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2015…One Second at a Time.

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***if you just want to see the video, scroll down. If you want some backstory, read. Reminder: reading is good for you, and one of your resolutions was probably to read some more.***

2015 is officially done and dusted, but let me pause for a second to take another look back.

I’m a reporter, but for the first quarter of 2015 I spent most of my time anchoring. In the spring I was promoted and ended up reporting full-time with a front row seat to the biggest events in DC (and Baltimore) for the year.

I had a plan to put together a hyper-lapse of all the photos on my iPhone 6. The idea was an offshoot of a New Year’s resolution for 2015, which was to post one photo to Instagram every day. It seems so silly and trite, but the payoff was something I didn’t anticipate. I became more observant, looking for that interesting tidbit to post daily. It made me more mindful and it made me a better reporter. It’s a habit I plan on carrying into 2016.

I thought it’d be neat to throw all the photos into a hyper-lapse to cap off the year. But, in the process of being more observant I also started taking more photos with my iPhone…a lot more, as in almost 8,000 photos in 2015. I was not to be deterred by numbers, but my Adobe Premiere timeline was. After a half-hour load time with each photo occupying one frame at 16 frames per second (a little slow for hyper-lapse) the video was 16 minutes long. I wouldn’t sit through 16 minutes, much less expect you to.

In the process of filing the media on my phone I separated the videos from the still photos. There were only about 350, but even stringing those together would be too long. Unless, I take only one second from every video. Done.

Here are the rules:

  1. EVERY video has to be included.
  2. No more than one clip from each video.
  3. Only videos housed on my iPhone (there are a couple of videos shot with my GoPro, but they were transferred over to the phone for Twitter/Facebook purposes.)
  4. Only nat sound. (Originally I planned a music bed, but the sound tells the story as much as the video.)
  5. The videos have to be arranged in the same order they were imported from the iPhone, which is basically chronological.
  6. No dicks. Mainly.

Here are the highlights:

  1. Lots of snow to start the year, and lots of me driving in the snow.
  2. More than a few airplane wings.
  3. Some harrowing moments covering the unrest in Baltimore.
  4. Flying in a fighter jet.
  5. Many Metro trains (I covered transportation exclusively until about April, then kept the Metro on my new beat.)
  6. Amazingly well-timed moments of silence. It seems that every time life gets loud I retreat to the woods.
  7. Bears. (see #6)
  8. A lot of riding bikes across the state of Iowa: RAGBRAI.
  9. Poignant moments on the steps of the Supreme Court and then inside the Metropolitan A.M.E. during a week marking the emotional apex of 2015.
  10. Concerts, jumping in balls and blowing stuff up on the Fourth. ‘Merica!
  11. #RunningWithHart.
  12. Video experimentation at the Montgomery County Fair.
  13. I cover a lot of protesting. But here you’ll see the juxtaposition of shouting activists cut to emotionless bureaucrats more than a few times…just a matter of happenstance.
  14. Pope Francis!
  15. Dancing at an Indian wedding.
  16. Metro train doors working…and then not working.
  17. More running, this time at the Marine Corps Marathon as I covered the race from the lead vehicle.
  18. Lighting candles outside the French embassy after the Paris attacks.
  19. My late-year hyper-lapse binge.
  20. England and Scotland!

Even with all of that, I still manage to miss a bunch of great stuff from 2015…but this is a pretty good compilation nonetheless.

But I’m a firm believer in the mantra of our greatest president from the Granite State…otherwise known as the Bartlet Doctrine: What’s Next?

Here’s to an even better 2016.

 

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Scottish Ninja Kicks

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I can’t breathe out of my nose, and it feels like I swallowed a spoonful of gravel at some point in my sleep. I haven’t been sick in years, and now I’m sick.

Figures.

IMG_0757As the sun rises late the outline of a castle appears outside my window…A CASTLE. Moreover, the sky is brilliantly clear. It’s as if the gods were rewarding us for the previous day’s painstaking journey. I don’t care if I’m not feeling well, I’m pressing through.

By the time I’m ready everyone’s waiting. And we decide to kick off the day by popping one of the bottles of prosecco we brought to drink on the train. It’s just enough to keep my sore throat at bay.

Even with nary a cloud in the sky Edinburgh is a damp place. It feels mildewed in the way of a deep mystic cave, or a dank basement in an old house. The castle looms over the town as an ancient reminder that, once upon a time, all one needed was elevation and stone to rule a land. We make our way up a series of steps to the esplanade in front of the castle. It commands a 360 degree view of the region. I found it reminiscent of Quebec City, a town with a distinct “upstairs” and “downstairs” surrounded by an intruding body of water. The Firth of Forth in Edinburgh’s case vs. the St. Lawrence in Quebec City’s case.

IMG_0842The castle is appropriately ancient, a chapel on the grounds dates back to the 12th century. There are more stories here than an entire state back home. A cold, raw wind whips up the hillside as we walk around the castle grounds. We work our way inside to see the Scottish crown jewels, including the Stone of Destiny.

How awesome is it to have something called the Stone of Destiny?

It’s a rectangular piece of rock about the size of a microwave. Behind the glass it looks as if it’s been through a millennia of drama. The stone carries with it the symbolism of Scottish independence and resistance. It was taken by the English in the 13th century and embedded in the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey until about 20 years ago. That’s when it was finally returned to Scotland as part of a recognition of a growing Scottish tide. Now it sits behind glass.

IMG_0875Royalty is an odd thing to me, and something I never had much interest in. I saw it as a tabloid phenomenon, incestuous and ancient. I think American history is sometimes so easy to study that the complexities of foreign systems become overwhelming, and in the process we let the surface level arguments excuse us from studying episodes like royal succession. That being said, I’ve turned a corner on this recently. I’ve started studying the English civil wars, which has ignited an interest in the characters that played a role during, and leading up to, that era. Point being, that as you walk in to see the Scottish Honors, you’re also walking through the history of Scotland, and through key moments in the civil wars. It was a crystallizing moment to bring some of my studies into tangible reality. Travel. I’d love to get into it, but I’ve already digressed enough.

IMG_0804Back outside the crisp air hits. Standing atop a castle we map out the day. I want to climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat, Jon and I look at that compared to some of the other landmarks. It looks far away, and high, but doable. Even at 10 a.m. the sun hangs low enough in the sky that it seems it’ll disappear at any moment. We’re still awe-struck at the crystal clear skies.

Our gameplan is to head down the Royal Mile, sneak into some shops, grab lunch and then climb the mountain, cold be damned. And one great way to damn a cold is with some good Scotch whiskey. After a lap up and down the mile we stop for lunch at a place called the Jolly Judge. It’s Sunday so they open late, which means we just stand outside on the steps looking as sad and cold as possible until they open the doors. It works, and we have the bar to ourselves for all of 15 minutes.

IMG_0919I’m not sure which is warmer, the Scotch whiskey or the fireplace. There’s no need for competition, it’s all pleasant. The bartenders are young guys, but full of whiskey knowledge. Somehow the conversation circles to our plan to climb Arthur’s Seat, I mention off-hand that I’m in no shape to climb a mountain.

“A mountain?!? That’s no mountain…that’s just a little hill.”

There’s no comeback. I want to tell them every mountain I ever climbed, but I know that’ll only make things worse. And so I acknowledge my lack of manliness, shoot the rest of the whiskey and walk out the door determined to climb a mountain, that’s not really a mountain.

It really isn’t that big of a climb, it looks much bigger from a distance. The initial path is paved, but as you step up the pavement becomes a well-worn path. For today, though, it’s a creek. All of the rain that’s fallen over the last few days continues to run off the mountain (that’s not really a mountain). Ten minutes in and Lauren is livid. She wasn’t prepared to IMG_0991hike/wade up a mountain (that’s not really a mountain) and so we determine to split off for the remainder of the day. Jon and I continue up, as Emily and Lauren head back into town.

The hike isn’t especially difficult, and as such it is crowded. Especially on an off-chance day of sunshine. Speaking of the sun, its low station in the sky casts a constant golden glow on the landscape. There’s something called the “golden hour” in photography, in Scotland in the winter the golden hour lasts all day. So, for every step I take, I snap another photo. As we push past the switchbacks and up to the first false summit the wind is pushing back with enough force that hang-gliding using only my coat seems a realistic possibility.

IMG_1073This sub-summit is covered in a bed of stubble-length grass. It’s the image of Scotland that I’ve always conjured up, the moment when stereotype meets reality. We press on up a rocky crag too narrow for most Americans, and then we’re at the top. The wind speed picks up by a factor of ten. Jon and I don’t say a word, we split up and immediately start taking pictures.

To the east is the sea, to the south is another range of mountains pushing back against the low-hanging sun, to the west is a castle atop a mountain and the rest of Edinburgh. This is a magical, surreal location. In places like Sedona, Arizona they talk about vortices of energy atop rocky formations. There is a feeling like that here, but instead of a spiritual portal this is a door to an ancient world when iron and bronze were first forged and blocks IMG_1035of sandstone determined kingdoms. Arthur’s Seat itself is a geologic remnant of another epoch, an extinct, plugged volcano. In another age Scotland was soaked not in rain, but in molten earth.

Everything we dealt with the day before…the trains, the buses, the cabs, the hassle…I’d do it all again in a heartbeat for this precise moment. This is one of those rare moments that combine place with circumstance to create perfection.

We take our time at the top, and we take our time heading back down using the low winter sun as a backdrop for the hero shot.

IMG_1023Back down the mountain we walk through the campus of the University of Edinburgh on our way to meet up with Lauren and Emily. Edinburgh is strangely layered upon itself, streets crisscross streets at different levels. This makes it confusing when you’re trying to find something on GPS. The dot shows us at the bar where we’re supposed to meet up, but there’s no bar here. A few minutes of investigation reveal that there’s a street below us.

That street is predictably dark and damp. It’s lined by hostels and backpacker joints and, logically, an Aussie bar. We’re not going there. The bar we’re heading to feels subterranean. It’s Sunday, so soccer (football) is on every television. It feels late in the evening, but it’s barely 4 p.m. Meeting Emily and Lauren we’re sure that they’re going to be envious of the adventure that took us atop IMG_0935Arthur’s Seat. But, alas, they are not. You see, it seems that as we went high, they went low.

When they went back into town they stopped inside a church that had been converted into a market of sorts. While shopping they started talking to one of the employees, who was apparently the son of the guy who runs the place. The kid took our wives on a tour beneath Edinburgh, deep into the guts of the city and 500 years into the past. This city, like most, has progressively built upon itself, burying history in the process so that a few centuries later a pair of American women can stumble upon this anachronistic landscape. I’ll let Lauren tell the full story…I’ve already butchered it enough.

After a drink we make the call to head toward the Christmas markets along the Princess Street Gardens. The markets are terraced into the landscape along three levels bottoming out with a festival of rides. I don’t ride rides at county fairs, and I don’t ride rides at Christmas markets. It’s one of my guiding rules never to be violated.

IMG_0924Nevertheless, my cold is back (or rather the whiskey’s worn off) and with a vengeance. I do my best to press on as we weave along the hundreds of booths hawking many of the same wares that you’ll see at just about every market. Not to diminish the phenomenon, it’s quite the holiday spectacle…and Lauren is in heaven.

We walk up to another market in St. Andrew’s Square. It’s, thankfully, far less crowded. At the center of the market is a bar encircled by a moat of frozen ice. It’s an ice-skating rink race track that you have to walk over using elevated stairways. This’ll be another idea I’ll be stealing.

After a bit more shopping and some delicious hot chocolate we’re back on the Royal Mile for dinner. The plan was a place called the Devil’s Advocate. The name comes from the street it’s on: Advocates Close. Think of a close the same way you’d think about an alley, except narrower, older and with stairs and archways. The restaurant looks amazing, but I can’t say anything about the taste…they’re booked out for the evening.

Plan B. We ended up at another restaurant that filled our bellies, but not especially memorably. So it goes. After dinner we ended up back at the Bow Bar where I fell into the trap of drinking beers with locals.

It was quite accidental, a compliment about the beer I ordered turned into a conversation about beer  and that became a conversation about the “troubles in Northern Ireland” and that turned into a conversation about food and that turned into a conversation about Washington, D.C. and that turned into a phone conversation with their friend who lives in Arlington, Virginia and that turned into a conversation about American politics and that turned into last call.

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Watch out now!

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Seriously…watch out.

We haven’t posted over the last week, in clear violation of the 57 Days of Blogging mantra. But we have been writing. And traveling.

I was hoping to master the art of blogging via device (be it iPad or iPhone) while abroad. It’s not that difficult for some quick hitters. But, I like to get a bit deeper when it comes to some of these live-jouralesque pieces, and in the process created a traffic jam of writing.

In order free up that traffic jam of writing. And also to maintain the spirit of 57 Days of Blogging it’s going to be a posting circus.

So what does this even mean?!?

Basically it means that a lot of posts will be dropping over the next 48 hours. So, this is the official apology for clogging your inboxes and Facebook walls and Twitter feeds…but it’s all about the challenge, right?

 

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Sunrise in Iceland 

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 It’s cold. It’s dark. It’s icy.

It’s Iceland.

According to the local time it’s about 7:30 a.m., but there’s not even a shred of light. The runway is coated in snow, this feels more like a sled than a plane. It’s like an outpost to another world.

Ice coats the metal stairs leading from the cabin door to the tarmac. Each step is equal parts crunchy and slippery. The cold air sledgehammers the lungs. We are all loaded onto a shuttle, the chatter of morning radio churns from the speakers. It’s impossible to even begin to make sense of it, the radio hosts sound like Minnesotans who forgot that vowels were a thing. Icelandic is hopeless to decipher.

Radio host laughter: play Lady Gaga.

She sings in English, but listening to her sing in Icelandic could be something worth trying.

The airport in Reykjavik is small, but it looks exactly as you might imagine. The floors are hardwood, everything is impeccably clean, the bathroom sinks somehow manage to both wash AND dry your hands. I don’t believe in this Viking magic.

A little Internet is poached and a photo is posted to Instagram to prove that I’m here before we take off again.

The shuttle transports us about 15 feet to the plan, back up the crunchy, icy steps and aboard another plane. But now, the Icelandic air is trapped inside the cabin. It’s like a hypothermic magical spell. Frost bites to the bone in spite of layers of wooly warmth. The lights go out and we taxi for takeoff.

It’s closing in on 9 a.m. and it’s still dark as midnight. Meanwhile the motorways fill with commuters rushing to their jobs. It’s peak rush hour in Reykjavik.

Iceland is mysterious, and after seeing nothing of it only makes me want to see more of it.

The cabin lights shut off, and for a second it’s dark, until projected onto the ceiling in the middle of the aisle is a recreation of the northern lights. They may not give us free drinks…but hey, we get an artificial aurora borealis!

We take off, traces of moonlight reflected from snow discern land from sea. The faint traces of daylight illuminate the southern sky. I’m in no shape to sleep…even though I’ve only slept for about three hours. And so I watch as the sun rises, not from the west…but from the south. Early rays of sunshine gleam off the plane’s engines as stars fade into blue.

And finally, I sleep.

Who knows how long later, a bout of turbulence combined with an announcement from the cockpit wakes me. Looking out the window the arc of the Thames slices it’s way through London. Minutes later we’re on the ground, passing through customs and catching a train (more on the Tube another time).

We’re here to meet our friends Jon and Emily, and following some precise directions we find ourselves at their Southbank apartment.

After a few minutes of catching up we head right back out to the Borough Market for some chicken wraps and duck confit. The market is a bit overwhelming…a million smells cut across each thoroughfare. From pasties to pies to empanadas, duck to beef to chicken to tofu, it’s easily eclectic.

Lunchtime later and we’re off. Exploring Southbank. Things like a Christmas tree made of milk bottles with a continual stream of milk flowing onto the promenade. It’s actually kind of disgusting. But, hey…dairy farmers have a right to Christmas too!

We stopped by one of the Christmas markets (which is mission 1 for Lauren) and hung out by an open fire as the English version of the Christmas spirit sweeps over us. It’s just like the American version but drunker. As Jon wraps up some work, we wander a little further until we find a pop-up roller skating rink. It’s a tremendous find. I’m convinced that the only people actually skating here work there…and they’re pretty good. It’s as if they found a seam in time from 1985 (which I believe to be the epoch of peak-roller skating).

We cross the Golden Jubilee bridge to a place called Gordon’s Wine Bar. Basically, Gordon just took his ancient basement and started serving wine there. It’s like drinking in a secret cave, which for present company is more than appropriate.

It smells of moss and red wine with a faint hint of sewage. Every five minutes or so the cave rattles with a reminder that public transit here is incessant and predictable. And by candlelight against the rattle and hum soundtrack we catch up with old friends before heading down to Covent Garden. The mission is to see whether we can sneak a table at Homeslice..the answer is no.

And so we move on for some curry. A restaurant called Punjab fits the bill. I find the spiciest thing on the menu and eat it…it’s like eating flaming bricks. Delicious.

More red wine and a walk back to Southbank wraps the night…jetlag be damned.

 


  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  

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The Case for Thanksgiving Abroad

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In the United States of America it’s customary to only get two weeks of vacation. Among all of the ridiculous, asinine, stupid things we do in this country…this ranks near the top. And my industry isn’t exactly known for being progressive with time off.

So to maximize travel time every year I tend to either work on Thanksgiving and bank the days for another trip (like this year…putting it towards a trip to England and Scotland), or I build the four day trip weekend into a longer trip. That’s what we did last year. We celebrated Thanksgiving with my family a week early, and then left for South America.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not some sort of grumpy curmudgeon who is anti-turkey. Quite the opposite. I LOVE Thanksgiving. I love turkey and football and family and friends. But, I’m also keen on the case for a Thanksgiving abroad:

  1. You get to skip the traffic. In other countries, there is no Thanksgiving, and thus no getaway.
  2. You can ignore all those annoying articles about the best strategy for arguing with your crazy right-wing relatives at the dinner table (unless they’re traveling with you (which would be a mistake)).
  3. Fares out of the country tend to be a little cheaper…especially if you’re headed to Europe.
  4. Think about all the calories you’ll be saving…maybe, I tend to eat like crazy when I’m abroad.
  5. No cooking stress, no dishes. I know some people thrive on the kitchen drama, but I’m not one of those people.
  6. Your trip abroad will be relatively American-free. I love America, but I don’t want to be surrounded by my countryman while in another land.
  7. It’s late spring in the southern hemisphere. So if you didn’t get enough summer, here’s one last chance.

With all that said, there’s still a feeling of missing out on the tradition and fellowship of Thanksgiving. But, if you can go without it for a year it may be worth trying a trip instead.

And if you can’t stand to be away, may I at least recommend cooking the turkey in a trash can?!?

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Roman Ruins to Spanish Steps and a side of liver

Arch of Constantine

There is a circuitous nature to travel. You’re always on your way back to somewhere. We started off our journey in Roma Termini shortly after landing in Italy, and now we were back at Roma Termini to start the Roman chapter of this holiday.

Thankfully our seats were more comfortable than this.
Thankfully our seats were more comfortable than this.

The train ride was the best yet…the business class seats were the same price as coach. I’m not really sure how or why, but I went ahead and seized the opportunity. The result was leather seats, more space and a lot more silence.  The weather changed as we sped down the Italian peninsula. Florence was still cold and rainy, which made saying goodbye all the more melancholy. But as we continued south the clouds broke and sunshine reigned.

It was really just a tease. I had been paying close attention to the forecast and the sun was expected to stay through the afternoon…and then rain, lots and lots of rain for the rest of our stay in Rome. I was annoyed. It’s stupid to be annoyed at the weather, you can’t change it unless you’re a believer in cloud busting in which case you have bigger things to worry about. Suddenly there was a lot of pressure that Lauren and I were artificially creating to see as much as possible before the rains came.

We got to our hotel just after noon and thankfully we were able to check in, drop our bags and plan…well, sort of plan. I had left this part of our trip open to anything, specifically for the unforeseen: i.e. weather. The only thing we were booked into was a cooking school class on our last day. With the absence of a clear plan, we waffled a bit before getting out and about. We debated the plan of attack, and I won Lauren over to making the Colosseum and Roman Forum a priority for the day. They were outdoor activities, and we should make good use of the weather.

We took the long way to the Colosseum to grab some food.  Although we live in a big, busy city it takes some adjustment whenever you step into another big, busy city. Moreso after spending a week in smaller, tamer cities. Rome can be very overwhelming, and for a few minutes it was. My travel equilibrium was a bit off as we sat down for a snack, sometimes you just need a reset.

A look down Fori Imperiali at the Colosseum
A look down Fori Imperiali at the Colosseum

We walked down Fori Imperiali, the ancient stadium looming large on the horizon as columns and ruins occupied the cityscape. As did growing crowds: tourists snapping pictures, street vendors selling random useless wares, street performers painted as statues or wearing Roman Centurion garb. It’s a walk that has an almost amusement park feel to it…something I suppose is virtually unavoidable in a place like this.

We had not booked a tour of the grounds, it’s not necessary…but it is recommended. There’s just so much to take in, it’s easy to get lost in the site. Typically you’re better off planning a tour in advance, but the spontaneity of the day prevented that for us, so we got in the general admission line before being sold on a tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum. It ended up being a good call. To be honest I didn’t pay too close attention while we were in the Colosseum, this was my second time doing the exact same tour.

A fancy panoramic look inside the Colosseum
A fancy panoramic look inside the Colosseum

The guide was good, but I had heard it all before. This was more for Lauren. This gave me a chance to soak in my surroundings, to imagine the tens of thousands watching as gladiators fought thousands of wild animals or each other to the death. This building was the symbol of Roman power. Think about it, they built this thing 2000 years ago. If a stadium in the States turns 20 the ownership starts crying for a new stadium…and I doubt future societies will be paying for a tour of Cowboys Stadium in 4013…at least I hope not for the sake of American legacy.

A wide angle look at one side of the Colosseum
A wide angle look at one side of the Colosseum

Being on the grounds later in the afternoon was also nice. The tour seemed much more relaxed than the last one I did, and the lighting made the Colosseum feel more alive. Our guide took us outside and tagged off to another guide who would show us the Forum starting with Palatine Hill. This time I paid much closer attention, last time I didn’t get up to Palatine Hill. Also the weather was fantastic, as we walked up the hill the sun was dropping towards the horizon. The yellows and oranges of the Roman cityscape took prominence. I remember and think of places in colors…and Rome has always been yellow and orange. Weird, I know. With the city sprawling before us, ruins around us and everything framed by umbrella pines and a setting sun the scene was quintessentially Roman.

A look through two umbrella trees at the Colosseum
A look through two umbrella trees at the Colosseum

Our guide walked us through the ruins atop the hill, painting a picture with her words of what was once here. I would kill for a time machine to see this place in its glory. Just the little bits of marble and porphyry offered glimpses into the imperial grandiosity of this place. The guide was Canadian, but had been living in Rome for a while. This would be a bit of a theme: North American expats giving tours throughout Rome. She told us that if we wanted to see the stone that was once on Palatine Hill we wouldn’t have to go too far…much of it had been used in St. Peter’s Basilica. This was another, more tangible, theme: the Catholic Church destroying or absorbing what was left of the Romans. It is proof of the First Law of Thermodynamics, that energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy and matter in the universe remains constant.

Substitute power for energy and you can understand the development of Rome.

We finished the tour in the Roman Forum, surrounded by shells of buildings that had been excavated from under thirty feet of earth…and then quarried out for their stone. But there were no shells in theses crumbling structures. Even in the midst of total war that devastated much of Europe the Allies and Nazis were able to agree to avoid turning this testament to the ancient world into a battlefield.

And that only underscores the apocalyptic feeling of the Forum. Here a great civilization once stood…now they are

This was once a palace
This was once a palace

gone completely. If you’re ever in the mood for an existential crisis, this is the place. We walked along the main road of the Forum, which is now disjointed and about as smooth as U Street in NW (for you non-Washingtonians…that’s not smooth).  We were told that at the height of the Empire the road would have been smooth enough to rollerblade on, but as the site was first excavated little care was given to the road. Regardless, it’s a terrific exercise to imagine in whose steps we were walking as we meandered down this now bumpy road. It’s also interesting to look around and see the inspiration for our own city, our own country. Many of the design elements in DC are modeled from Rome, and certainly the modern idea of American democracy has its roots in Greece and Rome under the senate before becoming an empire.

Leaving the Forum we decided to head towards some other “outdoor” activities before the weather moved in. Already clouds had shut out the setting sun and the temperature was dropping. Thinking with our stomachs first we decided to stop by a restaurant we had scouted and make a reservation. We continued up Via del Corso before taking a right

Proof they actually do clean the Spanish Steps!
Proof they actually do clean the Spanish Steps!

on Via Candotti…it was only a few blocks to the Spanish Steps, but it took us a while to get there as Lauren stopped at virtually every storefront to say, “Ooh, pretty.” The street is like a condensed version of 5th Avenue, or maybe an ancient version. One way or the other it ends at the Spanish Steps, one of those random landmarks that inexplicably draws crowds. In this case the crowds were in the plaza, and not actually on the steps. Police were holding everyone back as a cleanup crew scoured the stairs. We walked around the corner and sat outside a wine bar and finally got a chance to relax. We had been moving non-stop since getting off the train, and this was our third day of crazy-distance walking. After a few drinks we took some crazy random set of side steps up through an alley and then up another set of steps before following the road to a large open balcony. There below us were the Spanish Steps, looking over our shoulder behind us was the Trinitia dei Monti church…and momentarily we were on French soil.

And so we walked down the Spanish Steps, which were funded by the French, leading from a French church to an Italian piazza where a fountain dedicated to an ugly boat was commissioned by a Pope. Rome.

The plaza was hopping with activity as we wandered around. We didn’t manage to get into John Keats house, which is probably for the better because he owes me $50,000…but that’s another story for another time. We walked back down Via Candotti, and again it took forever, before heading back to the restaurant for dinner. This meal ended up being our worst in Italy, although I’m going to attribute that to

Via Candotti from the Trinitia dei Monti atop the Spanish Steps
Via Candotti from the Trinitia dei Monti atop the Spanish Steps

grumpiness at the end of a long day and menu selection. I ordered lamb sweetbread…which is neither sweet nor is it bread. It was a pressure decision, and it didn’t work out. There’s just something about lamb liver and pancreas lightly fried that doesn’t appeal to me. I got about halfway through the dish before my gag reflex kicked in. There was certainly a moment when I thought I was going to hurl liver chunks all over the restaurant…though I managed to keep it down. The gnocchi I had for my pasta dish was tasty though.

Our plan after dinner was to stop by the Trevi Fountain for one last good weather excursion. We threw in our coins and left…we were both in a bad mood, cranky and arguing with each other…I’m blaming the liver. Nevertheless we walked home quickly and in a huff. If you’ve ever traveled with anyone else, you’ve hit this point. Mutual exhaustion leads to mutual miscommunication and mutual annoyance. As a couple we’ve hit this point on a few different continents in more than a few different countries. And our point on this trip was now, brought on no doubt by the pressure we placed on this first day because of the weather forecast. Weather. Maybe I’ll study cloudbusting when I get home.

But 99 percent of the day was awesome;)

 

A seagull sits atop the Roman ruins
A seagull sits atop the Roman ruins
An inscription in the Roman Forum
An inscription in the Roman Forum
A message along the main road of the Roman Forum
A message along the main road of the Roman Forum
Moonrise over the Colosseum
Moonrise over the Colosseum
A wider look at the Colosseum and the moon...Apollo would be proud
A wider look at the Colosseum and the moon…Apollo would be proud
An umbrella pine tree atop Palatine Hill
An umbrella pine tree atop Palatine Hill
It's a grassy, viny hypogeum
It’s a grassy, viny hypogeum
The Arch of Constantine next to the Colosseum at the opening of the Roman Forum
The Arch of Constantine next to the Colosseum at the opening of the Roman Forum

 

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