Monday, November 30, 2009

Roman Holiday - Part Four, The Truth Behind The 39 Steps and More

I promise to finish the story of my 4-day trip to Rome by the end of the year. That's my goal!

Okay, so last time I checked in I had left the Vatican Museums and was making my way to Piazza San Pietro. On my way there I note that the clouds are coming in strong again. They are not storm clouds though. They are huge fluffy clouds. And they seem to be hella low in the sky. What is going on with these Italian clouds? They look like you could just reach out of the sky and grab them. Are we at a higher altitude than in New York? It doesn't feel like the air is thinner. Hmm.

Anyway Piazza San Pietro is beautiful and very crowded. When I arrive there is this really long line and I can't immediately tell to where it is leading. I then realize this is the line to get into St. Peter's Basilica. It's so long! It's stretching around the outer ring of the piazza! There's a moment when I'm entering the Piazza when I can cut most of the line and no one would notice. It's just little old me. Nobody would notice this one extra body in a sea of walking tours. But then maybe God would be angry with me for cutting the line to get into these religious locations? I mean, especially in the face of all the lucky breaks I've been catching at every turn on this trip. I decided to be good and go to the end of the line after taking a walk around the inside of the Piazza. There's an amazing amount to take in all around you. Beautiful fountains and statues abound. There was a huge area in front of the entrance to the Basilica that was set up for what I'm assuming would be a giant outdoor service on Sunday. It was all quite lovely, and I take a moment to appreciate how lucky I am to be able to make this trip and take all of it in.

Then I got on line to get into the Basilica. Aaaaaand I waited. But even though the line was very long it moved along at a pretty brisk pace. Free admission will do that for you. Most people took the time on line to put on layers of clothing since you have to be all respectable-like heading into the Basilica. No bare shoulders or flip flops up in here!

The Basilica is gorgeous. Really a total marvel of architecture and art. I'm not an expert on either of things so I don't really know what to say except everywhere you look is something awe-inspiring and creepy-beautiful in that way that's right in Catholicism's wheelhouse. The Pieta is there too and it's cool, but it's behind glass and lots of people crowd around it and you can't really get a good picture of it without throwing a couple elbows and that just didn't seem like the spirit of the occasion to me. The thing I dug most about the Basilica was the ceiling which was beautiful and seemed to go on forever. On the way to the top your eye caught on all these magnificent statues of angels and saints carved into the columns and other other architectural aspects of the building I can't readily identify. But I wandered around in there for a while. Mostly, people tried to take pictures of everything they saw, running around the place like they were inside the Chocolate Room inside Willy Wonka's Factory. But there was this one area that was reserved specifically for prayer and you couldn't take any pictures or talk while you were there. I enjoyed sitting in the quiet for a moment and saying a prayer for mom. It was a really sweet moment.

Eventually I wandered my way back to the front of the Basilica, took a few more pictures and heading back down to Piazza San Pietro and then headed out of Vatican City. Right outside of the piazza is tons of tourist trappy places to eat. I wasn't super-hungry after the Papal Pizza, but I was needing a gelati fix and everywhere I passed was price gouging my delicious treat. I would wait for the right Gelati Shop to come my way. There were still some very important sites to see on the day's agenda - including the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon and they were not exactly just up the block from Vatican City, but I wanted to take in as much of the city as possible so I skipped the return trip on the subway and travelled on foot back toward Ancient Rome with the Spanish Steps as my next big landmark to visit.

I passed by the Castel Sant'Angelo on my way back to the Tiber River. This place is supposed to be important in the Dan Brown book Angels and Demons or The Celestine Prophecy or whatever it is he writes. I've never read his books. Gosh what's the name of the really popular book he wrote... i know I can think of it.,, Davinci Code! That's it! Go me. Anyway this castle plays some part in one of those books, and it was lovely to look at from the outside, I just wasn't in the mood to see more art at that point. I wanted to walk outside! What was interesting about walking by the castle was the guy I bumped into. He was French and lost, so of course he asks me for directions cause I totally looked like I knew where I was going right? Totally a man on a mission.

Anyway he comes up to me all:

Frenchie (thick accent): Scussi, blah-blah-blah-French-Words-I-Don't-Know.
Me: (in appropriated Italian accent) Parla inglese?
Frenchie: (in perfect English) You speak English
Me: (in total New Yorker drawl) Yeah.

He goes on to tell me he's lost and can't figure out where we are on the map. This is one of the few times where I actually DO know where we are because we were halfway between the Ponte Sant'Angelo and the Ponte Umberto. He was very pleased to get some course correction. Then he asked me how things were in America, if people were happy and if the economy was good. I wasn't entirely sure how to answer that question. I mean, "no" wouldn't have been an entirely off the mark response, but it seemed a little too general at the same time. We walked together to the next bridge (at which point he wound up at the embassy where he was to rendezvous with his wife, and I continued along the river until I got to Ponte Cavour which I thought was a fair crossing point to be close to the Spanish Steps. It was interesting talking to someone for more than a few sentences who was not a food service person. It had almost been a whole day since I really had a conversation with anybody who was not bringing me pizza, or wine or gelati.

So I thought once I got over Ponte Cavour it would be smooth sailing and I'd fine the Spanish Steps. Wrong! While trying to head North East, I totally overshot The Steps and walked way out of my way to Piazza Del Popolo. This was not a disappointment, because Piazza Del Popolo was totally cool. It was a giant open space with the requisite obelisk and fountain at the center, but there was also some kind of sports fitness expo going on in the Piazza that day. So there was a lot of hustle and bustle. In the NE corner of the Piazza you can start going up these stairs and find yourself on what turns into the Viale Gabriela D'Annunzio. And you can climb for awhile and see a great view of Rome. It wasn't the Spanish Steps I was looking for, but it was beautiful. I came back down again though, and walked back on the Via Del Baubino. After consulting my map many times, I believed if I walked south on this road long enough I would hit the Spanish Steps, which I should say that by this point I started to mentally refer to them as the 39 Steps. It's a Hitchcock thing. I took a few more exasperating wrong turns and could not believe how a giant staircase carved into the side of a big hill can be so hard to locate. But then I made one right turn and there it was! It was such a crowded area! Just like Trevi Fountain the night before! I can't tell you happy I was to make it to the 39 steps after so many walking detours all throughout Rome. The one thing I wanted to before I began my ascent up the 39 Steps was a nice big strawberry gelati. Yum yum yum! But as I looked around, I swear I could not find one gelati stand around me. Even at rip-off prices! I become convinced that I need the gelati to walk up the 39 Steps. This is how I always envisioned it! Sitting high up on the steps looking out toward the setting sun while eating ice cream!

So I walk down the street thinking I'll have to come across a snack bar eventually. But there's nothing. I'm walking down what I believe to be Via Dei Condotti, and it was all these high end clothing stores. No gelati whatsoever! I kept going further and further away. My panic and desperation grew. It had taken me so long to get to the 39 steps and now I was willfully removing myself from their vicinity. I kept casting nervous glances over my shoulder as if I would turn around and find it was no longer in view. Lost to me forever! Finally -FINALLY! - I found a snack bar with gelati. I walked for almost 10 minutes away from the steps though, I'm not joking. I got myself a heaping serving of strawberry gelati and hurried back in the direction of the steps. I was hurrying because I was afraid I would eat it before I got back to the steps, and the whole point of my gelati quest was to have it while I was ascending the steps! So finally I make it back there and start climbing. I mean, it's not like it's thousands of steps that stretch into the sky, but it's still a really cool location. Some people seem to like to hang out on the steps of the post office at 34th St and 8th Ave in NYC and of course the Gossip Girls like to sit on the steps of the Met, but this is much better than those places. I climb about 2/3's of the way up and sit myself down on some unoccupied step and enjoy the view and people watch. It dawns on me that I haven't seen a lot of people fighting or complaining while I've been in Rome. People seem to be either very chill, or happy or lovey dovey. The gypsies of course are all dramatically shameful, but outside of them, things are a lot less stressful than in NYC. What's there secret? Is it all the gelati that gets consumed? Perhaps that is the secret lesson of the 39 Steps. Eat your gelati, enjoy the view and don't freak out so much. Having gained newfound perspective on my life, I finish off my cone, complete my ascent to the top of the Steps. Another dream fulfilled!

Atop the Spanish Steps there is a church called the Trinita dei Monti. Oh, I loved this church! It's kinda small and unassuming and it's another one where they expressly tell you that you cannot take pictures inside. It's a shame though, because here I found my favorite painting from the whole trip. It's Domenico Corvi's painting of the Archangel St. Michael. I can't find a reproduction of it anywhere. If you find it. please let me know. I could stare at it forever. I'm not really sure why. [Note: I just looked online again and I found one image of it, but it's got a copyright logo over it! boo! I must track this person down and get an unmarked version of this image. It's really my favorite.] So I bask in the glory of the painting for a while. Sit in the pews and say another prayer, and then exit the church and go back to the 39 Steps.

I am very pleased that, despite my lack of navigational prowess I was able to find my way to the 39 Steps. It was a very fulfilling experience and it filled me with confidence that before the day was through, I'd be able to find that other very elusive Italian Icon: The Pantheon!

Coming Soon! - Part Five, The Pantheon, Dinnertime, And the end to Saturday! (Finally!)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Congratulations.. Davydenko?

Against extremely long odds. Nikolay Davydenko won the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London today. This seems nearly impossible because the tournament only hosts the top 8 male players in the world, of which Davydenko is ranked 7th (he was seeded 6th as Andy Roddick was no. 6 but out with injury). Ahead of Nikolay in the rankings were FedEx, Rafa, Choker, Murray and DelPo, and behind him were Gonzo and Soderling.

Davydenko lost to Djokovic in their opening Group B match earlier this week, but then he beat Rafa and then Soderling to advance. In the semifinals, he finally got the better of Federer, who had beaten Davydenko in their previous 12 meetings.To say Fed should've had the mental edge in that match is a massive understatement. But Davydenko played really strong in the semifinals to beat Fed 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, and in the finals to beat DelPo 6-3, 6-4 ,and he deserved the year-end title. Perhaps it shouldn't come as so much of a shock, since Davydenko actually made it to the Final match last year too, but the guys ranked above him had been so strong coming in, it's impressive he was able to string together so many back to back victories. It's a good indicator that next season the players ranked 4-8 are gonna be putting a lot more pressure on the guys who'd previously been sitting pretty as 1-4.

Poor, Rafa. He didn't win a match all tournament. 0-3 in round robin play. Dude's tired. He needs to go home, scarf down some chocolate chip cookies (and don't act like I'm making it up. I happen to know he's fond of them) and then dive back into to training for next season. He's a little mentally and physically out of it right now. But he's still my guy. I'll always root for him above all others. Have a good off-season Rafa! I look forward to blogging about your winning aways come January 2010. Vamos!

SYTYCD Top 12 - Can Can They Make It To The Tour?

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend, y'all. I hope everyone had a good time with family and friends and food. In the waning hours of this 4 day weekend, it's time to catch up on last week's SYTYCD before a new episode is soon upon this. This was an important week, because here's where we decide the Top 10 and who goes on the tour. And by "we" I ultimately mean the judges - but we tell them which 3 couples are up for elimination! Sure, there are two spots on the tour for an alternate guy and girl dancer, but the producers don't necessarily pick the last couple eliminated. I wouldn't be surprised if Nigel put one of the tappers back into the mix for the tour.

So Tuesday night, there are 6 couples and 2 hours of show, which initially made me cringe in fear at how much filler this would mean, but then beautiful Cat Deely let us know each couple would dance twice, reducing the filler to a minimum as we cram 12 dances into the show. Awesome.

The dancing this week was very good overall, with only 3 or 4 dances really not working for me. It seemed like the dancers recognized this would be the end of their initial partnerships and thusly gave it a little extra oomph behind the routines. Jakob and Ashleigh had another really strong week together in both routines. Legacy and Kathryn were also good in both dances. I'm giving the encore this week to Legacy and Kathryn for their Jazz routine, because I thought that was really sexy and fun.

Russell and Noelle, Ellenore and Ryan and Victor and Karen were stronger in one dance over the other. Mollee and Nathan didn't really connect with either dance. First, they had a weird hip hop routine about Alexander Bell creating the telephone. Meh. It didn't work. And they also did a can can routine from Tyce that Nigel accurately described as "twee."

Still, I was most worried for Karen and Victor who had both already lost two partners each and had just a horrible hip hop showing set to "Moving Mountains" by Usher, that had them literally acting as if they were moving mountains. Laurie Ann Gibson, what were you thinking? This bizarre routine was sloppy and low in energy and it really deserves this week's award as the Numfar Dance of Shame.

So Karen, Mollee and Ellenore were in the bottom for the girls and Victor, Nathan and Ryan were there for the guys. Apparently, I'm not a good judge of the solos, because I rarely see what the judges see, but they just love Mollee and Nathan and are content to punt their eventual ouster to a week when the voting public can shoulder all the blame. So it's goodbye to Karen and Victor, who were so close to the top 10, and yet so far.

Next week we get to see new couples chosen at random. I'm curious to see who Mollee and Nathan randomly draw from the hat. They both read as so young and several of the dancers are almost 10 years older than they are. It should be interesting. I'll see you there!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Quiz Show Cheat Sheet - Know Your O: A Quiz For Champions

A couple weekends ago, on a rainy afternoon, I decided to make up one of those how well do you know so-and-so quizzes on Facebook. For some unknown reason, I decided to make it almost impossible to get the right answers. What was I thinking? Did I want my friends to feel intimidated into not taking it, or just feel bad once they were done? I don't know. I went back and made an easier quiz, so people had a fair shot at a passing grade. If you failed the easy quiz and answered that I like Stargate over Star Trek, that's on your head. You don't know me! Anyway, here are the answers to the Impossible Quiz along with explanations of the right answers.

1) We'll start easy: Who's Owen's Favorite Tennis Player of All Time?
a) Andre Agassi
b) Roger Federer
c) Rafael Nadal (correct)
d) Martina Hingis
e) Jimmy Connors

This is a dead give away. I am in no way quiet about my love for Rafa. I like all the other players on this list just fine. Connors and Aggie especially. But Rafa's my guy. Plus I reference him later on in the quiz so it should be a no-brainier.

2) Which of these sounds does Owen hate the most?
a) the whip crack sound of the subway breaking system
b) the cries of a spoiled child mid-tantrum
c) the banshee wail of a school bus engine (correct)
d) armpit fart noises
e) pulse-pounding bass on a car stereo

And on Question 2 I'm already making it hella difficult for everyone. In truth, I hate ALL these things, so now it's really just a matter of gaging which one i hate the MOST. The sound of a school bus engine for some reason just fills me with dread. I was always late for the bus as a kid and hearing the wail of the bus as it charged down the street and I raced after it, just left a psychological scar. Every time I see a school bus now, I'm relieved I never have to ride in one again.

3) What's Owen's Favorite Color?
a) Pepsi Blue!
b) Superman Blue! (correct)
c) Tennis Court Blue!
d) Royal Blue!
e) Green.

This is me being silly, since the first four options are essentially the same color. I like superheroes the best, so that gets the nod here.

4) Owen's Drink of Choice?
a) Red Wine
b) Root Beer
c) Chocolate Coquito
d) Milkshake (correct)
e) Grape Juice

I love milkshakes and I drink them as often as possible. They are unhealthy, but delicious. Thank goodness I spend most of my year running insane distances so I burn off all the excess calories. I like all those other drinks as well, but milk-based beverages are my favorite. I drink 4 or 5 glasses of milk a day.

5) In Owen's fantasy where he & Rafa Nadal are friends, what's his fav part?
a) when Owen saves Rafa from a psycho fan's attack
b) when they lounge around & eat choc.chip cookies (correct)
c) when Owen and Rafa's mom cook Rafa pasta dinner
d) when Owen travels with Rafa to all the Grand Slams
e) when Rafa thanks O in his US Open victory speech

These are all components of my extended Rafa-as-BFF fantasy world, but rather than wanting to have sex with him, I ultimately just want to sit in lounge chairs on the beach at sunset and share a plate of chocolate chip cookies and milk. Oh, I can see it so perfectly in my head! If only...

6) What was Owen's first Broadway Musical Experience?
a) Cats
b) Phantom of The Opera
c) Les Miserables
d) Into The Woods (correct)
e) Rent

I went to see Into The Woods in 4th grade twice. once with my family and once on a school field trip. I recall that Gorbachev was in town and it made traffic very difficult. We sang "You better not shout, You better not cry! 'Cause he's a Commie and he'll shoot you in the eye! Gorbachev is coming to town!" It was Christmas season, after all. I love Into The Woods. I've never seen Cats or Phantom. Les Mis I saw in High School and Rent I saw in college.

7) What's Owen's Favorite Video Game Series?
a) Final Fantasy (correct)
b) Kingdom Hearts
c) The Legend Of Zelda
d) The Sims
e) Grand Theft Auto

This is another toughie, because I really really enjoy Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2, and Link from Zelda is one of my all-time favorite characters, but in terms of hours played, neither of those come close to my investment in the Final Fantasy series. I'm sure I spent hundreds of hours playing the original NES game. and there are currently eleven other 12 main games in the series, of which I've played through... 8 of them? Final Fantasy IV, VII, IX and XII are my favorites. I've been waiting achingly for XIII to come out on the PS3. Square Enix says it will come to the US in the first half of 2010, but I've been burned by their release date promises before...

8) What Nitestar Character Did Owen Most Hate Playing During His Tenure there?
a) Michael in the Lo Show (parents ignored him)
b) Nelson in the Junior High Show (bullied)
c) Joshua in the Junior High Show (HIV+)
d) The gay date-raped kid in the IPV Show (Marcus?)
e) Sean in the High School Show (chlamydia) (correct)

This is more of a niche question, but hands down, it's Sean. I had to play him all the time and I never really liked him. My distaste for him only grew as the seasons past and by the end of the third season, Sean's problem wasn't so much chlamydia as it was self-loathing. I had the loveliest of scene partners throughout my tenure, but if I never have to fake whisper in a library scene again, it will be too soon.

9) Owen's college a capella group was called:
a) The New Group
b) Desperate Measures
c) The Spirits
d) Quasimodal (correct)
e) Cardinal Sinners

Quasi! The oldest co-ed a capella group at Wes. The New Group was the other co-ed a capella group. Desperate Measures was a comedy a capella group. The Spirits are the all-male group and the Sinners are the all female group. Go Wes! I love my Quasis.

10) What is Owen's Favorite Pizza Topping?
a) sausage
b) pineapple (correct)
c) black olive
d) pepperoni
e) chocolate

I love pineapple pizza. My freshman year roommate at Wes didn't get along, but he did introduce me to the joys of pineapple pizza and for that I will be able forever grateful.

11) What High School show did Owen quit out of dissatisfaction with his role?
a) Music Man
b) Guys & Dolls
c) 42nd Street
d) Pirates of Penzance
e) West Side Story (correct)

I was like, Pepe, or something. I wasn't feeling it. I'd been in the chorus of West Side Story the summer before, and didn't feel like spending another 5 months in the chorus. It was big drama at the time, as all things are in high school. But all these years later, I'm still glad I didn't do it.

12) Owen loves lions. His Favorite Fictional Lion Character Is:
a) Aslan (correct)
b) King Moonracer
c) Gado the Lion
d) Braveheart Lion
e) Lion-O

These are all worthy lions, but Aslan is the king. He's pretty much literally JESUS!

13) Which of these has never been a proper nickname for Owen:
a) Owen The Man
b) Orko (correct)
c) Oboe
d) O-Zone
e) O-Face

OTM and O-Zone are from college, Oboe is from elementary school and O-Face came around in my mid-20's. Orko, while a cool name that starts with O, has never been a nickname.

14) Owen's least favorite food?
a) mushrooms (fungus!)
b) eggplant (gross!)
c) cotton candy (hatefully sweet!)
d) asparagus (vile weed!) (correct)
e) liver (stinky!)

Asparagus might not be the worst food on the planet, but I certainly hate it the most. The smell the consistency, the taste - i think it's all just awful. If you like it, please by all means have all that you want. Have seconds and take my portion! But please don't expect to me to it if you serve it to me. Not gonna happen.

15) Owen's Favorite Theme Park Ride?
a) El Toro
b) The Haunted Mansion
c) Loch Ness Monster
d) Space Mountain
e) Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (correct)

Another trick question in a series of tricky trick questions! El Toro is now my favorite rollercoaster but my favorite THEME PARK RIDE overall is Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. I just love it. They no longer have it in Disney World (which is why I hold a vendetta against the Winne The Pooh ride which replaced it) but it still exists in Disneyland and when i went to visit LA last summer I took a day trip to Disneyland specifically so I could go on it. It was worth it. I love it.

So there you have it. 15 questions. 15 answers. 15 somewhat-convoluted explanations. Advanced knowledge of O.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Roman Holiday, Part 3 - I Love You, Colosseo!

When last I left off, I had gone to bed after my first day in Rome, eager for my next full day in the city and also a bit nervous about the not-so-good weather forecast I was facing. I was holding out hope that weather forecasters would be as clueless in Europe as they sometimes are in the States. I woke up at 7am and looked out my hotel window to witness a terrific lightning storm. My heart sank a little because I knew the rain was coming, but it was still pretty cool how the lightning was lighting up the clouds. I took a shower and got my things in order for my day. I figured even if it was raining I could still take a trip to the Colosseo, since there are things to see inside where it wouldn't be raining. I also had the Vatican Museums scheduled at noon and it wouldn't matter what the weather was like while I was inside either. I DID have several other outdoor locations on my list for the day, but we'd cross that ponte when we came to it.

In the meantime, as the lightning brought thunder and the thunder brought rain, I spent some time watching CNN International and doing word searches. I love word searches! Crosswords make me feel a bit intellectually insecure, and Sudoku gives me a headache if I'm trying anything more complicated than beginner level, but I always love a good word search. I picked up a book of "Superb Word-Find Puzzles" which featured 123 Word Find Puzzles before I left NYC in case I needed something on the plane or to occupy down time in my room. This was just such a time. There were a lot of fun categories like Long Running TV Shows and Types of Cookies. My favorite was a word find involving important characters from the comic strip For Better Or For Worse which I used to love reading in Newsday when I was a kid. So I did several word searches and that killed an hour or two as it rained outside.

And then, around 9am, something interesting happened. The rain stopped. I went to my window to assess the sky and there was actually a break in the clouds. And there was bright blue sky within that break! I was going to get a window of sunshine just as the Colosseo was opening! Now, if there had been a doubt up until this point that my mom was watching over me during this trip, we can pretty much put that doubt to rest from here until the end of my trip. My good luck up until this point only improves from here on out. I grabbed my stuff and headed outside. My plan at this point was to go to the Colosseo for an hour or so, go get some pastry for breakfast after that at a cafe recommended in my travel guide and then take the metro over to Vatican City.

The clouds continued to dissipate as I got to the Colosseo gates. most of the tour groups don't assemble outside until 10am, so I didn't have to wait at all and went right in. I race up the stairs to get to the first viewing location inside the Colosseo. I walk out into the arena, and to me, it's just beautiful. There was something about the stone having the feel of the just ended rain, and there only being a dozen or so other people walking around, but I just had the best experience staring down at the exposed passageways that exist under the arena floor. I felt very connected to... something. I don't even know what it was. History? That sounds so lame. There were several things I experienced in Rome that I really responded to on a deep level and the Colosseo was probably the strongest of those connections. I took time to walk around and take lots of pictures and admired the views, before going inside the museum sections and reading about the history of the Colosseo and all the statues and artifacts that are housed there. I was like a pig in mud. I was so excited to be there. i went back into the arena and the sky looked better and better. There were still huge clouds in the sky, but they weren't rain clouds. It was gonna be a good weather day after all! The only down side to this was that the rainy weather clothes I had picked out for today were once again gonna be too warm for me. Luckily my backpack was almost completely empty so I quickly shoved my coat in there.

Having enjoyed the Colosseo so much, I knew I was gonna have to get a memento in the gift shop. There were many options, books, models, roman soldier helmets, action figure sets (tempting) but I ultimately settled on a smallish-sized snow globe with the Colosseo inside. I tried to pay for it with my Visa card but apparently I was supposed to tell the credit card company I was planning to go abroad, and failing to do so my CC was put on hold. Perhaps if they had looked at my other charges leading up to the trip, they'd have noticed I kept purchasing Rome-related things? For my trip to ROME? But whatever. Suffice to say visa was not everywhere I wanted to be. Amex would have to get my business this weekend. Sucks for you, Visa! But in the case of the Colosseo snow globe, I actually wound up just paying cash.

I walked around the Colosseo again, getting as high and as low as I could. I wanted to make sure I got to walk around everywhere I could. By this time the tours started to come through and things were getting more crowded, so it was time to say ciao to the Colosseo and get some breakfast. I was sad to go, but I'd seen what there was to be seen and I could walk by it as many times as I went back and forth from my hotel. I decided to grab breakfast at the Bottega Del Caffe which my guide book told me was on Via Cavor not far from the Colosseo. I couldn't find it though. I walked and walked done Via Cavour and it was just not there. Or at least it didn't have a big sign outside that I could see. And I was so hungry!! I passed several other snack bar options but they were not what I was looking for. I wanted a nice cafe with pastries where I could sit outside. Was this so much to ask? I wound up walking all the way to the next metro stop which is called Cavour (for obvious reasons). I figured since I was at the metro I should just go up to Vatican City now and find a place to get food outside the Museums. I'd gone so far uphill that I actually had to walk down a long flight of stairs to get to the tunnel entrance to the metro below. And what was right outside the metro entrance? A lovely cafe with pastries and drinks and outdoor eating area just like I'd wanted! Oh, good fortune smiles again.

I got myself a delicious chocolate croissant and plopped down at a table for a little bit. The croissant was the only thing I bought during my entire time in Rome whose price wasn't an even euro or end with a .50 cent piece. I almost wasn't sure if they had other change in the money system until i got a 20 cent coin as change. But once I got my fill of the cafe experience, it was into the metro and off to Vatican City. I very much liked the metro system in Rome, though I used it only one a day and walked the rest of the time. There are only 2 lines and they crisscross each other like an X across the city so it's almost impossible to get confused as to where you're heading. I went from the B Line to the A Line and then got out at the Ottaviano stop to walk a few blocks to the Vatican Museums. (Note: There are plans to make a C line through Ancient Rome but during the construction they have encountered new previously unknown ancient stuff and have had to halt development until they can figure out what it is that's down there!).

The streets were getting super crowded as I got up to the outer walls of the Vatican. The day got even warmer and sunnier as I made my way closer (oh look! A gypsy with NO ARMS! He is summarily ignored by everyone else.) and I was thinking I might have to ditch my sweater, but that would leave me in only my t-shirt and I felt like I had to be more presentable at the Big V. The line to get into the Vatican for people with no pre-purchased tickets was ENORMOUS. I couldn't believe how far it stretched by late morning when i got there. Luckily, I had bought my ticket online earlier in the week. Why more people don't do this, I don't know. Maybe they aren't aware it's an option? Please, if you go to Vatican City, do yourselves a favor and buy your admission ticket online beforehand. I must have saved myself two hours of waiting by circumventing the non-ticket holders line and going right in with the tour groups and ticket holders.

After you get inside there's this giant spirally staircase or escalators that take you up to the museums. I was the only one to walk up the spiral path. Seriously EVERYONE else took the escalators. Their loss. That spiral walkway was cool. Once you get up top, you can rent one of those little individual radios for a walking tour. I recommend doing that. It's a good way of figuring out what your favorite pieces are but you don't have to join an actual tour with a bunch of people you don't know with a guide who may or may not know what the hell they're talking about. Plus it really isn't that expensive and the information it provides is both thorough and interesting. Vatican Museums were... just OKAY for me. It seems blasphemous to say that, not just because it's the Vatican, but because the artistic riches within it's walls are just astounding. It's an embarrassment of riches, one might say. And that's part of the problem. It's a little embarrassing. The Catholic Rebelliousness kicks in , and my brain starts wondering if all this is right. It's not just amazing religious artifacts and masterpieces that they hold, but tons of Greek sculpture, Egyptian art and artifacts, and much much much more from civilizations throughout the world. I spent hours looking it over and could've spent days more - and that's just the stuff they happen to have on display. That doesn't even scratch the surface of all that's stored deep inside that compound. But does much of it really BELONG there? The audio guide made it seem like the Popes throughout the centuries just had these things "brought back" to the Vatican once they were discovered. What I can't help but say to myself in my head is, "you mean they just took it." Who knows if these artifacts would have survived in their original locations in different countries, but it's hard to escape the fact that Popes really hoarded this stuff. It's just a little weird to me. But the beauty cannot be denied and it's easy to get swept up in it. There's a real mummy in the Egyptian rooms that's all sorts of awesome. It's easy to miss the Egyptian wing as you press on toward The Sistine Chapel, but it's worth a diversion. One word of note: don't completely exit the Egyptian section anywhere other than from where you initially got in, one exist leaves you almost back at the starting point, and they won't let you back in, and you'll want to kick yourself for having to walk through some of those early rooms for a second time, especially if it's really really crowded while you're there (which it most likely will be).

My time in the Raphael rooms, made me realize I'm not really a huge fresco fan, either. The eyes in the paintings scare me and the faces always seem to express anger or confusion. They are not my thing. For that reason, the Sistine Chapel was a little anti-climactic for me. It's one of those things that I'm glad I can say I saw with my own two eyes, but it was not even in the top 5 works of art I saw throughout my trip that I responded to most viscerally. In fact, the art hanging in the Pinacoteca was really the highlight for me during my time in the Vatican Museums. Works like Rafael's Transfiguration and Caravaggio's Deposition just got me from head down to my heart, to my stomach and to my balls. They had power that just jumped off the wall and almost body slam you. I loved that wing of the museum.

After I was done touring around the museums, I decided to get some lunch, since I was starving and had not had a substantive meal. The Vatican Museums had a very lovely cafeteria where I got probably the best slice of pizza I'd have my whole trip - no kidding. It was topped with sausage and artichoke and it was fantastic. I was not expecting such a treat from the cafeteria, especially at a reasonable price. Had they promoted it as "The Holy Pizza of God" I would not have been able to argue much against the marketing.

Exiting the Museums, you encounter another steep spiral walkway, but going down was much more harrowing than going up. There are signs of caution all over the place. I already have a weird fascination with throwing myself down the stairs (I don't have a death wish, or an injury wish, tumbling down Jack and Jill style honestly just seems faster and more effortless than walking) and the odd pull of the spiral was very hard to resist, but I made it all the way down without making a spectacle of myself. Bidding the Museums adieu, I stepped back out into the sun, stripped off the sweater for the rest of the now almost-too-hot afternoon weather and went off to explore the rest of Vatican City!

Next Time - Part 4: A trip through St. Peter's Basilica! Walking Forever! The Spanish Steps! The Pantheon! And much more gelato!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

SYTYCD Top 14, 2 More Fly The Coop (But only one was a bird)

So here we are at the Top 14 ready to ice 2 more dancers. This week, thankfully, was much better than last week's mediocre offerings. There were three dances that I thought belonged in the bottom 3 and they all got there. There were several dances I thought were very good. Still, nothing this season so far has really moved me and I once again blame the overpowering lighting and visual design along with the shifty camera-work. Does no one at the production level recognize this as a problem? All the spectacle above and behind the dancers is totally distracting and taking away from the emotional experience instead of enhancing it. It's as if they no longer trust the dancers to get the job done themselves. They can do it! They did the past 5 seasons with no problem and now suddenly we're three weeks into the top 20 and none of the routines are really making an impact? Something's not working right here.

So good routines this week we have 1) Jakob and Ashleigh doing hip hop 2) Noelle and Russell fox trotting, 3) Ellenore and Ryan dancing contemporary and 4) Kathryn and Legacy with a strong paso doble. These were all very well executed and enjoyable. It was good to see that all these routines were voted to the top, keeping these dancers safe. I'm gonna give the encore presentation to the contemporary routine, because Ellenore's legs are out of this world.

Competent, if not a bit unemotional and strange, was Channing and Victor's Jazz routine, and then mildly disappointing was Mollee and Nathan's pop jazz. I think they should create a new category called Weird Jazz. This way we'll know when we're just gonna get some crazy conceptual shit that we might appreciate, but not actually enjoy. Tyce really put Channing and Victor in a difficult place. He had them be birds who were going in and out of a cage that was made out of guitar strings... i think? Tyce, even if they did this routine well (and they did) the audience was never gonna vote for it (and they didn't). C'mon, man. With Mollie and and Nathan's dance, the problem was that the song was "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga. I think its a really great pop song, it's really hot right now and the dancing in the video is so interesting and distinct. The problem here was the routine didn't live up to the standard set up by the video and it just felt like a let down.

DVR's across NYC did not record SYTYCD correctly, so I missed the Broadway number by Karen and Kevin. I caught it on youtube, and wished I hadn't. It was awkward. It wasn't fun. It looked labored. It's really just an unfortunate combination of genre choice, dancers and routine. I like Karen and Kevin, but that routine did them no favors. Did the new choreographer make the routine too hard, or was it just not that good? I'm not sure. It saddens me to hand them the trophy for the Numfar Dance of Shame Award for this week, but really there's no way around it.

When it came to eliminations, it became pretty clear that Channing was gonna get cut. Pegged as the one with "personality issues" from the start and lacking a fan favorite partner to carry her through, her impressive technique alone was only gonna get her this far. I was hoping against hope that Kevin would get spared, but since his solo wasn't that amazing this week and his actual routine was bad, it's not surprising that he was on the bottom of the list. They are both very talented and they seem like cool people. It's a shame to see them go, but 2 gotta go every week. The cuts only get tougher from here!

See you next week when we see who makes it to the Top 10 and the tour. And hopefully we'll have a routine that really grabs me and doesn't get lost behind the changing backdrops and fancy lights.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Jeopardy: Not Even Trying Anymore

I happened to tune into the last few minutes of Jeopardy on Monday night and "What is Ding Dong the Witch is Dead?" was the right response in Final Jeopardy. Apparently the show has stopped trying. The category was Classic Movie Songs (or possibly Classic Songs from Movies) and the clue was "6 word title of the song that says 'for the house fell on her head, and the coroner pronounced her dead'" Okay, really? What else could it be??? This was not Teen Jeopardy or College Tournament Jeopardy. It was regular Jeopardy. That question wouldn't be worthy of the $200 slot if that category showed up on Celebrity Jeopardy. The thing that kills me is that it would've been hard or at least a bit sneaky if they didn't specifically say "6 word title" because some people might think the actual title is something like "the wicked witch is dead" forgetting the "ding dong" or add "wicked" to "witch" and get it wrong. But by giving you the word count, you can just take 30 seconds to count in your head and figure out which 6 words are correct. Seriously, who hasn't heard that song? It's a fundamental experience of modern cinema and TBS aired it somewhere around 16 times this past weekend. That song is unavoidable. It's been used all over the place. How many other classic movies do you know where women got killed by falling houses and people sang songs about it?

The sad thing is that one nerd who was in the lead didn't know the right answer and he lost. And you know what? He deserved to lose!! If you can't pull "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" out of that clue, you don't deserve to win. I put it right up there with Belichick's decision to go for it on 4th down and 2 this past Sunday against the Colts. You play like that, you deserve to lose.

I guess I didn't realize how far Jeopardy had fallen. This kind of softball trivia is something I'd expect from Wheel Of Fortune, where Sajak has been on cruise control for at least 15 years and Vanna doesn't even need to touch the puzzleboard for letters to show up nowadays. In fact, following Jeopardy, the first toss up puzzle on Wheel was under the category "People" and the answer was "Red Sox Nation" and they filming this week in Boston. The puzzle was solved after 3 letters. They just don't build these shows like they used to.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dear Project Runway, Make It Work... Or You're Out!

As the current season of Project Runway limps to a close, the general consensus is that this season was not very successful. Much has been made about why this season, which initially had so much promise, devolved into a such an uneven and tedious affair. The easiest criticism to make is the regular absences of both Nina Garcia and Michael Kors on the judging panel. It resulted in some head-scratching wins and eliminations. Since Nina Garcia has already interviewed that she, Kors and Heidi are there for every judging panel in Season 7, the inconsistency should be . And even though it's too late to offer suggestions for the already taped upcoming season, here is a short list of changes I hope the Producers made to avoid the missteps of Season 6.

#1) Specific Challenges - A lot of this season's challenges were just too open-ended. A challenge about Blue? A pregnancy outfit for any occasion? A Red Carpet dress for any occasion? A "model industry outfit" for any occasion? The list goes on and on. With such a short amount of time to design and construct the outfits, I think it hinders the designers more than helps them to have no parameters to the challenges. I think it's harder to judge them too, because there was so little criteria for them to fulfill.

#2) Longer Challenges - there were a lot of one day challenges this season, and I don't think that's a fair amount of time to create something really fantastic and original especially when you're doing these challenges back to back to back all season. At least give them two days! With only a day to make things, mostly just wind up with some nice dresses and disasters that couldn't be fixed, but nothing that really dramatic or shows a design point of view. It doesn't help to have interesting characters on the show, if all their garments are boring and conventional.

#3) Stick to NYC - California was a total bust. It wasn't a horrible idea to experiment with the location. Top Chef goes from city to city each season, and I think it helps that show to move around the country. Not so with Runway. It really is a New York show. Besides the beachware challenge (that went nowhere) this season did nothing to really utilize it's new setting. They could've been anywhere. The only thing that was clear was that they were not in NYC. The rotating celebrity judges L.A. offered really didn't add anything to the conversation. We don't need recognizable guest judges. Just get important people in the industry. If we are using Top Chef as a comparison again, I don't recognize any of the master chefs they bring in for judging each week, but I still understand they know what they're talking about in regard to food (and celebs like Natalie Portman still manage to show up seeking veggies.)

#4) Fix "Models Of The Runway" or Kill It - In it's first episode, I thought "Models" could've been a really interesting behind the scenes look at the experience of the models on the show. It never followed through on the promise though. The models had no challenges of their own when they were away from the runway and the show was incredibly boring. There are two widely known reality competition shows already out there - America's Next Top Model and Make Me A Supermodel. Steal some format ideas from them. Give the girls something to DO. Either that, or eliminate the whole "models, this is a competition for you too" angle of the show. It's always been under-served and with the designers picking the models, they have very little of their fate in their own hands. I appreciate that Lifetime was trying to come up with something new, but this show had some serious design flaws. Pun Intended.

So hopefully these problems will be addressed in the next season. If the mantra is true that one day you're in and the next day you're out. Hopefully the reverse is true as well. Perhaps with this season Project Runway is out, but next season it can be In again.

SYTYCD Top 16: Two Get a Cane and Two Get the Hook

This week's SYTYCD was overall not very good. Possibly one of the worst installments I've seen in any season I've watched. There were only 2 and half routines I enjoyed out of 8, and that's just not a winning percentage by any estimation. Cat Deely was still beautiful and giggly and lovely. That's enough for me to watch every week, but I'd like some awesome dancing as well.

The only dance I really enjoyed was Ashleigh and Jakob's jazz routine where they had to work with a cane. Individually, I'm not a huge fan of either Ashleigh or Jakob, but they definitely know how to make their partnership work for them. I also liked Russell and Noelle's Afro-Jazz routine, and I liked Legacy's contribution to his Broadway routine. That's it.

Everything else was weak. The Ellenore/Ryan Hip Hop number was soft and sluggish. The Peter/Pauline quickstep was sloppy. The Channing/Victor contemporary was not particularly moving. The Karen/Kevin hustle felt irrelevant. The judges were routinely disappointed and so was I.

But the winner of the Numfar Dance of Shame Award for this week, goes to Mollee and Nathan's Salsa. This dance was just terrible. They were out of sync from the first step and it just got worse from there. It was awkward and not sexy and just a really poor showing. They are both young dancers and the style didn't suit their strengths, but... that's kind of the point of the show. You're supposed to push yourself and kill it each week. For so many couples to fall short on the same week... it's not a good sign.

Since Mollee and Nathan didn't land in the bottom 3 vote totals, Nigel took some special time to yell at them for sucking so hard. Thanks, Nigel! Hopefully they will take his advice and take it up a few levels in intensity and dedication. It's still early in the season, and they can turn it around, but so far I'm just not impressed. Since they weren't up for elimination, ultimately we said good-bye to Peter and Pauline, which wasn't too big a surprise considering their lackluster quickstep. Now all three tappers have been eliminated from the competition, and most likely, none will be featured on the tour. Nigel seemed really sad about that fact, but maybe he should've thought of that LAST week, when he let Bianca go well before her time.

I still feel like the new stage set up is not helping the audience connect with them and the dancers always seem too far away, but the dancers also aren't bringing enough of themselves to the routines. It's a shame because I like a lot of them, they're just not giving me anything to get behind right now. Better luck next week, Dancers! Show us what you're really made of!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Sesame Street!

Sesame Street turned 40 today! Many happy returns of the day Sesame Street. It was fun to watch it this morning for the first time in many many years. Lin was guest starring in a very cute role, trying to sell Big Bird on moving to a new habitat. Miguel and I got to visit him on set when they filmed it... last spring? It was a while ago, but it was a total delight to be on set.
The show has changed since we watched it as little kids, but sometimes the more things change the more they stay the same. There were the Street Scenes, with the residents of Sesame Street, some shorter segments with the Muppets, a longer story with Bert & Ernie (in claymation!) a CGI story with Abby Cadabby in Fairy School (where I met my new favorite muppet Gonnegan, who turns invisible when he feels bad about himself - Where's Gonnegan? He's gone again! heeheehee.) and then the last third of the hour is Elmo's world.

Sesame Street has contributed so much to the world and helped several generations of children learn about so many things through songs, skits, cartoons and lots of amazing Muppets. I still have a tremendous amount of love for Super Grover, Cookie Monster, Ernie, The Count, Sherlock Hemlock and Guy Smiley. Congrats on a monumental birthday, Sesame Street. You don't look a day over 21.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Picture is Worth 1000 Taunts

The Yankees are once again World Champions! It's very exciting. The series was hard-fought and there were a lot of players who really came through in the end. A-Rod finally had a great October/November. Jeter was a solid team captain. The pitching of Sabathia, Pettite and Rivera was on fire throughout, and veteran Hideki Matsui was named MVP after racking 6 RBI in a 7-3 victory in Game 6. Happy 27th Championship, guys!

As entertaining as the game was to watch, I also had a great time lovingly hating on my favorite Phillies fan: my friend Bajir. He's in London right now, so he might not have been able to stay awake to see his team LOSE, but for most of the night Bajir, and I along with our friend Alicia made a lot of comments about a certain picture Bajir posted to his FB page. Posted below is the picture and the loving taunts it inspired. Enjoy!

Alicia Romano
WHERE oh where is the dislike button?
4 hours ago

Owen Panettieri
Oh Bam, they are gonna shoot that green mofo DOWN.
4 hours ago

Bajir Cannon
"I know nothing of philosophical philanthropy. But I know what I have seen, and what I have looked in the face in this world here, where I find myself. And I tell you this, my friend, that there are people (men and women both, unfortunately) who have no good in them--none. That there are people whom it is necessary to detest without compromise. That there are people who must be dealt with as enemies of the human race. That there are people who have no human heart, and who must be crushed like savage beasts and cleared out of the way." - Charles Dickens
4 hours ago

Alicia Romano
Man, I thought _I_ was serious about baseball.
4 hours ago

Owen Panettieri
"NO MORE LIVING FOR YOU!!!" - Xena, Warrior Princess
4 hours ago ·

Bajir Cannon
"I am confident that, in the end, [Philly] and [the honorable Phils] will prevail. I'm an optimist, brought up on the belief that if you wait to the end of the story, you get to see the good people live happily ever after."Cat Stevens
4 hours ago

Alicia Romano
"The [Yankees] are awesome."-Mother Theresa
4 hours ago

Owen Panettieri
"So what I'm understanding here is that you're not gonna give me any [offense]. So I'm basically left with nothing. I'm left with zero here 'n which, what can I do with zero? I can't do anything with it! I mean this is my life we're talking about here; we're not just talkin' about — something else, we're talking about my life. And you're forcing me to do something I don't want to do—to leave. To just pick up and say—make a clean cut here and say, "No way, [Charlie], you're not gonna put up with these people." And I'll tell you why I can't put up with you people. Because you're bastard people. That's what you are; you're just bastard people. And I'm gonna go home and I'm gonna, I'm gonna bite my pillow is what I'm gonna do!" - Charlie Manuel to his team during Game 6 of the 2009 World Series.
4 hours ago ·

Bajir Cannon
"Go Yanks!" - Hitler [and Osama]
3 hours ago

Alicia Romano
!! You're bringing Hitler into this and it's only the 3rd inning!?
3 hours ago

Owen Panettieri
"I heart the Phillies!" - Satan [and Michelle Bachman]

Alicia Romano
From this day to the ending of the world,But we in it shall be remembered-We few, we happy few, we starting lineup;For he to-day that kicks Pedro's sorry little ass with meShall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile. This day shall gentle his condition;And gentlemen in the bronx now abedShall think themselves accursed they were not here,And hold their manhoods cheap whilst any speaksThat scored a run or at least got an RBI or twoUpon world series day
3 hours ago

Alicia Romano
I gotta say, it sure doesn't look like [Deity of Choice] is on the side of the Phillies, here.
2 hours ago

Owen Panettieri
"I can hit 5 home runs in one World Series and it STILL isn't enough to carry my team to a Championship title? FML." - Chase Utley
about an hour ago ·

(and after the Yankees got that last out in the top of the 9th)

Owen Panettieri
"Oh no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Matsui killed the beast." - Fay Wray

Roman Holiday Part 2: Rome Wasn't Built In A Day...

Full title: Roman Holiday Part 2: Rome Wasn't Built In A Day, But I Saw It In An Afternoon.

Okay, so where did I leave off? Oh yes, I got off of the Metro and was staring at the Colosseo. I walked down the street along side the Colosseo and noticed that the line to get in was still mad long even though it was mid-afternoon. The guide book had said the line thinned out in the afternoon! If the guide book was lying about this, what other untruths had it been feeding me as I planned my trip? Hmm... this was cause for concern.

So after you walk east of the Colosseo you get to an intersection and then street name changes (they do that A LOT in Rome) and it becomes Via Labicana where my hotel is located. Somewhat inconveniently, you can't cross on the North side of the street here , which is the side of the street where my hotel is located. I mean you technically could if you wanted to be run down by traffic, but otherwise you need to cross south and then east and then north again to be on the appropriate side of the street. I mention it only because I must've crossed this way 15 times over the course of my trip. The cars generally stop for people who wander into the street. It must be a traffic law, since everyone wanders everywhere there - much worse than Manhattan where people generally stick to the sidewalks. But this one intersection seemed to have an all bets are off attitude about it, and I stuck to the pedestrian crosswalks.

I get to my hotel, the Mercure Delta Colosseo, which is a tall white building with two giant palm trees flanking the entryway. I'm all sweaty and gross from the insane heat outside, and I check in. The reception lady lets me know my room is paid in advance (hooray!) and that if I want to order room service or anything during my stay that will just be put on my credit card. I smile politely and take my key card for the room, knowing the likelihood of me ordering room service is only slightly better than me choosing to swim back home across the Atlantic. Room service is a couple frills higher than my no frills mentality.

(the Mercure Roma Delta Colosseo)

I've been in European hotels before so I was expecting a small room, especially as a single occupant, so I was not surprised at what awaited me when I got upstairs. To be fair, there was enough room for my bed, a desk, a TV which sat atop a fridge unit and a wardrobe - with enough floor space for me to walk between these things. Oddly, I couldn't turn on any of the lights or the TV unless I placed my key card in this little holster mounted on the wall above my bed. I had a nice big window that looked on the palm trees in front of the hotel. The bathroom was also spacious enough: overall money well-spent.

So now I'm in my room and super-excited and I don't know exactly what to do next. I want to run outside and explore, but I also know I really need to take a shower and change my clothes before I go anywhere.and I also need to call my dad and let him know I arrived safely because he worries. I opt to try and figure out calling home first, but Italy is a little weird. You can't just use a calling card, you have to buy an Italian phone card to access the phones and THEN you can use an international calling card. I try to use a landline at the hotel, but that attempt failed. I tried my own cell phone to see if I got any type of roaming service, but again nothing. My room had a wifi signal, so I decide to just plug in my computer and send an email to Suki at work, and my sisters at home, and ask them all to tell my Dad I got there okay. I set up my laptop at the desk and plug the computer cord into my travel plug and then into the socket. When the computer turns on I see that the battery is not charging and the converter plug is not working. I go to look at the packaging for my "European Converter" and there is a note in italics at the bottom that says "NOTE: Does not fit electrical sockets in Italy or Switzerland." Crappola. Really? How did I not see that when i was BUYING my "universal to Continental Europe" converter? Italy is listed as a country it works for, but just in the opposite direction, it changes Italian plugs into Euro Plugs, not the other way around. This means that throughout my stay I have no way to charge my phone, my camera, my ipod or my computers. I take it as a sign that I'm supposed to leave technology behind for the duration of my trip, and be frugal with my use of the camera battery (which I'm thanking my lucky stars i fully charged before leaving home.) My laptop battery lasts all of 15 minutes on its own, so i quickly sign in to the wifi, and send the email while I have enough juice left to do it. Once that's out of the way, I double check the weather forecast online. The internet confirms for me that it's actually 83 degrees outside this afternoon in Rome and super sunny. It threatens rain for the rest of the weekend. This makes me even more anxious to get outside and see as much as I can see while the weather is good. But showering first is essential. So I close up my laptop and stick it in the room safe inside the wardrobe where it will sit for the remainder of my time in Rome. I unpack my toiletries, jump in the shower, get sweet smelling and clean and then get new (lighter) clothes on. Refreshed and ready to go, I head outside to see some ancient stuff!

On my way out, I stop at the concierge desk to ask what time is sunset, just so I know how much daylight I’m working with to sight see. He tells me it will be between 6:30 and 7pm. That give me a little over three hours. I zip outside and head back toward Colosseo. The weather is BEAUTIFUL. Oh, why can’t the forecast be nice for the whole weekend? I detour up by the Baths of Trajan and the Domus Aurea to snap some photos. I’ve decided I like ruins. I’m sure if you go on multi-city tours where all there is to see are ruins, they must all blend together, but over the course of my little trip I never got bored of seeing ruins.

(Look how pretty! Rome is gonna be fun!)

As I headed back downhill toward Colosseo, I had a decision to make. One admission ticket gets you into the Colosseo, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. My dilemma was that if I tried to see all three in the amount of daylight I had left, at least one of three was going to be shortchanged. I really wanted to see Colosseo the most, but Roman Forum and Palantine Hill are connected to each other, so it made most sense to see them first. But I resolved to ask the ticket window clerk to see if my admission ticket to all three places is only good for one day.

As I round the side of the Colosseo that runs along via di S. Gregorio, I encounter three staples of Roma that I will see throughout my weekend; Gladiators, Snack Bars and Gypsies. Here are my quick thoughts on all three:

Gladiators: There are these dudes in Gladiator costumes standing outside all the major attractions in Roma. Not just the Colosseo, but all over. They stand around and invite tourists to take pictures with them, and then after the unsuspecting tourist poses with them, the gladiators demand money from them. I had been warned of this scenario and kept my distance (there are better things to take pictures of then some dudes in outfits you can by at Ricky’s) but I saw firsthand a couple people get hustled. HARD. We’re not talking a couple bucks, these dudes wanted 10 euros! Outrageous. Nice work if you can get it, I guess.

Portable Snack Bars : They are kinda like large hot dog stands that cater to tourists. They are overpriced and the food looks gross but they are stationed all around the major attractions and tourists flock to them. Seriously, lazy-asses, walk half a block down the street and get some delicious snacks or pastries or gelati from an actual snack bar for a fraction of the cost. I had investigated one of these portable snack bars as I walked by the Arch of Constantine, just to see their really gelati options and they were selling them starting at 4.50 euro for the smallest size! Get the eff out of here! I’m from New York, buddy, and I know a tourist trap when I see one. I would rather wait a little longer to taste delicious gelati than patronize one of those rip off snack bars.

Gypsies: OMG, I LOVED the gypsies! I know, that’s a weird reaction to a homeless and somewhat reviled ethnic group with a reputation for thieving, but the ones I saw were dramatically awesome. They were not travelling in packs while I was there. They were just scattered around the street sort of like performance artists and they’d be prostrate on the ground with this little cup or can about a foot away from their outstretched hand as if they were too ashamed of their plight to even TOUCH it. It was so over-the-top. The native Romans didn’t look twice at them and in truth the gypsies tried to simultaneously make their presence known by shrinking away out of site. It's a little hard to describe, but I found it fascinating. I’ve known other travelers who had problems with gypsy muggings in Rome, but no Gypsy ever bothered me and none of them shouted crazy things on the Metro or anything, so they were okay in my book.

After walking the wrong way up part of Palatine Hill (It’s nice that they have a bathroom at the dead end so people don’t have to despair that they have a long way to go before they correct course) I finally found the proper entrance and asked the lady at the ticket booth how long I had to use the ticket. Turns out since I was buying the ticket rather late in the afternoon, I would also be able to enter the following day as well. Awesome! Colosseo would be seen sometime on Saturday. Into the labyrinth of the Palatine Hill I go!

Palatine Hill is very beautiful. It’s apparently the spot where Romulus killed Remus a couple thousand years ago and founded Rome. It’s also the spot where Emperors and Ancient Roman big shots built their tricked out palaces. Nowadays, it’s all archaeological awesomeness and you can just wander around and see the great views and marvel at how BIG they made everything. Seriously, modern day Romans are all really short. Why did their ancestors need such gigantic structural homes?

It would help to take a guided tour of Palatine because almost nothing is marked, so you don’t really know what you’re looking at. But I find that you can eavesdrop on any of the big tours that are going around if you really must know more about the ruins around you but want to travel your own path. There’s always some dude or lady b.s.’ing there way through the sites speaking to English-speaking tourists. You can pick your favorite accent to listen in on as well. On Palatine there was this male tour guide with a great Scottish accent and this lady with a delightfully deep- voiced French accent. Personally, I liked to just take in the scenery on Palatine. I didn’t find not knowing what each wall of each structure and belonged to lessened the enjoyment of the experience (geez, how many negatives did I just use in that sentence to get around to saying I thought the place was cool?)

So I skip around Emperor Palpatine’s Hill (many sites in Rome are perfect for silly nicknames) for an hour or so and it’s amazing, but I can see the Roman Forum down the hill below me and I want to get to it. This takes some doing because even though there are signs that say "Foro Romano" most of those signs are missing arrows so you know exactly which path to take down the hill. There are many dead ends and I might have taken all of them in my journey down the Hill. I am very happy that I wore comfortable sneakers on this trip. The marble you climb over all throughout Rome is not very forgiving on the feet. I thought that being in the prime of Marathon training during my visit would give me an advantage, and it probably did considering how far I walked each day, but my feet certainly hurt going around Palantine Hill and the Forum.

The Forum is pretty amazing, especially as the sun starts to go down. It looks a little like a back lot for “ancient set pieces” because everything is really right on top of each other and there’s a lot of small broken slabs of things scattered all over the place. You’ve got your Temple of Saturn, Arch of Septimius Severus (Snape!) , Temple of Julius Caesar, Temple of Castor and Pollux, Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, Arch of Titus and the list goes on and on. It’s at this point that I almost feel like I’m not REALLY in Rome, but that I’m in Epcot Center or something. Isn’t that weird? That’s my point of reference. The feeling reminds me of walking through Times Square and hearing tourists say “It looks just like in VEGAS!” That always struck me as an odd thing for people to say, but now having been to Rome, I sort of understand where they’re coming from. When you've seen a replica so many times, sometimes it's hard for your brain to take in you're seeing the real thing.

I do about two good loops around the Roman Forum, take lots of pictures, look at several maps so I figure out what exactly I’m looking at (The Forum has a much better system of identifying things than the Hill does.) Then I walk back out toward the entrance facing the Colosseo and get attacked by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes? No one warned me about Roman mosquitoes. Maybe they weren’t mosquitoes but they they were bugs and they flew and they bit me as I was leaving and I had two itchy welts on my arm for the rest of the night. Boo-urns to that.

I head down the road from the Hill to go see the Circus Maximus. It’s past 6:30 at this point, but twilight is holding strong - still a lot of light in the sky. Circus Maximus is where they used to have the Chariot Races in ancient olden times. I gotta say Circus Maximus has seen better millennia, even more so than some of the other places I’d seen earlier that afternoon. One area that has really cool structures in it is unfortunately over run with giant weeds and partitioned off from the rest of the circus with giant metal fences and spray painted plywood. It just looks like an abandoned construction site, which it might very well be. At least there is about 80% of the Circus that looks lovely and green and you can walk across it and run around it. I saw several people jogging the loop and made a mental note that if I had the time and energy on the morning before I left, I’d come down here and get a few miles of running in.

After the Circus, I walked around the Piazza Bocca d. Verita, (remember this for my Day Three entry) and took some pictures of a lovely fountain and walked down by the waters of the Tiber River. I walk up to Teatro di Marcello, and as the sun really starts to disappear, I walk around some more beautiful ruins along Via di Monte Caprino, Capitoline Hill, Vittoriano, and Via Dei Formi Imperiali. It was right around Vittoriano that I had my first gelati. It was a mixture of chocolate and a flavor I’m pretty sure was called pistachio de bronte. I don’t know what that means but I like to think that it’s a pistachio flavor the Bronte Sisters invented together. Anyway, the gelati was huge and delicious and only cost 2 euros (so shove it, snack bar stand!) and I messily ate it as I wandered further into the darkened streets of Rome.

My last main goal of the night was to get to Trevi Fountain, since the guide book told me I should see the fountain at night. Only problem is I don’t really know where the hell I’m walking and it’s dark and all the street names are carved into buildings high above street level. I have a map in my Frommer’s book and everyone else was walking around with maps, but I’m content just to wander in what I know is the general direction of the fountain. I overshoot heading north and then again going east and the south again. In fact, I walk in a complete square around the fountain without ever seeing it until I’m mostly back where I started. Finally, after taking some dubious looking alleyways I turn and see the fountain. It’s beautiful! And totally overcrowded with people. Seriously, it’s the most congested place I’ve seen in Rome. It’s an interesting sort of atmosphere though. Sometimes you can be in a crowded place and everybody is uncomfortable and you desperately want just a little bit of personal space, but the vibe at the fountain was very chill. Everyone was just like “yeah, I’m at the fountain and we’re sitting on top of each other. Hey, where should we go for dinner?” I chill at the fountain for a little bit and it’s a warm night still, the temperature is still prolly in the low 70’s with the sun gone, so I bask in the glow and humming of the fountain water and the crowd. Eventually I realize that my stomach is pretty much empty because I haven’t eaten a full meal since dinner on the plane ride, which was, like, yesterday. So it’s time to find a pizza place. I want pizza. I go a couple roads away from the fountain and find a nice little restaurant. They won’t give me a street side table because I am by myself. Discrimination! So I go inside and downstairs to this little annex room in the basement. There is another room where other people are eating, but I get seated in this section all by myself. It is time for me to use my basic Italian restaurant language skills. The conversation goes something like this. (Italian denoted in brackets):

Waiter: [Good evening. What can I get you?]

Owen: [Yes. Good evening. pizza margherita and House Red Wine] Quarter pint.

Waiter: [Thank you.]

Then later:

Owen: [Excuse me. Water also?]

Waiter: [Water, yes. Water blah-blah-blah words-I-don’t-get.]

Owen: [Yes.]

Waiter: Bottle?

Owen: [Yes.]

Now I don’t really know what kind or water I’m getting. I know it’s coming in bottle. I’m really hoping it’s not tonic water which I do not want. I want regular water. But I made an extra effort to pretend like I knew what the waiter was saying to me, so I really don’t know what I agreed to. He brings me back a regular bottle of water though, which tasted delicious and cost the same as the wine so it was worth it.

When the pizza comes, I wonder if I’m going to be able to eat the whole thing. It’s large and there’s only me, but I’m kinda starving, so I chow down. As I’m wolfing down my third pizza wedge, I think to myself, this is the weirdest thing I’ve ever done. I’m in the basement of a restaurant in Rome, eating a whole pizza, badly pretending I understand Italian. I’m all alone, no one really knows where I am. It doesn’t seem real. Maybe once I go back to my hotel and go to sleep and wake up still in Rome the experience will register as real to me? Right now I’m having a great time, but it’s a bit surreal. The flat bread pizza was delicious by the way. I ate the whole thing.

I finish dinner and head back out into the streets. I have to find my way back to a main road and then walk back toward the Colosseo so I can get my bearings and get back to my hotel. On my way I stop for another gelati (why not? don't judge me. there are like 6 more gelati stops in this story) and this time I get my favorite flavor – mint chocolate chip!! Although this mint chocolate chip is really mint gelato with "after eight" chocolate dripped into it and swirled around. It was SO GOOD. There was no need to mash in another flavor with this one. I took my time with this cone, savoring every lick. Mmm… Gelati is offered pretty much everywhere in Rome. And people eat it at any time of the day. I really appreciate this. It's the right approach to enjoying gelati in a civilized society.

So with mint chocolate chip in hand, I head back for what is like a half hour walk to my hotel. I get lost along the way once or twice, but again no harm comes my way. Eventually I reach the Colosseo (all lit up for nightime and looking lovely) and then from there it’s a straight shot back to my hotel. I stop off at the computer in the hotel lounge and check my email quick and again the weather forecast. Suki talked to my dad so that was taken care of (thanks Sukes!) The weathermen are still are predicting rain all day on Saturday. I’m scheduled to go see the Vatican museums tomorrow at noon, so I’m not really concerned about it raining most of the day, I’m just hoping I get a window of nice weather where I can go explore the Colosseo. I head back upstairs to my room watch some CNN international (lots on Afghanistan and Pakistan and not so much about Tea Party protesters. I liked it.) I get myself organized for a potentially early morning start, set my TV to wake me up (ah, technology) and collapse into sleep very quickly. It has been a full day and there’s a lot more on my plate to see tomorrow!

Coming in Part 3: The Colosseo as my Architectual Soul Mate, and Vatican City - My Home, Sweet Swinging-Home!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Post-Race Recap

The Marathon today went very well. It was cool and cloudy, but no rain during the day. I finished in 3:50:52 for a 8:49 mile pace. That's 33 minutes faster than I ran last year and over a minute faster per mile. I am quite pleased! I was hoping for a 9 minute pace, but I've had several long training runs over the past few weeks where I was having a hard time staying that fast. Today I just felt really great. I zoomed through the first half of the race feeling no fatigue. I slowed down a bit in the 1st Ave stretch to look for my family and friends and it was great to see them along the way. Miles 18-20 were a bit tough, but once I got back in Manhattan, I felt really strong. When I realized I was in no danger of missing my 4 hour goal, I got very emotional. I was so happy when I finished the race!

As wonderful an experience as last year's marathon was for me. I really think this year was even more special. It was so nice to have my cousin Alene with me as she was running her first marathon. I was also so proud of my friend and co-worker Cathy who was running her first marathon and had been training so hard for so long to make it happen. I'm so proud of both of them. I also had friends and family on the course this year and I was able to see everyone at least once and that was really just an incredible boost. The spectators are really what make the NYC Marathon so amazing. I think it's one of the best events in the city. Everyone is so happy and so supportive and each borough gets to be represented - even if it's just a little while in the Bronx and Staten Island. It was just wonderful to be running the race and see posters with my name on them and my friends cheering. It's really exciting! It made me feel great.

I wanted to send a thank you to everyone who donated to Children's Tumor Foundation this year. Not only did I meet my goal, but CTF surpassed their fundraising goal for the event. I'd also like to thank everyone who sent me well-wishes and notes of encouragement, everyone at work who emailed back and forth about where Cathy and I were on the course, and everyone who came out to the race or showed up at the post-party. It was an incredibly special day and it would not have meant nearly as much without you.

I also wanted to send a thank you to all the volunteers, the New York Road Runners staff and the NYPD officers who work so hard to make this such a successful event. They handle such an insane amount of runners and yet everything goes so smoothly. It's really an impressive operation. They all deserve a big round of applause.

See you next year? I sure hope so!