Another early morning, this time not due to an appointment, but because we had two important things to accomplish. I rose first and snuck out to the local pasticceria for some pastries while G got ready. They were filled with apples and raisins, and very much what we needed. Delicious.
A decision was called for. We had two things we wanted to accomplish today: we wanted to go to the old Roman port of Ostia Antica, and we really hoped to make it back to St. Peter’s. Our plan last night had been to start at St. Peter’s, before the heat of the day set in, and then go to Ostia toward afternoon. As far afield as these were located, the trip was mostly by subway and train, so reasonably doable. The weather report included a 50% chance of rain in the afternoon, but morning and evening would be dry. Considering that Ostia has a lot of dirt paths, I felt that the site would be a muddy disaster when wet, so we flipped the schedule and headed out toward the ruins. The inherent risk was that we might end up waiting in a long line at St. Peter’s when the afternoon was its hottest, but we would take this chance.
The trip was painless. Subway to train, and 45 minutes later we were at the site.
First was the necropolis, or city of the dead. From there we passed through the gates and were in the city proper. I have been here before, so had a few sites I didn’t want to miss, but they really aren’t missable as they are on the main road:
The Baths of Neptune are massive sprawling structures with exquisite tile floors.
The theater is still magnificent.
Behind the theater, the guild houses also had marvelous tile work.
We continued through the town, up and down her byways, visiting houses, temples, baths, and the forum. Often, as was the case in Pompeii and Herculaneum, we found the floors to be remarkably well preserved, such as the Mithraeum above.
Also like Pompeii, we found the roads to be very difficult to navigate. They are made of large black stones, and are not flat, but irregular. They were trying on both our feet and ankles. We often found ourselves walking on the shoulder rather than the road, as we were much more sure-footed there.
Curiously enough, some things I saw last time I couldn’t find this time, such as the large mill house (it wasn’t on the map). And even though we found 3 Mithraea, none was the one I remember from my prior excursion here. Conversely, I saw some things this time that I didn’t see during my last visit. And I found even more bathrooms (this was a concern during my prior visit).
We stopped for lunch, and then left Ostia to her ghosts, turning our faces inland toward the city. With another trip on the rails we were mrere blocks from St. Peter’s Basilica. This place gives me chills and speaks to the memories of my soul. It is a remarkable creation. It is fantastically large in all dimensions, which strangely makes it seem smaller than it is. Because the ceilings are so very high, the nave doesn’t seem quite as long as it really is. Then you get some perspective when you notice the stars on the floor denoting the naves of other grand churches, all falling within the footprint of St. Peter’s.
One new experience in St. Peter’s for me was the tomb of Pope (now Saint) John Paul II. It is, as befitting, a very solemn area.
The hours of the day had crept toward evening as our time in St. Peter’s wound to its close. G had suggested a visit to Piazza Navona, so I guided us forward. It isn’t the shortest walk in the world, but we paused briefly for gelato, and then for a meal.
It was only after dinner that the rains came, first at a drizzle, but ever harder.
Now some backstory: For those who have ever been in Italy, on the large piazze where people gather, there are always vendors wandering around selling something. There are squishy jelly balls, phone holders (to take better selfies), flowers, and illuminated whizbangs that they shoot up into the night sky. These people are always there. And they have the most efficient, remarkably responsive, marketing machine I have ever seen. When the first drop of rain hits, the toys and gadgets all disapear, and they swarm the squares with umbrellas and ponchos. Wal-Mart could learn something from them.
We reached Navona in the midst of a growing downpour. My first instinct had been to avoid the vendors, but with the rain increasing I knew it was time to accede to my need. And suddenly nobody was in sight. We moved through the square in the direction of the Pantheon a few blocks away, where we knew shelter would be found. Finally I was approached again by a man with ponchos. “How much?” I asked. I was in no position to negotiate, but when he indicated that they were €5, I promptly countered at €4 and shockingly enough a deal was struck. The sheer layer of plastic provided a meager buffer, but it was something. We continued on and, at length, the Pantheon was reached. There we paused under her cover until the rains abated.
By this time we were spent. We shuffled to the metro station and back to our appartment where, weary and worn, we succumbed for the night.