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.

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Birth of the Renaissance

This is my last day-trip out from Rome, a day in Florence, known as the birthplace of the Renaissance. After the train ride, I start my time in Florence watching a short 3D movie about Florence – my guide book recommended stopping at the place above the visitor’s center to watch this, saying it’s “often overlooked”. Sure enough, I shuffle through an incredibly packed visitor’s center to get to the stairs, go up, and find a large room with a lot of empty chairs and I watch the movie entirely alone. It gives a nice overview of the city and informs me a bit on what I should try to see. The movie is in 3D, using polarized glasses, and is pretty good, however the subtitles have horrible vertical convergence. Usually with the two images of a 3D movie, any content will appear shifted only left or right, since it’s simulating images going to your left and right eyes, but for some reason the text was shifted vertically instead of horizontally, so gives me a headache trying to focus on it. It is so bad I have to take a picture. After that, I start making my way to the Cathedral, but continue my tradition of slipping in to any open church for a moment along the way.

I arrive at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, which has a fanciful facade. Of important historical note are the bronze doors to the baptistery across from it – these doors are considered the start of the Renaissance. At the time, they held a competition among all of the city’s best artists to create the most artistic doors, and this was the start of an era of strong patronage of the arts in Florence, and soon other cities as well, but all of the famous renaissance men – Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael, etc – lived or worked in Florence, at least for a time.

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Weathering the Storm in Orvieto

A day trip to Orvieto! Orvieto is a small “hill town” north of Rome an hour or so by high speed train. Called a “hill town” because the town is built atop a hill, a bit like the acropolises in ancient Greek and Roman times. This one dates back a couple millennia, but was abandoned for a few hundred years after the Romans defeated the native Etruscan people.

It’s a quaint little town with winding, slightly hilly streets, all with a lot of charm. There are a lot of cars considering how tiny the roads are – I expected almost no automobiles, it seems like a perfect pedestrian-only little city, but cars zoom by through one-way alleys. For lunch I decide to try a kind of “pizza” I’ve been seeing for a while – it has meat and… French fries… on it. And no red sauce. I’m not sure it can actually be called a “pizza”. The taste is, well, about what you’d expect. The cat who joins me as I sit on a bench seems to like it more than I do.

I make my way over to the Duomo di Orvieto – the Orvieto Cathedral, the main attraction in town due to its very fanciful facade.

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Ancient Rome

I have always wanted to see ancient Rome, and though time traveling is not currently an option, today I wander through the ruins of it, starting with the double amphitheater known as The Colosseum. I shall avoid describing it as… colossal… but it is big, and a lot of the original is still standing despite the years of earthquakes and of locals using it as a “quarry” for gathering stone to build other (also now famous) buildings. Though there is no longer a floor and we can see directly into the basement, they used to hold all sorts of interesting shows here, from naval battles when they flood it, to hunts when they fill it with trees and pop dangerous predators up onto the field through trap doors, to, of course, the many popular forms of government-sanctioned murder entertainment. When someone asks if I would rather be a gladiator or someone watching the thousands of killings that would happen in a day here, I respond I’d rather be one of the engineers building the ingenious devices they used to spawn lions, tigers, and, yes, bears, onto the field.

From the Colosseum, I get a view of the Arch of Constantine and the remaining half-niche of Temple of Venus and Rome. Apparently two giant statues of Venus and Rome stood in the space that can still be seen here, and the circling inscription read, palindromically, “AMORA ROMA”. Continue reading “Ancient Rome”

All Trains Lead to Rome

My first sight of Rome is as I leave the metro station, and see, through the stairway, great, columns of stone. This pretty well sums of Rome – majestic stone buildings everywhere.

1080 First Sight of Rome
View from the Metro

My train to Rome had free, unsecured WiFi. But, to use it, to identify myself, it wanted me to put in my name, a password, and a credit card number, and submit it (without SSL) over unsecured WiFi. No thanks. I was really tempted to start a sniffer just to see how many credit card numbers of others flew by, but realized I didn’t have one installed, and I’d have to expose my credit card number to anyone listening in order to download one ;). Continue reading “All Trains Lead to Rome”

Short Stop in Milan

I decided to stop in Milan due to, mostly, the fact that it was the cheapest flight from Istanbul, and had an express train to Rome, which was my real next destination. Apparently feeling money-conscious that day, I also booked a bed in a hostel instead of a normal hotel room. The hostel is quiet nice. They put me in a more private room with two beds and a bathroom (I booked a cheaper room with four beds), whether through accident, or benevolence, or clever planning, I do not know. To my delightful surprise, there’s no one else staying there my first night, so I have a nice, if simple, room with a private bath for about a fifth of what I usually pay for a room! The second night, however, I will get a roommate, and he was a nice Polish guy, but I decide I’ll probably stick to hotel rooms from here on out.

Milan, like most of these old cities in Italy, is gorgeous. Even the train terminal (of which my photo did not turn out) is beautiful – big, massive, stone columns and arches. Continue reading “Short Stop in Milan”

See Black Sea

For our final couple days in Turkey, we find ourselves in Ağva. This is perhaps my favorite time in Turkey. There’s nothing historic here, there are no particular sights to see here, there are barely any tourists here, only a couple others in our hotel, and most of the other hotels look pretty empty. It’s just a nice, quiet town, with a couple rivers running through it, and the beautiful Black Sea. On our first afternoon in Ağva, we take out one of our hotel’s paddle boats, and it is a wonderful, warm afternoon (despite the fact my friend bundled up as if it was winter… maybe she’s afraid of the sun…). We paddle down to the shore of the Black Sea, walk around the beach, wade in the Sea, and meet a friendly dog that just likes to walk with us and hang out.

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Cappadocia

We next make our way (via Uber, a flight, and a bus) to Cappadocia, a very large ancient settlement which was built into the mountains of the area, due to its rather brittle stone which could be easy carved away to make rooms within the stone. This made for rather defensible settlements, with doors hidden away, and no visible way in to most homes. Animals could be kept in farms made entirely underground. This was also a very active and significant Christian community in the early centuries of Christianity. The ability to defend the area led to it being great for hiding from invading marauders in earlier days and from religious persecution by the Romans in latter days.

“Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? … Judea and Cappadocia, … visitors from Rome … we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
– Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2, Verses 7 – 11

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, … Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
– First Epistle of Peter, Chapter 1, Verses 1-2

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Hierapolis and Pamukkale

Our tour stops at Pamukkale, adjacent to the ancient site of Hierapolis. At our earlier stop in Ephesus, we learned that the healing center at Ephesus was renowned for having an incredibly large success rate at healing those they accepted. The reason for this was that they were good at accepting only those who could be healed and referring everyone else to Hierapolis. Hierapolis was renowned for having an incredibly large graveyard. Continue reading “Hierapolis and Pamukkale”