Date: Tuesday, August 17, 1999 9:53 AMDoug McLean World Tour 1999-2000Back Home Next
Subject: Memoirs of Italy...Aug 13-15th
August 13th I left Sorrento (and the Aussie's) to go to Rome...connected in Napoli and was in Rome around 10:30am...went the wrong way on the metro in Rome...but finally made my way to Pensione Ottaviano in Rome...this is a great hostel! It is within blocks of the Vatican and the staff is very cool and friendly. It only has 28 beds and so it is easy to meet the other guests...and that I did...
Kate was the first guest I met while checking in...she was also from Texas (wearing an SMU Republicans t-shirt...ewwwwwww)...yes, she is a student of SMU...also met Melinda from Minnesota...you think I am fanatical about Texas...Melinda had 40 postcards from Minnesota that she was giving to foreigners in Europe and a "Minnesota Passport" which was a passport like thing that contained Minnesota information...did you know that the Blueberry Muffin is the state muffin of Minnesota??? Hmmmmm...neither did I...no wonder these yahoos elected Jessee "The Body" Ventura to be Govenor...who has a damn state muffin!!!!????
Anyway...while checking in for the hostel, they also set me up with a walking tour of the historical sights in Rome that night, as well as a walking tour of the Vatican for the next day....full service outfit, eh? Kate and I were on both tours together so we were destined to hang out for the next couple of days...
We started going toward the catacombs...but the busses and bad maps prevented the successful completion of this mission...I was not too distraught...seeing thousands of bones and skulls is not exactly my idea of awesome sight seeing...anyway, we ended up around the Colloseum and killed some time around there...until our tour met there at 5pm...ok...so the tour meets and our guide is Sylvie (yes, american studying Italian Architecture...kinda made her qualified to give the tour...she was awesome...and guided the tour the next day at the Vatican)...we walked
around the Colloseum and she gave us all the info: -- The Colloseum is named that because of a huge statue that used to stand next to the Colloseum (originally the Colloseum had been simply the Arena (Arena comes from the sand which was in the center to soak up the blood and guts of the competitors in the games...sand is something like Arena in
Italian...ok...so much for the lesson)) that was referred to as the Collosus (it was a statue of Nero...after his death they knocked off his head and put the new emperor's head on the old statue to save money...this happened 12-13
-- They had 100 straight days of non-stop fights and death to open the Colloseum...they estimate that something died in the Colloseum every 10 minutes in those 100 days...lots of carnage...the Romans loved the stuff...
We then moved to the Arch of Traceus (sp?)...this is a really important arch to Christians...let me tell you why...Traceus was about to go into battle...the night before he had a vision of the cross and his dream indicated that he should fight under this sign...now Traceus was not a Christian...and for that matter, he could have basically cared less for religion...but he instructed his army to have the sign of the cross as their insignia...and they fought and won the battle...one year Traceus legalized Christianity in Rome and converted to Christianity...literally, when Traceus
had his vision you could be killed for being Christian in Rome...100 years later, you could be killed if you were NOT Christian in Rome...this is a huge turning point for Christianity and as you know Rome (The Vatican) then
became the center for Western Christianity...history is sometimes cool, eh? (my grandfather the historian is grinning from ear to ear right now as he reads this...go figure...guess it is in the blood...maybe I could get a
Then we went to Trevi Fountain...the myth is: if you throw ONE coin in the fountain over your left shoulder with your right hand...you are guaranteed to return to Rome...TWO Coins guarantees a return trip and a romance in Rome...THREE Coins guarantees a return trip, romance in Rome, and that you will marry a Roman. Well, not being one for committment (and being cheap...see my scottish ancestry) I decided to throw only two coins...no sense going crazy...I mean...I like Romans...but am not sure that I want to Guanantee my wife right now...when I am ready for
marriage I can always come back and throw that other coin in...right? OK...so much for the walking tour...we had dinner (me and 7 girls...how did this happen????), had some gellato (Italian ice cream...if you haven't had
it...you are missing out big time! It is awesome) and headed back to the hostel.
August 14 started with me waking up...breakfast at the local bakery...then 11am Vatican Tour with Sylvie...saw so much...hard to put into words...The Sistine Chapel was incredible...if you ever go, definately take a tour
guide...we learned so much...Anyway...it was great...I mean, what else do you say about one of the artistic wonders of the world..."Cool Man" doesn't sum it up...guess ya'll will just have to visit it...the detail is incredible...
We toured St. Peter's Basilica...it is huge...the largest in the world...by a lot...climbed to the top...certainly the best view in the city...and I got pooped on by one of the Vatican's pigeons...Holy Shit Man!
I know ya'll can't believe my restraint...but I did not buy a bottle opener that had the Pope on it...affectionately nicknamed a "Popener"...yes...that would have made a sweet addition to my repoitore of slightly useful...but
basically useless stuff...but I passed...what restraint!
We went on a Pub Crawl that night for 20,000 lira...4 guys from the hostel, Kate, myself, and Elli from last night's historic tour. The Pub crawl was filled with free shots...free wine...free pizza (we sat by the kitchen and
got more than anyone else...by far...drinking was not my main concern...eating was!)...It was great...and my soul stirred when I talked a DJ into playing my favorite travelling song:
Sniff, Sniff...it was a touching moment...guess you had to be there...
We finally decided to head out around 1am...took the bus to drop Elli off at her hostel...NOTE: The buses and metro's in Rome are FULL of thieves and pickpockets...this is not a joke or a wives tale...I personally saw 2
different groups of pickpockets on the bus that night working the crowd...be careful in Rome! Nothing bad happened to us...except bus the wrong way and finally arriving at my hostel at 3am...ugh...
August 15....I left Pensione Ottaviano early to catch a train to Chiusi and connect to Siena...in Chiusi I met a guy, Ronnie from Santa Barbara, going to Siena...he asked if I had reservations...I said NO (that would have taken
foresight and planning...which I am lacking right now...)...he said no problem, he had a double room reserved in Siena and needed to split it with someone...Now, friends, I am here to tell you that this is an awesome thing
to hear when you are travelling!!! Not being stupid, I jumped on that opportunity! We arrived in Siena and headed for the hotel...um...actually it wasn't a hotel...I found out that the reservation was in a convent...yes, ummmm, where all the good Catholic nuns hang out...I told Ronnie that I didn't think I was qualified to stay there...he said it was no problem...he is Jewish...
That made me feel better...we met another damned Canuck (is anyone left in Canada??? They are all here in Europe!) named Marie...she was also looking for a place to stay and wanted to go to check out the convent with us...no problem...we get there and ask the nuns if she can stay in the same room with us on the floor...they say NO!...but that they could give us a room with 3 beds...SCORE! This further divides the cost...awesome! We get
settled and start walking around.
The main plaza is the Il Campo...it is huge and is the location of the Il Palio...the reason for my visit. Every year on July 2 and August 16, the Siennese hold a horse race for bragging rights to the city. The city is divided into 17 regions (contradas)...the Il Palio pits 10 of the contradas against each other (the other 7 will race next time)...it is a bareback horse riding competition...3 times around the Il Campo Plaza for honor and glory...it is supposed to be life and death to these guys...and basically anything goes during the race...they can hit eachother...grab, scratch, claw
whatever...the race lasts 75 seconds...huge buildup for 75 seconds of action...no comment.
The Il Campo has a huge tower that looms above it...we went up the tower to get a better view...it was awesome...we went ALL the way to the top and were literally in the big bell when it went off...(it has mechanical striker on
the side...the one in the middle is chained so it doesn't swing and hit the sides)...needless to say it was VERY loud! We were up there for quite a while and noone else was up there after a while, except for one artsy fartsy person sketching...so we started talking to her...her name is Melinda from New Jersey...she is with a big group from some University/College in Jersey that is here studying Italian (go figure)...when she stood up we realized that she was quite a woman of stature and is 6'3"...we talked with her until they kicked us off the tower around 4:30...we went down to the plaza and started waiting for the practice race to start...Melinda found her group and we joined them...there were about 10 or so folks in the group holding space...the practice race was to be at 7pm...but we were early to get good seats...let me explain.
The Il Campo Plaza is literally shapped kinda like a seashell...it is almost straight on one side, then you turn right and it arcs around in a somewhat curving fashion until it comes back around to the straight-ish side...at this point you reportedly have A PROBLEM! During the race...the horses are going full speed around the curve...then have to turn over their right shoulders on a somewhat hard turn...this is where they commonly wipe-out...and there is padding along the walls here in expectation of this outcome...also, at this point you should understand the terrain...the entire plaza is cobblestones...the running "track" has had some packed dirt spread ontop of it...but is basically pretty hard...then you should understand the Topography of the Il Campo Plaza...the middle of the straight-ish side is the lowest point...from here you go uphill to the first turn...the arc is bacically somewhat flat...and then on the turn back to the straightaway (remember the bad turn) it heads downhill...adding to the carnage...The inside of the Plaza is where most of the spectators stand and again, slopes uphil in all directions away from the low point in the middle of the straightaway...kinda a funky plaza...and kinda a funky race...
Anyway...skipping ahead...lots of standing around and waiting as the plaza fills to capacity...and then the horses and jockeys arrive...they go around to the starting line...the procedure at this point is that the lineup is chosen at random...the first nine are chosen and loosely form up behind a big rope that is strung across the lane...then the 10th horse is behind a second line...the race starts when the 10th horse crosses this line...now, while this horse is behind the other horses...it is a distinct advantage to know when the race is going to begin...and also...the jockey is in no rush to go...so he dawdles around waiting, and waiting, and waiting...and waiting...until the crowd is yelling and screaming at him to go! The other jockey's are trying to be ready, and the horses are VERY high strung...the
entire scene is nuts...then, when the 10th jockey sees other horses acting up...or out of position...or turned around...or bucking...etc...he shoots across his line and the whole race starts! They run very fast around the track 3 times and the crowd goes nuts...and OCA is the winner (OCA is Italian for Goose...the different contradas have different mascots...Unicorn, Snail, Dragon, Wave, Eagle, etc)...but this was only practice...the real race is tomorrow...Let me tell you...the practice was more exciting than many events I have attended...I am stoked to be going to the real thing tomorrow.
We head back to the University dorm area and hang out with our new friends...we go out to dinner...and have a great time...but alas...we ARE staying in a Convent...curfew is 11:30pm...YES...sniff, sniff...I haven't had an 11:30pm curfew since like 8th grade...but since we are tired...we turn in...knowing that the Il Palio is tomorrow.
Now back at the ranch...um...I mean convent...I must admit I had to do one of the unpleasant (but necessary) functions of backpacking...I had to do laundry in the sink for the first time...I miss my washer and dryer! So I
go to sleep with underwear hanging from the hatrack and the windows...so much for the glamorous life of a backpacker...