The DougBlog
"Et sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!" —Baudelaire

Sunday, July 30, 2006

World Cup Tour 2006: Part 1, Italy

Last week I took my first international trip for Pfizer. Ironically, the two countries I was asked to visit were Italy and France—right after they faced off in the World Cup final. So I had the opportunity to celebrate with the Italians and grieve with the French (and hear lots of opinions on Zidane). It was fun and educational—but exhausting. Two countries and four cities in five days: Rome, Milan, Paris, and Lyon.

I hadn’t been to Rome since the Tischler European Vacation when I was 18. I don’t remember much, except that I didn’t like it. I remember it being hot, noisy, dirty, rude, and filled with pickpockets. And that’s coming from a New Yorker! But I was willing to give it another chance, so I went a day early to see what I could see.

I arrived in Rome on Saturday morning after the usual overnight flight via Frankfurt. I didn’t sleep well on the plane, so by the time I got to Rome I was exhausted. And my first hours there weren’t good ones. It took more than an hour for the bags to come out (Italy is not known for their organization). Then I went outside to it was over 100 degrees and there was a nation-wide cab strike!

The next few hours was a miserable tableau of me lugging my luggage (is that where that word comes from?) up and down broken escalators, through various modes of unairconditioned public transportation and across cobblestone streets in oppressive heat. And when I finally got to the hotel, of course, my room was not yet ready. So what was I to do? Well, take a sponge bath in the restroom, drink 4 gallons of water, check my luggage at the desk, and see some sights.

The flight from Frankfurt to Rome was unexpectedly beautiful, going right over the Swiss Alps (as always, you can click on any picture to enlarge):

The Pantheon, an ancient Roman temple “to all the gods”:

Apparently there are still some ancient Romans mulling about:

Then I got to the Trevi Fountain. How hot was it? Well when I got down on one knee here to take a picture, I got burned by the cobblestones:

For some reason, all of the horses in Rome wear these little form-fitting yarmulkes:

Just what you want on a hot day…hot nuts:

Holy crap!:

At this point I went back to the hotel. I showered, cranked up the A/C, and napped. I woke up and when for a late night walk. I enjoyed my 3rd gelato of the day and discovered that the Trevi fountain is even more beautiful at night:

The next morning I checked into my business accommodation, the beautiful Hotel Eden. This was one of the nicest hotels at which I’ve ever stayed. Then I headed out to see more sights, taking the subway to the subway to see the ruins of ancient Rome. My first stop was the Circus Maximus. This is where Steve Lawrence used to appear nightly. HAHAHAHA! But seriously folks… it’s where 250,000 ancient Romans used to gather for chariot races and more recently more than half a million modern Romans gathered for the World Cup victory party. There’s not much left any more:

Next stop was to wander among the ruins of the Palatine Hill. This was where ancient Rome began and where many great Romans had their palaces. Of course, the Coliseum needs no introduction (but maybe a little sprucing up):

Cheesy self-portrait:

So the gladiator thing: people dress up like ancient Romans and stand around the tourist sights. For a few Euros you can take a picture with them. These two were having some sort of heated turf-related argument outside the Coliseum. I thought they clearly should have taken their fight inside and made it a show:

The last stop in ancient Rome was the Roman Forum. This was the heart of Rome at its height. A sad fact: most of the ruin was not caused by time or the elements; it was the Popes who ordered the Roman buildings to be destroyed and the marble used to build Christian churches instead. It is of course chilling to walk the same streets as Caesar and Augustus; but it sure wasn’t chilly (sorry, it’s been a while since I pointed out how HOT it was):

Emerging from the ruins, you come upon the piazza on the Capitoline Hill (Campidoglio), which was designed by Michelangelo:

A more recent addition is the monument to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy. It also houses Italy’s unknown soldier. Some people love it, some people hate it. I found it more charming at night:

Interesting rules here:

As the sun set. I returned to some of the sights:

Monday it was down to business. I met up with my coworker Eric and client Keir. They were both good travel companions. Here they are checking out a Ferrari:

And a clothing store (Eric is quite the clothes shopper for a straight guy!):

Our first night we had dinner and drinks at La Terrazza, which is on the rooftop of the Hotel Eden. It’s one of the best restaurants in Rome with a view over its domes and rooftops that can’t be beat.

On Tuesday we had some free time and went to the Galleria Borghese museum at the Villa Borghese. The building itself is beautiful and it houses many famous works of art. Among them are several statues by Bernini, including the incomparable Apollo and Daphne and David. These really were amazing works to see in person (and photograph illegally):

A few random items...

When’s the last time you saw one of these?!:


This platter of babies at the Borghese was disturbing. “I want my babyback-babyback-babyback…”:

World cup fever:

At the Trevi fountain, you could have your picture taken with the World Cup trophy. I’m sure it was the real thing:

Unless you blow-dry your hair while working, it really isn’t convenient.

Jew booty at the Coliseum!:

Here’s an unfortunate name for a company:

Is that a weathered old pylon or are you just happy to see me?:

Our next stop was Milan. We didn’t have much free time there. Plus I’ve been there before and there isn’t too much to see. But this was the first time that the stars and planets aligned properly and I was able to go to the opera at the renowned La Scala. This is perhaps the most famous opera house in the world, where the operas of many great Italian composers had their world premieres including Puccini, Rossini, Donizetti, and above all Verdi.

Eric and Keir accompanied me. Ironically the performance that night was one of the few great English operas, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, so it was the Italians who needed subtitles. The performance was spectacular, and the sense of history and excitement in the house was palpable. Photographs were officially not allowed inside, but of course that never stops me:

Another cheesy self-portrait:

Eric and Keir:

Me and Eric with the evening's bill:

That's Eric in the dark on the left:

Keir returned to New York after this, but for me and Eric it was on to France…


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