It’s good to be home. I missed two wheels, burgers, and being in the same time zone as my family and friends.
Portland is really green.
It’s good to be home. I missed two wheels, burgers, and being in the same time zone as my family and friends.
Portland is really green.
I am not religious. I’m not an atheist, but the word agnostic just sounds difficult. Secular Humanist? I’m not sure. What I’m getting at is that I don’t believe in God, so going to churches for three weeks is really getting tiring.
Yesterday we went to the Vatican to check out the museums and the Sistine Chapel. The first couple galleries were what I expected, the Sistine Chapel was impressive, but I was really taken aback by the modern art wing. There was some pretty cool stuff in there honestly. But this post is not about that.
But the first gallery we went to was renaissance/byzantine painting. Misia and I devised a way to get through this particular gallery. Many of these paintings are very serious. Very very serious. So serious are they that they have some really odd and funny imagery. Here’s a good sampling from this gallery.
The look on this baby’s face is a bit disturbing.
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Is this guy pointing at the scriptures with a boner?
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Are these the three stooges of the angel world? What is it with floating heads. There was also a painting featuring an arch of babies heads that I didn’t get a photo of.
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I think this guy lied about his talents.
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Nice monkey shoulder-pads.
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I don’t have a clue what’s going on here. Really bad gas? Why is Jesus on this dude’s back? What is this?
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So there you have it. Once you find the absurd details the rest is a breeze.
And it’s pretty decent, If you can find the office to fill out the paperwork. It took some searching but I finally found it. Ten euros to get started, 5 for the card, 5 for the initial loading.
Once you sign the documents you can find a bike. From our apartment there are a couple locations, none of which are very close. The closest being right near the forum and coliseum. I didn’t want my first ride to be in such a hectic place so I headed east and found a bike in a much more typical city setting.
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I had chosen a large park as my outing as I figured I could find some dirt to pedal on. It’s been 14 days since I was atop a bike and I’ve been missing the dirt immensely. The park I found, Villa Ada is Rome’s largest.
The park is filled with wide dirt paths that circle around and criss-cross each other.
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Eventually I took a break for a sandwich and a couple beers along the little lake.
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After a light lunch I set out to find some singletrack. While I didn’t find much, I did come across a couple little ribbons that were obviously for two wheels. One wound around a horse compound and dropped right back to the lake I had lunch at. On a cruiser bike with marginally functional brakes, this was a real thrill. I wouldn’t suggest a cruiser for going uphill, but downhill was awesome.
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I’ve still got 4 euros left on my card so I think I’m going to take another couple spins this week. 50cents per hour is a pretty good deal for a bike.
Up around the corner from our apartment is a bulk-type store. Not like costco back home. This is still relatively small, but things are cheap. It was here that I found some interesting looking beer.
Castello is really really sweet. Misia seemed to like it, or she took on for the team and finished the three pack it came in.
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Oranjeboom was just odd. There was a hint of citrus I think or it might have just been the alcohol content. If I recall correctly it was less than a euro for a tall can. I won’t be buying this again.
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As it stands we’ve been sticking to the Peroni, Birra Morretti, and Nastro Azzurro. All winners. Getting back to Portland and “craft beers” is going to be very interesting.
Portland has light rail. And it’s great. If you want to go to Hillsboro or Gresham. Getting around the city itself is done easily by bike. Paris on the other hand has an amazing subway system. It’s cheap, efficient, and really fast. And on top of that the bicycle infrastructure is incredible. The traffic signals are at eye level and are shaped like bicycles. The bike lanes are part of the sidewalks. There is an extensive bike sharing system in place that is widely used. Paris has it figured out, and rightfully so. It’s a city of 2 million people.
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Like all good tourists to Paris we made our way to the tower. It’s pretty damn impressive. It looms over the city and it’s not even that tall. But Paris isn’t filled with giant skyscrapers. Most buildings are 6 stories or less so the Eiffel Tower can be seen from many points in the city.
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One thing to count on is scaffolding. Anything that you want to see is going to be covered in scaffolding. If it’s old it’s going to need constant maintenance.
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Turn down a random street. Find cool shops.
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We’ve been to a lot of churches recently. Churches in Rome are largely Byzantine, whereas Paris is from a more medieval time. Notre Dame is probably the pinnacle of scary ass churches. Dark and extremely humbling. While it’s just as large as the surrounding buildings from the outside, it’s really quite breathtaking once you’re inside. The vaulted ceilings, the stain glass windows. All very impressive.
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Charlemagne sits on his horse outside. That is one hell of a mustache. About ten minutes after this picture we bought some sandwiches from a little shop down the street where the proprietor complemented me on my own mustache. Not bad…
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Real race news will give you insight and drama. I’ll just leave you with pictures. And a few words.
Roubaix is a pretty depressed town. Granted it was a Sunday, but the town had a creepy feeling to it. Following the signs from the city center to the Velodrome led down some pretty rough streets, and eventually we found the route.
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We were about an hour and a half early. When we left the hotel in Roubaix to find the route the riders had about 120km to go. It took us an hour to get to the velodrome and once we were there we secured a spot to watch.
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Once settled in the anticipation grew. First the team cars. Then the press. Then the officials. Then the leader board. Then the sponsor parade. And finally the racers.
First was Cancellara. Fresh off a win at the Ronde, his name was blasted by the leader car minutes before he arrived. We knew he was coming and all hope of Hincapie winning(yeah yeah yeah) were gone.
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He was moving so quickly the camera couldn’t even focus on him the second time.
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Soon after came Flecha and Hushovd. We were really expecting Boonen to be sitting on Cancellara’s wheel, but no luck. Good on Flecha though finishing so well.
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A few minutes later, Boonen finally came through.
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Everytime a group of racers came through the crowd went nuts. Even on down to the last bunch.
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If you look closely, the Sky rider in this photo lost his seat. That’s bad ass.
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After the race we made our way back to the city center for some dinner and a cognac. It was an amazing time. I highly recommend a trip to Roubaix if you like bike racing. It’s awesome. And stay at the Hotel Francais in the City Center. Do yourself a favor and don’t save money by staying at Hotel Formula1. Seriously.
When we got to Italy there was no customs check. Off the plane, get your bag, and you’re free to wander the country. When traveling in between countries in the EU it’s much like traveling in the states. So when we got on the plane in Rome and landed in Paris we walked right out of the terminal onto French soil.
I’ve only been to two European countries so I don’t have a really extensive view of how things work across the continent, but the overall feeling I’m getting is much more relaxed than back home. The cops don’t care if you jaywalk. Drink in the streets. Let your kids play with sharp sticks. Personal responsibility rules, but the consequences are high should things go bad. America is one tight-assed country compared to life over here. But I digress…
The first night in Paris was interesting. Here’s a tip. Don’t stay at a Formula1 hotel. That is unless you like shoeboxes, shared toilets, and broken windows/air conditioners. The shared bathroom thing would have been fine, but they were gnarly. Booking a cheap room on the internet for Paris means you’ll be in a sketchy neighborhood way north of the city. We did our best to ignore the room and slept lightly. In the morning we checked out early and wandered the streets of Paris. 8am on a Sunday was great. Nothing open. No one around. We made our way to the train station to catch our ride to Roubaix.
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France is awesome.
I live in Portland. For the last six months it’s been grey, cloudy, and wet. The rare moments of sun were welcomed because they didn’t stay. There wasn’t enough time to get sunburned or worn out by the bright light. It’s been 70 and sunny the last couple of days here in Rome. Now I’m not complaining; walking for hours on end in the rain would be super lame, but man does the sun wipe you out. What started as a quick walk to the Pantheon ended up being a five hour journey. Every time you think you’ve seen something impressive, another corner awaits with something even more breathtaking.
We made it to the Pantheon yesterday at 8:30 just as it opened. I think we’ve figured out our new strategy. It was EMPTY. I mean like three guards, a couple other tourists and us.
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We walked to the back of the plaza to get a good overall view of this building. It’s covered in scaffolding, but the fountain in the center was pretty impressive. All over Rome are obelisks that were looted from Egypt and erected in the city. This one had some vicious looking duck things. Dig the double tongue spout.
Upon walking into the Pantheon my jaw dropped. As like most things here, books only show you so much. Standing in this building is more than overwhelming. Built more than two thousand years ago, this place defies understanding.
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That’s poured concrete up there. The ceiling is open, and the floor is convex so that the rain goes to the gutters. Originally built for the most important gods in Roman culture, it went through some pretty rough times and is now a church. The tomb of Raphael is here as well.
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After spending some time here and signing our names in the guestbook(?!) we found our way to another plaza. There are three Bernini fountains here, the largest and most impressive being under construction and behind a boarded wall. There were windows to peak through, but the glass ruined all attempts at pictures.
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I don’t know if I’d hold a spear that close to my boys, but it sure looks wicked.
Not quite feeling tired yet we decided to find the Vatican. Impressive as it was, we didn’t go through the security to get into the piazza. The tourists at the Vatican seemed different and more subdued, probably because it holds more meaning to Catholics than ancient ruins do. It was filled with people and some alpine horns were being played. It was odd. We’re going to make another trip there next week to see the basilica and the Sistine Chapel.
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Heading north we got a sandwich and a Beck’s and rested our feet for a while in the park surrounding Hadrian’s tomb. The tomb was more like a fortress, with 50′ walls.
Finally feeling tired we headed east towards home. Knowing that the crowds were starting to thicken we tried to avoid the Coliseum so we tried a northern approach. This ended up taking 2 and a half hours….
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Eventually we found ourselves at the Piazza del Popolo which was incredible. Everything in Rome is built with a purpose. From the obelisk in the center of the piazza you can look down the center road to the Capitol. Flanking the main road are two arteries that fan out diagonally. Everything(almost anyway) is built in a series of three. The churches were built to perpetuate the design. Nothing is too much, no detail is too extravagant. Immediately after this photo I turned to see Misia with three roses in her hand and a vendor asking me for money. He told her they were gifts, but he ended up bugging me until I gave him 1,50. After the 5 euros I found the other day, I’m still up. Not wanting to be seen as a “mark” we ditched the flowers and called it even. It’s annoying being seen as a target, especially when you try your damnedest to avoid eye contact and keep your hands to yourselves. Don’t even get me started on the gladiators with swords…
Eventually we found our way back to the apartment with a quick stop at the market. I still haven’t tried all the beers yet, but we’re getting closer.
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And while this isn’t beer, I couldn’t help but buy this vodka. John, my father-in-law likes the vodka, and after we polished off his last bottle the other night we felt we’d pick up another one for him. Turns out this was the only bottle in the Tabbach next to our apartment. Fuzzy vodka!
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Today we’re taking it easy. Maybe a museum or two, but Misia’s mom has the day off and we’re going to lay low. Right now all I can think about is Roubaix.
The sun is out today. In full force. Hovering around 65 degrees for the better part of the day with not a cloud in sight. Two days after easter and Rome seems like the Daytona Beach of Europe. Want to see the forum? 1 hour wait. Want to see St Pauls? 2 hour wait. We’re not suckers. We know that being here for three weeks will pay off when the students head back to their respective countries. But I’m not going to pretend that the crowds will disappear.
We have a new plan of action starting tomorrow. Keeping inline with the rest of the Romans we’ll be up early to take care of business, then lounging in the apartment during the heat of the day. Finally we’ll hit the town at night to soak up some good times.
Having only seen images of Rome in movies and books, it’s hard to grasp that I’m here. We walked for four hours today. Around the Coliseum(our apartment is a mere four blocks away) around the Forum, around the Circus Maximus, up to the Pantheon, stumbled upon the Trivoli fountain, down to the Tiber, and finally back home. Casual walking, no destination in mind. Turn one corner and you find yourself in front of a 800 year old church. Turn another and you’re in front of the French Embassy. Living in a small town like Portland is nice, but this is the big city.
We are really looking forward to our trip to Paris. With Cancellara pulling the Ronde out of his hat I’m betting Boonen will be in prime form. As much as I’d like to see Hincapie finally win this damn thing, I think the ego blow Boonen took last Sunday will fuel that fire. Either way, we’ll be there shouting at them at their faces.
The bicycle situation is pretty interesting. We saw a group of about 20 german tourists on rental bikes hauling balls and a few die hard riders, but in the old city, biking is pretty rare as far as we can tell. And I don’t blame people for not riding here. The traffic is crazy, but predictable. It’s the tourists that would lead me to avoid this area. The sheer number of people and their unpredictability that is scary. We did see this bike sharing system though.
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As we walked home from the Tiber, we made our way through some ruins with no name. Kind of like the Forum, minus people. In the twenty minutes we spent there we passed maybe 10 people. And we were only across the street.
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I’m still finding new beers to try as well. Mostly everything in a bottle or can is a lager of some sort; most of which are pilsners. My favorite so far is Peroni, but Faxe is pretty intense(might just be the 1000ml can).
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Also good is Tuborg. I’ve got a couple more in the fridge getting cold which I’ll share in my next post.
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For now we’re headed to dinner. Apparently we’re in store for some authentic Roman seafood. I’m going for the squid ink.
We left Portland at 12:30 on Saturday and got into Rome around 1 on Sunday. Smooth flights, bad movies, microwaved food. The usual.
After a long/slow train into the city we caught the subway to Coliseo, which is right at the Coliseum. Duh.
After a 5 minute walk from the Coliseum, we found our apartment. And boy what digs. This place is bigger than our house and there’s marble floors. And marble tiles in the bathroom. And a bidet.
This morning we woke up, had some coffee at our cozy little breakfast table.
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Afterwards we headed out for the day.
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Seeing these buildings in art history books and in movies doesn’t prepare you for actually standing below them.
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The Coliseum is impressive. More impressive were the crowds. We didn’t go inside, but from the outside the people inside were pressed against the sides. Admittedly we are here the during the easter holiday. Today was also a national holiday, so the crowds are out in force.
Finding an open grocery store was a bit of a tall order as well. The three we knew of were not open, so we walked until we found one. Wine is cheap. Really cheap. What would be a $10 bottle in the states goes for about 1,50 euro. And it’s delicious.
I’ve been looking at bikes when I see them, but there’s not much to report on. Mostly dutch style cruiser things, cheap department store bikes, and the weekend warrior choice seems to be mountain bikes.
I did spy one awesome Colnago though…
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On the way home from the market we found a small stall in our building that had opened for the afternoon.
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It’s nice having a beer store in your building.
Tomorrow we’re headed west to the Vatican and possible Tiber Island. Saturday we leave for Paris to catch a Sunday morning train to Roubaix. It really is a rough life.