Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday, May 30, Verona Italy. I decided yesterday to take a day trip somewhere within 2 hours of Venice and focused on Verona. Verona is about 1 1/2 hours from Venice by train. I found that with my Global Eurail Pass, I can travel just about anywhere I want with no additional charge. Sometimes, there is a 5 or 10 Euro surcharge, but not every time. Last night, it was threatening rain, with thunder and lightening occuring off and on during the evening, but this moring it was clear with blue skies. The pavement was wet, so it rained when I was asleep. As it should be, right?

Once I arrived in Verona, it was clear this was another beautiful Italian city. Verona has been a city in one form or another since 550 BCE. The city exhibits many of these landmarks including a beautiful coliseum. The coliseum is over 2000 years old and is still in use today -- mainly for opera. I listened to one of the guides discussing the use of the coliseum today. She pointed out that, because the city needs the money, rock concerts are often given in this venue. But, she said, it should only be for the "voice of opera". The coliseum can hold upwards of 20,000 people.

After visiting the Tourist Center, and wondering around a bit, I discovered that one can purchase a Veronapass. This allows the visitor to gain entry into more than 14 museums and points of interest for a single fee of 8 Euros. I thought it was a good investment, and bought one. After visiting the coliseum and the Museo Lapidario M (a collection of stones and engravings), I found my made my way to Casa di Giulietta (Julliette's house). From the courtyard, it is said, you can see Juliett's balcony. There is a bronze statue of Juliette in the courtyard, and I had a fellow visitor snap my picture.

One highlight, which only cost 3 Euros, was to take a sightseeing "tram" around the city. It looked like a locomotive with 3 cars, but it was filled with people and took around 25 or 30 minutes to complete a circuit of the city. A pretty good investment, considering I didn't have to walk! A bit later, I found myself on the Piazza Erbe, a large plaza with a beautiful fountain and market in center of the square. I was people-watching and enjoying a sip of water when I looked up and saw the Piazetta XIV Novembre signage above the square. Whoa. For those of you who know me well enough, you'll know this is my birthday. How interesting to have a Piazzetta named after my birhday in Verona Italy!

Along the Corso Porta Nuova, one of the main streets, there are a whole variety of activities, stores and entertainment. Even though Verona is a small city, every high-end store is represented here. Street entertainers, such as Pinnocheo, entertain the visitors and, for a price of a donation, one can have his or her picture taken with them. Lots of fun, and the area is crowded with on-lookers.

All in all, so far, the visit to Verona was a great choice for the day, one that I won't quickly forget. I still have a bit to do, so -- with that -- I'll say ciao for now.......

8:30 p.m. Back in Venice. I finished up my trip to Verona with one more museum -- the Museo della radio d'Epoca. It is part of the Intituto Tecnico Industrial Statale de Verona and is an extensive collection of radios, components (such as tubes), antenna, microphones -- everything related to radios. There was some interesting military equipment there, including a radio receive from the United States (I had used one of these when I was in the Navy). Although they had some shortwave radios there, they didn't have any ham radio equipment. As I was leaving the museum, I asked one of the 3 people working there if they knew of an amateur radio club in the area. Interestingly, I chose to speak to a fellow who was, himself, a ham radio operator. He told me of a club in the area and some of their activities. We exchanged call signs and said "ciao". Lots of fun.

So, tomorrow I'm off to Munich for a couple of days. It should prove to be an interesting part of the trip. My train leave at 1:30 p.m. and arrives at around 8:30 in the evening. So, 'til I find an internet point in Munich, I'll say ciao for now......

Click HERE to see where Verona is located.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Click HERE to see my current location.

Thurday, May 29, Venice Italy. One of the first things I did this morning was to extend my stay in Venice by one day. So, I'll be leaving on Saturday rather than Friday. It will give me the time I need to do a couple of things -- including getting some laundry done!!

At around 9 a.m. or so, I bought a 24-hour ticket for the water-busses. The water-bus system in Venice is, as you can imagine, very extensive. I wanted to get two things done, the first of which was to go to Murano. My goal was to find a factory where the glass is actually made into art. The water-bus ride was around an hour, and in itself very enjoyable. The bus made many stops along the way, and I was able to see new and interesting parts of Venice.

After arriving in Murano, I walked for a bit and then asked directions. I was told to walk toward the light house, and sure enough there were two or three factories there, one of which was producing class.. One of the fornace work space was open and I was able to see the craftsmen work at their trade. One of the showrooms looked inviting, so I entered and looked around for quite some time. I found a piece I really liked and discussed a purchase with the sales person. I told him I was interested in buying something that was made there and not elsewhere. He took me through a door and into the fornace room where I was able to watch the craftsmen work on the very piece I was buying. So much for an authentic piece of Murano glass!! Since I had committed to buy someting, he treated me like a V.I.P and gave me a tour of the upstairs, which had been closed off to the public. The glass there was amazing. The colors, textures, shapes and sizes were truely beautiful. For those of you who have seen and enjoy Murano glass, you have an idea of I'm describing.

My piece was packaged and I made my way back to the hostel for a rest. I wanted to put the package in my suitecase and spent some time re-organzing. After an hour, or so, I wanted to complete the second activity on my list. I went back to the water-bus and this time took it to the Piazza San Marcos. It is located on the other side the island. As was the case for the last day or two, the weather is still very warm and humid. I made sure to carry, and drink, lots of water. I decided to walk back to the hostel, from there, and visit the Ponte Rialto on the way. This is a bridge much like the Ponte Vecchio. It isn't very long, but raises high over the canal and is fairly wide. Along each side are shops selling all manner of souvenirs, Murano glass and more. The bridge was very crowded and everyone seemed to be enjoying his or her warm day in Venice.

After shooting some pictures and doing some window shopping, I continued walking back to the hostel. This took me across much of Venice I hadn't seen and along the Grand Canal -- a fairly long walk. At first I thought I may have lost my way, but by keeping the canal on my left, I felt sure I'd get where I wanted to go. Sure enough, I started to recognize some landmarks. I stopped in a cute little coffee shop, very small and empty except or 2 or 3 local residents. I figued that having local residents for customers was a good sign, and I was right. The coffee was the best I've had in Europe so far. All in all, it took me around an hour to get back to my part of town, give Jennifer a call and drop into my favoriate "internet point". As I sit here writing this, there is an accordian player outside the door playing for the guests of a restoranti. How delightful is that??

The last picture, the one directly above, is a picture of the hostel I'm staying. It is "on" the Grand Canal. If you look at the white building in the center with the peaked roof, and then to the right just a bit, you'll see a narrow white building with 4 windows. My window is on the top floor and on the left. There is a wonderful view of the Grand Canal and part of Venice from there.

So, tomorrow is another day. And until then, stay tuned. Ciao.....

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

May 28, Venice. I boarded the train at 8:38 a.m. and made my way to Venice. It's a 3 hour trip by high-speed train. The weather continues to be beautiful, with a warm sun and humidity. But, it's pretty comfortable, and the kind of weather I enjoy. As I left the train station in Venice, I was greeted with what appears to be a beautiful city. The train station is on the Grand Canal. My directions to the hostel were to take the “white bridge on the left, turn right on the Grand Canal and go to 555”. The directions were perfect and I arrived in 10 minutes or less. The hostel is “on” the Grand Canal, just a few seconds from a whole raft of activity. I immediately thought that coming here from Florence was a good decision.

I checked in at the front desk and was given a variety of directions about the city and a map. There are no limit to the sights to see here – including Morano (the famous glass is made there) and a Jewish section. After checking my bags, I left the hostel and started to roam around the area. I crossed back over the white bridge and, through no planning of my own, wound up at the border to the Jewish section. I took it as a sign, and continued to walked into that part of the city. I found the “Singagoge”. My timing was excellent, and I joined a tour of the area and the three remaining synagogues of Venice.

As is the case with the other parts of Italy, even though Venice was a Republic on its own at the time, there was a Jewish Ghetto from the 16th to 10th Centuries. Like Rome, the city was unified” and the Jews were liberated in the 1830's, more or less. The tour through the synagogues was very interesting. Our guide told us about the evolution of Jewish community in Venice and the building of the synagogues. It turns out that, at the time, Jews were excluded from being craftsmen, so the buildings (and interiors) were built by non-Jews. It is interesting, but not surprising, that the synagogues have no Jewish symbols, and one of them displays a prominent Christian symbol. No doubt this reflects the realities of the time.

As a lucky find, there is a delightful restoranti and bar in the Jewish section next door to a hotel with wireless internet!! So, for 5 euros an hour, I'm able to get on-line and take a breather from walking. Given that I have 2 or more days to enjoy the area, this will be a great place to setup an itinerary for a few days of activity. I'm using my little ASUS pc to get on-line and buy a beer or “cafe Americano” to justify my sitting at one of their tables. Great fun.

It's now around 3:30 p.m. or so. I'll wander a bit more and continue to discover the ins and outs of the city. So, as always --- more later!!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

May 27, 08. Firenze (Florence). The first thing I did this morning was make a reserveration for an overnight in Venice. I expect to get up tomorrow "whenever" and make my way to the train station. High-speed trains leave for Venice every hour, so it should be easy to get onto one.
I walked down the long driveway to the bus and was able to recognize the Piazza where the building housing the statue of David was located.. I went to the main entrance and asked if there was a fee. I was told "no, no fee, this is a university". So far so good, I found the appropriate line, waited my turn to get into the Galleria dell'Academia and was stopped by a lady in a glass box. Regardless of what I had been told, I was charged 6 1/2 Euros to get inside. Before long, I was standing face to face with Michelangelo's David. We've all seen pictures and documentaries, I'm sure, but standing there and looking at this massive sculpture is overwhelming. David is atop a pedestal that stands 5 or 6 feet tall. Then, David stands another 8 or 10 feet on his own. He is a massive and beautiful work of art. There is no doubt that Michelangelo was a genius and a good reason why his talents were in demand by the Church. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed, so what you see is not my own photo.

It's difficult to decide to leave a venue like this. But leave I did, and I made my way back toward the Fiume Arno and the science museum. Today is another very warm day, along the way I found a neat little market where I was able to buy some water and drinks. It was a bit "upscale", and I thought it might be the Florentian Trader Joe's . As I walked up to the science museum, I couldn't believe my luck. There was an extensive telescope exhibit with the actual first telescopes made by Galileo. Giovanni Battista Amici, an astronomer and telescope-maker who lived during the 19th Century was represented also. There was a beautiful working model of the first reflecting telescope made by Isaac Newton. While the Galilean and Newtonian telescopes were small by comparison, the Amici telescopes were much larger. Most of Amici's telescopes on display were reflectors, but a couple of refractors were there as well.

I also had an opportunity to meet Dr. Andrea Gori who is the coordinator of public service for the museum. We had a nice chat about telescopes and telescope making and use.

As I left the museum, I started walking away from the river and back into the center of the town. I saw on my guide map there is a large "Piazza Mercato Centrale" and decided to take a look. This is a 4 or 5 square black area in and around the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, and seems to specialize in "stuff" -- better known to those of you in the know as Chochka! There were hundreds of vendors and thousands of prospective buyers!

I spent the rest of the day wandering up and down the twisty and narrow streets of Florence. It is a delightful town with lots of friendly people and wonderful sights to see.

More tomorrow -- from Venezia!!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Click HERE to see my current location.

Monday, May 26, Florence. I got up around 7:30 and made my way to Roma Termini and the train for Firenze. It was a beautiful train, one of the high speed versions. I've purchased a first class "global pass" from Eurail and I get to travel first class. Not bad. Many trains give our free drinks and snack to first class passengers. The train departed at 9:55 a.m. and we arrived in Firenze at 11:30 a.m. I found my way to the Tourst Information and got info about getting to the Hostel. "Take-a bus 17 to the end," they said. "It's there."

Right they were. It turns out the Hostel is about a 20 minute bus ride out of the city. Once there, it is necessary to walk about 1/4 mile up a long driveway to the building. In a way, it's worth it. The hostel is a converted "Villa" in the hills with sheep ranches and vineyards around the property. It is quiet and beautiful. But a bit remote. I was able to check in and check my bags at 2 p.m. and made my way back into the town by the same bus that took me there. As was the case in Rome, one is supposed to have a ticket, but no one checks and no one cares!! So, "when in Rome"...

First let me say that the weather is quite warm, around 80 degrees or so. Fairly humid. It's been the same for the last 4 or 5 days, but after some pretty heavy rain in Rome for the first 3 days, I can't complain very much. I enjoy the heat and settled in to getting around the city. After checking about trains to Venice (I'll go on Wednesday), I made my way to Ponte Vecchio. It's a bridge spanning Fuimi Arno and dates back to the first third of the 14th Century. It abounds with activity, and the main commercial activity is GOLD!! I found a piece I really liked, and when I asked the price, I was told 5000 Euros. A bit out of my budget, but nice just the same.

After wandering around the bridge and area for about an hour, I wandered the city. I realized it was time to find out where Michelangelo's David is housed and go see it. It turns out it is in a building called the Galleria dell' Accademia. It also turned out that, because it was a Monday, it was closed. I did speak with the docent inside the door where David "lives" and was assured that it'll be open and ready to view at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow morning. So, to quote the Terminator -- "I'll be baaaack"..

I made my way around much of the city. The areas of interest are easily within walking distance. Not much traffic is allowed, no busses and very few cars. I found a variety of churches, piazzas and biscilicas. One of the most famous, Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore and Museo dell'Opera del'Duomo are adjacent to each other. The were was huge crowd of people sitting on the steps, talking and walking around. It was quite a sight.

So, it's time to head back to the hostel, get a shower and a bit of rest. I'll be up early and out on the town -- so, stayed tuned.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sunday, May 25, Rome. Well, today is my last day in Rome and I decided to change things a bit. I awoke later than usual, around 9:30, and caught the bus for Ottavania. I stopped in my trusty internet point and checked my email. Gotta say connected, right? I knew I'd do a bit of walking today and decided that 2 pair of socks was a good bet. It was, and at the end of the day, my tootsies still feel pretty good. Maybe I'm just getting used to walking.

I made my way into a part of town I hadn't been into much. It is an areas called Repubblica. The center of the "Piazza della Republica" is dominated by a large and beautiful fountain with the four bronze statues of the Najadi by Mario Rutelli. One side of the square is large and very old church called Santa Maria degli Angeli is adjacent to Diocletian's Baths. The baths were dedicated in 306 C.E. and remained in service until the first third of the Fifth Century.

On the other side of the square is another church, one that I became very interested in. It is called the Warner Moderno. The interesting about this church is that they, somehow, display images and tell stories that are either in the past, present and even the future. I found that the doors would open at 2:30 p.m. and that I would be able to worship at 4:10 p.m. --- more on this later.

I was able to locate the Museum of Science and Planetarium of Rome. It turns out the museum is quite a bit out of city and wasn't on any of the maps I had. I stopped at the tourist information booth at the Roma Termini and was told the museum was at the end of one of the two subway trains that span much of the city. Since I had a 4:10 appointment at the Warner Moderno Church, and it was around 1 p.m., I boarded the subway and headed out there. It was about a 15 minute train ride and then a 10 minute walk to the museum.

The science museum and planetarium are housed in an imposing building. Huge columns boarded the sides as I walked into the door. I was greeted by a "antique" Zeiss Planetarium project. These were very popular in planetariums. Using a word like "antique" when talking about a plentarium projector that was built in the 1920's or 30's is a bit of a stretch when here in Rome. The one on display is the same projector in grew up on at the Griffith Planetarium and Observatory in Los Angeles. While these are no longer in use, it is hard to find a well-preserved one. The one in Rome is very nice and all original. I was told it was given to Rome after World War II by the German government as a gesture of friendship. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the planetarium and science museum.

So, by now it was close to 3 p.m. and time to my way back to the Repubblica Metro stop. If you recall, I had an appointment to worship at the Warner Moderno Church -- more like a Cathedral really -- at 4:10. I arrived there a bit early, around 3:35, and had a snack. I paid my 5.50 Euro fee to gain entry and entered the viewing chamber precisely at 4 p.m. At 4:10 the images began to display on the wall. They were images of the past, 10 feet high and 15 feet wide -- more or less. The images began to tell a story of events which had happened in 1957. Again, given that I was in Rome, these are very ancient images, but they told the story in exact detail -- there was even color and sound.

So, I sat back and enjoyed...

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

It so nice to end a week in Rome with a religious experience! Si?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

May 24, Rome. Today I got up a little early to make it to the Sistene Chapel before the crowds. I took the bus into Ottaviano and had a quick "cafe Americano" before heading over to the Vatican. I was on my way by 8:30 or so. Well, "what to my surprise", but that the line for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel was about 2 miles long. I think I was number 1000 in line! After about 5 minutes I was number 1000 of 2000. The line grew in length quickly, but moved quickly as well.

It took around 30 or 40 minutes to gain entrance to the museum. I paid my 14 Euro fee and was on my way to see the collection and the Michelangelo. You must know, the museum is HUGE. There are artifacts everywhere. It tuns out that the museum was founded by Pope Julius II during his reign from 1503 to 1513. It is an amazing collection of tapistries, paintings, statuary -- everything imaginable. There were so many things to see, and my eye was caught by an interesting orrery in one of the gallerys. An orrery is a mechanical "model" representing the motions of the planets (the picture is an example is isn't the one in the Vatican).

Most impressive, of course, is the Sistene Chapel with its Michelangelo ceiling. I was very surprised to see that the Creation of Adam is a relatively small fresco in the middle of many small scenes making up an enormous ceiling. Regardless of size, it is breathtaking and cannot be adequately described. One must simply see it and take it in. After around 3 hours, or so, I found my way to the exit.

I decided to go to the large market at a square called Campo d'Fiori. The market consists of vendors selling all things to eat. It occupies the center of the fairly large square with a fountain in the middle. Cute restaurants ring the outer perimeter. I decided to walk from the Vatican Museum to the market, a distance of about 2 miles or so. It took me over the "Fiume Tevere" and through much of the old city. I walked along a long windy and narrow street called Via Giula, and just before reaching the market I made a very lucky find.

A small, almost hidden eatery was on the right side of the street. I stopped for a snack, and was pleasantly surprised on two counts: 1) that the food was absolutely wonderful, including a falafel wrap I took along with me, and 2) unlike the many restorantes and eateries around the "tourist" part of town, this one was very INEXPENSIVE!! Given that everything in Rome seems to cost 10 Euros, I was happy to pay the price for such a great experience and food.

The market was very busy, people everywhere. I was taken by the contrast of so much food, so many people with money to buy the food or eat in the restaurants and a number of homeless and beggars asking for help. I was especially bothered by an old woman sitting on the ground near the fountain. She was bent over, appeared to be very old and her appearance would be too disturbing to recount. She was dressed very warmly, yet the sun was out and it was a warm day. While yours truly and a few others put a couple of Euros in her collection plate, most people ignored her. It reminded me of the tremendous dichotomy that can exist in a city that gave rise to Western Civilization. I wanted to know more about her but, frankly, I was afraid to ask. Unfortunately, this is a scene one can see in any country of the world -- including the U.S.

So, today is Saturday and I have one more day in Rome before going on to Florence. I think I'll sleep late, do a laundry and nurse the blister I seem have one on my right foot!! Still, I've gotten some interesting impressions of the city. They go something like this:
  • Rome has some of the most interesting "antiquities" that are still being used in everyday life. It is a delightful city that one must visit more than once.
  • Everyone, or so it seems, smokes cigarettes. So, the tobacco companies need not fear!! Generally the street is the Roman ashtray.
  • There are trash cans on many corners, but they are full and are emptied so infrequently that people use the street for trash. Trash abounds. Graffiti does too.
  • Red lights mean stop, and green lights mean go. But in Rome, there is a cooperation between automobiles and pedestrians. Pedestrians cross the street anywhere and anytime, regardless of the stop light, and cars do their best to "miss 'em". I must say that I did see and hear lots of ambulances rushing here and there, so who knows??
  • Italy has lots of trains and busses, and they have a "schedule". You know, when they will arrive and depart. BUT, the schedule is generally ignored.
  • The underground (subway) and busses use the same ticket as a means to pay the transit fare. But, on busses, most people don't pay! One simply gets on, waits until their stop and gets off!
  • I believe it is physically impossible for Italians in general, and Roman in particular, to talk without using their hands!! But when they do talk to each other, it is clear that they are engaged. They are communicating, and they obviously enjoy it.

Well, there thousands of other things I could list, but you get the idea. As always, more to follow....

Friday, May 23, 2008

May 23, trip to Pompei.

I was up 7:30 a.m. this morning and decided to go to the train station to see if I could get an earlier train. I could have, but was told that the "super speed" train I was on at 9:25 would be faster than an earlier but slower train. So, I had a bit of breakfast and boarded the train bound for Napoli. I was then to change trains in Napoli for Pompei and arrive around noon or so.

Once in Napoli, I boarded the train for Pompei. This was a rickety old train, a local, that made every stop along the way. It shook, rolled side to side and made lound squeaky noises when stopping. BUT, it left on time, so I was pleased. As I saw the stations going by, one by one, I decided to ask about the stop for Pompei.

So, now --- here is the pop quiz.
What does it mean when you see the following sign on a trip from Napoli to Pompei?

OK, so need a hint! Here's another picture of the square in front of the Solarno train station.

So, and the ANSWER is ---

You've missed the Pompei station and gone too far!!

Well, I mentioned all along that I was looking for adventure. I wasn't planning a visit to Solarno, so what the heck. I checked on the next train to Pompei (going in the other direction this time) and found I had an hour to explore. It turns out Solarno is a beautiful city on the Mediterranean. I wondered around a bit, took some nice pictures (one of which you see below) and thoroughly enjoyed the unscheduled visit.

I finally boarded the train, after checking twice that I was on the correct platform, and was rewarded with a thoroughly modern, quiet and very fast train. Pompei was the section stop north, about 15 minutes. Not a bad detour at all.

I arrived in Pompei in short order and was pleased with my navigation skills, at last. The ruins, it turns out, are a short walk through the new city. New Pompei, as is the case with most cities in Europe I've found, is dominated by a beautiful church in the center of the square. Turning left at the church and walking about one-quarter mile, I entered the Ruins and paid my admission. I noticed there was a "reduced" fare for seniors and was quickly asked by the clerk: "what country are you from?" When I said the U.S., I was just as quickly notified that reduced fares are for EU seniors only. So, pay your 11 Euros, please. I did gladly.

As I wondered around the Ruins, I noticed many folks has an "audio guide" and I was sorry I hadn't rented one. But, as luck was to have it (another example of right-place, right-time), I happened upon an English speaking tour-guide and joined the group. His English skills were excellent, and he had a great sense of humor. We wondered through the Ruins as our guide pointed out a variety of interesting buildings, adding some historical context and seemed thoroughly knowledgeable in the subject.

Ah, now the interesting stuff. Phallic symbols and brothels (Hey Jeno, I do listen to ya). He was quick to point out that, like other places in the world and through the ages, the "oldest profession" was practiced openly and without dishonor. The "ladies" advertised their skills with pictures over their rooms. Can you intrepret the one just above??

Phallic symbols, on-the-otherhand, related to the fertility of the land and not the body. An interesting interpretation, but there you have it! From the expert himself.

The picture to the right is yours-truly with Mt. Vesuvius in the background. It is Mt. Vesuvius which erupted in 79 C.E. that destroyed the city. The volcano eruption last for two days, burying the city under a thick layer of ash. After around 3 1/2 hours roaming the Ruins and listening to the guide, I made my way back to Napoli and then Rome.

What a great day. Lots of sun, beautiful weather, and thoroughly delightful. Tomorrow I'll make my way back to the Sistine Chapel for another try and see more of Rome.

Ciao 'til later.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

May 22. My plan was to go see the Sistine Chapel this morning. I was told by more than one or two folks to "get there early". It opens at 10 a.m., so I figured 9 a.m. would be a good time. As I approached the chapel (it is part of the Vatican Museum), I thought I was in luck because there was no crowd or long line. As I approached, I saw a couple of Catholic priests walking away and figured something was up. As it turns out -- the museum and chapel were closed today!! Good planning on my part, right? So, as I've been stating new rules for myself from time to time -- the rule for today is: "get there early, make sure it's open". Makes sense, right??

I then decided to go to the Rome Termini (the main train and metro station) and find out about the train times to Pompei. After enduring yet another long line, I was rewarded with a English speaking clerk (ok, sort of English speaking). I made reservations on the 9:55 a.m. train to Pompei tomorrow. It's around a 2 hour train ride, and I'll have about 6 hours in Pompei to see and do the sightseeing I plan. At the same time, I made a train reservation for Florence and will be leaving Rome on Monday morning bound for that city. I'll spend at least one overnight there.

Since I was at the main station, I found the Tourist Information Booth and plotted a course for the Jewish section of Rome (suggested by Jennifer yesterday). As it turns out, I was able to visit the Jewish section, the Pantheon and the large and beautiful square called Piazza Navona. On the way to the bus, I spotted a "barbarie" and figured out how to get my hair and beard cut. For 10 Euros, I look like a human being again, and I had wished I brought my own clipper. Oh well, next time.

I figured I had found the Jewish section of the city when I saw a restaurant that said "Roman Jewish Cuisine". I made my way to the main synagogue for Rome and found that it is treated as a museum when religious services are not being held. I paid my entry and wandered through the interesting and informative display of artifacts. At 1:15 p.m. there was a tour with an English speaking guide. She was difficult to understand, but at the end of the tour I thought I had learned alot about Rome and its Jews.

As was the case in many parts of Europe, it's Jewish population has lived through its share of acceptance and rejection. For more than 1500 years, the Jews lived in Rome since its rise of Empire, and in 1555 Pope Paul IV segregated the Jews into a ghetto. There were three gates to the ghetto, all locked at night, and Jews were required to listen to compulsory Catholic sermons on their Shabbot. These conditions, and similiar restrictions existed for the next 300 years, and the Jews of the ghetto were re-accepted into Italian life in 1870. Of course, there was the Nazi occupation and deportations as well. There are now approximately 13,000 Jewish living in Rome with around 35,000 living in Italy. The Jewish section pretty much occupies the old ghetto boundaries. As I wandered through the section, I found it vibrant and friendly. Everywhere, people were talking, laughing, playing cards, eating and enjoying the day. Lots of tourists were there and it was wonderful to see life in that part of the city thriving.

I then walked to the Pantheon. This is a beautiful building built to "all the gods" in 125 CE. It's a majestic place, occupying a dominant place in the square. A fountain is in the center of the square and there were a huge number of tourists and visitors. I managed to exchange some comments in Spanish with a couple of kids from South America, took some pictures, wandered the square pretty thoroughly and completely enjoyed the sights.

I ended the day with a visit was to the Piazza Navona. It is an absolutely HUGE square, with a fairly large oblisk in the center and two large fountains at each end. It was once a circus and later a market. Today it is full of artists and restaurants. People sitting around the fountains and even a "San Francisco type of still-man" posing as a Roman statue in silver.

So, tomorrow I'm off to Pompei. Can't wait to see it and report back to you. Stay tuned.....