Today was such a gift – we didn’t have to get up and meet anyone at a certain time. The guides have been great, and we have learned much more than when we did it on our own, but it can be a bit rough getting up in the morning.
Today we go to Ostia Antica, which I have wanted to do for at least 15 years. It was located on the mouth of the Tiber River and was both a military protection location (keep sea invaders from coming up the river to Rome) and a commercial port to provide goods to Rome.
Ostica is very well preserved. The harbor of the Tiber River had silted in over the years and gently buried the city in mud. Which preserved it very well, indeed. This working city of 60,000 is all there. Roofs are gone, and the interior goods were looted and/or removed, but you can walk the streets, go through residential neighborhoods and get a real feel for an authentic ancient city. Let the imagination run free and it is easy to feel like an ancient Roman. In the Middle Ages, squatters lived in the shells of the old city, in parts that weren’t yet buried.
Transportation in Rome is very easy. We have yet to take a taxi. The subways, trains, trolleys and bus lines all interconnect. But think carefully before renting a car. The people are lovely, but put them behind the wheel of a car and they are crazy! They don’t, however, seem intent on killing pedestrians. They are quick to stop and yield to the terrified tourist most of the time. But they also drive way over the speed limit and careen around corners. Chicken is the number one road game. The first time we came to Rome, we took a paid shuttle bus from the airport to our hotel. There were people going to all kinds of different hotels. No seatbelts and I truly thought we were going to die. Weated behind the driver, I wondered if I should knock him unconscious and drive the van.
The side streets were designed for chariots, not for two-way car traffic; and especially not for a full-sized van. Cars are tiny – for a darned good reason. Our driver played chicken with some other vehicle coming at us and technically we lost – the driver’s side-view mirror was knocked off as we passed each other. I saw it fly past my shoulder. Our driver, still driving at top speed, put his head out the window, looked backward and started shouting at the other driver. I was sure we would hit another car or run into a building. Of course, we didn’t, but all the passengers were mute with terror and our bugged out eyes were crossing all language barriers.
But all other forms of transportation are great! To get to Ostia, we took the subway to Porto San Paola, and the train to Ostia. It was fast and efficient. As we walked up to the train station, a very short lady hauling a very large suitcase, asked if I spoke English. She was trying to get to Lido, which is the town beside Ostia. She joined us and was such an interesting person!
Martina is from the former East Germany. She taught Russian and Russian history until the proverbial wall came a tumbling down. Vastly relieved, because she hated the government, she started teaching English. The government re-educated her in English and even sent her to Israel to learn Jewish history, which transformed her, and gave her the bug to travel. A few years ago she came down with intestinal cancer, as did five other teachers in her small school. Makes one wonder what was in the school water! She nearly died, and is now pretty well recovered. She felt it important to travel alone to feel independent; so here she was. Lost, but independent. She chattered all the way to Ostia, and was a wonderful companion. She had to go one stop further than us, so we bid her goodbye on the train. I was sorry, it would have been fascinating to learn more about living in communist East Germany. How lucky we are to see glimpses of the world through someone else’s eyes.
Ostia! We made it! One more tick on my Bucket List. I was worried; this was going to be a big walking day. I figured George could always stay at the museum, but he has suddenly started feeling better. He is starting to get into shape! He swears the epsom salts cured him – after all the internet never lies, and he is filled with energy. The epsom salts did make my leg muscles feel better, but perhaps the cure would lie more in regular exercise? If it keeps the old coot moving, I’m not going to argue.
The entrance is in the necropolis area – or cemetery, if you will. Nothing like a bunch of empty marble coffins to get a person inspired to stay alive. They have so many that they have turned them into benches to sit in. And I do mean “in.” If the long wall side was broken, they made it into a three sided chair. A little creepy to share a coffin with the ghost of a former grain merchant from 150 B.C.! Even George decided he wasn’t that tired.
I absolutely loved Ostia. We don’t give appropriate respect for the complexity of Roman life. They had central heating (the rich anyway), theaters, public baths, restaurants and bars (lots of restaurants and bars) – it was a very comparable society to today.
Different emperors had ordered improvements through the centuries. This was a city of 60,000. Perhaps the most interesting was the Corporazoni section (where we obviously get the word “corporation”), a large U shaped downtown office building block facing a community park area. Because ships from over 50 different nations used this port, and probably not many of them read Latin, it could be difficult to find the amphora (storage containers) merchant, or the contract lawyer’s office. Each office, therefore, had corporate logos put into a mosaic sidewalk in front of their office. It was a universal language – and one of the first mass corporate advertising using a logo. Just imagine the Nike swoop symbol set into the sidewalk. Is that any different than the Nike swoop sign hanging from the building? We know what company it is when we see the symbol – and so did they. Although Nike was actually the Roman god for Victory – so the only place you would see it was on a temple!
I had a great time snapping photos of all of the corporate signs; I’m going to try to find a translation later. Obviously some were grain merchants, seafood suppliers, contract negotiator and storage container sales. How fun to imagine a busy corporate center and see the ancient world in action. At the end of the square is a 4,000 seat amphitheater for the populace to watch the latest production.
The town also sported a large bakery, which they shipped to Rome to help feed the million residents. Oh my, what a sight.
After a while, the bricks became bricks to George and his eyes started glazing over. We ate lunch at the museum restauarnt, which offered a delicious buffet lunch. Here is a picture of my lunch, it was really good, nutritious and delicious. The Mediterranean diet is so tasty and healthy – it is a great region to travel in for foods.
After a another venture through the museum and the Ostian neighborhoods, George decided we should get out of there. It is hard to see it all in one day, and he was done. At this point, we were on the northeastern corner of the city, and we had to exit at the furthest western point. Mind you, this was a town of 60,000 people, and not a tiny little village. From where we were, standing on top of a building, you could see the train station, which is right at the gate of the entrance, way way off in the distance. The ruins sit in an enormous field, which was the old mouth of the Tiber river.
George always has to take at least one short cut on every journey. Ask any of our children about their recurrent shortcut nightmares that still haunt their adult dreams. One child, when hearing Dad was taking a short cut, immediately refused to let anyone eat any food in the car. He hoarded it – just in case we needed food supplies before rescuers could locate us. George’s shortcuts are legendary. And you can’t talk him out of them.
He decided we should walk through the field to the train, and bypass Ostia all together. There was a small dirt frontage road that looked like it might ring the field on the far side – we could walk down it. I pointed out there was a six foot high spiked fence that surrounded the historical area, and we couldn’t see if there was an exit near the train station. He assured me that there had to be, and took off.
He walks extremely slow and needs lots of rest breaks. In the sun, through a field, towards a destination that I truly doubt has an exit. But I know better than to argue, it just won’t help. So I trudged along, and did learn a few things.
Italy has wild blackberries, just like we do! They also have vicious burrs that filter into your shoes, and require removal on a periodic basis. At certain points we paralleled the main highway, with the fence and blackberries between us. At some sections there was a ton of litter, and it was interesting to check out the garbage as I waited for George to catch up. Lots of beer cans, and I saw a perfectly good pair of men’s underwear, although George declined taking them. They also smoke too much leaving a ton of yucky stuff. This is a future archaeological site, sitting on top of a current one! There was also the ruins of an ancient wall, which was pretty cool. I also noticed tall poles with security cameras on them, and pointed out that we would probably be arrested when we reached the exit. That’s me, always looking at the positive side…. and this did alarm George somewhat. So we trudged and trudged and trudged, and finally reached the far end, near the exit and train. And there was NO FRIGGING GATE – JUST LIKE I THOUGHT. What a surprise. We are locked behind a fence. At this point, I’m hoping to be arrested, just so I could have a drink of water. All water had gone to George, because I was worried he was going to collapse like a field cow in this giant pasture.
We kept following the fence line, in hopes there would be a gate somewhere. Through tree branches, berries, tall grass, behind museum buildings and a couple of homes. There was a car at one house, and I considered screaming “HELP!” But decided to give it another mile. I could always come back. George, very quiet at this point, followed me. This always happens. When he comes to the conclusion the shortcut isn’t working, he gets very quiet. It helps keep the “I told you so’s” that seem to involuntarily burble out my mouth to a minimum. I refrained today to conserve saliva in my mouth, and frothing at the mouth would look so unattractive when we were saved.
Eventually, the ancient gods of death took pity and we ended up in an unfenced portion of the ancient necropolis. We sat gasping on the wall of a poor ancient dead family, and gave thanks. After resting, we found the exit and I hurried towards it. A bathroom beckoned on the far side of the exit. George suddenly started lagging, and took his hat off. The sun was pretty intense, and I stopped. Heat stroke?
“Why are you taking your hat off? Come on, there is the exit – and the bathroom!” I exclaimed.
“I’m taking my hat off so they won’t recognize me in the security cameras.” he replied. It had really spooked him when I noticed the cameras in the field. He was worried we really would be arrested. “They are too busy laughing, don’t worry about it” I replied. And, I was correct. I swear I could hear the sounds of laughter as we staggered past the security office at the exit and down the street towards the train.
We had another adventure when we got off the train that took the police to help us out of, but I have to go this second, and I want to get this sent off. Stay tuned!