Saturday, June 12, 2010

Arrivederci, Roma

Early tomorrow we leave Ostia for the very popular island of Ponza. The guide says that berth fees of 10€/meter are common in the high season (and that book is old), so we’ll be anchoring again, which we enjoy anyway. That means that we really do need to accomplish a few things on the boat today before we leave the dock, provisioning being just one.

We did make it to Ostia Antica and highly recommend it to anyone interested in ancient Roman ruins. It’s a huge archeological park along the banks of the Tiber. We spent hours wandering around and exploring the ruins. Ostia was a major Roman military and commercial port for centuries until the decline of Rome. Then the river changed course and old Ostia was flooded, abandoned and buried in silt. In the last few centuries many of the frescos and mosaics have been removed, but many still remain on the site and are being preserved there. Since it’s an active archeological site, not all of it is accessible to the public.

Kids and ancient toilet humor in Ostia Antica

From Ostia Antica we continued on into Rome to visit the National Roman Museum. The museum is housed at multiple locations, but we only visited the Palazzo Massimo. There we were pleased to find many objects identified as coming from Ostia. Museum tickets are valid for two or three days so that you can visit the other locations too, but we ran out of time.

Thursday was our Catholic day. We started at the Vatican Museums and could have spent days there. It’s by far the largest museum I’ve ever been in (no, I haven’t been to the Louvre). I’d expected to find only religious art there, and there was indeed a lot of that, but they also maintain large Egyptian and Etruscan collections. We got a late start on the day and found ourselves hurrying a bit by the time we got to the Raphael rooms, but we slowed to admire the mosaic floors from Ostia. The rooms of modern art were mostly empty as the tours were headed straight to the Sistine Chapel at that point. We detoured through them and were pleased to find a couple of works by Dali, as well as one of Francis Bacon’s popes.

A tour at the Vatican Museums

A work by Dali away from the tours

We found the museums a little confusing and weren’t always sure where we were. There wasn’t a lot of context for most of the art although I can imagine taking a week to listen to everything on the audio guide. The map they give you with the audio guide is just an abstract representation, and all signs lead to the Sistine Chapel. After that, you’re pretty much on your own, and the audio guide is also silent beyond that point. It would be great if that museum ticket were valid for multiple days too, but there’s an extra charge for everything at the Vatican. Even the water in the restrooms is non-potable, and there are no drinking fountains here, unlike the rest of Rome.

Our rush at the museums was so that we could get to St. Peter’s Square and Basilica before closing. Once there, though, we found it blocked off so they could set up for some event. We asked a visiting priest about it, but there was a language barrier, and all we got was that the pope would be there for something that evening. We could see the square, though, and can imagine how impressive it is to be in it. (We learned yesterday from some other priests on the Metro that it was the end of the year of the priest and that it wasn’t normal to see as many priests as we had been noticing. There were 25,000 extra priests in the city for the event. This wasn’t, however, the event where the pope apologized for allowing priests to abuse children. That was the next day.)

From St. Peter’s we walked back across the river to find a restaurant that a friend had recommended. Our timing was bad, though, and we were there during the couple of hours when it wasn’t open, so we continued on to see other sights on our list. On our way to Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, we spotted a hole-in-the-way pizzeria (Pizzeria “da Pasquale” at Via dei Prefetti 34/a) and stopped in. It turned out to be just what we had hoped to find: a spot where locals drop in to get a slice on their way home. The white pizza with mushrooms and artichokes was excellent, and we had pizza and drinks for 10€ total rather than the 10€ (or more) each at the tourist places.

Bridge over the Tiber

We didn’t find Piazza Navona, but we did visit the Pantheon. Amazingly, entry is free. It was getting late by then, so we didn’t linger, but it did give me the idea of how awe-inspiring those ancient temples were.

Pantheon, pagan temple repurposed by the Church

Between the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s, we stopped at a phone store and bought a USB modem. Wireless Internet here in Italy has been hard to come by, and this is the solution many cruisers find to the problem. We’ll be able to use it in other countries by replacing the SIM card and buying more time. Unfortunately, the language barrier caused some problems, and we had to go back to the city yesterday to get the modem working properly. Since there was a rail strike going on, reducing the service on the train and Metro, that turned out to be an all-day adventure, and we didn’t make it back to the marina in time to check out to leave today at the end of our week.

The good part of staying an extra day (aside from getting our chores done) is that we finally saw the people on the other boat from California (from Clovis near Fresno). We spotted the boat when we came in, but it’s on another dock, and we couldn’t get over there to knock on the boat and introduce ourselves. Jack and Daphne were out in the cockpit yesterday evening, though, so I yelled over and they let me in, and we all met for coffee this morning. They’re circumnavigating and spent the winter here. Now they’re lingering to replace their engine before they continue on. They had lots of stories to tell about their adventures in the seven years they’ve been out and were interested in our thoughts about northern Europe. In the small world department, it turns out that they kept their boat at Emery Cove (San Francisco Bay) when we had Resolution (our previous boat) there. They were one dock over and noticed her since their boat is named Resolute. Funny to meet on a dock near Rome.

Later: Our jobs are done, and we've turned in our gate key for the return of our deposit. Unfortunately, right after we did that, we heard that the U.S. vs. England game is on at the bar on shore. Oh well. I'll trust that our Facebook peeps will have the result for us later. Meanwhile, GO USA!!!

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