Italy, 1999

Many of the links on this page go to photographs of the trip. Just click the link and the photo will appear in a new window. When you're done gawking just close that window to get back here.
This is an excerpt from our ezine Degeneration Excerpt, a semi-weekly and semi-weakly ezine on Atlanta's music scene, random travel tales, blasphemy and prophesy. If you want to subscribe to that broadcast just contact us!

If you enjoy this tale you'll probably love our lengthy tale from our trip to Italy in 1996:

To kick things off let's talk about what's changed in Italia since '96:
Cell phones - EVERYWHERE. It's common to see a group of five teen girls in a bunch, each one talking on their cell phones. It's odd in a country with a relaxed pace of life to see everyone talking to a little piece of plastic and ignoring everything around them. Actually, this is just a clever way to introduce a quick
It's only a matter of time before we start implanting electronic devices into the human body. We already have the first silicon chip implanted in the brain of someone to help them regain the use of a paralyzed limb. How long before we start installing computers, extra memory, and cell phones? Powered off the heat or electricity generated by the human body, these devices would be invisible to the casual observer. So when they put cell phones in people, running the microphone into the neck and the speaker into the ear, and someone is walking down the street chatting away to apparently nobody, how will we tell the schizophrenics from the "sane?" Just a thought. Back to our irregularly schedule program, already in progress...
Another difference from '96 to '99 - Spice Girl shoes on everyone, including men. We strapping American men still tower over them, regardless of their 3" platform sneakers, but the fad is widespread.
Speaking of fashion, the New Black in Italia is... well, BLACK. A shot of an Italian crowd looks like a photo of a flock of crows. The latest look for Italian women starts with the hair - medium to long (strait and black, of course) with at least one plastic fake jeweled bead, sometimes as many as 4. A black or gray blouse, black skirt of any length since it doesn't matter, you cover the entire outfit with a shoulder-to-ankle sweater coat. If it's chilly it can be a puffy Michelin-man-style coat, ankle length as well. Black, of course.
Men's fashion in Italia is as dull as it is anywhere (I swear nothing new has happened since the invention of the neck tie), with only the kids doing anything different (Spice Girl shoes.) Another fashion note: cargo pants are all the rage right now for both sexes, though with the pickpockets in the big cities you can’t really use the big baggy pockets.
Another difference - hordes of American tourists EVERYWHERE. Cheap air fares had flooded Europe with scum like us. Add to that the ever-present rich New York spoiled young woman who is studying abroad in London but in Italia on spring break with the rest of the sorority and you couldn't find a word of Italian spoken in the big cities.

But enough chatter about the differences, let's get on board.

It's been three years since I pounded my feet into pulp on the streets of Roma. I had a lot of reasons to go back, the biggest being I hadn't seen enough the first time. Now I can say I've seen more, if not enough. We made reservations on-line at Pensione Ottaviano (, about 1/2 a block from St. Peter's smack in the middle of Roma. A pensione is something between a hostel and a hotel - often you share a dorm-style room and/or bathroom with fellow travelers. They aren't the Ritz, thankfully, but they're cheap and usually clean.
We slept maybe 2 hours in the total 18 hours it took to get from home to the hotel, an overnight 3 plane, 2 trains, and long hike adventure that had us beat to death when we finally walked in the door at Ottaviano. But, degenerates that we are, instead of resting and adjusting our internal clocks to match the local schedule we got directions to a bar from one of the guests at the pensione, Derrek.
Derrek had put in a few years at Intel doing some serious technogeeking before quitting and moving to Roma to take up writing. He gave us directions to some pub, "The Italians love English pubs."
We followed his directions until we realized they were hopeless - wrong distance, wrong street, the only clue worthwhile was "look for the Guinness sign." Fortunately one of my traveling companions, degenerate DC, can spot a beer sign from about 6 miles away, so we followed his lead until the tiny yellow speck on the horizon grew into the Guinness logo.
The pub was off the beaten tourist trail so I struggled with my ultra-minimal Italiano and got us English beers and settled in. The joint was mostly empty when we arrived around 10. Around midnight the place was suddenly packed, wall to wall, with black-clad, overmade locals babbling over a beer or two. After a while we decided it wasn't worth it - too similar to any bar in the yuppier districts of our home town, and we were getting the same level of interest from the locals there as we would at home, i.e. none. So we headed back to the pensione. As we walked in the door at the hostel a gang of English-speaking degenerates was headed out, led by Derrek, so we followed them for more fun, and to tell Derrek his directions sucked.
He led us to Penny Lane - predictably, another English pub. We took an empty corner booth and started chatting. The two Brits, 8 Americans, and a Canadian all made me feel, unfortunately, right at home - no local culture invaded our personal space. But it was heartwarming when we got around to the "what do you do" conversation.
"I quit my job at Intel, moved here to live, illegally, and write."
"I'm between jobs."
"I quit my job to travel. I may go to Sicily next week."
"I'm between jobs."
"I quit my job to work here in a hotel."
"I don't have a job."
And so on. It was freakish. An entire table of expatriated slackers wandering the earth on whatever money they had left.
When we got back to the pensione after 5 AM we felt fine, since it was 11 PM "our time." So we headed out again with Jenna, a blonde from Seattle who had quit her job, dumped her boyfriend, and, 8 hours later, got on a plane and headed to Europe. Jen had been traveling something like 2 months. I didn't ask what she was running from but it was apparent she was having a blast. She had a date that morning at 7:30 to head to Sardinia with her newfound "travel mate" and we argued that there was no use in her trying to catch an hour's sleep, she'd just sleep through her alarm and miss her date. Wouldn't it be better to just stay up? On the previous trip to Roma I'd stumbled across a 24 hour bakery which happened to be 2 blocks from the pensione. We found the place and picked up a few amazing pastries, then headed over to St. Peter's to watch the sunrise. It wasn't spectacular and not something I'd recommend, but it was worth the bragging rights for us.

This pretty picture was taken by degenerate DN. We later saw the same shot on postcards around town.

By the time we got up around 3 PM, showered, ate, and found a few forgotten essentials it was already closing time at all the tourist attractions. We did a quick walk-through of St. Pete just to stun the virgins into near-Catholicism, then found the rest of the guests from the pensione, the "Expatriated Slacker's Union, local 306" as we'd nicknamed them, ready to roll. Eventually we ended up at a wine bar nicknamed The Cave, since it's a long, dark corridor that dead-ends into an ancient Roman ruin that looks like a man-made cavern. They said it had been a bar something like 2000 years. (We ended up at The Cave many nights, and every night it was a different tale. The next night it was the place Nero had died, the night after it was the burial place of Julius Caesar. It was all bullshit, but colorful, entertaining bullshit. If anyone knows the actual name of this place please contact us!)
The waiter, Robi, brought bottle after bottle of fantastic local wines at absurdly low prices, by U.S. standards, and next thing we know it's 5 AM again.
Derrek told us about a great place to watch the sun rise, a hill next to the Vatican, so we headed up the steps he pointed out. That turned out to be a dead end, so we headed around the corner to the alternate route he had mentioned. An hour and a half later we're cursing Derrek, and ourselves for falling for his directions again. But there's nothing like 1 1/2 hours of mountain climbing at 5 AM to wake you up so we found a snack stand atop the hill, open for morning commuters, and munched on peanuts waiting for the sun to rise over Roma. Fellow traveler degenerate DN had disappeared into the weeds with the Canadian, Marge, who we'd dragged along on this morning's jaunt. She was working at the pensione and her shift started that morning at 7:30 so we'd used the same argument on her as Jenna.
A group of local guys had found American dates and they huddled on the edge of the park with us, waiting for the inevitable glorious sunrise over Roma.
And waited.
And waited.
Eventually we realized it was broad daylight but the sun was completely obscured by clouds, so we caught a bus and headed back, chilly and tired.
A new group of 18-year-old-ish kids were our new roommates and they thought our schedule was amusing. "We don't want to end up sleeping until noon." they whined when we asked if they wanted to join us the next night.
"Ain't nothing there in the morning that ain't there after noon." I countered.
It turns out our schedule worked pretty well. The tour groups all cram the sights early, trying to beat the lines, but by about 2 or 3 they're all herded back to the busses by their tour guides anxious to get to the next town. We slipped into the Coliseum just as the gates were closing, so instead of a struggling mass of tourists sprinkled with pickpockets we'd have places like the Coliseum almost to ourselves. Then we'd get to wander Roma all night, fountains lit and noir shadows on ancient cobblestones. We'd stumbled back to the pensione as our roommates were waking up and ask the roommates "So, what did YOU do last night? Slept, huh? Well WE saw..."

The Coliseum is impressive, designed to house something like 50,000 people who came to watch thousands of animals, slaves, gladiators, and prisoners of every faith put to death in spectacular ways. The place may have had a canvas roof over the seating, and could be flooded to stage mock naval battles. I don't think there is any stronger evidence of a society with too much time and money on it's hands. It's exactly like any arena in any city in the U.S. In fact, the word "arena" comes from the Latin word for sand, "harena", used to soak up the blood of the Coliseum's acts. The inside is a little disappointing. It's pretty much all ruin. In fact there's only a small portion of the exterior that has even a scrap of it's original facade. (The place was used as a marble quarry to build half the city since the fall of the empire.) You have to use your imagination, and 10,000 lire, to get a feel for what it might have been like. The place was swarming with crews getting ready for the Pope's visit later in the week, further interfering with the imagination. The smoking Roman soldier pictured to the right didn't really help. (Thanks to Let's Go: Italy for some of the above info.)

That night we got Marge to confirm Derrek's directions before heading out. We stumbled into a wonderful basement restaurant for pasta, fried rice balls (sorta like hush puppies with cheese) and cappuccino.
We found The Cave with Marge's directions, and our vague drunken memories, and found the Expatriated Slackers' Union meeting in progress. We'd picked up new members, a couple of U.S. students studying in Roma, and had a fun night of conversation and vino. We headed home early (for us), around 3AM, with a stop by the bakery. We'd hit the bakery at random hours every day - lunch, dinner, 5 AM, and always the same grumpy guy was behind the counter. We couldn't figure out when he slept, which might explain his less-than-friendly demeanor.
On Good Friday Roma gets slammed with the faithful, cramming the streets en route to St. Pete's. Add that to the weekend tourists and the normally frantic populace and you couldn't get near a church in the whole town. Pagans that we are, we figured it was the best and most appropriate day to go see the ancient Roman stuff instead.
Palentine Hill is NOT worth the 12,000 lire, about 8 U.S. dollars, to get into the park unless you have not seen any other Roman ruins ever. The hill top garden is cool and pretty and the view is nice.
We tried to see a creepy crypt built by Cappuchin monks but they were off for the afternoon. Like Mexico's siesta, Italia takes off for lunch, around 1:30, and nobody goes back to work until 3:30 or later. They don't call it siesta, though they do nap and it serves the same purpose. In fact, it has no name at all, it's just afternoon. Almost everything shuts down, so we opted for a rest ourselves.
After a slice of excellent pizza (with cherry tomatoes, chunks of mozzarella, basil and olive oil) we're foolishly following Derrek's directions again, trying to find a bar called "Friends." By the time we found the place Derrek was walking out, saying it sucked, so we headed through his new neighborhood, "the Soho of Roma" he called it, to another bar where we got beers and stood around in the piazza outside. It was just like a college party anywhere and not a hell of a lot of fun for those of us that didn't speak the language so we headed back to The Cave to see what kind of trouble we could get into.
Our usual waiter, Robi, was off that night but we found him hanging around in the street so we dragged him in for conversation. He wanted to improve his English and I wanted to learn more Italiano so we chatted away, correcting each other endlessly.
We got up early to catch the train out of town. We were headed to Montepulciano, but the train only got as close as a neighboring town where we got off and wandered around trying to figure out how to get up the mountain. There was a bus stop, but no place to buy tickets during the afternoon siesta-not-called-siesta. In the small country towns you don't run across a lot of English, which is nice if you're trying to "get away from it all" but not so great if you're trying to get somewhere and don't speak Italiano. Eventually we found a bus and paid double what the ticket counter would charge, a whopping $2, to get up to Montepulciano.
The bus took us via an incredibly scenic route to the entrance to the town at the foot of the big hill atop which the town rests. We followed the signs to the tourist office. Street by street we climbed that pinnacle with our packs weighing more and more with every step. At one fork in the road there was no sign so I asked directions from one of the locals so we wouldn't take a wrong turn and climb the wrong way. Eventually we found the place - only to find another sign saying they'd moved, back down the hill.

Montepulciano is a small, medieval town sitting on a mountaintop overlooking an incredible view of the Tuscan valley below. It's a stunning view. Amazing. Incredible. Breathtaking. Picturesque. I'd say "you get the idea" but you have NO idea! All three of us decided if we won the lottery we'd have a place on that hill. The view soothed our nerves, if not our throbbing feet, and we headed down in search of the tourist office again. The couple in front of us was doing the same thing we were doing, looking for a room for the night. The smiling tourist office lady behind the desk told them, in excellent English, that they'd have to hurry to catch the bus out of town to the next town where they might find the tourist office there open to find them a room in another town since it was "impossible" to get a room that night in Montepulciano.
Having experienced the tourist offices of small Tuscan hill towns before, I knew they just MIGHT be wrong. We headed across the street to the first hotel we could find and had our choice of rooms, with a bath or without, with a view, etc. We felt sorry for the fools that had rushed down the hill to catch the bus on the advice of the tourist office.
My research had led me to believe Monetpulciano was off the beaten path, but we found it was smack in the middle of the beaten path. Main street has been turned into a pedestrian mall for tourists. But it was Easter weekend and we needed a break from the big city, so we happily settled in and found a restaurant recommended by Let's Go, Ristorante Cittino, and had an excellent meal. We sampled the local vino, a heavy red wine that is slightly sweet, along with a fabulous plate of antipasto, toast with various toppings like tomatoes in olive oil, tuna, and patte, followed by a big bowl of pasta, and a bottle of water all for about $14. We hit the local cafe for dessert, tirimisu, chocolate brandy cake, cheesecake and more wine and decided we could stay there another day instead of trying to get anywhere on Easter Sunday. Or maybe it was just the view that made us stay. Or the food. Or the wine...
Sunday there was a horse race in a neighboring town, Aquaviva, we wanted to see. We stopped by the tourist office to find out when a bus might get us there and they said there were plenty. Yet again, we thought they might be wrong and later, as we walked down the road trying to hitchhike after giving up on the bus, we giggled about the "helpful tourist office."
Apparently three slackers tromping down a deserted road holding a sign with "Aquaviva" on it are not people to stop and pick up in Tuscany, even if they could fit all three of us in their clownmobiles, so after a couple of kilometers we gave up and walking back up the mountain to Montepulciano with sore feet and no horse racing tales to tell.
Instead we sat in a sidewalk cafe and watched the locals parade up the hill for Easter services. Then had yet another fabulous meal at Ristorante Cittino (I got the main course this time, a grilled steak that was pretty tasty, instead of stopping at the pasta.), another wonderful round of desserts and into bed in record time. We hopped up early to try to get to Firenze at a reasonable hour. Here's a break for
Why on earth do we translate proper names? If the locals call it Roma, why do we make it Rome? The locals call it Firenze, we call it Florence. And it's not just us ugly Americans - in every town you can find a guide book with the town name "translated" into just about any foreign tongue. It makes no sense. Go to Italia and ask for directions to "Florence" from someone that speaks no English and see what you get. 
Back to our irregularly scheduled program, already in progress.

As usual, the tourist office tells us one thing but the reality is another. They say there's a bus at 10, 10:50, 11, etc. There's one bus, at noon. Easter Monday is a national holiday and almost nothing was running. The one train to Firenze was standing room only, and an hour late, but it got us there.

We trekked across town to the place we wanted to stay only to find the office closed for the holiday, so we trekked back across town to another hotel and dropped our gear.
We wandered Firenze. It is still stunning, even to someone who spent several weekends there only a few years ago. We found Amon, an Egyptian pita restaurant, and stuffed our faces before stumbling into another damned English pub packed with tourists and run by English-speaking expatriated slackers. We flirted with our waitress, a 6' German girl working there for a few extra bucks, as well as working in a hotel for a free place to live. We slowly formulated the rules for joining the Expatriated Slackers' Union:
Rule #1: QUIT.
Rule #2: Get on the plane.
We rarely got beyond rule #1 before breaking out in giggles and imagining the possibilities.
The table next to us was the ever-present spoiled rich girls abroad, "I can't decide if we should do Prague or Barcelona next..."
"I just realized we'll be traveling a month. I'd better email mom to put more money in the account."
We ran into this same group, just (slightly) different names and faces, in every town, on every train, in every hotel.
We scared them off when we tried to join in their conversation.
Up early, we headed to Instituto Gould, the place we'd originally wanted to stay. It's a clean, spacious place full of backpackers, in a fairly convenient location and all the profits to go benefit an orphanage they run next door. All that for about $20 a night. (If you can beat that I'd like to hear about it.) Our room had a balcony, shared with our neighbors, a trio of American girls studying in France, but on spring break in Italia.
We cruised by the Uffizzi but the line wrapped around the piazza so we slipped into the Borgello instead - a few Michelangelos, Donatellos, etc., all housed in an amazing fort right in the middle of town. It impressed even the artistically uninclined degenerates in our midst. For we sculptors it's a menace, threatening to force us to abandon our craft forever - why bother? It's been done!

This little guy is Donatello's "Love." Why on earth he's wearing chaps I have no idea. I new all the Renaissance artists were gay but I didn't know they were into bondage and pedophilia...

The other great thing about the Borgello is it's right around the corner from Vivoli - the best gellateria on earth. I got my usual two favorite flavors, banana and rice, and picked a new flavor, peaches with caramel. Even degenerate DN, "I'm not an ice cream fan," raved about the best bowl of semi-frozen heaven you can put in your mouth. After one of our many visits I plopped down on the curb outside to stuff my face, got one bite in my mouth and stopped, "SHIT, that's good!" I moaned. A passer by giggled in knowing delight.
Refreshed, we hit the duomo and waited in line to climb to the lantern of Brunellesci's dome. It's a long wait, a $6 ticket, and an incredibly long hike - something like 436 steps, but the view is definitely worth it. If you're claustrophobic or acrophobic you might want to think twice, but the view really is worth just about any price and pain.
The Uffizzi line was still a good hour long but worth the wait and, at something like $8, a bargain. Raphael, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and hordes of not-so-big-named others. Either get there early, like 7:30 AM, or late, like 4 PM, there's no use in doing the 4 hour wait in between. (In summer of '99 they began selling advance tickets - highly recommended.)

Here's a shot from the Uffizzi. You can see the halls of the gallery on the left and right, the Palazzo Vecchio towering over the square, and Brunellesci's dome in the distance. Firenze is a small town, despite the weight the name carries.

We'd had beer in front of Santa Maria Novella the night before, tonight we'd had one on the steps of the duomo, so we opted for vino on the steps of the Palazzo Vecchio for a change of beverage and scenery. Moroccans played guitar, drums and sang, while German tour groups giggled at our sad advances while we just giggled in awe and giddy joy. Firenze is a magical town and it had us all three fully entranced. Everyone talked of living there but I knew degenerate DC is too much of a workaholic, degenerate DN too much of a workaphobic, and I too loyal to you, my viewers, to ever leave my post...
Yeah, right.

We got up mentally motivated to leave town, as the Instituto said they had no room the next night, but a check back at the desk gave us an extension for the night so we shifted gears and headed back out into the fray.
The duomo baptistery had some stunning gold mosaics and no line to speak of, so we gawked at that for a while.
We found the line at the Acadamia, where they hold the original Michelangelo David, only a block long so we stood and chatted with an Australian Expatriated Slacker for the half hour wait.

The David is a damned moving sight. The hype is overwhelming, and some of my fellow travelers had doubts about how moved they could possibly be after seeing replicas, photos, drawings, paintings, and postcards on every wall of every shop in town, but even they came away silent. It's really something you have to see in person to get the real impact of the work, but then you could say that about most of Italy. Michelangelo's "dying slaves," unfinished works intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II, line the corridor leading up to the David and are almost as equally captivating.

We tried to see the Museo della Opera de Duomo where they keep the original baptistery doors and a collection of other impressive works, but like most of Italia it was closed for renovations in preparation for the year 2000 Jubilee. We encountered the same thing everywhere we went, in fact the entire facade of St. Pete's was hidden by scaffolding.
So we hit the hotel with a couple bottles of my favorite vino, Orvietto Classico, made just down the road from Firenze, and casual conversation with our neighbors out on the balcony.
After another wonderful meal, we headed out to find some fun in the rain. We found a the group of Moroccan musicians from earlier now hiding out under the porch of the Uffizzi, playing guitar and drums for a group of drunken Germans and Belgians. The music ranged from Ricky Martin's The Cup of Life to Blitzkrieg Bop by the Ramones - truly a surreal night. We shared a bottle and got the Belgian slant on the local culture, "They're 50% Fascist - Mussollini and Hitler..."
I tried to point out the communism still alive and well, in addition to the socialism, democracy, and other stormy forces that make Italian politics infamous but it was obvious our newfound friends were far too intoxicated to listen, much less debate rationally.

"That's just drunk talk...
sweet, beautiful drunk talk."
Barney, from The Simpsons

The conversation degenerated into particularly bad jokes.
The local police seem to randomly enforce laws on setting up spontaneous poster sales on the sidewalks and the North Africans pack up and hide when The Man comes around, but immediately set up shop again as soon as He passes. Our Belgian friend tried to point to that as evidence of Fascism, but I'd say it is closer to racism.
Back at the hotel degenerate DC passed out almost immediately, wondering if he'd have his first hangover of the trip in the morning. I stayed up and wrote this report in the open window with a cold rain falling while "Rainy Night in Georgia" played in my head.

"I believe it's raining all over the world."

Funny how home can invade your head no matter how hard you try to distract yourself. That brings us to the third of our trinity of
While I was abroad I sent back an email to all my loyal viewers. Coincidentally, it was April 1 and tradition around here at Degenerate Press dictates that we perform some sort of April Foolishness. We sent some email out to all the subscribers of Electric Degeneration saying that I, the Degenerate Press editor, would not be returning. I'd gotten a job in Roma as a teacher. As a result of that foolishness a bunch of fools here at home panicked and generated a shitstorm of chaos back at the Degenerate Press headquarters.
My rant is this - with the advent of the techno age we are never really disconnected anymore. You can't "get away from it all" anymore. There's always a phone, an internet cafe, a newspaper waiting to bring your mind back home to whatever you're trying to flee. There is no more vacation, just a change of surroundings. Now back to our irregularly scheduled program, already in progress.

Degenerate DN had our first confirmed pickpocket attempt the next morning. We headed to Santa Croce, just another amazing/impressive/important church full of frescoes by Giotto, works by Donatello and others, a few monuments to Dante, and the burial spot of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo. I stopped by and cursed Michelangelo (hidden by scaffolding, of course) for making it so damned difficult to make art that can compare. (I visited both Raphael's and Donatello's crypts later in the trip and did the same and I'd have done Leonardo too, except he ran off to France to die.)
So on our way out the door at Santa Croce a band of gypsy women swarm us, holding babies, bags, and newspapers. Degenerate DC and I push through but degenerate DN got momentarily stalled and in that instant a gypsy girl used her paper in one arm to hide the other hand snaking under to unzip his beltpack about two inches. He got out of the swarm before she could get farther, and she would have not have been able to pull his camera lens out of the pack even if she'd unzipped it all the way, but it was impressive and educational. Telling the tale to random travelers generated scores of pickpocket stories, some too absurd to believe.
We hit the duomo to see the interior, impressive as always, and swing by Vivoli one last time. We'd hit the place every few hours in those two days but I never could get enough. My last bowl was gone long before we reached the hotel to pick up our bags and head back to Roma.

Pensione Ottaviano felt like home. We tossed our packs in the locker, grabbed a slice from our favorite pizza joint and did laundry. We met our new roommate, Jesse, a stunning blonde from Australia who was between jobs, of course, and on the last leg of an extended walkabout that had included her third trip to India, a trip to Greece, Turkey (about which she positively RAVED) and then Italy. She was our foolish follower for the night and ended up getting lost with us in our nightly attempt to follow Derrek's misdirections to some new place. Eventually we gave up and ended up back at The Cave until around 3:30 AM. We'd intended to get up early for the Vatican Museum but ended up snoozing until 11. We dragged Jesse to the Pantheon and everyone was suitably impressed.

You can't swing a dead cat in Roma without smacking it into an Egyptian obelisk. The Romans looted hundreds of them (it's a wonder there's anything at all left in Egypt.) Later the Catholics tried to turn them into Christian monuments by sticking a cross on the top. Instead, they look like some kind of post-apocalyptic post-modern pagan homage to all religions. This particular one is from Piazzo Novana where there's an amazing Bernini fountain, built around this obelisk.

We hit the Trevi Fountain for our third time en route to the Roman Forum, swung by the Coliseum and up to San Pietro En Vincoli- "St. Pete in chains." It's where St. Peter's chains are kept, and is the tomb of Pope Julius II, site of Michelangelo's Moses (surrounded in the requisite scaffolding.) They at least left a view of the Moses, a statue of awe-inspiring power. I don't remember who, probably Vasari, who said "Lord help us should he ever raise that mighty foot."
We tried to see the museum containing some ancient Roman stuff, like the giant hand, head and foot of a statue of Constantine but it was, of course, closed for renovations.
Italy, closed for renovations.
A rain storm trapped us the museum's porch for a while, a little piazza designed by Michelangelo, staring at an amazing equestrian bronze (replica) of Marcus Aurelius. When we finally got back to the pensione we were soaked, cold and tired. Despite other offers we made an early night of it so we could get up early for the Vatican Museum.
I headed out, bleary and blurry, to get our spot in line while degenerate DC went to fetch us beverages and degenerate DN fumbled with his boots. The museum is literally around the corner from the pensione and we'd walked past the line dozens of times. I knew the wait could get incredibly long if you didn't get there early, and it's not open late so you can't wait for the line to go away. I got a good position, about 50 yards back. In the five minutes it took DC to get drinks the line was a block longer. We watched the line grow behind us while waiting for DN to show up.
And waited.
And waited.
And waited.
Then they were opening the doors and the line started forward. It turns out degenerate DN hadn't seen the sign and didn't know where the entrance was and we'd lost him. We went in without him so he'll just have to go back to see what he missed!
Degenerate DC and I skipped everything, passing tour group after tour group stopping to ogle some important/impressive work of art, or stopped to hear the guide's explanation of the big event to come - the Sistine Chapel. There are four routes through the Vatican Museum. If you arrive early, like 8 AM, take the A route and skip EVERYTHING - you can get to the Sistine and have it almost to yourself. It's stunning, amazing, etc. (Of course, one portion of the wall was covered in scaffolding.) Gawk for an hour before the crowds catch up. When you continue on you'll reach a courtyard in which you can loop back around and see everything you skipped. We took the D route, the whole damn thing, including the "arduous modern religious art" section, as some guide book described it. The Raphaels and Caravaggios and other Renaissance painters are my personal faves. When you reach the Sistine again you'll see why you should follow my directions - the room gets crowded to capacity with everyone chattering away and the guards trying to keep everyone quiet with intermittent "Shhhh"'s.
We found degenerate DN at the exit. He'd wandered St. Pete's during one of the rare occasions when they had all the lights on and got some great photos. We headed back to St. Pete's to see what we'd missed, including the crypts in the basement.
We swung by the train station to try to figure out how we could get to the airport by 6:30 AM on Monday, only to find we'd have to take a cab. It is NOT the city that never sleeps.
We found the Cappuchin Crypts open. It's basically a few rooms decorated entirely in the bones of some 4000 monks. Some of the fully assembled skeletons stand around in robes, leering at you with a morbid gaze. It wasn't as disturbing as I thought it would be, until you run across the ones that haven't rotted entirely away and still have some flesh drying on their faces. The baby skeleton as the grim reaper on the ceiling of the last room is pretty creepy too.
We got dinner with Heidi, the other receptionist from the pensione and another expatriated slacker from Australia, as well as a few others from the Union. Ample wine flowed with another wonderful meal and by the time we hit the English pub we were already buzzing like a Vespa. A long night of drinking and bizarre conversation followed. Marge showed up after work and we drank until Heidi's head hit the table. We helped her get back to the pensione.
A hungover Heidi joined us for a trip to Porta Pense the next morning, a market that covers about a 5 block square every Sunday. It's by far the most amazing market I've ever seen. Booth after booth of everything you could ever want - used leather jackets, new clothes of all sorts, furniture, food, books, CDs, EVERYthing and at absurdly low prices at booths extending down the street farther than the eye can see. Warning: don't buy the cheap t-shirts with the tissue-thin printing! The printing does not stay on in the wash, I discovered when I got home. At $2 each I don't feel like I got screwed too bad, particularly since it was cheaper than doing laundry again.
We headed out for a last night walkabout. Tonight's guest follower was Charity, a lovely girl who had studied to be a pastry chef in Seattle but, predictably, was between jobs and on a month-long journey. We hit the Trevi Fountain for cheap vino and chocolate, swung by the Pantheon and Piazzo Novana, Castel St. Angelo and St. Pete before calling it a night.
The alarm got us up before the sun for our cab to the airport. Everyone was dead silent for the ride, and I'm sure it wasn't just due to a lack of sleep. On the plane I put on the headset and picked a random station, trying to get in the mood to go home, or at least out of the Post Trip Stress Disorder. My mind wandered but was suddenly drawn back when I realized I was listening to a song that starts off "Back to life, back to reality, back to the here and now."
Very funny, God, you got me again...


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