Ancient Roman Cats

Today I was planning on visiting the Vatican Museum and related sites, but, in preparation for where I’m heading in a few stops, I ended up spending most of the morning and afternoon figuring out how to get a Chinese visa for an American citizen in Italy. Luckily, there is a Chinese visa office in Rome, and they don’t care that you’re not Italian. Unlike the Chinese consulate I once stopped by in San Francisco, this one was almost completely empty, and on my two visits there I spent no more than 30 seconds waiting for someone (the same guy, who spoke good English, both times) to assist me, so it was relatively painless, though even with rush service they will return my passport, with visa attached, the day before my last day in Rome, so I hope all goes well! In order to get the initial Chinese visa, they required plain tickets to and from China, but I am not completely sure on my plans yet, so I booked some flights, printed out the tickets, submitted my visa application, and then canceled one of the flights (within 24 hours, so no cancellation fee) until my plans solidify. After this initial visa is granted, I can use it any number of times in the next 10 years to re-enter China without having to jump through any hoops, so I’m not sure why they’re so rigorous on the initial application/entry. Probably because people intending illegal immigration might just buy a one-way ticket and they want to protect against that.

After my Visa Quest, I strolled over to the Pantheon, as it was a bit of Ancient Rome I had not yet seen, and there were a couple other sites of particular interest to me in the area. The Pantheon used to be the temple of all gods, but when Constantine converted Rome to Christianity in the 4th century it was converted into the church of all martyrs and statues of Zeus and Apollo were replaced with statues of Andrew and Peter. Like most active churches in Rome, there is no admission fee, whether you’re coming in to pray or to be a tourist, and due to it being later in the day, there was no wait to go in.

The entrance has many impressive columns – single giant pieces of marble, quarried in Egypt or something – and the inside is one round room, with an incredible dome, apparently made of poured concrete, and has been standing a very, very long time. My audio tour guide directs me to admire the “largest column in Rome”, that is, the column of light coming through the hole in the top of the dome. The top of the dome is open (glass was not a thing in Ancient Rome), so when it rains, don’t stand near the center of the Pantheon.

Exiting the Pantheon back into the bright light of day, I make my way to Largo di Torre Argentina.

Largo di Torre Argentina is an important archaeological site because… err… I have no idea what it was, but there are cats here! A very unique warning at the site reads “THIS IS AN IMPORTANT ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE, PLEASE BE ADVISED THAT IT IS FORBIDDEN TO LEAVE CAT FOOD IN THIS AREA”, instructing us to visit the “cat sanctuary” instead. The cat sanctuary is where volunteers take care of disabled and abandoned cats. A few roam the ruins, but most live inside the organization’s rooms which are in a very low-ceilinged (I have to duck at every cross-beam) slot of space under the street adjacent to the ruins. Every outdoor picture has at least 2 cats, can you spot them all?

Inside is a cute three-legged cat generally attracting attention as he walks around their gift shop.

And, for my final stop, I make my way to the “American Mini Market”. Seven days left in Rome… 2 cans a day… I’ll take 14 cans of Mtn Dew please and thank you. I guess every desire can be satisfied in Rome.

Interestingly, I swear the first can I inspected was the German Mtn Dew again, with ingredients in German and the second ingredient being German for “sugar.” But, after I’ve gone through a few cans in a few days, I look at my remaining cans, and see that their ingredients are in Polish, and the second ingredient translates to “fructose syrup”, presumably something rather similar to (or the same as) the “high-fructose corn syrup” used in the American formulation of Mtn Dew. It still doesn’t taste quite the same as I remember, but memories are fickle.

Now burdened with quite a bit of liquid cargo, walking back towards my hotel I accidentally walk past the Altar of the Fatherland, a big, beautiful war memorial, and also pass the Roman Forum one last time, getting a nice picture from a different angle, before boarding the Metro right in front of the Colosseum.

In the evening I finalize the rest of my plans for this trip, book my remaining train tickets and a couple of flights. After Marseilles and a short stop in Barcelona, I’m going to be spending a bit of time in China and then I’ll be returning to California on June 25th, enjoying a LAN Party in hopes to see some friends, and then planning on road-tripping it to Minnesota with my cats to spend some of the summer. Hope to see most of you in one place or another!

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