Our Italian trip is
over and done with, and we are back basking in the humidity of mid-August
Taipei, but I want to make sure to document the rest of our trip. Thanks to all
my copious photos and Instagramming not to mention the wealth of Wikipedia, I
have some great reference points. The most anticipated part of our Italian trip
was the visit to the ancient sites of Rome, because I took Latin for six years
and studied mythology and Roman history for most of that time. Many sites in Rome
hail from the most fascinating times in its history – the late Republic and the
early Empire (about 100 BC to 150 AD). In exploring those sites, we trekked through
the Colosseum and Roman Forum, the Capitoline Museums, and the Baths of
The most rewarding but easily most tiring day was visiting the Colosseum and the Roman Forum on a joint ticket of 12 euros. We lined up to buy tickets at the Forum as soon as things opened at 8:30 am, and scored a 9 am entrance to the Colosseum, bypassing what easily looked like a hundred and fifty people in line. Eek. The Colosseum was better known in ancient times as the Flavian Ampitheater, begun by Vespasian, who began his reign in 69 AD. His oldest son Titus continued the building, and it was finished by his younger son Domitian. Originally, wooden passageways under the floor of the Colosseum were used to channel the gladiators and beasts who fought in the stadium. Sometimes, they would be removed entirely, and the entire floor flooded with water to provide a stage for mock naval battles. (That ended after Domitian constructed stone passageways to replace the wooden ones.) It is still incredibly imposing, despite a few earthquakes over the centuries that have destabilized one side.
There was much more signage around than when Steve came last time, including some interesting permanent exhibits about the archeology done around the area. For example, we saw a lot of discarded foodstuff, and could extrapolate the ancient equivalent of popcorn and beer that the Romans would enjoy at the races. As we walked around, there was no shortage of folks who had not taken Latin for six years and decided to employed tour guides in various languages. Many of them spoke English, but it was fun listening to one family get a tour guide in very Italian-accented French. It was at least possible to hide from the sun amid the huge arches, so even though it got hot quickly, we did enjoy our time walking around the Colosseum. We capped off our visit by sitting in the shade outside admiring the Arch of Constantine and munching on some tasteless sandwiches. (There are very few food places surrounding these sights in the middle of Rome, so we had purchased sandwiches beforehand, but they were no prize either.)
I felt like I have barely slowed down in the last three days. Our days have been filled with hiking, making food, driving around the south of France, talking, debating, and listening to music, punctuated by brief stretches of silence gazing into the endless mountains or the blue, blue surf of the Mediterranean sea. But here is a bit of free time, before we check out for the night, so I will try my best to recount our trip thus far.
Two days ago, we drove out of Lyon as a party of three, joined by our friend Lele, who is a friend from college and from Chicago. We’ve been planning this trip in France for a while to coincide with his vacation, and thus far, it has been quite memorable! We met him at Part-Dieu, which is Lyon’s main TGV station, and breezed on south for a few hours, exchanging stories and updates from Chicago, until we came to the Pont du Gard.
I had been researching this Roman-age aqueduct since I realized it lay on the road between Lyon and our first destination of Perpignan. It was an absolutely thrilling experience to see in person this kind of historical monument, which is so austere in its beauty but simple in its function – it was built as a part of a 50 kilometer aqueduct carrying water to the city of Nîmes, and bridges a wide gap over a river, and has survived first as a toll bridge and now as a UNESCO world heritage site. Some of the things we have seen in the world improve with intimacy – the closer you get, the more you are awed and moved by the structure you see before your eyes and feel under your fingers. Others, most notably for us like the Taj Mahal, are almost better seen from afar, like a scene out of a storybook or a dream. The Pont du Gard is one of those former structures, and walking across the bridge that was built parallel to it, dipping our feet in the river beneath it, and climbing the hillside paths on either side that bring you so close you can touch the stones of the arches truly makes you realize that you are standing in the presence of something that has been here for nearly a thousand years and will perhaps be here for a thousand more. Continue reading Between the mountains and the ocean.→
Last week, we welcomed our first visitors to Lyon. My friend Kat, who graduated a few years after me from our alma mater, has been doing her masters in journalism in Paris. Out of the (somewhat) blue, she messaged me to say that her mother was visiting her, and wanted to see another city in France. Was that couch of ours still available? Of course it was! We had a great two days hanging out with Kat and her mother Michelle and took the chance to see one of the parts of Lyon that we hadn’t yet visited.
Here’s Lyonnais Geography and History 101: the city of Lyon is divided by two rivers, which flow from the north and merge together in the south. On the east is the Rhône River, and we live on its east bank, right next to Parc de la Tête d’Or. In the middle of the two rivers is the hill of Croix-Rousse and Presqu’île. To the west runs the Saône, and on its west bank that (in other words, clear on the other side of the city from us) is Vieux-Lyon and the hill of Fourvière. (If you are super confused about this geography, check out this map of Lyon.) The two hills of Fourvière and Croix-Rousse are historically (and respectively) contrasted as the hill that prays and the hill that works, because Fourvière is home to the Basilica of Fourvière, and Croix-Rousse was home to the silk workers who made this city an industrial center of their trade in the 19th century. Fourvière is coincidentally also where the oldest part of Lyon can be found, the remains of the town of Lugdunum, capital of the Roman province of Gaul (modern-day France). And if you ever took more than three years of Latin, you will know that Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres.
Written on the ICN 522 Split – Zagreb, Croatia Saturday, April 19, 1:40 – 7:48 pm
Another country, another train.
This afternoon, we said goodbye to Split, Croatia’s second city. From the harbor, we could see Diocletian’s Palace, the Roman ruins that had captivated our attention for three days, as well as the large harbor, which boasted ferries to Brac, Havr, and other numerous islands in the Adriatic. On a clear day, from the Marjan Hill to the west of the city, you can see three or four islands on the horizon to the south, and a hundred miles or so beyond, the eastern shore of Italy.