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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.

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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!

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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…

EPIC.

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…