Saturday, January 2, 2010

Exploring Rome with Laura and Luca (and Asterix and Obelix)

Hermann bought me a little present before leaving Vienna: a book called Asterix the Gladiator to read in my envelope on my way to Rome. It taught me all about the Romans: they all wear dresses and sandals, like that little guy in a green dress over to the right. Even the soldiers wear dresses. They force prisoners and slaves to train as gladiators and then fight each other in the Coliseum. The Romans all have dinner lying on sofas with the tables in the middle, and when they aren't eating they're driving around Rome in chariots.

Naturally, I couldn't wait to ride in a chariot! When Laura opened my envelope and kissed me (the Italians are just as kissy as the Argentines ... who knew?), I asked her what colour her horses were. "Come and see," she replied. I hurried out of the post office, but no chariot was parked outside. There were no chariots anywhere in sight ... just more boring cars. Not one man was wearing a dress, either. This is what it looked like. All the buildings that Asterix and Obelix saw were there, but mostly they're in ruins and other buildings are in their place now. Laura explained that Asterix and Obelix visited Rome more than 2,000 years ago, and that it's changed a lot since then.

I put on my nightgown and had a little nap, and then we had a delicious supper of fish, mushrooms, salad, and aubergines. Laura and her husband Mario drank Sicilian wine, but I didn't really like it and asked for milk. Then I helped Laura reorganize her kitchen cupboards, and found fruit and currant tea and cookies and something called nutella. Laura gave me a spoonful of nutella to taste .... mmmmmm! Nutella is better than chocolate, better than jam, better than anything! Here's a picture so that you can try some yourself!

After being in the envelope for several days, I wanted to freshen up a bit. The Paragona's bathroom had a Sally-sized bathtub mounted on the wall, but when I asked for a stool to get into it, Laura explained that it isn't exactly a bathtub. It's something called a bidet. You can wash your feet in it, and you use it to wash yourself off after you use the toilet. In fact, here people think that just using toilet paper isn't very ... well ... hygenic.

Luca has a huge map on his bedroom wall, so I showed everyone where Canada is. We're the only country in the world with a giant bird (Hudson's Bay) standing on its head right in the middle!

The Paragona family aren't soccer fanatics ... but they do enjoy watching tennis on TV. Here's a Djokovic-Cilic match. I enjoyed it, but what I really wanted was to find some of the places that Asterix and Obelix visited, so Laura and Luca and I set off.

Our first stop was the barbershop, where Luca had a haircut. I tried out the chair, but decided to skip the haircut - I like my ponytail!

Then we crossed the Tevere River on the Ponte Sant Angelo, or Bridge of Angels. Do you see them all standing along the bridge?

Vatican City is a small city inside Rome, where the Pope lives. This is where the Catholic church is based. We didn't see the Pope, but this street leads to the Vatican. At the end of this street, you can see Saint Peter's Basilica.

We strolled around the Janiculum hill, topped with beautiful old pine trees, and found this lovely white lighthouse. It turned out to have been a present from people who'd moved from Italy to Argentina. They're happy in Argentina, but they wanted to give something back to their mother country.

You can see just all about all of Rome from Janiculum - look at the views!

This building with the clock tower is the City Hall, called the Campidoglio. It was only built a thousand years ago, so Asterix and Obelix never saw it.

They saw these places, though! The Circus Maximus was a racetrack, where up to twelve charioteers could race their chariots. I tried to get Luca to pretend to chariot-race with me, but he didn't really like the idea. Instead, we went over to the Coliseum. I tried to imagine it as Asterix and Obelix would have seen it, with the roars of the crowds, the cries of the street vendors, and the smells of food and animals. This trailer from the movie Gladiator gives you a hint, but I think the whole movie would be too scary for me.

This beautiful road, lined with stone pine trees, is the Via del Mare, or the Sea Road. The Romans travelled along here from Rome to the old seaport of Ostia. To get there, you had to pass through one of the arched gates in the Aurelian Wall. The Romans built this wall all around Rome and her Seven Hills, along with the Campus Martius. The whole circuit is 19 km, so it takes about five hours to walk the perimeter.

All this history made us very hungry, so we stopped at a restaurant and had pizza. After all, Italy is the country where pizza was invented! They make a wood fire in the oven, and then when it's nice and hot they push the embers to one side and pop in the pizza. It smells wonderful!!! On the left is a tomato-mozzarella-mushroom ham pizza, and on the right is a tomato-mozzarella-sausage pizza. The bakers slide them into the oven on a giant metal spatula, and then the pizzas cook right on the bottom of the oven.

Here are two of the bakers preparing the next pizzas. They have a bowl of tomato sauce on the shelf. Down on the marble counter they have the pizza dough, and they're scattering very thin potato slices and shredded mozzarella cheese onto the crusts. Maybe when I come home we can have a pizza party and try to make our own pizzas this way, even if we don't have a wood-fired oven.

I climbed this pomegranate tree to pick our dessert. Remember the story of Persephone taking one bite of pomegranate and having to spend the winters with Hades, down in the underworld? I took really good care that no seeds stuck in my teeth, just in case!

Tomorrow we're doing a road trip to Lake Bracciano, so I think I'll stop here. It's time to to bed and get my beauty sleep!

bacioni (that's Italian for big kisses)