Today, I am continuing to dip into my archives as part of my armchair travel series in the age of Covid-19. On Wednesday we visited Rome’s impressive colosseum. Today, Peggy and I go on a walk-about visiting various historic sites and dodging pickpockets. In terms of coronavirus, I had an amusing thought: It must be much harder for pickpockets to work when 6-foot social distancing is being practiced!
If you’ve been following this blog, you know we like to walk extensively when visiting a new city. It’s a good way to become acquainted with the region and its people. Plus it’s great exercise. While Rome is huge, the historic section is confined to a relatively small section. It was large enough, however, that we used mass transit for longer distances.
There were two challenges. The first was figuring out the where and when of catching a train in a language we didn’t speak. The second was that the subway is a great place for pickpockets, especially during rush hour. Rick Steves, in his book on Mediterranean Ports, was constantly admonishing us to be on theft alert.
Peggy, who is more paranoid than I, is always urging me to transfer my wallet to my front pocket when we are in a crowd. Sometimes I even comply. Once, she didn’t even have to ask. We were in Amsterdam and the city had put up huge banners across the streets warning people about thieves. Neither did I require urging in Rome. Folks in Southern Europe were suffering from serious Euro Deficit Dysfunction. Times were tough. We both wore money belts.
The stories are legendary about various scams. Travelers love to share tales. One of my favorites is a woman will ask you to hold her baby while her compatriots grab your wallet. No way was I going to hold a stranger’s baby. Heck, I’ll hardly hold the baby of a woman I know. Babies are known to burp and pee on you. Can you imagine the insult added to injury if a baby was burping and peeing on you while someone was stealing your wallet?
While the stories are fun, the problems are real. A man staying at our hotel lost 2000 euros. A woman told us she was waiting at the airport when a nicely dressed couple told her something was sprayed all over the back of her jacket. The woman took it off. Sure enough, the jacket was covered with green goop. While her husband took the jacket to the restroom to wash, the couple kept her company. They left when her husband returned. Only later did she realize that her purse left with them.
We were at the Termini, a major transfer point on Rome’s transit system, when our turn came. It was at the peak of rush hour and the train was crammed full. John, Peggy’s brother, and his wife Frances had climbed on first. Four little kids, maybe eight years old, jumped on in front of us. Peggy and I were squeezing in when John shouted. He had felt someone reaching in his back pocket. Meanwhile, the four little kids were trying to jump off the train. Peggy, being the ex-elementary school principal she is, thought the kids were confused and tried to shove them back on. The little pickpockets, of course, thought she was trying to collar them. They managed to escape just as the doors were closing. Fortunately, John was also wearing a money belt. He kept his euros and we had a story to tell.
Besides our experience with the pickpockets, we had managed to visit Trajan’s Column, the Trevi Fountains and the Pantheon on our day’s walk-about.
NEXT POST: No trip to Rome is complete without a trip to the Vatican.
I’ve been reading Mary Beard’s history of early Rome, “SPQR,” so I had fun going back and revisiting Rome with my posts from 2015. In fact, I had so much fun, I’ve decided to share them with you as part of my armchair travel series. We will go on a walk-about where Peggy and I barely avoid pickpockets, visit the ancient Forum, stop off at the Vatican, and take a trip to Rome’s grand Colosseum where I met a ghost of the great cats that once fought gladiators.
I first viewed Rome’s grand memorial to gladiators in 1967 on my way home from serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa. I was as impressed with the number of feral cats living in the ruins as I was with the structure. Massive renovations have taken place since then. Today’s Colosseum is crowded with tourists instead of cats. We joined the throngs.
Originally the Colosseum was known as the Flavian Amphitheater, after the family of emperors who built it. Nero, who had a bad case of self-adulation, built a huge statue of himself nearby. It was known as the Colossus. At some point, the name was applied to the Colosseum. A later emperor removed the head from Nero’s statue and affixed his own stone likeness on top. Why pay for a whole statue? It became the custom with each succeeding emperor. So much for everlasting fame…
When completed in 80 AD, the Colosseum could seat 50,000 screaming people. During its 100-day inauguration, some 2000 gladiators killed each other and 9000 animals.
While their taste in entertainment left much to be desired, the Romans’ engineering abilities were superb. The Colosseum is high testament to this. Modern stadiums are still built on a similar model, designed to move large numbers of people in and out quickly. I was amused to learn that the Romans called the entrance/exit passages vomitoria– hence our word, vomit.
Spectators were issued tickets on pottery shards that listed their entrance gate, section, row and seat numbers. The higher your rank, the better your seat. The top rows were saved for slaves, foreigners and women. Some people, such as actors and gravediggers, weren’t allowed in the Colosseum at all. Now actors are idolized and even elected as presidents and governors. Gravediggers still dig graves.
The top could be covered for bad weather by a large canvas awning that was put up and taken down by sailors from Rome’s navy. The true gem of engineering was the floor, however, which covered a network of tunnels and cages where wild animals and props were stored. Eighty different elevators operated by pulleys served to bring scenery and wild animals to the surface. You might be in the middle of an African jungle for one scene and a Greek city the next. Imagine the job of being prop master! The floor could even be flooded for sea battles.
You never knew when or where the next wild animal might pop up, which could be bad news for gladiators. Cats at the Colosseum then meant lions and tigers with long claws and sharp teeth. There were also elephants, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles and even giraffes— although I can’t imagine why or how you would fight a giraffe. I once chased a herd across the Serengeti Plains in a Volkswagen beetle, however.
Gladiators came from the ranks of slaves, poor people, and criminals. (Contrary to legend, there were very few Christians.) The most successful earned fame, fortune and freedom. Rick Steves, in his book, Mediterranean Ports, reports they even gave endorsements. I can see it in neon lights, “Barbarian Bob eats at Papa’s Pizzeria.”
Barcelona’s public market, La Boqueria, was on our must-see list when we visited the city in 2015. It’s rightfully famous for its size, variety of food, tapa bars and number of tourists. Not surprisingly, Catalans have become a bit grouchy about the latter. “Buy fish, don’t take photos!” one yelled at me. Little did he know that I was helping him out. If more people featured ugly seafood in their photos of La Boqueria instead of chocolate and oranges and mushrooms, and peppers, and corn, and garlic and strawberries, and cheese, and delightful tapa bars, fewer people would visit. Heck, fewer tourists would likely come to Barcelona. Problem solved.
So think of this as my campaign to help the Catalans who are hoping that the tourist numbers don’t climb into the stratosphere again when the coronavirus ends. The slogan for the campaign is, “Barcelona: Stop and Smell the Fish— but Don’t Let Them Bite You!”
My blogging friend Kelly at Compass and Camera posted photos a week or so ago that showed stained glass windows and reminded me of Gaudi’s masterpiece cathedral, Sagrada Familia. The soaring faith required to imagine and build this beautiful sanctuary in Barcelona is a reminder that faith and hope together have tremendous power, enough to build a soaring cathedral— and enough to get through the darkest night, which is a comforting thought given the troubling times we have experienced the past few years and are especially experiencing now. (These photos were taken on a visit that Peggy and I made to the Cathedral in 2015.)
Barcelona arrived in the Twentieth Century with its own brand of Art Nouveau, Modernisme. Combining whimsical and practical with a healthy dollop of nature, Barcelona’s Catalan artists and architects did a makeover of their city. Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), the best known among the Modernistas, added strong religious belief to his work and became the architect of Sagrada Familia, the Church of the Holy Family.
Started in 1883, the church continues to be a work in progress today. Like the great cathedrals of the Gothic and Renaissance periods, it is a work of generations, and like the great cathedrals of Europe, is a masterpiece of art and architecture. Peggy, our traveling companions, and I walked inside and could only stare in awe at the beauty. I’ve selected the photos for this blog to provide a sense of why.
Every couple of years I update Bone’s travel history because he continues to wander the world. This time, I’ve added his 750 mile trek down the Pacific Crest Trail. As you read this post, he is preparing for another 7,000 mile journey in Quivera the RV to some of the remote corners of the contiguous United States in honor of Peggy’s 70th Birthday. He’ll be wearing his face mask and reporting along the way!
Sometime in the 1900s Bone started his life as part of a horse wandering through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The horse was allegedly eaten by a bear. Bone ended up in a high mountain meadow practicing Zen and being nibbled on by a miscreant rodent.
1977: He was ‘discovered’ by two lost backpackers (Curt Mekemson and Tom Lovering) on the Tahoe Yosemite Trail south of Lake Tahoe and launched his career of wandering the world.
1980-81: Bone commenced his first World Tour with Tom. He visited Asia including Japan, Hong Kong, Bombay, Delhi and Katmandu where he trekked to the base of Mt. Everest. He then wandered on to spend spring and summer in Europe stopping off in Greece, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Austria, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium, England and Ireland. Getting cold, Bone headed south and hitched a ride in the back of a truck through Algeria, Niger, Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Zaire, Sudan, Kenya (where he crossed the Equator), Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. He signed on with Tom as crew of a sailboat in Cape Town and headed north to Mallorca, stopping off on the islands of St. Helena, Ascension, Cape Verde and Madeira. Back in Europe he explored his possible Viking roots in Sweden, Norway and Finland.
1983-86: Bone assumed Cheechako status and moved to Alaska with Curt where he was stalked by a grizzly bear on the Kenai Peninsula, explored Prince William Sound by kayak, learned to winter camp in 30 degree below zero weather while listening to wolves howl, backpacked in the Brooks Range north of the Arctic Circle, and discussed the finer points of eating salmon with Great Brown Bears in Katmai National Park. He escaped briefly to the warmer climate of Hawaii and participated in the New Orleans Mardi Gras.
1986: He backpacked the Western US for five months with Curt exploring the Grand Canyon, the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico, the Rockies, and the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming before returning to his beloved Sierras.
1989: Bone joined Curt on a six month 10,000-mile solo bike tour around North America visiting 18 states and 4 Canadian provinces. He ended his journey by meeting Peggy in Sacramento.
1990: The International Society of the BONE was formed at Senior Frogs in Mazatlan, Mexico, where Bone spent the afternoon being pickled in a pitcher of margaritas and being kissed by lovely senoritas.
1991-97: Various members of International Society accompanied Bone on numerous adventures. Highlights included a White House Press Conference with Bill Clinton, being blessed by the Pope in St. Peter’s Square, visiting with Michelangelo’s David, going deep-sea diving in the South Pacific and Caribbean, doing a Jane Austin tour of England, and exploring the Yucatan Peninsula. A group adopted him as a good luck charm and took him back to visit the base of Mt. Everest one year and to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro another.
1998-99: Bone embarked on 40,000-mile journey in the van, Xanadu, through the US, Canada and Mexico with Peggy and Curt, visiting over 30 National Parks, driving the Alaska and Baja Highways, checking out Smokey the Bear’s and Calamity Jane’s graves, kayaking in the Sea of Cortez, leaf peeping in Vermont, jetting to the Bahamas, pursuing flying saucers in Roswell, New Mexico, and completing his visits to all 50 states.
2000-02: Bone journeys up the Amazon, returns to Europe, cruises to Belize, Cancun and the Cayman’s, and goes to New Zealand where a misguided customs agent tries to arrest and jail him as animal matter.
2003: Bone undertakes a 360-mile backpack trip in celebration of his discovery and Curt’s 60th birthday. They begin at Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe and end by climbing Mt. Whitney. Various friends join them along the way.
2004: Bone visits Hemingway’s grave in Idaho, goes horseback riding with Australians and Bahamians in Montana, and makes his first pilgrimage to Burning Man in Nevada, a very Bone like type of place. He also jets off to Costa Rica.
2005-2007: Bone returns to Burning Man twice and revisits Europe twice including special stopovers in Portugal, France, Holland, Germany, and Belgium. He also revisits Mexico.
2008 – 2011: Bone commences another exploration of North America. This time he travels in the van, Quivera, along with Curt, Peggy, and Eeyore the Jackass. His journey takes him over 75,000 miles of American Roads. Along the way, he barely escapes the hangman’s noose in Tombstone, Arizona. In May of 2010 he helps Curt initiate his blog, and rafts 280 miles down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
2012-2017: Bone goes into semi-retirement in Southern Oregon. Please note the semi, however. He continues the exploration of the West Coast ranging from Big Sur to Vancouver Island, where he kayaks for a week in search of Killer Whales. He wanders through England and Scotland helping Curt find his roots and spends a week traveling by Canal Boat. Later, he returns to Europe again, traveling through the Mediterranean visiting Turkey, Santorini and other Greek Islands, Dubrovnik, Venice, Rome, Pompeii, Florence, and Barcelona. He returns to Burning Man several times. On one trip, he is married to the lovely Bonetta, who he met while exploring a swamp in Florida. Rumor has it that it was a shotgun wedding. This past year he traveled with Peggy and me on our 10,000 mile trip around North America retracing my bike route. He made a very special trip with fellow blogger Crystal Truelove to visit with Native Americans of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.
2018: Bone joins Curtis in celebrating Curt’s 75th Birthday by backpacking 750 miles in Oregon and California. Highlights include the Rogue River Trail, Three Sisters Wilderness and the Siskiyou Mountains in Oregon. In California, Curt and Bone more or less follow the Pacific Crest Trail through the Klamath Mountains, Marble Mountains, Trinity Alps, Cascade Mountains and Sierra Nevada Mountains— taking detours whenever the mood strikes, including revisiting where Tom and Curt found him in 1977! Along the way, Bone meets and chats with numerous through-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail who are hiking from Mexico to Canada. He also spends a lot of time dodging horrendous forest fires. Peggy joins Curt and Bone for three sections of the journey and provides welcome backup for the rest of the journey.
2019-2020: He joins Curt for a trip down California’s beautiful Highway 395 among the Eastern Sierras and visits the Alabama Hills where cowboy movies of yore were made with the likes of John Wayne, Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger and a host of others— voices from the past that have echoed down through time. “Hi-yo Silver away.” Planned trips for 2020 including a journey through the Panama Canal and up the Rhine River have been cancelled because of the Coronavirus, but don’t count Bone out. He is madly planning another trip across the US where he will home-shelter in Quivera the RV.
A while back I posted a photo essay on Pompeii that many of you would have seen. This post will include some of those photos but the focus will be on the Roman gods (adopted and adapted from Greek gods) that were a daily part of Pompeian life before Mt. Vesuvius blew its top. Once again, I am traveling back in time and pulling up a post from my archives for my armchair travel series in the time of Covid-19.
It is impossible to visit the ancient cities of the Mediterranean without thinking about the importance of the all-too-human early gods.
Back before they were relegated to the status of myths, they were as alive and real to the people as say Christ might be to today’s faithful Christians. A primary difference was their misbehavior. They became involved in feuds, had affairs, became jealous, drank too much, etc. Other than the fact they were immortal and extremely powerful, they might be your neighbor.
If they liked you, they could be your best buddy. Make you healthy, wealthy and wise. But if they disliked you, watch out! They were like the little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. “When she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid.” (From a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
So it isn’t surprising that the ancient folks of the Mediterranean spent a great deal of energy and money trying to stay on the good side of their gods. Some of the world’s greatest art was created in their honor and whole herds of castrated animals were sacrificed and cooked to keep them smiling. Interestingly, the smoke from the cooking meat seemed to satisfy the gods. Mere mortals consumed the flesh. As the old saying goes, “Man is nothing, if not practical.”
The Romans, who lacked Greek creativity, obtained their gods wholesale from Greece, only changing their names to sound more Latin. Zeus with his fiery lightning bolt became Jupiter, his wife/sister Hera, became Juno, and his daughter Athena, who sprang fully armed from his head and gave him a headache, became Minerva. And of course there was a whole pantheon of other gods.
Each of these gods had a role to play. If you wanted to kick someone’s tail, Zeus was your ‘man.’ Juno could help you through a difficult childbirth. If you needed more wisdom, and who among us doesn’t, Minerva was there for you. There was no one stop shopping like today’s church goers enjoy.
The gods did gain more power as they aged, however. They took on the roles, and sometimes personalities, of the earlier gods they replaced. Juno, for example, was responsible for both “loosening a bride’s girdle” and protecting the money of the Roman Empire. In her latter role she was the patron Goddess of the Royal Mint.
Jupiter, Juno and Minerva were worshipped as a triad in both Pompeii and Rome. Possibly it saved time and money. There was also a temple to Mercury in Pompeii. His earlier persona had been that of the super fast Greek God Hermes who carried messages for the gods and had wings on his feet. He was also the god of getting rich, luck, trickery and thievery. Hmmm. Sometimes a fast get-a-way is critical.
Another post from my armchair travel series during Covid-19. This time I’ll take you on a window shopping tour of Venice with an emphasis on glassware, including face masks that come with a long nose…
I promised a window-shopping trip in Venice so window-shopping we will go. Staring in store windows is fun. Like people watching, it falls under the category of vicarious pleasure. And it’s free. Of course the shop owners have other objectives in mind.
Venice does a fabulous job with window displays. We saw mouth-watering pastries, chocolate fantasies, clunky shoes, a bejeweled rear end, and an interesting ceramic cow.
What impressed me the most about the window displays in Venice were those featuring glassware and masks. Both reach back into the city’s ancient history.
How many places can claim they have been “supplying quality glass products since 1291”? That’s the year that a Venice made of wood required all of its glass makers to move to the island of Murano in the Venice Lagoon. Community leaders feared that the glass making process would burn the city down. Venice quickly became the center of Europe’s trade in beautiful glass objects.
The upside for the glass makers was that they were invited into the highest ranks of Venetian society. The downside was they were threatened with having their hands chopped off or assassination if they moved and took their talents elsewhere.
Venetians apparently carried out numerous activities they felt were best done while wearing masks. For example, in 1339 Venice passed a law that forbade inhabitants from visiting convents while wearing masks. One can only wonder. During plague times doctors wore long nose masks they believed protected them from the disease. Today masks are a central part of the Carnival of Venice that ends on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras).
NEXT POST: Continuing on our armchair journey during Covid-19, it’s off to Pompeii to visit with the gods.
I am continuing to dip back into my archives for armchair travel in the time of Covid-19. This is my third post in a series of five on Venice where Peggy and I travelled in 2013.
Remember the old Frank Sinatra hit song “Love and Marriage Go Together Like a Horse and Carriage.” Venice’s canals and gondolas are like that. It is hard to imagine one without the other. Also, it is hard to imagine gondolas without tourists. I suspect that most of them are docked in this time of Covid-19. In fact, satellite photos show the canals to be surprisingly clean. Even jellyfish have returned to take advantage of the tourist free waters! While Venetians may miss the tourist dollars, they, too, are appreciating their tourist free city. The government is searching for ways to reduce the dependence on tourist dollars— and the number of tourists. Gondolas aren’t about to go away, but there may be far fewer of them in the future.
It is impossible to think of Venice without thinking of canals and romantic gondolas with singing gondoliers. Or possibly your vision of Venice is of fast boats with roaring engines and good guys/bad guys chasing each other with guns blazing as depicted in any number of movies.
We were in off-season, however. Only a few hardy tourists braved the cold for gondola rides and no movies were being made. The canals had reverted to their primary role as transportation corridors, a role which they have played for a thousand years.
We chose to walk on the carless streets that parallel the canals and cross over them on bridges that have as much personality of the canals and provide intriguing glimpses of life along the canals. The highlight of our journey was the famous Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal but the smaller canals, known as rivers, provided more intimate views.
Peggy and I return to Venice today as part of our Armchair Travel in the Time of Covid-19 series. Among other things we walk on water, check out a winged lion, and learn about the Saint who was shipped to Venice in a pork barrel. Again, this is adapted from earlier posts I did when visiting the Mediterranean in 2013.
Being eager to begin our exploration of Venice we picked up a water taxi from the cruise port. It retraced our earlier route from a sea-level perspective and deposited us near a large statue of Victor Emmanuel. He served as the first king of Italy when the various Italian city-states were united in the mid 1800s.
In addition to an imposing horse and Victor, the statue features Venice, represented as a woman, and St. Mark, represented as a winged lion, book-ending the monument. On one end, the lion bites through the chains of Austrian oppression while Venice looks on in a tattered dress; on the other end he roars in victory and Venice is clothed in an expensive dress.
St. Mark, with his representational lion, is the protector of Venice. The lion can be found almost everywhere. Mark— of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John— supposedly came through the region when it was a swamp and gave his blessing. This justified two Venetian merchants turning into grave robbers and stealing the body from Alexandria in 828 AD. They slipped Mark into a pork barrel for transport. Muslims consider pork unclean so the barrel was unlikely to be checked by the local officials.
Mark made it safely to Venice in his smelly container, was presented to the Doge of Venice, and was subsequently buried under what would become St. Mark’s Basilica located on St. Mark’s Square, which was our objective for the day.
Along the way we would pass by the Bridge of Sighs and the Doge’s Palace. We would also walk on water. Actually we walked on tables that are placed in the square to help people avoid the Adriatic Sea, which is a regular visitor. Between Venice sinking some nine inches per century, high tides, and global warming, floods have become a serious problem for the city.
FRIDAY’S POST: We will visit the famed canals of Venice.
As I pulled this post up from my archives for today’s post, I couldn’t help but wonder, ironically, if the dramatic drop in 22.5 million tons of tourists (assuming 30 million tourist times 150 pounds) visiting Venice because of the pandemic will slow the city’s date with destiny as it sinks into the sea at the rate of nine inches per century. Peggy and I arrived by cruise ship, a mode of travel I had religiously avoided for most of my life. But the opportunity to visit many locations in the Mediterranean at one time was a temptation I couldn’t resist.
We approached Venice by sea, as mariners have for the past thousand years. I was perched on the top deck of the Crown Princess looking down on the fabled island city. Icy winds turned my traveler’s curiosity into a minor act of courage. A warm bar beckoned. But I was motivated. There were photos to be taken and adventures to plan. My next five blogs will be devoted to the city. Today’s blog is on my crow’s nest view. I will then write about visiting the area around St. Mark’s Square, admiring the city’s famed canals, getting “lost” among Venice’s confusing streets, and going window shopping.
NEXT BLOG: The many attractions of St. Mark’s Square (which we admire from walkways as it floods).