Archive for November, 2012


Here I am again. Hi !

So, I’m now in Pisa. Pisa is a city in Tuscany and the capital of the province of Pisa.  Although Pisa has several places of interest and history going back  at least thirteen centuries B.C. , it is famous for the freestanding belltower of the Cathedral. . Though there’s an ancient city in Greece called Pisa, historians are not clear whether this area ‘s civilization is  of Etruscan or Greek  in origin. Italy’s history is complicated because it used to consist of  so many kingdoms that were entirely separate from Rome.  Italy that we know today did not exist then. Venice, Florence, Rome…. they each had their own thing going on.   Pisa is also the birthplace of Galileo Galilei. If you have not heard of Galileo, then you’re an alien.

I was , naturally, very excited to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa and it didn’t disappoint me. It was  awesome.  Actually , the belltower is just one of the  4 buildings at Piazza dei Miracoli, or Field of Miracles. But images of  it  give the impression that the tower stands alone. Well, it doesn’t. Just a few steps from it  are  the  beautiful Cathedral, the Baptistry, and the Camposanto. ( cemetery )

Below is a pic of  our tour group ( and me ) at a pit stop. We were all ready to go, quite refreshed and perky.


There’s the Baptistry the Cathedral, and the Belltower. They are all made of white marble, and yes, they are all  sinking. The fact is, there are also at least 2  other towers in Pisa that are leaning.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise beacuse Pisa, after all, got its name from the Greek word Pisa, which means marshy lands.

.Construction of the tower began in  1173 and was completed in  1399. The tower tilted during construction due to the soft soil and inadequate foundation. Construction was halted for almost 100 years. This allowed for the soil to settle and compress , making it a bit stable. However,  the tilting continued prompting the Italian government  to seek help from engineers and mathematicians from all over the world.

.Over hundreds of years,  it became clear that the tower was not only leaning, it was actually falling, at the rate of 2 millimeters a year, and at one point, was in danger of toppling over.


.Today, the tower is about  3.9 degrees off perpendicular  or about 5 meters off.  Nonetheless, the tower has been declared stabilized and will remain so for the next 200 years.


.The Baptistry above was where Galileo was baptized.  We wanted to see the Cathedral’s interior but we were not properly dressed. Dress code : no shorts. Well we didn’t know  we were going to visit a church..  So, my cousin and I just goofed around outside while the rest of the tour group were inside the church.  Not fair.  But, we had plenty of time to shop for souvenirs. There was  a row of  colorful souvenir stalls  just across from the piazza. I wish I had taken a pic  of that. Very touristy.

.A nap after a tiring day.

Next day, we went to Assisi,  a medieval town and the birthplace of St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order, whose members vow to a life of poverty.  Together with St. Clare, St. Francis is the patron saint of Italy.

Pastoral scene on the way to Assisi.

.It was the Romans that built the town of Assisi  on a series of terraces. The population is about 25,000.



.It may not look it, but that was quite a steep climb to the top.  I was out of breath when I reached the top.

A souvenir shop along the way

.There’s the church of St. Francis. He is also buried there.  It’s a pity we couldn’t take photos of the interior. But, there was a Mass going on, and  it was Sunday, so we decided to attend it . So now I can brag say we heard Mass in Assisi.


Above is the main door of the church. That’s the only part  that has elaborate designs. The church is simple, inside and outside. It was, after all,  built in honor of a saint who lived a simple and humble life.  Right above are 2 Franciscan monks.  Or are they friars ? Priests maybe? I wonder what the difference is between a friar and a monk. * googles *………. Friars are those who can get out of monasteries , and some are ordained into priesthood, and therefore can say Mass. Monks are those who are cloistered in monasteries and abbeys and brew beer. Kidding !  But beer afficionados swear they brew the best beer in the world.  I suspect monasteries don’t have heaters, so alcohol trumps hot coffee to keep one’s body warm and toasty on cold , winter nights.   However, I’ve seen Benedictine monks  who go outside, and even seen them smoking, he he he. Okay, let’s not go there.  * ponders *   I wonder why we Catholics  use the word ” hear ” instead of attend the Mass ( we hear Mass ) and the priest who celebrates the Mass ,  we say  he  ” says” the Mass. It makes sense though.  I mean, say and hear  go together, right?  Just musing.

.I didn’t capture the beauty of the scenery, and the place  really looked  so serene.

.This is  it for Pisa and Assisi.

It feels weird that while I’m gushing over Pisa and Assisi, and talking about serenity, I’m watching the news about the Israel and Palestinian conflict. I’m not going to say what I think about this. I won’t even say something stupid like Why can’t they get along . They’ll never get along, but can’t they just leave it alone? Who are we to say that, anyway ? Heck,  our own Democrat and Republican politicians can’t get along. That said,   I wish the US would leave Afghanistan , NOW , not in 2014. We spend 6 billion dollars a month for  the people of a country  whose hearts and minds  we can never win.  Just leave them alone  and let them do what they want . If they want to kill little  girls who want to go to school, so be it.  Can I say freely,” Frankly, my dear,  I don’t give a damn.  ?  Would they  be happy with that?  We need that money here in the US.  Can you imagine what that $ 6 B can do here in the US ?  Sentido comun.  Spend it on us, on the people of Staten Island, the homeless, on education,  renewable energy, so we won’t be hostage of  foreign oil.  Here;s the thing though. I have a co-worker  who is an Afghan woman. She married a US born Afghan -American soldier who was deployed in Afghanistan.  Her family in Afghanistan was so happy, especially her dad, that at least one of his children would have a better life here in the US. The problem is, her relatives in Afghanistan are harassing her family, especially her mother and sister.   She sends half her salary to her family there, and she’s so afraid what will happen to them when the Americans leave.  Oh, and she cried and cried when she was promoted as manager, the keyholder,  at our store. She said this would never happen  to women in her country.  * sigh * I don;t know. I’m so conflicted.

Here I go again, speaking my mind.  This is supposed to be a travelogue, ahaha.  Oh, well.  * shrugs *  I guess I’m like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna read here. he he he.

Alright, this is all for now.  Florence is next…. and Monaco ( maybe ) G’day to all, and PEACE !

My European Trip Part 10 , Rome, Italy

Hi !!!  Renxkyoko Iglesias here.

Please allow me to luxuriate in the aftermath of Pres. Obama’s reelection.

.Well, excuse me, I  did work hard for Pres. Obama.

California is either super liberal or masochists.  The  Democrats now have super majority of both chambers, and across the state, from south to north,  all Propositions and  Measures increasing the tax have been approved by Californians.    We want you to pay a little more for playgrounds , parks,  libraries , new computers for schools. Yeah, sure ! Check.  An increase in tax for this and that….. Okay ! Check.   We Californians taxed ourselves, ha ha ha ! And to think, we have one of the highest tax rate in the US. Well,  we all have decided to share the burden . A shared sacrifice, if you will.  I mean, what can my $ 25 do to help others? Nada. But collectively, a lot. That’s good citizenship.  It’s not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for the country.  Okay, enough of this. I just want to put this out here.

Back to Rome……

After The Forum, we visited the usual places tourists go to.

The Trevi Fountain……. The fountain is unlike modern day fountains that are built merely as    decoration. The Trevi Fountain was the terminal point of one of the aqueducts that  supplied water to ancient Rome. But the Trevi Fountain itself, as we see it now, impressive and beautiful, was finished in 1762.


.My 14 year old cousin

.Three coins in the fountain, each one seeking happiness, la di da….. There’s a legend that if you throw a coin into the fountain, you are guaranteed to return to Rome.  With your back to the fountain, you should throw the coin over your shoulder. This is how wishers do it. I threw a US penny though, ha ha. I hope that works, too.


.In case you haven’t noticed, most Europeans drive Smart cars, really small cars. As an American. my eyes are not used to it. But I love it. It’s green. Sadly, Americans love the gas guzzlers, big cars, the bigger, the better.


Above is the Roman Pantheon.  It is a building that is the most completely preserved ancient structure, built in 27 BC by Marcus Agrippa  to commemorate  Octavian’s ( later named Emperor Augustus , the first Roman Emperor….. before this , Rome was a republic,  headed by Senators ) Battle of Actium victory over Marc Anthomy and Cleopatra. This was a battle between 2 Roman forces. The original building burned down 100 years after, then Emperor  Hadrian rebuilt it and dedicated it to  ” all the gods ” , meaning “pan theos. “


.Below is the interior of the Pantheon, courtesy of Wikipedia. We didn’t get to see  it. Tsk.

.That’s me below taking a picture .

.Above is the Fountain of Four Rivers, located at Plaza Navona, built by Pope Innocent, and designed by Bernini in 1651. The obelisk in the middle is an earlier structure that was built in AD 81.

.The place is really like an open market where paintings, arts and crafts are sold. I don’t know, but I wasn’t enthusiastic to be there. There were so just many people milling around. Or maybe I  had an overload of fountains in one day. .  This was the 10th one  we visited  that day.  I guess the Italians love fountains. I love it too. There’s one at our backyard here at home. Well, after seeing those magnificent fountains, ours is a just a water feature, a pathetic  teeny one, he he., like a bird bath.


.Above picture is a structure at Piazza Venezia. You know , at the end of the road  from here is the Coloseum. One can also see The Forum from here.  We just drove by this structure to go to the Coloseum, but very slowly so we could take some  photos of the area. Anyway,  that imposing structure was built in honor of Vittorio Emanuel ll, the former King of Sardinia, then later became the first King of united Italy, the title he held until his death in 1878.  However, I got the impression the tour guide didn’t really like this structure. She was like, “Eh.” I thought it was pretty though.

.Well, this is it for Rome.

Oh, by the way, a commenter corrected me regarding Cleopatra.  He wrote that Cleopatra did speak Egyptian.  I’d like to be corrected.  I misspoke,  nonetheless,  what I understood  from several articles written about her was ,  she didn’t speak Egyptian in Egypt, even if she actually knew the language. Here’s my response to his comment.

Thank you for pointing that out to me. I reread that part, and yes, I did write she never spoke Egyptian, but I should have added that though she did speak speak Egyptian, what I understood was that she didn’t speak the language while she ruled Egypt…. so much so that government ” documents” had to be written in 2 languages, Greek and Egyptian. The discovery of such a document in 2 languages , the Rosetta Stone, led to the understanding of the hyroglyphics, because there is now a direct translation of an unknown written language to a known one. Please correct me again if I’m wrong. I appreciate it., after which I’ll edit my post

Oh, my, the politics here in the US… rape, aspirin between your knees, now it’s binders full of  Mata Haris. WTF ! I’m like reading a shoujo manga. It’s weird.  Two brilliant Generals,  one up for position of Supreme Commander of NATO aaaaaand, for crying out loud, the CIA Director !!!!!!  taken down by an email inbox.  Tom Clancy will never , ever have this as his plotline.  So, guys, please, if you are already ” committed”   , keep it in your pants, and zip it up. And ladies, we all know nature and time are not kind to us, so try to take good care of your physical appearance, and not let go. Don’t just go off into the sea and sail off.

I know this a shallow thinking, but men  , if given the opportunity, will do it with any attactive, willing women . Am I generalizing ?  I don’t think so. Such depressing thoughts.  ‘Course it takes two to tango.

* deep sigh *

This is all for now. Pisa, Assissi, and Flrence are next. G’day to all and PEACE.



Hi, there !

* sigh of relief * Finally, Rome , The Eternal City. So, how do I start this ?  With statistics, and history ? With over 3000 years of  Roman history, it would take at least one volume of Encyclopedia Britanica  to present in detail  Rome’s influence on the history of the world.  At this moment, I feel stupid to even dare contemplate doing that when I know next to nothing  about ancient  Rome , except of course a few interesting trivia such as Emperor Nero fiddling while Rome burned (  some say he actually sang as he had a good singing voice , and even went to Greece to join singing contests , lol ). And who doesn’t know about Mark Anthony  and Julius Caesar ?   Yes, you got it. Both men were Cleopatra’s lovers.  And who was Cleopatra? Cleopatra was Egypt’s last Pharaoh. Cleopatra , by the way, wasn’;t even Egyptian. She was Greek who only spoke Greek, not the language of the country she ruled.  And,  she must have been so beautiful she snagged two of Rome’s most important citizens. Or,  maybe she wasn’t even pretty….. but she was a Pharaoh, and I guess, that alone would attract the best of Rome.  Okay, enough of gossip.

Below is where we went after The Vatican tour.  At the end of the road is the Coliseum.  The sight of that from the coach made my heart beat fast. I mean, heck,  that’s the Roman Coliseum,  the real McCoy…

.The Coliseum was built in 72 AD by Emperor Vespasian, and  finished by his son, Emperor Titus. It has 80 arched entrances to accomodate  about 50 ,000 spectators.  They were spectators of mayhem and carnage , slaughter of wild animals, and fight to the death between criminals, prisoners of  war, and  slaves  they called gladiators.






.Above is the interior. Just look at those massive columns.




.You’d expect the middle space to be an open space arena,  unlike the above photo where  you can see walls and tunnels. Actually, there was  originally a wooden floor that covered these tunnels, and the wooden floor was covered with sand, sand is “arena ” in Latin. The animals and gladiators ( later, the early Christians ) were held under the floor, in the tunnels to await their fate. Pulleys  were raised to bring the animals or humans to the surface.  The spectacle was usually a one-day event, and there were so much killing the ground would be soaked with blood,  so they had to cover the area with fresh sand, after which , the slaughter continued on.



..Panoramic view of the arena.  Uhm, the design actually confuses me. How did spectators at the top ( what we call the nosebleed section, the bleachers ) manage to get a good view of the spectacle  down at the arena? Those massive walls originally were covered with awnings.

.The Coleseum at night, courtesy of Wikipedia.

.Above is courtesy of Wikipedia.  The arch on the right is the Arch of Constantine.



Next photos are those of The Forum.

The ruins of the Roman Coliseum and The Forum are in stark contrast to the grandeur of The Vatican. That they are almost next to each other makes the contrast even more stunning. To a person who absolutely knows nothing about  Rome and its history ( yes, there’s a person like that ), The Forum would look like just a pile of bricks and slabs of stones with a few posts and columns scattered  here and there.

It’s hard to imagine  that these ruins were once the center of trade and politics in Rome for about 1000 years. Where the market goes, so go the politicians. I can imagine politicians standing on platforms , orating and speaking to anyone who cared to listen, while common folks went around doing their business. . ” Can you defend your  politics  at The Forum?”  This was  also the place where the Senate met, and triumphant marches and elections were held.  It was at the Rostra where Marc Anthony  addressed his famous eulogy  for Julius Caesar ( who was assassinated by  some Senators led by Brutus ).  “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar ”                     That is of course William Shakespeare’s version.  I actually stood in front of the platform and imagined the whole scene. ( Aaaargh, I’m such a geek ! )

Below is the Rostra.



.Above is the Temple of Romulus. The door is original, and it’s bronze.  Hmmm, no wonder Kratos can’t destroy that. ( Kratos from video game God of War, he he )


I’m trying to visualize how the place must have looked during their time.  It does look small and compact, but you know, it isn’t , really.  The columns still standing  are  tall , massive, and impressive.

I have tons of photos of this place that  I’d love to post here, but I’m sure not all  share my enthusiasm for old stuff.  I think I want to be an archaelogist. But I doubt  this career will put food on my table.  I’ll content myself watching National Geographic Channel and The Naked Archeologist and dreaming of going to Greece, Egypt , Turkey, and  Israel. Oh, and back to Italy again. I want to see Pompeii.

So, anyway, I’m done with Colloseum and The Forum, but not Rome yet.  Our tour of The Vatican and the Colloseum and Forum was done in one , HOT sunny day. It was almost 100F, and no lunch time. We were told to eat a very heavy breakfast, warned there wouldn’t be time for lunch, then headed out at  730 H. The photos below are my morning breakfast, times 2, and how my li’l cousin and I looked after a tiring day.

.We finished off the day by getting an Optional Dinner that cost  $65 each person. Add the $ 65 for The Vatican Museum  Tour, it was not only hectic, it was quite an expensive day too. Optional means the fees were not included in the pre-paid packaged tour.  To be honest, the Museum tour was totally worth it, but the dinner wasn’t. The only good thing about dinners in Europe were the ” drink all you can ” part.  One bottle of wine in Europe is cheaper than one glass of wine here in the US.  3 bottles per table of 6 persons, always.


.The pasta was okay, but the meat was chewy. The steak we had in Venice was quite chewy too.  What’s with the hard meat, anyway? The lasagne was too watery. Perhaps that’s how Italians make lasagna, but I like it better the way we make it at home. It has form and we can actually cut through it.

Below is a blurry picture of the lasagna.

.Bottomline is , the food could have been better for $65 . Oh, and the serenaders got at least  $40 from our table.  ^__^

Well, this is all for now.  Rome again next post.  Good day and PEACE !