Autobahn, Baby

Back in the States, whenever I saw a fast, flashy car, I’d think, “What a waste around here. They need to go to Montana or the Autobahn.” Now, I’ve never driven the former, but I couldn’t have guessed how accurate I was about the latter.

Rick Steves described German drivers as frustrated race car drivers. Again, accurate. Especially when there are more than two lanes on one side, unless you are willing to go much faster than 140km/h (yes, 87mph), stay the heck out of the left lane! You might be able to pass someone in that lane, but follow “the rules of the road” and *get out immediately* when you are done. Really. We estimated that most of the cars in that lane are easily going 100+. What was most fun was watching these cars fly passed the cop car in the right lane. Yeah, the cops didn’t pursue.

Autobahn, public domain photo by Wikipedia user Doco

Autobahn, public domain photo by Wikipedia user Doco

Thankfully for us, we had a bit of European driving practice in relatively calm Switzerland last week. Don’t get me wrong. When we first arrived in Bern, we thought the Swiss were fast, and they are compared to US drivers. But they have nothing on Autobahn drivers.

We didn’t drive in Italy, and truth be told, I wouldn’t want to. It’s not just that we probably couldn’t get insurance coverage in Italy. Italian drivers are just crazy. Now, it may not seem like it, but I say this with the utmost respect and reverence for the average Italian driver.

We spent most of our time in Italy on foot or public transport, so we had the opportunity to observe driving in Italy without the stress of really participating. We learned some really interesting things. Like stop lights and/or signs are merely suggestions. Perhaps because of that, we found many intersections with no such lights or signs (Piazza Venezia comes to mind).

And talk about tight spaces. Our apartment in Rome was on a backstreet near the Piazza Nuvona. Now, looking at the narrow street with its random cafe tables fronting tiny restaurants and wandering crowds, you’d think it’d be small for a scooter…

Near our Rome apartment, pic by Redang on VirtualTourist

Near our Rome apartment sans restaurant tables, pic by Redang on VirtualTourist

And it is, but somehow, cars and delivery trucks and emergency vehicles manage to navigate just fine, sometimes with the help of a passing stranger.

The symbiotic relationship between drivers and pedestrians is also an interesting phenomenon. Romans have no fear of stepping out into the chaotic streets, and the drivers operate accordingly. They don’t necessarily slow down (as I witnessed from the front seat of a city van), but no one was hurt. Close but no accidents. Another observation: Italian drivers don’t seem to get upset about any of it. In all of that chaos, we don’t remember hearing any car horns in Rome. The bus drivers’ expressions don’t change when a jaywalker darts out front. Amazing.

So Germans seem to be the fastest. But I believe Italians are the most versatile and, arguably, the best anywhere. Well, from the places I’ve seen thus far. What have you.

Rome Rewind Redux

Yes, it’s been two weeks since we were in Rome, but obviously, we are terribly behind in posts.  Lots of those coming.  While in Switzerland last week, I wrote a really long post on my iPod Touch with the spiffy WordPress app. Of course, when I went to post the darn thing, the app crashed.  No problem, right?  Umm… no, problem.  Post go bye-bye.

So here is that post in a nutshell.

Throughout our time in Rome, I stumbled over the name of this town square.  Hawai`i people might appreciate this…

No, Hawaiian.  That's piazza of the people.

No, Hawaiian. That's piazza of the people.

OK, Hawaiian, that’s “POPE-oh-low” not “po-POH-low”.  As in piazza/square of the “people”.  Or poplar trees, according to Wikipedia.

Most of my last post had to do with a 16th Century philosophical dude named Giordano Bruno…

Bruno statue in Campo de Fiori by Jastrow on Wikipedia

Bruno statue in Campo de' Fiori by Jastrow on Wikipedia

Bruno was a brilliant and prolific cleric/scholar who was burned at the stake as a heretic.  There are numerous theories as to why he was convicted detailed in his Wikipedia entry, and I found researching his story extremely interesting.  Long post short, I believe the leading cause of his death was not his “radical” ideas about humans’ relationship with God or the Earth’s relationship to the universe or even pissing off enough ecclesiastical peers.  He died because he refused to recant on all of his claims.  The Church wanted a full pullback, but he refused, so he died for his theories.  Not even Galileo did that.

Hundreds of years after his death, the Italians think of him more as a martyr, and when the Church lost some of its power over the government in the late 19th Century, it was the Romans who pushed for a monument.  The statue also shows his trial and subsequent burning in relief on two sides of the statue…

Bruno's trial

Bruno's trial

Bruno's execution

Bruno's execution

I was quite moved by Bruno’s story.  Even so, the immature side of me (“silly Maylene” as Charity says) pops up every now and then.  Those of you who have seen my Friends Are Forever Woot shirt can probably guess what I did next.  Yeah…

Friends Are Forever, meet Bruno.  Bruno, meet my favorite t-shirt at the moment.

Friends Are Forever, meet Bruno. Bruno, meet my favorite t-shirt at the moment.

Yes, sometimes, I’m 12.  With my Monty Python and Gary Larson intact, thank you very much.  What have you.

Doing the “Must-Dos” of Rome

The past three days have been a whirlwind of sightseeing and tons and tons and tons of walking.  We visited the Colosseum on Tuesday – it really is enormous and a feat of engineering built by Jewish slaves – it was good to be a Roman citizen.  Part of it was destroyed centuries ago in earthquakes and parts of it were plundered for building materials to be used elsewhere – we found the practicality of ancient Romans quite humorous.  We also took the Forum Walk and saw some of the important but now ruined buildings of ancient Rome – the site where Marcus Aurelius made the famous speech, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…” after the assassination of Julius Caesar.  Neat!

IMG_5710

the stage in the background and seating on the left are recreations of what it would have looked like back in the day before the floor over the vaults disappeared and the seats turned into rubble and fodder for new buildings

the stage in the background and seating on the left are recreations of what it would have looked like back in the day before the floor over the vaults disappeared and the seats turned into rubble and fodder for new buildings

Yesterday, we went to the Borgehese Gallery – one of the best art museums in Europe.  We loved the works of Caravaggio (his art was the special exhibit this year – how lucky for us!) – thanks to Anne, our amazing PhD profesore for the additional context on the art.  We found it most especially interesting that Cardinal Scipione made certain to get whatever artwork he wanted, by hook, crook, or upon threat of death – even from other Cardinals.  What a guy – we debated whether or not he ever saw the holy gates.  We were especially enthralled with Bernini’s marble statues Apollo and Daphane and Pluto and Proserpina and David.

Today was spent on our own personal pilgrimage to the Holy See – the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica.  The museum was quite interesting and had some of the most amazing frescoes and paintings we’ve seen anywhere – we especially liked Raphael’s Transfiguration of Christ but actually liked it even better in mosaic form when we reached the Basilica.  Backing up though, when we finally arrived in the Sistine Chapel after hall upon hall of beautiful frescoes, we were kind of like….ummm… okay.  Not quite what we’d expected – there were a series of small panels telling Biblical allegories along with a huge painting done by Michelangelo The Last Judgment.  I guess we expected it to be more round and also that the paintings themselves would be on an even larger scale.  Still – it was pretty amazing and we had fun watching the guards try to keep people from taking pictures and to keep quiet in the chapel – it usually lasted for ten seconds before the cacophony of sound rose once more.

Again, the Basilica was just enormous – and beautiful on that kind of overdone scale.  I was happy to finally see Michelangelo’s Pieta in person and the Popes lying in state were a trip.  We felt very fortunate to be able to  experience each of these sites in person.

not supposed to take pics in the Sistine Chapel, but I just couldn't resist...

not supposed to take pics in the Sistine Chapel, but I just couldn't resist...

inside the mammoth Basilica, we managed this great shot before the camera battery died on us

inside the mammoth Basilica, we managed this great shot before the camera battery died on us

Definitely Different Rome

We arrived in Rome yesterday afternoon and spent four hours trying to get into our apartment.  It’s a very long story that I won’t spend more energy on but essentially we are in the fifth apartment we saw along the way and boy is it ever “interesting”.  Again – no more complaining.  We are moving to a (hopefully) nicer place tonight and will stay through Saturday.

We headed out for some yummy Rome pizza and a three mile walk through town.  We were lucky enough to be at this monument built for Marcus Aurelius when the sun and the clouds conspired to create a beautiful shot.  I felt like the universe was talking to us.

ribbed for his pleasure... heehee...couldn't resist

ribbed for his pleasure... heehee...couldn't resist

We saw so very many Egyptian obelisks in this crazy town and loved walking into the Pantheon, a pagan temple created in 150 ad and converted to a Christian church in 609.

throngs of tourists...

throngs of tourists...

One of the coolest stops along the walk was the Trevi fountain.  We definitely tossed our coin over our shoulders, made a wish, and hoped to return one day to Rome.

IMG_5657

The last part of our tour took us to the Spanish steps where we enjoyed a nice refreshing drink of water from the Boat Fountain at the base of the steps.  We’ve been really impressed with all the publicly, readily available potible water fountains in Rome. In the 90 degree heat yesterday, we definitely needed a lot of it.  Today is a down day for Maylene to get some work done and we’ll head out for another evening stroll. Can’t wait!

IMG_5671