Places

Italian road trip – Day 6 – Rome

Day 5 ended with us exhausted, crashing onto our beds and having a sound night’s sleep after a paradoxical search for a hotel with available rooms in what is one of the largest cities in the world with plenty of hotels. But that’s how things were that night. We woke up to a beautiful day and we set out to explore Rome.

I had set a grand goal: to show my companions the Rome I knew from 1999, ten years earlier. The part I hadn’t worked out yet in my enthusiasm, was that I’d explored Rome in three weeks, by myself, and now I was going to drag four people in tow to see a lofty list of places in a single day. Make no mistake about it, there were repeated protestations as the day progressed, but it was hard to hear them as I walked ahead at a military pace…

When it was all said and done, after putting my incredibly patient companions through a full day of exploration with little food or drink (there was no time, we had to see everything on my list…), I set another goal: reach a seaside town called Ladispoli by nightfall and find a hotel. Yeah, I did that to them, too! I didn’t let them sleep, I packed them into the car and off we went. I still can’t believe they put up with me. I know I wouldn’t have. Now that I’m in my 40s (this was back in 2009 mind you), I know I wouldn’t do this to myself or to others. The pace was too hectic, we couldn’t take things in. By the end of the day, it was all a blur. Thank goodness we took photos, or else we wouldn’t remember much.

Enjoy our memories from that day!

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Places

Italian road trip – Day 5 – Crossing Italy from Grottammare to Rome

After a hearty breakfast, we explored the Grottammare fortress and beach, then got on the road to Rome. That’s right, that day we planned to cross the whole of Italy, from the coast of the Adriatic Sea almost to the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea, which we would reach on our sixth day after exploring Rome. I believe we took the route highlighted on this screenshot from Google Maps, the one marked with blue.

Route from Grottammare to Rome

Route from Grottammare to Rome

We crossed the mountains, took a quick tour of Tivoli by car and could not stop anywhere, apparently there was some sort of local holiday that day and the streets were packed with people. Since I was driving, I have no photos from there. We pushed on and reached Rome just in time for the evening traffic, which meant it took till after dark to reach the historic part of the city. Because at that time things like online maps viewable on phones and GPS navigation and being able to do instant searches for hotels on phones weren’t available, we had a most stressful time finding a hotel. They were all full or were asking astronomical prices. We finally ended up paying a taxi driver to lead us to a hotel by driving ahead of us. By the time we were in our rooms, it was past 9:30 pm, we had spent most of our day in our car and most of that in terrible city traffic. But we were grateful to finally have a bed to sleep in and a shower with hot (or somewhat hot) water.

Now you get to enjoy the photos. If you’d like to see the other posts from our trip, here are days 1, 2, 3 (part 1 and part 2) and 4; and here’s the overview.

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Thoughts

Emperor Trajan was a “real American”

As I think upon the wars and conflicts of recent times (Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria), and the reasons for their occurrence, I’m reminded of Romania’s past, and its conquest by a newly elected Roman emperor by the name of Trajan.

If the picture isn’t clear to you by already, let’s connect the dots.

Back then, the region now known as Romania was known as Dacia. It was a sparsely populated but very rich country: the soil was fertile, and I’m not just talking about agriculture. Dacia had incredibly large (and easy to get to) deposits of gold, silver and other important metals. The Dacian kings had so much wealth they didn’t know what to do with it.

The Roman empire lay to the south of Dacia, and it took plenty of money to run it. They started to feel the bottoms of the coffers as they dug in for more aureus and denarius. The kings of Dacia weren’t exactly bright when it came to not advertising their wealth. They advertised it, alright — so much so, that the Romans, who were allies with the Dacians, knew exactly where to look when their money was no longer sufficient.

What did the Romans do? Exactly what the Americans did when it came to Iraq. They invented a reason for going to war with the Dacians. They manufactured a dispute over the border between the Roman Empire and Dacia and once the pretext was in place, they invaded. They were pushed back the first time, but Trajan was persistent. After all, he didn’t have a choice. It was either Dacia’s money or he’d have to run Rome on a budget, and we all know how budget disputes work (hint: just have a look at current-day Washington, DC).

Before long, he’d succeeded in invading Dacia. He didn’t stop there though. He murdered virtually all of Dacia’s nobility, tore down all its cities and temples, erased any sign of Dacia’s culture, and began a decades-long exploitation of Dacia’s mineral reserves, pouring all of it into Rome’s hungry coffers. It’s estimated that he stole over 3,000 tons of gold and over 5,000 tons of silver, all in all. And he didn’t stop there, either. No, he colonized Dacia with Romans. He took all sorts of people from all corners of the Roman empire, people who were more than happy to rape and pillage their way across Dacia, and he let them pick their favorite spot and settle down with their loot. But that wasn’t enough for him, no. He had to build a monument, Trajan’s Column, to commemorate his murderous deeds. It still stands in Rome to this day, a monument to his legacy.

The Bush administration tried to do the same sort of thing in Iraq. They wanted to get at the oil reserves, they needed a pretext, they made it up and went in. But you see, things are a lot murkier in modern times. These days you can’t massacre people and suspend human rights like you used to be able to do it in ancient Rome. So getting at the oil proved to be a lot trickier than the Americans thought. They had to tack on a bunch of other goals to their mission, like “installing a democratic regime in Iraq”, “restoring peace and order to the country”, “training Iraq’s police and army”, “restoring Iraq’s infrastructure”, etc. How many years has it been since they went in? I lost count. They’re still not out of there, and I don’t know how much oil they’ve actually managed to get out of the whole ordeal. And how much money did they spend so far? I don’t want to think about it, because as an American taxpayer, I have to foot part of the bill for it…

I have no idea why the Americans went into Afghanistan. I think they had to do it in order to pump new life into the pretext for attacking Iraq, which was WMDs and Osama bin Laden. They went in there to get him but over time they found they had to tack on a bunch of other goals to their agenda, like in Iraq… And we’re still not out of there, nor will we be out of there any time soon…

The Americans tried a different approach with Egypt and Syria. They encouraged revolts (the CIA’s good at that sort of stuff, they’ve done it plenty before) and let their chosen “rebels” topple those governments. They also co-opted NATO, so they could share the costs and (unfortunately) the loot. The idea was to install people who favored them and hopefully that would make it easier to get at the oil reserves. Things were hit and miss for a while, but so far, so good, sort of… Again, things are a lot murkier these days, you just don’t get the same bang for your buck that you used to get back in the day. Things are on track for the oil contracts, but who knows… these rebel governments often turn on you, as they’ve done in the past and history speaks for itself there. We’ll see.

Let’s end this little trip through memory lane, shall we? I hope I’ve connected enough dots for you to see the whole picture, right? Emperor Trajan was the mythical “real American”. He was a go-getter. His empire had a problem and he went in there and solved it within a few years. Became a hero. The Romans revered him.

It didn’t go the same way for Dubya, although he wanted it so badly. The guy even went on a battleship, flew a fighter jet and said the war was over… about a decade before it even started to end, but hey, maybe history will be gentler on him, who knows.

Back to Romania (or Dacia). Whichever. It’s all the same, even now. Romania still has some gold left, because Trajan didn’t steal all of it. The technology of his time didn’t allow it, or he would have. And this time, the Americans (or is it Canadians) want it. Actually, they want the money, not necessarily the gold. In the end, it boils down to yet another exploitation of Romania. Except these days things are a lot murkier (I keep saying that). And the company that wants to steal abscond take buy Romania’s gold has found that they too have to tack on a few extra goals to their agenda in order to sell it. So they’ve promised to set up a village museum, to make sure they don’t pollute (they will actually poison the whole area with cyanide), to do a bunch of other pointless things, etc, but in the end it still boils down to 96% of the gold for them and 4% of it for the puppet Romanian government. What a steal!

The moral of the story is this: it sucks to be Romania. Actually, it sucks to be a country with any important natural reserves, because unless you’re the bully on the block, you will be invaded, raped, pillaged, colonized, stolen and partitioned — and this will happen to you over and over and over and over, throughout history, until you will no longer have anything worth stealing, in which case you will then have to become a bully and start doing unto others as they’ve done onto you.

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Places

Biking on the Via Appia (part 2)

This is a two-part article. Here’s Part 1.

While in Rome, my brother kept dangling this promise of taking our bicycles out to Via Appia and making a day trip out of it. I wanted to see it because the Via Appia was the most important Roman road of its time. Roman bases, villas and famous tombs adorned its sides in its heyday, and their ruins can be seen even today. The road itself was a marvel of Roman engineering. It was so well-made that portions of it are still preserved, thousands of years later.

Well, I kept feeling like the horse that can’t reach the carrot, since my brother still buried his nose in books every day. But, I kept nagging him, and in my last week there, we managed to make a half-day trip out of it. It was a wonderful time!

We took our bikes and rode through the city till we reached the highway shown below (don’t ask me for the name, I forgot it), rode alongside it for a bit, then took a side street down a little hill that took us to the start of the Via Appia. From then on, it was an easy (and beautiful) ride out into the countryside.

Along the way, we stopped so I could take photos (of course), and also snuck into some pretty unsafe ruins, as you’ll see below. I’m still amazed the floors didn’t crumble under us as we climbed onto the second floor of a villa. I can only attribute it to good, old, solid Roman construction.

Toward the Via Appia

Roman highway

Time takes its toll

The way we came

Keeping up appearances

Greeting the visitors

Light at the end of the tunnel

Looking right through

You can also read more about the Via Appia over at Wikipedia. Stay tuned for my post on Florence.

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Places

Photos from Rome

In March of 1999 I visited Rome. It was my first trip to Italy and I had a wonderful time. I stayed with my brother, who at the time was on a 3-year fellowship there to do research. He studies myths and religions and does comparisons between deities in various cultures. He also collects folklore: dying traditions and customs. Takes lots of photographs and films them as well. The latter part of his work is exciting. The former puts me to bed. Mille scusi, fratello!

Il mio fratello

Anyway, I had the most wonderful time. Bogdan (my step-brother — he’s pictured above) had his nose buried in dusty books at various libraries in Rome, while I literally walked through the entire Rome on foot, taking photos with my trusty little Canon Elph and consulting the map here and there. The Canon has since become unusable, because APS film is no longer available, but it did help me preserve the wonderful things I saw. Over the years, the photos gathered some dust themselves in my closet, till I finally decided to scan and share them online. Since I don’t have a scanner that will work with APS film, I scanned the photos themselves. I realize that’s a real step down in quality, and given the age of the prints, it really shows, but the digitized photos still serve to convey the beauty and history of the place. Plus, the aged paper gave a nice Sepia effect to the photos that I’d be hard pressed to reproduce in Photoshop.

While I really enjoyed Rome, my experiences with Romans were mixed at best. And I had breathing problems there as well, due to the pollution. But none of that could eclipse the sense of wonder and discovery I had every day as I planned out where I’d go, then get there and take photos. Maybe I’m biased, but I find today’s architecture pathetic. It’s disposable, ugly, flimsy and imitative. Few and far between are the buildings that make a statement. Well, in Rome, as in most European cities, you’ll have no shortage of good architecture. I think that’s what makes them so beautiful.

Here are several of the photos I took during my trip.

Bask in the sun

Walk at night

Classically overdone

Farnese

All mixed up

Expansive

Strike a pose

Pantheon

Center of attention

Piazza Venezia

Congregate

The plight of humanity

 

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Places

Time takes its toll

Seen at start of Via Appia in Rome.

Time takes its toll

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Places

History

Taken March 1999 in Piazza Navona, Rome.

Commerce

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Places

Collosseum at night

At some point, I’ve got to photograph the Collosseum during the day, but I have a feeling it’s not going to look nearly as dramatic as it does at night. This was back in ’99, during some heavy renovations. I couldn’t get in to see it from the inside.

Collosseum

Collosseum

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Places

Clasically overdone

I was wondering around Rome in the spring of ’99, it was getting late, and I came across this big intersection with a huge, classically-styled building dominating the view. I’m pretty bad with names, but I think it was Piazza Vittoria. It looks like the building is still in use.

Classically overdone

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Places

The Tiber River

Also from Rome in ’99, a few views of the River Tiber, taken from its banks.

The Tiber River

The Tiber River

The Tiber River

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