Hi, everyone. Justin Kilmer here. With a schedule that’s become a lot more flexible due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a vacation that’s been canceled, I want to use some of this time to reflect on past travels and share my journals with you.
First things first, my wife, Janine, and I have been in a position to travel every summer for almost a decade, for which we feel lucky and grateful. The opportunities to escape the hustle and bustle of our busy lives in Los Angeles always rejuvenate our souls and, undoubtedly, give us a better sense and understanding of our standing as citizens in a complex world.
We are bummed we won’t be heading to Spain and Portugal in a month, as we had planned. After so much research and having booked flights/hotels/transportation, the novel coronavirus spread more and more and more and, ultimately, hit our intended destinations incredibly hard, especially Spain.
While we acknowledge and pay our respects to the lives lost, I want to say “thank you” to the doctors, nurses, delivery drivers, restaurant and grocery workers, police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and all others that continue to assist the public, in order to keep our society functioning. I wish all of you good health and safety.
With that said, let’s travel…
The sunlight is waning, and we are heading in the direction of the darkness. When we meet back up with the sun, the reunion should be in the ancient home of one of world’s great civilizations – Rome.
The L.A. to Chicago to Rome flight is a long one. On the first leg, during boarding, we spotted actress Missi Pyle, who ended up sitting two rows ahead of us. The other sighting was Amy Ferguson, who I recognized from “Garden State.” You never know who you might see during an escape from L.A.
For now, on the second leg of the trip, this flight feels like it has already gone on forever, when really we are somewhere over the cold and lonely Atlantic, in the middle of the night. We are excited, and sleep has been elusive.
Upon touching down and navigating our way through the airport, a shuttle service took us to the city. The driver spoke very little English, the van was packed full with luggage and tourists, and we had the fortune (or misfortune, depending on how you see it) to ride shotgun, shoulder-to-shoulder with the driver. The ride to the hotel was exciting… because the driver was a maniac! It wasn’t just him, though. In this city, we were witness to a lot of speeding, hitting the brakes, honking, partly driving on street-level sidewalks, and vehicles (including our own) nearly brushing up against crazy moped riders weaving in and out of traffic. Our initiation to this place was adrenaline-inducing.
Judging by the map, the hotel seems to be in a good spot – walkable from the train station and located just east of the Villa Borghese park. The architecture seems interesting in its simplicity, having a uniformity we don’t get in Los Angeles. Maybe it’s a testament to the desire here for preservation (“don’t fix it if it ain’t broken”). Maybe developers are less ostentatious. Maybe it comes down to building regulations. Maybe I just haven’t seen grand, modern architecture here yet.
the view from our hotel room
Having caught a glimpse of the Colosseum from the shuttle van, it seemed this would be the furthest destination from our hotel home base. It is and was. The walk there was nice, although hot, and the surreal feeling of rounding the corner and seeing one of the world’s most treasured structures was interrupted only by tacky characters dressed like gladiators clamoring to get you to part with, reportedly, 5-50 Euros for the privilege of taking a photo with them. It’s a lot like getting harassed by the likes of Superman, Marilyn Monroe, and Mickey Mouse on Hollywood Blvd.
An important tip here is to buy tickets in advance, and buy a combo ticket if you want to walk through the ruins of the Roman Forum. Planning ahead will save you a lot of time. Also keep in mind that many places in this region of the world are closed every Sunday, and you might find many restaurants are closed every day between 3-7 PM.
In the Colosseum, the experience is mesmerizing. Taking a seat in the shade and running a hand over the cold and ancient stone structure, you can practically feel residual energy from events in the stadium so long ago. My mind went to “Gladiator,” to scenes of lions and tigers springing out from trapdoors, while condemned, unarmed men were forced to fight those powerful, predatory beasts for spectacle.
An archaeological team excavates an area adjacent to the Colosseum, on Oppian Hill and alongside the Via Sacra path leading to the Roman Forum ruins.
After exploring and soaking up the scenery, I still wasn’t ready to leave but knew we had to continue on. The ruins of the Roman Forum are directly across from the Colosseum (it was neat to see an active excavation in between the sites), and the next destination, the Forum, was the heart of the ancient city. These days, it’s essentially a series of dirt paths running between fields of stones littered from toppled buildings, monuments, and columns. Corners of some buildings are still standing, providing a grand sense of scale. If I could time travel, I’d head back a couple millennia to see these structures intact when Julius Caesar ruled.
The Temple of Saturn (left) and Temple of Vespasian and Titus (right) column ruins in the Roman Forum are shown.
Leaving the Forum, we got lost. Our map from the hotel was only marginally helpful and, somehow, we couldn’t find Circus Maximum. It was as if a park that was once an ancient chariot racing stadium (although dug down into the earth) went completely missing. Nor could we find a bar nearby where a good friend said we could find his picture on the wall (among Polaroids of other visitors, rather than a “this man is banned from the premises” type situation, or at least so he says).
A summertime tip is to wear sunscreen and carry a reusable drink bottle. Old water fountains (called nasoni – “large noses”) are all over town. Some of them look like tall, stone fire hydrants, with water continually flowing from a small spout near the top. If you want to have a little fun, or take a drink without having a bottle, plug the hole with your finger, and water will shoot from the top of the spout at an arch. This the the same water supply used by households and businesses, so it’s safe to drink. We questioned it at first, but the water was cold, refreshing, and didn’t cause us any problems.
Water shoots from a fountain (“nasone” or “fontanelle” in Italian, singular) after the spout is plugged.
We have walked and walked and walked. My bones hurt. My feet are throbbing. Being young and healthy, as it turns out, just isn’t enough to counter the cobblestone streets. It’s time for a break and probably a nap. To call it a day, if I were driving right now, this is how I would park, too:
A small, three-wheeled car aka trike is parked in a small space between two cars on a cobblestone street.
Until we meet again…
"Intro / Rome, Italy" – Summer 2012 Written by: Justin Kilmer, Edited by: Janine Kilmer
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