside the portico.  I looked up at the massive slabs of granite and out at the piazza.  I thought about how many times I had seen The Pantheon.  It was probably in the thousands.  I had seen every angle of the exterior.  I had even seen some of the artworks that decorate the interior but I had never imagined seeing it like this, on the inside looking out.  After savoring that thought for a moment I stepped inside.  This is what I saw…


The natural light beaming from The Pantheon’s open dome gives life to the statues below.

One of the lively statues.

Two of the most abundant resources Rome has to offer: marble statues and oil paintings.

Here lies Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, better known to the world simply as “Raphael.”

I left The Pantheon and thought, “now what?”  I had seen one of the most famous historical monuments in the world after wandering through a town made of marble and gold.  All this and it was barely noon.  I thought about what I had gone through to get here; the work, the research, the sleepless nights on buses, the terror that occasionally struck when I was in the streets of a new city after dark with no hope of a warm bed.  I thought about how great it was to be here and how I would do it all again just for a chance to see my next “Pantheon.”  I smirked at the world as I reentered the narrow alleys that had brought me to this place.  I headed east and hoped to find The Vatican before sundown.

Well, this was my first Roman adventure.  I hope you enjoyed it.  I will share the rest of this day, and the weeks that followed, in the near future.  Until then…

Action Jack, What Should I Pack? #1

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I was once told that an electric curling iron was a travel necessity.  I was also once informed by a man who swam in the sewers to “bathe and disinfect”  that there is no need to carry basic first aid equipment.  Much of what is necessary depends on your skills and abilities, where you are going, and what you are doing there.  This means that there are as many opinions on what to pack when traveling as there are travelers who are packing.  This is mine…

In May 2011 I prepared for a 75 day trip to Europe.  This is the backpack I brought and everything that was packed in it.

I brought about 50 items with me on this adventure, many of which I never used and did not bring on subsequent adventures.  However, some things made my life easier and I never leave without them.  This post will be about 5 of those items.  In the future I will be posting my thoughts on more items that should or should not be taking up space in your pack.  In no particular order, here are 5 things you should pack.

#1-  A Hat

Pack a hat.  The photo above is some of the last remaining evidence of my favorite travel hat.  It is important that a travel hat is flexible and broad-brimmed.  This makes the hat easy to pack away when it is not in use and an effective sun blocker when it is in use.  This hat had all of that.  An additional feature that made this particular hat so dear to me is the black pull cord that you see coming out of the right side of the ill-fated headpiece.  This cord could be tightened in high winds so that you would never lose it.  Well, almost never.

After staying in the Croatian capital of Zagreb for a few hours of a five day stay I decided to leave.  I went to the bus station and watched the names of cities on the blue departures screen: Karlovac, Novo Mesto, Ogulin, Rijeka, Zadar, Split, Dubrovnik, and more.  I went to the counter and asked when the next bus left for the beach.  I got the ticket and spent the next four days in Split, the retirement home of Roman Emperor Diocletian.  His palace still remains and after spending my final two nights in an apartment in the palace I went to the docks to find my way to the next adventure.

There was a night ferry that left for Ancona that evening.  I went up to the ticket counter and asked if Ancona was in Italy.  The woman laughed and told me that it was.  I got the ticket and went out for one final adventure in Split.  Here are a few of the highlights…

This is the final picture of me and my hat.

After all of that happened I got in line to get my baggage and passport checked before boarding the international ferry.  I took off my hat as I neared the front of the line.  Five minutes later I was on the fourth deck of the ship, rustling through my backpack.  My hat was not in there.  My hat was gone.  My first thought was that it probably fell out of my pocket or pack and someone picked it up as they boarded.  The BlueLine was not the only ship boarding that evening so there is a chance that my hat ended up in Greece or Sicily.  Then I was struck by another possibility.  My hat may have blown into the port and sunk to the bottom of the Adriatic.  Either way one thing was clear:  I needed a new hat.

A hat is a necessary item.  They are the simple solution to keeping the sun out of your eyes and off of your face while you are out adventuring.  Always have a lightweight, flexible, broad-brimmed hat with you when traveling.  And if you find one that matches that description and is bright red please tell me where you saw it.  I have been questing after that hat for many miles.

#2- Underwear (Enough Underwear)

Underwear (plural) are a must.  The minimum number allowed for any trip is two (one for wearing, one for washing.  Rotate.  Repeat.).  I recommend more.  I am not saying that you must always wear underwear.  That is for you to decide but there will come a time when underwear will be a must.  These are the times that you prepare for.  Besides, underwear are light and when rolled properly can be shoved into otherwise useless corner space in your backpack.

#3- Passport Holder

Theft and loss are two of many people’s biggest fears while traveling.  These two things even cause some people to stop traveling before they begin.  A simple passport holder can reduce your chances of being the victim of a professional thief or your own forgetfulness.

I carry the pictured passport holder with me any time I travel.  It hangs around my neck.  The holder and the strap are concealed under my shirt and my valuables are in my sight at all times.  Passport holders like mine also have zipper pockets for cash, credit cards, and important documents like boarding passes.  If a pickpocket gets my wallet he will be lucky to walk away with a fiver and since I started carrying my passport holder I spend much less time going through my pockets in line to board a bus or a plane and I like to think that the passengers behind me appreciate that.

So take a passport holder.  Keep your important things in it and keep it attached to you when traveling.  It will give you additional security and help you make friends.

#4- A Blanket

A fleece blanket is a great multipurpose piece of traveling equipment.  The size of the blanket will vary greatly depending on what kind of traveling you are doing and how much space you have in your backpack.  Even when folded and rolled this blanket, which was a standard 6′ x 4′ blanket cut in half, took up nearly half of the large compartment in my backpack.

It was worth its space in gold when I arrived at a Dublin hostel that only had light weight summer sheets left for a January night.  Take a blanket, especially if you are traveling in the winter.  It can also be rolled up and used like a pillow on buses and trains or make any midday snack into a picnic.

To make a blanket travel more efficiently roll it up then take the extra set of shoe laces that you are carrying with you and tie them around the blanket to hold it together.  Maybe I should have mentioned this first but carry an extra set of shoelaces with you when traveling.

#5- Fork and Spoon.

Take a fork or a spoon.  It takes up very little room and just might come in handy like my fork did for me the day I arrived in Montforte, Spain.  That morning I woke up early in a dorm in Santiago de Compostela.  As I packed I began to think about what the Catedral de Santiago might look like in the sunrise.  I had never seen it before noon and I was leaving in a couple hours.  The only reasonable thing to do was pack my stuff, run to the Cathedral, and hope I could still make my train.

  Well, I made the train and it was totally worth it.

So back to the fork and spoon.  After arriving in Montforte I wandered the village for a while.  I passed a couple shops and a bakery.  I had been in such a hurry that I had not eaten all day.  I tried to walk into a shop and the owner pulled down the gate in front of me.  I turned around and saw all the gates closing on all the shops, the bakery, the restaurant on the corner.

The streets cleared and I found a spot on a bench in an empty plaza.  I heaved my oversized, military issue backpack onto the bench and dug through the side pocket.  I pulled out a sealed tin of fish and set it on the bench.  Then I reached back into my pack and got out a white plastic fork.  I cracked open the canned fish and had a picnic in the plaza.

The main advantage of having my fork was that I did not have to get the food dirty with my hands or my hands dirty with the food.  Aside from the obvious convenience of not having fishy smelling hands it is also important to watch what you eat for the sake of your health.  How many things do my hands touch in a day of riding the bus?  A LOT.  I would not want to have most of the things I touch with my hands in my mouth.  So I bring a plastic fork to eat with and when I am finished I wash it and put it back for next time.

Well, those are 5 things that are always with me when I travel.  Look for the next edition of “Action Jack, What Should I Pack?” soon.  In the meantime, let me know what you travel with in the comments section.  Until next time…